Thursday, 16 November 2017

We made a lot of poppies

Last weekend was Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday. It was also the weekend my sister Jo came to visit, along with her OH, Phil. M was very excited as she likes seeing her relatives, which sadly doesn't happen that often due to the distances involved.

We spent some time on Thursday and Friday making poppies from felt with a sewn on button. We made these last year, but they were mainly my effort with M only doing a little of the stitching. This year, once I'd shown her how to sew on a button, M did most of the work herself. She even cut the shapes out of felt.
A lot of sewing practice!
We added a purple poppy to the collection this year after learning they were to represent all the animals who died in wars, particularly the horses who were very much on the front line in WW1.

M spotted a very similar flower hair tie in a children's sewing book I'd bought her for her birthday. After reading the instructions, M had a go, resulting in the white and purple flower with the blue spotted button.  I helped by sewing it onto a hair tie as that bit was too fiddly for M. Still needing to make more flowers, M decided to make another one for her Auntie Jo, but this time we glued it to a pin along with all the poppies.
A flower for Auntie Jo.
These were all lots of fun to make and served well for teaching M how to sew a button on.

We showed Auntie Jo around Brandon Marsh on Saturday.
Auntie Jo and M pretend to be dormice

Brandon Marsh in Autumn
While on Sunday we drove over to The Black Country Living Museum, which is a fantastic place to visit and the location of most of the external filming for a television program called Peaky Blinders, which both Jo and Phil love.

We're oblivious to the TV show, but love history and exploring buildings, so were happy as well.
M experiences a Victorian School.
M experienced her first lesson in a school, taught very tongue in cheek by a Victorian school master. Baffled, M did her best to recite her 12 times tables, learned about Victorian discipline and the rich fossil record of Dudley. She also learned about the famous one eyed dinosaur of Dudley, something M quizzed Dave about later.

Otherwise we wondered around looking at things, talking to the historical interpreters and trying not to get too cold. It was a bitter wind out there! We hid in the old cafe building by the canal to enjoy some chips, sandwiches and a hot drink. M played with her auntie and Jo took a lot of photographs.

I took a couple of photographs too, including the source reference for this drawing of one of the museum horses being plagued by magpies intent on stealing its mane. As we watched, the magpies would go up to the horse's neck and pluck at a hair, resulting in the horse waving its head at the offending bird, which duly flew off only to return less than a minute later.
Drawing of one of the horses at BCLM.
A good day, but gosh we were cold and it took hours before we felt warm again that evening.

Useful Links:
* The Black Country Living Museum -
* Peaky Blinders -

Thursday, 9 November 2017


Over the past year, M has reached a new milestone. At the tender age of seven she is now capable of winning complicated boardgames on her own merit. She can read instructions on game cards, understand rules and no longer needs a helper to ensure she remembers her plan from turn to turn. We tend to favour non-competitive games over the more cut-throat variety and the gaming style in this house is friendly. Dave enjoys games, M enjoys them and even I like to play occasionally when I have that elusive spare hour.

Last weekend, while in a burst of tidying I unearthed an 1980's version of the Games Workshop classic game 'Talisman'. Neither Dave nor I remember acquiring it, there were no rules, prompting an internet search, then Dave and M had a go at the game while I was at work. M won.

Later, I enjoyed a blow by blow account of how the game played through and so I thought I'd draw M's character leading her mule through the game world that is the Talisman board.
I was trying to capture the curly tree thing with tangled roots that the illustrator (Gary Chalk) had with his board artwork. Not a patch on his work of course but I like the way this sketch turned out.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Charlie in ink

On the back of #inktober, I have apparently acquired a new found confidence in the use of ink and last night decided to have another go at drawing our cat Charlie.

I've been reading a little and practising something called blocking in as a method of sketching, so I thought I'd try it on a cat. Charlie is a solid looking animal who lends himself well to being drawn inside a rectangle, so that's what I started with, steadily refining the outline, then completing the sketch in ink pen.
Charlie sunning himself in the garden - drawn in ink.
I've no idea if I've done the blocking in  process correctly, but I thought the sketch turned out well.

