Saturday, 31 December 2011

Holiday crafting: part 2

These little pyjamas were an end-of-November first birthday present for my first cousin once removed (she's already being encouraged to call me 'Auntie Nina', because 'First Cousin Once Removed Nina' is both a mouth- and an earful, really). I got my sister to bring me the Oliver and S Bedtime Story Pajamas (sic) pattern from Purl when she was visiting family in New York a couple of years ago. I'd just discovered the craft blog world and I think Oliver and S patterns were one of those trendy things that a lot of the first bloggers I read were excited about at the time. I like to think that these days I'm a little less inclined to get caught up in blogosphere hype like that, but it might only be that the effects are more subtle. Where's the line between inspiration and influence? At what point does creativity dissolve into consumerism? When does community slip into competition? And how many companies are getting bloggers to do their marketing for them?
(The trousers look oddly short here because they're attached to the hanger)
Anyway, whatever my reason for wanting it, I got it, and that (expensive!) pattern fermented in a box with so many others for some time. Various new humans appeared on this crowded planet but they did not receive handmade pyjamas - not from me, at least. And then this autumn I decided to give it a go; perhaps it was the fact that I'd gained just enough sewing experience not to feel too daunted, perhaps it was the drip-drip-drip eroding background annoyance of impulsively bought patterns and fabrics sitting 'stashed' and unused, or maybe it was the idea of being called 'Auntie Nina' one day by the new human in question...
The first hurdle was sizing. The baby's mother had no tape measure. The baby's grandmother had but the baby was very wriggly. Some well-fitting pyjamas were measured instead, and those measurements didn't seem to correspond at all to any size given on the pattern envelope. What did people do before the internet? Can anyone remember? I'd have either given up or spent precious hours sewing the wrong size, I think. But this is the 21st century, and a short trip along the information superhighway brought me to an errata page for the pattern. I haven't seen them on, but my cousin tells me that the 18-24 M size I sewed fits her not-especially-big 12-month-old very well.

The main fabric is a soft, fair trade, organic cotton sheeting that I bought from Gossypium a while ago. It was very good value at £9/metre because it's so wide. Gossypium only have a gingham pattern at the moment but if you're willing and able to pay more, there's a choice of four designs from Fairtrade Fabric (search that site for 'fine finish' to find the right stuff). The turquoise binding fabric is a Cloud 9 organic cotton print. I didn't buy anything newly for this project at all - every element was sitting there, festering to varying degrees. We can chalk this one up as a small victory against The Stash.
Wonky stitching - all part of the handmade charm, right?
A detailed pattern review seems a bit futile as the pattern's now out of print... One nitpicky gripe I had was that the neck binding and leg bindings were different widths. Next time I'd make them match - but I think there will be a next time, because generally the pattern was so simple and the result very sweet. A good thing too, since you only get value for money from a pattern like this by using it many times. I imagine the simple lines of these pyjamas would lend themselves very nicely to being made with each piece in a different patterned fabric, and the small sizes would make that a practical way to use up remnants from other projects or old clothes (I'd guess you could cut all the pieces from two medium-sized shirts).
I was very pleased with the new (to me) seam finishing technique I tried. I chose a turned-and-stitched finish from the excellent sewing guide that my sister gave me a few birthdays ago. I've not yet managed to make zigzag-finished seams look remotely neat, but this method was much easier and no more time consuming - you do have to press each raw edge back behind itself but the sewing's much faster because you use a straight stitch. After all the gift sewing, I plan to do some "selfish" crafting for myself in the new year, and the seam-finishing that'll be involved in that feels slightly less chore-like now. The Stash had better look out...

