A new rhythm

I’m now six weeks into my new job, and my new commute; a lovely settled rhythm is starting to make itself felt.

I have run once, tubed a few times, and mostly cycled. The commute has become one of the highlights of my day.
Working in theatres suits me, and I am finding the job fascinating. As ever, there is so much to learn – which for me is a good thing, and makes my job more enjoyable. All those weird anaesthetic drugs!

However, there’s also been a lovely boost to my confidence as I no longer feel like a newly qualified nurse, but instead someone with valuable critical care experience, and knowledge, who can add something to the team.

Now that my new work rhythm is feeling familiar and settled, it’s time to turn my attention back to what I get up to in between the shifts. Books and sewing first I think.


A golden Spring walk

It is Spring, and fresh things are blossoming and beginning.

Fittingly, I start a new job at the end of this month, and I am beginning to think about how I will commute there. For the last fifteen months, I've had an incredibly easy journey to work – I'm based in a hospital that's just a ten minute walk from home. The new job is a little further away, but still a short commute by London standards. I could catch the tube (just four stops – and thirty minutes door-to-door), or I could cycle (I think about thirty minutes too), or I could run!

Running to work wouldn't be as hardcore as it sounds. I would start by running home, just once a week, and then slowly (over six months or more) build up to the point where I could run either in or back, two or maybe three times a week, and cycle and tube the rest of the time. My shifts are going to be shorter than the ones I do in my current job (10 hours rather than 13), and they start and finish at varied times (I will do a mixture of earlies, middles and lates) – so to some extent how I commute will be dictated by what shift I am working (I would happily run home after an early but not after a late, for example).

Google maps told me that the run would be between 8km and 9km, which is well within my capabilities, so today I set out to figure out precisely what my route would be – right down to which side of the road would be best to run on, and where to cross major junctions. I caught the tube to my new hospital, and then turned around and set out to walk back home.

Appropriately for a spring walk, I discovered when I stopped for lunch that I'd inadvertently been taking photographs of all things yellow. Flowers, street art, an ice cream van…I think maybe at this time of year, the fresh, clean yellow of the ubiquitous daffodils wakes me up and energises me, so that my eye is drawn to other objects of the same colour.

And when my food arrived, I laughed out loud, because it seemed I was still drawn to golden yellow shades. This is at the wonderful Crate Brewery in Hackney Wick, right next to the Olympic Park, where they serve the best pizzas I have EVER eaten. This was a sweet potato, Stilton and walnut pizza, which I washed down with a pint of their best cider.

As I walked out of the far side of the Olympic Park, and arrived back in Leyton I knew exactly which road I would have to take back home: the one that takes me past 'the yellow house'…

…where, amazingly there was a woman walking past in a yellow coat as I stopped to take a photo.

How do you commute to work? Would you ever consider running as part of your commute? Do you have a choice of how you can commute? I'd love to know.


Exquisite jewels and all the ceramics

At the V&A last week I didn't really know what I wanted to see. This is a nice, indulgent state to be in. I am a member of the V&A, so I get in to all the exhibitions for free as part of my membership; and this means that I'll go and see exhibitions that I might not otherwise be tempted by. I found myself wandering onto the Bejewelled Treasures exhibition (on until 10 April), just because it caught my eye and I thought 'why not?'

It is a fairly small exhibition, filled with exquisite jewellery from one private collector, plus the loan of three items from the Queen. The pieces were incredibly beautiful, and the size of some of the gems was breathtaking, but I couldn't decide if I enjoyed the exhibition or not. It was very crowded, and to appreciate the jewellery properly you really need to get up close and peer at it for a few minutes. This meant that there was a great deal of standing around and chatting while people slowly manoeuvred themselves in front of a case. After five minutes of listening to two very loud women from Hampstead discussing the value of their engagement rings (“My dear! I could have sold the diamond one and paid for at least half the school fees!”), I put my headphones on, listened to some Flipside, and enjoyed myself a whole lot more.

