The Great Shirt Project, continued…

Suddenly I seem to have some time to myself again. I could, maybe even should, spend it catching up with 30-odd years of neglected housework. Or there again, I could do something creative…

Creativity wins hands down! I went down to the recycling warehouse, thinking I quite fancied making a Japanese-style padded jacket out of old shirts, in the spirit of make-do-and-mend (see also my “Great Shirt Project“) to keep me warm around the house this winter, as the heating will only be on for a short time each morning & evening to keep the house from becoming damp, thanks to the enormous rise in fuel costs. I was rootling through the bins full of discarded clothing when a piece of red chintz quite literally bit me; it was an old curtain pelmet, complete with tacks still in place, as my poor scratched hand can testify. Underneath it I found another piece of pelmet, and two cut-off curtain ends, each about 18″/45cm by 6’/180cm. These had clearly been part of beautifully-hand-made and very expensive interlined curtains, probably in the 1970s; the cotton “bump” interlining was exactly what I needed for my jacket padding. But the chintz also spoke to me, and has ended up being the jacket lining & details, such as the cuffs, belt (I know, not in the original!) and pockets.

It wasn’t difficult to make; there’s no tailoring involved. I kind of followed the “Hanten Jacket” pattern from Susan Briscoe’s inspiring The Book Of Boro, but the cotton bump was lightly stitched into the curtain ends & pelmets, so I left it that way and just stitched the pieced-shirt outer onto it. The thread came from my existing stash. Flattering it isn’t, and it’s a bit big for me, but warm it most certainly is & I’ll be very happy to wear it around the place, at the cost of something around £3; 50p each for 5 shirts and another 50p for the curtain bits, and there are still plenty of oddments to use up. Now I know it’s not hard, I’m planning at least one more, from an old linen curtain, a cotton duvet cover for the lining, and a lightweight blanket as padding, which I’d picked up intending to sell on, before I noticed the stained fringe. I could just have cut that off & sold it anyway, but it’ll make great padding that I’d otherwise have to pay for!

The finished article, made entirely from “thrifted” bits for very little money!

Now I’ve started, there are at least 20 more ideas for creative recycling projects jostling for space in my head. Not to mention other simple ways to add to our comfort this winter, with fuel prices through the roof. Though we do now have double-glazing, some of our curtains aren’t lined; now there’s another use for redundant sheets and duvet covers! So the poor neglected house may get a look-in and a spruce-up too. Watch this space…

Seed heads and storm clouds…

Storm clouds racing in…

In a lull between the heavy, thundery showers that are our lot for this week – and don’t get me wrong, I’m very grateful for the rain! – I dashed out for a walk this afternoon. I’ve signed up for Step Up September 2022, because no-one should have to choose between heating & eating in a civilised society, and yet so many do, even here in our apparently-prosperous community. I’m privileged to have a warm, dry roof over my head, enough to eat and the means to grow some of what we need; many are not so fortunate and if by giving up a little of my time & energy I can help, it’s the least I can do. In the end I walked beside the river for an hour and a half, because I’d been busy yesterday & the day before, and at the only times I could have slipped out for a walk, it wasn’t so much raining as monsooning. So I hope I’ve caught up with myself today.

Two worlds… seed-heads and reflected storm clouds.

I was lucky and the rain held off; the fields are full of seed-heads, the hedgerows bowed down with fruit for the birds and the air’s still warm despite the brisk wind. I may have caught a couple of glimpses of the otter who’s often seen under the bridge, but can’t swear to that; just a few flashes of fast-moving brown fur amidst the ripples, too far away to be sure & far too quick to snatch a pic.

