The blind leading the blind? Who’s in charge here?

Since when did I become the one dishing out parenting advice? This morning I found myself ending a message with the legend ‘You can never have too many muslins’ while wishing a friend good luck on leaving the house with her newborn baby girl.

A few hours later it dawned on me just how far we’ve come from that point.

I still remember Adam’s first trip out to the Broughton Deli (still a regular hangout now; he has his regular highchair and we share lunch). He was snuggled into a stretchy wrap and we fussed about whether he was warm enough/too warm, if he would suffocate and if we had enough spare nappies etc for the 200 yard walk. I was all at sea, and my enduring memory is of a sense of ordered chaos. Its a fond memory now but seems like decades ago. A different me, a different Adam.

And what a learning curve it’s been. I want to caveat any advice I give you, should you be a new parent in my company: feel free to ignore me. Advice gets hurled at you from each and every direction in those first few weeks and months. Take on board the stuff that you like the sound of; that sits well with who you are; that suits the way you want to live. The rest is entirely redundant and belongs to another sort of parent.

What would I have done differently? Not much, actually. I believe you need to make your own mistakes to learn independently – something I’m trying to pass on to Adam now as he goes through some massive developmental changes.

I’d maybe have avoided springing out of bed to lift Adam as the first sob rang out of his cute wee bake; he’d maybe be able to settle himself to sleep by now (at 10 months I’ve still got to be in the room for him to nod off). Meh, he’ll do it eventually. I never heard of a three year old who couldn’t fall asleep on their own.

I’ve read a few articles about child development and been interested to find that independent learning is really important for babies. We’re conditioned to intervene almost constantly to keep babies doing what we want them to do, and stop them doing what we don’t. We engage them in structured play and games, songs and stories. We take them to classes and playgroups. We get disappointed when they don’t listen or take part, and allow ourselves to feel guilty or inadequate for that.

Since I stopped worrying about this (along with the sleep, the pressure to do baby led weaning, and the eternal fear that he will be emotionally damaged by something I must be doing wrong) and started letting him ‘free play’ I’ve seen how much fun babies can have when they just use their imagination.

We have a story at bedtime – most of the time he grabs the book (which has a cut out hole on the front cover) and opens it so he can ‘peep’ at me through the window. Once the hilarity of that is over with he will tolerate me reading to him because its a habit now. I know some babies love books and it used to vex me that Adam’s main interest involves trying to eat them.

But then I see him crawl over to his toybox and pull himself up to stand peering into it. He will carefully select what he wants and then spend a while interacting with toys, cruising around different parts of the room, overcoming physical obstacles and whooping with delight at inanimate objects. He doesn’t need any input at all! What is lovely is that he frequently comes over to me to ‘touch base’, give me a toy or pull me down for a cuddle, to make sure I’m watching. He knows I’m there and he feels secure enough to play independently – learning all the time.

So can’t a new parent learn this way too? I feel like I struggled to follow advice from books and websites and peers, to the point where my brain began to fizz and I found myself feeling quite down – as though I was a bit of a failure for not managing all the things I felt I should.

No one was harder on me than… well, me. And yet I’m still rushing to suggest stuff to new mums. I’ve reflected on this today and while I know its just out of a desire to help, I want to be mindful about it. Unsolicited advice can be helpful but can also weirdly make you feel under pressure, like you’re a sandwich short of the full picnic. I don’t want to perpetuate that so I’ll stick to answering questions I’m asked, and making sure my proverbial door is always open.

If I want Adam to learn anything from me, its that he can be confident and have faith in himself. I think I have been on an amazing journey over the past ten months, and have learned a huge amount – most of it just simply through experience. There is just no substitute for ‘on the job training’.

But it IS true, you really cannot ever have too many muslins.

I let him go and do what he wanted at the Mela. Turned out he wanted to join a Senegalese drum circle.

I let him go and do what he wanted at the Mela. Turned out he wanted to join a Senegalese drum circle.



Return of the Jedi [dressmaking student]

After a week off at half term and then a week off due to being struck down by hurricane snotty, I was actually feeling a little underwhelmed about going back to the class, knowing I’d not done anything at home to move things forward.

Luckily, as I’m 50 yards away from the school I wised up and lugged my sewing machine and bag over to pick up where I left off.

dressmaking progress

I was threading up the machine and noticed that the bobbin and already in there was steel – all mine are plastic – and threaded with ivory thread… and I realised that the last time it was in use was when my Mum was over here making my wedding dress! I actually got a wee bit sentimental, and am keeping the bobbin and thread, along with the (frankly knackered) 14 gauge needle that Mum was using to finish off the beautiful dress she made for my big day. This really woke me up to why I started this course – not just because I’d like to make nice things, but because I am so in awe of her skill and patience.

Once I’d returned to earth feeling freshly inspired I rigged up the machine with some sturdy black thread and a new size 11 needle, and gave the mechanism a good clean before getting started with some ACTUAL SEWING [Klaxon!]:

dressmaking progress

I’ve basically spent two hours tonight sewing a zigzag stitch around the centre seams, the necklines and the hem edges. This not only stops the edges from fraying while I’m arsing about with darts etc, it’ll help to strengthen the neckline as well and make it a bit more sturdy.


