A Catch Up

I am sitting writing this (and hoping it will save as I have no wi-fi) in the car in the middle of a field near Sandwich in Kent. I realise this seems a little strange, but I can explain. Mini Mister fell asleep during our drive out here, and since his routine is totally out, any time he actually naps at the moment is a blessing. Hubby had to sit in the car with him yesterday, so it is my turn today. At least I have all the windows open and there is a lovely strong breeze blowing through to keep us cool. It has been rather too warm the last few days for me (and the children, to be honest, as it makes them more crotchet than usual). As for the where, well, the picture shows my current view, Richborough Fort.

Richborough Picklepiemama

Richborough through the windscreen

We last came here when Maxi was a baby (and bumped into the then Archbishop of Canterbury in the shop/exhibition), so decided a return visit was needed. It is a huge open area, with loads of Roman ruins and plenty of space for the kids to run around. Since we are staying near my Dad’s place (and my middle sister and her family are staying with Dad) we have 4 smalls between us to entertain. This should keep them occupied for a bit (well except Mini, as previously mentioned). Richborough was the site of a huge port until the area silted up. The coast is now further away and the fort has fallen into ruins. But the remains of the Saxon walls are impressive (the Saxons used the remains of the Romans fort to build their walls).

Richborough Picklepiemama

Spot the child – Maxi in front of one of the walls at Richborough (picture courtesy of Hubby)

So, a catch-up. Yet again, I have not been writing my blog as often as I should. But it is the summer holidays and we have been quite busy. I have worked my way through some of my sewing projects whilst Mini has been at Nursery and Maxi has been either at football camp, Playscheme or his grandparents’ place in Suffolk. Some housework and clearing out has taken place, but I still have loads to do. I have attempted some baking and making, but since I am following Slimming World, I haven’t tried that many cakes and biscuits. I have, however, discovered that quark is quite good for mousses, learnt how to use powdered and leaf gelatine, rediscovered how many different kinds of dishes can be made with 0% fat Greek yogurt (sweet and savoury), and eaten my bodyweight in fruit and veg! Some experiments didn’t work well and need tweaking, some we never want to eat again, but mostly they have been successes. I do get through an awful lot of fat-free yogurt though!

Summer visits with the kids have included soft play in various places, the beach in Southwold, a few castles (we are planning on another this afternoon, and yet another tomorrow), RSPB MinsmereThames Chase Forest CentreThameside Nature Park (Essex Wildlife Trust), a railway exhibition, the East Anglian Transport Museum in Carlton Colville, the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway (all the way out to the power station at Dungeness), the Sealife Adventure in Southend, and a theatre trip with Maxi only to London to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and hunting Dream Jars near the theatre. We have read a lot, done lots of crafty things, been paddling in pools and the sea, got muddy, got very tired, caught the sun, poured sand out of clothes and shoes, got through a lot of suncream, and had a lot of fun. Me and hubby even managed to get a night away to go to Birmingham so I could go to the Festival of Quilts at the NEC (so much creativity in one place was truly inspiring – and I now have even more projects lined up…).

Anyway, I think I will wrap it up there for the moment, and go back to sewing hexies. Mini is still asleep, so the above image may be my only view of Richborough today 😊

Another Project Ticked off the List 😊

The tablet holder is done! And it isn’t perfect by any means, but I managed it and I love it!

 

The pattern and tutorial are courtesy of Caroline at SewCanShe. She originally designed the quilted ipad sleeve back in January. I had been looking for something for my (then) new Samsung Tab S2, but didn’t like any of the flippy  ones you can buy that turn into stands (too bulky) and didn’t want to pay for a soft case when I felt I could probably make my own. Caroline’s was absolutely perfect and the Blend fabric was gorgeous!

I was never going to be able to get the same fabric, but found some lovely fabric from Riley Blake, Lulabelle and Flutterberry, changing my mind several times about which design I wanted, before finally settling on some jewel-coloured cotton from Michael Miller. The designer is Tamara Kate, and the collection is Birds and the Bees. I have Feathered Flock and Love Bug, both in Navy. I originally bought them in a curated FQ pack from Elephant in My Handbag, which included a feather pattern from the same collection and 2 co-ordinating colours of Flurry from Dashwood Studios. They were used to make an organiser for a friend, and I loved the main fabrics so much, I decided they would be perfect for my tablet case. Now I just needed the pattern or tutorial.

