my hippie cardigan and the books I’m longing to read

Joining in with Ginny’s Yarn-a-long.

That’s the name of the pattern – the hippie cardigan – such a sweet creation from the lovely and talented Meiju from Finland.  I so recommend you check her out here and here – her knitting and designs are beautiful.

in the garden

I so enjoyed knitting this cardigan.  I love the pattern – easy to follow, gorgeous construction.  I love the wool I chose – Cleckheaton Naturals for the stripes and a lovely discontinued Cleckheaton merino and silk blend for the rest of body and arms.  The cardigan in the pattern is intended as a summer cardigan and so is in beautiful summery colours – I wanted rich warm colours for winter so went for a much darker palette.   I would knit the hippie cardigan again without hesitation.

side on

And that’s exactly what I may have to do …

squinty

When I began knitting this cardie – way back in January? – I was 12 kilos heavier than I am now.  So what was a fitted bodice is now a baggy bodice – and a couple of stripes too long – and the raglans don’t provide that lovely – wanted – crisp definition for my shoulders.  Bugger.

kind of hairy

There’s just so much fabric around my upper body and armholes.  Such looseness in the upper sleeves.  And yet I think, as a cardigan, it is really pretty.  I love the garter stitch bands.  I love the crocheted edging.  I love the one piece construction.  I love raglan shaping.  I love how the “skirt” flares out slightly.  I adore the leather buttons Julian made me.  I love how I’ve shrunk.  I just don’t like how the cardigan didn’t shrink along with me ;-)

the bottom

It’s just a wee bit too big.  And given I’m still hoping to lose another 6 kilos – it will only get bigger.  It would be awesome if I COULD shrink it.  But that is such a finger shredding, imperfect science.  Knowing my luck, the cardigan would end up fitting Fu.

from the back

I know I shall want to wear it.  I put so many hours of knitty pleasure into this – and I even finished it –  of course I want to wear it!  And it will be lovely and cosy.  It’s just too baggy.

Hmmmm …. maybe I will just need to knit another, smaller hippie cardigan and I can have one for around the home when cosy comfort is the name of the game.  And one for when I want a little more pizzazz.  Oh dear, that will mean more wool.  And more knitting.  Such a shame.

As for my reading …. well, it’s the Sydney Writer’s Festival this week and every day I’ve heard fabulous authors being interviewed about their books on Radio National.  My favourites include Andrew Solomon and his book “Far From the Tree”  and Karima Bennoune and her book “Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here”.

I’ve heard/seen Andrew twice now and am so very impressed with the love and compassion he radiates for fellow human beings.  The stories he related on Margaret Throsby’s program on Monday were incredibly moving and brought me to tears on several occasions.  As a mama whose daughter is not as close to the tree as I thought she’d be, and as an almost nurse who will be caring and relating to “different” people everyday, I know that there will be a lot of helpful wisdom in this book.  And even the pain, sadness and sometimes complete shunning Andrew relates from families who simply do not cope with their different child will give me so much to think about and allow me to walk just a wee bit in the shoes of others – such an invaluable practice.  Sometimes, I think it’s easy to expect that the people we love and those we meet will, of course, do the things we expect them to do.  When they don’t, I think it’s part of being human to find this a bit surprising or even shocking.  And yet, there are so very many ways of being, that to expect any such compliance is to set yourself up for disappointment.  Don’t you think?

As for “Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here” – such a fascinating topic and if it’s as good as her interview on the Religion Report tonight – and as the Booklist review says – wow!  I can’t wait.  The kind of book that presents such a different and often unknown and unnoticed world to me – I LOVE that.  I felt like that about “The Sewing Circles of Herat” and “Sharon and My Mother-in-law”  – glimpses from fascinating and thoughtful people in such far away places, usually only seen in the news headlines – they so eloquently share their lived experience that it can completely transform my understanding of a place or situation.

However, I do not yet have either of these books – they feel like the books I will want to hold in my hand, flip back and forth between different stories and pages, underline with my pencil, look at on my bookshelf, take down over and over again, and waggle in front of  my family and friends.  I know you can theoretically do the same things with a kindle – but really, it’s not quite the same is it.  So I’ve ordered beautiful, real, heavy, papery copies of them and am now checking the letterbox with anticipation every day.