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Holiday crafting: part 1

This was a present for a good friend (whom I hadn't seen for far too long) with a December birthday. It's a slightly modified version of the free gathered clutch pattern/tutorial by Anna of Noodlehead. I made both the front and back gathered, and the band across the purse is narrower. The whole thing is only 8" long because I cut all the pieces too small by mistake. I only sewed one row of gathering stitches on each piece, which seemed to be enough. And I eliminated the iron-on interfacing - I hate that stuff, it smells so toxic - by stitching the edges of the gathers to some plain interfacing; I used nasty synthetic interfacing here (I am still working my way through that one metre, I haven't bought any more!), but the lining pieces were interfaced with reclaimed fabric (old pillowcase).
I stitched the crinkles to the sew-in interfacing
The instructions given are generally very good but I did have some trouble with the zip end covers. I've used Florence's directions before but this time I decided to try Anna's different method. She says you shouldn't stitch through the zip ends when you come to sew the outsides and linings together. I ended up with a hole at each end and I didn't like that so I unpicked (unpicking stitches from synthetic interfacing is not fun!) and re-stitched through the zip ends. It means you get some crinkling but no holes.
Birthday wishes inside and a scrap of coordinating flowery fabric
The striped cotton fabric is from an old dress which was cut on the bias. It was thriftier to cut my purse pieces straight along the edges of the old dress pieces, which means they are on the bias too. The plain pink/mauve is handwoven fair-trade organic cotton. The tassel is made from embroidery threads (bought part-used on Ebay from someone who'd given up embroidering), following instructions from an old knitting book. The little message inside is stamped with fabric ink on a scrap of reclaimed white cotton.
Wrapped in re-used tissue paper with a leaf skeleton and natural raffia
I don't think my friend realised I'd made the purse when she unwrapped the present. I'm sure other crafters have had this problem; what do you do? When someone admires something I've made without knowing I've made it, I'm often too shy to say, "I made it!" - that might seem like boasting. So this time I said nothing, but I think she will have realised when she looked inside and saw the stamped label. Perhaps I'll send her an email telling her what the purse is made of and how to wash it.

Friday, 23 December 2011

The shortest day

The northern hemisphere's winter solstice fell yesterday, 22 December, this year. Usually it's on 21 December, but every four years it gets a day late and then is readjusted by the following year being a leaping one, apparently.
The oak trees still have some leaves...
I don't know why the winter solstice is regarded as the beginning of winter, while the summer solstice is celebrated as 'midsummer'. That makes the year - and the planet - seem lopsided. (Also, last weekend, I saw some frozen puddles; don't try to tell me that was autumn.) Let's say 'midwinter' instead.
...while the cherry trees are already preparing for spring
(this post includes a photo of the same thicket in full bloom last April)
This is the start of the new year, really, don't you think? At about 05h30 yesterday morning we reached our furthest point from the Sun and began to tilt back towards it. I feel like we should take more notice of the solstices. They're something that all people could celebrate together, rather than (or more likely in addition to) splitting up to observe all sorts of different winter holidays that probably started out as solstice parties anyway. 
That said, Christmas is so entrenched that I haven't yet managed to celebrate a midwinter properly. 21 or 22 December always seem to muddle past in a fog of last-minute gift making/buying; we miss the astronomical turn of the year because we're too busy with stuff. This year I had a bit of help from our inaccurate Gregorian calendar, so I did get my sewing finished yesterday evening, and the tree decorated, and then Boyfriend and I ate some pancakes with beeswax candles burning (and no TV or computer running). Perhaps that's enough to build on next time. I'd love to hear from anyone who celebrates the solstices in some way - how do you do it? I wish a belated Happy Midwinter (or Midsummer!) to you all!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Trees For Life (not just for Christmas)

Trees For Life is an environmental charity that's not only fighting deforestation but is actively engaged in reforestation in the Scottish Highlands. Britain used to be densely wooded and Trees For Life is trying to repair some of the centuries of damage done by humans clearing land for farming and unsustainably felling trees for fuel and building. Boyfriend and I like to have their diary every year in place of a calendar, but in trying to find a link to put here I've just discovered that there is no Trees For Life diary for 2012, and that the calendars have sold out already. Eheu! I hope they'll resume diary publication for 2013; as well as having a beautiful photograph for every week of the year, their diary is a consciousness-spreading tool, thanks to the inclusion of environmental anniversaries along with all the usual bank holidays and the like. On 4 December 2004 logging was suspended in the Philippines after 1,000 people were killed by flooding (deforestation causes floods), while on the same day in 2006 Brazil officially protected 15 million hectares of rainforest.
Old Trees For Life diaries are a protected species under my afore-mentioned policy of Not Throwing Anything Away, so I had a decent stash of green tree pictures to raid to make a festive wreath. (If you re-purpose 75% recycled paper, does that make it 175% recycled?) I don't go overboard on Christmas decorating but this wreath from The Red Thread looked like a quick and easy project that wouldn't involve driving myself mad or trashing the flat. I then drove myself mad and trashed the flat searching for the stapler (didn't find it - had to borrow one from my parents).