I loved the paintings and the 19th century photographs of Indian rulers wearing their jewels, which were also a part of the exhibition and helped to give an idea of how dazzling an entire bejewelled outfit would have been. Also, pink sapphires! Who knew? Not me.

After all that sparkle and jostling I wants something a little more soothing, so I tried to work my way up to the 6th floor of the V&A where the ceramics collection is displayed. In all my many years of coming to the V&A, I don't think I've ever managed to do this (which to be fair is a logistical challenge as every staircase and lift in that building seems to go to a different floor). I finally came out of the correct lift and the scale of what I saw just took my breath away. They are not kidding when they say that “the V&A houses the greatest and most comprehensive collection of ceramics in the world”.

These pictures just show a tiny proportion of the collection. I wandered around for a couple of hours, entirely by myself (I think all the other visitors that day must have been in the Bejewelled Treasures exhibition, or had been defeated by the lifts). It was simply breathtaking.

When there is so much to see, I find that the best thing to do is to focus on a couple of things which catch my eye. I loved the teapots and teacups, but it was this delicate little eye bath (German, made in 1730) and the tiny blue and white scalloped dish (Japanese, date unknown) which I wanted to tuck into my pocket and bring home with me.

For a few minutes before I headed back home, I sat down to rest on a comfy padded leather bench, with the sunshine streaming through the window behind me and illuminating a whole case of giant Ming vases in front of me. And I thought once again, how very lucky I am to live where I do and be able to spend a cold Thursday morning in February looking at beautiful things from other lands and other eras.


Sniffling and sewing

January and February passed in much the same way as December had done for me: full of cold, worn out and weary. I've never known a winter like this one for illnesses; I blame the very mild weather we've had – the germs and viruses have lingered and spread for far too long. Work has been correspondingly busy, with many, many serious influenza cases.

Then all of a sudden, a couple of days ago, I woke up and felt full of energy and enthusiasm. What a strange, forgotten sensation! It was almost as if I didn't realise how run down I'd been until I was fully better again.


One of the few activities I've had the energy for over the last couple of months is sewing. I've made two tops, using new patterns, and have cut out fabric to make a third. Using new patterns is slow at first (tracing pattern pieces, figuring out counter-intuitive necklines, triple-checking measurements, adjusting hem lengths) – but so very satisfying to have something completely brand new and different to wear.

The spotty, blood-orange blouse was a pattern from this Japanese book, and the grey and pink v-neck blouse is the Liesl + Co Cappuccino Tunic. The fabric I have cut out is some handwoven indigo cotton, which is going to become another version of the Cappuccino Tunic – this time with the long sleeves shown in View A

I finished a run of nightshifts this morning and have two more days off before I'm back in work at the weekend; I also have Christmas present vouchers from Graham and my parents for Cloth House and John Lewis. So tomorrow, I'm headed into town for some cultural inspiration (not sure at the moment where this will come from – perhaps a morning at the V&A, or perhaps a wander around the British Museum), and then I shall have lunch in Soho and spend the afternoon fabric shopping. That's pretty much my idea of a perfect day.

I am fizzing with excitement about this gloriously indulgent day I have planned – but just a few weeks ago, I would have been exhausted at the prospect of so much activity in one day. Too unwell and run-down to be enthusiastic about museum prowling or fabric shopping is a sorry state to be in. I am so pleased to be back where I should be. Finally.


Ladylike attire

My December rota was savage; and then I caught a winter cold. I was run down, exhausted and overwhelmed. Time between the shifts was spent taking naps and telling everyone how tired I was. Christmas on the unit was very busy, with some quite distressing cases. On New Year's Eve I staggered into work, and the matron took one look at me and sent me home again. I saw in the new year with a raging temperature and about 48 hours solid sleep. I didn't even wake up when the fireworks went off at midnight.


And now…it's mid January and I am feeling fine again. I went back to work for a week, and then had ten days' annual leave. More rest, more sleep, more of everything apart from work. I feel energised and full of plans again, and ready to give of myself once more.


