Friday, 23 September 2016

Sew; a needle pulling thread

I know the exact moment my interest in sewing was born.

I was about seven years old. Madame Di Bono (that was really her name!) was working on my First Holy Communion dress and I needed a fitting. My mother took me in to her workshop for a visit, and as always, I had my teddy bear with me. Madame Di Bono noticed that he was a remarkably bare bear and proposed an outfit. I agreed, so she stopped what she was doing, scooped up a scrap of fabric, and within a matter of minutes had made this little playsuit for him.

It was like magic. I was spellbound. So many possibilities had suddenly opened up.
Once he was in this outfit, he didn't look like a boy so much anymore. One quick gender re-evaluation and Teddy became Angelina

After that I snaffled spare bits of fabric from my mum and started knocking up very basic outfits for myself. My first efforts were a towelling halter neck top, a bikini and when I found some net curtains, an M&S vest was transformed into a tutu. Angelina got one too. We quite liked matching outfits, but then, that type of thing was popular in the 1970s.

This started off life as a shift dress, but way too big, so it needed a refashion

So fast forward to today and sewing is still top of my list when I have a bit of free time. When everyone starts talking about Autumn, I go into denial and start making summerwear. A couple of weeks ago, with temperatures forecast in the 20s, it seemed to me the perfect moment for a playsuit to match Angelina's.
It's one of those cut and shuts again. This will be the sixth garment I have made using this bodice pattern and the fifth time I've used the trousers/shorts. I've also made the shift dress/top three times. I think it's fair to say I've had my value out of these patterns.

You've seen most of them before. It might be time to try out one of my other patterns. The good news is I have next week off work, with no big plans, so I think it's time to get the sewing machine out again.
However before that, I've got a full weekend, with the girls from Uni coming to stay. Seven of them! And I still need to finish the alterations to my dress.

How about you, got anything nice planned for the weekend?

Friday, 19 August 2016

Everything but the kitchen sink*

Serena emailed me a few weeks back, asking if we were going to go to the Lincolnshire Home Show this year.

As she said, 'This will make it our 4th year...which cements it as a tradition in my books!'
Matching strappy sandals, colourful toe nails, big sunnies and straw baskets from our trip to France. We're twinnies!
I wouldn't miss it for the world!
This pair of chairs was down from £200 to £120, but I'm sure he'd have accepted £100. I was sorely tempted, but just couldn't think of anywhere to put them. There's only one thing for it. I need a bigger house.
Belt and gypsy top from charity shop £1, and 70s Pucci print maxi skirt from car boot in 2011, 50p
We have the best time. I get over to Serena's for early o'clock, then we mooch up to an airfield in Lincolnshire, via Waitrose in Newark where we get some supplies (coffee, pastries and cash), chatting all the way. We go in her car, because it's bigger than mine, so we can fit more in.
We admire these bird houses every year. I was dead set on getting a couple of these antique metal churns to use as planters on the patio with a couple of small trees in them. They were £15 each, which I thought was a good price
Once there, we hit the field, faced with stall after stall of everything antique or vintage you can imagine, from gilded mirrors, to chandeliers, to stone statues for the garden to the humblest little winky wonky stools to use as side tables to paintings to little bits of jewellery. There's every price tag from a pound up to thousands of pounds, so there's something for everyone.
Decisions, decisions. We loved that enamel dresser

Weighing up whether to try on this 1940s cotton dress
We pretend we're interior designers for the day, and like to imagine things in situ. It's all 'Ooh, that would look nice in a farmhouse kitchen, or wouldn't that look great in a loft apartment?' We don't live in either of those; they are the imaginary homes belonging to our imaginary customers. We love it! (Well, I do anyway!)
Serena has two pussy cats already, but that one nearly came home with her too.
One of the things I love about wearing vintage clothing is that complete strangers use it as an introduction to talk to you. We had a lovely chat with these ladies in the loo!
The first couple of years we took a picnic lunch, but last year we discovered a stall selling stone-baked made-to-order pizzas. They were amazing. There's no going back to sandwiches after that.
Imagine our disappointment when the pizza van wasn't there. We had to settle for chips! Lazing around on the grass after lunch meant we missed out on some purchases. By 3 o'clock when we went back to the stall to do the business, the man with the metal planters had packed up and gone
On the way home, we pop into Doddington Hall, for a coffee, then we chat our way back to Nottingham.
Finally, I get home, walk in the door, and Q greets me with the words, 'More junk?'

It's a tradition!
This year's junk: a Scottish dancing brooch (£4) to replace one I lost years ago and a bird bath (£10) which looks like it could belong to Snow White. I also bought something else which I'll show you soon!

*The title refers to a purchase in year 1, when I actually came home with a kitchen sink unit. Every year since, Q's parting words when I set off are, 'Don't buy anything big and impractical.'
Makes me laugh every time.

BIG THANKS and photographic credit to Serena for taking all the pictures of me. 