At some point I need to find some suitable cat models that have eyes!

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Inktober ends with Halloween

Hallowe'en has passed, marking the first day of Allhallowtide and the end of Inktober 2017. My last two drawings for the challenge were:
Inktober day 30 - Found.

Inktober Day 31 - Mask
In terms of lesson's learned...

While the challenge has been fun, it has also been exhausting having to come up with a concept, then turn it into a composition for each day.

Including research and preliminary sketches, each drawing took at least two hours out of my day, which is a huge commitment for me. I have been making a point of drawing on each day this year but the length of time has tended to be an hour or so for each session, which is a lot more manageable.

The other big issue I had with the challenge was thinking of an idea of what I could draw in the first place. I need to practice tuning into my creative process so I can come up with several concepts for a drawing very quickly, then decide on which one I want to develop. Back in the day, I used to be able to do this easily but not any more, I appear to have lost the knack. I'd say it was this rather than anything else which made the Inktober challenge so difficult.

I'll leave it there, other than to hope everyone had a good Hallowe'en and here are M's Jack o'Lanterns.
M's carved pumpkin.

M's carved swede (or turnip).
M carved a face into both a pumpkin and the more traditional swede (or as we used to call them, a turnip or neep), which is what would have been used before pumpkins were widely available.

We don't do trick or treating as a family, but explored the more traditional aspects of Allhallowtide, including a feast on All Hallows Eve with added spooky poetry. This was very enjoyable and the first year M has been able to fully take part, selecting and reading book extracts as well as poems of her choice, rather than just listen to us grown ups.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Inktober Day 29 - United with extra pumpkins

The first real cold of the season has been working its way through the family, hitting me first then M and now Dave who has struggled into work today, saying he has things he needs to get finished. One of those things, is needing to submit his pumpkin for his employer's pumpkin carving competition.

M and Dave spent yesterday morning hollowing out and carving pumpkins. Dave went for a novel design, transforming his pumpkin into skull. M meanwhile was working on her allotment pumpkin, a fine specimen that she felt should be a tiger. M did all the scooping and drew her design, but Dave went in with the knife to make it come to life.
Meanwhile I spent the day dividing my creative thinking between Hallowe'en and Inktober. The former required research, putting together some fun things for M to do over the next couple of days. There'd normally be a fair bit of seasonal baking at this point, but the oven chose to die on Friday night so no baking for us. Someone is organised to fix it at some point on Tuesday (i.e. Hallowe'en) but that isn't much help in terms of having an oven for some serious baking sessions.

The Inktober prompt for yesterday was a difficult one - 'United'.

I'll admit I was stumped and lacking in inspiration. My immediate association was 'football' (or 'soccer' if you're across the other side of the Atlantic) but that is so not me, it held no appeal whatsoever. Then there was 'tea and biscuits', but I couldn't be bothered to set up a suitable still life to use as a base. I could be terribly cliched and draw two hands holding each other, but I'm not into cliches. So I asked M, who said "Charlie and Missy", who are our cats.

Once I had the suggestion, I was off and after a bit of thought, looking at pictures of fires in fireplaces to see what happens with the shadows, this is what I came up with.
Inktober Day 29 - United
Note this is not a picture of my cats, just two similar animals. I do have a fireplace, but it is not as impressive, has not been lit in years and is buried in toys. So this is not my living room, but maybe one day...

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Inktober Day 28 - Fall

A very quick update from me for #inktober. We had a full day yesterday, Christmas shopping and we picked up a pair of winter boots for M. The evening saw us helping some family friends celebrate their wedding, so it made for another late night drawing session. The prompt was 'fall' which I decided should mean both falling and autumn, hence I drew the following which is loosely based on a photo of M when she was a toddler.
#inktober day 28 - Fall
It didn't turn out too badly, but I'm not sure about the shading, something I find very difficult to do with an ink pen.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Channelling Christmas yet to come

Briefly because I plan a full day of Christmas shopping, because yes, it is nearly that time of year again. And in keeping with the theme, I channelled the festive spirit for last night's #Inktober drawing as per the prompt - Climb.
#Inktober2017 - Day 27 - Climb
I thought it might be interesting to show a similar picture I drew last December, albeit in pencil not ink, to see how things have come along.
From my archive - drawn December 2016
While both of these drawings make me smile, last night's sketch definitely has a more three dimensional feel to it.

