December was a strange month for me. I was feeling super optimistic when I started drafting my review blog post. I had just got my new job and my life seemed to be on an upswing. Then, out of nowhere, I managed to break another finger. It happened at quidditch training, but it was strange because nothing actually happened. I threw a ball and all of a sudden my pinkie was pointing in the wrong direction. I thought it was a dislocation so it came as an enormous shock when, after three hours in A&E, I was told that it was badly broken and had my whole forearm put into a cast. I guess I must have had an underlying hairline fracture.
Breaking my finger affected me psychologically as well as physically. Having no use of my dominant hand left me feeling pretty helpless as well as unable to do what I normally would if I was ill- knitting. I couldn’t even cook for myself. Fortunately I wasn’t too depressed and managed to keep myself occupied by going to the cinema and reading.
A few days after the injury, I had to have surgery and now I have two metal wires in my finger. Although I was lucky that I had my operation under local anaesthetic (most surgeons do the procedure under a general, and I felt dreadful when I had one a few years ago), it took a lot out of me. I took four days off work, the most time I’ve had off in years. All of the plans I’d made about managing my last three months at my current job went out of the window.
Anyway, I did have some time to think about projects during my extended recuperation.
Current WiPs are my Ripple bralette, cat cardigan and these gloves, which are very nearly finished. I have a trip to southern Africa coming up and I need a suitable project to work on while I’m away. I have two projects in mind, but both will be gifts so I won’t write any more about them for now.
I’m planning to move again once I have settled in my new job, and one of my priorities will be finding somewhere with a sewing space. I’ve had several sewing projects cued up for some time. Hopefully this year I will manage to make my turquoise raincoat, at least one TC1617 blouse.
I’m also going to take my new job as an opportunity to slightly alter my weekday style and wardrobe. Since I’ll be in a more senior position, I think I’ll dress a little more formally. I’ve been planning for years to make a copy-cat version of my favourite pencil skirt, purchased secondhand a long time ago. I’ll use the Sew Over It ultimate pencil skirt as a starting point. I even have a remnant of nice navy blue wool ready to go.
If that works, I will also make a black version. I have a few shirts that don’t really work with navy blue (which is my main base colour). I even have quite a bit of magenta wool left over from my tulip skirt, which could also be pressed into use as a pencil skirt. While I wear the tulip skirt quite often, I’m actually not sure that the style really suits me.
While charity shopping a few months ago, I found a nice wool dress that was essentially a pencil skirt with a cropped boxy top layered over it. I didn’t buy it in the end because it was a bit too big, but I feel like it would be really cute to have a matching shirt for some of these putative pencil skirts. I love the shape of my short- sleeved Linden. I wonder how the raglan sleeve would work in a wool…
From my ramblings I’ve realised that I have the loose outline of nine items I’d like to make this year. I didn’t bother with a #2019makenine but I think I’ll do one this year to try and keep myself honest. I find making basics really boring so I have a bad habit of veering off and working on more fun projects. However, my basics get worn all the time so it’s time to buckle down.
It’s funny looking back on my review of 2018. While I haven’t actively thought about that blog post much, I have actually taken action in many of the areas I wrote about. In fact, I think this often happens to me- I reflect on something, then those thoughts slowly percolate in my everyday life and I make changes without even really noticing.
This year I slowly accepted how unhappy I was in my workplace. While I liked my colleagues and schools, I was generally unfulfilled and languishing in my career. I started putting feelers out and thinking about applying for a more senior position elsewhere. My confidence was knocked a bit when I didn’t get shortlisted for the first job I applied for. So it came as a bit of a shock when I did get an interview for the second job, and even more of a shock when I was appointed!
Fun fact: I realised on the morning of the interview that I must have donated my old navy jacket when I moved. So I wore the jacket I bought for my Joker costume.
Doing all the negotiation to change jobs proved super stressful, which is part of the reason why I have barely blogged in the past couple of months.
