Felt-inspiration

On Boxing Day we all embarked on a family walk. Halfway down the drive, Dapper pointed out the roots of a huge, old tree, overlooking the pond. The tree was tilting over, and the roots starting to lift from the ground.

The tree had to come down that very afternoon – or risk ripping up the entire driveway! It was quite an exciting spectacle! It fell into the pond with an almighty splash, creating waves of water that lapped into the meadow. It was left there for the time being, and soon became a favourite roost for the ducks.

Last week, the winch finally came to lift the tree from the pond. It had disturbed the natural balance of the water, and needed to be removed, although some larger branches were left behind for the ducks, moorhens and heron to enjoy. Dragged out into the meadow, it quickly dried in the hot sun. Dapper and I took the boys out to inspect the remains.

I was amazed by just how much the dried pondweed resembled felted wool and fibres! It was utterly beautiful, and naturally, I took a bazillion photos. Here are some of my favourites!

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Over the rainbow!

I have wanted these rainbow-coloured storage baskets from Jojo Maman Bebe since the moment I first saw them. They have been on the baby wishlist since before the boys were born, whilst I have waited patiently for them to enter each sale over the last year, only to be disappointed. And still I have refused to spend £45 on toy storage just because, well, it’s pretty!

But then, thanks to my new addiction to pinterest, I stumbled across this completely divine basket tutorial:

And I thought to myself, hang on – perhaps I could make these instead?

My first attempt used too many different weight wools, proved once again that I really struggle to follow patterns, and left me with a floppy, misshapen basket which I was delighted to discover was the perfect fit to line my yarn WIP basket. No more catching on errant wicker = result, albeit not the intended…

My second attempt worked out much better as I worked by feel rather than following the tutorial to the letter, but I was still getting a slight step in my rings. Probably of no concern to anyone but me, and a good way to use up some extra balls of wool I had lying about from a previous project, this basket is now in use storing some of the twins’ cuddly toy collection.

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The handles still didn’t seem secure enough to withstand baby paws, but I had had an idea to fix that. After two practice rounds, I finally felt ready to tackle the rainbow!

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The wool for these cost me £25.06 from local online yarnery The Wool Warehouse, plus they took a couple of evenings to make, BUT I got three of a similar, useful size out of this, rather than three odd sizes that might have proved too big or small for purpose.

CIMG9279I have enough yarn left for at least one more basket, should I need it. I made the lining and handles from my stash – bits left over from the book sling, in fact, with the fab dinosaur pattern. I can’t resist a dinosaur!

I used two strands of Stylecraft Special chunky held together in Lipstick, Camel*, Lemon, Meadow, Aster, Royal and Lavender. I would have like to use Patons Fab Big, as my practice rounds had shown that this created a lovely, firm structure, but they didn’t have the colours I was looking for – in fact, I was surprised how difficult it proved to get hold of brightly coloured  super chunky wools. Most seem to be quite neutral, tweedy colours – perfect for blankets or cowls, but no fun at all for a baby’s room!

CIMG9278I think these would be a great way to turn old t-shirts-turned-yarn into storage for the kids – perhaps a good use for some of those threadbare fitted jersey cot sheets? And plarn versions would be really great for storing outdoor water-play or sand box toys in the shed, or even for sorting the recycling…

Not worth £45, perhaps, but most certainly worth the effort!

*The camel, was actually a bit too beigey for the rainbow, so I swapped in some coral merino dk I had left from a previous project, holding 4 strands instead of 2.

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March: the month that found me

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Blouse: New Look; skirt: F&F; shoes: Primark; cardigan: South via Ebay; belt: Topshop

This month has been a pretty big one for me. Building up to self-employment has been something of a rollercoaster, exciting and terrifying in equal measure. But whether co-incidentally or relatedly, March has also been a major turning point in my post-natal life. It has seen the first time in a very long time that I have really felt myself again.

Many new mothers feel “lost” in their first year of motherhood, and I have certainly felt this way. I became “Mummy” so completely, and to everyone around me, that I haven’t seen “Caroline” in what feels an eternity. But last weekend, my Mummy and I went to the NEC for the Sewing for Pleasure/Hobbycrafts/Fashion, Embroidery and Stitch show. I had been shopping on the Friday and picked up a new blouse (not my usual style, I know, but I just fell in love with it!) and blow-dried my hair properly for the first time in over a year. I felt good when I arrived, and after a day of browsing crafty goodies I felt truly inspired. I learned to tat lace, and came home buzzing with ideas and positivity.

