What to do when the sun sticks around

We had rain today. Big sheets of rain around lunch time. That was OK for us, we were inside.

Early afternoon, while out, there were still shallow puddles to splash in. And the sun was coming out again.

We set out with cardigans; by the time we got to the park, mid afternoon, we ditched them to play in the sun at the park. (Again.)

By the evening, we were back to humidity, windows open. Washing hung up in the attic already dried within half a day.

Writing in the late evening, windows are still open. There is no particular need to close them either.

[post written earlier in the week - for those wondering which day I'm describing.]

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All this is not at all remarkable in many places. But we are talking about Scotland here.

Especially east coast Scotland, where a day of sun is pretty much usually followed by a day of mist (or sea fog, otherwise known as haar). I have often thought of this as a fairly presybterian phenomenon – you’ve had your fun, now it’s back to low level gloom.

So what does one do with all this unaccustomed heat and sunshine? In fact, not just heat and sunshine, but the very same falling within (gasp) the school holiday period.

(It is not unknown for schools to break up at the end of June, and rain to begin pretty much the next day – if not that very afternoon.)

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Here’s what we do. We eat ice lollies. Lots of them. We develop ways of eating them so that they start to have outlines: this one has a head, that one has a nose, and so on.

We look at living on salad vegetables and fruit (with maybe the odd chicken nugget for those in need). And other things that are easy to nibble.

We go to the park. And we go to the park. And once more, we set out for the park, remarking on just how warm it is mid afternoon. We make complicated calculations about how much sunscreen that might require for the kids.

We go swimming. And are delighted to find that the local council has made it free for school kids. (At least, at this pool, at this time of day. We make a mental note to phone and check just what the combination of details is, so we can do it (also) again and again.)

We break out those particular toys that only really see the light of day for a week of the year, normally. After a while, we just leave them out in the garden anyway.

We forget that there is really any need to wear shoes other than sandals. Or possibly more rugged sandals for going to the beach, climbing on rocks and so on.

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Every now and then, we look up, as though there was something else to remember to do. Like pack raincoats, duck for cover, bring along an extra layer just in case. The conventional things that we expect to do at least fifty weeks of the year.

No, maybe not. Now, was there another ice lolly about the place? This kind of dream, we don’t need to wake up from just yet.

Making: new uses for treasured T-shirts

We were on holiday, and Junior Reader noticed a problem. Come another summer or two, and a beloved T-shirt would cease to fit.

Now we’re OK on this in a few different ways:

- Junior Reader doesn’t grow terribly fast (so far), so the T-shirt still has some life in it yet

- we’re pretty good about passing on clothes when they don’t fit any more, given that many of them are ‘new to us’ via helpful friends and family, or second-hand shops.

However. There comes a point when certain clothes reach treasured status.

And really, this one is a good one – nice red background (always a good start as far as Junior Reader is concerned), big applique design on the front that’s holding pretty well despite lots of use. (It’s a T Rex, in case you wanted to know.)

So Junior Reader came to me with a suggestion. Why not turn the T-shirt into a cushion cover? (Because, you know, we definitely need more cushions with dinosaurs on.)

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Lots of people have clothes they don’t want to part with. Sometimes this is OK – fashion comes round again, etc. You may find out it looks great a few years from now. (If you have wardrobe space to wait this long.)

Sometimes, you only wear the clothes a few times a year, but it’s worth hanging on to them. (Quality wool coats; much of my ‘hot weather clothing’ collection.)

Sometimes, it’s time to think differently about the item. It’s part of the reason quilts and rag rugs work well. You get to hang on to some material that has sentimental attraction, but in a new form where it has a bit more use.

And why not add a T-shirt cushion to that category?

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Junior Reader has clearly seen me fiddling with fabric enough to put the suggestion – and I like it. It is a nice T-shirt, plus it gives me a new project idea.

Junior Reader is now adding further complexity to the notion. ‘It needs a zip.’ Well, love, I can’t fit zips (as yet), but Granny R can. So maybe we’ll ask her, or…maybe I’ll bottle it, and we’ll use press studs instead, ‘cos I know I can sew those on OK.

A T-shirt is not so far off a cushion shape in the first place. And if I run out of pillow filler, I could go as far as buying a cushion pad for this one – which would then mean I might need to do a bit more conventional measuring to make sure the cover fits.

But beyond the cushion itself, there’ll be more leftover material. Fuel for the rag rug, I suspect.

Still, while the T-shirt still fits, this is more of a project to muse on for the future. We’ll keep you posted.

