Scrappy recycled shirt for Eoin

Things have been a little heavy around here lately, what with the depression, the diabetes and the rest of the “motherhood is not a bundle of laughs” posts. I have some more instalments planned for the series, but I wanted to break things up a little: with this in mind, here’s the first sewing project I’ve managed to complete since my fractured foot healed enough to allow me to operate the foot pedal on my sewing machine.

Last week, Eoin’s nursery held an “Eco Week” in which they thought a lot about different ways they could reduce, reuse and recycle, which culminated in a fashion show featuring outfits made from recycled materials. Predictably, some parents had amazing skills with cardboard and glue: one dad even fabricated a giant, 3D Thomas the Tank Engine costume for his son out of old boxes. I, unfortunately, am utterly ham-fisted when it comes to this sort of thing. There was only one possible course of action: root through my scraps, offcuts and odd buttons, and see if I can make anything wearable out of them. Eoin, as you might imagine, helped vigorously, frequently by picking out an impractically small remnant and asking me to make an entire garment out of it. Patchwork shirt pieces Eventually, though, we managed to come up with a pile of material which was both usable for me and, crucially, Eoin-approved. I toyed with the idea of buying a new pattern for the purpose, but, in the spirit of recycling, I ended up pulling out my copy of Heather Ross’s Weekend Sewing, and tracing off the pattern for Kai’s Shirt.

I’d like to begin by noting that the book really is lovely to look at: I initially bought for the lovely picture of the Yard Sale skirt on the cover, and I spent a great deal of time drooling over such eye-candy as the adorable mint-green Singer Featherweight which appears in many of the internal illustrations. The patterns cover a good range, from garments for both children and adults to a number of different accessories. I was, however, aware that reviews of the book had been mixed, and many readers had had issues with sizing, instructions, and the making-up process. As more of a newbie, I had let this put me off trying any of the patterns, but, this time, I considered myself up to the challenge. It’s a simple-enough pattern, and the cutting was straightforward. As you can see from the picture above, I even attempted a bit of a hack on the back of the shirt and pieced it together from three fabrics. Things were going so well. There were flat-felled seams: it was beautiful. The shirt itself is pretty boxy, but it began by going together easily enough. Shirt frontLater on, though, I ran into some issues: the sleeves sit somewhat awkwardly in the armscyes, and the collar was, bluntly, a beast to assemble. Admittedly, I haven’t made a collared shirt before, but it seemed to me that the length of the collar itself did not match up to the dimensions of the neck opening. I ended up having to fudge the back of the neck quite badly: there are some pleats on the inside of the collar from where I just couldn’t make the fit work any better (you can see them in the picture on the right if you embiggen it). Judging by the reviews, I’m not the only person to have had these issue, and I have to admit I’d be reluctant to make the shirt up again for a more formal occasion. It was fine for my purposes, though, and it’s certain that using a neglected pattern from my stash was much more in the spirit of the exercise than buying a new, potentially better-fitting pattern would have been.

While I may not have been blown away by the pattern itself, I’m really rather pleased with the wayShirt back the shirt as a whole worked out. Together, Eoin and I managed to come up a reasonably decent colour scheme, and, although the whole thing does somewhat resemble a Shite Shirt, I don’t think it’s overly crazy. You may recognise the brown polka-dot fabric on the back yoke from my Simplicity 2226 skirt, and the blue dot on the collar from the central piece of my Quilt That Almost Wasn’t. The sleeves are from a scrap of Ikea cotton (it’s the Cecilia print, which is, unfortunately, discontinued), and the main body panels are, variously, a pin-print fat quarter from Busy Bee Fabrics (blogged here) and the leftovers of a tape measure design which I had previously used for a cushion cover.

Eoin spent a great deal of time poring over the contents of my button jars (a certain amount of pouring went on in addition to the poring, as I’m sure you can imagine). Button circleAfter we had cleared up the mess, and I had retrieved some of my more precious buttons from Eoin’s pockets, we had a set of seven buttons in a rainbow of colours. Aside from simply being cheerful, this fits well with the nursery’s theme for the term, in which each week is dedicated to a particular colour (eco-week, naturally, was green). Given half a chance, Eoin would probably have covered the shirt with bias binding, zips and pom poms in addition to the buttons, but I cherished a fond hope that he might wear it again after the fashion show, and, with that in mind, tried to urge him to be moderate in this respect.

After a somewhat fraught couple of evenings spent wrestling with the collar and facings, the shirt was finished in time for Eoin’s fashion show, and he wore it proudly in among the tinfoil robots, bubble-wrap fairies, and cardboard box tank engines. I may not be able to make a convincing costume out of papier-mâché, but I hope I managed to come up with something reasonably cute. The wearer, naturally, is adorable.