Another huge thing that has happened this year is finally embracing my natural hair texture. I cut all of my hair off in April and I’m so happy I finally took the plunge. One day I will write a full blog post about it.
Shall I mention craft now? As last year, my craft output has continued to decline. Part of the reason for that is practical- I don’t have a sewing space where I’m living at the moment. I finished sewing one dress in January, and that’s it for the year.
I do need to re-repair both of my pairs of jeans, so I plan to visit the Sew Over It sewing café soon. I will try and get a few repairs done but it may be a while before I have the opportunity to sew another garment.
Knitting-wise, I completed four projects. Three were gifts and the other is my Mermaid Humboldt sweater, of which I am very proud.
I’m proud to say that my purchasing has taken a huge downturn as well. This year I have bought three items of clothing new- a bikini, a cotton wrap and a summer dress. To be honest, I regret buying all three. I didn’t really need them and they were impulse buys. While I am comfortable with adding things to my life in a mindful way, this is not what I did with those items. It’s not something I’m going to beat myself up about, but I do want to keep learning and working towards living in the most sustainable way I can.
It doesn’t help that my craft time has been so significantly curtailed. Aside from the stress of changing jobs, I took on a trainee in September so my role was busier than usual anyway. In fact, I bought a skirt (secondhand of course) that didn’t fit properly and I took the decision to get it altered by a tailor rather than attempting to do it myself. Since I have such limited time, I really need to allocate those resources carefully. Deciding to outsource a tricky alteration means that I can use that time to do something else. It’s so funny to notice the change in the relative importance of time and money over time. I am in the privileged position of being able to choose to pay others to do some tasks for me, and I am so grateful for that.
This leads conveniently into sustainability, the other area in which I have taken significant action in my life this year. While I’m still more plant-based than fully vegan, I am proud to say that I have not cooked any meat in 2019. I’m not sure whether I feel the need to be a strict vegan or not. I like to have a bit of flexibility in my life in general, and give myself the freedom to choose non-vegan options occasionally. At the same time, sometimes I feel bad when I cave in, or at least I don’t enjoy the food as much as I would have thought. I guess this is just something for me to continue to explore and reflect on in the coming months and years.
Once again Halloween rolled around and once again it was a week before a party that I started thinking about a costume. I had a little time in central London so wandered around a ‘vintage’ store for some inspiration. I wanted a costume that would work with my teeny weeny Afro. Initially I was thinking Moss from the IT crowd.
As I looked at the dubious vintage items (a bugbear of mine is ‘vintage’ stores that are overpriced and have crappy, samey clothing), I started to feel inspired. I quite wanted to go for an It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia costume but didn’t want to buy a new wig- maybe I’ll go as Ango Goblogian if I stumble across the right secondhand wig another time.
I had just seen the new Joker movie and wondered whether there was mileage in that as a concept. I’ve seen on Instagram (good targeted advertising I guess) that they sell hair wax that’s capable of producing vibrant temporary colour on Afro hair and doesn’t look crispy and awful.
Note: I’ve been meaning to write about the experience of cutting my hair but haven’t got around to it. I definitely surprised myself with how strongly my feelings about my gender were tied up with my long hair. So perhaps it’s unsurprising that I felt much more drawn than usual to dressing as a male character.
Anyway, when I went charity shopping a couple of days later, it was the character of the Joker that appealed to me the most. I spotted a red jacket and went to look at some reference images. What would the odds be that I could find a red suit, green shirt and yellow waistcoat all in my size in five days? Would I become desperate enough to violate my ethics and buy something new?
I visited the secondhand shops near my work and came away feeling a little apprehensive. I made the decision to just buy any item I could find that suited my needs- more on this later. As I returned to my office after lunch, I recalled that nearby Chiswick High Street has a fantastic selection of charity shops. Since I had some containers and could pop into the Source as well, I hopped on my bike and went over that very afternoon.
