the teachers’ presents


crafting table

Hmmm … it’s just occurred to me, as I uploaded these photos and thought back to the crazy busyness of last week, that this is my second last season of teachers’ presents.  It truly is so unbelievable it gives me a jolt.  Surely it was only yesterday that I cross stitched a Prairie Schooler Christmas Sampler for the lovely Mrs. Solomon and sewed it into a little hanging quilt as a thankyou for a wonderful Year 1.

That’s one of the curses of just one child.  There’s no second and third etc. go round.  Nope – only one chance to get it as close to right as you can.  And no time for savouring.  But I also know how privileged we are to even have one go and for that I am grateful.

We’ve always given teachers’ presents.  Maybe because I spent so many years working in education, I know just how lovely it is to have a student and her family recognise the contribution I made to their year and present me with something sweet and thoughtful.  I’ve always wanted to pay that forwards.

And I want Abby to understand how important it is to show gratitude – it’s a sign of respect and affection.  Maybe I’m just getting old and crotchety, but gee whizz, I think there’s a little less gratitude bumping around every year.  I want her to be one of those lovely people who are remembered and appreciated for showing gratitude.  It’s not hard or expensive – just a bit of time and effort.

Also – I am so very grateful for all that my Abigail has been given by her teachers.

She’s not the most straightforward of students and, apart from a couple of grim years half way through primary school (the Year 3 teacher – we seriously wanted to present her with the dirtiest lump of coal we could find – she was a drunk and a bully), has been blessed with lovely teachers who have always recognised her strengths, enjoyed her quirks and cheerfully walked the extra mile.

As for her high school teachers – my goodness, they regularly reduce me to misty eyes and choked up throat they are so wonderfully thoughtful, compassionate and encouraging.  No matter how grey and wobbly I become, I will never forget the incredible contribution they have made to our lives and will cheerfully sing Star of the Sea’s praises to all.

However, with the plethora of teachers Abby has in highschool, we’ve whittled down the handmade gifts to those who are TRULY marvellous.  For the rest we whip up a more generic but still homemade gift.  This year Abby chose her Japanese teacher – Mrs. Devine, her textiles teacher – Mrs. Pearson, and her Legal studies teacher – Mrs. Maraschello.

Well – no surprises who this cushion is for :-)  I am always a little dubious about themed presents – we can blame my Year 10 Music Teacher for that – she told us at the beginning of the year she HATED musical gifts.  But Abby assured me Mrs. Devine loves Japanese looking things so I dug this piece of simple sweet fabric out of the stash – I like to think it’s quite elegant and not at all corny – and found some pretty calicos to go with it.  I worked up the patchwork on the computer and quilted it with one single large chrysanthemum. It just seemed to need a yoyo in the middle.  Mrs. Devine was delighted.

japanese cushion

little people

The lovely pink and red fabric and the floral used for the binding are MADE in Japan – so that was an extra bonus!  And the blue check made me think of all those lovely indigo woven fabrics to be found in traditional Japanese textiles.

corner

yoyo

The crazy tote went to Mrs. Mara.  We gave her a cushion that last time Abby had her in Year 9 – Abby thought a bag would be a nice alternative for this year.  This was a truly last minute gift.  I had been mulling over the design for a few days and the night before Abby wanted to give it, even DREAMT about how it could go together.

So, Tuesday morning I was up at 5 knowing just what to do.  I cut and sewed the strips, used a dinner plate to make the circular bottom, added a heavy piece of cardboard (chopped out of the back of a large drawing pad) that I covered with the same red lining as the bag, lined it, added the strap and catch, sewed the two cylinders together and voila!  A tote.  I adore it.

And the funny thing – Abby left the Christmas card on the dining table.  Then popped the present on Mrs. Mara’s desk without a note.  Yet, that afternoon Mrs. Mara sent a lovely email saying as soon as she unwrapped it and saw the colours and lovely sewing, she knew exactly who it was from and loved it.  That brought a happy smile to this mum’s face … and the daughter’s too.
the bag

side on

the toggle

princess

lined

flat bottom

Mrs. Pearson’s cushion.  Same pattern as Mrs. Devine’s.  A few different fabrics.  Same chrysanthemum.  And yet it looks so utterly different!  So busy and hot and energetic compared to Mrs. Devine’s cool, quiet elegance.  Hmph – amazing what colour can do, huh!  I used precious Owl and Pussycat fabric because Mrs. Pearson is a fabric guru and I knew she would recognise and love it.  She did.

