Wednesday 29 February 2012

A tunic for Spring

I wanted a new top, so I sat down and made one.  Sometimes the simple, non-dithering approach works well for me.  I started cutting out the fabric at 8pm, and finished the last stitch of the hem at 1am.  G was away so I had rubbish tv and some good podcasts for company.

New tunic top

New spring tunic

This morning I am incapable of taking a decent photo.  I am sporting dark shadows under my eyes but also a funky, slightly psychedelic, new tunic top.  I'm happy.

New tunic top for Spring


Sewing notes:

The pattern is the Portfolio Tunic from Lisette (Simplicity 2245), which I have made twice before.  This time I left the collar off and finished the raw edge with bias tape, because the collar comes out very high.  I much prefer the lower neckline this way.

The fabric is quilting cotton from Amy Butler's Soul Blossoms range, and I think the colours and swirly flowers are very reminiscent of the 1960s.  The relatively heavy weight of quilting cotton works very well with this pattern.  The previous two versions I made were from much lighter cotton lawn, which are cool for summer but crumple more easily and don't hang quite so well.

Monday 27 February 2012

Art ideas for older children - revisited

Both the children continue to produce large piles of drawings and paintings.  It is what they usually do after school during the week: get home, make a cup of tea and settle down with some drawing.

After I wrote my earlier post on art ideas for children last month, I've had so many comments and emails from people sharing what books and resources their children love - they have been so helpful and interesting.  Have a look in the comments of my earlier post for some of them. The Ed Emberley books in particular seem to be loved and used by everybody.

I decided to buy a manga book and some manga pens for C and O first. I bought Manga For the Beginner - Chibis by Christopher Hart and some promarker pens.

Manga for the beginner - chibis by Christopher Hart
Manga for the Beginner by Christopher Hart

Manga promarkers
Manga promarkers

It was like opening floodgates!  They both produced page after page of manga drawings, and still do so most days.

Livvy's manga
O's manga

I ended up buying a second manga book, so that they didn't have to share, and went for Super-Cute Chibis by Joanna Zhou, which is also excellent.  I also bought more promarkers, but have my eye on the manga pens by Faber-Castell too, which look very good and come in a good range of colours.  You can buy both the promarkers and the Faber Castell manga pens at branches of Hobbycraft and most independent art shops, as well as online.

Super-Cute Chibis by Joanna Zhou
Super Cute Chibis by Joanna Zhou

From Super-Cute Chibis by Joanna Zhou
From Super Cute Chibis by Joanna Zhou

From Super-Cute Chibis by Joanna Zhou
From Super Cute Chibis by Joanna Zhou

Cam's manga
C's manga

Other than manga, other successes have included How To Draw Fantasy Art Warriors, Heroes and Monsters which I bought for C, thinking he might like drawing things similar to his Warhammer figures.  I was right - he loves this book and has been really inspired by it.  The author, Mark Bergin, has a whole range of 'How To Draw' books out in the same series, which look excellent.  C wants to get the Trees and Woodland one next.

Fantasy Art by Mark Burgh
How to Draw Fantasy Art Warriors, Heroes & Monsters by Mark Bergin

For O, we bought Let's Draw Happy People by Sachiko Umoto which is just so lovely.  Again, I am planning on getting the other books in the series by the same author.  This book is an English translation of a Japanese book, and I find it very reminiscent, visually, of the Japanese craft books I own.  O adores it, and it lives permanently propped open on her desk.

From Let's Draw Happy People by Sachiko Umoto

From Let's Draw Happy People by Sachiko Umoto

Livvy's happy people
O's happy people

Do you have any more art or craft book recommendations for older children?  What books do your children enjoy?

Sunday 26 February 2012

Making Winter - 10 things

I love winter - it is my favourite season.  I savour the quiet, the peace, the cold and the thoughtfulness that comes with winter.  I am very happy to potter rather than do, which suits the colder months.  I discard my sewing and pick up my knitting instead.  I bake pies rather than make jam.  I wear warm tights and thick boots and read books.

Today in London it feels as if winter has very definitely come to an end.  The sun was up early, and shone all day.  I cleared the back garden - raking, digging, pruning, sweeping, weeding and tying back.  Then I tidied up the front garden - more weeding, more sweeping and more pruning.  I was outside in the garden for over four hours, and ended up with a warm, pink glow in my cheeks, and a mildly achey back.  As I worked I thought back over the winter and it seemed to me to have passed by in a flash. 

Gardening, today

Raking up the garden for spring
Raking up the winter debris

Spring tidy-up
Hard at work

These are my highlights.
It has been a very good one, but I'm looking forward to more days like today - outside, in the garden, turning my face to the spring sunshine.