Eoin in his crazy shirt

Beach mornings

Eoin at the beachFor Eoin, hunting for beach glass is a serious business: a young man cannot consider himself properly equipped without his magnifying glass. Fortunately, the tired beachcomber can always enjoy a hot chocolate on the pier after long, windy walk. Cheers!

I am a Bad Mother: Part 2. In which I have Gestational Diabetes, and don’t handle it well.

As I said in my last post on this subject, it doesn’t seem as if either my body or my mind likes being pregnant. I can certainly pinpoint the stage when things all started to go wrong the first time around, though: it was when, completely out of the blue, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes at around 29 weeks. The whole situation was a bit of a mystery. I had no family history of diabetes. I was pretty active, and eating healthily. I hadn’t shown any of the usual symptoms, and indeed I had barely put on any weight at all. Nobody would have had any idea about my underperforming pancreas had it not been for the hospital’s policy of screening all pregnant women for diabetes, whether they were showing symptoms or not. I can’t say for sure whether or not it was a good thing that I was diagnosed. I have to hope that the whole rigmarole was worth it for the boys’ sake. And, who knows? Maybe I would have had the peri- and post-natal depression anyway. What I do know is that it was with the diabetes diagnosis that I started to lose control over my pregnancy, and, to a degree, my sanity.

I think much of the problem the first time around stemmed from the hospital’s “one size fits all” approach to treating the condition. I had gestational diabetes, which, obviously, I must have caused by being grotesquely overweight and persistently gorging myself on chocolates and cheeseburgers. When the diabetes got worse, week-by-week, to the point that I needed insulin to control my blood sugar, well, that meant I clearly wasn’t trying hard enough. The fact that I needed insulin during pregnancy was also clearly an indicator that I was well on the way to type 2 diabetes after the delivery. Why couldn’t I just put some more effort in? Didn’t I have any self-control? Did I actually want my baby to die? Oh, and, by the way, the consultant happened to be running a study of obese mothers with diabetes: did I want to talk to a social worker about my bad food choices and how they would affect my unborn child?

As you can imagine, this was not the most helpful approach for them to have taken.

What was in fact happening was that I started out eating a fairly normal, balanced diet (cutting out, of course, any obvious sugary items), but, in response to the constant criticism from the hospital, I began cutting more and more foods out entirely: not just starches, but all fruit and most vegetables too. By the end of the pregnancy, I was really only eating fish and leafy greens, and I was getting so fixated on my apparent failure to control the diabetes with diet that I was pretty much terrified of eating. As for the weight issue,Lorna and Eoin well, this is me about a week after Eoin was born: you can judge for yourself. I’m afraid I have absolutely no idea who took the picture, and I do look a bit of a state: I was already getting fairly unwell at this point. I think it’s fair to say, though, that I was not obese.

Perhaps if I had been more blasé about the whole thing, it would have been better. However, I was far too determined to do the right thing, and was desperately trying to measure up to the consultant’s impossible standards. Instead of being supported, I was left feeling that everything I did was wrong. I didn’t realise at the time that gestational diabetes inevitably gets worse no matter how carefully you eat, or how much exercise you do: it is your placenta that makes you insulin-resistant, and the only sure way to ameliorate the condition is not to be pregnant any more.

Fast-forward three years, and, having moved cities and now pregnant with Ronan, I was again faced with the likelihood of diabetes. Thinking about how badly the diagnosis had affected me the previous time, I was, understandably, pretty worried about how I and the medical team in this hospital would deal with the situation. At first, things seemed to proceed along the same lines: I had no symptoms whatsoever, and all early tests were clear. Suddenly, around 28 or 29 weeks, I was again diabetic and bracing myself for the anticipated misery. I am incredibly grateful to be able to say that I couldn’t have been more mistaken: the entire medical team was supportive and understanding, and, more to the point, they actually listened to my story and took on board the details of the situation. When I described the meals I had eaten, they didn’t accuse me of lying. When I worried about the severe restrictions I was going to have to place on my diet, they kindly pointed out that this was a temporary condition, and if I needed to take insulin in order to be able to eat a balanced, healthy diet including the occasional piece of fruit, then so be it. When, as was inevitable, my blood sugar started to get harder to control, they didn’t immediately accuse me of illicitly eating chocolates and chips, but rather reviewed my diet and discussed insulin dosage in a measured, sensible manner. They were thorough and caring, but notably absent was the overwhelming sense of blame which had pervaded my first experience. With Eoin, starting insulin was seen as the final confirmation of my absolute failure. With Ronan, it was very definitely a necessary short-term measure, one which would enable me to go on leading a normal life. It might be interesting to note that, while my mental health was so much better during my second experience of diabetes, the physical impact on me was almost identical: again, I put on very little weight (about 2 kilos) up to the point of diagnosis. Again, I promptly lost it immediately I stopped eating any and all cake. Barring my blood glucose levels, I never showed any symptoms of diabetes, and my HbA1c, when I’m not pregnant, is totally normal. Ronan was, like Eoin, not the macrosomic monster-baby you might expect, but rather smack-dab in the centre of the size bell curve. Really, the only difference with my second pregnancy was that I didn’t spend my final trimester hovering between blind panic and a crushing sense of failure.