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I also came home with a tatting kit, some felt, some hessian for a rag rug, a rainbow of felting wool, a load of ribbon and lots of frankly gorgeous fabrics for kiddly clothes which I can’t wait to get started with! And Mummy bought me a big ball of the most gorgeous yarn with which to knit my first scarf when she teaches me to knit (again!) this week.

That evening, sitting in the conservatory eating dinner beside my husband, I looked up and saw my reflection in the glass. I was amazed to see myself looking back: not the tired, puffy face I have grown accustomed to avoiding eye contact with over the last year, but a glimmer of someone I recognised from a few years back. I don’t know whether it was the result of the boys hitting that 1 year corrected age marker, getting a bit of my old craft mojo back, giving up the commute and taking control of my own work schedule, or a combination of the lot all in line with the equinox… All I know for sure is that something clicked back into place. And I felt good.

In related news, I have now had my wedding ring on for 2 months solid. This has not been possible since before the boys arrived, when my fingers became swollen sausages with irritable skin. Woohoo!

“Stylist” edit

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Dress: Dorothy Perkins; vest: Primark via Ebay; tighst & belt: Topshop sale; cardi: Matalan; shoes: Footglove via charity shop

(Written last Wednesday)

Whilst killing time awaiting my train this morning, I flicked through Elle Collections and the Marie Claire runway edit. And it occurred to me that not a huge amount has changed in recent years. Skirts were either above the knee worn with coloured opaques, or midi-length with bare legs, and all worn with heels. Colours were bright and bold, waists were fit ‘n’ flare, hair was long. In a nutshell, fashion looked to me to be much the same as it was five years ago.

Ten years ago I used to devour fashion magazines every month. I would always, always buy Vogue and Elle, sometimes, Harpers and Marie Claire too, and every new season runway special I could lay hands on.  I would read every article and study every page, ads included, looking in minute detail at the cut, the texture, the shape, the drape, taking in the new season’s colours and fabrics… Things seemed to change so much more rapidly, but perhaps it was just that we were living through a period of transition, carving our own image into a new century, trying out all the shapes of the last 100 years and slowly remoulding them into something new. Something that worked for the modern shape and our modern way of life. Something that we could adopt and adapt in a time of recession and thrift, to see us through more than just one season.

As I skipped through the streets of London this morning I spotted a pile of Stylist magazines, the front cover depicting a couple of child models in primary brights, representing women who refuse to grow up. The girl was wearing yellow tights exactly as I was.

Still, my canary-clad legs garnered many a sideways glance as I skipped towards the office. Clearly, yellow tights are not for grown-ups. Such a pity.

Indeed, Euston Road at 8am leaves me as much at odds, in my red coat, as Birmingham International station at 06.30. Accustomed as I am to standing out against the sea of black, grey and navy of my co-commuters, I always expect to see just a little more individuality on the streets of London. I always look forward to spotting the gentleman porter standing in front of the St Pancras Renaissance  hotel  – one gentleman in particular wears his brown velvet-collared frock coat with a brown bowler hat and leather gloves, a look that cannot fail to turn my head. But for the large part, the standard Londonite looks very uniform, very drab, very run-of-the-mill.

This morning my fancy was tickled by a crowd of students, all moving along the front of Kings Cross en masse. My attention was drawn by the very solidity of them, blocking the entire pavement and moving at a less than hurried pace, roughly a dozen, resembling a pack of uncertain wilder beast. The metaphor extended when I realised that, whilst not dressed in commuter-grey (or black or navy), they had, in fact, adopted a uniform of their own: the fur-hooded parka.

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These photos do not capture the full extent of their number – there were easily 8-10, possibly a dozen, all parka-ed up together. It reminded me of my school days, crowds of teenage boys emulating Liam Gallagher, only without the girls toting River Island carrier bags full of PE kit loitering around the periphery.

And it cemented my feelings that fashion hasn’t really changed all that much since the noughties began. Ok, some trends have come and gone – the bubble hem, the mini skater and the double U dress… But the silhouette of fashion has remained pretty much unaltered since the century turned.

Personally, I’m really happy about this. I like the ladylike, 50s inspired, Mad Men influenced fit ‘n’ flare silhouette. I like midi-length skirts and coloured opaque tights. I like high heels and Mary Jane shoes. I LOVE dresses.

And I especially like the fact that I no longer need to buy £15 worth of magazines each month to stay on trend. Apparently, all I need do is pick a pair of yellow tights out of the drawer for that!

