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End of term report: June 2014

It’s not quite the end of the week – but it is nearly the end of term.

And you can bet that, come mid August, all those bright wee things will have sprouted extra inches of leg and new hairstyles and far more in-depth knowledge of whatever it is they’re keen on.

So maybe it’s time instead to take stock of where things are at now – because assuredly it will all be different when the new term comes round.

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Like many other places, Edinburgh schools have been overtaken by loom bands. In some places, they are the reserve of girls; in others, boys are working away with the best of them to create whatever the latest plastic bangle look is coolest right now.

Mums chat in huddles, identifying the best deals and the new equipment to make the things on…and others just get fed up with lots of little coloured rubber bands everywhere.

Small D returns home with an aquarium. Think paper plate, blue-ish scene behind, clear film on the front to look like the glass. I rather like the two (actual) shells – and the carefully inscribed lines to show that they are falling down through the water.

Sports days are on and off and happen in the rain and sometimes even happen on good (bright, sunny) days.

There are end of term discos where everyone emerges dripping with sweat and clutching an ice lolly.

I think there may be the great ceremonial pile out off to the park on the last day of term, to play, eat a picnic lunch, play some more. Some of that gradual leave taking before parents batten down the hatches and engage the hard-won Long Holiday tactics.

There are coffees snatched, and parent conversations indulged in before the holidays begin, and an actually still heated beverage becomes but a happy dream.

There are calculations about rate of hair growth and the possibility of hot summer, and decisions to be made about summer haircuts.

There is the counting down of final packed lunches, and snacks, and school uniform washing loads. And there is the complicated deliberation about teacher presents/cards at the end of the school year.

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Life becomes a little bit more complex at this stage of school – but not too much so yet. Not too knowing yet. Thankfully.

Boys and girls both engage with creating their own little worlds online (mainly through Minecraft).

There are Brownies activities, and judo competitions, and a hundred and one other ways to signal the end of scheduled time for a few weeks.

Playdates involve more requests for (computer) screen time – but messing about outdoors is still high on the list of entertainments.

Swings, and hide and seek, and monkey bars at the park. Even a hammock to try out at a friend’s house, if you’re lucky.

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We have this stretch of several days of good weather. (For those used to one day sun, one day sea mist in Edinburgh, that’s unusual.) Prolonged grass cutting ensues. The new picnic bench is ready for action in the garden.

There is a scurry for sun dresses and skirts and lighter tops and sunscreen. Wearing shorts to the office (if there’s no visitors that day).

I hunt around the attic for those items that can actually come back out for use: inflatables. Games to play outdoors on the grass.

I work around the other items tucked away, those ones for rainy days and cold days and miserable days.

Not just now. Who knows how long the sun may last, but for now, we’ll live in hope of a little more summer to enjoy.

Making: reusing fabric

I don’t know if the moment has passed, but there seemed to be a stage at which you were besieged with eco bags at every turn.

Supermarkets sold them to you; conferences pressed them on you (to hold all the paper that you then didn’t need anyway. Hmm.)

I started into eco bags a while back. They were quite often souvenirs of trips to Germany. I still have a couple which I love (and which have the frayed handles to prove it).

One is for a children’s book publisher, and has a very nice illustration of a cheery frog on a motorbike. The other has the Ampelmaenner (traffic light men) of East Berlin – you’ll see the ‘Go’ version as the little icon at the top of this webpage.

Eco bags are a nice idea, but they don’t really hold a lot of shopping. They’re fine if you’re off to the paper shop to collect your weekend newspaper, they’ll do a few bits and pieces, but not a great deal.

Cue my next use of them: for putting dirty washing in when on trips away from home. And when you’re home and doing the washing, stick the bag in as well, and it’s ready for next time.

But still. There were bags I liked, and ones I really didn’t care for any more. So I decided it was time to get the material back, use the blank bits (maybe more quilt activity?), keep the bag designs I did like, and ditch the rest.

And then I was able to justify getting a new sewing toy. The terribly sharp, terribly exciting rotary cutter.

You can use strong scissors to cut fabric, of course. You can even have pinking shears to make sure the edges don’t fray. (Though the main use of pinking shears, as I recall, was to reuse old Christmas cards and turn them into tags for next year.)

Once I’d read the quilting book a bit more, as well as a bit of looking at sewing sites, I realised that a rotary cutter could help things along nicely.

It basically looks much like a pizza cutter – but deadlier. (A pizza cutter doesn’t have a guard for the blade. This does.)

Lest it seem too dangerous for words, I have been practising cutting, carefully, on little scraps of fabric, to get the feel for the thing. Turns out it’s very nice to use – very smooth.

You do need to have one of those cutting mats to use them on – I think they call them self-healing mats.

The kind you can use for cutting out card designs with a Stanley knife. (We did some Christmas cards a few years ago, with lots of cutting, so we have the mat already.)