And on my way back over the bridge towards home, I spotted that the roadside apple tree on the southern side has excelled itself this year; it’s literally dripping fruit. Sadly the ponies who used to live in that field and munch the apples (which are tasty enough, but rather dry) have moved on now & it’s obvious that no-one fancies eating the apples from a tree so close to a busy road. Though to be honest, most people have probably never even noticed them, except as a wasp-attracting nuisance. I adore random roadside apple trees; my family can attest to my squeaks of delight whenever we’re travelling and I spot the billows of pink blossom in spring or the autumnal blobs of ripening fruit in shades of yellow, green, orange, pink and red, like early Christmas baubles, festooning a sea of green foliage. Wherever people have randomly dropped or flung their lunchtime apple cores, Nature takes over and produces diverse & often delicious fruit!

Random roadside apples, growing unnoticed alongside a bridge, on a main road. More power to the pips!

My walks tomorrow and on Friday will be around our little town, getting in food for the next week in the local shops or at the market, and the weather forecast is for yet more heavy, thundery showers. But it looks to be brightening up for the weekend; perhaps I’ll get a chance to go out foraging & look for more random apple or crab apple trees…

And so it begins…

First wild fruits…

Somehow I carved out time for my first foraging expedition of the season today, after a hot, busy & chaotic summer when it feels like I achieved absolutely nothing of any lasting importance. I took myself off to the drove roads and forest tracks up behind Badbury Rings, in what might or might not be the last of the summer warmth, to hunt for crab apples from the two big trees down the side of the wood. It’s early yet, but the apples in our garden are coming down thick & fast, and we’re perilously close to running out of chutney; remedial action was required! And there were some down already, possibly enough, and clearly plenty more to come. I was also keeping an eye out for sloes, elderberries, hazelnuts & blackberries, bearing in mind that we’re forecast heavy rain – not before time! – this weekend, which will probably cause ripe berries to rot off.

There’s an early-autumnal feel to the air, the cooler mornings re-inforced by the fact that many of the trees are already turning colour & shedding leaves. But apparently this is caused by the horrendously dry summer we’ve had; they’re ditching excess leaves early because they can’t pump sap up to them. And most of the passers-by who stopped to exchange pleasantries as I was berrying were keen to tell me, “Thin pickings this year!” or “Not worth bothering with, are they? They’re tiny!” I reassured them that though generally quite small, they’re full of flavour this year – not diluted & squishy as they sometimes are after a rainy summer. And a big sigh to the grandparents who tried to tempt their Harib0-clutching grandchildren to try the abundance of the hedgerows; the inevitable squawks of “Yuck, that’s horrible!” were sadly quite predictable!

Thin pickings?

There were not many sloes up there, but I do know where there are, and they won’t rot in the rain, so there will be sloe gin this Christmas. And there were so few elderberries I didn’t bother picking any, just left them for the birds. But I did get a respectable 2½ punnets of blackberries; half are in the freezer already but the other half will be cooked up with windfall apples & bottled, or water-bath canned, as we seem to be calling the process now.

Windfall apples…

Results at the allotment have been very sporadic; I lost two complete plantings of runner beans and squash plants before realising that the well-rotted horse manure I’d carefully dug into a nice trench for them was probably contaminated with a weedkiller. The poor little plants turned pale within a day or two of planting out, and seemed “blind” in that they just didn’t seem to know which way to go; no amount of gentle encouragement helped them to go up the poles. It was only when I noticed that their leaves were curling in & turning brown that I realised what had happened. But the third plantings, although late, are finally coming into full production now, and assorted plantings of French & pole beans have kept us going in the interim. Best of all, healthy runner bean shoots appeared in two places from last year’s roots, a foot away from the manured trench, which I’d left in last autumn to help build healthy soil. They are now producing lots of lovely beans, and the very late “Painted Ladies” I chucked into a spare bed in late July are flowering prolifically too. Just as many of my fellow-allotmenteers are ripping their beans out – “It’s September, they won’t do anything worthwhile now!” as my old allotment neighbour used to say. But I’ve usually been lucky enough to carry on picking decent beans until the end of October; we’re generally very mild down here.

Last year’s runner beans, this year!