Until then – I might just pick up Sharon and My Mother-in-law again.  It’s been a few years since I’ve read this – just the right amount of passed time to find fresh delight in her stories again.

a table cloth skirt

table cloth

Did you notice the Australian wildflowers table cloth in last night’s post?  On a lovely heavy cotton/linen blend, with colours so rich and pretty?  I found it at the oppie recently.  Now, truth be told, if you’d dressed your table in this cloth back in the 80s or 90s, I’d have given a little eye roll and thought “ew”.  Wasn’t I horrible!  No appreciation for Australian wildflowers in any way, shape or form back then.  I’d have thought it the height of dagginess.  Throughout the 00s – I left plenty such cloths behind in the oppies, only having eyes for the sweetness of the Scandinavian and German cloths or the wacky designs of the 50s and 60s.

But now … well, I’d have to say I’m converted.  With age has come a much greater appreciation for the beauty and delight that lives right on my doorstep and so, the other day when I spied this cloth hanging amongst its boring plain relatives in the table cloth section, I snatched it up with delight.  I love looking out for these flowers as they glow at their special time of the year.  I love watching the bees smoosh themselves into the red flowering gum.  I love how the brightly coloured birds in Mum’s garden screech indignantly at each other as they squabble over the sweet nectar.  The flowering kangaroo paws remind me of the magnificent kangaroos that lollop down Mum’s street and gather in the grass at the Pambula beach each afternoon.  I even love the heady scent of the wattle, despite it making my eyes itch – it takes me back to my school years where wattle was planted alongside the Year 9 classrooms and science labs and once it flowered, you knew the school year was on the downhill run.  Yes, I’m truly converted.

However, Julian is not much of a table cloth fellow, and the linen cupboard is literally popping with table cloths so this sweet cloth needed to take on a different role.  Besides – I wanted to enjoy it regularly!  And so a table cloth skirt was born.

stork leg close up

I cut the cloth in half so that the longest side gave me the most length and the little wattle baubles formed pretty borders.  Sewed it up, turn over a hem, and added elastic.  But it still needed something else – a pretty red and white spot!  With a deep ribbon of blue rickrack. (p.s. the lovely red vintage cardigan is also recently thrifted from the oppie – Mum found it!)

fulllength holding it out

It is so cherry and pretty and I don’t mind saying that each time I wear it, someone comments with delight :-)  I even had a lady at the patchwork store follow me down the aisles to ask if that was indeed a tablecloth because it was the prettiest use for such a tablecloth she’d ever seen!

heavy dew new tree children bee unopened buds against autumn leaves lookingup sun and blue sky

It is the perfect skirt to wear today.  A day filled with a rich blue sky and lovely golden sunlight.  Such a treat after four days of dark gloom and rain.  Mind you, the dew is so heavy it took only a few footsteps before my shoes were wet through.  I’ll have to get the leather wax onto them.

wet feet the back

Guess what I have in the sewing pile now … one of those fabulous floral German cloths with the border of little men and women in their sweet costumes.  It’s a square one, identical to one that I use regularly and those I grew up with.  Mum and Nanny had them in yellow and green and blue – as a child it just seemed natural to me that you should have blue and white china on your table with floral cloths bordered in little men and women.  I was always so surprised to find other folk DIDN’T have these on their table.

And you know what’s going to happen to it, don’t you!

 

the postmaster’s granddaughter

As you may have read here before, my beloved old Grandad was a Postmaster with Australia Post.  He began his career as a teenage telegram boy who, whilst wearing a blue woollen suit, buttoned to the neck with brass buttons in hot, steamy Brisbane, would ride his bicycle up and down Brisbane’s narrow, hilly streets delivering telegrams.   The post office, in those days, encouraged its workers to “improve themselves”, so Grandad completed every course they offered and began climbing the corporate ladder, moving from one small country town post office to the next, each time a little higher up, until he was the Postmaster.

gundagai

My earliest memories of his role are from when he was the Postmaster in Holland Park and Nanny and I would drive down to the Post Office each day to fetch him home for lunch.  We used to sing a silly ditty along the way, based on his nickname – “the old baldy-bee, the old baldy-bee, hi-ho the dairy-oh, the old baldy-bee”.  I thought it was hysterically funny – and loved my old baldy grandad.  From there they moved to Leeton – where they lived in a lovely old Postmaster’s residence – my only memories of which revolve around peach orchards and flies, and hot buttered rock cakes under the cutting out table in Nanny’s curtain and haberdashery shop.  Then onto Kempsey – it was the best!

goulburn post office

 (this is the Goulburn Post Office Grandad – it was so big, I couldn’t fit it all in the photo – so I chose the clock tower because it was the prettiest bit! )

