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!

 

a very “down to earth” dress

down to earth

Oh folks,  I had my last exam today.  Fingers crossed, it was the last exam of my degree!  I can’t tell you what a marvellous thought that is.  I really enjoy research and essay writing – I loathe exams and really struggle to revise.  Don’t know why – just a real psychological block.

So, this afternoon, there was a lovely bit of celebration in order.  The guilt free kind.  See – even if I’m not conscientiously studying, I’m fretting with my mind tumbling over all the things I should be doing and all the terrible things that will happen because I am NOT doing them.

I collected Abby from school – 45 minutes late, thank you traffic, and a proper, heartfelt thankyou to Bob our beautiful lollipop man who stayed with Abby until I arrived – we bought iced fruit bun from the bakers, poured big glasses of creamy milk and sat out in the sun under the oak … with the added treat of my freshly arrived copy of Rhonda Hetzel’s “Down to Earth:  A Guide to Simple Living”.  Now, I have to confess, I am a very late arrival to the wise and comforting thoughts Rhonda shares on her blog.  In fact, it has only been since I set up a Feedly account last month that I have started reading her blog regularly.  But the minute her little essays became part of my daily routine, I knew I would love – and get a lot out of – her book.

And here it is in my glad hands on the very afternoon that I had no other commitments other than to enjoy my family’s company, my spring filled garden, and a new book!

As I started reading, one particular part of the introduction struck me straight away – the part sewing and knitting our own clothes plays in simple living.  Folks – as much as you know I adore both sewing and knitting, I do really struggle with it being part of a “simple” approach.

Not because patterns can sometimes be complex and take a lot of time – I completely get what Rhonda says about that “… simple describes the nature of the activities in this kind of life, not the amount of effort involved.”  It’s about becoming “a doer not a buyer” – a concept I adore and subscribe to fully.  I’ve been telling Abby since she was tiny, that if it’s worth doing, it’s worth taking our time over.  And teaching her and reminding myself of the beauty and benefits of practice, practice, practice, practice.  But Rhonda goes on to describe how once she relearned these skills – along with cooking from scratch, preserving, vegetable gardening etc. – she felt that she had the skills to survive a crisis.

Here’s my dilemma.  In order to knit and sew our clothes, we still need to buy supplies.  Once you visit the fabric store and purchase your pattern and cloth and thread you have easily spent A LOT of money – receipts from fabric shops always add up at an alarming rate and leave me rather breathless.  I could easily BUY the clothing for the cost of making it.  As for wool – well, it is effortless to spend almost $100 on the yarn to knit a lovely cosy cardigan.  This just doesn’t feel simple.  Now I know we could argue – ah! but you’re putting in your own hours, think of the exploitative labour you are avoiding, and you’re probably creating something that will last a lot longer and be so much more meaningful.  Yes, yes I totally agree.  But the fabric is still being produced in a factory somewhere – almost always overseas – then shipped to Australia, transported to the shop, etc. etc.  It’s not like the old days when Australia had its own mills and produced its own good quality, simple cloth.

And if the crisis – that is written about so often these days comes – if we do end up with a crashed economy (hello Australia’s fast-disappearing manufacturing industry!) or an environment that is soooooooo much harder to survive in, are we a) going to have the money to buy that nice fabric and yarn so we can use our very worthy skills, or b) will there even be readily accessible shops selling fabric?  Will we instead, be limited to lots and lots of repurposing?  How will crappy cheap clothes stand up to that!? I don’t know.

What I do know, is that I often feel that gathering all those supplies (and folks, whilst I am very good at gathering supplies, I am also very good at finding the bargains) and making my and my family’s clothes is actually quite indulgent.

I guess the real answer to this dilemma is LESS.  I know this is the honourable answer and one that is oh so much more easily reconciled with simple living.   But it doesn’t quite feed my love of making.  I do look in opshops for supplies where patterns are a dime a dozen, but very rarely do I find any fabric, especially natural fibres.

