27 March 2014

the sewing class

Every Wednesday during term time I get my bag of bits and ride over to the sewing class for three hours. I love it. We are all women, around a dozen of us on busy days, from all over the globe, a range of ages, and the most brilliant teacher who clearly loves her job and manages to be both encouraging and firm with us at the same time. Some women come year after year, others come to learn something specific and then leave. There is a whole range of projects going on - this term we have a man's shirt, a denim jacket, a sari-silk dress, an african print kimono, a gorgeous coat made out of tapestry curtains, a restyled winter coat, a summer frock. On the quietest days, there is a meditative quality in the room. You can sense the concentration as people take on more challenging tasks - drawing a new pattern, making buttonholes for the first time, inserting invisible zips; or the trepidation at using the old industrial machines and overlockers, marked up with the names of engineers long gone along with the manufacturing industry they served. I've developed a tentative affection for one in particular with its purry sound as it slices off rough edges and turns them out with sweetly serged seams; get it wrong and it could be disaster. Then there are the days when we chat gently, share mishaps, enjoy the companionship of common cause, imagine what we might make next.

That thinking about developing our skills and having a talented teacher is one of the best things about being in a class and this year's Sewing Bee has been an inspiration too. It's all too easy to sit back and do the same thing again and again, so I've really enjoyed watching the sewists' determination at mastering the demanding challenges. If they can do it...

Which brings me to the Merchant and Mills Madison I made. Rachel asked for a picture and here it is, the only one, better perhaps at showing the hosiery than the dress.

What can I say about it? It's a simple pattern, requiring basic skills and, made in silk, it was a great dress for a British Spring wedding. I liked the plainness, lightened by the flattering neckline. The long sleeves were perfect in the cool shade, and I really took pleasure in the detail of the three vintagey-looking darts in the sleeves to stop them going baggy (you can't see them, alas). What's more, I was delighted that the dark blue silk dupion which I bought in Singapore around fifteen years ago finally saw the light of day. A bit like me.

Sewing for yourself can be a bit hit and miss. Often your vision doesn't quite materialise in the way you imagined and sometimes a bit of realism and self-discipline is required to avoid disappointment. But when it all comes together - something you enjoy wearing, understanding the skills that go into making even a simple dress, the value of the time it takes, well, it's a kind of enlightenment.

24 March 2014

the 2014 asparagus post

The earliest yet, though not the sweetest spears on the bed if I'm not mistaken, but let's wait and see.


Hyacinths: each year we plant the spent bulbs we grow indoors, and this year their scent has pervaded the whole plot; and endive which has flourished in the face of total neglect on our part, and total benevolence on the part of the mild winter.

Wild garlic is putting in an appearance in the scuzzy hidden space behind the shed,

while on the sunny side it's almost tropical with flowering bay and imminent yucca flowers.

And amid all this promise, an almost certain unhappy end for the mouse - or was it a young rat? - that our feline neighbour Pixie flushed it out of the currant bush.

I suddenly feel like I've missed the bus.

17 March 2014


I have been sitting, kneeling, scribbling, here this afternoon and in between doing things I have made a commitment to do, albeit in one case rather late, I have been pondering the difference between plenty and enough. Take a particular writing commitment I have each month: enough time, insufficient motivation equals plenty of guilt. Or in the case of rhubarb, I have enough to make an early spring crumble, and possibly a cake, but it's too early to be plentiful yet, at least until the other crowns start coming through.

The purple sprouting broccolli is quite another matter. When I took this photo around ten days ago, delighted by its pertness and the prettiness of purple against the green, there was only just enough for two, and even then I felt a twinge at despoiling its beauty. Early this Sunday morning however when I cycled down to the plot before anyone else had woken up, more plants had sprouted and there was enough for a meal for five together with a salad of endive, rocket, red mustard and young beetroot leaves; leeks, potatoes; all homegrown. There was enough for everyone, plates were cleaned, everything eaten. It really was most pleasing, this sense of plenty.

That thinking time this afternoon helped me to sort out some of the feelings I'd been having about a family wedding this weekend. I'd decided I wanted to make my own dress - I have more than enough fabric stashed away over years and I'm determined to use some of it up before I even think about adding to the pile. But of course, once you have a new dress, there's all that other stuff - shoes, handbags (hate them), hats (ooh, love 'em). So I mooched around, picked stuff up, put it down, wondered whether I was just being mean, came home with some shoes, kept them in the box so I could take them back if I had to. And of course the dress was fine, the new shoes were an extravagance I could have done without but they rather brightened things up. And after all, who cares when the bride is so beautiful that she makes your heart beat faster and tears rise, when the sun slants through the church windows at such an angle that she sits glimmering in a pool of light, when you get to ride on an old Routemaster to the reception on a warm afternoon in the middle of London on the Ides of March and drink fizzy stuff outside until you're fuzzy.

It was all more than enough, more even than plenty.