Again, I have to underline the fact that I am not that kind of doctor. This post is not intended to be a substitute for proper medical advice. What I do want to say, though, is this: if you’re reading this, and you’ve recently been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, please learn from my mistakes. Firstly, it’s honestly quite likely that there’s nothing you could have done about it. People do like to play the blame game when you’re pregnant (and get used to it, because it doesn’t stop when the baby’s born), but it’s entirely possible that you would have been diabetic whatever you had done. While it’s probably not a good idea to prepare for pregnancy by putting on a pile of extra weight, it’s important to note that being large doesn’t inevitably mean you’ll develop gestational diabetes. Other significant risk factors are your age, and whether or not you have a family history of diabetes: there’s really not a great deal you can do to change these. Don’t panic about food, like I did: once you cut out the obvious problem foods (sugars, processed stuff), there’s really nothing to be gained by starving yourself. A low-GI diet should work, but, for heaven’s sake, don’t try to eat a low-fat diet too: get plenty of nuts, avocados, full-fat yoghurt, eggs, cheese and oily fish into yourself. They’ll help to balance out the overall GI of your meals, provide valuable nutrients, and, crucially, keep things tasting good. If you need insulin, make your peace with that. Be grateful that you’re unlikely to need it forever. When you’re pricking your fingers to check your blood glucose, or looking for a new spot in which to inject, remember that there are an awful lot of people for whom this is daily life, not just a frustrating side-effect of a biological process. Understand that, while this may mean you are more likely to develop diabetes later in life, it is not a foregone conclusion. Be sensible, be cautious, but don’t be paralysed by fear, and don’t ever feel that you’ve failed. Take it from me: it isn’t worth losing your mind over.

I am a Bad Mother, Part 1

There’s a deliberately inflammatory title for you, if ever there was one. On one hand, I want to follow it immediately with a desperate reassurance that of course I’m not a bad mother: perish the thought! On the other hand, though, it is precisely this feeling of guilt, of failing, of out-and-out unfitness which has, I think, underscored a lot of the bad experiences I have had around pregnancy and birth. It has certainly been a contributing factor in several years of post-natal, peri-natal and just general depression. For some time, I have contemplated writing a post, or a small series of posts, about this, the intention being in part to articulate some of the problems I have had, and, in doing so, to exorcise them. That’s the hope, anyway: we’ll see if it works. I do, however, have another motivation: at various low points, I have found myself trawling forums and blogs, looking for someone who has been in a similar situation to the one in which I found myself. Whether or not finding such testimony would have done anything to forestall or alleviate the depression, I don’t know, but I do know that I didn’t find anyone who had had experiences all that similar to mine, and that this definitely contributed to my feelings of isolation. I hope that, in writing about my pregnancies and births here, I might be able to help some other worried future reader, if only by letting them know that they’re not alone. Although these posts will inevitably be concerned with medical matters, I must preface everything with the caveat that I Am Not A Doctor (not that kind of doctor, anyway: I’ve never heard of an emergency situation in which someone shouts, “Get me a bibliographer, stat!”). These posts really are my personal thoughts and experiences, and are no substitute for proper medical advice: if you have any concerns about physical or mental health during pregnancy, please speak to your doctor or midwife.