Chiswick sorted me out beautifully. The first thing I spotted in the Shelter store was a bright red jacket for £15. I tried it on and it fit. I decided not to buy it immediately just in case I came across something better.
The next shop came up trumps with a pair of red trousers- I had to ask the volunteer to take them off a mannequin for me. Not perfect but definitely good enough for my needs, especially since they were £6.50. I bought them straightaway so the lady wouldn’t put them back on the mannequin.
The thing I was most worried about was the waistcoat. I’d hardly seen any waitscoats at all on my search, and is a yellow waistcoat an item anyone would want aside for for costume purposes? But the Barnado’s shop contained a golden floral one. Again I didn’t buy it straightaway. It wasn’t quite perfect and I had a couple more shops to visit.
I wandered down to the shop at the end of the road, where my eye was immediately caught by a green silk shirt. It was more olive than I wanted, but a beautiful silk shirt from Whistles seemed too good an offer to pass up at £20- it’s something that can definitely slip into my work wardrobe when spooky season is over and done.
I quickly walked back up the street to collect the waistcoat and jacket, which was a great match for my new pants. It seemed silly to waste time looking any further. I was irrationally terrified that other shoppers would have snapped my items up, but I needn’t have worried.
The only big misstep I made was with the very first item I bought; another red jacket. For the first time, I investigated a weird junk shop that’s opposite my office. There’s no indication of what it is on the outside, just some rails of clothing. I went in and there are hundreds of poorly sorted items and no lighting. It’s so strange. There were people wandering about using their phones as torches. I wish I knew the story behind it.
I found a red men’s jacket in there and hastily bought it for £15. In the gloom of the shop, it had looked okay if a little big. As soon as I tried it on in a proper changing room, I realised that it wouldn’t do. I looked like a little kid in their dad’s suit. When I bought the second jacket, I donated the first one at the same time. No sense bringing it home to take up space when I have absolutely no use for it. I hope that Shelter will be able to make some money back from it at least.
Overall it felt really serendipitous that I was able to get everything I needed within only a couple of hours. Normally my cardinal rule of secondhand shopping is not to go looking for something specific. But this time, it worked for me. As my friend Cayleigh pointed out, perhaps even the men’s red jacket was part of the magic of that day of shopping. There may be some reason that it needed to find its way to the Shelter store in Chiswick.
In the end I paid £49.50 (not including the stupid second jacket) for my costume, which I know is far from cheap. The silk shirt I know will go into my normal wardrobe. And, in fact, I felt really fabulous in the red suit. I wonder if there’s a viable market for renting a single costume only suitable for a size 10 woman. Actually, two costumes since I still have my Wonder Woman dress from last year. I feel grateful that I am fortunate enough to be able to pay a premium to live according to my principles.
The one thing I bought new was the hair wax for £11. I had to use around 1/3 of the pot to get decent colour on my hair. I quite liked the definition that it gave my curls, though it did make my hair quite hard.
Yes I did go out for dinner dressed as the Joker. And yes my two companions were wearing normal clothes.
It was so much fun to dress up in a completely different way to normal. I’ve never worn a trouser-suit before and actually I was living for it. In fact, I don’t think I’ve worn a suit as an adult full stop. I will 100% be looking for any excuse to wear my red suit again. The biggest surprise was probably how hot I was! I suddenly have a new respect for men in three-piece suits on the tube. Continue reading
Tatty Devine are having a retrospective of the 20 years they have been in business at the Lethaby Gallery in London. I entered a competition on Twitter, where they asked fans to share their favourite piece. I chose the rainbow necklace I made at another workshop I attended.
I was a little disappointed not to win, especially because I felt faked out when the gallery tagged me as the runner-up. Then there was a plot twist. The winner kindly offered me her +1 and before I knew it I was reorganising my Saturday plans so that I could go. Yeah, I guess I hadn’t checked my diary when I entered the competition.
I’ve actually been to a free bunting workshop at TD before. I just scrolled back through my Instagram feed to look for a picture and it was nearly four years ago!