As a child, I thought the Kempsey post office was a castle!  We would go in to visit Grandad and he would sit us up at the huge old wooden counter with a booklet he would make out of sheets of brown paper stapled together.  We would fiercely whack the rubber stamps (just like the real post office clerks), that were stored on the big, spinning  metal mushrooms which sat on the counter, all over our brown paper booklets. Sometimes we would sneak other things – like airmail stickers and parcel labels which all had to be moistened on  damp sponges that sat snugly in little glass bowls, before sticking them in too. If we were really lucky, Australia Post would have colouring sheets – in they went too, along with brochures on how to pack parcels and instructions on what you must never send through the mail. Then we would use every marker in the drawer to decorate the page edges.  Good stuff!

cundletown post office

Then Grandad bought a retired red Postie motorbike.  Oh my goodness – we couldn’t believe our good fortune.  We would take turns sitting on the back, clutching Grandad’s waist, as he zoomed (pottered and bumped really), along the fence line of their back paddock, down past the chooks and ducks across the bottom of their property, then back up the other side, past the wood pile.  Round and round we’d go.  One grandchild on the back holding on tight, the other grandchildren impatiently awaiting their turn, the rest of the family cheering from the porch!  It was one cute motorbike.  And Grandad was the coolest postie!

kempsey post office

All these lovely memories have given me such a soft spot for Post Offices and a love of stamps.  So when I saw this glorious stamp fabric at Spotlight last year, I was utterly smitten.  All those wee stamps!  The radiant colours!  It was just meant to be mine. However, goodness knows why, I didn’t buy any straight away.  Which was a big mistake, because within less than a fortnight they had sold out.  Bummer.

grafton post office

Then, when I was in Brisbane last month, helping to look after old Grandad and Nanny, we called into their local Spotlight during a dreadful rain storm – we almost didn’t stop but were both desperate for a circular knitting needle – and there was the stamp fabric – wrapped around the end of the fabric cutting table.  I asked the lovely girl serving us whether they had any left.  No, she said, it was an incredibly popular fabric and that was their last piece – display only.

Oh!  I proceeded to tell her about Grandad the Postmaster and how we were here looking after him, how much I loved stamps and post offices, and how much I loved that fabric – I had wanted some because it would always remind me of our lovely times with Grandad when we were little.  She was such a sweetie –  and without another word, unfastened the safety pins that were holding the fabric taut, unwrapped it from the end of the table, measured it, folded it neatly and sold it to me – at a discount.  I was soooooo thrilled :-)  Honestly, I regularly have the loveliest experiences with the staff at Spotlight – no matter which store I visit, they are always so helpful and friendly.

Grandad thought it was very cool …

all those stamps

… and what have I done with it?  Why made my very own Postmaster’s Granddaughter’s Dress :-)

spinning around

My favourite dropped waist style.  The bodice is made from a Butterick Blouse pattern – I especially wanted the lovely peter pan collar – my first attempt at such a thing – and I’m happy to report that whilst it was a bit fiddly and took almost two hours of careful stitching and pressing, it was such fun to make and I shall certainly make more.  I bought the orange fabric – called Full Moon Lagoon – from Darn Cheap Fabric up the road.  The skirt – in my glorious stamp fabric – is simply gathered on.  And I found a fabulously fat turquoise ric-rac at Darn Cheap to trim the hem.

gathered on collar button at back

The original blouse pattern called for a zipper in the back.  That seemed both too much effort and too fussy.  So I made the back opening much shorter, added a lovely vintage button from the button jar and crocheted a little chain stitch loop to fasten it.  Works a treat.

pretty hem full length

I just love it!  I know – being the funny old thing I am – that I will wear it and wear it and wear it for many years.  In summer with my sandals.  In winter with tights and buckle ups and a cardie.  It will always be a favourite.

all those greys

And every time I pull it over my head, smooth it down, wash it, peg it out on the line, carefully iron it …

the old postmaster himself

I will think of my dearly loved old Grandad (pictured above with Mum on the right and Auntie Anne on the left), the intrepid Postmaster, the beautiful childhood he helped create for me, and all that love he has shared with me for 44 years.

portrai

Oh how I love you, you old baldy-bee!

watermelons for summer :: a twirly skirt

the beginning

The great wool tidy has revealed many treasures (as well as plenty for recycling) including this summery watermelon fabric and a pretty blue paisley that looks oh so French.  They’re cotton – and that bubbly sort of fabric – oh, what’s it called?  I can never remember, but have loved it ever since my Mum bought me a pair of pink and white stripe tailored shorts in it when I was 11.  Begins with an “s” … it will come to me.