owl and pussycat

close up quilting

looking across

pink corner

For all my cushions, I use Ikea feather inserts – they just keep their shape soooooo well.  They can be completely flattened to pancake thickness by a sleeping dog, then with a few punches, be brought back to looking plump and gorgeous.  And, hating zippers like I do, I always use a simple envelope back – but I like it to cross over by a good 20cm.  That way there’s no gaping.

cookie jar

The rest of Abby’s teachers – and darling Bob, the lollypop man – each received a jar with the layered ingredients to make Donna Hay’s Choc-chip and Cranberry Oat Cookies.  Recipe included.  They were a big success.  Highly recommended.

Next year – our last year of teachers’ presents – will probably bring more presents for the same lovelies.  But there will be an extra special one for Bob.

Apart from my grandad, Bob is the loveliest gentleman I have ever known.  From the very first day he has shown Abby such friendship and enthusiasm for everything she does.  He waves to me every morning when I drop her off.  And I make sure to come at least 10 minutes after the bell rings every afternoon, because sure enough, Abby will be standing there with Bob and they’ll be chattering away about what they’re both up to, flipping through Abby’s drawing books, carefully inspecting her latest doll, or he’ll be nodding enthusiastically whilst she tells him her latest story.

He’s like her grandad.  (Apart from my dear old grandad, poor Abby completely lucked out in the grandad stakes).  I’ve got those teary eyes and a lump in my throat just writing this.  Words cannot express how grateful I am to Bob for being there for Abby everyday.  I know that she knows that even when some days are a bit hard, there’ll always be Bob in the afternoon.  He’s a school treasure.

So next year, for Bob, there’ll be a quilt – with stars of course.

 

do you remember the old dresser?

attach to shelf edge with tacks

Do you remember the old dresser that Mum and I wheeled/dragged 2km home last year?  Oh my goodness that was so funny!  Every time Mum and I drive past the house we collected it from (well, their footpath) I have a giggle and think of it. It may well be our most intrepid hard rubbish adventure ever.

Well, a lovely reader asked me recently what became of it.  And I realised I didn’t ever share the restoration of the dresser with you.  Probably because it has not currently reached a finish I am totally pleased with.  I spent a few days scrubbing it back til the wood was smooth and clean.  I oiled it with Danish Oil and then, with Abby’s help, lugged it into the Spare ‘Oom.  Yes, we do live in the Tardis.

But it didn’t have any doors on the lower half.  They’d been removed by a previous owner for goodness only knows what reason (actually, I DO know just the reason – I’ve removed many doors so as to make for easier restoration and then left them gathering dust, propped up in the corner of the shed, before I finally become fed up with looking at their gaping “owner”  and talk Julian into putting them back on – I’m useless with a screw driver).  Alas, these ones were not only not put back on but they didn’t make it out to the footpath either.

So I fancied I could make some doors – and bought some highly inappropriate wood and fiddled about with a tenon saw and mitre box for a weekend and produced nothing useful. Never mind – when I’m an earning nurse, I shall pay the lovely cabinet maker down the road to make me three.

However, back to the tale of what the dresser is doing now.  So there it was in the Spare ‘Oom with clutter on the bottom shelves (not hidden by the missing doors) and a motley collection of children’s novels on the shelves.  It never really sang.

Then one morning recently I was looking at the china which sat on the shelves near the back door – it gets putridly dirty with a dark grey dust that I can only imagine comes from the main road and tram tracks we live on – imagine our lungs! – thinking it really needed to sit somewhere cleaner so that we could actually use it!  Up until this moment, every time we wanted to use it, we had to wash it in hot soapy water first.  Ugh!

Behind me stood the lovely, completely under utilised kitchen dresser – if you turn to your left whilst standing at our kitchen sink you look straight into the Spare ‘Oom and at the dresser.  I knew exactly what needed to happen!

dresser before

China was shifted and washed.  Shelves were washed.  Books were moved (yes they’ll get dusty now but we’re not going to be eating off them anytime soon). China was neatly arranged on dresser.  Hmmm … much nicer than books but the bottom shelves still looked a bit ew.  The solution – fabric of course!  I might be overwhelmed by a tenon saw and timber, but there’s almost nothing I can’t achieve with fabric!

dresser after

As I’m sure you’ll believe, I initially thought of trooping up the road to Darn Cheap and BUYING some fabric.  But then I reminded myself that stashes are for using, not storing, so hunted through the sewing shed instead.  And came up with the perfect, huge piece of Civil War cotton I bought yonks ago to use as a backing on a quilt that has not been finished.  Pft! I don’t believe in being precious with my fabrics’ original purposes :-) And let’s face, when said quilt is done, it will be stitched onto a blanket.