We won’t mention corn-on-the-cob; there’s always going to be some disappointment. But I’ve been experimenting with growing some things at home, in 30-litre tree-buckets, and have to report great success with potatoes – mind you, they’re coming up all over the allotment anyway, far more than I actually planted! – courgettes, aubergines & even a cucumber.

Courgettes-in-a-bucket…

And my chilli crop is magnificent, but that’s largely due to our local supermarket reducing plants on their sell-by date to 50p despite the fact that they’re laden with fruit just waiting to ripen up in my garden! 3 chillis in a plastic packet for 85p, or 15 on a slightly-wilted plant with plenty more flowers for 50p…? Don’t mind if I do! I’ll try to nurse the plants through the winter in the greenhouse, too, which I did manage to do with 3 of last years, which are also producing well now.

This year’s chillis from last year’s plants…

So despite the feeling that I’ve not managed to achieve anything worthwhile yet this year, and despite the awful, relentless economic bad news and the fact that our leaders have evidently abdicated all responsibility for us mere voters, never mind the fact they’ve completely lost any shreds of common sense they ever had & are far too busy squabbling amongst themselves to help the sick, the starving and the desperately broke, there are still some reasons to be cheerful…

Another cautionary tale…

On Wednesday of last week, I was so pleased & proud of the contents of my little greenhouse that I even took a couple of pictures; it all seemed to be going so well this year, after last year’s cool, damp spring when half the seeds I’d sown didn’t even bother germinating. I’ve had much better luck this year, even from the same seed packets.

Happy productivity…

On Thursday – devastation. Utterly wrecked. It looked as if a bunch of pirates had held a wild, wild party in there; the little plants had been trampled, been pulled up & strewn around, had their heads bitten off & left lying, grazed off. Random holes had been dug in seed trays, pots knocked over and tray lids sent flying in the quest to consume or just obliterate the contents. I could have wept; the devastation was pretty much total, except for the peppers & chillis on the top shelf & for some reason, the peas & beans. 2 trays of beetroot seedlings (my husband’s favourite) more than half of my tomatoes, aniseed, Russian Blue chives, Tuscan egg onions, Magentaspreen, Russian Tarragon, agapanthus, agastache, my daughter’s spinach & named-variety sunflower seedlings – all gone, or damaged beyond hope of survival.

Devastated beetroot, trampled agapanthus…

But it seems it was very much my own fault, if not my own doing. We’ve suspected for a week or so that we might have an unwanted rodent-shaped guest, as well as our friendly local hedgehog population; an ominous hole has appeared down under my work shed. Since the lockdowns began, I’ve picked up the poultry food bowls at night & keep them in a heavy-lidded metal box (not that there’s usually anything much left in them) so as not to attract trouble. But the seed for the wild birds is much harder to round up; it gets dropped all over the place, not necessarily just below the feeders, & there are sunflowers springing up in every crack in the paths. There’s a heavy-duty sonic deterrent on its way to us , but it hasn’t got here yet; I won’t use poison, because of the cats and the hedgehogs.

So why did the rascally rodent run riot in my seed pots & trays? My younger daughter pointed the finger firmly at me when clearing up the fallen bird seed. “Mum, did you deposit a load of cooked rhubarb under the apple tree?” No, I didn’t – but I did empty a bucket of last year’s failed rhubarb champagne there, then got distracted, went off to do something urgent and failed to remove the vastly over-fermented “fruit”… My tiny plants have paid the price for my failings; they’ve literally been danced on & devastated by an inebriated rodent! I can’t help hoping he had the mother & father of all hangovers…

I do know that this is no laughing matter, and that I need to take serious & urgent action to protect our friends and neighbours & our pets; if the sonic deterrent doesn’t work, I’ll be straight on the phone to the pest controllers. But I have to say I’d never have realised just how much damage could be caused by a rat-arsed rat…

Sometimes, it just won’t do…

Well, spot the sometimes-blogger who completely lost her blogging mojo… I don’t know why , I just felt that I didn’t have anything interesting to say. Or, for that matter, do… But having just annoyed myself intensely, please forgive me if I give myself an online talking-to!

