Sunday, 31 January 2010

Pattern Drafting

So what do I do when I'm not writing scintillating posts or keeping my house spotlessly clean? Yeah....well, I mentioned earlier that I'm desperate to improve my sewing skills. This being me, I have to make that as complicated as possible by starting at the very beginning with drafting a pattern. I encountered this technique a few years ago when I took an evening sewing class. It was pretty easy to draft a simple skirt with a zipper; then again, there was a knowledgeable teacher standing nearby.

There is some logic in that one of my main motivations is to have clothing that actually fits well, something not always easily attained when one is being frugal. Dressmaking patterns are no better in this direction than ready to wear clothing, and so I figured I needed to make a 'block' or a 'sloper' (and there are several others words that seem to be used to refer to this). Simply put, it is a piece of cloth or cardboard made to your own measurements, used to adjust commercial patterns before using them.

At this writing I've not yet achieved the desired outcome, though I'm on my 3rd try. I started out using this guy's instructions, but it didn't work at all. Not sure it was intended for this purpose, so that's OK.

Then I found this guy's video and after watching about a million times and making notes I thought I had it down, but then when I went to do the draft, there were still a couple of marks about which I was unsure. He only shows the front of a bodice anyhow, and I need a back as well!

Then there was this lady's video, which happened to show the pages of a book she was using. All I will say about this video is that it made me aware of how difficult it would be to make a good one all on your own. I've no doubt she understands what she's doing, but I finally froze the video and copied from the book over her shoulder so to speak. When I read 'centre' instead of 'center', I went to the library and there it was. That's what I'm working from now.

Cross your fingers for me!

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Middlewich Walk

The next weekend after returning from Bath, we drove over to Middlewich to see Simon on the Saturday. The reason? Because Bill had forgotten to put Simon's very biggest Christmas present under the tree: a tent. Poor Simon got half way home before I discovered it (again) in the East wing. He'd been quite accepting of having only got a covered hanger and a coffee mug for Christmas, bless him.

Sunday morning we took a lovely, if somewhat damp, walk around the canals near where Simon and Rhiannon live. My camera was dead and I'd not charged more batteries, so Simon kindly lent me his and forward the pictures so I could share them with you.

First off there is this brilliant little canal cottage. As you can see it has no garden, but windows on both sides of each room and a great little balcony on top of their garage. Looks really efficient!

Of course there were loads of people out with their dogs. In addition to this nervous old albino boxer, I remember seeing a lurcher and a rather affectionate Rottweiler, whose owner was clearly fed up with waiting for it to be petted, as he told us it would bite us if we didn't give it treats. Silly old fool.

Then we came upon these huge swans; Simon has shared pictures of them with us before on his Facebook.

We stood and watched the big one in the background groom himself.

It's amazing where they can put their head with that long neck and all.

There are all sorts of houses either on or overlooking the canal. I got really excited

about the back gardens with sitting areas and this willow tree had a perfect setting.

Narrow boats lined the canal, most with wood stores and a bicycle stacked on the roof; a few with a car parked nearby.

The smell of wood smoke made me think they have a very cozy and interesting life. No place for my Grandmother's furniture, though.

Then there are the locks and weirs and sluices and I don't know what all,

required to adjust the water levels for the boats. I was clueless about how they worked -- not that interested to be honest --

but the guys found them pretty fascinating. In the 1700s, canals

were a major means of transport, being far superior to the horrible

roads on which horses drew carts. Instead, the canals were built,

along with tow paths and horses were used to pull goods in boats.

You might recognise this view from the family picture over here (5th pic from the bottom), when Bill took his mom and his kids on a narrow boat holiday years ago, long before Simon ever dreamed he'd live in Middlewich. Spooky, isn't it?

There are of course miles and miles of canals still around Britain, though not near us in the North East. I raised the idea of perhaps taking a cycling holiday sometime along the canal tow paths, something that Bill found intriguing, though we soon realised that it wouldn't all be flat: the locks create sharpish hills

and there are bridges to get under,

but he didn't see these would be a major obstacle. I'll let you know if we ever pull it off!

Friday, 29 January 2010

Leaving Bath

Just a few more things to show you around Bath and then I'll shut up. If you visited Bath you would no doubt be gawking, as I did, at the Bath Abbey,

the Empire Hotel (way too big for me to get all of it into a single shot), Pulteney Bridge

with its quaint little shops

and the Avon River.

I will also mention a pub called the Saracens Head, where Charles Dickens is said to have sat making notes about the people of Bath which he later used in his Pickwick Papers. We went in and found it, as written, virtually unchanged since 1713, including the smell and the low beamed ceilings; they had, however added a big screen TV. A horrible place.

Bill found The Old Green Tree,

one of the tiniest pubs I've ever seen. It was obviously very old but with beautifully crafted wood everywhere and very friendly

Continental staff. I had to laugh when they crossed out one of the offerings on the board and replaced it: I told Bill they lost their Innocence (4%) to Dark Delights (5.5%).