 

Caroline is very busy with all sorts of things, but she did a downloadable tutorial in June. And yes, it has taken me this long to get round to utilising it! Having prepped last week, I sewed it this Thursday and Friday, choosing some stupidly hot days to work whilst Mini Mister was napping. All I can say is that an electric fan full on facing you, whilst you work at the sewing machine, is a definite need rather than an option.

 

I spray basted the 2 pieces of batting to the outer and lining fabrics, before spray basting the batting together, so I had a 4-layer sandwich. This meant I didn’t have to worry about pins or clips being in the way for drawing quilting lines on. Oh, and that was an issue as I couldn’t find any of my fabric marking pencils or chalk or the washable pen that I have. Once that was located  (and I really need some suggestions for better versions than the cheap one I have), I ruled one line at a time before quilting. I am pleased with the result as it is mostly straight, mostly at the correct spacing, and mostly at the right angles. I have to admit, some unpicking was required, including, after a change of bobbin,  when I realised that the tension hadn’t reset properly.

Quilted tablet holder Picklepiemama

Quilting complete

 

The quilted piece got straightened and cut in 2, before having 2 corners curved. Then it was on to the zip. And I don’t have a good history with zips and had never before attempted one not on a straight!

 

Well, I got there. Eventually. Using the slowest speed setting, and going back over with the top stitching (at least the basting stitches helped) several times to make sure it was all caught properly.

Quilted tablet cover top-stitching Picklepiemama

Top-stitching the zip and binding

I had made up some bias binding from some of the spare fabric,  my first attempt to make it using a continuous method. It was a bit wobbly, but there was enough to use. Binding the zip was hard work, especially ensuring that it was lined up properly to get the top-stitching to catch all the way round.

Quilted tablet holder binding pinned Picklepiemama

Zip binding pinned

Then I made a muck-up. A big mistake. I clipped together the raw sides, cut them straight, and the sewed round the 2 of them. Has anyone spotted what I forgot to do? It was nearly disaster…I had forgotten to start undoing the zip so the I could access it once all 4 sides were sewn up! The zip pull was sewn inside the pouch. Eek!

I thought I was going to have to unpick a load, but there was just enough of a gap to get my scissors in and grasp the zip pull with them. A bit of careful yanking with the scissors and I had moved it enough to get access to open it properly. Oops! This is why tutorials always warn you to move the zip into the middle before you close up.

Quilted tablet holder binding raw edges Picklepiemama

Binding the raw open edges

 

Quilted tablet holder Picklepiemama

Binding clipped round for sewing

The last thing was to put the binding round the 2 raw edges (needed some wiggling here to get it right), and then I could turn it and press. And it is done. What do you think? 😊

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Quick Makes 3 – Fairy Wings Bag

I wasn’t sure whether to add this as a Quick Make, but in the end I reasoned that it really is quick to do when you aren’t disturbed by small children wanting to climb on you.

 

As I mentioned in my post last week, I was commissioned to make a replacement bag for a friend’s daughter’s fairy wings. The one she had was made of chiffon and had finally fallen to pieces. Could I make a replacement which would hold more than one pair of wings?

 

The original bag was a drawstring affair, so I suggested making a larger version out of cotton. The fabric combined with the use of French seams should make the bag much more robust and suited to a small girl taking her fairy wings in and out of the bag multiple times.

 

I went back to the drawstring bag tutorial I have used previously as it is straightforward and doesn’t leave raw edges. I probably didn’t need to use the tutorial as I have made quite a few of the bags, but as it is a while since I last made one, I thought I would have a quick read.

 

I had some lovely fabric from Ikea, left over from covering my pressing board, and some Doodlebug pink stripy ribbon I bought from Prints to Polka Dots in their sale recently.

 

The only changes I made to Georgina’s version of the bag was to French seams the bottom of the bag as I didn’t have a large enough section of fabric to cut the whole bag on the fold, and I double-hemmed (2 folds rather than 1) the channel at the top.

