Tuesday, 24 November 2015

The Truth About Visitng a New Baby

Until I had a baby, I had no idea the potential there was to be both a benefit and a nuisance when friends or family had a new arrival.  So here's a list I've complied over recent weeks as to advice I'd give anyone who knows someone who has just had a baby....

1. DON'T visit / DO offer to do something helpful
There's a tiny new person in your lives, you cannot wait to meet them and have a hold. But you know what, it isn't about you. The arrival of a baby takes some major adjusting to for the new mum and dad.  Plus mum will be recovering from the birth (don't under-estimate just how much labour affects women physically and emotionally). Plus both parents are experiencing a level of exhaustion unknown to them previously (trust me, the word 'tired' doesn't cut it). Fitting in visitors is at best an inconvenience, at worst a really stressful factor to fit into a day that is already pretty full with feeding, changing, settling a new baby, as well as maintaining a level of functionality including eating, washing and sleeping themselves. Please, don't ask to come over, wait to be invited (and accept it may be some time before they are ready for you).
However, if you do get the green light to drop by, be helpful.  Offer to do the washing up, ask if they need any shopping picking up. And DO NOT let the new mum or dad make you a cuppa - they're exhausted, you know how to use a kettle, give them a break.

2. DON'T phone / DO text
As already described, life gets somewhat chaotic once there is a baby on the scene.  A ringing phone is nearly always going to be an unwelcome intrusion, regardless of how sensible a time of day it seems to be calling (normal timing goes out the window, and any 'down time' the parents experience is likely to be used catching up on sleep, so again a ringing phone is generally unwelcome).
However, do send a text to the proud parents letting them know you are thinking of them and to get in touch if they need anything.  And please let them know that you do not expect a reply (and mean it).

3. DON'T ask direct questions about the birth / DO show an interest if the new mum chooses to talk to you about it
Every woman's birth experience is individual, and potentially an emotional or even traumatic experience. And unless they chose to share their story, it is also as private as any other intimate experience a person might encounter. So don't launch into a conversation asking direct questions about what it was like, did this happen, did that happen. However, if the new mum chooses to share her experience with you, show an interest and be compassionate in your response.

4. DON'T bring flowers / DO bring flowers if supplying a vase
Having to root around in the cupboard to find a vase is, again, a massively inconvenient job when there's a new baby on the scene. However, flowers are lovely so, if you know the new parents will appreciate them, then bring along a vase and sort the flowers out yourself - that way they can enjoy the gift without having to do a thing.

5. DON'T tell the new mum how tired she looks / DO reassure her she's doing well
No one wants to hear that they are not looking their best, particularly at such a challenging and emotionally charged time. So remember that old adage ' if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all'. So, if genuinely meant, do let new mum she's looking well, or motherhood clearly suits her. If she really is looking tired (and most likely she will be), then just don't go there.

But do let both new parents know just how well they are doing - everyone needs to hear that when faced with the enormity of taking care of a tiny baby. Kind words well meant are one of the best things you can give them.

Have you got any experiences of welcome / unwelcome input from friends or family following the birth of your child?  Please do let me know, and help to populate this list even further.

And then the fun began...

You Baby Me Mummy

Monday, 23 November 2015

Maternity Makes

There were various factors behind my rationale for starting my maternity leave earlier than most; how it fitted with the 'busy season' at work, how much I was already struggling with the 1-2 hour hour commute, and most of all how much I wanted to just 'be at one' with my bump.  I was met a couple of times with, 'but won't you get bored?'

The answer, a resounding no!

If you love crafting and creating, you are never bored, and with a baby on the way there was suddenly plenty to do.  Here's a list of my top 'maternity makes' for home, for baby and just for fun...

1. Patchwork curtains for the nursery

From reading about various blessing and celebration traditions associated with pregnancy, I was particularly inspired by the tradition of making a patchwork quilt to be presented to baby on their first birthday. And this seemed the loveliest idea. However, lacking the need for a quilt, I went for a variation on this theme by making some bespoke curtains for the nursery out of all the scraps of fabric I've built up over the years (and, truth be told, there was a desperate need for me to get my fabric stash down given that my sewing room needed to fit into a sewing corner to make space for baby).

The result, a really unique set of curtains that reminds me of my many makes over the years, from fabric I've had since I was a child being given various craft kits, through to left-overs from presents and dresses I've made. A real labour of love (it took forever), but I'm pleased to have created something truely unique for baby.

2. Granny square throw and cushion cover

I started this one ages ago when we first bought our house, but the arrival of kittens put the whole project on hold (I think I've mentioned before, yarn + kittens = a chaotic combination!) So here at last was an opportunity to finish it. If you'd like to learn how to crochet a granny square, there is a fab tutorial by Sarah Jane from Bella Coco which you can find by following this link.