So I decided to make a rag rug for our eldest son and his lovely partner, who are about to move into their own first-bought home. I know that they will be choosing their furniture & decor carefully, and of course it’s hard to gauge what might “fit” until you can see how their plans are working out – and if they’re anything like us, things don’t so much go according to the masterplan as just fall into place. They’ll do… I thought I’d just go along with something completely practical, which can be used anywhere – a bathmat, a door mat, a sleeping mat for their adorable dachshund, a boot-liner for the car. There was already a warp on the loom; I’d intended to make a mat for the back seat of my van, but kind of lost my way over winter with that as well. Anyway, to cut a long story short, the warp was made from leftover bits of an old sheet that had been cut into strips for a completely different project, several years ago.

I should have known that a cut warp was never going to be as satisfactory as a torn warp for a twined-weave project; it hadn’t been cut completely straight on the “grain”, so the warp was constantly “shedding” threads, which stick up in the finished weaving. And enough came away as I went along that I became slightly anxious that it wouldn’t be as strong in the middle as it needs to be, to take the ferocious tension. Luckily – it sufficed.

A very tangly warp…

The weft strips were a few bits of my husband’s old, torn jeans, an old, frayed turquoise seersucker tablecloth and two-and-a-half reclaimed duvet covers from the recycling warehouse. Total expenditure, £2; 50p each for the 4 bought items, with half of one duvet cover and a few strips left over.

So they picked up the keys today. And I really wanted there to be a parcel for them on the doorstep, so I carried on “over, under, twist!”-ing ’til late at night on Tuesday. I was aware I’d made a bit of an error at one point, but thought, it’s never going to be completely symmetrical, it’s in the nature of the beast to be a little bit chaotic – it’s a rag-rug, it’ll do. So I carried on.

I came down on Wednesday morning, took one look, and oh my goodness – NO!!! It would NOT do. The error shrieked and glared at me; I knew I’d have to undo half of what I’d done the evening before and put it right. If it was anywhere in my sight, the wrongness would just leap out at me, even though I’m no perfectionist. So I spent a merry couple of hours twisting backwards.

No, no, no, no, no! 4+ rows of turquoise where 3 would be enough…7 rows+ to unpick, half-done when pictured.

The moral of this story being – STOP when you’re tired, and start making mistakes! I have known this for many years – go off & do something else, sleep on it, come back to your project when you’re refreshed and not before! But once again, I carried on long past the point where I should have stopped… Despite the setback, I still got it finished and posted in time, and it arrived today – the day they picked up the keys for their own first lovely home. Phew…

About to go off to make itself useful…

Just asking – has anyone else out there struggled to get going with projects lately? In the unforgettable words of a dear friend – are you feeling, like I was, somewhat oomph-lacking?

A stitch in time…

Mending is a thing right now, and that makes me very happy! For a very long time I haven’t wanted to support the fast-fashion industry, partly because of the horrendous level of waste engendered, partly because of the chemicals and processes used, and partly because of their exploitation of desperate workers . Yes, I know, those workers do need to support themselves & their families, but our addiction to cheap “disposable” clothing has forced their employers to push prices, and therefore wages, down to the minimum, and their hours up to the maximum, leading to people becoming economically enslaved & working in dangerous & demeaning situations. There has to be a better way, for all concerned.

I do try to buy well, when I have to buy at all, but I don’t have the kind of money to buy the clothes I’d ethically approve of, and, to be fair, they’re probably not designed for people like me anyway. (What looks good on a 6′ size 6 model drifting through a field of sunlit daisies looks quite silly on a short, round lady of a certain age trudging up a muddy allotment path.) So when I do invest in something I like and that suits me, I want it to last. Especially when I’ve bought it secondhand; chances are I won’t be able to find a replacement easily.

