Sunday, 27 April 2014

Truly scrumptious adventure

I went up to the Cotswolds for Easter, it gave me an opportunity to spend a little time on the garden, plant a few seeds but it was also a time for relaxation and rest. It has been a busy four months, there have been so many problems at work that had to be resolved, requiring persistent effort. Not only that there are times when I feel that my life is not my own and work seems to spill over. Going up to the cottage then, is a break away, there are no work messages bleeping at me, I find I can get away from everyone and simply relax - it is blissful and I find myself wondering why I don't do it more often. 

We spent a lovely Saturday wandering around Alcester, a pretty little town in Warwickshire (Shakespeare country!). We saw a whole gaggle of town criers as they were holding the National Town Crier championships! it was a sight to behold - the gentlemen in their red coats, tricorn hats and some of them had wigs - they looked as if they had just stepped out of the 17th Century. 

Just round the corner opposite the church we found this little gem - its called Truly scrumptious and I loved it so much I thought I would take some pictures to share with you. 

The counter looked really appetising with the pretty cakes in their glass domes.

Just to the left was a lovely snug area, all the books on the bookshelf are tea related, either fictional books set in tea shops or cake designs and such. 

This pretty little cake was sitting in an alcove. 

We were led to a charming tea room - pretty tablecloths and vintage china was laid out and there was lovely vintage music playing softly. We took a seat right by the window and had a view of the pretty garden - there were tables outside but it was a little chilly for that in April. 

Cakes abounded in lots of nooks and crannies - alongside quotations in pastel frames - all tea related. 

We opted for traditional English afternoon tea - not only enough to satisfy our hunger but we took a few cakes home as well. The scones were divine Mr D eats his in Cornwellian tradition, jam first and then cream, but I like the Devonian - cream first then jam. 

It is definitely worth a visit if you are in the area, or if you are getting married they do fabulous cakes
just follow this link

Monday, 21 April 2014

Sewing Ethically

I admit I live in a bubble - it is deliberate and takes a great deal of effort to ensure that my little bubble's fragile skin  isn't broken.  I don't watch the news and rarely read newspapers and scan magazines with an element of scepticism - I tend to watch nostalgic Television programmes like Downton Abbey and call the midwife - where I am shielded from some of the more unpleasant misery that takes place in this world.

This week, - having experienced a few lovely weeks of sunshine, I have been up into the outer reaches of the loft and brought down my summer clothes. I love doing this it is like meeting with lovely old familiar friends. As the red polka dot dress reveals itself in the bag, memories of summer evenings eating lobster at the beach cafe spring to mind. Or the dainty blue polka dot dress that I have had lots of compliments about every time I wear it (yes I do have a lot of polka dots!) They are all familiar and have been worn by me for nigh on five years now. 

I find that this system of wardrobe rotation is somewhat outdated, made more noticeable by the lack of seasons in shops - every week there are rows of 'new in' items, dresses or skirts - clothes shops are transformed weekly not seasonally. It seems that clothes are like fast food, only meant for instant gratification, swiftly replaced. Clothing is throw away after all it costs less than the average takeaway.

I don't have to be convinced to sew, I know that sewing opens up a world of possibility - I can fully express myself by creating clothes I want to wear, but I did not realise until I was glancing through the pages of this weekend's observer that it was ethical - and as much as I try and hide away in my bubble - we are all connected. 

April the 24th did not really have any significance in my mind, other than an arrangement to meet with some girlfriends - but it was on that date last year over 1,133 young garment workers were killed and 2,500 injured when their clothing factory in Bangladesh collapsed. The magazine went on to explain the whole change in clothing manufacturing called 'fast fashion'. H&M and Primark being the biggest retailers to make use of third world to produce clothing at rock bottom prices. What developed was cheaper clothing that survived barely three weeks before it was superseded by the next 'trend'. What makes it so profitable is our insatiable desire for novelty and bargains.

I am guilty as the next person - the rush of a bargain - teeshirts that cost barely three pounds meant I could buy several for the cost of just one. I would pile these items into my basket while at the same time my expectations were low in terms of the construction and durability. So what if it is made shoddily - I would think,  its only pennies it only needs to last a few times and then I can buy another. 