So the stitch ripper and the rotary cutter have been working together on taking apart these bags. A few are even coloured, and may make it into a different pile for a larger-scale quilt idea (if the first one works out).

I don’t quite know what I’ll do with the picture bits I’m saving yet. I don’t think they are quilting squares; most of them have words on as well, and I don’t want a quilt that’s too busy to look at.

They might be interesting cut into quarters and moved around a piece of fabric, as it were, so the effect is less immediate on the eye.

I do now have a lot of nice strong handles from the bags, though, which brings me to another idea: a scooping things up blanket.

(A blanket with handles, basically. I’ve seen things like this for sale online. Play on it, then pick it up by the handles at the end, and scoop up whatever’s inside, to make tidy up easier and quicker.)

I think the blanket might work for all kinds of small playthings – but I’m principally thinking the Lego collection. More on those plans another time.

Updated: the bits of fabric with words on turn out to be just fine in a rag rug. And more on that on a separate occasion.

Am I using up almost all the fabric? You betcha.

Making: a teeny tiny quilt

Long long ago, it seems, I acquired a book on quilting. It’s a good one, including a mix of photos of the real thing, and lots of projects to try out.

Even further ago, I found myself teaching in Poland (second time around), again at a point where my hands needed something to do in the evenings.

(English teaching in the day meant that it was very hard to do anything words-related at night. So I ended up doing some sewing-type things instead.)

Fortunately, my teaching position came hot on the heels of an American family who had been there for three years before me. The mum seemed to have been into quilting, and left a box full of lots of odds and ends of fabric.

I made a few little bits of patchwork. The colour combinations were good. One became a kind of table runner for the low table in the room where I was staying that year.

Another made steps towards being the size of a cushion cover. It never got to those lofty heights, but it does now get more viewing time, as it were, by going over the top of a rocking chair.

I never wanted to fill the house with patchwork thises and thats. Part of me admires it, the colours, the shapes. Part of me also wants to avoid too much busyness on the eye.

But with some offcuts from my clothes-adjusting activities, I thought I might try to find a use for them. Cue: the teeny tiny quilt.

The point of this is that it’s a place to learn. It will probably end up the right size for a teddy or other soft toy, which is plenty big enough to work on, but not so crucial that I feel bad if it doesn’t work out.

I’ve kept the notion of the teddy quilt a secret from Junior Reader, but I hope that it will go down well, once I feel like it’s at a point where I can hand it over.

Part of the current attraction of the quilt is that it also gives me a chance to use up the inners of the pillows we recently parted with.

(I discovered that you can’t recycle them – they just go into landfill – but some online searching suggested things like using them for making soft toys or quilts.)

So far, we have simple squares. A bit of leftover red curtaining material (Granny R has been hard at work on new curtains for Junior Reader. Respect.). And the offcuts of those jeans I mentioned.

24 squares, and a colour way of red and grey. So far so good.

So I’ve learned to look at the useful book before beginning the project. (Turns out you shouldn’t create strips of 6 squares, but just do them in pairs. Back to the stitch ripper for a bit.)

I’ve just started combining the pairs into sets of 4. That took a bit of trial and error to work out how to match them so it looks (as best I can) like the seams actually line up.

Hopefully I’ll complete the 24 squares fairly soon. Then I need to think about what to put on the back, and how to tease out the pillow material so it forms the filling (or batting) of the quilt.

There is also adding some kind of binding around the outer edges to hold all the elements together. And after that, you get to do stitching through the different layers (the actual quilting), which I understand can be decorative if you want it to be.

So that’s all going fine. But then I discovered a set of fabric that was doing nothing, and decided to add to my material stash by cutting up: eco bags.

Making: new clothes for old

Here’s where it began. I started doing some sewing because a few clothes didn’t work any more. And I found I liked the results.

My normal sewing levels are around attaching name tapes to clothes. Occasionally badges to judo outfits. Not much more.

I did learn to do backstitch (making a nice strong seam) in the teenage days of having a favourite schoolbag, which would intermittently fall apart under the weight of all the books.

Having finally found the perfect bag (large, green, canvas material, good straps), I was not going to let it go and have to begin the hunt again. So I think I must have kept it going a good three years in the end.

Which is good for schoolbags, all in all.

Over time, and with a bit of observation of my mother-in-law’s trouser hemming techniques, I have moved up to being able to take up trousers to a shorter height, should one’s junior reader require it.

(I have also on occasion managed to sew one trouser leg to another (temporarily, I didn’t leave it like that), but I’m better at spotting that in advance and saving all the unpicking.)

Although it has allowed me to buy a seam ripper, like the one I remember my mum having, which is a lot of fun to use.)

Having shown the level of my sewing credentials to date, down to the business of making.