I have come to the conclusion that neither my body nor my mind deals well with pregnancy and its aftermath. From minor annoyances like the Unexpected Pregnancy Nosebleed Epidemic, through gestational diabetes, difficult births and feeding problems, to episodes of depression which left me some pretty dark places, the whole process has felt fraught with difficulty. This is compounded by the fact that it all feels so self-indulgent: you are continually beset by a self-loathing interior monologue telling you that other people have real problems. Other people’s babies have serious disabilities or life-threatening illnesses. Other people’s babies die, for heaven’s sake. Other people suffer debilitating birth injuries. What do you have to complain about? You had a baby and you just plain couldn’t deal with it. You’re pathetic… And so on. It may be a cliché, but it seems to me that, if your mental health is being affected, then you have a problem, no matter whether or not your situation meets some vague criterion of seriousness. It’s totally normal to feel, some of the time, that you’re doing badly as a parent. It is, I would suggest, not normal to respond to a bad day by assessing the contents of your medicine cabinet and asking your child if they would be happier if you weren’t there anymore. It’s normal, when pregnant, to worry about how you’ll cope with your baby. It’s arguably not normal to be considering whether you should have your (very much wanted) baby adopted or have a late termination to save them from having to be raised by an awful person like you.

I don’t know if there is any way I could have avoided this depression, but I do honestly believe that there are ways I could have dealt better with the diabetes, the birth, and the feeding issues. It’s these three factors which I plan to discuss in my next posts: again, remember that I Am Not That Kind Of Doctor, but, if you are in a similar situation to me, I do hope that my experience (and the fact that Eoin, Ronan and I are still here and, mostly, happy) might give you some help or sense of solidarity.

Gardens and printing and spiders: oh, my!

Yarntastic printMy lovely friend Eileen has just set up a new blog, in which she’s writing about gardening and printmaking, with a healthy dose of family life thrown in. There may also be the odd arachnophobia-based story, too, marauding spiders being an occupational hazard to the keen gardener.

Eileen made the fantastic yarn print, above, for me, and the Doctor Who-inspired one below for Eoin, the house’s resident Dalek fan: as you can see, she’s much more artistic than I am! If you like growing things, making things, and reading posts written by a generally top-notch lady, do head over to her blog and check out what she’s up to. Just don’t forget to mind the spiders!

TARD-ish print

Half a year of Ronan

Poor Snuggly Jeff suffers rather badly from Second Child Syndrome: he hasn’t had a lot of update posts, and indeed, for the first few months of his life, I had enormous trouble remembering whether he was born on the tenth or the eleventh of March (FYI, past-self: it’s the eleventh). What can I say? I wasn’t getting a lot of sleep at the time, and things like precise record-keeping go somewhat out of the window under those circumstances. Now, though, we are all coming out of the fug, and we’re all feeling inclined to celebrate six months with the small dude.

Ronan has grown up a lot in the last while. He’s developing a proper little character: he loves swimming, avocados, mirrors, picture books, toast with marmite (just a scraping), and, somewhat inexplicably, Kate Bush (but emphatically not “Wuthering Heights”). Despite never having tried any, he’s absolutely obsessed with cake, and will try to climb into the plate if he sees any. He’s also desperately fond of his older brother: Eoin can make him smile even when he is at his most grumpy, and both boys absolutely light up in each other’s company.

I had such a lot of fear when I was expecting Ronan: I was terrified of another difficult birth and another extended bout of PND. Nothing could have been further from what actually happened: a calm, well-managed birth, and a chilled-out, relaxed, happy baby. We are very lucky to have him, and I only hope the next six months are as good as these. Happy half-birthday, little Snug: we are all very, very glad you’re here.


An anthology of one’s own

Warning: this will be somewhat picture-heavy, and may be a bit self-indulgent…

I’m sure I’m not alone in being a bit of a stationery geek: I can’t be the only person out there who feels a sense of longing when faced with shelves of beautiful blank notebooks in Waterstone’s, who lusts after Moleskines, who has bought a Traveler’s Notebook not because she needed to document a journey but rather for the sheer joy of possession. I do, however, tend to suffer from a paralysing indecision when confronted with the notebook of my dreams: what should I use it for? What should I write in it? What if I write the wrong thing, mess it up, make myself sound stupid or self-aggrandising or… Argh! Better just to put the book on the bookcase, untouched, and just admire it in its pure state, right?

One Christmas back in the mid-nineties, my uncle gave me what was, in those days, pretty much the platonic notebook. He brought it from America, and I had never seen anything quite like it before. It had thick, creamy pages, it was bound in soft leather and fastened with a thong. Basically, it looked like the sort of volume in which Leonardo da Vinci would have sketched embryonic helicopters, in which Count Almásy would record his affairs and his study of African geology alike, in which Dr Jones senior might document his search for the Holy Grail.1 I loved that notebook with all the strength of my unreasoning passion for stationery, but, of course, I hadn’t got a clue what to do with it. I kept it, untouched, until I went to university. There, studying Renaissance and eighteenth-century literature, I encountered the concept of the commonplace book, and all at once I knew what I was going to write.