So mending has been part of my way of life for a long time (I grew up in the 60s & 70s, when it was quite mainstream, if not something to be proud of) and I’m beginning to see it not as a chore, but as a creative process. I learnt early in life how to do more-or-less invisible mends, but thanks to those indefatigable engines of creativity, the Japanese, and the public’s growing awareness of our looming environmental predicaments, “visible mends” have caught people’s imaginations lately and have even become saleable. My skills are suddenly in demand, with the added twist that I can start to have some fun with the idea now!

So I thought I’d share the process of retrieving a rather nice polo-necked jumper; not a top-notch “designer” garment, but a respectable make and made from cashmere, a rightly-expensive fibre that I’d struggle to justify buying new for myself. I found this one at the recycling warehouse, for 50p, well-nibbled; one of the main problems with cashmere is that clothes moths simply adore it. (The other is its tendency to shrink & felt if not treated with the utmost respect.) Luckily they’re not good at surviving very low temperatures, so it spent a month in my freezer before being assessed for mending or upcycling; if I’d judged it too hard to mend, it could have become fingerless gloves, or possibly leg-warmers, or any number of smaller, useful items.

Moth-nibbled cashmere jumper

There were lots of holes around the hem, and on one cuff. Apart from that, there were very few holes on the body, arms or neck, just a few tiny nibbles. So I machine-stitched around the ribbing (thank you to my friends on the Fashion-on-the-Ration thread on the MSE forums for the idea!) above the worst of the damage, and cut the lower bits away, then stabilised the few mostly-tiny holes left by stitching all round them with cotton, tightening & tying-off. Both cuffs were stitched & cut off, for symmetry’s sake, even though one had been undamaged.

The worst of the damage cut away

Luckily I had some tiny sample skeins of cashmere in sympathetic colours, so I crocheted round the cut edges (straightforward double-crochet, or single for our American friends, basing each stitch just above the machine-stitched line) in one direction in a lighter blue, then the opposite way in a darker one. The last step was to felt round the edges slightly to bond the different yarns, by dipping them in hot water & soap & rubbing them gently between my fingers for a few minutes. Then it was washed & dried.

A bit more wearable…

I’m going to wear this one myself, mostly underneath other garments, and am perfectly happy that it now has what looks like a little lacy trim!

Just right for trudging up allotment paths!

As a “vintage” market trader, I’ve always mended worthwhile items to sell on, as well as for my own use, and have never considered wearing mended clothes to be a sign of moral deficiency. We have to stop shopping ’til we drop & throwing or giving stuff away after a couple of uses. Instead we need to buy carefully & consciously, and take proper care of what we have, wherever it come from. Part of taking care is mending when necessary, visibly or otherwise. Learning to mend could save you lots of money, or make it possible to buy things of a quality that would otherwise be out of reach. It’s a better use of precious time than endless binge-watching TV, and can even be combined with it once it becomes automatic.

Darned vintage cardi by Susan Duckworth, visibly-patched 5 y.o. Levis & crochet-hemmed Johnstons of Elgin cashmere jumper.

And when things go beyond the point of mend-abilty – upcycle. Felted jumpers make wonderful cushion covers!

A favourite jumper, shrunk & felted way past wearable, makes a cosy cushion…

Doing the math…

A long time ago, in the early days of the WWW, I was a member of an inspirational American website & online community, Frugal Moms. There didn’t seem to be anything like it UK-based, although that, of course, has changed since. Everyone’s favourite book was Amy Dacyczyn’s Tightwad Gazette, and our battlecry rapidly became her iconic phrase “Do the math!” Just as appropriate here in the UK, even though we’d need an extra “s” – meaning, always sit down & work out whether it is actually worthwhile to do or buy something.