Then, earlier this year, during the two month period in which a skip was parked outside Mr. Pollack’s house each weekend, I made a lovely discovery – two cotton curtains – in good condition, with a nice weighty hand, and a pretty pattern.  Truly it was a Sound of Music moment.

the pattern

I fished them out of the skip – from amongst the broken china, smashed furniture, moldy books and moth ridden overcoats – gave them a good wash, dried them in the sun and married them off to my 50 cent pattern from the opshop.

Together, they produced the most guilt free, thrifty, down-to-earth, simple dress I have ever produced.  I wear it at least twice a week – with tshirts, button down shirts and turtlenecks under it; cardies over it; and stockings, socks or bare legs, as the weather dictates.

I love it – it is so utterly me.  A bit eccentric I suppose.  A bit flowery.  But very very me.  I feel that it is my Amish dress.  Of course an Amish would have a plain dress, not a flowery one.  But I really do like the reasoning behind their manner of dressing – if they only have a few dresses and they are all the same then they don’t have to worry about what to wear each day – their time and thoughts can be taken up with much more important matters.  Yep, this pinafore could definitely become my go-to, Amish dress.  The ultimate in anti-consumerism.

the skirt looking down the back DSC_3097 reading

So I guess what I’m trying to say in this long ramble is I do LOVE Rhonda’s message.  I DO want to live a simple life.  I AM a huge believer in the value, both mental and physiological, of being a doer not a buyer.  I DO believe that the skills of sewing, knitting, embroidery, cooking, gardening etc. are ESSENTIAl to good living.

But I still need to think outside that box a little more.  Hopefully, one day, we will keep a sheep or alpaca or two for their fleece.  But weaving our own cloth?!?!  I don’t think so.  So my version of clothing my family and supplying my home in a simple manner will include the scavenging of fabric.

As the great Paul Keating said about his French clock collection …

Most people catch antiques when they are tame, in fashionable shops. I catch my clocks while they are still wild, in out-of-the-way places.’

I’m with Paul.  So much more exciting.  So much more satisfying.

 

 

mrs. chamber’s apron

facing me blowing sideways the back

This year’s beloved teachers’ gifts – aprons.  First off the rank – Mrs. Chambers.  Had to be done, she’s leaving early.  I bought the fabric weeks ago, but true to form, only started pulling it together this morning.  Sigh.  I never learn.

Mrs. Chamber’s is Abby’s Japanese teacher – and such a lovely, lovely woman.  Very caring, interested, generous, compassionate, and always excited to do more for our Abby who loves her Japanese classes.  She even gave Abby a beautiful Japanese book she’d seen in a university bookstore earlier this year.  She knew Abby would love it and put it to good use, so she bought it for her and gave it to her.  Yes, Mrs. Chambers is one of several women we have found at Abby’s school to be such gifts.  And we love her.

laying on the chair the flower

Now, my Year 10 music teacher once told me that she truly hated being given presents that were music-themed.  She was a funny woman – sarcastic but very entertaining and her scorn for themed gifts left a deep impression. Thus, each year I try to think of something that reflects each teachers’ interests, but that isn’t corny.  With Mrs. Chambers’ apron, I wanted fabrics that were rich and beautiful and wouldn’t look out of place in a pretty kimono – but weren’t japanese fabrics and were not put together in a traditional Japanese way.

I think this combination of colours is just right.  And the sumptuous flower created by the Dresden plate, is a nod towards the Japanese love of gardens and flowers. I always have a chuckle over the flower beds in Hayao Miyazaki’s films – in his world, everything flowers at once no matter what time of year it is – either a reflection of his yearning for constant beauty or Japan is indeed peculiarly blessed :-)

trying it on

It’s my own design – and I am mostly happy.  I wanted it to be very covering so its wearer could get really stuck into the Christmas cooking without any of their special clothes being splashed.  So I’m pleased with the skirt part of it – but the neck band – oy!  That took 4 lots of unpicking before it was the right length.  As for bodice – I did chop off an inch before attaching the skirt, but I reckon it could almost come up another inch.  Perhaps it also needs to be a little more triangular?  Hmmmmm ….. And the waistband – too wide.  I don’t know what I was thinking when I cut it.  I don’t like mean little narrow waistbands but I think this one could lose at least an inch.  Never mind – there’s three more chances to perfect the pattern.

with the colander on my head

Besides, I like THIS one so very much, I think I may make a dress version – make the skirt meet at the back and button down the middle.  There’s tonnes of the florals left and I only have to walk up the road to Darn Cheap Fabrics for the stripe.