So I made a gorgeous, voluminous, gathered skirt.  Whacked it on with blued tacks.  Then whipped up some lovely prairie points and whacked them on too.  Now … a sensible person would have whacked on the prairie points BEFORE putting the china on the shelves.  I’ve never claimed to be sensible.  It was such a thrilling experience – hoping that nothing would leap off the shelves or chip its neighbour with each blow of the hammer.  It didn’t :-)

denby teddy corner close up of tack teacups green teaset pyrex japanese dollies coloured cups

Now, I’m truly happy with the old kitchen dresser.  It looks so cheery and bright.  The china is all sparkly and clean and ready/easy to use.  And at night, when I look in from the kitchen this is the pretty sight that greets me.

so cosy

Lovely!  And so worth that 2 km madcap trek and a bit of quilt backing.

hoppity-hoppity

Well!  You’ll need to settle down with a lovely cup of something to read this one!  The lovely and creative Rebecca of Needle and Spindle asked me to participate in this little bloggity hop, where we get to ramble on about the whole creative process as it fits into our lives.  It’s taken me hours to collect all these thoughts and put them down in some kind of order, but I do hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did thinking about it, and perhaps it will add a little light to the creative chaos that is so often on display here at block-a-day :-) And once you’ve ploughed your way through this, you can follow the links back to read how other lovely, like minded folk approach their craft.  It makes for inspiring reading.

What am I working on?

I always have so many different projects on the go.  I adore planning a new project, and starting it provides a thrill that literally makes me smile and jig about and even squeal a little.  But finishing – well, I can honestly say, it just doesn’t give me the same zing. Bizarre but true.  I am definitely more seduced by the crafty doing than the crafty finish. Is this a good thing or not?  At the moment I think it’s a good thing.  Starting new projects is my way of recording all the ideas that swirl around my head.  And you know, giving these started projects lots of time to marinate – moving them in and out of the doing zone – gives me a chance to refine them, improve them, adapt them to new purposes.  All good things.

purple knitting

So – what am I working on?  On the knitting front, I am currently knitting my Mum a grey and red stripey jumper (that has to be finished in time for her to take to Canada at the beginning of December), my Abby a vivid purple Lopi jumper that it is now too hot to wear (ah, there’s always next year), my Julian an argyle vest (truth be told, those needles haven’t been touched for months!), and a cinnamon coloured cardigan for myself that has a fair isle band around the chest and upper sleeves.

Patchwork – definitely the black, mustard and turquoise triangles.  Started as a simple star that has just kept on growing and growing and growing.  It really is quite addictive.  And everytime I think, that’s it! no more rounds! I find another piece of lovely fabric and quickly start cutting.  And my Spring House version of the Winter House.  And my fox faces.

mustard and black winter house

fox faces

Embroidery – Working on my Norwegian Queen.  I got heaps and heaps done last week in Merimbula and am really pleased with her progress.  I’m keen to finish this one, because then I want to make a Norwegian King!  I’ve also dragged out my Hawk Run Hollow Village cross stitch – quite the epic project.

cross stitch cross stitch box

Applique – oh the fox chair!  I am completely in love with the fox chair.  It’s been slow going but very very satisfying.

fox face

Upholstery – Putting hessian, lace and cross stitch together to recover an old English Oak card chair I found by the side of the road.

appliqued chair

Crafty – I’ve recently bought Salley Mavor’s book “Felt Wee Folk: Enchanting Projects” and oh, it is truly enchanting :-)  I’ve just made a wee doll of Lucifer – he’s part of a Michaelmas mobile – he’s been pushed out of heaven and is suspended amongst the starts and blackberry leaves and berries.  I foresee many many more of these little folk.  They are such fun to make.

felt doll

Sewing – tshirts and skirts for summer.  My first two tshirts- great successes – shrank when I washed them.  So they’ve been handed down to Mum’s lovely neighbour and I’m now a devoted preshrinker.

