What I’ve been reading – October 2016

October 2016 books

This month I finished all the (so far published) Giordano Bruno books (which I loved, obviously, as I wouldn’t have read all five), finished reading the very useful and practical Art Inc. and read the fascinating Soldier Spy, which was an eye-opening glimpse into the battle that goes on on our streets, without us (most of the time), even realising it.

The only other book I’ve been reading this month is Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz, it’s a bit of a weird book (so far), in that it’s a book within a book, a murder story set in 1950s and then an account of the present day publisher who has just received the manuscript for said murder story. So far it’s quite good, although I think I prefer the 1950s murder story bits more than the present day publisher bits, as the publisher narrator narrates it like she’s giving an account to a lawyer, although I think there is purpose in that style. I’m currently just over half way through, so I’ll find out.

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Two dresses for a wedding

Date Night Dress

Since setting up my sewing table and having a warm up with a cushion cover and some pattern weights, I’ve been sew, sew, sewing two dresses for a wedding. I started with the easiest of the two dresses (still warming up), the Date Night Dress by April Rhodes, which was for me and um, I don’t really like it. The dress itself came together fairly well and was quite easy to make, although I had an issue with running out of fabric before I could cut both sleeves (even though I had the amount recommended) and so had to quickly order a bolt end (the only fabric left for that pattern, which, I know you can’t tell from that photo, is grey dotted scallops). The sleeves were meant to be cut against the grain but the bolt end wasn’t big enough for that, plus it’s a very directional print with the scallops, so having the scallops run the other direction on the sleeves (compared to the dress) would have possibly looked a bit odd but then again, I think they would have frilled a bit better if I had cut them the right away.  But, anyway, I had the horrible sinking feeling, when I first put this dress on, you know, when you’ve spent time, money and effort on something and you don’t actually like the result. I really don’t know what possessed me, well I know in part what possessed me, I really wanted to wear black, dark colours suit me far better than pale colours but I wasn’t sure of the whole etiquette of whether you can or can not wear black to a wedding, I even Googled it, with some sites saying yes and some saying no and I thought I’d better play it safe, as my family can be quite traditional, As it happened quite a few women wore black to the wedding and no one batted an eyelid. Anyway, as I had ruled out black, I thought I’d go for grey instead but somehow, on me, the grey looks a lot lot paler than it did on the uncut fabric! And also, omg, those frilled sleeves, what possessed me? I look like someone’s forced Brienne of Tarth out of her armour and into a ‘nice’ dress. Also, the dress has very big arm holes, billed as giving the opportunity of giving a nice flash of a lacy bra or the slip (which also comes with the pattern but I didn’t have time to make). The arm holes are way more revealing than that and I think if you’re even bigger in the chest department than I am, probably even more so. And finally, I didn’t realise when planning what to wear for the wedding, that I’d have had more surgery a week before and well, put it this way, some of my bandages are showing through that dress most awkwardly.

Clara Dress

The second dress was for Girl Lacer. I said I would make her a dress, directed her to my favourite online dress pattern shop and let her pick one. Showing such faith in my ability, she made sure to just look at the beginner patterns lol and this one, the Clara dress from Sew Liberated, was billed on the pattern shop site as advanced beginner, *cough, cough, splutter*. I would bill myself as intermediate but this dress was hard. The Date Night Dress used one technique I hadn’t used before, french seams and I lurve french seams now. The Clara dress, well, I suppose it didn’t really feature anything I hadn’t done before but there were so many bits to the dress (and that binding on the sleeves was fiddly), that I found it quite hard going. And I say there were no new techniques for me in this dress, it has button holes and I have made buttonholes before but manually, on a previous sewing machine, with my current machine, I’ve never been able to work out how to do automatic buttonholes, well I had to work out quickly (and late the night before) for this dress. I did manage to figure it out and have quite a few practices on scrap fabric but I still managed to cock the buttonholes up a bit on the dress and it was the last step too, *sob*. Still, it was wearable, I thought Girl Lacer looked lovely in it and that fabric (which I also let her choose), is absolutely gorgeous, so soft, I want to make something for me with it now.