Commonplace Book Collage

A commonplace book is, in essence, a sort of literary scrapbook: it’s a repository for extracts from and observations on whatever books the maker might be reading or studying at the time. Sometimes these observations are arranged thematically (John Locke, for example, came up with an influential method of compiling an index to such a book), but mine was more or less a chronological compilation of extracts, added because they resonated with something I was working on at the time. I added to it gradually, sometimes writing a great deal, and sometimes abandoning it for months at a time until another text piqued my interest. I finished my degree, moved to Leeds to study for an MA, then to Preston to teach part-time, then to Florence to take short courses in Italian and Art History. The commonplace book came with me, gradually becoming fatter, more battered, more stuffed with quotations. I finally finished it during the early stages of my PhD, and, for some time, the Commonplace lived on my bookcase, unopened. Recently, though, I took it down from the shelf and began to re-read the entries I had made. It feels horribly vain to say this, but I found it a very beguiling experience: some passages were very familiar, while others seemed to have been written by another person: a lot of time has passed, and I am no longer working in academia. If pressed for a quotation now, I’d probably be just as likely to come up with a line from one of Eoin’s story books. Re-reading the commonplace book was like looking into the life of the person I once was and, far from being the reductive, navel-gazing experience you might imagine, it was actually really interesting.

Although I did not consciously make an effort to order my book thematically, a number of distinct patterns emerge. A lot of the entries are concerned with stories and storytelling: the first entry is a selection from an essay on narrative by Ben Okri, which I found in one of those tiny 60p paperbacks which were all over the place in the mid-nineties. Remember the Penguin 60s? I was an indiscriminate collector both of these and the Phoenix versions, from which I took this extract.

Ben Okri on narrative

Of course, no reflection on stories and storytelling would be complete without a passage from the Arabian Nights:

Scheherazade and the Fall of Troy

The manuscript illumination on the facing page concerns the popular medieval myth of the Fall of Troy and the founding of Britain. Elsewhere, I’ve inserted some passages from A.S. Byatt’s collection of fairy stories, The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye. The quotation below is from “The Story of the Eldest Princess”: here, in defiance of the usual fairy tale tradition, the eldest princess of three refuses to fall prey to the usual hubris of elder children in quest-fables, and instead forges her own destiny. The quest is then fulfilled by her sister, the second princess, while the youngest princess realises that she is left with no story: “She felt giddy with the empty space around her, a not entirely pleasant feeling. And a frisky little wind got up and ruffled her hair and her petticoats and blew bits of blossom all over the blue sky. And the princess had the idea that she was tossed and blown like the petals of the cherry trees”.

A S Byatt,  Job, Pastiglie

As you can see from this opening, I’ve also quoted from the Book of Job. Reading through the book, there’s a certain amount of Biblical and liturgical quotation, which is unsurprising given that a lot of the literature I was studying at the time was steeped in these traditions. But, my word, there’s a lot of Job. I happen to remember the reason I wrote down this passage: it’s engraved on a glass panel in Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge (because I’m a good librarian, I found the record here).

There’s more Job elsewhere in the book, alongside Shakespeare and Madame de Stäel: in this case, I think the passage stuck in my mind because reminded me of Lord Sepulchrave in Titus Groan (it’s the owls).

Tempest, more Job, Corinne

Hidden under this amaretto wrapper is yet more Job (it was, in passing, the first amaretto I ate: I was amazed by the fact that you could light the papers and watch them float): owls excepted, I think the fascination with the particular book stemmed from the fact that I was reading a lot of Blake and listening to a lot of Vaughan Williams at the time of writing. Hey, I was a Cambridge undergraduate: being a bit pretentious was practically in the job description.

Dickens, Dante, even more Job and an Amaretto wrapper

This passage and the Dante on the previous page were both added after I’d visited the Tate and spent a long time admiring the Blakes (obviously: see above) and Rossettis.

Other frequently-occurring topics, appropriate for an embryonic librarian, were heteroclite collections and unusual taxonomies. As a postgraduate, I did a lot of work on Victorian periodicals: my MA dissertation was on representations of the Great Exhibition in the popular press, which meant that my fascination with apparently unrelated artefacts and texts being jammed together into one varied, eccentric entity was particularly strong at that point. I still love this passage from Foucault which I found at that time, on the arbitrary nature of the ordering principles behind some collections (I wish the Chinese encyclopedia were real, though sadly I suspect that it isn’t):

Foucault's "Chinese Encyclopædia"

This is the beginning of the description of Felicité’s bedroom in “Un cœur simple” by Flaubert: the passage continues, enumerating the pieces of bric-a-brac and the unconsidered trifles the old woman has collected, and which have meaning only for her, and, of course, for the reader.

