Posts tagged ‘thoughts’

November 17, 2012


Thrifty: Using money and other resources carefully and not wastefully.

Am I thrifty? Yes.

How? Well I don’t think I am thrifty in ways that modern folk use the word. I am probably closer to the thrift of the last depression than the new millenium. Scouring the internet to find the best price on a holiday or GHD hair straighteners is not my idea or thrift. My thrift would not even consider the need for hair things or a holiday.

I was brought up in a family where we rarely had brand new clothes as they were handed down to us or sewn by my Nan who was a tailoress. The only thing I actually remember shopping for as a child were shoes. We used to go to an amazing place called French’s in Southampton which was so much more than just a shoe shop. Shoe boxed lined the walls from floor to ceiling and there was a galleried upper floor also stacked with shoes. The assistants ran about here there and everywhere collecting shoes for people to try on then returning them to exactly the right place again. You can get an idea of the place from this video

Nothing was bought frivolously, my mum cooked dinners, cakes and biscuits from scratch and my dad fixed things or made things. One of my Nan’s sayings was “It’s only a bargain if you really need it” She would be wary of BOGOFs if she were still around! Another was “Measure twice, cut once” which unfortunately slips my mind sometimes. Now that I have four children and our family is still neither rich nor famous, this genetic thrifty reflex has kept the family fed and kept the wolf from the door. We’ve tightened the family belt by successive notches over the last ten years and we are now in a kind of lockdown thrift. Not everyone needs or wants to live like this but if you do, I have one tip:


Shopping when you can’t afford to buy anything but essentials is a sure way to frustration and gloominess. Don’t torture yourself! Go to a park or walk around the block if you want to get out of the house but steer clear of the high street!

When you do go shopping, plan what to buy and only buy what you have planned for. Would you pile up pond coins and keep them in your cupboards to look at every day but not spend? If you wouldn’t do that, don’t buy food you won’t eat this week or next week apart from spices and herbs.

I am so out of the habit of shopping that when we do have to head into the big city to buy something we can’t get in yokelville I am a bit bewildered and freaked out. Last week we needed cheap one-time-use black shoes for Miss Amoo to wear to the Remembrance Parade and some long sleeved t shirts for Miss Froo as hers are not reaching her wrists any more or covering her belly. A visit to Primark would probably solve all these problems in one go so we went there after a home ed meet in town.

Aargh! My eyes, my eyes! Onesies? What the heck?

So many clothes in so many colours and so many things I don’t want to wear – all in one place. Strangely I don’t feel like this in fabric shops or at the Rag Market possibly because I see all that fabric as a world of possibilities rather than an end product I don’t want.

We came out of the onesie hell with the t-shirts, a pair of trousers and the black shoes and me doing calculations in my head about how many dinners we could have bought with what I had just spent on inedible items and wondering who sewed these things and what they earned for doing so. My shopping gene has been well and truly altered and may never be re-set.

The other side of using resources carefully and not wastefully is this:


My desire not to waste leads me to hang onto things that I should let go. Stuff that we no longer use but is too good to throw away, scraps of fabric, odd bits of plastic, wrapping paper, clothes that don’t fit but could become something else… I think you probably know what I mean. And of course the metres of fabric washed and folded but not yet sewn, aka ‘The Stash’.

I am starting to work on this side a bit more and have started by bagging up all my scraps that I really won’t use this year and labelling them as Rags to take to my favourite charity shop who say they will take them from me. I’ve also cleared out the under stairs cupboard and got rid of broken cycle helmets, raincoats that we know don’t keep us dry, cleaning products I never use, odd gloves and too-small hats. Maybe normal people do this all the time but it seemed like a big deal to me.

What is thrifty in your mind? Is it something to aspire to or to endure? Is it an art form or a rod for your back?

October 28, 2012

Life Changes

What a lot has happened and it still yet to happen. Over the past few months my teuxdeaux list has not helped manage my time or my mind with so many things happening unexpectedly and all in a rush.

Mr G and I spent the longest time we have ever spent together and without any children, ever. We stayed in towns and Premier Inns we had never visited, got used to what is ‘normal’ in hospice life, met people whose stories will be held in our hearts and minds for a long, long time and watched and waited with Mr G’s mum as she died. We now understand that dying is not one single act but lots of tiny ones, incremental nudges along the path as everything slows and changes.

As the days went by I began feeling that this kind of end we were seeing is a mirror of the beginning. Physical signs of birth begin slowly over time with the swelling belly, then the weariness, the anxiety and calm in waves, then knowing that it is real and it is really going to happen. There are signs that labour is nearing, small changes which gather in number and in pace. Then big signs come and there is no turning back, the stages are noted, some passing easily and others being more of a struggle. In death, as in birth, the baton is finally passed to the next generation to carry on.

We left the hospice feeling fundamentally altered and the normal world felt odd. We have both experienced this jarring feeling of grief before with our dad’s deaths but perhaps because we shared this experience with other families on the same journey and with staff who were such kind and patient companions we felt alone in more ways than just the obvious.

