Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Make Do...

Last night I had my geometry set out; compass, set square, protractor. I was trying to design a pattern for a sunhat.  Send Max out for a minute in the sunshine without a hat, even if he's slathered in factor 50 and his ears start bubbling. It's not pretty, let alone healthy.  The past few years have seen lots of sunhats grace our home, but they seem to go missing with alarming frequency.  So rather than buy yet another one to lose to the wind, it seemed only right to turn to my bag of fabric scraps and my trusty geometry set.
Various parts of my super soft Seven jeans that ripped at the knees (and elsewhere...) have now been reincarnated in my attempts to patch up my childrens' clothes, and I thought I'd use the last remnants to test out a hat pattern.   And so the Recycled Seven jeans sunhat was born.
While I was pouring over my tracing paper and trying to remember some rusty facts about circumferences and radii (is that the plural of a radius?) it occurred to me that making clothing patterns would have been a much more sensible use of my GCSE Maths class than struggling with vectors, which always alluded me.  What about it Mrs Scott, in your apricot pencil skirt?
Turns out pattern making is, in fact, a lot harder than actually just sitting down and making a hat. 3D is somehow more meaningful than 2D. I cut a beautiful circle with a 16cm radius (yes, it is radii, but you don't need it in the plural) and then I fairly quickly abandoned the paper and mathematics and just got on with making the hat.
I think the finished article still needs some work but it's hot these days and we are in need of the hat, so it is prematurely off the production line and being put to use.  It was actually meant to be the 'test' hat that I would then remake in nicer fabric, but then Max gave me a hand at the sewing machine while Oli was sleeping, and decided he wanted that hat, his hat and no other.  Working at a sewing machine with a four year old is both enlivening and infuriating. There were lots of questions about the mechanics of the machine, particularly about the foot and the little jagged bits that help feed the fabric under the needle.  It reminded me that there are parts of the machine I still don't fully understand or know the names of, and it is especially useful having the very person you are designing for so close to hand.  His head was almost permanently in my way.  Less useful is it, when you look on the floor for a dropped pin and find your stitch and tension adjusted by the time you sit back up again.  Luckily the spool ran out half way through so we had the very exciting diversion of putting thread on a bobbin.
And now I'm feeling like quite a hat-making veteran.  Last Christmas my dad got a home-made version of a Breton fishing cap to replace an old, ripped, rotten one that had blatantly been loved too much. I stole it from his fishing cellar and set to work on a replica.   Today, recycler of old jeans; tomorrow, milliner to all the family...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

One of the privileges of being four...

...listening to The Beatles with a laundry bag on your head. Perhaps the acoustics are better in there.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Baking *with apologies to opera lovers

We still have a few biscuits left (cookies if you're reading over here).  There was an operatic quality to their making.  With Max on holiday for the summer he has been pestering me to do some 'big boy' cooking. The way he went on, you'd think we never set foot in the kitchen together. The truth is we've baked several loaves of bread and dozens of cupcakes not to mention jelly and ice pops. In addition, don't I cook supper every evening? I'm not usually averse to help from small hands.
This latest burst of interest may have been prompted by our chalking out a hob on the deck and by me giving the boys an old, scratched non-stick frying pan that had been singled out for a yard sale. For a day or two, he and Oli were happy mushing up the quota of rice and lentils I had given them, and picking apart a bulb of garlic. Then I lost a good portion of cocoa powder to the project when I wasn't looking and I was none too happy.
The clamouring racket for big boy cooking became louder still.  I've only seen a few operas in my time, and, thug that I am, I can't say they are really my thing. But there was something in the rising libretto from my children, that reminded me of some sonorous operatic recitative.
We decided on an oat and chocolate recipe and set about.  The bashing of the chocolate squares into chips briefly dispelled the rising tension. The dough was mixed, first in a bowl. 'Can I lick the spoon' became the predictably cacophonous chorus.  After much effort I realised the electric mixer might do a better job than we were doing at breaking up hard butter. Dough covered wooden spoons were dispensed. Silence. Followed by the applause of the blender. Act 1 was over.
We transferred the dough back to the mixing bowl to fold in our broken chocolate.  Oli reached a stunning alto in his demands for more licking - spatulas, spoons, bowls, anything would do, no doubt mixing blades if he could have got his hands on them.  Luckily my normally ill-equipped kitchen was able to provide 2 spatulas. Silence again and the end of the second act.
For the final drama, the suspense was building over the licking rights of the large beige mixing bowl. Another 2 wooden spoons would be needed to keep things fair. Unsullied tablespoons of mixture did, incredibly, make it to the baking tray.  Was the oven door licked? I have a feeling Oli might have seen his mirror image in it, dough smeared, and wondered if he could lick it off his reflection.
Golden, the cookies emerge 20 minutes later. The opera is over but the players do not return for the final bow; satiated on uncooked sugar, butter, oats and chocolate (with evidence of this smeared across their clothes) they are seeking new excitement from trucks in the flower beds. It actually gives the cookies, and the chef, a moment to cool. Exit left.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sporting Allegiance

