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.


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?


Indian fabrics

This morning I trekked right across London to the V and A, to see their new exhibition The Fabric of India. I knew I would enjoy it, because it's the V and A, and it's fabric, so what's not to like?…but goodness me, I was just blown away.


The exhibition is vast – it took me nearly two hours to go round. There was so much wonderful fabric, plus plenty of information on every single exhibit. I thought I already knew a fair bit about both the history and the textile industry of India, but I still had much to learn. The exhibition covers dying, weaving, design, pattern, embroidery, printing, stitching, beading, clothing, quilting, fashion, and so many other things.


Many of the fabrics were first shown at The Great Exhibition in 1851, but although they are now more than 164 years old they look as vibrant and delicious as if they had been made last week. There were a good number of fabrics even older than that too, including an enormous floor cloth from the 1650s printed with bright red poppies which had me standing open mouthed in front of it for ages, almost unable to believe what I was seeing.


My favourite part of the exhibition was the Royal room, with examples of the most luxurious clothing woven from gold and silver thread that I've ever seen. The clothing was all several hundred years' old but it gleamed and sparkled as if it had been made yesterday. One piece of lace fabric, made to edge a woman's sari, was embroidered with hundreds of tiny metallic green beetle wing cases that looked for all the world like exquisite gems.


I loved the ikat fabrics, the kantha stitching, the indigo, the padded jackets, the tiny floral chintz muslins, the elephant appliqué, the gold thread, the shawls, the khadi…there was so much to take in, and reflect on, that I know I'll need to go back to see it all again.


Have you been? Would you like to go? Which Indian textiles are your favourites?


Half a dress done

I’ll be working all this weekend, so I did some store cupboard cooking this morning: a litre of yogurt, a dozen large soft bread rolls, a box of coleslaw, and a lamb ragu. It’s the sort of food that’s handy to have in the fridge, so that I can quickly put together a packed lunch and packed tea for work. I get up at 5:30am when I’m working a day shift, and I do not want to be dithering around too long sorting out my food at that time in the morning.


Once my cooking was done (and I’d delegated the hoovering and the sorting and emptying of rubbish and recycling to the children), I spent most of the rest of the day working on a new summer dress.

I haven’t done any dressmaking at all since I started work in January. That’s partly because once I was earning money I was able to afford to buy nice clothes again, so I didn’t have the same urgency to make them. But it was also because dressmaking requires care and attention, and in the first few months of nursing I had absolutely no head space left on my days off to concentrate on the precision of setting sleeves and evenly distributing gathers.

Goodness I’ve missed it though. I had a very satisfying time today pressing, marking, cutting, pinning, pleating and sewing. I’m making a summer dress from one of my Japanese pattern books, and it’s a slow process because there are so many adjustments and small details to be fussed over. I’ve had to put it away tonight, half done, but I can pick it back up on Monday and finish it off before I start nightshifts again later in the week.