Double-hemming fold, and sewing the drawstring channel:

 

French seams on the bottom and sides.  I also stitched a curve on the corners at the bottom (not my neatest sewing, but it did the job):

French seams Picklepiemama

French seams on the bottom and sides

 

And the finished bag, kindly photographed by the recipient’s mum 😊

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Prepping Projects

Picklepiemama Projects

I have been prepping like crazy over the last couple of weeks, and now have loads of projects ready to go. I could have done them one at a time and actually got some finished, but I decided to take the opportunity of having no little people in the house to have the iron, pressing board, and cutting mat all out. Little fingers are far too inquisitive. So the hexies have been progressing in the evenings and the project prep during the day (in breaks from housework, cooking, and volunteering at Maxi Mister’s school).

 

I have worked out an order in which to do them, but it may well change. This is because I need to press some of them as I go along, and therefore can’t work on them when the children are around. And because I get distracted far too easily!

 

Here are my prepped projects. I plan to post about each as they are done, so look out for lots of pictures.

1. Angel Wings Bag – this is a commission from a friend for her daughter. It is based on the drawstring bag from Georgina Giles, which I have used before.

2. Tablet Cover – I have based this on the gorgeous one that Caroline from SewCanShe made in January. I have had to do some jiggling around of sizing to fit my tablet, so hopefully it will work…

3. Beach/Pool Bag- I spotted this tutorial a couple of weeks ago and plan to make 2 of them, as I can forsee we will probably need both while we are away.

4. Grandmother’s Flower Garden Pincushion – I started this over the Easter holidays as I wanted a handsewing project that I could finish quickly. It has taken me a while to get my bum in gear to get wadding for it, but it is now ready to quilt and make up. I bought it from Sew & Quilt, from the very helpful Jessie

5. Bionic Gear Bag – this was introduced to me by the lovely ladies on the UK Quilters United Facebook page. Not only was I amazed at how much you can squeeze into this little bag, I was also intrigued by the challenges it presents with making it, as it is apparently rather complex. I can’t help thinking it is a bit like an Ikea flat pack. This, by the way, is from a paid for tutorial via Craftsy. I don’t normally try things that have bought patterns, but it was just too tempting.

6. Maxi Mister’s Quilt – yes, I have finally prepped his quilt. I have had the fabric for over a year, and it has been pressed for about 2 months. But I have now made a start…

7. Pattern Weights – still haven’t decided which shape I am doing these, and they are not urgent, so bottom of the list they go.

If that lot isn’t enough, I also have a couple of other commissions in the offing as well, and of course my hexie quilt. I really need to get going! 😊

 

 

Pratchett-a-thon 2

Moving Pictures book

Current read

I thought I would take the opportunity of both Mini and Maxi being occupied with painting and drawing to update you as to how my Pratchett-a-thon is going. Especially as I think I may need a break for something else for a bit (or it could just be that I am not that enamoured with the current or previous books). I have managed to read almost every day for the last 6 weeks, which is a change for me. Granted that sometimes it has been 5 minutes before I fell asleep at night, but at least I am reading (not so easy when you have 2 small children).

I have worked my way methodically through the first lot of books, enjoying again the adventures and escapades of Rincewind,  Twoflower, The Luggage, Granny Weatherwax,  Nanny Ogg, Magrat Garlick, Mort,  Death, Teppic, and many others. What a wonderful array of names! I even dug out my copy of the Map of Discworld to check out where some of the story locations are in relation to each other.

Pratchett aficionados may notice a glaring absence of one set of characters from the above list; namely the guards of the City Nightwatch. It isn’t that I don’t love them, but I found rereading their first dedicated book, Guards! Guards!, required more effort than I expected. I am not really sure why, but am having the same issue with Moving Pictures, and I don’t recall having felt like this previously. Maybe, as I said earlier, I need a break for a few days and to read something else entirely…

Anyway, I have now read the following:

The Colour of Magic

The Light Fantastic

Equal Rites

Mort

Sourcery

Wyrd Sisters

Pyramids

Guards! Guards!

Moving Pictures (current read)

I have had to miss out Eric as I discovered, for some random reason, that I don’t have a copy. I have definitely read it before, so must have borrowed a copy. No idea why I didn’t buy it, but it is currently winging it’s way to me via Amazon Prime.