Yes, I think it will make a very fine Christmas Day dress.  And fingers crossed, Mrs. Chambers will be tickled pink by her apron and put it to very fine use.

 

the packing of a wee suitcase

This wee “genuine hide” suitcase came from … you guessed it!  Mr. P’s dumpster.  I love vintage suitcases so had been on the lookout for one each week.  It wasn’t until the very last week (yes, I know, ’tis sad, but it does appear that there will be no more dumpsters outside Mr. P’s home) that this little treasure appeared.  Filled of course.  Mr. P filled everything with everything else.

Now? Why it’s packed with my version of the good things in life and coming to Merimbula with me.  Eeeeee!  I have a WHOLE week with no classes.  So tomorrow morning – with my trusty travelling companion, Fu – I am jumping into the car and heading up to Mum’s for a few days of sun, sand, swimming (serious, I bought new bathers, just ignore the two cold fronts lurking in the Bass Strait), lounging on the front porch, and lots of good quality pottering (aka sewing).

empty suitcase

~ there’s the sweet fabric Abby chose to line the wee suitcase with, so that I may pick Mum’s brain on how best to line it …

fabric for lining

~ some stretchy red cotton and pattern to make my first ever pair of leggings.  Don’t worry, I shan’t be wearing mine with SHORT tops – I have nice long, concealing smocks in mind …

leggings

~ some new white t-shirts for Julian …

tshirt

~ quilt fabric carefully chosen by one of my little girlies who’s moving to Sydney next term (bit sad about this) …

fabric and gloves

~ aha! the long smock to go over the red leggings, already cut out …

smock

~ a pair of trousers, recently thrifted by Jules, which need their cuffed hems taking up (please Mum) …

trousers

~ & my current infatuation … an absolutely gorgeous Danish cross stitch book which the lovely Kristy from #castoncastoff gave me when she came for tea this week  … she went home with Mr. P’s lemon juicer :-) …

cross stitch

There – it all fitted!  Well sort of.  I had to pop the three cross stitch thread boxes and the jar of quilting safety pins into a separate bag.  Now – do you reckon that if all these projects fit into one wee “genuine hide” suitcase, that means they are eminently do-able in the four short days I will be at the beach?

full

Hmmmm … I know.  Possibly a bit hopeful.  But I do thoroughly believe in being prepared :-)  Now I just have to find me a belt to hold this suitcase shut.

the times that are

Oy!  There’s so much busyness around here lately.  Papers written.  Case studies endlessly researched and submitted.  Posters laid out and printed.  Presentations given.  This third year of nursing is full on.  I’m now in Week 8 of 10 intensive weeks of classes.  I’m so looking forward to a break.  There’s a short one coming up – and then a month long placement in an intensive care setting.  Have I already told you this?  I lose track of such conversations these days :-)

In amongst all the attention given to hyperthyroids and damaged lungs, failing kidneys and newly diagnosed epilepsy, asthmatics that don’t want to take their medications and wounds that will never heal, there’s been a few moments found here and there for the things that I know still define me … who I am, what I treasure, how I express myself.

And I know this will always be so.  Yes, there will be lots of nursing and probably more research and study too – ’cause that’s a big part of where my family’s future lies.  But there’ll always be time set aside for stitching and pottering, sharing the slow days with my girlie and dragging home treasures from the footpath, cooking and thrifting with my love and quilting until my shoulders ache.