Our business clients have had to be patient with us as we’ve slowly tried to pick up all the things that were dropped for a fortnight and have taken longer to get back on track. We came back to a super tidy house thanks to my mum keeping the children on their toes and the washing up and laundry under control which makes me wonder why I can’t do that.

El Famosisimo was here one evening in the week and he and Mr G were joking about all sorts of things including getting a hot dog stand in town and calling it Abingdogs when G says that he can’t be bothered with the business any more as he was only doing it to prove to his parents that he was good at *something* and now they aren’t here, there’s no point. EF, somewhat gobsmacked but recovering his funnybone replies that he might have to keep up the charade for a bit longer as that’s going to be a difficult one to explain to all our clients then they both fall into hysterical laughter about how it’s all been a charade anyway and I’ve been the only one thinking it was all for real!

Eek! I sense changes afoot but not unwelcome ones. What could we do if we didn’t have to do what we are doing now? The possibilities are too many to contemplate so I’ve started sewing again to steady my nerves.

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August 13, 2012


A few months ago my Mum had a bit of a clear out and decided to sort out the drawers of the built in dresser at her house which are chock-full of photos. There are our own family photos, my Nan’s photos and my Dad’s sister’s photos. My Nan’s and aunt’s ended ended up at my mums when they died and their houses were cleared. My Mum started out on our own photos and threw away any that were of ‘views’ with no-one in themas she couldn’t remember what the views of hundreds of different bits of Europe were and she doesn’t think I’ll remember either when I end up with all this stuff.Thanks Mum. Then she got to all my aunt’s photos and found pictures of her surrounded by children, hugging little children and playing with children.

The children are not my sister and I and we don’t remember her as a huggy person at all. By the time we met her she was the kind of spinster aunt who didn’t really like children much and preferred her dog; I can’t remember her ever holding my hand even to cross a road. The pictures show her with Inuit children back in the early sixties when she worked with we thought was called the Grenfell Mission in Canada. Mu Mum and Dad knew that she went there but they never knew what she did there as she never talked about it despite having two sets of huge snow shoes in her house and little real fur bears on her shelf. It was as if this door had been closed and she didn’t want to share any of it with us although as little children we were fascinated by the shoes. My Mum wondered if I could find anything online about the Grenfell Mission to perhaps fill in some gaps.

After some searches that found nothing I decided to try my a variation on her name and just Grenfell on its own to see if I had better luck. The first Google result was this:

Among the Deep Sea Fishers, a magazine of the International Grenfell Association.

It turns out that it was the Grenfell Association, not mission and although my aunt’s real name was Olwyn she was also known as Megan and she had written an article as Megan Dykes for the magazine in 1963 called “Boots, Boots, Boots” all about walking across snowy Labrador! Her article starts on page 82 and isn’t easy to read as it is illustrated with a large boot which covers the centre of the text. She writes with good humour and sounds as though she loves this place. I can imagine this: “…so we were soaked to the skin. The storm passed and being so wet that it did not make any difference, we went swimming…” and I wish she had not lost that sense of fun along the way.

The archive is easily searched and I found her mentioned in no less that 13 volumes either in the Alumni pages sharing her career progression and changes of address or as a visitor to the London offices or a guest at a reunion or wedding.

She flew to North West River on 24th October 1961 to replace the outgoing medical secretary at the hospital there. She returned to England to train as a Probation Officer in 1964 and by 2am I had even found her address in Weston-Super-Mare and looked at the property details of the flat she rented there on Zoopla.

Thanks to someone at Memorial University Library realising that Among the Deep Sea Fishers represents a huge slice of Newfoundland and Labrador history and scanning every page of every quarterly volume, we have been able to learn something about someone who died fifteen years ago without telling us about what must have been an important time in her life. This is a bit strange in some way as perhaps we weren’t supposed to know and now my Mum plans to go over there and visit St Anthony and North West River and see what this area is like.

Then, this week we found out something else using information from the web. Here in real life, my mother in law is in the final stages of her life and has been worrying about this she hasn’t spoken about for decades. Mr G has always known that his parents had a son born before he was who died soon after birth but he didn’t know exactly when he was born or anything else. This week his mum told him that the hospital had said they would take the baby so she had never buried her first born son and now she wanted to know where he was and what happened to him.

As this little one was born about forty years ago I used a genealogy website to search to see if I could find his birth certificate. With first and surnames and mother’s maiden name and place of birth this was very easy and we found his date of birth and full names after just a few clicks. Then what? We didn’t know, so I talked about this with my favourite phlebotomist when I had my blood taken last week and she suggested that I call the hospital to ask if they had any records of him. I called them on Thursday and was put through to the bereavement section where I spoke to the head of the hospital chaplaincy. He told me that all babies from that time were buried locally, often along with other babies and that if I rang the Cemeteries Service they would hopefully have a record. One phone call later and we found that he was indeed buried in Oxford in March 1972 in an area reserved for hospital babies during the 60s and 70s in the same cemetery where JRR Tolkein rests.