Oh, and I have finally caught up on watching the Sky adaptations of The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, and watched the first half of Hogfather  (must finish that soon). I have had the DVDs for years. Oops!

I am also trying to work out how to make a cake version of The Luggage. Watch this space…😊

‘Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud’ or ‘The 3 Foot Festival’

Actually, it wasn’t quite that bad. But we did end up covered in mud (feet and legs) and got through an awful lot of baby wipes 😊

I took Mini Mister to the 3 Foot People Festival at Hylands House in Chelmsford yesterday. I always wanted to take Maxi, but was always at work when it was on and now he is too old. So I have taken the opportunity of the hiatus in work to go with Mini. And we loved it! He tried out loads of things and spent most of the day running around a muddy, straw-covered field. Except when he was in the sandpit.  What toddler wouldn’t love that?

For those who have absolutely no clue what I am talking about, the 3 Foot People Festival is a 3-day event in Chelmsford where only little people under the age of 6 and their carers are allowed to go. There are all sorts of activities, and thousands of people go. In fact, I had to spend ages on the Internet when the tickets went on sale, refreshing the browser, just to try to get onto the ticket page. All 14000 tickets sold out within 48 hours this year, I think! Check out here or here if you want to find out more.

Anyway, we had a good day and the weather held. Fingers crossed for today and tomorrow as it is due to rain again today and the ground is already saturated. I hope everyone is prepared!

Actually, that brings me to Things I Would Do Differently Next Year:

1. Wear, or at least take, wellies. We were warned about footwear, but I decided that sandals would be cooler for me and easier to dry off. They are still drying today! I think Mini may have struggled in his this year, and at least I can brush the mud off his trainers (I hope). I think I will get some of those cropped wellies for me. Not so sticky and hot as full wellies. But at least I won’t need to scrub my feet like I did last night.

2. Take a waterproof-backed picnic blanket. Or any, but waterproof would be best given the dampness this year. It would have given us a wider range of seating choices. And I think Mini’s skin may have had a brief reaction to the straw in the bales we sat on having our ice creams. Mind you, we would need to be careful where we put it down; I had to virtually paddle across one part of the field to get to the baby change tent. Yuck!

3. Take hubby. We managed, just the 2 of us, but with a lively toddler an extra person would have come in handy. One of us could have queued for things (like the land train or the refreshments providers) while the other occupied Mini. I am so proud of him for how well he coped though, especially with the entrance and train queues. 

4. Get there early enough to scout out the site first. There was a map, but it didn’t totally match up to what was there (and the tents did not always match their little pictures), so it was a bit confusing until we had been round a couple of times. If there had been 2 of us, one could have scouted whilst the other occupied Mini with snack time.

5. As for getting there earlier, I need to go to Weigh-In on Monday evening instead of my usual Tuesday morning, so that we can get up to Chelmsford at least an hour earlier than I did. To be fair, we were warned about the queues, and they were partly so long (to get into the carpark and then to walk into the Festival area) because the organisers were trying to get loads more straw down to try to combat the sogginess of the ground. They did their best, but the usual British weather had had its say as per usual!

Other than that, I don’t think I would change anything. The food choices were excellent (if you don’t have a total fusspot like Mini), there were plenty of loos, and, importantly, there was plenty of space. It never felt crowded. Mini had a go at 2 different dance sessions, various musical and languages based toddler classes, got his finger chewed by a duck, saw a snake (but didn’t want to touch it), played in a giant sandpit, decorated a crown, had a ride on a train, had his first ’99’, with a flake (!), and fell asleep in the car on the way home.

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Can’t wait for next year! 😊

Dawning of Realisation…and it makes me sad

Picklepiemama's hand playing the Clavinova

Playing some Einaudi

Sometimes you realise something important, a light bulb moment of self-understanding, in the oddest of places.

This one happened as I was driving to pick up my supermarket shopping from the click and collect service. And it only happened, possibly, as I had the radio on and was listening to a particular conversation. If the supermarket had still had a convenient slot (the laptop was playing up and we lost the one we booked), I would never have been in the car, never been listening to the radio, never heard the conversation, never started thinking, never made the connection. But, maybe it happened for a reason.