skirt and tshirt

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I think the thing that really defines my work is my lack of concern for perfection or the “right” way of doing things.  Soon after I became really interested in making in my mid 20s, I became obsessed with things being perfect.  Lines had to be dead straight.  Corners had to be precise.  Errors were intolerable.  Evidence that it had been MADE rather than conjured up out of the air meant I had failed.  And I didn’t think anything I made could stand up to being touched or used by anyone. It was horrible.  Stressful for everyone – I remember a friend taking me for a walk through the university garden one lunch time to show me that there were no straight lines in nature.  And my husband declared that if something I made couldn’t be USED than it simply wasn’t of any use.  After a few years of this my making ground to a halt because I knew I could not make things perfectly.  I decided that the only craft I was any good at was cross stitch – making those little crosses neatly on strictly gridded fabric met my need for order and the perfect finish.  I literally gave all my wool and knitting needles to my Nanny and declared that I would have to save my few finished quilt tops up until I could afford to pay an expert to quilt them. It was all rather crushing.

Then, after finding the bloggy world of making and being so utterly inspired by so many incredibly talented people, I began making again.  I also began blogging  and strangely enough, that encouraged me to just keep going.  There was always a new blog post to be written ;-) I began playing with many different techniques and genres and it was so fun that I slowly let go of that perfection.  I wanted to be a maker – a sewer, a knitter, a crocheter, a doll maker, a patchworker, a quilter, an appliquer … I really worked at teaching myself that the beauty of making was in the making.  I didn’t want to be a passive observer, I wanted to actively create.

quilting

So my seams are not perfectly straight and my points are sometimes missing. I cheerfully re-chop things if they don’t fit, and if I realise I’ve missed something on the pattern I can usually rejig it so it works. My quilting is higgledy-piggledy and I never bother with batting and backing (vintage blankets all the way).  I don’t care what patchwork fabrics are the latest or what colour background the cool quilters are using.  I cheerfully make my clothes out of old tablecloths and curtains.  My quilts are made from fabrics gathered here, there and everywhere.  My knitting is almost always dictated by what my local yarn store has dug up for the bargain basement this week.  My furniture is gathered from the side of the road and brought back to life with elbow grease and Danish oil.

blanket quilting

I just keep swimming the Lily way and when I’m finished, what I’ve loved making is free to be used and worn and dragged and squashed and crumpled up and that’s all good.  If the candlewax drips onto the appliqued table cloth that’s fine.  If the armhole stitches are wonky – so what, the jumper is still eminently wearable and cosy.  If the little visitor dirties the felt doll, oh well, it looks loved.  I don’t even blink when Mum’s old dog pees on my quilt or our dog wipes her chicken wing juicy chin on my crochet floor rug.

cushion in the sand

That’s not to say my work is clumsy or I am careless.  But I think handmade needs to flow in a way that fits in with everything else that is going on.  It’s not a precious art form that I set aside a few hours for each day/week or a finished item that needs to be guarded.  My work is simply part of our lives, often created amongst the dishes we’ve just eaten from on the kitchen table, and as such, never needs to be perfect or cosseted.  Just lovely. And useful is good too.

Why do I write and create the way I do?

You might have noticed,  I have no problem with writing on and on and on (I have never been able to write to a word limit – such a constant problem with my academic work :-) and whilst my punctuation is sometimes erratic, my style is rather formal. But, this being my blog, I can write however I like.  And I think it probably reflects both the constant chatter in my head, and my love of richly detailed, more old fashioned literature (oh Charles Dickens – you can take as many pages as you like to describe a house!) Honestly, I do talk to myself most of the time.  I think it comes from spending a lot of time at home alone – first as a stay at home mum, and now living in Melbourne where I have no family or friends to visit.  Instead, I potter about, doing the chores, looking after Abby and Julian, writing essays, or making – a constant stream of quiet chatter keeping me company. Describing what I see around me, what I could do next, how I could proceed with a project, what tack I’ll take on a paper, what I’ll talk about with Abby when I collect her from school, what I’ll write about on the blog, what’s infuriating me in the news, what my worries are for the future …  And so my writing reflects this same tumbling chatter.  If you were sitting here beside me, I would sound exactly the same in person as I do in writing :-)

Why do I create the way I do – hmmm … I like to do things the old fashioned way.  I don’t like our society’s emphasis on new and modern, fashionable and sophisticated, fleeting and disposable.  My grandmothers and mum taught me the basics of all my making.  Nanny Cottam taught me to knit when I was 8, crochet in my teens, and her love of patchwork inspired me when I was in my early 20s.  We went to classes together and have spent countless days side by side at her place, running up clothes, curtains, sofa covers, patchwork etc. on the machine, looking through magazines and books together, plotting our next projects and purchases … my dear old Nanny Cottam is without doubt the most important creative force in my life.  Her admonition when the going gets tricky “Now, let’s just sit down and we’ll have a quiet look at it” will guide my creativity for the rest of my days.