It's our first winter in this home and the front door of our flat is on an indoor corridor, so I'm guessing that a paper wreath ought to survive the season (if it's hung out of the reach of the neighbours' stampeding wildebeest children) to be brought out again next year.

Mixed in with the Trees For Life leaves are a few from a National Geographic 2008 diary (they are much stingier with the pictures and that diary came with an utterly unnecessary plastic cover). The cardboard for the base of the wreath was from the packaging of an old Stargazer's Almanac (another annual fixture in these parts - and that very bright thing in the night sky at the moment isn't an unusually slow aeroplane, it's Jupiter).
I stuck a second cardboard doughnut over the back of the first one to hide the staples and make the wreath sturdier. I also trimmed the inside edge of the cardboard ring a bit after I'd finished attaching the leaves, because it was showing through in one or two places. I glued the last two leaves on (centre top) so that no staples would be visible. The little piece of red and silver Nepalese paper string was saved from a gift. I prefer to re-use materials when I make something that's purely decorative, because turning new resources into a completely non-functional object seems a bit wrong. But there are nearly always a few non-re-used elements (in sewing projects it's the thread, if nothing else). New materials used this time: staples, glue, a tiny twist of craft wire and a little hook to hold it to the door (the plastic hook is re-usable but will require a new sticky pad each time).
Could you find ways to make your seasonal decorating more green?

Friday, 2 December 2011

New threads

Just a quick post to say that you can now buy 100% certified organic cotton sewing thread here in the UK. The best part is that it comes on a WOODEN REEL! As if that wasn't exciting enough, the wood is reclaimed. Somebody has thought this through. I've yet to discover if they've remembered to do away with the little plastic wrapper - here's hoping. I'm still working my way through the rainbow of polyester (petroleum!) thread that came with my sewing machine, but now I know what to do when it runs out.
It's not that long since wooden reels were the norm - my grandmother
 unearthed these old Italian threads while re-organising a cupboard recently
(Red and white fabric in the background from Gossypium)
The Organic Cotton shop has 11 colours and large reels (I've observed a little bit of imperial/metric confusion on this site before so I've asked whether these are really 300 yards or 300 metres) at a price that does compare well to good-quality non-organic cotton thread. Be sure to request plastic-free packaging on your order - they can do it but they won't unless you ask.

Greenfibres has 34 colours but only 100m reels, and the price comparison is less favourable. But then the conventional thread has costs that we, the end consumers, don't pay directly - the cotton farmers and their families and communities and the planet pay instead. Baby albatross pay when the plastic reels end up in their stomachs. Maybe I can afford to take responsibility and pay more for my thread.

The wooden reel could probably become a crafting material in its own right when the thread runs out, too - I'm picturing light/blind cord pulls, keyrings, Christmas decorations, perhaps even quirky necklaces... A little set of organic cotton threads might be a useful, thoughtful gift for the conscious crafter in your life.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

...and you win some

Right now, one of my cousins is on a trek through the Himalayas to Everest base camp - a 21st birthday present from his parents. I seem to remember that for his actual birthday, earlier this year, I gave him a bag of chocolate buttons. Oh dear... (My sister says that cousins are like low-maintenance siblings, but I'm not sure she means that low.) Happily, the preparations for the big adventure gave me a chance to atone for my cousinly misdemeanour, with some trekking socks* and a handmade card.

I made the card within in a day or two of those failure mittens. So, you feel like you're always doing your best, but you lose some and then you win others. And sometimes it's a draw. It's a bit like Arsenal, but without a fickle crowd of thousands alternately booing and cheering. (Maybe the problem is that there's a bit of me that's kind of like Andrey Arshavin - not really giving 110% all the time it's on the pitch, but somehow escaping the boss's attention. It could be that my mental Robin Van Persie was rested on mitten day. Or perhaps the part of my creative brain that's meant to stop things going wrong sometimes inexplicably runs off in the wrong direction and/or falls over at crucial moments... I won't name names for that last bit of the analogy...) Having said that, I did get some cheers for this card: my aunty sent me a text message saying it had made her cry with joy (!), and my cousin himself - usually about as communicative as, well, a 21-year-old boy man - sent an appreciative Facebook message calling me "annoyingly creative".