It was a beautiful sunny evening so Mr G and I drove up there to find the spot. It is a grassed area enclosed by a hedge with just a few plaques along the boundary and a marble bird bath which is surrounded by flowers.

It is a quiet and peaceful area away from the road where bunnies and squirrels scooted about and the trees were full of birds roosting. Mr G’s mum is relieved to know all this and we will get a small plaque made to commemorate his short life.

These connections between our small family and our wider family are becoming more and more important to Mr G and I as we grow older. When I was a child I felt that I ad a very small family compared to the other children at my Catholic primary and secondary schools who all seemed to have about twenty cousins and be related to anyone you wanted to pick a fight with! My Dad’s sister was his only sibling and she had no children, my Mum has two siblings but we didn’t see them or their children often as we lived far away from them. My Mum also had ten aunts and uncles and lots of cousins but they were in Wolverhampton or Canada or Australia and somehow we didn’t see them much either probably because Southampton is pretty far away from the Midlands in our small country mindset.

We’ve started to re-connect with my Mum’s family over the past few years and have spent days with my aunt and uncle in Cambridgeshire, visited the remaining ninety six year old auntie in Wolverhampton and had two get together with about twenty or so of us here in Abingdon and last week at my Mum’s cousin’s house near Bristol. This cousin, Margaret, lives just a ten minute drive away from Mr G’s auntie Maureen which is a convenient coincidence. You can tell these ladies are in their seventies by their names, can’t you?

Here I am at Margaret’s last week snapped my Miss Froo! I have no idea why my plate is empty, why I am pointing with a knife or what anyone is saying.

From the left, we are Auntie Deidre, Mum’s cousin Lawrence and his wife Jennifer, me, Mum’s cousin Frances and the bottom of a cousin called Pat who was trying not to watch Andy Murray at the Olympics in case she jinxed his performance.

There were other cousins around and about and we managed to eat most of this lovely food whilst trying not to laugh hysterically at this or that including the apparently very amusing macerator pump in the downstairs toilet. Once again these ladies told me things I didn’t know about my Nan and my Mum and in some shared feeling about summer wear we are all wearing wide leg trousers…… Mine are me-made New Look 6190 with a me-made Made by Rae spring top.

What a world we live in. The internet is so much more than watching kittens do funny things, listening to music for free or finding out how to sew an invisible zip isn’t it? Those things are good and I don’t know how I would resolve tricky sewing dilemmas nowadays without the blogosphere but at the same time there is stuff out there which you don’t know matters to you until you start to look for it. These discoveries of the last month have also made me think that what we write now will provide great insight into our day to day lives for our descendents, should they wish to look for us. Of course our history is self-edited and only one view of any particular event but still I wonder what my grandchildren will think of my blogging about sewing and family and our home life.

April 3, 2012


Look what I got in the post today! All the way from afar…


Sigrid very kindly facilitated the purchase of much needed 206×13 needles for me and I received them today, undamaged and unbent by their journey. Thank you! Who’d have thought that is would be easier, cheaper and quicker to buy German needles from the US than to buy them from Manchester?

So now that actually sewing again is a possibility I have sewing plans bouncing around my head, the most pressing being adding horizontal pleats to Novita at chest level to disguise my bralessness under summer weight fabrics and light cardigan to layer with. The recent hot weather has jolted me out of woolly jumpers, leggings and long skirts and the girls see one hot day of spring as being the sign to wear shorts so we went out to the shed to get The Suitcase.

We don’t have room to keep out of season clothing in the house so twice a year we drag a huge suitcase on wheels out of the shed and swap our winter wear for summer wear or vice versa. This week I realised that I have only one plain summer skirt (the four gore denim one) and all the others are patterned meaning that I really do need to make some plain tops that aren’t t-shirts.

I have been Pinning sewing ideas over the past few months (again, thank you Sigrid for introducing me to that lovely place)

I am intrigued by this Cos top which looks like it has two pleats but is in fact one big slanted box pleat

And this top with a layered peplum

Then there are upcycles, wrap tops from triangles, a summer weight jacket or some cardigans and at least one dress. I get caught up in all these thoughts then the simplicity thing bites me. Do I really need lots of clothes? Do I need new clothes? Do I have space to put them if I sew them or acquire them? This last question is in some way foolish as if I turned all my fabric hoard into clothing the sum change in available space would be nil. The other questions are more about my rejection of the consumer society and a feeling that the world is swirling with stuff that we don’t really want or need. Where does it all go? Right now Ebay UK has 1,872,940 items listed under Women’s Clothing and that doesn’t include handbags accessories or shoes! Are we all crazy?

The difference with Sewists in my humble opinion is that we make things that we really want and we love them so we wear them and wear them. Then maybe we adjust the fit or repair them and wear them some more.

Does this mean that we end up with fewer, better clothes? Does this slow down the turnover of clothes in the wardrobe? Do we cling less tightly to things that don’t fit or look good on us?

Bump! Back to reality – probably the first thing I will do with the new needles is take up a third pair of El Famosisimo’s work trousers.