Max had his last day at preschool this week and is now 'on vacation' for the summer.  Oli fell asleep in the car on the way over to his brother's party, the grand finale of the term.  Three songs had been practiced and prepared for the event. The first was a baseball song which Max had let slip at home in short bursts: '1, 2, 3 strikes, your out! At the Old Ball Game!' seemed the most enduring line.  This song, I'm told, is the 'Humpty Dumpty' of sporting songs in the States, they learn it in the crib.  I'm not sure that's true and maybe it was a coincidence but that very evening, as if to challenge any place the game might one day take in his heart, Dom found the Lightening Seeds chant, 'Football's Coming Home' on youtube and we had several renditions of Skinner and Baddiel reminiscing about the glory days of Gazza and Shearer.  It proved very popular.  It's still in the balance but since a song is the surest way to my sons heart, I think football (aka soccer) may have out-manoeuvred baseball.  Yesterday, of course, England met the USA in South Africa for the World Cup. It was harder to get to the bottom of his allegiance being, as he is, born of English parents but holding a US passport.  The vitriol between the 2 countries seems to be at its worst, with the oil crisis in the Gulf of Mexico at the hands of BP, not that Max is aware of it.  Initially he declared he was for England but then he realized the US were dressed in blue - his favourite colour.  Difficult.  He also likes 'rainbow' he tells me - so with England's goaly in green and the USA's in orange and then of course the yellow refs - he was liking all of them too. Oli sucked his thumb on the sofa next to us and went to bed at half time.  We actually missed the US goal (or shocking English mistake, depending how you see it) and by the time the final whistle went we were involved in 'playing airports' which is the jeux de jour these days.  Max is obviously keeping his allegiance close to his chest for the time being.

Friday, June 4, 2010


Miss Harvey.  Imagine a woman with a full waist, a full floral skirt and a chin full of whiskers.  Mrs Tiggywinkle, in fact. In my mind she wore sensible laced shoes and nude tights, probably stockings, and a cardigan even on the hottest days.  Her chin fell off her face to her ample chest and wobbled when she talked.  It seemed that she was always smiling, or chuckling, at least to us kids and calling us 'ansome'.  Did she wear glasses? I feel she must have, she was surely in her seventies and spent most of her time sewing. The combination must have resulted in the little round spectacles I remember.  Yes, she wore them on a string, like a necklace. The fact that she came to sew for my mother for a week in the summer seems alarmingly antiquated, but there you go.  Thinking about her brings back some of the magic of the summer term at school.  What was it that made it so special?  The summer uniform, a turquoise cotton tunic which meant we didn't have to wear a tie.  Or was it that we were allowed to play in the school garden rather than on the concrete parking area? There was a tyre swing at the bottom of the hill and endless shrubs to hide in.  Maybe it was athletics and the build up to sports day.  Or that when we came home it was still light for hours and the combine harvesters rumbled on past bedtime.  Was it knowing Miss Harvey was at home, perhaps even sewing something for me, for one precious week? My mother will say she mainly hemmed curtains and mended bedsheets. But I know she sewed me a tutu, with candy pink voile. I remember posing for photos in it, standing on the hot slate outside the kitchen windows.  I think I might have insisted on wearing it til bedtime. I have a horrible feeling it was too tight for me. Not so Cinderella after all.  I think Miss Harvey had to let a seam out.  I do remember that I got my pet rabbit's claw stuck in the trim and blood on the shimmery silk.  I wonder if I wore it again, I was no Darcy Bussell. I have a vague memory of an actual ballet performance - just the one - I was the marshmallow at the back.
In her youth, I think Miss Harvey had worked for my paternal great grandmother - as a full time seamstress? The luxury of it! Surely I must be in line to inherit a mansion somewhere. But perhaps I have it wrong.  I know she was proper Cornish and by the time I was observing the detail of her chin and wondering if I too would grow whiskers, she had decided to never again leave the county.  I think it was she who announced 'I don't go abroad no more', meaning she wouldn't travel north of the Tamar.  Beautifully put.  My mother tells me that as a teenager she was advised by her aunt not to marry her sweetheart or she'd be 'dead before she was 21.' We are only left to wonder whether the aunt was particularly vicious or especially insightful and wonder too about the boy and what became of him.  Miss Harvey never married.  All this has come back as I sit mending endless pairs of boys trousers.  Dom's been away this week so it's occupied my evenings - what a riveting life I lead - but I admit the idea of sewing for an hour is a lot more appealing than a morning out shopping, with or without a boy or two.  And you know, I think I've found the method for a near perfect patch...Miss Harvey would be proud.