I think what made it a success was mainly the starry background, cut from an obsolete Stargazer's Almanac. I like to think of this as conclusive vindication of my policy of Not Throwing Anything Away (or at least Anything With Pretty Pictures). Then there's the curious appeal of even the simplest pop-up picture. It's a picture but it's not flat! Somehow exciting to people of all ages, and very easy to make. I just Googled "how to make a pop up card" and then used this tutorial as a starting point - basically you can stick any flat shape to the little boxy thing, and it'll stand up when the card's opened. (You do need to make sure the shape isn't taller than the distance between the front of the boxy thing and the edge of the card, or it'll stick out beyond the edge of the card when it's closed.)

I sketched a rough picture of Everest (image search - I must do something about Google running my life) on some white card, glued it to the boxy thing, and then added a second pop-up layer of foothills using a similar boxy principle with little bits of card glued to the mountain.

On the front of the card I drew some Buddhist prayer flags, which I'm told you see everywhere in the Himalayas. I wrote the message here and on the back using my much-loved alphabet stamps.

Boyfriend, who likes to avoid the extremes of praise and criticism that he so dislikes in football commentary any situation by maintaining a very consistent moderate(ish) questioning scepticism towards most things I do, wanted to know why there were stars on the ground as well as in the sky. In my stash of pretty pictures I did have an old National Geographic diary that included a photograph of a glacier (you see? Not Throwing Anything Away really pays!), and I thought about using that for the ground, but it just didn't look so good. I think the stars look sort of magical, and I wanted the card to reflect what I hope will be my cousin's experience on his trip: awe and wonder (and stunning starry skies). Maybe when you're out there in the mountains you do feel like you're on a path through the stars.
I can't wait to hear all about it when he gets home, although I think most of it will be too amazing to tell in words or show in photos.

*: The socks, by the way, were so nice when they showed up that my boyfriend and I immediately ordered some more for ourselves. You can find 100% organic wool socks, but they're no cheaper than these and they don't seem to last very long. I'm a novice darner and, as Elizabeth Zimmermann said, it's demoralising to have socks wear through right next to the patch you've painstakingly darned - in fact, it puts you off darning any more. So these are a compromise - organic merino, plus nylon for longevity, from a company that seems serious about sustainability. I hope they won't appear on my out-of-control mending pile for quite some time...

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

You lose some...

Old jumpers are one of my favourite crafting materials. In fact, I find it takes some discipline to keep wearing (and repairing) a jumper until its time to be felted and cut up has really come. A rather desperate moth problem in our old house hastened the demise of a few poor specimens, and I've sometimes found ready-to-craft second-hand cashmere jumpers on Ebay (there's also a lot of very wearable second-hand cashmere on there). Cashmere hot water bottle covers are easy and seriously luxurious - £89 from Brora, or about £5 if you make your own from an old jumper (and you'll have plenty left over for other projects). Pure wool knitted felt is also luxurious and nothing like the little synthetic felt sheets you get in craft shops. You can easily felt any 100% wool jumper in the machine, provided it's not the "machine washable" type - goodness only knows what they do to that stuff, but it absolutely will not submit. I find a 60C wash hot enough, with my normal eco laundry liquid and usually some towels to fill up the machine and provide a bit of friction.
This bright red pure wool cardigan, bought second-hand on Ebay for wearing rather than crafting, shrank every time I carefully hand-washed it, so eventually I gave in and felted it once and for all in the machine. It made lovely smooth, soft felt, not too thick and still with a little bit of stretch. Perfect for mittens, I thought...

Alas, the mittens are a bit of a failure. I cut them from the sleeves of the cardigan, keeping the cuffs intact. This was probably a mistake because it forced me to make them too narrow (particularly the thumbs). Elizabeth Zimmermann suggests knitting children's mittens with the thumbs right on the sides, rather than putting them towards the palm, so that they'll fit either hand. I did the same for simplicity's sake - it meant I could make each mitten in one piece and have minimal sewing to do. But it makes the mittens twist round in an annoying way when you wear them. I thought the felted seams of the cardigan would make a nice feature on the back of the mitten, but try as I might I couldn't get both sleeves to behave the same so the seam is at a different angle on each mitten.