5 things I liked this week – 28.10.16 (bit delayed)

  1. Going to see The Next Step with Girl Lacer. For those that don’t have dance obsessed children, The Next Step is a TV show about a group of dancers and they’ve been on tour. Girl Lacer absolutely loved it and for this 41 year old, who has only seen the random trailer for the show, I thought it was rather good too.
  2. Class has started! As in the TV show, Class, written by one of my favourite writers, Patrick Ness. For those that don’t know it, it’s a brand new Doctor Who spin off, set in Coal Hill Academy, with a bunch of sixth formers protecting the world from a crack in space time. It’s more ‘adult’ than Doctor Who, a bit scarier and even a bit of sex. It’s been billed as the British Buffy, which is big shoes to fill and so far, it’s filling them well.
  3. We popped into Hampton Court for one last visit to The Magic Garden before it closed for the winter and we also ended up having a go at the Garden Party trail. Girl and Boy Lacer particularly liked playing the 17th century garden party games.
  4. We had a Fire of London themed day this week too, going for a tour and then seeing the Fire! Fire! exhibition at the Museum of London, it was okay but I have two kids who definitely prefer art galleries over history museums.
  5. Finishing the dress I’d been working on all week (see next blog post!).

On the menu: very chocolatey chocolate cake

Wednesday
Very chocolatey chocolate cake

Not the best photo, this is the cake after a quarter was cut from it, I know it doesn’t really look like a quarter has been cut from it, it’s a rather liquidly soft cake

It’s Girl Lacer’s birthday and she only really likes chocolate cake (strange girl), so I made one. The recipe is Scrumptious Chocolate Fudge Cake from Miranda Gore Browne’s Bake Me A Cake As Fast As You Can, apparently she made this recipe on Great British Bakeoff and Paul Hollywood really liked it, I’m not sure what he’d think of my attempt. It’s a very dense, moist cake and I’m sure it doesn’t need quite as much ganache as the recipe called for but I had made the amount and so I dumped it on, honestly, the middle of that cake of half cake, half ganache. It is extremely chocolatey, the sort of extreme chocolateyness that I’m not sure I, personally, have the taste buds for anymore. Also, as the person who obviously made it, knowing that there’s way more sugar than actual flour in it, it’s a bit off-putting.

Soldier Spy

Soldier SpySoldier Spy by Tom Marcus

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is not normally the sort of book I read but I saw a clip of ‘Tom Marcus’ on the news and his story sounded fascinating, so I thought I’d give this memoir a go. Tom had a rough upbringing, essentially a street kid, he couldn’t join the army quick enough to escape. Once in the army, he moves into doing secret work in Ireland, from there he is recruited into MI5, as an operator (what most people would think of as a spy). The news stories I saw pretty much summarised the entire book, so I knew in advance how it ends but that didn’t really matter, in fact, knowing in advance what ultimately happened, you could really see the warning signs throughout the book.

The book is really well written and very gripping. It’s a fascinating insight into the work of the secret services and how they protect us from multiple attempted terrorist attacks and foreign spying. If you ever wonder how the UK has been ‘lucky’ (touch wood), so far, compared to some other countries, this book goes some ways to answering that and some of the attacks that Tom was involved in stopping sound horrifying. The book highlights the team work involved and the mental and physical danger that the operators put themselves in, to protect us. It was also fascinating that this stuff goes on under the public’s gaze and we don’t even realise, so next time I see a car racing way too fast down a road, yep, it could just be a jerk speeding but it could also be an operator on ‘steel badge’.