I’d slightly hoped they might have some offcuts from the amazing acrylic they were using for another workshop available, but they didn’t.
I initially went for my default option of rainbow. However, since I know I’m pretty fast at making up the jewellery (I must have been to at least five workshops even though I haven’t blogged them all) I decided to spend a little longer at the design stage.
I laid out every colour of acrylic available, grouping them by the colours I felt went together. And this more pastelly option presented itself.
I also had a look around the exhibition- which I recommend if you are in the King’s Cross area for an hour or so. I first became aware of Tatty Devine when I was at university, so I’ve been well over ten years (god that makes me feel old). I remembered a lot of the collections. It’s interesting to notice how my tastes and personal style have evolved, and how that is reflected in the Tatty pieces I have been drawn to.
The founders of TD met at art school and I found myself, not for the first time, regretful about the way my life has turned out.
I don’t think the idea of studying art even crossed my mind when I was 17 and choosing universities, or even when I was 15 and choosing A’level subjects. I did art and graphics when I was at school. Back in those days, I think you had to choose a creative subject (art, music or drama) and a technology (my school was a ‘technology college’ and I think the choices were food tech, graphics or resistant materials (which once would have been woodwork and metalwork)) for GCSE.
Even though I spent more time on my creative subjects than all the others put together, I was raised with the idea that a woman has to earn her own money. Following my creative streak simply didn’t seem compatible with gainful employment. I ended up spending three wilderness years studying psychology at Oxford, then (after a couple of years of low-paid employment) a further three getting my professional doctorate to get the job I have now. While I don’t hate my day job, it’s also not a passion for me.
I tend to see some kind of second career in my future. I can’t imagine doing the same job for the next several decades. But at the same time, setting up a small business seems like an awful lot of work compared to the relative safety of my life now.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I had to move house at the beginning of July. Moving is always an opportunity to sort through ones stuff and I am currently minded to own a lot less of it. I wish that I had kept a bit more of an inventory of what I got rid of- mostly clothes and shoes that I no longer wear, books and a lot of odd paraphernalia.
One category that I found quite tough to let go of was gifts. I have received a few things, like a crepe pan from my dad, that are actually quite thoughtful and nice items. However, I just do not need a crepe pan right now. Hopefully it will be purchased by someone who will give it the love it deserves rather than keeping it in a box for years.
I have also had a history (not for a few years now, mind) of buying things for ‘one day,’ which generally means when I eventually buy a house. For example, I have set of four or six heart-shaped teaspoons that I must have bought ten years ago. This illustrates why I try not to buy for one day anymore- my tastes evolve quite quickly. This is especially why I try really hard not to stash yarn or fabric. Heart-shaped teaspoons are just not something I would think are a good idea now. In fact, writing that paragraph has just motivated me to get rid of those bloody spoons.
I still have two big items that I haven’t managed to sell yet. Since I’m not in a rush to get rid of these items, I will simply move with them and wait until I am able to get the price I believe they are worth.
I took the opportunity to finally unravel two projects that have been hibernating for years. I was trying to knit knee pads out of the rainbow yarn. I think knitting is just not the correct medium for what I was trying to make. I was making a plain cardigan from the purple.
To be honest I’m not crazy about the shade of purple and the whole project bored me, hence the fact that it ground to a screeching halt. I have picked up a few cute sets of buttons on my travels, so I’m planning to re-make the purple yarn into a baby sweater.
A friend mentioned that she was in the market for some free yarn so I collected a big bag to give her. It’s yarn from my stash that I don’t see myself using, so I’m pleased to see it go to a good home. I put some yarn in my first batch of items going to charity and I’m a little concerned that it will end up in the bin. But what’s done is done.