What we ended up with is 'fast fashion' and just like fast food, I don't think it does anyone any good. While I stood in the queues to buy my goodies, I would try and distract myself from thinking about who had spent the time sewing these items. I know how garments are constructed, how long it takes to make a teeshirt, I also can imagine that there would be several profit making organisations between the sewer and the shop all taking a slice of profit from the tiny £3.00 my tee shirt was costing me. I had caught the back end of stories about children sewing Nike teeshirts for pennies, in large airless factories. 

Looking at me from the pages of this weekend's magazine were pictures of women holding photographs of missing loved ones, alongside the shacks they lived in, descriptions of how they spend 10 hours a day hunched over a sewing machine, sewing 50 pairs of jeans an hour for just $60 a month.

The article described in detail how one supervisor made the decision to return to the crumbling factory knowing that the women she supervised would follow her, that decision meant she had those women's deaths on her conscience. It was horrendous decision either way, the women needed to feed their families and could not afford another day without pay. I read the reports of the lights going out, the groaning just before the building collapsed and I was face to face with where my teeshirt had come from and how expensive it really was - it just wasn't me paying the price. 

I can't say that I am big enough to change the world, the problem of fast fashion won't disappear if I stop buying teeshirts at £3.00. The difficulties are complex - their culture and the way their society is run, the fact that building is not regulated, the distribution of employment. However, our attitudes to fast food and cheap food production is changing, why not the same for clothing production?

I can write to the manufacturer of the clothing I do buy and ask questions. I know that they take it seriously and multiply that effort because they believe for every person who writes another ten don't. I can choose not to shop in these stores, even though they are offering compensation and trying to change working conditions, they understand that we have ethical values its just that our love of a bargain overtakes that - I know I have done it so many times. 

What the article has done for me is to consider more carefully the choices I make, I am not naive enough to believe that making my own clothes makes me immune. Cotton comes from exactly the same regions, printing and processing takes valuable resources from communities desperate for the cash. 

The current trend for Vintage and retro styling is one that I enjoy - some talented people have even gone so far as to re-create the styles and patterns of the 1940's when clothes rationing was at its height. What we maybe need to bring with those pattern styles is the same reverence for clothing itself, to make the most of every pice of fabric, repair and remodel rather than throwing away. If fabric costs more then perhaps we would also appreciate it.

I have looked at some ethically produced fabric - however when I have calculated that the new dress I have in mind is going to cost nearly £80 in fabric alone I was shocked - but all it needs is a little mental adjustment. Yes I can buy cheaper, ready made in the shops, but what I am going to create is something beautifully made that will give me years of pleasure, and most importantly no-one has been exploited in the process. By buying ethically, I can support the small factories that are offering a different way of working, one that enriches those who produce the fabric rather than exploits them. 

April the 24th is Fashion Revolution Day, the brainchild of Carry Somers who is a fair-trade pioneer. You can get involved tell everyone you know, find out how and who made your clothes. You can ask questions - more importantly wear something inside out on the 24th to show your support for ethical clothing.

Be the change you wish to see in the world - Ghandi

What Alice Forgot - and the perils of running book clubs

I feel bereaved; as if I have lost a warm cosy family all at once - Liane Morriarty is such a talented writer - from the first page of this book I felt so immersed into Alice’s world that now I have come to the end of it, I have lost a whole family of characters that I had come to love. 

I am being constantly given books and felt I needed to be strict with myself - I had to read a few on my growing pile before I could have the treat of another helping of Liane Morriaty. I slipped it into my bag for this trip to the Cotswolds, guiltily leaving behind  several aborted books looking reproachfully at me - I just did not care enough to keep reading. I don’t know where it comes from, but there is some sort of compulsion that I need to stick at things, as if giving up on a book somehow implies that I don’t stick at anything in life. Why on earth do I think that way? 

I started a book group some years ago it was extremely popular but there were two distinct camps, those who considered reading arduous - something that you had to stick at, books were an enlightenment, an education and should be challenging. They would turn up with their six pages of notes, their cross referenced analysis pinned to a clipboard! Yes they turned up with clipboards! If they did not enjoy the book - it seemed to please them more- as if they had somehow become better people for enduring. 