Thursday, 4 August 2016

We went camping. It rained. The End.

And so it came to pass that summer arrived in Olde England. The natives were happy, basking in the sunshine. It seemed an ideal time to get the tent out and go and explore the countryside.

My idea of camping involves rugs on the grass and tea lights flickering in jars as it goes dark, drinking wine and lying on your back looking up at the stars until you can't keep your eyes open any longer.
My current favourite dress courtesy of Kinky Melon. It's an early 1970s dress by Radley for whom Ossy Clark and Celia Birtwell designed.
You see that cake? That's not just any cake. That's a homemade banana tea bread which was the best one I've ever made. It was so moist it was like eating toffee. Gorgeous!
That little fold up table, the two fishermen's stools and the cooler box were all from car boots. I bought that cooler for £1 the day before we set off. What a bargain! I love the colour.
Thinking the place would be inundated with happy campers, we booked and paid for a pitch in advance, in the Derbyshire Peak District.
We arrived at the campsite and sorted out a nice quiet spot by a river. The sun was shining. All was well. While he made lunch, I tested out the camp bed. I volunteered, no fuss. That's how much of a team player I am. At our age you don't sleep on the ground in a sleeping bag if you want to be able to walk the next day. It was fine, things were looking good.
And then it started to rain. Nice big fat raindrops with a bit of driving wind, which made it impossible to cook outside. Ours is a three man tent with a small porch at the front. With a little improvisation and a couple of umbrellas, we managed to cook pasta with a tomato sauce, but I can't say it was fun.
After tea, we decided that we couldn't let rain stop play so we went off for a walk along the Manifold river. It was just us and great big black slugs nearly the length of my feet, which moved all slowly, like articulated lorries which pull out in front of you on the motorway.

Everyone else was tucked up in their vans and house-sized tents. If I'm honest I prefer it that way. I like a country walk where you don't meet any other humans. Anti-social tendencies alert.
Tin roof, wooden structure, stone steps. That'll do nicely thank you. I positively swooned over this blue door and rambling rose combo.
Day 2 arrived, with a cool, steady drizzle. We decided to wander down country lanes and across fields into the next village, Hartington. Despite the rain it was a perfect country walk. Tranquil and unchanged, with sheep and cows grazing, bridges under which trolls might quite feasibly live, huge wild rhubarb, like umbrellas for wood nymphs and everywhere, wild honeysuckle and geraniums.
Hartington village starts off low, but towards one edge it reaches skyward, and that's where you'll find the church with a graveyard which melts into the foggy hills, reminding me every step of the way of the Bronte sisters.
All that walking made us a bit peckish, so we wandered into the General Stores for a sandwich and a drink. We ended up with a surprisingly sophisticated toasted goat's cheese and pesto panini and cappucino. Nothing olde worlde about that.
I'm always looking out for the perfect little hut. This one was definitely a contender.
Day 3 and it was time to trundle off home. We decided to head out via some pretty little villages. I think this roadside pop up picnic thing must be in the genes. My grandparents were always at it.

Do you ever put crisps in your sandwiches? You should try it, it's all salty and crunchy.
So that was that. And now we're back to real life. And a proper bed. Heaven!

Monday, 4 July 2016


About fifteen or sixteen years ago, we had a Swedish friend living in Nottingham. She told us that Midsummer was celebrated by everyone in Scandinavia, so when Midsummer dawned bright and sunny, we decided to throw an impromptu party in her honour. It was one of those idyllic, perfect, spontaneous evenings where we brought a few people together who all hit it off, and we drank, ate and laughed into the early hours of the morning.
The original party. This was in my old house, which had a little wooden summerhouse at the bottom of the garden. Anna is wearing a traditional floral headdress she made. She made a matching one for me too. 
Time passed and Anna left the UK, but every year wherever in the world she was, in memory of that evening, we sent a message to wish each other 'Happy Midsummer'.
A lot of the same people from the original party were able to make it again, which was so lovely. 
A few weeks ago, she sent a message saying she thought she might come over for a few days to visit us for Midsummer. I said to her, 'Do you want to chill or party?' The message came straight back. 'I!'
Gathering armfuls of wild flowers from the allotment to decorate the house for our Midsummer party

She arrived on the Thursday night, so we had a practice session, eating and drinking outside until it went dark.
The next day at brunch, Anna mentioned a great day out she remembered with us, her and our friend from Israel, so we decided to revisit Cromford Mills, built by Richard Arkwright, a pioneer in the Industrial revolution.

After a whirlwind trip, we whizzed home in my new car, which I've named Blanche Dubois, because although she looks beautiful, there's all sorts of problems under the surface.
Wearing a me-made sheet dress. That photo on the right needs to be snapped up by the local rag!
It was time to party! I have to confess, I never felt less like it, since it was the day after the referendum in the UK, but if you can't celebrate, at least you can drown your sorrows with friends.