3. Up-cycled cushion cover

I had a sun-dress made from the most lovely fabric, that didn't actually look that lovely when wearing it. So, loathed as I was to give it away, I converted it into a simple cushion cover. If you'd like to know how, there's a link to a tutorial here.

4. Christmas cake
I felt very virtuous making my cake this early (although have to admit I'm struggling to remember to keep feeding it!) I used this recipe by Delia Smith both this year and last, and it's worked well both times (and I'm not the best baker so it must be pretty fool-proof!)

5. Train picture

When I worked as a community musician many years ago I created a book of story songs to sing to children at the end of our music making (a kind of musical jakanory). One particular hit was my train song - enjoyed by so many children over the years, I always planned to convert this into a picture when I had my own family to share it with.  And ten years later, at last, I had my chance. So I was really keen to finish this particular make, and I'm so pleased I did!  If you'd like to know the words to the song (a real hit with the under 5s), you can find them on an earlier blog post by following this link.

So maternity leave for me was a real opportunity to make and create. Would love to here how you spent your time waiting for baby to arrive!

You Baby Me Mummy


Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The Little Red Train

In 2004 I was working as a community musician, running a lot of music sessions for the under 5's.  I liked to finish each session with a 'story song', and created a book of songs that I could sing with the children as if telling a story.

One particular hit was my 'Train Song', about a fantastical train pulling carriages filled with the most delightful and unexpected things.  It involves counting, and weather, and actions, and is generally lots of fun.

I'd always planned to turn this into a picture for my own children when I had them, and over ten years later I finally had the chance.  Using a combination of embroidery and applique, embellished with beads and made with lots of love, I'm very happy with the finished piece, which now takes pride of place on the nursery wall.

The original 'story-song' book

Building up the picture

The finished picture

If you'd like to share with your children, here are the words (feel free to make up your own tune, or else use as a rhyme).  And as music is of most value to children when it involves interaction (as opposed to passive listening), there are some actions to accompany, as described in [brackets]. 

Oh the little red train is coming down the track [move arms like train wheels]
Can you hear the sound it makes, clickety clack [clap along with the words 'clickety clack']
The wheels go round and the steam goes tsssss [make a circle on the word 'round']
And the whilstle blows, woo hoo [as if pulling a whilstle]

Underneath the golden sun,
What's in carriage number 1?
A silver tree thats as big as you and me
How wonderful it must be, on the...

Little red train a'coming down the track
Can you hear the sound it makes, clickety clack
The wheels go round and the steam goes tsssss
And the whilstle blows, woo hoo

Beneath the stars and the silver moon
What's in carriage number 2?
Flowers galore, have you seen as much before?
A silver tree thats as big as you and me
How wonderful it must be, on the...

Little red train a'coming down the track
Can you hear the sound it makes, clickety clack
The wheels go round and the steam goes tsssss
And the whilstle blows, woo hoo

As the snow falls silently,
What's in carriage number 3?
A girraffe so tall with a mouse so small
Flowers galore, have you seen as much before?
A silver tree thats as big as you and me
How wonderful it must be, on the...

Little red train a'coming down the track
Can you hear the sound it makes, clickety clack
The wheels go round and the steam goes tsssss
And the whilstle blows, woo hoo

The rain clouds come and it starts to pour
What's in carriage number 4?
A kite that will fly in the blue, blue sky
A giraffe so tall with a mouse so small
Flowers galore, have you seen as much before?
A silver tree thats as big as you and me
How wonderful it must be, on the...

Little red train a'coming down the track
Can you hear the sound it makes, clickety clack
The wheels go round and the steam goes tsssss
And the whilstle blows, woo hoo

I hope you enjoy!

Monday, 16 November 2015

Five signs that your due date has been and gone...

At the early stages of my pregnancy, I had NO IDEA how seriously everyone would take the 'due date'.  Honestly, this is a number that is drawn from a single calculation used for the entire female population...its really not that accurate!

And yet, as it came and went, within days the talk turned to baby 'being late' (no, she'll come when the time is just right for her), and baby needing to 'hurry up' (again, no, she'll come when she's ready).  And not to mention the sweep and the induction suddenly being plugged into the calendar, as if to say baby has had her chance, the NHS now needs to step in and take over.

So, as I struggled to get my head around this overwhelming lack of faith in mother nature (after all, women have been doing this since the dawn of the human race, why on earth was I suddenly feeling like something was amiss?) I got to thinking about all the other things that were an indication that this ridiculous magic number had been and gone....

1. There was no room anywhere for the food shopping
I'd been so organised about preparing meals in advance for when baby was born (and for which I'd imposed a zero-tolerance policy on going near before that time) that there was no room in the fridge, freezer or cupboards for the food we actually needed to eat in the here and now.