Flaubert on collections

I’ve just noticed that past-me made a mistake in passage above: “peigne” should, of course, be “peignes”. Oh, the shame… 

Most of the extracts, though, simply passages which caught my attention, without any real thematic connection. As well as Flaubert, there’s Baudelaire and Barrett-Browning, Eliot, Shakespeare and Sappho.

Baudelaire and Barrett BrowningPhlebas the Phoenician in French

Shakespeare and terraced houses

Sappho, Gissing and lots of pressed flowers

Lest anyone worry that I was getting really above myself when I added the Sappho, I should note that Buffy fans may recognise it from the last episode of Season 4 (it’s the poem Willow paints on Tara’s back in “Restless”): I got access to a television during my MA, and it somewhat toned down my attempts to be intellectual!

Historically, many commonplace books were beautiful, lavishly illustrated documents: Henry Tiffin’s commonplace book in the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum, documented here, is one of the loveliest I’ve seen. Similarly, judging from the evidence of Pinterest, an awful lot of people now keep a sort of commonplace book in the form of an illustrated journal, typically heavily decorated with scraps, stickers and washi tape, and often very beautiful. My book was made a long time before these techniques became popular, and I don’t have anything approaching Henry Tiffin’s artistic ability. As you can see, though, I did add photographs, postcards, tickets and suchlike to my commonplace book. Some photographs, like this one of the sea at Lytham, were fairly successful.

Fishermen at Lytham

Others, like this view of Haworth churchyard, were more questionable: I had forgotten I was using a colour film instead of a black and white one, and took all my pictures that day with the addition of a red filter.

Photographic problems

As you can see, it ended up looking rather as if I had taken a day trip to Hades instead of to the Brontë Parsonage Museum. Later on, evidently while I was still thinking about the Brontës and Haworth, I added a postcard of my favourite square in Florence, the less-fashionable Piazza Santo Spirito:

Haworth Churchyard/Santo Spirito

I finally completed the commonplace book during the early years of my PhD: though I tried to start another one at the time, my heart was, for some reason, not in it. I wrapped my finished book up, put it away, and carried on living an un-recorded life. Looking back on it now, though, after some years, I find that the book I made, while it would not win any prizes for being a well-planned aesthetic object, is really rather dear to me. It’s a sort of a time-capsule in volume form, a glimpse back into the life I had a decade and a half ago. Indeed, for the first time in years, I felt the urge to start another commonplace book: I found a Moleskine, wrote my name and the date on the endpaper, and started collecting. I doubt that this book will be in any way as stereotypically learned as the first, made as it was with all the zeal of a student of English Literature. It will, however, be a reflection of my life now (tellingly, it already contains quotations from Elizabeth Zimmerman and Maurice Sendak, and an extract from the Dewey Decimal Classification), and that, after all, is part of the point.

1Apologies for the declining seriousness of these comparisons: I did say it was the mid-nineties, didn’t I?

Making round-up

People often say that, when you have a second child, you don’t really get the same benefit from maternity leave as you do with the first: you can’t nap when the baby does (if the baby does nap at a convenient time and place, that is, and I’m smelling a lot of “if” coming off that plan), you can’t just slop around the house in your pyjamas with your similarly pyjama-ed baby because there’s another vocal person who needs to be taken out and entertained. You certainly shouldn’t find that you have more time for general knitting and sewing: perish the thought! This is probably true if you are either a stay-at-home parent, or if you go out to work at a regular 9-5 type of job. I, however, usually work from home. Now, I love my job, but there is one inevitable downside to the situation: I’m usually not able to start work until 7 or so when Eoin goes to bed, and tend to carry on late into the night. Suddenly, on maternity leave, my evenings have become free, and, though my priority a lot of the time is to catch up on lost sleep, I do have far more time to get into the sewing room and let loose.

Rather than writing separate posts for the ever-growing pile of finished objects, I thought I’d do one big round-up of All The Things. First, though, I need to give a little shout-out to the most important creation of the last six months, Snuggly Jeff himself. Here he is, in more conventionally-masculine garb than he has been wearing recently, determinedly masticating a rubber giraffe.

Snuggly Jeff

He’s five-and-a-bit months old already, and scarily huge. He also has a wonderful laugh, a great interest in books (usually to chew, admittedly), and a mercifully high level of tolerance for being dressed up in crazy outfits. Good baby, that one.

And now, the finished objects!