That doesn’t simply mean, “Can we afford it?” That’s a sensible question in its own right, but this goes further; I’d interpret it as, “Is it worthwhile affording it?” whatever it may be? As a very simple example, when we were looking for a new cooker, I insisted on quite an expensive make, rather than just one that fitted the space, did what we needed (to be fair, given a larger family, most modern cookers don’t) and looked the part. I put my foot down & insisted on a make that’s known for reliability and ease of acquiring & fitting spare parts, supplied by a firm with a good reputation for customer service. Which we’ve never needed so far, touch wood. We’re about 10 years down the line now and it continues to do the job well and without fuss; previously, no cooker had lasted us more than 5 years, and most had had engineers called out several times during their stint with us. Time is an important element in deciding whether something is worthwhile; your own time surrendered in paying for it, but also saved in using it, plus the length of time it’s likely to last you set against the initial cost.

Two more examples have come into focus lately. The question has been asked, post-Covid, whether it’s worthwhile for me to continue with my market & emporium stalls; after all, we “coped” without the extra income during lockdown. And they do take up some of my time & energy, and of course, there are costs involved. But as far as I’m concerned, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” – psychologically I need to have a little independent income, and I enjoy what I do, despite the hauling round of heavy stuff and inevitable mess while I clean and restore it. As far as I’m concerned, reclaiming worthwhile tools and materials is an excellent use of time, and I have lots of lovely, creative customers who I very much enjoy meeting. We couldn’t live on what I bring in, but it has for some years paid for extras. There will come a time when it’s no longer practical or possible, but – that day is not this day, to paraphrase a well-known fantasy film.

And is the allotment worthwhile, in purely financial terms? This has not been the most productive of years, thanks to a very dry spring, a mud-bath in May leading to a weed explosion which I’m still battling, and a cold grey August which led to stalled growth for the leeks and cabbages, the dreaded tomato blight, and an almost total lack of female flowers on my squash plants. However, quoting from a post I made on MSE’s forums:

“Another 850g of raspberries brought home this morning, along with a bag of just-popped-up spuds, enough beans for a meal for 5 and a courgette, plus a load of cabbage outer-leaves for the Girls (the chickens, rather than my daughters) from my neighbour, who’s clearing his plot for the winter – he will be rewarded with half a dozen eggs! I keep my plot producing over winter where possible, feeding the soil with mulches rather then resting it, and am currently planting mooli, overwintering onions and broad beans, with garlic yet to go; the kale, leeks (if they ever get any bigger!) and chard will keep producing right through. 

In response to a question from my Other Half, I was also working out whether allotmenteering is financially worthwhile; the plot rental is £50 per annum. But I don’t think a single week has gone by over the last year without me bringing home at least £5 worth of produce, at normal prices, and actually I’m growing without chemicals, so organic prices might be a better comparison. I’ve brought home over 5Kg of raspberries over the last few weeks; at W8rose prices of £3 for 300g, i.e. £10 per kilo, that’s the rent paid even if I hadn’t grown anything else! Of course there are some other expenses; I’ve bought some netting, some secondhand water pipes & a few seeds this year, but most of the tools & equipment I need have been sourced secondhand or free.”

Well worthwhile, in my view. Add in fresh air and exercise, meaning I don’t have to pay gym fees to stay active & relaxed, and for me, it’s a winner, though I’d still rather be growing it all in my own garden! (But sadly, that isn’t big or sunny enough.) I know I’m very lucky to be capable of maintaining it, albeit not all that well or quite as the site managers would like to see it (i.e. bare earth, neat rows) but I’d urge anyone who has the opportunity & the time to take one on to get stuck in & give it a whirl.

I’d also urge them to “do the math” – everyone’s situation is different. What pays off for me might not pay off for you, if you paid the plot rental but then weren’t able to keep it going. (Or if you bought lots of expensive tools and equipment, then gave up after a couple of years, which does seem to happen quite a lot.) The right cooker for our reasonably-sized kitchen and more-than-reasonably-sized family wouldn’t be the right choice for a singleton, or for someone producing food for sale. Some tools pay for themselves very quickly, in financial terms like a sewing machine can, or in terms of time saved, and some add so much to your quality of life that they’re worth every penny spent, but others – don’t. I’m reminded of the expensive food processor that just moved the work from before the meal to afterwards, because it was such nightmare to clean!

