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?

 

A date with the Celts

Graham and I plan dates now that I'm back at work full-time. Shifts mean that sometimes we can go weeks between having days off together. Having a day off or a night out in the diary gives us something to look forward to and feels very special when it comes around.

The latest big exhibition at The British Museum opened a couple of weeks' ago week: Celts, art and identity. Both G and I have membership to The British Museum, which means we get to swan into any exhibition for free, and without booking; something that always feels very decadent and indulgent. We both love history and yet the celts are something neither of us knows much about. We were very excited to be going as part of a date day this weekend.

This is an ENORMOUS exhibition – based around The British Museum's own extensive collection of Celtic objects, and with impressive additional loans from other museums across Europe. I learnt so much about a subject I'd previously been quite hazy on; everything I looked at made me think and wonder – which is fundamentally why I love going to exhibitions like these.

The design elements were fascinating. I loved the swirly, curvy lines, the emphasis on plants and animals in their designs, the incredible intricate detailing, and the constant use of mirror images. The jewellery in particular was stunning. I especially loved the torcs (of which there must have been close to a hundred in the exhibition).

I wondered how the torcs were put on – only a very few were hinged. The exhibition didn't adequately explain this mystery to me, and now I've read what the museum's website has to say on the matter perhaps that is because even archaeologists and historians are not quite certain. The one in the postcard above is impressive and weighty, but the ones I loved the most were the delicate twisted ones made in Ireland, from gold that glittered as if they were electrified.

Another postcard that I bought was this one of tiny metal model of a wild boar. It was probably originally used to decorate a jug or a large bowl.

It reminds me of the 'sangliers' or wild boar that you still see in South West France and other heavily forested parts of Europe today; slightly menacing, slightly ridiculous, other-worldly creatures that seem as if they've time travelled from another era.

Just like the Fabric of India exhibition I went to last week, this is something I'm going to have to go back to again in order to do it justice. When I go back to an exhibition I usually focus on a few things that I loved most the first time, rather than looking at every single item again. Many visitors at the weekend had sketchbooks with them, and I'm thinking I might have a go at drawing some of the torcs next time.

How about you? Do you go back to see an exhibition again if you can? Do you like to draw, take photographs or buy postcards? How do you try to remember what you've seen? I'd love to know.

 

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?

 

After the nights

Leaving the hospital - 7:50am

The morning you finish a run of nightshifts is a strange one. You're tired, but there's also a surge of energy that comes with finishing a block of work and anticipating a few days off. I never want to come home and sleep all day – it seems like such a waste after spending the previous three days in bed. You also want to adjust your body clock back to normal, and above all make the most of your time off. The aim, then, is to have just a few hours' sleep and force yourself back into a daytime routine.

 

I used to come home, try and get some sleep right away, and set my alarm clock for lunchtime. But I found that once I was up I felt groggy and listless all afternoon, and didn't really have the energy for anything. A few months ago I tried a different approach which works much better: I go out in the morning, straight from work, do something interesting, and then crawl into bed after lunch and sleep for three hours or so. This way I feel as though I've done something with my day, and I'm still awake enough to enjoy the evening with the family.

 

On Wednesday I went straight to the supermarket and did a big bi-monthly shop. At 8:20 in the morning I pretty much had the place to myself, and I could potter round quite happily at my own pace. It's the most stress-free way to do a big shop. Then I bought a coffee, drove out to Epping, had a big brunch sitting outside in the sunshine, and went for a good long stomp through the forest. It was blissful – and strangely woke me up more than it wore me out.

These last two days I've stayed local, and enjoyed the glorious weather – cooler Autumn temperatures with dazzling bright sunshine. This is the most perfect weather as far as I'm concerned. Yesterday I went to the Olympic Park with a friend and her baby – we lay on the grass for hours chatting, while the baby crawled around us, occasionally squealing with delight at the sheer joy of being alive and rolling around on clean, soft grass. I could have squealed with delight too.

Today I'm getting ready to go back to work tomorrow: making sure there's enough yogurt and bread in the fridge to feed the permanently hungry teenagers, washing my scrubs, cleaning out the chickens and paying the milk bill. I have a couple of day shifts this weekend, another few days off and then I'm back on nights by the middle of next week. I've made time to come out for lunch though. This is the end of my mid-week weekend, after all.

 

Cross Country

Yesterday I finished my third nightshift at 7:45, and was in the forest, running through puddles, at 8 o'clock. By 9:30 I was home, breakfasted, showered and in bed, deeply asleep. I'm trying a new thing: cross country running.

I loved all the road races I did with my running club, Eton Manor AC, during the summer season, and when I saw that the winter fixture list was largely cross country races I knew I wanted to join in. It's less than a month until my first race and until yesterday I had never run off-road. I'd bought some trail shoes in the late summer sale and was just waiting for the ground to be damp enough to use them.

 

Yesterday was perfect. It had rained all night and the forest was soaked. I was exhausted and just wanted some fresh air and exercise to clear my head. I ran only for 4km, but it was so much fun. Running through puddles rather than avoiding them, ducking as I ran amongst the trees, feeling the mud and rain splashing around my ankles – I hadn't expected cross country running to be so different from road running, but it is. I have to concentrate more on how I am running, and where I am placing my feet, and at the same time there's more beautiful scenery to distract me.

My new shoes were a delight, and have dried out well, stuffed with newspaper and left in a warm place. I just need to buy the occasional Sunday newspaper now – the freebie Council paper that we get every couple of weeks is not big enough to cope with the amount of cross country running I shall be doing this winter.