Friday 24 February 2012

Two pink bags

I haven't done any sewing since Christmas, and I've missed it.  Over a couple of evenings this week I sewed two bags.  What I had forgotten was how quick sewing is compared to knitting, and how deeply satisfying it is to create something from nothing and end up with an item which solves a problem.  Both these bags were made to solve problems.

O's old ballet bag was looking a little childish suddenly, and it was awkward for her to carry into class because it had a drawstring rather than handles. 

She really wanted a stylish tote bag like everyone else has.  I was very happy to make her one and asked her to pick out fabrics.  Despite declaring that she isn't into pink at all any more, she chose two eyewateringly bright pink fabrics for the bag.  I think she likes to keep me on my toes. 

Livvy's new ballet bag
O's new ballet bag - extra pink

I whipped up this tote bag for her in an evening, and she loves it.  At ballet this week she sauntered off into class with her new bag slung over her shoulder, looking very pleased with herself.  All the other 9 year olds in her class were exclaiming over the deliciousness of the cherry, polka dot and gingham fabrics, which pleased her even more.  She can be sure that no one else will ever have a ballet bag quite like this one.

Inside the ballet bag - all stuffed in any old how
O's new ballet bag - everything still gets stuffed inside any old how

The second bag was made for a friend's 12 year old daughter.  S didn't want her small bedroom cramped with a big washing basket, so her mum asked me to make her a drawstring laundry bag which could hang on the back of her door instead.  S picked out the fabric for her laundry bag, and also chose pink - but in much more muted colours than my 9 year old.  Like me, S's mum also thought her daughter didn't like anything pink, but was proved wrong.  I think maybe all girls like to keep their mums on their toes.

Embroidering a label
Embroidering a label

Laundry bag label
Laundry bag label

I embroidered a label for the bag, and was delighted to find a little steam iron image amongst my vast collection of embroidery transfers from Sublime Stitching.  I really love this bag, and the fabric S chose.  I think it would be a nice idea to have one of these myself to pack into my suitcase when I go away, and keep dirty washing separate from clean clothes.

Sarah's laundry bag
S's laundry bag - to hang behind her bedroom door

I hope S likes it as much as I do - I have a feeling she will.  I know her mum will just be delighted to get those dirty clothes off the floor and tidied away.  What is it with girls and discarded clothes?

O's bedroom this morning
O's bedroom this morning - with discarded bath towel, pyjamas and tops flung around.

Thursday 23 February 2012

The Track Cycling World Cup - 10 things

The crowd at the World Cup
The crowd in the Olympic Velodrome

  • We went to the Olympic Velodrome last weekend, to watch Day 3 of the official test event - the Track Cycling World Cup.
  • We got to the Velodrome at 8am and left at 4:30pm.  It was so exciting I could have happily stayed there for twice as long.
  • Graham and Cam cheering on Team GB
    G and C - still cheering on Team GB after eight hours in the velodrome
  • The commentator was delightfully partisan:
  • Everybody screamed, shouted and stamped their feet when the commentator said that. 
  • Chris Hoy lining up for the Keirin
    Bottoms and bikes - lining up to start the keirin. Can you spot Chris Hoy?
  • By the end of the day I had lost my voice.
  • Velodromes are heated to 28 degrees C on race days to give optimum speed to the riders.
  • In the pens
    The countries' pens in the middle of the track
  • Watching all the countries' support teams in the pens in the centre of the track proved almost as entertaining as the races.  The Dutch had at least 4 technicians per rider and had brought their own coffee machine into the pens - very classy.
  • The thighs on the Greek male cyclists were of absolutely epic proportions.
  • One of my tweets made it up onto the big screen in the stadium.  My 12 year old said patronisingly that he was most impressed that I knew how to tweet from my phone.
    My tweet on the big screen!
    My tweet on the big screen - "well done, Mum"
  • The track has a resident joiner, who was ushered out onto the track, clutching his toolkit, to inspect the wood and make necessary repairs each time there was a crash.

This coming weekend we are heading back to the Olympic Park to watch Tom Daly in action in the Aquatics Centre test event, the Diving World Cup.  Tickets will be going on sale soon for more Olympic test events - you can find details here.

    Tuesday 21 February 2012

    Flowers - paper and real

    My daffodils

    I bought myself some daffodils from the supermarket, but until they come out I am enjoying this paper and twig bouquet made by O and her friend F last week.

    Frank & Livvy's paper bouquet

    They were inspired by this excellent and inspiring papercraft book of F's - I am planning on getting O her own copy very soon, and writing an update to my post in January about art and craft books for older children and teenagers.  Stay tuned!