No. 1: a pair of trousers belonging to Junior Reader. Having been taken up several times to begin with, once they were taken down, they had big bands of fold around the ankles.

They looked a bit like lines you’d find at successive high tides. So I asked if I could turn them into mid-length trousers, and was given the nod. (Phew.)

The trousers were cargo pants, and fortunately, had some detailing on them already which gave me a hint of where to cut. Then I hemmed them and: hey presto, new light-weight trousers.

Not yet tried out at the beach, but great for this ‘is it spring/isn’t it’ kind of weather.

These I have been able to see are a success, because they are getting worn a lot.

(We have also had the ‘how to take off your trousers carefully’ talk, after a certain amount of recent fixing and refixing of school trousers, and so far, cargo pants are doing just fine.)

No 2: a stage further up. Dan had a pair of jeans with rips on both knees. So I applied the same logic (and measured VERY carefully), and managed to create some cut-offs.

I think the point of proper cut-offs is that the hems are mean to be a bit raggy. But that doesn’t really build in your sewing skills, so I’ve gone for neat for now.

I think they may actually need taking up a bit more – they are a tiny bit Empire-builder for now. But hopefully we’ll get to see them in action (if that hot summer we’re promised comes round), and then we can fix on the hems for definite.

Updated: they’ve been worn all week on holiday. The length is good at the points when you sit with your knees bent. And really, they are just off, seeing holidaying action, so I think that’s a win.

No 3: same approach, different garment. Dan had a much loved long-sleeved shirt, with a hole at one elbow. No longer suitable for business meetings.

A spot more cutting, and cue: short sleeve shirt. This one I’m happy with for length of sleeve.

Somehow or other, there was also a hole near the lower seam. So I cut the lower seams and had a go at a rolled stitch, to make the hem very small.

The hems were a success, but it does make the shirt a bit boxy now. So I think we’ve settled that it’s one of those summer shirts that you don’t actually try to do up, but wear open over a T shirt or a vest.

Big plus point from 2 and 3: spare material. Just a bit, but nice enough to use for something else.

Which leads us to the next making update: a small attempt in the direction of quilting. (Fingers crossed.)

Making

Over the time I’ve been reading blogs, I’ve discovered that whatever your passion, you’ll find plenty of others eager to share their ideas – successes, failures, tips and so on.

It doesn’t seem to matter what the interest is – science experiments you can do at home, knitting patterns for tiny babies – there’s plenty to borrow from.

So I’m tentatively creating a new category here: making. Not because I think that what I’m trying to do is Pinterest-worthy (hardly, given that I’m still avoiding adding photos), but simply because That’s Where It’s At right now.

Making is probably not big news any more online – but there’s plenty more encouragement for what is effectively free-range creative endeavours. It might be putting together paper and cardboard, it might be making finger puppets, or all kinds of different things.

I’ve reached a point where my head is too full of chatter in the evenings. Sometimes, I drown it out with TV – that works fine, but it seems that my hands would like something to do as well.

So, little by little, I’ve been starting some making of my own. It’s not going to be a new and exciting invention, it’s not going to inspire other kids in the playground, but it’s going to be something that I made. By myself.

I do do making, of sorts. Cooking has been my big area of making, for a long time, but in a funny way, it doesn’t feel like making particularly.

In cooking, you have recipes to follow (or at least to use as a guide). There are techniques to learn; variants on how to use different ingredients.

I dare say the same could be applied to something like woodwork, but I have lacked the confidence to feel that I could then approach a new area of making, and extend my skills there.

So what I’m trying is a bit different for me – it’s in the following your nose kind of category of activity. I’m trying things out: no patterns, no how tos, no instruction booklets.

No one is telling me what to make but me. No one is devising the plans but me. That is partly faintly alarming and partly very releasing, because I can be on my own side. It’s about having fun in the activity, and hopefully it turning out OK.

The thing with making is that it encourages all kinds of useful skills. Learning through trial and error, thinking on your feet, improving techniques as you go along.

It’s a very arts/crafts way of thinking – much more what you can do with your hands than I’m used to. But that’s OK. I don’t want to write a thesis in the evenings; I want to relax, and maybe explore a little too.

I am worried about whether I’ll manage to be precise enough. I fear cutting into things and making mistakes, but maybe I’ll find a different idea as a result. (I hope so.)

So every now and then, I’ll share some making thing that I’m doing. I might even mention what Junior Reader is up to – there’s someone who loves making, and is not afraid to try new things. Maybe I can learn a thing or two.

I’m hoping that what I come up with will be a little bit eco, too, finding new purposes for things, spinning out the life of a garment. Stopping some fabric sitting doing nothing, and turning it into something useful.

If you’re really lucky, I might even take photos. Not for the how-to factor, but to prove to myself: I made something. I can do it.

And I can enjoy the process as well as the finished product.