I think the main problem, though, might be the colour. They're very bright red. Perfect for semaphore, I would imagine. I like red and I enjoyed wearing the cardigan, but somehow the glowing gloves seem to make my arms look even longer than they are (in fact, the colour also appears to have been too much for my camera - sorry about the pictures). Hmph. These will either be cut up and turned into little Christmas decorations, or stashed away for mitten emergencies. On the plus side, there's plenty more of that red felt for other uses; also, on this project I used my sewing machine's stretch overlocking stitch for the first time and it seems quite promising.

And at the opposite end of the creative success/failure spectrum, another thing I made recently moved someone to tears of joy, apparently! Details in my next post...

Monday, 10 October 2011

The Itchy & Scratchy Show

I have just made the important and unfortunate discovery that if you employ the undo button on the Blogger composition page a few too many times in rapid succession [say, in endeavour to restore a deleted sentence that might be rematerialising one letter at a time], you can delete your entire post, and, furthermore, that having done so the redo button, despite its promising name, will not offer you any assistance at all nor even a modicum of sympathy. So my account of the Knitting & Stitching Show will now have to ramble on at length to make up for the absence of several pithy sentences included in the original version which, take my word for it, struck concisely at the very essence of the experience with sparkling wit and profound insight.

Alexandra Palace
Edit: This post has turned out stupidly long. The short version:
- There was a lot of junk.
I   quite   liked   these   stands and this was the best.

Unlike Florence, I have been to the show a number of times before. I was originally drawn there (five or 6 years ago??) to see the Garthenor stall, and then in the two following years I actually helped out slightly on their stand. (Garthenor don't come to the show any more due to the high cost of having even a tiny a stall. I suspect this keeps many small specialist companies away from the event, which is very much the poorer for it.) Knowing what the show is like, I probably wouldn't have gone again this year except for the fact that I now live close enough to Ally Pally to have seen that the lights were on all night on Wednesday while the exhibits were set up, and my mum's insistence that I accompany her and that she buy my ticket (thanks!). Florence is right about the food, by the way, and my mum and I were two of those quaint ladies with packed lunches - we ate ours outside in the quiet of the park while admiring the view.

I also agree with Florence that the impeccably framed fabric designs in the Petal Power display were the highlight of the show. We didn't have time to read the information that accompanied the exhibit (because it was almost closing time when we reached it and we'd only just managed to escape from a man who talked at us at unnecessary length about how to sell Chinese textiles on Ebay) so I'm grateful to Florence for sharing what she found out, including the surprising fact that, despite its recent culling of many good things including its entire history department, my boyfriend's alma mater is responsible for the collection.

Image: Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture
Cloud 9 organic cotton prints
I think my main gripe about the Knitting & Stitching Show is that it's essentially a gigantic exercise in crafting as consumerism. Most of the floor space is taken by people who are there to sell things and most visitors are there to buy. (There are even companies selling things that have nothing to do with knitting or stitching, for example the several large stands purveying very ordinary mass-produced coats, shoes, and handbags. Last year there was a man fervently demonstrating a new kind of mop.) I saw many examples of products that are designed to make you feel creative while completely obviating the need for any creative input or skill at all: the computerised embroidery machines that automatically sew designs directly from a CD at the push of a button are probably the peak of this phenomenon. I also have issues with things like pre-cut patchwork fabrics, because I'm not sure how a craft that developed out of a need to avoid waste (of scraps from making clothes, or fabric from old clothes) has been turned into a large industry selling brand new fabric all cut up into tiny pieces. The other problem is that it's actually a fairly ineffective exercise in consumerism, because the stallholders are mostly unable to offer significant deals or discounts due to the cost of being at the show. Ah no, scratch that: it may well be pretty effective - the stallholders pay to be there, the hordes of visitors pay to be there, and someone at the top of it all presumably makes a lot of money.