2. We were on first name terms with the delivery man from Mothercare
We kept remembering stuff we needed so at one point were putting in orders on a regular basis, which unfortunately meant the lovely delivery man was having to trek over our way every few days (from the depths of Derbyshire I believe - sorry!)  Got to know him quite well in the end.

3. I hesitated before phoning anyone
As I knew they'd be SO disappointed that I wasn't phoning with THE news.

4. Going upstairs to get something required planning of military precision
Because getting back downstairs and realising I had forgotten something (which I often do) meant having to go back up again...and two trips in a short space of time was proving VERY hard work, usually requiring a short sit down in between (feel the burn!)

5. Feeding the cats became an ordeal
Those lovely big eyes looking at me waiting for some more food to be put in their bowls was accompanied regularly by a sinking feeling of 'I really can't face bending down to do this!', especially by the end of the day.  Thankfully my husband was usually on hand to step in, so those lovely little guys didn't go without.

Plus...every tiny twinge and pang triggered the same thought...
Is this What was your experience of living up to the pressure of your due date?  Would love to hear from 

The List

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Making a Maternity Bridesmaid Dress - Part 3

The final stages of making my maternity bridesmaid dress went like this...

Phase four - making up
After being supremely happy with my toiles, and getting the fabric pre-shrunk, it was nice to get to the stage of making up the dress. 

Phase five - finishing touches
How lovely to be able to hand stitch the applique motifs, and as a final stage I always love the part where I get to attach the lace border to any raw edges - its so satisfying to do, and transforms the piece before your very eyes!


And voila, my finished dress!  I have to say, I felt pretty happy with the result, it fitted really well with the other bridesmaids dresses in the end, and was comfortable and flattering to wear, so I'm glad I took the time to make it:

If you're a keen dress-maker and interested in developing your skills I highly recommend courses by the fabulous Michelle Pye from the English Couture Company.  She attracts students from throughout the UK and beyond as she is one of the few people running courses around advanced sewing and couture techniques (as opposed to the usual beginners stuff that is more readily available).  Plus her courses are really fun and enjoyable.  You can find out more about The English Couture Company here

And I'd love to hear about your experience of sourcing suitable maternity wear, particularly if you had any special occasions whilst pregnant.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Making a Maternity Bridesmaid Dress - Part 2

As mentioned in my last blog post, I had set myself the challenge of making my own bridesmaid dress for my sister-in-law's wedding, not least because I was finding it a challenge to source maternity occasion-wear that was going to fit the bill.  Having made this decision, I approached the project as follows...

Phase one - adapting the block
My basic block still fit fairly well - with the obvious exception of growing bump and boobs - so in the first instance I adapted my block to allow additional fabric around these areas - a 'slash and spread' exercise, just on quite a large scale when it came to my tummy!  And top tip here, don't forget to true the centre-fold on the front, otherwise the dress just gets baggy round the mid-drift rather than simply having additional fabric to accommodate growing baby.


Phase two - drafting the pattern
One of my favourite stages when dress-making.  With the block now fitting my new shape, this is the more creative part where by, as long as you have plenty of pattern paper and calico to hand, you can just have a play and try different things you have in mind (but never be tempted to start cutting into the original block, it has to be re-drawn every time unless you want the tedious job of trying to stick it all back together each time you want to try something new). 
Pregnancy somewhat dictated an empire line (certainly the most flattering style on me at that time), and I knew a simple flair in a mid-length skirt would be ideal.  But the bodice part was a little more interesting.  I tried a couple of things, including a ruched effect to tie in with the style of the other bridesmaids.  But this didn't help with the whole looking busty thing I was trying to avoid!  In the end, a classic princess seam along with a boat-neck gave me a fitted look on top to off-set my larger bottom half!  I also added a V-shape at the back going into the zip, just to help the outfit feel more occasion-wear than office-wear in style, which ended up being a nice effect.

Phase three - sourcing the fabric and trimmings
I sent off for what felt like every sample of navy fabric that Tissu fabrics had (fabulous shop, you can find their website here).  Seeing them (around 20 pieces) side by side highlighted my challenge - some looked nearly black, others purple. In the end I went for a type of lycra which was a good colour match and had a nice drape. Being a stretch fabric meant it required some interlining to help maintain its shape (I always by mine from The English Couture Company.  You can follow a link to this shop here).
As the design ended up being fairly simple, I decided to go for a lace overlay on the skirt (not least because I love working with lace) and I found some lovely navy applique motifs on-line which I decided to incorporate into the neck-line to give the dress that little extra something (I was Matron of honor after-all, and how often to you get to wear things like that!)

At last, I was ready to go.  I'll let you know how I got on in my next blog post.