Above: I marked on the pattern instructions which edges I was going to zigzag, to save me from losing my mind.

It was also good to get some practice sewing with this particular material, and getting some good runs with the machine so I can get better at controlling the foot pedal and therefore the speed:

dressmaking progress

One of the girls in my class had a bit of a trigger happy foot and accidentally sent her machine into overdrive, nearly ruining her fabric – I was a bit smug that it didn’t happen to me, but realised it’s early days and there is still huge potential for me to mess things up (tune in each week to find out when and how this happens!). I took some time to snap a few pics on my phone for blog purposes, and packed up for 9pm on the dot. Abi the tutor asked me if I wanted her to show me how to start with the darts business, but I pointed out that I’ll have a whole week to forget it all so, next week, DARTS! Not the kind you throw, the kind you sew.

dressmaking progress

Above: some arsey pic of my zigzag sewing, against the backdrop of my sewing machine’s instruction book – already well-thumbed after mucking about with spools and things I can’t even name.

Dressmaking week 3 – spots and notches

I was a bit hasty last night night and brought my sewing machine to class. Well I’d cut out my fabric, hadn’t I? all I needed to do was cut out the lining material sections and then I’d be sewing away…

fabric cut outs

I’d reckoned without the complexity of the design I’ve chosen. It’s an ‘easy’ pattern by Simplicity but the dress I am making has ruches AND darts, meaning there are lots of dots all over the pattern where you need to mark the fabric for later.

Once you’ve marked all the dots with a visible thread you then look around the edges of your pattern pieces, searching for little triangle shapes. These are also a type of marker, used to help you line up your sections when you start to construct them. With the pattern still pinned to the fabric and lining, you use scissors to cut into these triangles (about 0.5cm deep) so that when you line up your sections you can easily connect them at the right points.

Here’s a picture of the dots on the pattern, with my white thread markers sewn through:

dots and notches

After this the pattern paper comes away easily and you can separate your layers, snipping the thread after each one so you’re left with little thread tails:

dart markers

By the time I’d cut the lining, re-pinned the fabric to the pattern, marked all the dots and notches and separated all the layers successfully, it was 8:45pm!

The next thing I’ll do is run a zigzag stitch around some of the edges to stop them from fraying. There’s no class next week but I might have a go at doing that at home; I’m an expert at zigzag stitching after making comedy toy owls for babies last year. 🙂

I decided to line the whole thing after all so the next step after that will be constructing the lining of the dress!

Dressmaking week 2

I’ve made progress, although i can only describe it as ‘painstakingly slow’ after spending two hours just sorting out the pattern, measurements and material and getting the bits cut out for my dress.

Here’s a glimpse of the groovy patterned wool I bought, and evidence that I can cut out along a black line:


I found it easy to measure my hips, waist and bust and it was simple enough to use those measurements to see which pattern size i should be cutting out, although I admit I’m still a bit fuzzy on that. The measurements on the dress pattern show the finished garment size which includes 9cm on top of your body measurements, so that you can actually move! The dress I’ve chosen also has darts so if it is too big (which I suspect it might be – rather too big than too small) I can adjust it once the sections are all sewn together.

Cutting out the pattern seemed to take forever and then I had to iron the pieces, plus all 1.5 metres of fabric AND the 0.5 metres of lining fabric. I hate ironing.

When I had that all done I was ready to pin and cut, but first of all I learned about how to line up the pattern pieces against the selvages (the fabric edges) to make sure the direction of the pattern or nap wouldn’t end up wonky. I’ve chosen a fairly fine houndstooth so it wouldn’t be TOO obvious but it’s good to pay attention to detail. I’m notoriously bad for ‘winging it’ so I’d like to apply some self discipline and be really proud of the final dress knowing I did my best.

So I pinned the pattern pieces to the fabric. For this I used some of the pearl-topped pins that have been recycled after forming part of our wedding table plan. I had used the pins to secure the names to their respective places on our fabric board at the wedding:


It’s lovely to use them again, especially as they’re so pretty. The pinning went smoothly enough and the cutting was tense but successful! I now have 7 pieces of fabric. I still need to re-pin the pattern to the lining and cut that too, but will wait until next week and get Abi’s advice on that – the pattern calls for just a partial lining but I think with a wool fabric a full lining might work better, and help the dress to hold its shape.

I’m not sure in that case if I should use interfacing to effectively stick the lining to the wool – does anyone have any advice for me? Please leave me a wee comment if you have any suggestions.

That’s four hours spent so far (well, two of them were spent choosing a pattern and chatting about the best type of fabric) and I’ve not sewn a single stitch! The course is 20 hours altogether – a total bargain at under £55 – so hopefully I’ve plenty of time to get it right.

Next week I’ll post another pic, although I’m not optimistic it’ll be any more exciting than this week’s. In other news, I’ve just chased the biggest spider I’ve ever seen (and I’ve been to Asia) out the front door of my flat – I got it to run towards the front door and opened it, and it legged it out into the stair. I bet it’s lurking inside Jamie’s football boots.