  1. The long-awaited Aidez cardigan (designed by Cirilia Rose), ravelled here: I’ve blogged about this before, but I finally managed to finish it two months before Ronan’s arrival. Now I’m not pregnant, it’s a little baggy in the body, but I can live with that. A word of warning to any large-busted knitters planning to make this, though: you will need to conduct some substantial modifications to the front: you could go for bust-darts if you are that way inclined, but you are likely to have to widen the fronts substantially too. I’d say planning for button-bands from the beginning might be the best way to go.
  2. High Water jumper by Veera Välimäki, ravelled here. A lovely design which would work for boys or girls. Unfortunately, Eoin objects to the yarn in which I made this: apparently it’s too scratchy. Ah, well…
  3. More High Water. He’s smiling under duress, all the while muttering, “It itches”.
  4. Scraptastic hat by Jane Tanner, made from the remnants of my Color Affection shawl, another Veera Välimäki design. Ravelled here. I managed to make it a little too roomy, but I’m calling that a design feature. Slouchy, you know?
  5. Turn a Square hat (Jared Flood, ravelled here) for Stephen. Stolen by Eoin, despite the fact it was (a) ridiculously too big and (b) made from the same much-complained-about yarn as his High Water. Clearly his head is made of sterner stuff than the rest of him.
  6. Antler cardigan (tincanknits, ravelled here) for Eoin, knitted in a fit of pique after he refused to wear the High Water jumper. I gave him shortlists of yarns and patterns, and asked him to choose his own jumper on the understanding that he would actually have to wear this one. It turns out he has good taste!
  7. Longus Socks for Ronan (ravelled here) from Clare Devine’s fabulous Sock Anatomy collection: if you’re interested in sock construction, I’d advise you to check this out. Every design uses a different heel and toe combination, so you get to practice tons of techniques while making adorable socks for small feet. Two of the patterns are also available in adults’ sizes.
  8. Nathaniel the squirrel-cushion, from Ysolda Teague’s Whimsical Little Knits 2. Knitted when I was in full-on nesting mode, obviously, and ravelled here. A word of warning to prospective Nathaniel-knitters: he really does need the button eyes, although they are not specified in the pattern. Without them, he looks less like a squirrel and more like a big grey amoeba.
  9. Ronan’s Pixi hat, from Robynn Weldon’s Elfbaby pattern. Ravelled here. Cute, cute, cute!
  10. Puerperium cardigan by Kelly Brooker (ravelled here), which fitted Ronan until about three months and stood up to many soakings with various bodily fluids.
  11. Pebble bodywarmer (Nikol Lohr, ravelled here), which also did sterling duty until about three months. It was also made from the “scratchy” yarn (it was an unfeasibly giant single ball: I still have tons left), but Ronan was stoic, and did not complain.
  12. Pumuckl Hat, also from Robynn’s Elfbaby pattern (ravelled here), also adorable. I’m hoping it will fit into the winter.
  13. The first of the sewing projects! This is a Coco from Tilly Walnes’ pattern (available here): I think this is being classed as a wearable toile for the moment: I demonstrated my usual lack of sizing awareness and made a 6 when I really should have made a 5. I suspect I’ll be talking more about this in a future post: sizing is a bit of an issue for me as I perpetually seem to think I’m a lot bigger than I am, which means I end up with sack-like garments. See how I’m holding the waist in in this picture? There’s a reason for that…
  14. Another Coco, this time the tunic version. Also a 6, so a bit on the big side, but I don’t think this is such an issue with a top. I also think I managed to balance the print and plain sections better on this: I’m a bit of a stranger to playing with prints, and I think the first dress came out a bit Minnie Mouse-ish, while this is a bit more balanced.
  15. Another Coco! This one is a size 5, and a much better fit. I also kept this one short (I added a couple of inches to the length of the first dress) which, I think, works much better: the high neckline needs to be balanced by a shortish skirt, otherwise the dress looks a bit puritanical. I’m very pleased with this version.
  16. Simplicity 2226, in the shorter of the two lengths. Again, I mucked up the sizing of this: I made an 18 (to approximate a UK RTW size 14), and I could get a friend in there with me. Simplicity seem to add mad amounts of ease to their patterns! It’s a lovely style, though, and I’m planning another version in a smaller size.
  17. Clémence skirt from Tilly Walnes’ book, Love at First Stitch. As you may be able to tell, I’ve developed a bit of a Tilly obsession: her patterns are simple yet elegant, and her instructions are fabulously clear. I used a parasol-print cotton which I have had in my stash for ages: it dates from the time when the Cambridge John Lewis was in the Grafton Centre. I realise this will mean nothing to most people, but Cambridge-based readers will be shaking their heads in dismay at my long-term hoarding tendencies.
  18. Vogue 8295 in an appallingly badly-chosen fabric, also from Grafton-era John Lewis. It’s a lovely print, but I had no concept of drape or body when I chose this. The skirt nearly ended up in the bin years ago when I couldn’t make it come together, so I’m impressed I managed to salvage it. This is also an 18, and I can confirm that Vogue do not add much ease to their patterns. Breathe in…
  19. Botanical-print Delphine skirt from Love at First Stitch. I need to blog about this in more detail, but for the moment, I invite you to admire the fabulous fabric! Ikea FTW.
  20. More botanical Delphine. I’m very pleased that I managed to get the beetle to sit right on my thigh.
  21. New Look 6576 for Emer, fetchingly modelled by Ronan, and blogged here.