Friday, 27 October 2017

A trip to the allotment and Inktober day 26

We've been suffering the first real cold of the season, with it being my turn last week and M's this week, which means we've not really been able to take advantage of 'half-term' activities. M was well enough to attend a friend's Hallowe'en party earlier this week, but otherwise poor M hasn't felt up to much, so was keen to go to the community allotment yesterday.

Disaster struck a few minutes after we arrived when M moved some stacked garden chairs which had been rained on. Unfortunately the rain had pooled in the bottom chair on the stack, so when M picked up the last two chairs she tipped a sizeable puddle onto her legs and into her wellies. Fortunately, M took it in good humour as I sat her down and poured the water out of her wellies while she inspected her soaked trousers and sodden socks. After a brief check to see if there were any spare clothes/wellies on site, we went home so M could change but were back half an hour later.

M immediately got stuck in with planting beans, decorating a pumpkin with pins (we'll carve it over the weekend), saw onion seeds for the first time and helped set up a new mud kitchen. We ended up staying an hour past the end of the session so M could help test the mud kitchen thoroughly, before we headed home with a happy girl.
An afternoon at the allotment.
Inktober continues here and yesterday's prompt was 'Squeak'.

M elected to draw a very big mouse.
M's drawing for #Inktober2017 Day 26 - Squeak
While I decided on hamsters.
My drawing for #inktober2017 Day 26 - Squeak!
Dave drew our cat Missy because she came up to him as he was staring at his sketchpad and squeaked to get his attention. No photo though, as it isn't mine to share.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

A slight change of direction

It's been a while since I've posted here, as while we've been as busy as ever I just never seem to get time to sit still at a computer, other than when I'm working. I've been doing very brief posts over on Tumblr from time to time, but not here. I guess it might be time to think about using a mobile app to update this blog.

Amongst the things I haven't been talking about (due to lack of posts) is this year's main crafty activity for me has been to practice my drawing. Like most children (or at least M) I drew all the time, as often as I could get hold of paper and pencils. Drawing as a thing petered out in my teens, although it saw a brief resurgence in my early 20s as I dabbled with watercolours. After that, being an adult took over and drawing mostly stopped.

M of course loves drawing, so I'd occasionally draw for her and at some point last year I started drawing for me. Last Christmas rolled around and I decided that this year, I would try to improve my drawing skills by practising a lot. Which I have done, mostly to the detriment of knitting time.

Rolling forward to now, 10 months after that decision and despite my preferred medium being pencil, Dave persuaded me to try #Inktober, which is an internet challenge to draw a picture a day in ink for every day in October. I don't use ink, I have a long standing fear of it as I hate the permanence, the fact I can't erase and have to go with the first mark I lay down, so I was hesitant but M thought it was a fantastic idea and in the end the whole family had a go.

We've been using the official prompt list from Jake Parker ( and I've been posting daily on Instagram, Facebook and Tumblr, with the latter being public, so if you want to see ALL of my drawings go take a look.

In the meantime, here are some of my favourites so far:
Inktober Day 4 - Underwater

Inktober Day 8 - Crooked

Inktober Day 9 - Screech

Inktober Day 11 - Run

Inktober Day 13 - Teeming

Inktober Day 17 - Graceful

Inktober Day 18 - Filthy

Inktober Day 20 - Deep

With only a few days to go, I'm feeling pretty accomplished in that I haven't missed a single day of the challenge, although producing a complete drawing each day is proving exhausting. Sometimes I have an idea straight away, other days I have to brainstorm a bit on the prompt to come up with a drawing. Strangely, those drawings I've had to work on and struggled to come up with something suitable to match the prompt, or had to do preliminary sketches or thumbnails, are the ones I think have been the best ones. A lesson in the learning perhaps?