While going through my knitting, I realised that I had a small moth infestation. I believe the source was the Clanger, which I have since binned. That Clanger helped to inspire me to go on this decluttering crusade, so I can’t be too cross. I think that the infestation was confined to one shelf and I have managed to freeze everything that was in the vicinity. Both of my handmade baskets had evidence of moth life. Even though they’ve been in the freezer, I am a bit scared that they may have been permanently sullied.
Actually moving was a bit of a reality check. Even though I managed to get rid of a lot of stuff, I still have an awful lot left. I’ve been lucky that the last two properties I have been in were houses, where my possessions could be spread out. Now that I am confined mostly to one room again, it’s much clearer how much I own.
I think I’m doing relatively well at not buying new things. I try to make all of my purchases thoughtfully, secondhand as far as possible. I am going to try and continue with a process of perpetual re-evaluation of my things, really thinking about what I use, am likely to use in future, and what I enjoy owning.
I ummed and ahhed about participating in me-made May this year. In fact, I am vacillated all month. I loved MMM the first year I participated. I felt more connected to the sewing community and my handmade wardrobe. However, last year, I did not like it at all. I found it really difficult to find suitable locations for the daily pictures, sometimes walking around for half an hour or more on my lunchbreak, searching for the holy grail combination of a colourful wall with somewhere nearby to rest my phone. I think some of the big Instragram overhauls took place between May 2017 and May 2018 and the engagement with my posts really dropped. It was disheartening to spend so much time trying to get the pictures when no one seemed to care.
The funny thing is that I wore me-made items most days in May. I wear me-mades all the time. I would say it is quite unusual for me to go a day without wearing something I have made, no matter the month. But because I wasn’t documenting it, I didn’t feel like I was taking part. That definitely says a lot about my unhealthy relationship with Instagram.
I will continue to participate the way I always do in my daily life, capturing photos as and when I am able. Perhaps next year I will be in a better place for the challenge to serve me again.
I have to move house again at the beginning of July and I am finally confronting the fact that I own way too much stuff. I am trying to de-clutter in the most brutal way possible. I am tired of having to move this stuff around with me. I have been trying to follow some broad green principles that I’ve picked up from various Instagrammers during this declutter. I know that the whole ‘sparking joy’ thing has become a bit of a meme, but honestly I think it’s a good baseline for deciding whether something is worthy of space in ones life.
I am dividing the things I no longer need into what can be given away to people I know, sold, given to charity or discarded altogether. This requires me to balance different priorities. I have some things that I have been hanging on to because I don’t want to waste them. For example, I have a bag of old t-shirts that I might one day turn into jersey yarn. I am aware that sending old clothing to charity shops isn’t necessary the green solution we would like it to be; apparently some companies still send a lot of items to landfill, while on a broader level second-hand clothing has damaged the textiles industries in some developing nations. On the other hand, I don’t really want to take a bag of t-shirts (which I have already elected to discard) to my new house.
When selling items, I have to balance whether it will be worth the time and effort required. Selling is better from an environmental perspective because you know that the item is going where it is needed or wanted. However, photographing, listing (and often re-listing) and posting items is very time-consuming. In a lot of cases, I have donated saleable items because I am happy for the charity to take on the burden of selling them.
Some of the declutter has been great fun. I decided to donate (pretty much) all of the books that I have read. I posted some stories on Instagram and asked if anyone would like to take the books off my hands. I had a great response and it feels great to be sharing my books with friends. The rest were donated. I buy the vast majority of my books second-hand so I’m glad to be adding titles that aren’t old Dan Brown novels and copies of Fifty Shades of Grey to the shelves of charity shops in the local area.
One of the more brutal decisions I made (that I’m proud of) was to get rid of my old guide books. I have hung on to many of them for years as souvenirs of my travels, but it’s time to let them go now. I am old-fashioned enough to still like physical guidebooks, but it seems unnecessary to hang on to them as they become increasingly out-of-date.
So far I’ve got rid of a couple of big boxes and several bags of items. I plan to list the items above for sale soon. I also need to decide how and where to sell some larger items, including the stand mixer I won several years ago and my saxophone.