Two metres of each fabric – perfect for a twirly skirt just like this long time favourite.  And perfect for the exceedingly hot summer we are having – lovely and soft and floaty and long – ‘t’will both keep the sun off and a breeze circulating :-)

I’ve made lots of these skirts – they are a little time consuming only in that it’s amazing how long it can take to gather up length after length after length of fabric – but they are so simple and can be dressed up or down to wear anywhere.  The only sizing is in the waist – and that’s elastic.  I’ve made Abby the most over the years – this little Aunt Grace number is still a favourite that she now wears with knee high black lace up boots and a little cropped jacket (I know – how they grow up).

abby's

I made a beautiful red, cream and black one for Mum one Christmas that she wears in winter with black opaque tights and a black turtleneck, and of course the original one I made with Ruth in class – that was such a lovely morning and such a delight to be able to simply wander upstairs to all the beautiful fabrics and trims when I needed something.  Oh if only all our sewing could be done with such treasures at hand :-)

original

You can use as many different fabrics as you like and completely go to town on the trim if you want.  I decided to keep this watermelony one pretty simple – given there was no more than 2 metres of any trim anywhere in Bootville, keeping it simple meant I didn’t have to go to the fabric store and spend money.  Of course, I may do this tomorrow, but for now, simple it is.

And, it occurred to me as I was slicing up the fabric, that you might like to make one too.  So here’s a really simple tutorial for how to make up your own.  Starting with … clear your sewing table.  This is so empowering :-)

ready to start

Then … cut the fabric!  I use a rotary cutter and quilting ruler.  Can you read that below?  Ignore that big 6.01 that’s staring out at you from the middle background.  I don’t know why it won’t go away.  Just choose your fabrics – order them from tiers one to six, fold them like you would your patchwork fabric (i.e. selvedges together, folded once, then twice, place your quilting ruler at the appropriate mark and with your rotary cutter, slice straight across the width of the fabric so you wind up with a piece that is – if we’re talking about tier 1 – 8 long x 42 inches wide.

Now – a word about this tier one piece.  It will be the yoke of the skirt.  When I was first shown how to make the skirt, I was told to cut just one width for the yoke ’cause you don’t want a lot of bulk around your waist.  However, these days (after a massive FAIL at losing weight last year – I have lost 4 kilos this year, but we still have a waaaaaay to go) one width only just makes it around my hips (well, lower stomach really, it’s a very strange thing my lower stomach).  I did cut this watermelony tier one piece just one width but it’s a bit snug.  I would recommend adding an extra bit of fabric just to keep it comfy – and eliminate the “fitted look” – if you find that one width is just a bit too close.  I reckon, measure your widest bit and add an extra 10 inches, don’t you think, in which case you’ll need two widths of 8 inches – one full one and one that you’ll use a bit of.

cutting instructions

Gathering – now that you’ve cut your pieces, the rest is just a repeat of side seams + gathering threads + gathering to size + stitching to previous tier.  Do your side seams first – you stitch each tier piece together so that they form a giant ring – and make sure you don’t twist the pieces or it will be like a piece of knitting joined in the round – an upside down twist that will be impossible to fix without unpicking.  Just be mindful.  And you probably have your gathering completely sorted.  But just in case you don’t, here’s a few strategies I’ve developed over the years …

::  I always do two rows of gathering thread at the longest stitch my machine will do, leaving nice long tails at both ends.  Now when I was a wilful teenager, I didn’t believe my Mum when she told me I needed two rows of gathering thread – I thought that was a waste of bobbin thread and my valuable time.  But she was right – one row makes mincy looking gathers that can’t be spread out as evenly and don’t sit as neatly.   Two rows it is.  Use a colour thread you don’t care about and wonder why you bought it – that way you won’t feel cheated as you race through it.

where to sew the gathering thread

:: It doesn’t matter how many widths of fabric I am gathering, I NEVER use two continuous rows of gathering thread.  You are almost guaranteed to snap the thread somewhere – and will have to start again – and it makes pulling it up a pain in the butt.  I ALWAYS stop and start at the beginning and end of each side seam.  So – in Tier 2 – which has 2 widths of 8 inches – I will start and stop twice.  That way I only have to pull up one width of fabric at a time.  In Tier 6 – which has 5 widths of fabric of 7 inches – I will start and stop 5 times.