Nanny Dougall – who sadly died when I was just 11 – is another huge influence in my life.  She was the queen of making do, making from scratch, using what she had, and appreciating beauty.  She taught me to handsew when I was little – we made a wee doll’s quilt from little squares from her stash.  She started me on my embroidery career – first with making wonky white crosses on blue gingham, then moving on to a Holly Hobbie embroidery kit.  And whilst we cared for her during her last weeks, she taught me to make pompoms – I was so amazed with their cleverness.  My little sister and I were devastated to wake up one morning and find that she’d died overnight – she was going to teach us to crochet that day.  But whilst I never had the chance to spend the time with her that I have with Nanny Cottam, it is what she left me that helps shape my creativity.  I have her crochet books, her carefully embroidered doilies, the beautifully crocheted and knitted jumpers and cardigans she made us, the fabric scraps she gathered, the spools of crochet yarn she inherited from her mother, pieces of pretty china, her piano stool, her tin chest.  She appreciated what she had, she carefully gathered what was important to her, and she celebrated beauty.

And then there’s my Mum.  She’s an exceptional seamstress.  She sewed all our clothes when we were little and most of them when we were older.  She sewed my school uniforms, my ball gowns, my  pregnancy clothes, Abby’s bunny rugs … There has always been a sewing machine set up in the centre of the home, ready to go.  Everything we’ve ever seen and liked is matched to the refrain “We could make that”.  Mum gave me the invaluable belief that we could make whatever we needed or wanted, and we could make it beautifully.  She also let me make stupid things really badly.  When I insisted that WAS what the Vogue pattern said to do, she just shrugged her shoulders and said “alright” and I wore the jumpsuit with the lining sewed in with  the seams visible and fraying.  That was awesome parenting Mum!

So yep.  I’m wordy, old fashioned, hopelessly sentimental, determined to do it for myself, and yearn for the days of old when people DID things instead of simply shopped for things.

How does my creative process work?

Hmmm … I think my work is very much shaped by my confidence with that particular genre.  When knitting, I tend to stick very carefully to what the pattern says because at this stage in my knitting “career”, I don’t have a good understanding of how knitting patterns are created.  All those shapes and increases and decreases are all a bit of a mystery to me.  I mean, I know how to do them, but I don’t know how to put them together myself.  Thus I am very happy to bow down to the creativity and skill of those that know so much more.  However, I do spend a lot of time thinking about the magic of knitting – how did people come to think of winding yarn around sticks and pulling it in and out in different ways to create all kinds of wonderful stitches and build beautiful, warm, hardy fabric.  I love that.  It makes me feel incredibly connected to something that has intrigued, delighted and protected people for thousands of years.

sewing feet

In most of my other work, my increasing confidence with how things are put together has led me away from the patterns of others.  I like to draft my own patterns and most of my projects are inspired by what I see about me, what my family likes or is doing, and especially thinking up ways to add extra handmade decoration to our home and the festivals we celebrate.  I adore decoration – I remember seeing the film “Carrington” when I was at university in the late 1980s, watching Dora Carrington and her friends embellish everything around them, and thinking yes!  That’s exactly what I want my world/home to be like.  Colourful, rich, detailed, so very connected to the past, unique to me and my family (I have a loathing of the homeware catalogue look) and most importantly handmade.  I want my work to please me and be lovely and useful for my family but I also want it to show the world what it is we love and value.

craft table

The grill door on an Art Deco block of flats in Fitzroy becomes a simple quilt. The photo of a fox in a English rural magazine marries the lovely rounded shape of a hard rubbish chair and becomes a piece of embroidered and appliqued upholstery.  The lovely artwork of my Nanny’s Figgjo china collection inspires me to recreate it as embroidery.  I see a pretty piece of fabric in the shop and wonder what it could be, what it could go with – it can be as simple as wrapping hebel bricks to make a bookshelf or trim a skirt.  A book of antique samplers inspires the start of a huge and complex quilt with hundreds of tiny pieces and seams.  A collection of coloured china on the draining rack makes me want to sew a quilt or knit a stripey jumper capturing just that light and colour.  It comes from everywhere, my creativity

dresser

Most of all, it’s very spontaneous and cheerfully repurposes what was bought for another project because at that moment, it’s the perfectly right thing to do.