 

Summer ’14: expansion set

You know those board games that are only good for a certain number of players? Or have limited numbers of plays, after a while?

Serious board game makers and players (and I hardly count myself among them, but I have learned this much) solve the problem with expansion sets.

That way, the game allows for more players. More moves. More rules. More complications too.

So here’s some more summer memories – expansion set style.

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Indoor golf. It’s the way to go. It’s particularly the way to go when it feels safe, funny, good, day after day. As I write this, we’ve played it for three days straight, and I suspect we will do some more.

It works particularly well in a large hall with smooth floors. So well that we have to stop Junior Player from turning it more into something like hockey – or even lacrosse. (Not our paintwork, sweetie.)

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Playdough. Making feasts. Particularly, making green spaghetti, cutting it up small, putting it in a pan, tipping it on to a plastic tray, and popping it in the pretend oven. For ten minutes.

(Everything is cooked for ten minutes. I checked with the head chef. Except, I think I got away with cooking pretend gingerbread men for twenty minutes, the other day. Mustn’t tell.)

We develop our own specialisms. Dan does well on fancy cakes and pies – particularly ones with an extra playdough cutout on top. Your age, your initial, whatever you fancy.

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Cuddles the dog. He’s soft, he’s squishy, and he works well on a swing, or down a chute. Or sometimes dropped, head first, from a climbing frame.

(Lest you worry, gentle readers, Cuddles is a soft toy. All is well. Although his coat does pick up fluff at playgrounds quite effectively.)

On the day I am writing this, Cuddles gets his own bed. It’s a doll’s bed, but he doesn’t mind. In fact, we forget to bring him to the park this time – but we decide he is having a nap.

(He might equally be at the dog grooming parlour while we are out having fun on the swings.)

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Tomato soup has become its own food group. It’s the cure for anything, really. Although, when an iPad is in the background, there are serious distractions. I know, because the
T-shirts have the stains to prove it.

It is also clear that, whatever is in Mummy’s snack box each day, however many varieties there are, they will all disappear. (But they may also get shared with friends at the park. Which is fine too.)

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We are telling stories. Stories about us. Stories about what we did yesterday.

Stories about what we did ten minutes ago. We are building up a shared language. The subject matter circulates through the sunshine and the heat.

One day, I tell the story about how I put my watch through the washing machine by mistake.

The next day, the story is retold to me. But then I am given a replacement watch. It’s made out of a twig bent round my wrist, but it does the job just fine.

Because we are back at the park, and you don’t need too much precision when you are trying to keep playing for as long as you can.

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Everything is of note in this new world. That Mummy wears the same earrings every day. That there are lots of taxis just now, and we can sit on the step and wait for the next one to come.

There are giggles. Misunderstandings. Hide and seek opportunities that were missed the first time and embraced the next. Discoveries that bath toys make interesting noises if you apply them to your tummy. Repeatedly.

We talk backwards about the drive being laid and forwards about significant birthdays next year. We learn new vocabulary for piggybacks and we discover that there are astrogators in the upper atmosphere, if only we look for them.

The summer is rich and full, and even the rain gives us something to talk about. Forwards and backwards, like the swing, going on up to the sky and back.

Making: a new use for snowflakes

We went to an exhibition, back around Easter time. A bit of a treat, really – a big collection of Matisse paper cutouts.

Dan and his mum have liked Matisse for a long time. I’m newer on the scene, but had managed to see a few things in galleries, like The Snail at Tate Modern.

Junior Reader didn’t know about Matisse, but does know a thing or two about paper cutouts, having gone through an extensive phase of making paper snowflakes. So we thought it might just suit everyone.

When I was at the exhibition, I learned that Matisse had spent time in Hawaii, and that some of the local art had influenced the shapes that he later cut out of paper.

That rang a bell with the quilting book, and more recently, I looked it up. There is a Hawaiian style of quilting that is probably more accurately described as applique i.e. sewing smaller bits of cloth onto bigger bits of cloth in a decorative way.

The Hawaiian style is to have a high contrast between the cutout shape and the background. So you can imagine a white background, say, and a deep blue or deep red design on the front.

But when I looked at how it gets made, all I could think of was: snowflakes.

When you make the template for the cutout shape, you fold the paper into four. You then just take a quarter of the cutout, and pin that onto material which is folded into four.

Then you cut through all four levels of the material. The result is that when you open out the coloured material, you have your complete shape, all nice and symmetrical.

I fancy the idea of collaborating with Junior Reader on this one. One maker making the design, the other sewing it. I think that’s probably a win-win.