Thankfully the almost incessant rain we had in June stopped for a day in order to allow us to sit outside. Phew. I was so busy plying people with food and drink that I forgot to take any photos. Fortunately Anna took one of me and my adorable friend, Varanya.
I've been wearing this dress a lot recently. It's a 1960s crimplene column dress with some snazzy diamante trim. I love the colour and the fact that it makes me look tall.

The next day we met up briefly with my little sis who was in Nottingham for the day, went into town, got home in time for our lovely friend Angela to visit and then went out for a meal and to the pub, where we were the last ones to leave.
By day 4, when we took Anna back to the station to get her train down to the airport, after three nights of partying, we were all pretty much broken. There was just enough energy for a quick group selfie.

We called it the selfie of pain. :D

God, we had SO much fun. Let's do it all again next year!

Thursday, 16 June 2016

The Emerald Isle

I've noticed a pattern in my life, whereby during January, February and March, I'm mainly left to my own devices, so I can go at my own pace, following my little routines and keeping up with all my little jobs. But then, once Spring hits, it just becomes this crazy whirlwind of trips and invitations and weekends away and visitors and being ON all the time, with precious little down time.
The Portaferry side of the Lough
Don't get me wrong; I enjoy every minute of it, but sometimes I just feel the need to crawl away and lie in a darkened room with nobody to please. I think this phenomenon is called being an adult. Do you ever suffer from it?
So, the last few weeks have been busy, full of all the things above, and the next month is pretty booked up too. 
The most recent event has been three days in Ireland with work. The whole team went on a bespoke residential training course/team building thing, which was really interesting and lovely, but also quite intense since we spent every waking hour together. I'm not used to that much talking and listening. I came home and went straight for a lie down.

It wasn't quite, 'Hello Q, I'm off to bed', but very nearly.
But anyway, look at this beautiful place! Who knew Northern Ireland was so pretty?
This is an hour's drive from Belfast, but a world away from what I'd expect. Wonderfully peaceful, and  such a different pace to where I live.
Strangford village on the other side of the water is the very definition of pretty
We stayed on the shores of a lough which is fed by the Irish sea. A ferry whizzes you across to the other side, but when the fog comes up, even on a beautiful sunny day, you get trapped until it disappears again.
In our odd bits of spare time, we paddled in the water. It was freezing cold and totally heavenly. We went for a beach walk, a village tour and a woodland wander. 
And we ate for England! Celia, our host at the b&b is a top notch cook and real foodie. In fact, turns out that amongst many other things, she's the leader of the Slow Food movement for Northern Ireland.
We ate lentil salad with miso paste, shredded beetroot and cabbage salad, seaweed with labneh and herbs, cauliflower cheese, homemade quiche, soda bread farls with dulse, plant-based yoghurt with stewed rhubarb and granola, lemon drizzle cake with ginger and turmeric, her own honey..the list goes on. It was exactly the kind of food I like to eat. She made all our meals except for one, when we ate out, so that the carnivores amongst us could get their chops round some meat.
When we first googled the little town of Portaferry, we saw a lot of photos of boarded up houses. It all looked a bit run down, but with people like Celia and her partner moving in and doing grass roots regeneration projects, it's being brought back to life.
I love that. It seems to me, that it would be better to invest money into places and communities which exist and are run down in the first instance, before building all over the green belt? These places have history and soul and there are always lovely old buildings waiting to be brought back to life.

Look at this lady! She runs a little shop called Blaney's which sells penny sweets and smells like the kind of shop my grandparents used to take me to. Gosh, I'm a sucker for nostalgia.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Red, white and blue

I had a lovely sunshine-filled week off work last week. 
Here I am in that classic Union Jack colour combo inspired by Helga the Great. 1970s cotton midi skirt courtesy of our Curtise (Missing In Action at a local charity shop, last known sighting: Sheffield)
We fitted in a quick trip up North to attend a christening, which somehow we managed to miss. However we did make it for the buffet afterwards. Oops. 
I baked a Nigella Apricot, almond, rosewater and cardomon cake. It was a bit of an acquired taste, but by the time we'd finished scoffing the whole cake between the two of us, we'd definitely acquired it. 
I also pottered in the garden, hung out at the allotment, went out for dinner and....what else? Oh yes, I bought a car! 

I've been driving a red Nissan Micra for the last 12 years. Not the same vehicle; when one died, I went out and bought a replacement. My friends who'd teased me about me driving a Noddy car, had a good old belly laugh over that. I did too. They assumed I'd be upgrading. But I don't know anything about engines, and all the mechanics I spoke to agreed the old style Nissan Micra was a good reliable car. So, that was my logic. But really, that model is too old now to go for a hat trick, so I knew it was time for a Brave New World.
I asked my tennis chums for advice and one of them suggested a Fiat 500. Brilliant Nicole got it absolutely right. It's small, economical and I love its retro design. I found this one over the border in Derby.
I know I will feel a little bit blue when I take the little red car to the scrappers, but it turns out the future is white. I love driving round in this little car.