The second camp were at the group just to make friends, drink wine and have a good time, often they would turn up saying that they did not really like the book and had stopped at page such and such. (I was in the second group although often I would endure until almost half way,I was after all supposed to be running the group, but some of the books were quite frankly abysmal). 

The library supplied sets of books to us - after a couple of months  I noticed a pattern of dreadfulness - a definite guarantee if the book had won any form of award. The worse culprit was one that had won an orange prize for fiction - three chapters on the character’s early years making pictures from the phlegm bespectacled bowls he had to carry downstairs in his mother’s boarding house. I think that was when I felt I had to do something.

One lady in particular was a nightmare, she would treat the sessions like she were a university lecturer, often leading the group and ignoring whoever was hosting at the time (we had a rule that the host would lead the group). If someone did not agree with her analysis (she later confessed the six pages were taken from the internet) she would accuse them of not being intelligent enough to see the ‘underlying theme’. She suggested a book that everyone hated, surprisingly most people had the courage to say so at the meeting, I had a flurry of phone calls the next day, complaining that I needed to ‘do something’. I ignored the tactful advice of my better half I tried to  suggest we lighten up a bit a bit and the clipboard loving - eight page note takers went elsewhere following her like little duckings, while hurling some very personal hurtful remarks in their wake about my ‘lack of professionalism! It was painful but I was left with the fun, nice people who thankfully were not frightened enough of the clipboard lady. It all settled down. I vowed never again to plough through books and gave myself a free pass never to finish any book again that did not thrill me from the first page - I had served my time several books over while running that group. 

Not so with Liane’s books: Alice slips in her step aerobics class and forgets the last ten years of her life - we journey into Alice’s world as she begins to piece back her life. The cast of characters that surround Alice are like the average family - they are all flawed individuals who are bound together by family and love. I think this book is so uplifting because it’s message is one of hope. Despite the messiness, the imperfections of family life, our general business, we can, somehow come together. 

I was hooked from page one and have read solidly for the last three days. One of the wonderful things about the other half also being a reader is that no-one complains, we just sit companionably together, the odd page being turned breaking the silence or the gentle snoring of the dog. One of us will move occasionally to make a cup of tea, a plate of chocolate biscuits just within reach - we sit comfortably on the same sofa in separate worlds. (I think he is in Italy while I am in Sydney). 
I don’t want to spoil the plot for you, so I won’t go into any more detail, however, I can say that I think Liane Morriarty is one of the most talented writers around. I almost envy you - if you haven’t read it - it is simply delightful. Now to Amazon… 

Monday, 14 April 2014

Overlooking the overlocker

A few years ago I was offered an overlocker with a horn cabinet but it took a great deal of courage to plug it in and use it.

An overlocker looks completely different to a sewing machine, all those knobs, dials, spools and strange names like upper looper and lower looper - it was quite an intimidating machine.  When I did venture enough courage to give it a go, the sound was tremendous and it went at such a pace - I found it ran away with me.

No wonder it was cheap, as soon as I began to rely on the nicely finished edge, the overlocker would break requiring patient re-threading - only to have it break again. In sheer frustration I decided to buy a second hand baby lock evolve which had 'blown air' threading and have never looked back since. Threading requires no more than putting it down a little hole and watching it whizz out the right side when the button is pressed. It is the threading that makes the cost of an overlocker more expensive, but it depends on how often you change the spools.

An overlocking machine gives such a professional finish to all home sewn projects, the beautifully neat edges make the home made outfit difficult to distinguish from shop bought - except of course beautifully fitted!

I had not really got much more beyond that with my overlocker until I saw this manual from Julia Hincks. It shows just how versatile these machines are, you can make tee shirts using the overlocker alone, as it handles stretch fabrics with ease.

This book opens up all the possibilities of the overlocker, making it more than just a companion to the sewing machine. The book explains how to make the most of the machine not just techniques but also additional feet and other tools. I did not realise that you can get beading feet for overlockers as well as bias binding feet. It also explains how to get the lettuce edge finish that looks fabulous on sheers and lightweight fabrics. 

Another useful section in this book is the fault finding and adjustment section - she highlights some of the common problems with thread tension and more importantly how to correct it, to create a balanced stitch. 

This is definitely one for the sewing room bookshelf, an excellent guide book and one that unlocks the many potential uses of these wonderful machines. 

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