Hopefully, this week, there’ll be more time to sneak in a few posts here at blockaday.  Share a few of the sweet stitchy things I’ve been working on.  Tonight, here’s a snippet of the times that are …

sitting room bee:: bees, bees, bees … it’s spring … they’re everywhere I look …
their buzzing fills my ears & my imagination ::

chair cover chair back

:: all this time at the  desk demanded that I do something
about last year’s thrifted desk chair … so I did …
& now it fulfills Mr. Morris’ command -
to be beautiful and useful ::

strangest ever hard rubbish

:: possibly the weirdest hard rubbish find ever … but oh, the fun
Abby & I have coming up with ideas for them
… leads to lots of giggles from us and eye rolling from Julian ::

an open spring window:: spring, spring, spring … open windows, soft air, soaring spirits ::

quilt binding

::  a quilt is bound … well the machine stitching part of it at least ::

blouse

:: a blouse is cut out ::

white chair

:: hmmm … not sure what this chair wants to be yet … still listening ::

custard

:: a kerfuffle of shopping and enthusiastic chickens
lead to there being 4 dozen eggs in the pantry  … lots of baked egg custard
… perfect writing food I say ::

abby

:: an election was held … Julian & I had the great delight (and pride) of sharing
with Abby her first election day volunteering … it was marvellous! ::

machine

:: so much to do … just the way I like it ::

And you?  What are these times demanding of you?

New Zealand meets Iceland in a cardie

It’s completely done!  I’m wearing it!  It’s unbelievably cosy and warm.  I daresay it’s the warmest thing I own – that Icelandic yoke with its rich fairisle pattern – like wearing three shawls at once.

The body and sleeves of the cardie are knitted in my funny, funny Twilley’s of New Zealand Spin Knitting yarn that I found at the op shop  - one huge hank, shaped into an ottoman, with no joins.  I’ve not seen it anywhere else apart from a mention of the accompanying book on the Canadian eBay and a knitter in England who found a hank of it but wasn’t overly thrilled – seems that everyone forgot about it.  For my two cents, I loved it!

With the Icelandic yarn for the fair isle patterned yoke.  Absolutely gorgeous wool – it practically bleats it’s so wonderfully sheepy.

iceland post yarn

So here’s the Icelandic yarn – probably my most exciting mail ever – direct from Iceland – isn’t the post a wonderful thing.  From all the way at the top of the world to almost all the way to the bottom.  Of course I ordered miles to much green – I have enough left to make each of us a beanie!  Here’s the link their beautiful website – sigh!  So much goodness.  And this is where I found the pattern.

I think I would like to knit at least one thing each in wools from all over the world.  I’ve knitted with wool from Uruguay and Shetland and Peru and Montana and New Zealand and Australia and England and Japan.  There’s some from the Faulkland Islands I’d like to try.  And some from the Faroe Islands.  It’s a little bit magical I think.  Using a natural fibre from an animal that roams across fields so very far away from me – they send me a hint of all they experience in their beautiful fleece and I get to wear it.  Magic.

closeup chopping the steek

It was steeked – I love steeking.  Knitting in the round is so good, especially when knitting fairisle and the resulting steeks are absolutely nothing to be afraid of.  This time I followed the desinger’s instructions (as opposed to Kate’s).  I machine sewed two rows of reinforcing on each side of the steek, washed the cardie, dried it flat then cut, cut, cut.  Worked without a hitch.

Of course then there was zipper sewing in – I’ll admit there were a few goes at that.  The right side went in picture perfect first time.  The left side – I did it 3 times and am still not overly enamoured.  However, the zip does make for a snug cardie and I will certainly use one again.  I’m sure it’s like everything in life – practice will make perfect – well near enough for me :-)

the yoke velvet lining at top velvet lining down bottom

There were other new to me techniques too – this is my favourite kind of knitting pattern, one with lots of new things to try – I cast off the neck edge whilst sewing it over as you can sort of see below.  And I whipstitched velvet ribbon to the inside edges to hide the zip.  Pleased with how both turned out.

inside the yoke

Isn’t the fair isle wonderful on the inside.  I do so love fair isle – it’s like wonderfully quick embroidery.

with a flower
ah the sunin my cardie

And here it is on!  Actually, I’ve worn it every day since finishing it on Saturday :-)  Abby took these photos for me … after drenching rain all night and a frosty cold morn, the sun came flooding out – perfect for a quick stop on the way home from school for some photos.  As for the old trailer below – it’s been tied to the same tree on the way to Abby’s school for the entire, almost four years we’ve lived here.  Never seen it move – very picturesque and we reckon it wants to come home with us.  Now don’t you think we’d get a lot of use out of it – course we would.

skirt on trailer

Oh!  And the skirt – velvet jacquard cloth, bought three years ago, cut out the night it came home – and then left in pieces until last night.  Just the right colour for the cardie and just the right motivation I needed to sew it up.