More Cloud 9 organic cotton prints
There's a lot of rubbish on parade - if space-dyed fluffy polyester yarn (with or without spangles) is your  drug of choice then I do hope you made it to the show this weekend. And I'm always disappointed by the number of beautiful things for sale which have already been knitted or stitched (or woven) by someone else, but which bear no details of that maker or their whereabouts or working conditions or whether they were fairly remunerated for their skilled work. You'd think that an audience of crafters would be more concerned about this, because we understand how much works goes into producing something lovely. The Selvedge Magazine stall had some stunning crocheted scarves; their website reveals that these are designed in France, but there's no information about where they're actually made. A quick search of the internet suggests that they're produced in Madagascar, but there's still no mention of fair trading - usually a bad sign but, I must add, not conclusive of anything. I should also point out that most of the 'raw' materials on sale at the show fall into this category too - fabrics and threads and yarns and beads of unknown provenance. Environmental degradation associated with the production of all these things is another, closely related problem (closely related because what's bad for the environment is almost always bad for people, and the poorest people in the world tend to be at the sharper end of climate change, pollution [another link], and habitat destruction).

There was a small concession to some of the above-mentioned issues in one corner of the show called the 'Upcycling Academy'. Traid were showing off some very sweet clothes made from salvaged fabrics (a skirt that appeared to have had an earlier life as a Laura Ashley tablecloth or curtain caught our eye), and there were various activities and kits to encourage re-use of old materials. My mum and I had a chat with the very friendly woman on the War On Want (bad name, people) stall, who was there to spread the word about their Love Fashion Hate Sweatshops campaign. She said that although some GCSE and A-level and college fashion students were interested in the ideas, most of them hadn't thought back along the supply chain beyond the final manufacturing stage. I've encountered this too - people think their clothing is 'ethical' if they've sewn it (or knitted it) themselves, regardless of what fabric (or yarn) they've used. She gave me a badge that says 'Love Fashion Hate Sweatshops'; on the way home I decided the badge is incorrect because I quite like clothes and design but I don't particularly like fashion and in fact I think it's a large part of The Problem. But anyway, the badge now graces my sewing machine bag.

One stall selling fairly traded and extremely beautiful hand-crafted products was run by this charity. They had handbags, scarves, little knick-knacks, and various braids and patches for sewing onto things. We visited them last year too, and on both occasions my mum has spent a bit more money than she planned to... If you're going to the K&S Show in Harrogate or Dublin, do look out for them - if they're there, they'll be under A for Aid For Burma on the exhibitor list.

This Cloud 9 organic cotton was available on the Raystitch stall

I spotted three stands that had certified organic cotton fabrics for sale. One of them I didn't visit properly, partly because the fabrics weren't ones I was really interested in, and partly because I only spotted it about ten minutes before kicking out time which is when most stalls have no visitors and the stall-holders are feeling mightily relieved about that and are very tired and give you something vaguely resembling a dirty look if you approach their stall. Another was the Raystitch stand that had some, but not all, of the organic cottons that are available on their website or in the new shop (I believe they do stock all of the Cloud 9 organic cotton prints that I've photographed, although the photos are of my own pieces that I bought elsewhere). They also had a box of the lovely Wallace Sewell ribbons to rummage through. The third stall was Fair Trade Fabric, a shop that I've somehow never come across in all my extensive Googling. The stall holder, Ruth Murray, had a huge range of colours of handwoven, certified organic and fairtrade cottons, and the little fat quarter bundles were all really attractive colour combinations. She also had two shades of dark blue; I've been scouring the web for a navy blue organic cotton to bind my epic quilt, and although neither of these is quite a true navy, one of them may fit the bill. The bill, mind you, was my only complaint about this shop: at £10/m she's charging more than some   other   shops that sell the same fabrics; more shockingly the 'fine finish' sheeting cottons that are £20.43/m on her website are (sometimes - they're often out of stock) sold by Gossypium at £9/m. Still, the colour range on offer is so good that I'm sure I'll use the online shop at some point. I bought a fat quarter of each dark blue cotton, too, and that was my only purchase of the day!

The new binding candidates for my quilt
We briefly joined the oohing and aahing crowd at the Merchant & Mills stall, but walked away without buying anything, concluding that there was more style than substance on display there. Which is to say, they were selling the exact same crummy seam ripper and ordinary glass-headed pins that I bought in MacCulloch & Wallis, but in much nicer packaging (no plastic - hurrah - although I do wonder if they'd removed the plastic from each thing and thrown it away before replacing it with stylish cardboard boxes, in which case that doesn't count). There were a few small aubergine moments* for us around the show too, including some sweet but rather simple patchwork pincushions on the Selvedge stall for £30, and some baby blankets made from a square of printed organic cotton and a square of flannel stitched together (can't remember how much those were but it was an unwarranted amount - and you can find organic cotton flannel here).