At some point over Christmas and New Year (I don't remember exactly when – possibly I was a little delirious or feverish), I spotted a 1957 English nurse's uniform cloak on eBay, with a “buy now” option. I couldn't quite believe it: for the last eighteen months or so I've been looking on eBay for a cloak like this. English cloaks don't come up for sale nearly as often as the American or Canadian ones, and when they are in good condition they attract very competitive bidding and can go for hundreds of pounds. “Just buy it! You won't regret it!” said G, when I dithered, hardly able to believe what I was seeing. So I did. And he's right; I'll never regret it.


The cloak is incredible. It's made of two layers of thick wool: navy on the outside, and bright scarlet inside. It sits squarely on my shoulders, and fastens in two ways: first of all with the red straps, which wrap around my chest and fasten behind my back with a button; and secondly with stout black buttons all the way down the front. It is very weighty and is not going to slither off or slip down my shoulders. It has two slits at the front to bring my arms through to the outside if I wish. Once upon a time I think it had a hood which buttoned on to the collar, but that's missing now; I shall keep hunting eBay for a replacement.

When I am wearing it I am toasty warm – I've honestly never owned a coat as effective as this – it is completely impenetrable to wind, and you don't really need a scarf or gloves with it. There is something about being wrapped up in it that makes me feel very secure and comforted; a bit like when someone tucks you up in bed with a hot water bottle.


The only downside that I can see is that you really, really need to wear a skirt or dress with it. It truly looks rubbish with trousers, and I don't even want to imagine what it would look like over my scrubs.


But that's fine. It's a winter cloak, and I love wearing skirts and tights in the winter. As part of my restorative ten days off, I also caught up on some sewing and finally finished the denim City Stroll Wrap Skirt that I cut out in November. It came together much more easily than the first one I made (usually the way when you make something more than once), and I am very pleased with it indeed; it's such a good pattern.


It goes perfectly underneath my cloak; both of them practical and pretty.


The details in the fabric*

This is a decorated piece of discarded chewing gum on the Millennium Bridge in central London; it's about 2cm by 2cm and most people walking over the bridge would just glimpse something colourful out of the corner of their eye and carry on walking, admiring the stunning views of the Shard, St Paul's and the river. But I was curious enough to squat down, take a photo, and look at it more closely (causing a little bit of a pedestrian traffic jam – sorry, folks).

It turns out that there are hundreds of these tiny works of art on the bridge. Once your eye tunes into them you realise they are all over the walkway. Aren't they lovely?

They are made by Ben Wilson, popularly known as Chewing Gum Man; you can find out more about his tiny works of art here.

I was on my way to the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey – a lesser well known gem of a museum, about five minutes' walk from Borough Market, that is well worth a visit if you've not been before. Their current exhibition is Liberty In Fashion, and I was so excited to be going. I have loved Liberty designs since I was a teenager, when I used to buy quarter metres of Ianthe Art Nouveau tana lawn in the red colourway (no longer made it seems), to embellish my denim jackets and jeans. This is still my most favourite Liberty print – in any colour – and I still think it goes beautifully with denim.

The exhibition had dresses, jackets, stoles, scarves, skirts and blouses from the last 140 years – all made from Liberty fabrics, and many of them made by Liberty too. My favourites were the ones from the turn of the 20th Century and the 1930s because the garment construction was as exquisite as the fabrics.

I love the tiny floral prints, and the beautiful smocking, piping and gathering details that make the dresses so glorious.

Tiny things, made with care and attention to detail; I think they're just as enchanting when they're made from old chewing gum as they are when made from silk or lawn.

*I lifted the title of this blog post from the Jason Mraz song of the same name – thank you, Jason Mraz! It's one of my favourite songs – and not just because it has the word 'fabric' in the title.


My local area

What do you think of as your local area? In a huge city like London people often consider their local area to be their postcode (which a few years ago was even identified as being linked to gang violence in London, Sheffield and Birmingham). I've lived in Leyton (E10) for the past twenty years, and if someone asks where I am from I always say Leyton. However, I realised recently that what I think of as my local area is anywhere within walking distance; and walking distance for me means Leyton, Leytonstone, the Olympic Park and parts of Walthamstow and Hackney. My 'local area' is a broader term than 'home' it seems.