Snug as a bug I am.  And madly looking forward to my next Icelandic jumper.

winter cosies for my girl

waistband

Each new season doesn’t really become a proper season until there’s the new season’s pyjamas.  This winter’s were a little late.  But – better late than never.  This winter soft, new, flannel pyjama pants seemed even more needed than before – this girl of ours, she just keeps on growing and growing.  The old pyjama pants were all ankles and cold bits so, with Abby finishing her week at work, I dug around in the sewing shed to find some lovely flannel for a cosy new pair for the weekend – and hopefully a matching pillowcase.  I wasn’t disappointed – there is soooooo much fabric in the sewing shed.

fnished pillowcase such cute fabric the cosy pile

I even found a new pattern – well, new in that it was a previously uncut pants pattern from a well used nightie pattern that I was able to cut a few sizes bigger than the old pants pattern. Thinking of those long legs, I even cut the x-x-large in the length and THEN added 2 more inches.

Within moments of Abby’s arrival home I talked her into a nice hot shower and into her new pants …. and they were too short.  TOO SHORT!  How could this be!  I added so much fabric!  And yet there was that hem – well and truly above the ankle, all drafty and cold.  Aargh!  (Both she and Julian wondered out loud why I didn’t measure her first – they’re so boring ;-)

too short

She just laughed, pulled them off, chucked them back on the sewing table and went to find something else.  Noooooooooooooooo!

However – there was some of the pretty candy cane stripe left over from the pillowcase – just enough for a nice deep, 4 inch finished false hem.  Surely that would almost touch the floor.

pillowcase down to her ankles

It does.  Phew!  And the poor dear, she’s been so unwell with a sinus infection that soft, cosy flannel pyjama pants are just what’s needed when the days are spent snuggled up on the sofa whilst mama bustles around you, so pleased to have you home and wanting lots of attention :-)

In fact, I think another couple of pairs are in order … good thing there’s plenty more flannel in the shed ….

happiness in four small parts

yellow tights and red shoes

The sun is shining, full of warmth.  I have on my cheeriest mustard coloured tights and red shoes.  They make me think of this beautiful cardigan by my absolutely favourite knitter and I know I will just have to knit it. Yellow makes me so happy!

knitting

The Icelandic cardigan is finished, washed and awaiting its steeking and zippering.  Now on my needles – more Icelandic wool in lace weight.  Three heart shades knitting up in a simple triangular shawl.  So airy and squishy.  So looking forward to wearing it – it’s my mission in life to wear as many colours in one day as I can, especially in a winter Melbourne where black, black, black and a bit of grey seem to be the done thing.

stamps

A delivery of stamps.  From West Germany circa 1970s.  Eeeee!  So much prettiness.  Inspired by this marvellously creative girl to start our own collection of stamps … with a special purpose in mind.  But first there must be lots of collecting.

knit fabric st brendan

Fabric oh fabric oh fabric.  Oh how I love fabric.  And look at these – two sweet knits bought on super special for boat necked, three quarter sleeved tshirts.  Makes me giddy just thinking about wearing them.  And Abby wants one in the dear little fisherman print as well.  We’ll be matching.  He reminds me of St. Brendan setting off from Ireland in search of the Garden of Eden.  Must be the curly waves looking all medieval and all.

p.s. we’ve been to the Bernina dealer – and he was lovely – and we’re taking the machine in tomorrow for an inspection, a software upgrade (forehead smack) and some good old fashioned help with getting to know this alarming creature better.  Thanks for your kind words last night dear folk – your sympathy and suggestions truly took the edge off my mania.  Wishing you a marvellous day ahead.

what i won’t be wearing

culottes

These are a pair of culottes.  I made them last Saturday.  Julian and Abby were out for the day.  I had a lovely new pattern and two metres of beautiful, crisp drill.  Exciting stuff for us sewists.