This is a bit of a mammoth post, and hurrah for you if you’ve stuck with me up to this point. I’m planning to write about a couple of the projects in more detail (I also need to cover my ongoing struggles with the concept of ease), but I hope this quick overview is interesting. If anybody would like to know more about a particular project, let me know!

I heard there were over 200 cases of forced transvestism involving Mr Sweeney last year.

It’s a sad fact that, in general, sewing patterns for little boys can be a pretty poor show. You can knit some pretty excellent jumpers, hats and so on, but, when it comes to sewing, an awful lot of the boys patterns on offer are at best a bit “meh”, and at worst, not the sort of thing I’d dress a child in for fear of them having the living snot beaten out of them. I know that designers like Rae Hoekstra are keen to redress this, and I’m certainly keen to have a go at Rae’s Flashback t-shirt since I’ve got over my fear of sewing knits.  All the same, I do find myself drooling over girls’ skirt and dress patterns (The prints! The pintucks! The tiny collars!); I don’t have a girl of my own to knit for, but I do have a small and very cute niece who is still too young to protest about me dressing her up in whatever crazy fabrics come my way. I just finished New Look 6576 for her, but I wasn’t sure about whether or not it would fit: I needed an appropriately-sized model, and, well, one thing led to another and this happened:

He's not scarred for life. Honest.

Poor Ronan: the indignity of it. Cross-dressing is obviously all very well if it’s your own choice, but it’s quite another thing to have your mum up and put a dress on you out of the blue. Fortunately he wasn’t too fazed by it, and I was able to get a good idea of how the sizing worked out.

Once you look past the icky styling on pattern envelope (Wow! Such appliqué! Very Sequin! etc), NL 6576 is a very simple a-line shift dress which should act as a good canvas for some of the printed cottons in my stash, but which also ought to work well in a heavier-weight fabric as a pinafore.

New Look 6576This is the medium size, which is a bit large on 5-month-old Ronan, but a much better fit on 7-month-old Emer. It’s a roomy style, and I suspect that the large would fit up to 18 months, though you might be getting more into tunic territory in terms of length. The fabric is a crysanthemum-print cotton which I’ve had in my stash for ages: I was aiming for something which was feminine without being twee, and I hope that this sort of bold floral works. I made the facings out of a fat quarter of purple cotton with a smaller floral sprig, and I edged them with orange bias tape because, hey, there’s always room for bias binding, right?

Contrast facing

That photo is a bit ropey, I know, but it turns out that tiny, cute dresses can be a bit tricky to make and photograph due to their small scale. I had a bit of a wrestle with the facings, and, in the end, I decided to topstitch them rather than attempting to understitch all those minute curves. All the same, I’m pretty pleased with this, and I’m looking forward to making it up in some other fabrics: I have a comic book advert print featuring decoder rings and moon shoes which is calling my name rather loudly. I have some alternative children’s patterns to try out too, but for the moment I’m happy to see what I can do with a simple shape and some interesting fabric.

As I’ve worked out the sizing, there shouldn’t be any need to press my model into service for future fittings. It’s a pity, though: he does manage to rock the look.

Ronan rocks his dress

A big tip of the hat to Roisin of Dolly Clackett, who kindly allowed me to copy her title format: I couldn’t resist the Father Ted reference. Poor Ronan has been known as Mr Sweeney since I put the dress on him on Friday… 

Elfbaby Hat: we have a winner!

My lovely assistant has helped me to draw a winner out of the hat (or, in this instance, out of the red plastic bowl). Here he is in action:

And the winner is…



Congratulations to (Mrs) UKScone: I’ll send a copy of the pattern over asap. Commiserations to everyone else, but thank you all for entering!