These past few weeks I've often been too tired to go into town (what I always call central London – is that big city terminology too?) on my days off, so I've stayed in my local area. We don't have the big museums and galleries which I love so much, but there are still excellent cafés, parks, wine bars, gorgeous views, great pubs, restaurants, interesting shops and quirky bits of local history to enjoy.

It's incredibly resorative to sit in a local pub – just a few minutes down the road – with a friend and a pint, and have a catch up for an hour, before walking home to hang out the washing you put on before you left. Spending a few hours out of the house in my local area is an effortless and easy way of unwinding on a day off. Do you love local too?


City Stroll Wrap Skirt

In the past couple of days I've made myself a wearable muslin of the City Stroll Wrap Skirt, as a practice run before making a denim version. The fabric I had on my shelf that was closest to denim in weight, was some lilac needlecord – not very me, and not something I was saving for a special project, so I jumped right in and cut it out.

There are many things I love about this pattern. It's such a pretty shape, and it has large roomy pockets. It sits nicely on my waist and hips and doesn't gape open when I walk, or when I sit down (which I was worried it might). The length is just right, and you can add contrast fabric inside the pockets and on the hem facings.

The big downside though, is the waistband. It's an enclosed waistband, which means it sandwiches either side of the top of the skirt. Enclosed waistbands are very bulky and its hard to make them look really neat on a sewing machine. As I've wrestled with enclosed waistbands before, I hand-sewed the inside edge, which was much slower than machining it but does look better.

The skirt is fastened with four buttons across the front of the waistband, and because of the bulk of so many layers of corduroy (and interfacing) in the enclosed waistband, making the buttonholes was a right royal pain in the neck. I switched to a denim needle on my machine, and still struggled to get the buttonholes really neat and accurately placed. I unpicked and re-stitched the last one three times before I was happy with it. Have you ever tried unpicking a buttonhole? It's not the best way to have fun.

With the denim version I want to make next, I'll leave out the interfacing, and adjust the way the waistband is folded and stitched to reduce the bulk. I'll also have some soothing music playing when I make the buttonholes.


An autumnal surge in creativity

I was at work on the night the clocks went back – this is my favourite time of year, but an extra long weekend nightshift with an ICU full to capacity and several sick patients elsewhere in the hospital waiting to come in was not the best way to celebrate it. I appreciate my days off all the more now that the unit is busy with the illnesses that come with cooler weather, and there is less daylight. I have a new desire to make the most of every minute.

The other development that has come with a change in the seasons is a desire for more making. My knitting (which always languishes during the summer) has sped up. I've bought some new patterns and some new fabric. I'm debating which hats I want to knit for when winter arrives. I've got measurements to sew my littlest nieces some new skirts, and I'm writing crafty to-do lists.


Here's what's energising me at the moment:

  • Johanna Basford's new colouring book. I'm still in the middle of the Enchanted Forest, but looking forward to losing myself in the ocean very much. I may need to treat myself to some new colouring pencils in blue shades.
  • I've never successfully knitted a cowl. All the ones I've made previously have been too short, too prone to rolling up, and just not cosy enough. I am rummaging for a new pattern.
  • I've bought some lightweight denim (£11 a metre from Cloth House) to make the City Stroll Wrap Skirt. I don't think the pattern cover photo is particularly enticing, but the versions I've seen people making on Flickr and Instagram have looked lovely. Plus I wear denim skirts constantly during winter, and fancy a new one in a different style.
  • At Cloth House I also bought some Indian handwoven cotton (inspired by the two visits I've made to the V&A's Fabric of India exhibition) to make a top, tunic, or dress. I am now in the middle of some very pleasant dithering over which pattern to use.
  • Socks! I've got three different pairs on the go, and am thinking I really need to learn the magic loop method so that I can knit two together.
  • These wartime knitting patterns from the V&A. A knitted turban is bizarrely appealing!


What are you making at the moment? Do you have any cowl patterns that you would recommend? Do you share my love for denim skirts?