Now we are two

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Two years ago I had the Tour de France on in the background in a delivery room at the local hospital. This year, Georgina has got her own wheels.
next stop, the Champ Elysses
The trike is a handmedown from my neighbours, and has been locked in the bike shed for about 18 months. I don’t think she’s be rivaling Bradley Wiggins or Victoria Pembleton just yet.


Continuing the “make do and mend” theme of the day, her other big present was a handmade toy. She loves Show Me Show Me on Cbeebies. It’s an unusual show in that it doesn’t have mountains of tatty tie-in merch. So, in the footsteps of my mother’s bold attempt to make me a Bagpuss in the 70s, I made her a Stuffy.
Stuffy. we love you Stuffy. you're the hero we all adore. handmade #cbeebies toy
This is partially because she loves him, and partially because even 25 years after my last sewing class I can still make a cube. Tracking down all the fabrics took longer than the actual sewing. She’s already taken to putting things in his back pocket.

Here’s his song on the CBeebies site.

The last part of the day will be a Spider-man iced cake. I baked it last night and haven’t had a chance to ice it yet. I asked her last night what birthdays meant and she has told me it involves hats. So expect a photo she will be embarrassed about tomorrow.

She’s learnt her numbers (although is prone to starting to count at 4) and colours. She can also load the DVD player, with favourites such as Singin’ in the Rain, Kiki’s Delivery Service and Bagpuss. I moved them to a lower shelf after asking her to “put it back on the table” only to find her standing on tiptoe on a chair trying to reach the shelf where they were then kept. Her current bedtime books include The Tiger Who Came to Tea and the Tony Robinson version of Odysseus. She helps water the garden, and weed it.

More tomorrow…I have to go and ice a cake the Marvel way.

Singer sewing machines

Monday, 10 January 2011

I did not learn to sew on a Singer. Instead I used a pre-war German machine that had been in the family since the Plymouth blitz. But over the last decade or so I’ve collected a couple of Singers. They are lovely machines, but I’ll admit I don’t need them so [shameless plug] I’ve put them on eBay [end plug].

The 28K manual machine is very beautiful.
singer 28K machine
Checking its serial number on the Singer website reveals it was built in the Clydeside factory at Kilbowie in 1927. I used it two months ago to make GJ a headband. You simply don’t get such ornate decoration on modern machines. The vineleaves design on the back access plate is a particular favourite.
back access plate

The 201K treadle machine, in contrast, is more utilitarian.


It was built in 1941, again at Kilbowie, and shows how stripped down wartime production was. The decals are simple, and the access plates aren’t etched to such a level.


Of course, these machines were in high demand during World War II, as clothes had to be made and mended, and new machines were needed to replace ones lost to bombings. The sheer number of complex feet for it shows how fancy home dressmaking was.

I’d always wanted a treadle machine: I used to use a biker caff in Exeter that had converted them into tables and I loved the rocking motion of the machine. The 201K is currently in use as my computer desk: I sometimes find myself rocking the treadle foot back and forth whilst working. But I need space downstairs for my oak teacher’s desk, and a semi-working treadle machine isn’t as essential.

I still, of course, have the machine I learnt on and plan to teach GJ on it when she’s old enough.

Mixing it

Sunday, 28 December 2008

The ‘how to’ of one of the bags I made can now be viewed in this flickr set.

Out flew the web and floated wide

Friday, 26 December 2008

Now the majority of presents are unwrapped, I can safely write-up what I’ve been making for people this year.

Last year, the littlest birds took longer than expected and left my fingers a bit trashed from handling the dried lavender so much, so this year I tried something different but related: embroidery. Kel had sent me a link to Sublime Stitching, a site where you can get some very funky designs. I loaded up on them, got a new hoop and a stash of coloured threads along with a stash of blank bags from the clever baggers, and started work. This is Kel’s, which used patterns from Sublime Stitching. As she is a writer and is back at college, I used the sexy librarian set to create a writer/study theme.
In progress Kel's bag Typewriter tip tip tip

Having discovered my basic embroidery skills are intact (although I appear to have been the only person of my age to have been taught stitching at school), I’ve moved on and started to develop my own designs. This, based on a technical drawing of the 1949 design, is for a bug-owning member of the family:
Finished bug
There are several more designs I worked up from wireframe or technical drawings, and some that came about from sketches and which I never got time to photograph before having to send them off. I watched a lot of Merlin whilst sewing, which explains the title of this post. I’ve some blank bags left, so will get around to making some more custom designs and documenting them. There’s also one design I did document from initial sketch to final gift and that the receiver hasn’t had yet, so I’ll put that up in a few days.

And sew on…

Friday, 7 November 2008

Winter arrived last week, with a cold snap and the usual beautiful Andrew Davies Dickens adaptation (Little Dorrit on iPlayer for locals; colonials will have to find their own way to see it). Having idly wondered what I could do to make presents this year, since giving people lavender birds every year is a bit harsh, the arrival of the Prestigeous BBC Adaptation made me start thinking in all earnest. And in a launderette.