Useful Links:

Monday, 27 March 2017

Hop's new dress

M's sewing aspirations are high and just lately she's moved on from drawing countless pictures of dancers in varying pretty dresses, to wanting to make the dresses themselves. Sadly her lack of sewing skills have led to her improvising, which means making clothes for her toys from paper.

These creations take hours to design and then make, but being paper and held together with tape are not particularly robust. The first outfit ripped when she tried to dress the toy, so after some thought M's solution is to:
  • Make the dress bigger than the toy
  • Use a dress form - in this case a few toilet rolls
Hop's dress on an improvised dress form.
The dress being modelled by Hop herself.

It may not look like much, but there is a lot of design and knowledge about clothing wrapped up in this dress. If you look there is a bodice and a full, layered skirt. The bodice itself is decorated with bows and the whole garment is sized to fit (albeit large with extra room so it can be put on and taken off) a specific toy rabbit.

I'm impressed.

M tells me she is making Hop some pyjamas next.

In the meantime, I've started trying to improve M's sewing skills but it is slow going. Sewing without an end product is not terribly exciting and it is not a craft which lends itself well to instant results. The results are faster than something like knitting or crochet, but you still need to have patience.

For this reason over the past couple of weeks we've worked some threading and beading, making some dream catchers, wind chimes and necklaces.

We've also done some actual needlework, with real needles...
Making a pompom necklace and working on our French colours.
Patchwork cat wearing her new necklace.

A flower stitched onto card.
A heart stitched onto card.

In the meantime I've been altering costume for M's upcoming dance show. The costumes may have come from a theatrical supplier but they do not take into account the real shape of small children. Fortunately I've been able to limit the alterations to shortening straps and adding extra velcro.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

It turned out alright in the end

I started work on this shawl collared waistcoat back in November, based on a pattern from "Custom Crochet Sweaters (Dora Ohrenstein)". It was not overly complicated but had the novelty factor of being worked vertically with increases based on changing the stitch height.

Everything started well and I made good progress, but misunderstood the increase instructions and didn't notice until I had almost finished. I wouldn't have been happy with the finished result, so I ripped the whole garment out and remade it, finally placing the last stitch on Christmas Eve. By this point I had lost the love entirely so put it aside, only taking it out last month to reluctantly sew it together.

I'm glad I persevered though as I think it turned out well.
Shawl collared waistcoat.
 Worked up in Wendy Mode DK on a 5.5mm hook I had to rework the pattern a fair bit as usual, I couldn't make gauge, this is why I got lost on the increases. My interpretation of the word 'repeat' and whether it includes the original instruction on what to repeat, differed from the designers intended meaning. As I had to adjust most of the stitch and row counts, it is easy to see how I got confused.
Stitch pattern.
The stitch pattern combined dc and tr in a cluster, reminding me of my favourite baby blanket. It was easy to memorise and works up quickly, which is why I was able to make this whole garment twice in under two months. The only delay was I couldn't face sewing it together.
I fastened the front with a single snap as recommended by the pattern. The stitches had to be stabilised, by darning into the clusters to produce a firmer fabric before sewing the snap on. The only real issue with the design is the curl on the bottom of the front pieces. I tried steaming the area before making up which helped a little but didn't completely eliminate the problem. As Wendy Mode is 50/50 Merino Wool/Acrylic I didn't want to do more for fear of killing the yarn.

So in summary, this should have been a quick and easy made which was complicated because I couldn't hit gauge so had to rework all the numbers. It was however completely worth the effort as it is a lovely waistcoat and has already made it into regular circulation as part of my wardrobe.