Wow!  We made it to the end!  Now.  I am supposed to be linking you to another maker however, with the end of the school term, a quick holiday in Merimbula, and Julian’s departure on a month long work trip to addle my brain, I’ve not lined anyone up.  I’m so sorry.  However, I am sending out some emails right now so I will let you know where to visit next as soon as I can :-)

While you wait – go make something – it’s just so good.

skirt trim.

 

 

the ultimate transformation from horror to sweet :: a sewing desk

sad desk

If you happen to follow my instagram, you may have noticed that I picked up a truly dreadful piece of hard rubbish a couple of weeks back.  I was on my way into university to have documents certified for the final grad interview the next day, when I spied an old 60s (?) desk outside a block of dodgy flats.  It was perched amongst a heap of awful rubbish – the kind where you wonder what on earth the people who threw it all there were thinking and why on earth didn’t they put it in their wheelie bins – but I could spy potential.

I checked the time – still had an hour to get to uni and get my documents sorted.  I pulled over, flipped the back seats down and approached the desk.  Ugh.  It was filthy.  But I had a vision :-)  I picked the desk up – the drawers were full.  Gingerly, I opened them – the top drawer had mostly old sewing stuff – but all damp and full of rubbish as well.  The next three drawers were worse.  There were old cards and family photos – some in frames – and just so many bits and pieces.  And it was all icky.  I have a very high ick tolerance – but this was  …  shudder-worthy.  I spied a couple of barely filled shopping bags – stinking of cigarette ash – and carefully tipped the contents of the drawers into them.  Shudder.

By the time I was done, my hands felt revolting and I only had 20 minutes before the clinical office closed at the university.  Hopeless.  So it was back home with the desk.  Unload.  A thorough hand washing with the hottest water I could bear.  And a couple of hours later, when the clinical office was reopened (they keep the most unhelpful hours), I set off once again.

even grafittied very scratched

off with the top

I sent Mum several photos of my fabulous find – oh yes, she exclaimed, I can really see why you just had to stop for it.  NOT.  It was grim.  The top was a complete write-off.  The drawer handles were buggered.  The legs were scratched.  It had even been grafittied.  Oh it was grim.

But I just knew it’s old timber would come up lovely and just where it would fit perfectly into our home and lives.  So last week, on a warm sunny day, I pulled on my summer work clothes and a hat, gathered supplies and set to work, removing all that grime and spray paint and old varnish.  Sadly, it was not a metho scrub moment.  It needed the full strength paint stripper.  And even that was tough work.  But as soon as I began washing the stripper off, I could see that old timber beginning to gleam.

I am the worst at anthropomorphising – I always imagine the timber of my furniture sighing with relief as I scrub it free of decades of dirt and varnish.  Then, it must wriggle with delight as I rub in the Danish oil.  It’s the very odd occasion I can bring myself to paint bare timber – I imagine the poor grain suffocating under the heavy wetness of paint.  Awful!  So Danish oil it is.

scrape and scrub

I spent many many hours pondering what to replace the top with and finally settled on a thick piece of ply from the hardware store that I would cover with some lovely Orla Kiely oilcloth from The Fabric Store in Fitzroy.  I even drove in and bought the jolly fabric – and it was even lovelier in real life than it was on the screen.

But then, I called into Ikea on the way home for new knobs for the desk drawers – the old ones were crap – I love their little black brushed metal knobs – and checked the bargain corner (of course).  There was a kitchen bench top that I had admired online but dismissed from consideration because it was way to expensive.  Only this one wasn’t.  It was a display piece with scuff marks (which rubbed off in seconds with a bit of steel wool) and dramatically reduced.  Eeeeeee!

finished

In a perfect world, the top would be a bit smaller – but hey!  All the more space to craft and it sits as sturdy as.  Can you believe the transformation?!?  I’m in awe.  Look at how that timber gleams.  The knobs are so cute.  It’s a miracle!

only a hint

It wasn’t until I looked at this photo later that I realised you can still see the outlines of the tagging.  I scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed that panel.  It’s ply – and that spray paint just got deep into the grain and – well, that’s the best I could do.  But you know – in real life you just don’t notice it.  And besides – it’s quite funny really.  It’s like this conservative, simple, modest little desk is having a wink and saying “Oh yeah, I’ve seen it all!”