If anyone is still reading at this point, firstly please check that you're not burning anything in the kitchen or letting your bath overflow, because you have been here for quite a while, and secondly, I'm afraid I can't really come up with a good ending to this post after all that waffling. I suppose I'll just have to say that it was a fun afternoon out with my mum, but that I don't think either of us would go again if we had to travel very far - which we don't, so perhaps we shall return. The End.

*: Sorry, it seems nobody's uploaded to Youtube any of the sketches where that character adds her classic line, "All I need is a small aubergine" - but look at her shopping basket in the linked clip.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Day of equal night

Today is the autumnal equinox* - the halfway point between the summer and winter solstices. Night and day are of exactly equal length, and the sun set due west this evening. We won't be seeing this much daylight again until 20 March 2012... sorry. In fact, it's all downhill from here until 22 December.

I think the only sensible course of action is to throw yourself enthusiastically into the process of snuggling down for the winter. You might do a bit of knitting (with real wool), make sure all your quilts and blankets and jumpers and thermals are clean and ready for action, fix your draughty windows, and enjoy some warming seasonal foods. All of that, and get outside whenever the sun shows itself - or even if it doesn't.

*: Assuming the Blogger stats are not a total fabrication (and this week the stats say that at least two readers have come to my blog via a baseball cap shop in Indianapolis, so they might well be), some of you are probably in the southern hemisphere. Hello, Brazilians, Australians, New Zealanders, and South Africans! Of course it's your spring (or vernal) equinox today. Have a lovely summer and come back to read this miserable message in six months' time!

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Make do & mend

Before I get onto the mending, a few thoughts following on from my previous post:

How disappointing that over 100,000 people saw fit to petition the government to take away state benefits from anyone involved in the rioting. To me that's probably more indicative of something deeply wrong with our society than anything else that went on [there were of course some really horrendous crimes - including murder - committed during the looting, but only by a handful of individuals, so I don't see those as representative of society]. If you too thought those people were reactionary, judgmental, knee-jerky, small-minded, and unsympathetic on a profound level, you might like to put your name to this more constructive petition instead.

My faith in humanity was slightly restored by joining in with part of this march, although it was a shame that it was mostly the usual suspects present (the Socialist Worker lot who seem to think everything would be lovely if only we had a Labour govt again, plus a few old communists grumbling amongst themselves about the obvious flaws in that view). Still, even if the marchers weren't entirely representative of the population of the riot-affected areas, we did march directly through those areas instead of taking the usual Embankment-Piccadilly-Hyde Park Corner route. That meant we were seen (and stared at in bemusement) by the relevant people, not just tourists.

I found Naomi Klein's take on the riots and looting interesting and characteristically readable. The Howard League do extremely important work and I wish the government would take their well-researched advice and understand that political stunts that play with people's lives, like giving a five-month prison sentence to someone who received stolen shoes (yes, received), will do more harm than good. I found this article fascinating and it seems relevant as the 100,000 mean petition-signers are presumably the sort who think that poor people are poor because they're lazy. And Brené Brown's sweet TEDX talk also has some relevance, I think, because by closing youth centres and making university and even sixth form education unaffordable we surely give many young people the message that they don't deserve to be part of society.

* * *

OK, now the mending! A slightly more complex repair job than the last... Do you separate all your rubbish - not just your kitchen stuff - into recyclable and non-recyclable? We do. The recycling basket that we have in the living room was disintegrating.
 So I cut off the broken edge, leaving some of the upright bits sticking out.

I soaked those ends for a while (by standing the whole thing upside-down in a few centimetres of water in the bath) to soften them, folded them down inside, and roughly stitched them down with some embroidery thread. As it would be hidden, I used a colour that I don't particularly like, rather than wasting something I might want to use on another project.

Then I cut a strip from an old t-shirt (and I mean old - a London Mini Marathon freebie from 1994 which has also seen service as a painting overall), folded it in half along its length, and roughly stitched it over the edge of the basket all the way around.