The conversation on the radio was about a project to do with people taking up their instruments again; those they played well, those they didn’t play so well, those they have always wanted to learn but never got round to it for whatever reason. BBC Music’s Get Playing is creating a Virtual Orchestra, playing the Toreador’s March from ‘Carmen’. To help people, there are all sorts of video masterclasses and other resources available, so I understand from the conversation on the radio.

So it set me thinking. I ought to do some practice. I haven’t for a long time. I feel bad about that.

Then I started thinking about why I haven’t,  and, to be honest, part of the reason is that there are so many toys and other things in front of the piano, that I just don’t get myself organised to do it. But there is another, much bigger reason, and the more I thought about it, the more I thought through it and made connections.

The biggest reason has to be time constraints caused by work and the professional expectations laid on us. I am expected, and need to, spend vast amounts of my time prepping, reviewing, assessing, etc. But it leaves little time for other things, including instrumental practice. I thought about why I didn’t tend to do practice in school any more. I certainly used to years ago. I remembered that for a long time now, I have felt too guilty to use my time playing the piano or practising my other instruments. The only allowable practice time was for learning and accompaniment or piece of music for a particular lessons. Anything else would be seen as frivolous and not working on the things I should be working on. Like the prepping, reviewing, assessing, etc. So I stopped doing it. I expected to be told off, or at the very least advised (in that way that says you will do it, or…)6 that I would be better using my time elsewhere. Practice time was my choice and therefore should take place in my own time. Not my job’s time. So, as I said, I stopped. I allowed my skills to stagnate. Because of the pressures to conform to a particular way of working as a teacher. Because of my own conscience. It made me sad. It makes me sad. What skill development have I missed out on?

And that is when I made the connection. A “Hallelujah ” moment,  if you will. The point I had failed to realise over all these years is that practising my instruments is relevant. It is professional development.  It is central to my role. It is centrally to the person, the teacher I am. I need those skills to do my job. I didn’t spend all those years training to suddenly stop developing when I started teaching. But that is what the expectations of the system made me think, feel, believe! All that time I have wasted by not developing my skills. And how much happier may I have been?

What I needed was someone higher up than me tell me that it was alright to practise, alright to use my in-school non-contact time (well some of it, as I still need to do the other things) practising my instruments. I wish they had. Other teachers go on training courses, or read about or research their subjects. I have just realised that practising comes under the same umbrella.

Now you may well think that I have been a bit slow on the uptake and it should have been obvious. I don’t disagree. I am not stupid to have not realised before though. Think about the system and how it works. Does it really work well when a teacher feels that they are not allowed to use their professional time to develop the skills that are integral to their job, because they should be filling out forms, ticking boxes, assessing, reviewing and planning/prepping? Does the system work when a teacher feels that others see those aspects as by far the most important part of the role and that if they don’t fit in the narrow expectations of the job, then they are in the wrong at the least, and inherently lazy at the worst? And I can see that the rule-makers, be they politicians, civil servants, or management, will say “But we never said you couldn’t”. But that is beside the point. It is the expectations laid on us, and the examples from other instances which prove to those of us at the bottom of the pile that we must be in the wrong. And everything has to be accountable and measurable.  I don’t have the time currently, with a young family to look after, to do any more exams to prove the amount I have progressed using my professional time for practices. So I can’t easily prove my progress.I

But we are not in the wrong, and we shouldn’t have to provide a specific way of measuring success. All of us need the time to develop our skills, and prove their development through the usage of them in our day-to-day teaching lives, and we should not feel guilty about doing so. A scientist needs to use their time to read new research (or even conduct their own); an English or Languages teacher needs time to read literature (yes, actual stories, novels, poetry); an Art teacher needs time to work on developing their own specialist creative area; a Humanities teacher needs time to read, to research, to even watch about different aspects of their subject. And a Music teacher needs to practice their instruments. This time will make us better teachers, more informed teachers, more effective teachers, happier teachers.

It has taken me too long to realise what I should have done years ago. I am not going to leave it to those higher up to tell us it is fine to practice, although I plead for them to listen and to check their charges to ensure that they are aware that these areas do count as professional development and therefore acceptable  to do in professional time. I am going to make sure people know.

And I can’t wait to start practising in my own professional time again 😊