The trickier bit is the sewing that goes with it. From what I’ve read so far, you sew a line around the inside of the cutout shape – that holds it in place. You do it in a contrasting colour so it’s easy to spot (and remove later).

Then you do ‘slipstitch’, which I think is to use sewing to tuck the edges under so it looks neat. After that, you remove the traced line of stitching, and your applique is complete. Or something like that.

I don’t quite know what we’d do with the result – a cushion? A wallhanging? I might canvass Junior Reader for ideas. Given the relative enthusiasm for snowflakes, I can imagine that I would be offered several, at the very least.

I’m filing this one as ‘idea for some time later’, rather than an immediate one. But if I can find a deep enough blue (particularly a kind of Yves Klein blue, if I can), and a lovely enough snowflake shape, I rather fancy giving it a try.

I imagine you could also do the same in reverse – ie white snowflake on coloured background. It might not be so Hawaiian, but it might be more snowflakey.

And as Granny R has kindly made some nice red cushions (with leftovers from the red curtains she produced), we might just have the perfect base on which to balance a few snowflakes.

I’ll keep you posted on the weather forecast for this one.

Making: a rag rug

Last summer, there was a family gathering on Skye. I was there for just a couple of days, really, but it included enough time to get along to a local craft fair, in walking distance from where we were staying.

There were a mixture of stalls. I liked some items; was less keen on others. But on one stall, there was a lady with strips of cloth, and a wooden implement which I can only really describe as a Bodger.

The woman had a loose-weave cloth, and she was using the bodger to poke strips of cloth through that backing. What she was doing was making a rag rug, something I had read about, but never actually seen done.

The woman had kits for sale, with the hessian backing, instructions, and a few pieces of coordinating material to start you off. The clincher, of course, was that the kit gave you your own bodger.

I was in.

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The thing with making rag rugs is that it immediately gives you a use for lots of tiny bits of fabric that might otherwise get chucked out.

These days, as the woman showed me, those bits of fabric can include fleece material, jeans, tartan, cotton, and pretty much anything else you care to cut into tiny pieces of fabric.

Once I got home, and looked at the instructions more, it seemed that the cutting of strips was to be greatly improved by the owning of a rotary cutter.

I did not then own one. So the kit stayed in its bag for pretty much a year. (I made an attempt at getting a rotary cutter at one point, only to find I had bought something else, and had to take it back.)

Fast forward to this summer. I have now acquired my rotary cutter. So all of a sudden, my new toy is not just for quilts/patchwork, but I can also get the rag rug kit underway.

While the rag rug kit was gathering dust, I did start to amass a pile of fabric to go with it. Then I had a big bout of spring cleaning and got rid of it. (I kind of regret that now, but only a bit.)

On the plus side, it might be the ideal use for lots of little strips of eco bag that I no longer want to use, but that could find a new purpose as a rag rug.

On the other side: what does one do with one’s rag rug? I have a feeling that it might turn into a teeny tiny rug for a teddy, in a similar way to the teeny tiny quilt.

The good thing about the rag rug work is that the pieces aren’t fixed in the same way as sewing. So if I try out some bits and don’t like the effect, I can always pull them out and start again.

I’m rather hoping that rag rugging – aka bodging – might be just the thing for doing while watching TV. Normally I don’t manage to make and watch TV at the same time, but I think this might just be the exception.

And then, if I like it, I can always buy more hessian, and bodge away a bit more.

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Early results:

- fleece material is nice to use, fairly easy to put in and out

-  tartan material looks good but keeps fraying. Turns out I should have cut it on the bias. (I know the phrase – now I need to go off and work out what it means in practice. I think it means cutting cloth in a way that stops it fraying.)

- cotton eco bag material works very nicely. And those bits that had writing on – you only see a tiny bit of the writing for each ‘stitch’ of the rug, so it’s not distracting.

It’s more like those pictures of walls where an old advert was painted up there and is now flaking off in a reasonably charming way.

- folding the strips in half along the width makes for a neater ‘stitch’ but means that you get lots of flatter lines

- bodging can be done fairly easily while playing Settlers of Catan on holiday

- with practice, I can now bodge strips from the front of the cloth, which speeds things up.

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So: will it use up scraps of material? Yes, just great. But I am now realising I will need a lot of scraps of material. (No wonder rag rugging was done by a whole family – you’d need to, just to create enough strips and get them into the backing.)

In consequence, it will Take Some Time to complete. But that’s OK. I suspect it could be a perfect project to pick up and put down when I need to.