Now, it’s been a while since I made anything for myself that needed to fit accurately.  So I measured myself.  Overall, I was a size 18 [gasp].  Yup.  A size 18.  As for my waist – it measured a size 22.  I winced momentarily, recognising that yes, everything is a bit tighter these days.  Goodness, some things are simply unwearable.

In fact, since moving to Melbourne, I have put on 10 kilos [shudder].  Woot!  Imagine if I keep that up until I die.  Calculating that if I live to 85, that would be 3 kilos a year for 40 years which would make me 120 kilos heavier than I am now.  200 kilos.  Clearly that is not sustainable with life.

However, despite acknowledging all this out loud to myself, I continued to potter about with the culottes. Cutting out the pattern, pinning pieces together, and sewing them up.  In my mind’s eye, they were really cute. I had visions of wearing them with long ribbed black socks, black patent flats, a grey turtle neck and a jaunty black cardie.  My braids would be wound on top of my head. I’d be wearing my red sunglasses.  Oh I looked cute … in my mind’s eye.

Within a few hours, the culottes were finished and I tried them on.  That’s when the whole mind’s eye thing crashed straight through that rosy glass window and landed in a tatty heap at my feet.

The culottes – so ironically covered in elephants – looked ATROCIOUS.  It didn’t matter that I had made the right size.  It didn’t matter that they fit.  They looked bloody awful.  There would be no cute accessorising with these culottes.

At this shattering point in the tale, let me share a wee bit of backstory (abby’s word).  When I was young I was sooooo thin.  Until my late 20s my weight was in the low 50s (kilos).  I didn’t have to do anything to maintain this weight.   I was just one of those thin girls (even then my waist was wide – Mum always had to allow a bit when sewing me skirts and shorts).

By 36, however, I was 72 kg (despite years of breastfeeding I never lost an ounce … only found more!) and that was a bit yuck.  I should clarify what yuck means to me.  I never read fashion or celebrity magazines.  I don’t window shop or collect catalogues in order to choose what I will need to buy in order to keep up with Ms. Jones this season.  So looking at myself and thinking “yuck” is not because I’m following a fashion industry or crappy magazine led ideal of what nice is.

Rightly or wrongly, I like long and straight and flattish things.  They appeal to my sensibilities.  I do look at films and history and vintage patterns and paintings and photos of my family, and I like lean.  I adore the long, light dresses from the Austen era.  I love the narrow skirts of the 20s.  The straight simplicity of the 40s.  Little cardigans.  Fitted turtlenecks.  A-line skirts. I liked being thin and straight.  At 36 I would put clothes on, look in the mirror and think “oh yes, I like that”.  Then, I would see photos of myself and think huh!  That surely isn’t what I look like.  Must be a dodgy photo.  Eventually, I gained a bit of insight/perspective and acknowledged that yes, that was me and I was fat.  At 36 I had back boobs, a protruding stomach, and no chin to speak of.  And it was yuck.

So, I went to Weight Watchers (having had several friends who’d done this and lost a heap of weight).  The very first session I was so revolted with what we were being encouraged to eat (low fat, low fat, low fat) that I never went back.  Instead, I was VERY sensible – no junk food, no sugar.  And I exercised.  I walked at least five mornings a week and went to the gym three mornings a week.  Within four months, I’d lost 10 kilos and oh was I pleased.  Even better – when I saw photos of myself – I not only looked like how I THOUGHT I looked, but I liked how I looked.

And I was so physically strong.  I possessed muscles I never knew existed.  I had awesome stamina.  It was very cool.  There was a flurry of dressmaking and that was such fun too.  I was still 10 kilos heavier than I had been in my 20s but I looked lean and healthy. Two years later I went back to work full time for 10 months – all the exercise stopped, I was often anxious and overwhelmed, and I ate thoughtlessly and often.  By the end of the year I chucked in the job and the weight was creeping back on.