Anyway, enough rambling. I’ll leave you with some pictures taken at the allotment today…

A bee enjoying one of my daughter Sarah’s sunflowers.

The Great Shirt Project strikes again…

For several years now, I’ve been working on a one-woman challenge: to find as many uses for old shirts as I can! Every quilter knows there’s a whole lot of good, still-useful fabric in a decent gent’s shirt, often in lovely colours and nicely understated patterns, and so many of them just get chucked away when something frays, or a button falls off, or the owner gets larger or just goes off that colour. I’ve been paying 50p for superb quality cotton or linen shirts down at the recycler’s warehouse-shop, chopping them up and using the fabric in little quilts, and weaving the side-seams into bags and rugs, and making hanging “pockets”, needle books, mending kits and laptop covers, to name just a few of the ideas that have occurred to me. A few of the resulting items have even been sold.

Yesterday I experimented with some cuffs; I’ve been steadily selling lavender hearts made from the embroidered bits of old stained table linen, but they are delightfully feminine when all’s said & done. I wanted to make something that a guy would be happy to hang in his wardrobe to make his clothes smell fresh & deter moths, too. So now I’ve invented the Lavender Cuff! Time will tell whether anyone will ever actually buy one, but it’s got to be worth a try…

Lavender-stuffed cuffs!

But the thing that I really, really wanted to make was a hat. It struck me some time ago that the stiffened bits of a formal shirt, i.e. the collars and cuffs, would be ideal for making a hat, if I could just get them joined together somehow. But before I had my big Pfaff machine serviced, all my attempts came to nothing; I broke a number of needles and wrecked several collars trying. It could always have been done by hand, but that might have taken rather a long time, so it didn’t happen.

Anyway, I tried again yesterday, and to my delight & surprise, I succeeded. The machine ran perfectly, I squared the collars & cuffs off to make even joins, and found an elegantly simple pattern to try (pattern & instructions here) and – it worked! I am now the proud possessor of a shirt-collar-and-cuff hat… This one’s a bit big; I made the bigger size because lots of hats feel too tight for me, so there’s another, slightly smaller, version in the making, but I’m actually really rather proud of it and will certainly wear it!

Collar-and-cuff hat!

Something I learnt as a child…

So, a couple of days ago, I started idly twisting a couple of old cut-off shirt seams round my fingers, and before I knew it I was twining & stitching a tiny basket, which is ideal for keeping odds & ends of thread in… I was ridiculously pleased with myself, although I know perfectly well that in days gone by, or on this day in other places in the world, any child can make these; it’s definitely not rocket science!

Tiny basket made from cut-off shirt seams…

But it brought a long-forgotten memory to mind; I was probably about 8, and had made something very similar at school. I trotted home fairly bursting with creative pride, and handed it to my mother. “Very nice, dear,” she said, distracted, as mothers-of-many so often are. “But what did you learn today?”

So, making stuff isn’t learning; that’s what I learnt that day. Learning is words and numbers, facts, and figures. Learning is ideas and abstractions; making stuff is just – child’s play. Something to be put behind us so that we can enter the glorious adult world of using those ideas & abstractions to earn money & buy stuff, playing our rightful part in The Economy. Making stuff, if you really have to, should just be a hobby, involving buying lots of new stuff to make it with, in your “spare” time, or perhaps it should be monetised, if you’re more than competent; you could sell those! But what’s the point in bothering, if you can’t do it cheaper than a oriental wage-slave & churn out enough to supply the high street giants…? Not many of us crafters could support a family on what we could earn, any more then I can feed my family solely on what I can grow on my allotment. Yet somehow we are still driven by something inside to do it anyway.

I know I’m not the only one to be dismayed by how creativity has just fallen out of our educational system; it’s simply not valued in any way by those who make the decisions unless they can see it as a way of gaining a competitive edge in the world. Music, drama & textiles are hanging on by a thread, but very few adults follow through with their interest once they realise they’re not going to be the next superstar or “designer” name. And children only have a basis to explore their potential talents if one of the adults around them happen to be interested in & actually doing such things, and is willing to help that child learn. You won’t do something if you think you might get it wrong or look a bit silly, but especially not if you don’t even know that it can be done.