A theory of relativity

I’ve been having a bit of a confidence crisis of late. I’m due back in the office a week on Monday, and feeling less than certain that I know what I’m doing. Or, more importantly, wearing!

Earlier this week I pulled my stash of pre-pregnancy clothes from the den and put on a fashion show for Dapper. The result was two hours of giggling with a hint of sadness, as I realised how little would actually fit. I can squeeze into exactly three skirts and two dresses. So Mummy came over mid-week to look after the boys whilst Dapper and I hit the charity shops to restock my wardrobe.

Shopping for a modern-day size 18, vintage sizes 20+ is a new experience for me. So much of what is out there is very frumpy and frankly, difficult to make look young and smart. I like the classic look, but want to add a bit of myself to what I wear. Finding clothes in larger sizes and at low prices that I like enough to wear poses something of a challenge.

What’s more, my new body is just not suited to dresses. Although my bust hasn’t settled into it’s new size and shape yet, it’s still considerably larger than I’m used to. My trusty old A/B cups are currently DDs, so dresses that fit on the waist downright refuse to zip above my ribcage. And I’ve always been a dress-loving gal – my signature look, if I had one, would be fit ‘n’ flare with a cardigan, really. No longer an option.

So, I decided to go down a sort of 40s meets 70s route, looking for pleated tartan skirts and kilts to wear with knee high boots and knitwear. I also began to check out what the bustier lasses in the public eye were wearing, such as the very lovely Lydia Rose Bewley (a modern day Fanny Cornforth if ever I saw one!) and the unbelievably stunning Kat Denning.

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The answer, it seems, lies in good scaffolding. Something, fruastratingly enough, that I can’t do much about until I settle into my post-breastfeeding shape.

So, in the meantime I’ll have to wrack my brains for old-school Gok advice on dressing up bangers – I seem to remember something about V-necks, long-line cardis, necklaces and scarves?

As for the confidence crisis, if I’m completely honest, I’m just not especially happy in my skin right now. For all the excitement of a potential new wardrobe I feel heavy and shapeless, frumpy and plain unattractive. But two compliments I received yesterday inspired me to question why this should be.

I took the boys into Solihull for a shopping trip, to browse a few charity shops and nip into Marks to spend some vouchers I had been given on a new pair of work boots. A shop assistant in Marks held the lift for me and cooed over the boys. She asked how old they were, looked me up and down and said “Crikey – you look good on it!” I was so taken aback, all I could do was call “Thank you!” through the closing doors.

In one of the charity shops I picked up a knitted green jacket from Laura Ashley and a tweed pencil skirt with tags on from TU. As I paid, one of the volunteers asked, again how old the boys were. I told her, and she gestured at me and said:
“And look at you – everything back in place again already!”.
Again I was surprised, but I chuckled and replied “Not at all – I’m shopping for a whole new work wardrobe because none of my old clothes fit any more!” And she replied…

“Ahhh. It’s all relative, isn’t it!”

And I realised for the first time the very great extent to which this throwaway comment I’ve so often made in the past is true. Weight gain and loss is nothing to do with numbers, dress sizes, weights, measurements. It’s to do with what you are used to, what makes you feel good about you.

Now I’ve just got to get back to what feels good on me once again!

Copying Kate: AW looks inpired by a Duchess!

Ok, you may be sensing a bit of Kate-no-longer-Middleton love going on on this here blog. But I’m not ashamed to admit that I dig the girl’s style – she does the coat-dress-combo to perfection, and get a load of the hat action!

You know I’m going to be channeling this look come winter – it’s a more polished take on Kirstie Allsopp’s look from last year. (ASOS have a basic fake fur version available for £20 in black or brown.)

I’m also an enormous fan of all things velvet, and all things “beret”. Which puts this coat and beret pairing high up my must-find list.

Which leaves me with a vintage shopping list that looks something like:

  • Fur hat
  • moulded beret
  • velvet – well, anything really!
  • waisted evening coats/coat dresses (perfect for my baby brother’s wedding in Glasgow come October!)

Wishlist: Liberty “frilly pinny” sewing classes

Ok, so I know it’s just a frilly pinny, and for £75 I could probably attend a workshop teaching me something far more exciting, or useful, even… But the £75, well, it includes Liberty fabric. And there’s just something very exciting about the idea of going to sewing classes actually inside the Liberty store!

As a compromise, however, I have added The Liberty Book of Home Sewing to my amazon wishlist. It’s not out until October, which gives me some time to work through my current stash before I start craving more Liberty prints…