Two years after that, I had moved to Melbourne and the chin was disappearing again.  The clothes were getting tight.  Did I like it?  No.  Did I do anything about it?  I did not.  I was so homesick, and like so many others before me, turned to food for comfort.  I love cooking, I love eating, I love sharing food with my family, I love shopping for food!  And here I was, living in a neighbourhood famous for its lovely, rich food.  Ah Aviv’s!  When I worked at the bookshop there was a nary a day that I didn’t duck next door for a piece of divine strudel, or almond meringue, or the prettiest sweetest biscuits you’ve ever tasted.   There was rarely a night I went home without bagels, challah, or croissants.  And that’s only Aviv’s – there are countless other marvellous little places we love visiting.  Is it any wonder I’ve managed 3 kilos a year – and again, I feel yuck.

On top of the aesthetic dismay, there’s the slow dawning of what all this weight is going to do to my body.  The more I study, the more papers I write, the more hospitals I visit, the more I understand that being fat is really unhealthy.  It truly is.  It’s not a conspiracy, or the fad of the moment.  Being fat puts me at a great risk of developing Type II Diabetes – which brings a cascade of disasters – lowered immunity, increased risk of stroke and heart attack, increased risk of blindness, increased risk of pressure ulcers, increased risk of kidney failure, increased risk of significant nerve damage, increased risk of skeletal problems, and increased risk of mobility problems – the last of which in turn, compounds all of the above.  That simply does not match up with our dreams of moving to the country and having our own little homestead whilst working as a nurse.

Add to this the comment of a nurse educator I met recently who told us that her hospital has had to buy new beds because the old beds couldn’t take the weight.  That would be the weight of the patients – more than half of whom are obese – and the nurses – who are heading that way themselves!  This hospital had multiple occasions when a nurse would lean on to a bed with an obese patient and bang!  The combined weight BROKE THE BED.

Oh dear.  And yet despite the tight clothes (and growing stack of clothes that no longer fit), the disappearing chin, the health concerns, and the possibility of breaking a patient’s bed, I did nothing.  In between many weeks of acknowledging the yuckiness, I would tell myself, “Oh it’s not so bad.  Being big doesn’t make me awful.  Enjoying life is more important than fretting.”  Sometimes I even believed this.  Until the elephant culottes – they were the straw that broke this camel’s back.

Now one thing I’ve had drummed into me since studying nursing, is that every single person we meet is an individual who will experience life, relationships, illnesses, happiness, stress etc. in a unique way.  Everybody has their own compass to guide their lives.  And respecting that is the basis of human dignity and the starting point of every interaction I have with other people.  Which means, I get that this – my battle with weight and how I want to look – is about me.  This is not a judgement of other people and their choices.  It is simply and solely about me and what I need and want.

I want to be long and lean and strong and healthy again.  I want my chin back.  I don’t want to look six months pregnant.  I want to look cute in culottes.  I don’t want to break any beds.  I need to be able to bounce out of my bed early in the morning, feed our animals, care for my community, take long walks with my family, spend lovely afternoons swimming and playing at the beach, spend hours restoring furniture and building our home.

For me to do this, I need to lose weight – at least 15 kilos.  How?  Well … I’m walking.  I’m using Julian’s weights to build up core body strength, build bone density and increase my metabolism.  I’ve started skipping and sets of squats throughout the day.  And I’m being sooooo sensible with my food.  I’m following the I Quit Sugar recommendations – it’s amazing how many opportunities to pop something else in your mouth disappear when you eliminate those things that are full of sugar.  I have a chart in the bathroom where I shall keep track of the numbers.  And a beautiful, favourite, red checked, richly embroidered skirt lined with a dear little cream, lace trimmed petticoat that’s hanging in the front of my wardrobe for fortnightly try ons to see how the progress is going.

And I’m sharing this awkward tale with you.  This was the problem with my crocheted white smock I alluded to last week.  It was another instance of popping on my 3/4 length black pants, adding the white smock and asking Julian to take my photo.  Only to find that I looked nothing like I expected.  So in writing all this down,  I am hoping that having someone else watching as well will keep me on my toes.

I’ll let you know how it’s going – in three weeks time?  Hopefully there’ll be good progress to report.  As for the elephant culottes – I think I’ll chop them up into other things.  Because by the time they’ll look cute with those socks and flats and turtleneck and cardie, they’ll be tooooooo big.