Making a Maternity Bridesmaid Dress - Part 1

A severe and prolonged bought of morning sickness meant that blogging, along with most other things, very much went on hold for a bit.  But as that horrid stage of pregnancy passed, I was ready to take on a new challenge.  And it presented itself in the form of my sister-in-law's wedding.

As Matron of Honor (not Maid of Honour, apparently that's reserved for the unmarried...making me feel somewhat old), who would be around 6 months pregnant at the time of the wedding, I was facing a bit of a dilemma over the dress.  It needed to tick quite a few boxes, not least because the other three bridesmaids had all plumped for this lovely little navy number from Oasis:

Now, a halterneck makes me look busty at the best of times (and pregnancy was not helping me much in that department as it was) so I was relieved in a way that I wasn't going to be required to adopt the same outfit.  However, this still presented a few challenges as my dress needed to:
  • Be a similar shade of navy (a notoriously difficult colour to match)
  • Have a high neck (outdoor wedding in summer meets bridesmaid who burns easily)
  • Be suitable for this stage of pregnancy
  • Actually fit AND suit me
And as most maternity wear, especially occasion wear, is only available to order on line, trying AFTER buying was the only option (with the up-front costs and hassle of returning what wasn't suitable). 

So it felt the best option was to make my own.  See my next blog post to find out how that went...

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Tutorial: How to Make an Envelope Cushion Cover

If you want to vamp up your soft furnishings, this is a lovely little make that doesn't take long and can give your sofa or bed a whole new look.

A few years back, I very uncharacteristically impulse bought a sun dress at the airport before heading off on holiday.  Basically because I fell in love with the fabric.  In reality it looked better on the hanger than on me.

So, being reluctant to part with such pretty material, I decided turn it into something else, and a pretty cushion for my daughter's nursery seemed just the right reincarnation.  I teamed this up with another piece of material taken from a skirt that no longer fit, so a good example of up-cycling all round!

And it only takes a few simple steps if you want to have a go...

Measure the cushion
This will give you the measurement you need for the cover.  Now add on 1.5cm all round, as this will be needed for the seam allowance (so if your cushion measures 40cm square, your fabric will need to be 43cm square).  This is for the front of the cushion.

For the back, you need two shorter pieces that overlap (this makes the envelope, by which you can put in and take out the cushion without needing to use buttons or zips).  You'll use the same width measurement as above, but the length will need to be about 2/3 of this measurement to ensure that both pieces overlap at the back.

So, keeping to the example of working with a cushion that is 40cm square, working out the measurements for your two back pieces would go like this:

Width = 40cm
Length = 2/3 of 40cm = 27cm

And don't forget the 1.5cm seam allowance that needs to be added to all edges...
Width = 43cm
Length = 30cm

Cut out the fabric
Its entirely up to you as to how you do this.  As I was making a one-off quick make for my home, I just drew straight onto the fabric with tailor's chalk.  However, I'll often draw out the pattern pieces on paper first, and pin and cut my fabric using these.  That way you always have them to use again whenever you fancy a change (for example, I've made up covers for specific times of the year such as Christmas, and this is so much quicker to do if you have some pattern pieces to hand for each of your cushions).

Make up the cushion
The raw edge along the width of the back pieces needs to be neatened up, so your first job is to fold this over by approximately 0.5cm, press, and repeat.  Pin this in place, and top-stitch to secure (if you're confident in sewing straight lines, it can be fun to use a contrasting coloured thread here to help add to the design).  Do this for both back pieces.

Next, pin all three pieces together.  Lay your front piece down right side facing up.  Now lay one of the back pieces in place, right side facing down (so right sides will be together).  Lay the final piece in place, again right side facing down.  Pin all round the edges, taking particular care to secure where you have all three layers in place so they don't slip about when sewing.  Move over to the sewing machine and stitch around all four edges (and remember, you are using a 1.5cm seam allowance).

Now, if I was making this to sell in the shop, I'd ensure all raw edges were finished off by using my over-locker.  If you don't have one of these, sewing along all the edges with zig-zag stitch will work too.  However, as this was only a quick make, on this occasion I kept them raw.  Again, its entirely up to you as to whether you want to add this additional stage - helps keep any fraying to a minimum but takes a bit more time.

Give all your seams a quick press, and clip the corners to reduce bulk.

Turn the cover through, and give it one final press to smarten up.  Add your cushion, and there you have it, a fabulous way to give your soft furnishings a new look without too much cost or effort (and in my case a great way to keep some much admired fabric in my life!)

Happy Halloween

I meant to post this piece at Halloween but the arrival of our baby daughter has caused a slight delay!(Thankfully no trick-or-treaters this year; giving out sweets whilst having contractions would not have been a good combo!)

Anyway, a little later than planned (but well worth it).