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Conspiracy

Conspiracy (Giordano Bruno  #5)Conspiracy by S.J. Parris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bruno is back in Paris, desperately seeking patronage to save him from destitution, he seeks help from an old priest friend but when said friend turns up murdered a few days later, Bruno is once again drawn into the world of murder. Taking in an austere abbey and the glamourous, debauched French court, there are more twists and turns than a very tangled ball of wool. I am up to date with the series now and have found the books to be increasingly more ‘TV-like’, which is not a bad thing, they’re very atmospheric and I like the later conclusion of wry one-liners but the number of times Bruno is wrong about a plot point, it almost feels like the ‘duh duh duuuh’ moment at the end of an episode of a TV period crime drama but then again I would like to see Giordano Bruno on TV.

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Craft table and new pattern weights

New craft table

I mentioned a week or so ago that I had a new craft table and it has been fantastic. Previously I had been sewing on our fold down dining table, which I could only ever put half up and even that wasn’t brilliant, as it’s oval shaped and that’s not great when you’re trying to cut fabric. So when we had to store away our dining table, I was suddenly without any sewing space whatsoever, so I bought a table from Folding Tables UK (not a sponsored post) and it’s been brilliant. It’s actually big enough to sew on and have an ironing blanket on (I sew in my living room and there wouldn’t be enough space to put up the ironing board too, when I used to sew on the dining table, I used to have to put the ironing board up in the hallway, blocking everyone’s route to the toilet) and it is so much easier to be able to sew and then press a seam straight away (and to be honest it makes me far less likely to take short cuts and not do it). As you can see from the photo above, it’s even big enough for my sewing machine, the ironing blanket and a bored 12 year old. It goes up and down really easily, is solid when up and fits neatly under our sofa. Since I’ve been using the table, it hasn’t just been used for sewing, it was put up for a family take out pizza gathering, it’s been used for board games, homework, drawing and Mr. Lacer uses it to maintain and upgrade his PC.

Anyway, with my new and improved craft ‘space’ (I will blog further, later on, when everything has finished being sorted, about what other things I’ve done in the flat to improve my storage and access to my craft stuff), I could finally sew! Every year, on my Flickr, I create albums to record what I’ve sewn and embroidered for each year and just generally my craft output has been rather pathetic this year (for finished stuff anyway) but it surprised me, that when I went to put photos of my recent finished sewn pieces on Flickr, that I hadn’t even created a Sewn 2016 album yet because until this month, I actually hadn’t sewn anything (excluding my diamond hex quilt, which is still a WIP). So it feels extra good that I’ve managed to do so now.

Warm up pillow

Because I hadn’t used my sewing machine for so long, the first thing I did was make a cushion cover, to warm up. In the grand bedroom switch, I had found an uncovered cushion pad and I didn’t want to throw it away but I also didn’t want it to continue sitting around unused. I’d also been sorting through my fabric and had even managed to throw some of it away (the shocker), as I’ve only got limited space and so any fabric I do store, it’s got to work for its space. The fabric above, Michael Miller’s Rocket Rascals, was one of the first fabrics I bought, years ago, when I started sewing. Like I think a lot of beginner sewers, I was heavily attracted to novelty fabrics and need I say, these days, I’m not, I much prefer muted, less in your face stuff, you can use it for a wider range of things for a start. So Rocket Rascals had been in the discard pile but argh, I’m sentimental too and I fished it out and used it (finally!). I have metres of the stuff, uncut, and even making a cushion cover, I’ve still got loads but I associate the print so much with learning to sew, I haven’t got the heart to get rid of it.

Pattern weights

After the cushion cover, the next step was pattern weights. I’ve been hankering after pattern weights for ages, after seeing them on The Great British Sewing Bee and I thought that they’d be a good excuse to reduce down my smaller pieces of fabric pile and to celebrate my new, efficient, pattern cutting.

Pattern weights

The pattern is from Tea and a Sewing Machine and was pretty easy to follow.
Pattern weights

Since making the pattern weights I’ve sewn myself a dress, which will be blogged about later (a new blog resolution is to be patient until I can take at least reasonably decent photos of something I’ve made, although that’s bad timing since it’s Autumn and the light is no longer good) and I have a lot more sewing planned.