It doesn’t involve lavender. I off to collect supplies tomorrow, and may go crazy and buy an electric sewing machine as my much loved hand Singer is prone to losing tension.

Things to make and do

Sunday, 1 June 2008

It took me several weeks to plan and organise, then three weekends of work to do it, but I’ve revamped my attic workspace.

Before and after:
Old workspace Finished workspace
I still need to put all my books back on the actual shelves, clean and put down the rugs, and get more magnets so I can put more things on the wall, but I’m pleased.

The desk really triggered the whole thing. My old desk (barely visible) cost £35 from PC World or some similar chain in 1996. It was MDF with a flimsy black veneer and, within two years, the cupboard space on the left was being held up by the PC tower and the drawers on the right were held up with my first year notes from uni. The problem, even as I looked for a better one, is that to get into my attic furniture needs to be flat-packed or able to be disassembled. It’s just not possible to get a solid desk up two flights of narrow stairs which turn through 180 degrees four times. Every modern flatpack desk I saw, I loathed as they lacked soul. Every old desk I saw was solid.

Then I spotted an old oak leather-topped desk in the PDSA charity shop near my house. Everyone was looking at it, but dismissing it because there were rips in the bottom of one drawer and sellotape covering the crossbar. I looked. I tried lifting a corner and realised the top part came off, leaving two pedestals of drawers. At £35 including delivery, I decided it was worth the TLC required.

Here it is in the garden as I fixed it up:
Garden Office
Initially, I considered sanding it down and painting it but I decided I liked the scruffiness of the ink stains and worn black handles. I protected the old leather top with newspaper, sanded down the rough bits on the surface, scraped off the old sellotape and sanded down the rough edges of the cross bar, revarnished the top and used olive oil to repair a minor scratch to the leather. The middle drawer has been temporarily repaired using mounting card and superglue. At some point I’ll find some balsa wood and do a proper job on it.

Knowing I had a new desk to get upstairs, and knowing that would be quite disruptive, I decided the time had come to sort out the rest of the workspace.

Not least the minor worry about the ceiling. One of the joys of a listed house is that it tends to list. Given this was originally a farm worker’s cottage, and is as vernacular as architecture can get, I have never expected to have any straight lines. However one ceiling panel in the attic had bowed, cracking the paint and plaster around it and leaving a thin gap between the ceiling and the wall. I rather nervously hit it with a hammer and discovered – to my relief – that the board was sound, just bent. So I pulled away all the loose paint and plaster, used an old piece of quarter-circle dowling to push the panel back up on the wall and trusted to polyfilla to fix the rest and reseal the wall/ceiling joint. Well, polyfilla and some great plaster board tape which is like netting. Looking at the before photos, I’m slightly surprised by how bad it actually looked.

The existing shelves, bowing under the weight of the books, were made from MDF recovered from a skip in 1994, along with some bricks liberated from a building site around the same time. They’ve done a sterling job over the last decade but the time had come to get something a little more grown-up. Having realised that IKEA now deliver in the UK, I picked some heavy dark wood shelves called Markör which would fit A4 folders as well as books and got a delivery date just before the last bank holiday. Thus setting the timescale for all the work.

At the Open House London day last year, the chap and I visited RIBA to see their mix of retro and modern. We ended up having a long and interesting conversation with an architecture student in a library workspace they have. One thing that wowed me was their magnetic wall. This is done using a primer paint with ferrous material suspended in it. You then paint over with whatever colour you want. And use magnets to hold everything to the wall. Given that I always use the wall behind my desk as an ideas/inspiration space, I loved the notion of making it magnetic. No blu tack marks, no pin holes damaging the plaster. I got the magnetic paint from Shaw Magnets via Rapid Electronics, which was the best value (a full litre for under £30, compared to £35 for 900ml for a different brand). And it works!

Unlike my wifi router, which had become increasingly unreliable. As the PC had to come down to the lounge whilst I was renovating, I took the opportunity to send the wifi router off to Belkin under warranty and use a CAT5 for a couple of weeks. Yesterday, I cycled over to the courier depot to collect the new router and today I brought the desk contents and the chair back upstairs.

The chair was made over a few nights ago. I’d got it from my old office and Moosifer Jones used to love sitting on it. And dribbling. Look closely at the photo of the old workspace and you can see the stain on the rather drab grey wool. I’d bought the fabric back in the winter from the Exeter Fabric Centre knowing it would be for this chair. Initially, I planned a full rebuild, then I considered using drawstrings to keep the new covers loosely in place. Finally, I discovered I could use an old set of blunted scissors as a bradle and tightly force the material in the gap between the cushions and the back. Not perfect, but workable. With the scraps, I made a little matching cushion for Sébastian and put it in one of the spaces on the new shelves. We’ll see if he takes to it.

So, there it all is. There are minor other things to do (not least repainting the rest of the attic, and updating the lights) but I’m pretty pleased with how it’s turned out. Especially at a total cost of around £230. I’m sitting at my new old desk, on my elderly but snazzy chair, looking out over the gardens of the neighbourhood and I’m glad I took the time to do all the work.

Workspace with notes

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