    Monday 20 February 2012

    Time off

    Cam's half-term reading
    Half-term reading for C

    Time off is always welcome - and time off from school is particularly appreciated around here, even though school itself is generally enjoyed.  This past week the children were off school for half term, and G took a week off work as well, so we all had a week off at home together which felt very special.

    We crammed our week with Good Things:
    • a family trip to Kew Gardens with cousins, uncle and aunt.  With the aid of a toppled snowman, C was taller than both Uncle and Dad for the first time.
    • Cam is taller than both Uncle and Dad
      G, C and Uncle M
    • a family trip to Cambridge to see the newest member of the family, and another uncle and aunt.  O took approximately 200 photos of her smallest cousin.
    • Hands - Graham & Allegra
      Baby A's perfect little hand
    • a birthday for G
    • a trip to the other side of London to celebrate a milestone birthday for G's father
    • Livvy reading and Cam with iPod on the tube
      O reading and C listening to his iPod on the tube
    • a long walk through the forest with old friends
    • a day chilling out with more old friends, some computer games, and knitting for the Mums
      Shawl progress
      Slow but steady progress on my shawl
    • a day at the Olympic Park to watch the Track Cycling World Cup at the velodrome
    • Graham and Cam cheering on Team GB
      Cheering on Team GB at the velodrome
    Everyone's back at school and work today, and I miss them.  I am tidying, and cleaning, and setting the house back to normal.  It feels too quiet, but I go back to noticing - and appreciating - the small things. 

    I spent a happy half hour in the garden this morning, chatting to the hens as I cleaned out their eglu and inspecting the progress of the buds and bulbs.  While we've been having time off with family and friends over half-term, the plants in the garden have been hard at work.  Spring is so nearly here.


    Clematis bud
    Clematis bud

    Wednesday 15 February 2012


    Snare drum, gleaming
    Snare drum, gleaming in the sunshine

    With the move from Ironman training to mere marathon training, G finds that he has time on his hands these days to rediscover old hobbies.  Given how intolerant I am of his love of music which consists entirely of repetitive beats and no melody, it is perhaps a little surprising that I love listening to his drumming so much.  But I do.  As long as I have know him, he has been drumming.  He was a shocking 45 minutes late for our second date, but when he eventually showed up he had drum sticks poking out of his coat pocket and was full of enthusiasm for a new technique he'd just learned at his drum lesson - he was so engaging and interesting on the subject of drum beats that I forgave his (happily uncharacteristic) tardiness and we went on to have a third date.

    I think proper hobbies are the ones that you can't help but doing, and the ones which you return to again and again during your life.   G first had drum lessons as a teenager, and when we first moved in together, in our early twenties, the drum kit came too and he played regularly. 

    Drum kit moves house, 1998
    Moving the drums into our new flat in 1998

    When the children were little there wasn't much spare time for drumming; we let them loose on the bongos, while the rest of the kit was packed away.

    Baby Livvy drumming
    O, aged 2, with bongos

    Baby Cam drumming
    C, aged about 10 months, with bongos

    But the love of drumming is always there for G, and can be slotted into family life surprisingly easily these days.  You don't need a full drum kit permanently set up in a spare (soundproofed) room to play the drums.  You can even enjoy your hobby of drumming whilst living in a terraced house in the middle of London - and we've even managed to stay friendly with the neighbours.  Like all good hobbies, there are plenty of opportunities to purchase drumming gadgets, and there is a wide array of gadgets to make drums quieter and less invasive.

    There are practise pads to hit instead of drums - I find these particularly lovely to listen to, as they give off a gentle tippety-tap sound.

    Practice pad

    Dampening gel

    Snare drum
    Snare drumming in the sunshine

    There's also some beautiful blue gel which can be stuck onto the drum skin to lessen the resonance and calm things down a little.

    G just has his snare drum out these days - but you can learn and perfect almost all the basic drum techniques you will ever need with just a snare drum, a couple of sticks and some quality practise time.  G has some wonderful snare technique books, from the 1930s to the 1950s, which he is working through. 

    Drumming geekery Part IV
    Progressive Syncopation - first published 1958

    Drumming geekery Part II
    Stick Control - first published 1935

    Drumming geekery Part III
    Advanced Techniques - first published 1948

    I find the names of the different drum patterns he practises enchanting, and delightfully onomatopeic: paradiddles, flams, ratamacues, rolls (and then there are flamadiddles, rolls into ratamacues and all sorts of other tongue-twisting combinations).

    It is the soundtrack of our weekends these days, and I find it very soothing to hear the syncopated taps and rattles coming from our bedroom or the sitting room as I potter around the house keeping busy in my own way - cooking or reading or knitting.