Friday, 24 February 2017

A full day at the Arts Centre

Yesterday was a very full day at our local Arts Centre, starting with this energetic and full audience participation version of Peter And The Wolf. Absolutely packed studio performance. Great fun.
M moved to the very front to dance and act out the story.
The packed studio meant I was sat towards the middle of the room and persuaded M to go sit at the front with the other children. M wasn't too keen to start with, but once the concert started she engaged with the performance, answering questions, joining in and making suggestions.

After the concert was over we enjoyed an indoor picnic hiding from Storm Doris which was raging outside, then went to take in the current exhibition in the Mead Gallery.

There were only three installations and the first was a bit lack-lustre, but we walked around the corner and M stopped, stunned.
M stopped and said 'Wow!'
M showed great restraint here. She desperately wanted to touch and to get underneath the thing. It isn't every day you see hundreds of pots and pans suspended from the ceiling. Instead she walked around it, viewing the installation from every angle she could while standing a good couple of metres away.

She turned around and had another 'Wow!' moment, but refrained from touching as I stood by.
Time for dinner.
I love introducing M to art and talking about what we see, which is why we drop into art galleries and museums on a fairly regular basis. I know a lot of six year olds might not be so appreciative, but M thoroughly enjoys anything art related.

As usual, The Mead had set up a creative space following the current themes in the gallery. M enjoyed playing with cutlery on an OHP, telling stories, singing and moving things around.
M has fun with cutlery and an OHP
Then she got creative.
Making a thing.
Another girl was talked to and consulted on how to use the resources available. Staff and gallery visitors were talked to. Singing happened. I helped where requested. which meant wielding sticky tape (there was no glue) under close direction. Fun was had, until at last a very tired little girl declared she was finished and we could go home.

Even I got involved, drawing the following with graphite sticks when not facilitating M's creative needs.
Mummy's effort.
A long day, which left M very inspired and me very worn out!

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Jazzy's new dress

We bought M a small dress up doll for Christmas called Lottie, who is modelled on a 10 year old girl and went down very well. M decided she needed a friend and dug out Jazzy, who sadly (after 3 years of play) had lost her clothes. Jazzy felt sad and while Lottie offered to lend her friend some clothes, Jazzy is very short and the clothes were too big.

M asked if I could help.

Together we talked about the kind of clothes Jazzy needed, drew some sketches and settled on a pretty dress. M insisted that it should be blue, but I explained I only had white fabric to hand, however I would make it appear to be blue. M was sceptical but Jazzy really needed a dress so agreed.

M fetched her tape measure and we got to work.
Taking careful measurements.
Once the teeny, tiny doll had been measured we drafted out a bodice pattern, which I cut out of white cotton remnants. The skirt was a simple rectangle cut to length and sewn to the bodice.

I used a sewing machine to edge the pieces before sewing the main seams. The skirt was hand gathered then pinned in place before sewing. In all cases I used a .5cm seam allowance. 

Once the dress was assembled I decorated it with blue Sharpie, adding little dots to make a ditzy pattern. M was fascinated and had a go on a piece of fabric herself along side me. Once I was satisfied I no longer had a white dress, I ironed the whole thing which fixed the colour.
Jazzy's new dress which still needs to be closed at the back and have trim added.
At this stage all that was left was to sew on some trim and to close the back. The main problem with sewing the seams was the tiny size of the pattern pieces which made it hard to keep the fabric steady under the presser foot as I sewed. The solution was to ditch the machine and hand sew a piece of ribbon around the waist and little piece of trim to the hem.
Jazzy in her new dress.
Once the trims were on, I hand sewed the back closed and folded over the remaining edges. M doesn't like velcro so I added a press fastening to close, which disrupted the line a bit but did the job.
The back view.
Over all not a bad first effort. Jazzy was delighted with the result. She donned her new dress and ran off to play with her friend Lottie as soon as the last stitch was placed. Of course, Jazzy and Lottie are now planning the rest of their new wardrobe, so I may soon be called upon to sew tiny clothes again. Time to step up my efforts in teaching the small person to sew I think!

Useful Links
* Lottie Dolls -