drawers rounded end closeup

And the scratches – most of them are gone – there’s still a few of the deeper ones left, but the wood came up so beautifully rich and syruppy that now they’re just character.  Signs of a life busily led.

original top beautiful top

Now, just in case you didn’t get a good look at the desk top, we have before … hideous old fake wood melamine WITH GRAFITTI !  And after – beautiful, solid, smooth, crisp, clean wood.  I’ve oiled it too.

with machine

And look who looks right at home there!  By the way – have I ever told you the story of this little green machine – my Husqvarna Viking 21 (circa 1950s)?  She too is hard rubbish.  Yep.  I found her having her cords chopped off by a very grumpy man behind an op shop.  ”Oh no!  I exclaimed, “that’s a beautiful old Husqvarna!”  ”It’s rubbish.” he snarled, shoved her back into her original tartan travelling case and HURLED HER INTO A SKIP!!!!  ”Oh that’s terrible!”  I protested.  ”You don’t know what you’re throwing away!”  And I promptly climbed into the skip and pulled her back out.  He ignored me.

I took the sweet little green machine straight to the sewing machine shop in Camberwell where I have my machines serviced and they fixed her up.  They had to find new cords for her power and foot, but they did.  And the service man said she was that kind of beauty they just don’t make any more.  He loved her – and loved the story too.  She sews like a dream – lovely straight, strong stitches, and makes the prettiest hum.  If I’ve told you all this before, I am sorry :-)  I’m getting a bit like dear old Grandad – can’t remember which stories I’ve shared with which folk!  But it’s such a good story anyway – yes? :-)

drawers with placemats tool drawer

And here’s a glimpse of the sweet little desk all set up and ready for action!  Wait til you see where she is!

p.s. I was right to stop wasn’t I :-)

 

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!

 

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!

 

christmas pillowcases

 

piecing them

As usual, once I started thinking about Christmas giving for this year, my head was full of all sorts of wonderful and creative ideas of homemade.  I was going to sew up and print tshirts, make a wooden cutout of a traditional Swedish clock, start and finish quilts, piece and quilt table runners, applique cushions, fill jars dressed in crocheted covers with homemade lollies … it was a lovely list :-)  I even thought I’d try my hand at creating a mini world in a broken terracotta pot with succulents … check it out here, it’s entrancing.  I just hadn’t factored in how tricky that four week placement would be – especially once I added in the bad back, endless hayfever, hours of driving, and insomnia.  It certainly wasn’t the sort of Advent I’ve enjoyed and loved for many, many years.  2014 – I definitely need to start early!

However, on that last Friday of working, I rushed home, out to the sewing shed, gathered an armful of fabric (the pieces I wanted to use had been percolating in my mind for the last few days) and set to work.  Christmas pillowcases.  I pieced and ironed and measured and cut and it was bliss.  Such bliss.  And by suppertime, 2 pairs of pretty pillowcases were ready for giving.  Just a shame I’d missed the last post before Christmas.  Never mind – they’ll arrive in the New Year and be just as fresh and useful.

little houses close up lace

This set is for my dear old Nanny and Grandad.  They love the pretty old fashioned look and Nanny will especially like the reproduction pieces in this.  That gorgeous blue paisley is one of the Julie Rothermel reproduction fabrics from Sturbridge Village.  More of it to come!  The two reds are civil war reproductions from Karen at the Quilter’s Store – she has the most extraordinary and beautiful collection of reproductions – I have never seen its like anywhere else.  Oh how I loved just standing in amongst it all.  Let alone loading up my arms with bolt after bolt, then staggering off to the cutting table to ask for just 30cm!  And the the wee houses – well they’re not reproductions obviously but add to the whole charm of it, yes?  They’re from my wee houses quilt that is a.l.m.o.s.t finished.  The beautiful blue stripe is a fabric I found at The Fabric Store a few years back – it has a wonderfully crisp and sturdy hand.  And the broderie trim is from The Button Shop in Glenferrie Road – the old gentleman who owns this store has an awesome collection, some of which I think has been sitting there for at least 30 years.  My kind of place.