:: To evenly distribute my gathers I do a little maths.  How wide is the previous tier – let’s say tier 4 – each width is 122cm wide and I have three pieces  = 366cm.  How many pieces are there in tier 5 which will need to stitch on to tier 4 – 4 pieces.  So I divide the bottom of tier 4 into 4 – 366 divided by 4 = roughly 91.5cm.  So starting at my central side seam (I always line up one side seam on each tier and call this the central side seam) I measure 91.5 and place a pin, then measure 91.5cm again and place a pin, and measure again and place a pin – and of course the last one will be back at your central side seam.  Then I pin tier 5 into place – the side seams of each tier 5 piece will match up to a pin on the tier 4 piece.  You with me ?!  So now you know your gathered pieces need to fit within these spaces.  Which leads me to …

:: Gathering it up!  First – will your fabric fray?  If it is of that persuasion, then please zigzag the edges first – I know, more thread, more time.  But if you’re fussing with the gathers for a while, some fabrics will nastily fray all the way down to your gathering stitches and that isn’t fun.

Second – I always pull from the left side so on the right side I tie a knot with the two ends from my two rows on top.  This way, when I’m cheerfully spreading my gathers out nice and even, they don’t slip off the far end without me noticing.  That may send very silly – but I have done it!  Once that knot is tied, you can spread your gathers evenly right up to the end and they are going nowhere.

Now don’t just yank on the gathering thread at the left- there’s always a bit of resistance at first – start with a gentle pull to loosen the bobbin stitches underneath and then your gathering threads will slide through the fabric nicely.  I don’t worry about doing it all evenly in the beginning – waste of time.  I just pull up as much as I need to to make this width fit my designated space (remember our pins) and then when I have it the right size I tie a knot in the left hand two top threads and then my gathers will not fall out and I can spread the gathers evenly right up to both ends.  Pin, pin, pin and sew …

:: Final word on gathering – I always sew the new tier on with the gathered side up.  The flat side of the previous tier will sit nice and flat on the bottom with minimum supervision – the gathers themselves need a bit more of your attention.  I like to keep the tops of the gathers neatly aligned with the straight edge of the previous tier and make sure there are no strange skewif bits going on – you know, you want your gathers to lay in nice straight lines not go awkwardly sideways.  If they’re on the bottom it’s much harder to see what’s going on and I wind up needing to unpick and straighten.  Keep your gathers on top.

sew with the gathered side up pin both ends then gather in between swathes of fabric

So off you go – sew, sew, sew, gather, gather, gather, sew, sew, sew … I added a tier of green – one always needs a good grove of greenery to survive a hot day, don’t you think.

getting there ric rac

Okay.  All your tiers are on.  Now before you get excited about trim, overlock or zigzag your tier edges.  This uses even more cotton.  You will think the end will never come.  It does, but not til after school pickup.  Then, when your edges are beautifully neat, give the whole skirt a good press so that all those tiers are sitting FLAT.  There’s nothing like a good bash with the iron to make a piece of handmade clothing go from looking slightly clumsy with bumpy bits to being polished and professional :-)  Now you can put on your trim.

done

For the waist, overlock or zig zag the top edge then turn over enough to hold your elastic. Stitch close to the lower edge of your turnover, leaving a gap to thread your elastic through.  Thread your elastic – sew the ends together, making sure you don’t twist your elastic (I can’t count how many times I have twisted the jolly elastic – eternally frustrating).  Sew shut your gap.  Overlock or zig zag the bottom edge of the last tier and hem it, just on the machine – I did about 1cm.  I seriously considered not hemming after overlocking it, but Abby reckoned it looked dorky so I hemmed it.  I’m an obedient mama.  Again – endless stitching – you think you will never get back to the beginning – and you probably won’t before the bobbin runs out!  Argh!

wearing it

It’s ready to wear!  Yay!  It’s taken about 4 hours.  That’s not too bad huh!  I’m rather fond of that red ric rac – will definitely be getting more tomorrow – a nice round of red for each tier, yes?  Yes!  I’ll need about 15 metres just to be safe.

pulled out ballerina poseNow I’m ready to hit the beach on another weekend of temperatures over 40 celsius – in my floaty, twirly watermelon skirt.  And when I’ve lost a few more inches around the waist, I may even tuck in my t-shirt and add a belt :-0

Hope this is all clear – if there’s something I haven’t made easy to follow, send me an email at lily(at)blockaday(dot)com and I’ll do my best to set you straight.  And if you do make a twirly skirt, send me a photo – I’d love to see how YOU put your fabrics together and what kind of trims you find.  Enjoy!