To finish it off, I cut a strip from some old linen trousers (not quite as old as the t-shirt, but not far off). I folded that like bias binding. Because I was bored, waiting for the soaked edge of the basket to dry out completely before adding the linen edge, I did some simple embroidery on it. Boyfriend says our home is too beige so I went for bright green and two pinks. It's meant to look sort of wonky, OK? Then I stitched it onto the basket (neatly this time).
It may well have taken me longer to shop for a new one, especially as I'd have been looking for a fairly traded one that I could be sure wasn't woven by child slaves (if you need a new basket and have similar criteria, try here). Old basket + old t-shirt + old trousers + someone's unwanted embroidery threads (Ebay) = new basket.
All finished and back in action. Mend and make do to save buying new...

Tuesday, 9 August 2011


It's impossible to get a clear picture of who is rioting and why.  It does seem as though a lot of what's gone on in the past few nights, around London and in other places, has indeed been "mindless" - or at least pointless.  And even if there has been some kind of point, that's been undermined by opportunistic looting and misdirected vandalism.  BUT I don't believe the trouble was initially mindless, and I think we ought to remember that in many parts of the country, young people and their families are consistently let down by "the system": schools, social services, housing services, the police, our judicial and penal institutions, and at the heart of it all central government.  In Haringey, the council has not managed to protect front-line services from the budget cuts enforced by Westminster, and of course the most vulnerable people are the worst affected.  I've seen first-hand how the police often treat people (particularly, but not only, young black men) in this part of London, and I've no doubt that many of the expressed grievances are legitimate, even if the mode of expression is questionable.  This is not a defence of looting or arson or violence against people - just a suggestion that the media ought to be looking into causes rather than indulging in the all-too-easy pursuit of demonising young people and sensationalising the story.  Thinking people need to ask questions and talk about how our society can better support young people and address their concerns so that they don't feel the need to start riots.

Here are some links that seem pertinent:

(informed youths vs uninformed politician)

(teenagers organising themselves peacefully and engaging in the political process - to no avail)

(note the first comment, which typifies the kind of dismissive attitude that leads to young people becoming enraged)

Monday, 8 August 2011

Holiday inspiration: look, no planes! (ii)

Following on from this post, may I recommend a trip to...
Aldeburgh, Suffolk
The Moot Hall, Aldeburgh - February
I failed to persuade my uncle to go there when I told him that the attractions of Aldeburgh include a bleak shingle beach and more than one bookshop.  Maybe I should have mentioned the salt marshes, the fish and chip shop that attracts long queues daily for lunch and dinner (the one at the southern end of the High Street), Benjamin Britten's grave, the ancient Moot Hall, and the nearby Snape Maltings concert hall - home of the world-famous Aldeburgh Festival as well as other concerts throughout the year...  The only downside I can think of is the distant view of Sizewell nuclear plant, along the coast beyond Thorpeness. 
A sailing boat seen from the salt marshes - February
There are pretty fisherman's cottages, an ice-cream parlour, an interesting lifeboat station, miles upon miles of quiet beach, and not a single fairground ride or "amusement" arcade.  Even the gulls are relatively pleasant, or at least far more polite than their cousins in Cornwall: they will sidle up hopefully while you're enjoying your chips on the beach, but they're unlikely to actually dive in and snatch them out of your hand.
Polite gulls
Small fishing boats on the beach. I'm a vegetarian, but fish-eaters
 can buy the freshest fish from the huts on the beach.
These are not the kind of boats that deafen dolphins.
 There are tons of holiday houses and flats to rent in Aldeburgh and plenty of shops (and restaurants) along the High Street to make for an easy self-catering break.  Although I haven't been inside it, I think this house looks like a good bet for a larger gathering, and it's recommended on Alastair Sawday's site.  There are plenty of B&Bs and hotels too.
Apparently you can stay here!
Getting to Aldeburgh without a car is easy enough, although it's another place that was cut off by Beeching.  From London Liverpool Street there are fast trains to Ipswich, and there you change onto a small local train for Saxmundham.  The last nine miles have to be traveled by bus or taxi.
The walls of the ladies toilet at the Bell Hotel
are completely papered in old song sheets
I think the 64 bus is hourly and the taxi service advertised at the station seems to be a one-car firm, so you might need to sit in the Bell Hotel and have a drink/cup of tea/piece of cake while you wait.  Good preparation for a quiet week of books, concerts, and beautiful windy walks.
Salt marshes - yes, FEBRUARY!
You don't have to fly anywhere for "winter sun"