floral and patches
little gumnuts favourite fabrics

with chair legs

And for one of my sweet aunties – a riot of colour and florals.  So many of the pieces have been used here and there.  I love this – it’s like my quilts and cushions and trims are all cousins.  There’s pieces from Caleb’s quilt (Cousin Elena’s babe), Gumnut Fairies from Francesca’s quilt (Cousin Clara’s babe) and my blue crosses quilt, some Anna Maria Horner from Mum’s picnic quilt … I picked up the floral background from Karen years and years ago.  I had long forgotten plans for it … never mind.  That’s the fun of having a stash.  And the trim – why from that Button Shop again :-)  If ever you’re in Melbourne and you feel like stepping back in time, you really must visit it!

tumbled side by side stacked up

So here they are, my quartet of Christmas pillowcases, beautifully pressed and folded (thank you Mum) and waiting for the reopening of the post office on Monday morn.

ready for posting

Perhaps I should start next year’s Christmas pillowcases this summer!

 

christmas

Such a merry Christmas round here with moments of …

the boot

:: packing ::

last minute sewing

:: last minute stitching ::

under the tree

:: receiving ::

gifting

:: giving ::

tieing the pudding

:: tying ::

steaming

:: steaming ::

dancing

:: dancing ::

cooking

:: cooking ::

brining

:: brining ::

snacking

:: feasting :

reading

:: reading and re-reading old and new Christmas favourites ::

relaxing

:: relaxing  ::

picture making:: reflecting on and sharing what
Christmas means to us and why we love it so ::

Thank you for all of your encouragement and friendship throughout 2013.
It means so much to me and so often provides the extra oomph I need to push me through the busy and demanding times we often find ourselves in.

I do hope you and those you hold dear are enjoying a wonderful festive season,
whatever your special celebration, and that there is much love, kindness and joy.

full days indeed

advent rose

Goodness, life has been exceedingly full over the last ten days.  It all began with a washing basket that only had 2 towels and a half load of washing in it.

That was two Sundays ago – the day before I began my two week placement in an Oncology ward at a large public hospital.  As I picked up that wretched basket, I felt a sharp and painful twinge in my lower back.  No, no, no, no … this could not possibly happen at the start of placement.  But despite spending the rest of the day resting my back, taking pain relief, and performing the gentle stretches my physio gave me the last time I hurt my back – over ten years ago – I arrived at the hospital, bright and early on the Monday morning, with an excruciatingly sore back.

There was nothing I could do about it.  If I couldn’t meet my placement obligations, I would have to repeat the semester.  So, I staggered on – literally.  My doctor prescribed pain relief for the days and a muscle relaxant for the nights.  Julian massaged my back every evening when I collapsed onto the bed.  And he and Abby kept the house running.  Every ounce of energy and concentration I had was poured into my patients.  I confess, there were several moments when I simply lay there and cried.

And yet, what an incredibly humbling experience.  Because, as I have walked – as straight and briskly as possible – around the ward each day, I have been caring for people who are terribly unwell.  Most people receiving treatment for cancer are seen as day patients.  Only those who suffer severe side effects from their treatments that cannot be managed at home, or those for whom the treatments are no longer working and their poor bodies are simply breaking down, make their way onto the ward.

I have held the hand of a patient who received very sad news on her birthday.  I have cared for a patient (and his family) who died too soon.  I have prepared the body of another patient for the morgue.  I have cleaned up all manner of bodily fluids whilst reassuring the patient beside me that it is no bother at all.  I have managed to find 10 minutes here and there to sit with patients and listen to their stories who have no family to visit them.  I have given countless antibiotics, anti-virals, anti-fungals, platelet infusions, potassium, magnesium, and ever so gently washed and patted dry frail, frail bodies …. my goodness, chemotherapy is so very harsh on the body.

And that back pain of mine – well, it’s as if it has been given to me to keep my feet firmly planted in reality.  To remind me that what seems awful to me can always be put into a much bigger picture.  One in which life is so very treasured and fragile.

Today – thank goodness – I think that spasm in my back is finally breaking up.  Now, it’s just tired, not screeching in pain.  And this morning for the first time since “the washing basket moment” the fog of discomfort has lifted and I am able to look around me with clear and refreshed eyes.

The rain is pouring down.  The sunflowers smothering my bedroom window are delighted.  I stitched Abby’s Christmas pillowcase and crocheted a wee Christmas rose for a dear, dear patient.  We turned the fairy lights on early. My uniform is ironed.  My supper is packed.

It’s time to head off.

sunflowers fairy lights

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.