There are massive commercial pressures to keep people a little bit helpless, a little bit stressed and anxious, because then they’ll keep right on buying stuff, which keeps The Economy ticking over. Also, why put sweat and effort into learning to make something when you could just buy one, or 3D print it? So gradually, our collective competence is dwindling away…

Making or growing stuff, actually manipulating matter with developing skill, applying and combining ideas, and ending up with something genuinely useful and quite possibly beautiful too, is deeply satisfying, even on the level of a tiny basket made from rags. It doesn’t have to win a Turner prize to be worth doing. Why are we allowing future generations to be deprived of this delight?

Home-grown turnips & home-made jam…

Fast forward…

… to July, and any day now I’ll be a Grandma! A little quilt has duly been produced:

A little quilt for a little chap…

I even got to use some of my tie-dyed fabric on the back. All the fabric is reclaimed, rightly or wrongly.

Stars for a little star…

They have a night-sky theme going on in the nursery so the shapes & colours were chosen to fit in with that; they look darker in the pictures than they actually are, thanks to the seemingly never-ending gloom in June. It’s not meant to be an heirloom but a totally practical, wash & wear everyday item. There are a few touches that I hope will please the little man; some chenilled seams to intrigue little fingers, and it’s bound with satin ribbon, remembering how much his father loved labels and other smooth textiles as a baby & small child. That and some of the thread – I ran out! – are the only things bought new.

In the meantime, our house has filled up with stuff again; we had a massive last-minute panic to empty my mother’s bungalow. It had sold previously, but the chain collapsed at the last minute and the sale fell through. The estate agents marketing it asked us to leave her stuff there, as it’s easier to sell a home that looks lived in. But as the Stamp Duty Land Tax holiday tottered towards its end, we suddenly got a really good offer for it, provided the sale could go through within a week. Legally it was entirely possible; the new buyer didn’t need a mortgage and the paperwork was all ready to roll, but it was still full of a lifetime’s possessions; you can’t fit that much into her room at the care home, lovely though it is! So some of those possessions have ended up here with us; some will be sold, a few bits used (proper glass lemon squeezies! Oh yes!) but others I will have to make space for until various offspring have homes of their own to house them in. And yes, the lawyers pulled it off and the sale went through a day early.

The weird weather has left me with another space problem; things that should have come out by now over at the allotment are still in the ground, only just starting to go over. So I have several sets of plants ready to go into the ground, but no ground to put them in! And my “first early” potatoes & my maincrops are clearly all going to be ready at the same time. Needless to say, the weeds have galloped away; one minute they were tiny, hardly worth hoeing off, then it rained for weeks and now they are thigh-high. Some serious work called for over there! But some actual potential crops are thriving; I planted Greek Gigantes beans for the first time, and despite the deluge they seem very happy & are racing up their wigwam.

I’m sure there was something serious I wanted to witter on about, but I’ve entirely forgotten what it was, thanks to finding most of a treasure at the recycling warehouse earlier this week. A 1979 Rappard Wee Peggy spinning wheel, originally from New Zealand, but alas, she’s missing her flyer, whorl & bobbins. So that will be a Quest for me over the next few months; I either need to track some “orphan” parts down, or find something that can substitute for them. Without them, sadly she’s just expensive firewood; with them, she’s a beautiful and genuinely useful tool.

Most of a Rappard Wee Peggy…

So now I’m wondering how to gently tell the house clearance people that sometimes, bizarre-looking bits of wood & metal with odd protrusions, often stashed in baskets of brittle, age-old, moth-eaten fluff, are actually vital parts of something. And remembering the lady who found one merrily chucking parts of a loom into a skip, because he couldn’t work out how this “bookcase” fitted together…