We stayed in an inexpensive Holiday Inn Express just south of the river and it turned out there were 3 bridges across within a relatively short distance, one of which took us through the former Green Park train station which, like Tynemouth Metro, has a market on Saturdays. I ended up buying one of those tea strainer sets from this amazing market with hard wood floors.

We also visited the Bath Markets,

which turned out to be much like Grainger Market in Newcastle.

It was a great building.

One of the main things Bill wanted to see – the first thing we set out to find, in fact, is the Royal Crescent.

I'm sure there are a million better pictures of it online that I could manage to get on that day.

Sadly, the museum at No. 1 was shut until mid-February.

I don’t know that we’ll return to Bath unless we happen to get into the Bath Half, which is considered a good race. It fills up pretty quickly; yes, that was a pun on the name -- you can thank Bob for it -- but true, nevertheless. Others I saw including a shop selling running kit, called Bath Running and a pub called the Bath Tap.

We finished the guided walking tour our last morning. Just before we headed to the train station, we passed an amazing French woman who was busking. Buskers are common enough around the streets of Britain, but you don't normally hear opera being sung on street corners. We were both impressed enough to put money in her basket.

For lunch, we had the remainders of the previous evening’s feast sitting on a bench by the river, overlooking some of Brunel’s engineering. I was reminded of the story in our tour booklet about Queen Victoria having snubbed the city of Bath by staying on her train and passing through, though the city had spent all sorts of money preparing for her arrival. The story I found later on the internet is that she had opened a park there as a child, aged 11. The wind blew her dress up and she overheard someone say she had fat legs. Apparently she never forgave the city for that remark.

If you want more pictures of Bath, there is this lovely blog written by people who are lucky enough to actually live there!

We made our way home on the Sunday, via train, bus, plane and metro, only to find our central heating boiler was broken. We sat and ate cheese and crackers huddled in front of the fire in the living room. Fortunately, the repairman came the next evening. On that Monday I kept moving to stay warm and got a lot of housework done!

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Grandpa Bob

(He's gonna love that title). For those of you who know Bob, I have been remiss not to have told you about the arrival of his first grandchild, but then I only learned about the event myself on Monday. They had a boy, named Hayden, who arrived on Saturday (23 Jan) weighing 8lb 11oz. Youngest daughter, Julie, is fine and proud papa, Jonathon was at the running club as usual on Monday.

I asked Bob if he felt any different, now he's a Grandpa. He said no, but -- with one of those really satisfied grins -- he said he hadn't expected to be as chuffed as he is. [That's a Geordie word, BTW].

Bunns of Bath

You might have noticed we didn’t visit the tea shoppe at the Jane Austen Centre. This was because Bill had another one targeted. Sally Lunn’s house is declared the oldest remaining house in Bath, dated 1482. I read somewhere that her surname might have come from Cockney rhyming slang, but it's beyond me to explain that to you. You'll have to investigate that for yourself if you're interested. Might be a nice way to drive your teenagers mad, if you had any and were so inclined; you could begin simply by yelling "Get off that dog and bone [phone]!"

Anyhow, we were sent up the narrow stairs to a room with low, beamed ceilings, a large fireplace at one end and packed with tables full of people. We ordered tea, which came loose in a pot with hot water and with an additional pot with just hot water, just as one would get in Newcastle, except with tea bags. As there was loose tea, a small metal bowl with a strainer that sits inside was also available. One poured the tea through the strainer into one’s cup and the bowl was to catch the drips or for the strainer to be emptied and re-used.

I ordered a Sally Lunn bun (bunn?) and Bill ordered a Jane Austen bun; the only difference I could tell was that I got strawberry and he got raspberry preserves. They were each a half of a plate-sized hamburger bun, soaked with butter and toasted. They both came with the preserves and with a small bowl of clotted cream, which I’d not had before. It tastes much like ice cream might without any sugar; very slightly sweet and very extremely rich. I ate everything they put in front of me, it was so delicious. Then, perhaps because all the paraphernalia was so entertaining and the waitress offered more hot water, I drank far too much tea.

After that we went down to the kitchen museum cum shop. Exhibits included the old ‘faggot’ oven, faggot being a

bunch of sticks, though I took a picture in a butcher shop window of another type of faggot to show you; something to do with meat and intestines, according to Bill. Yum!

One wonders about the etymology of that word, huh? There were also remnants of an archeological dig under that house. I got the idea that if one dug down a few inches under any sort of pavement in Bath there would be Roman ruins or historical artifacts of some sort.

I had a major tummy ache by the time we got back to the hotel that evening, whether due to rich food or acidic tea, I don’t know. After we’d had a nap we both felt better, but still pooped. We decided that Bill would go into Sainsbury’s near by (just past Homebase) and get some snack food for dinner; I asked him to find ‘something healthy’ as well. This turned out to be a good decision as the skies later provided torrential, horizontal rain. This was of benefit the next day, mind, as it got rid of the rest of the ice.

We had a feast of wide, herby flavoured bread sticks, dipped in red pepper hummus or cream cheese, bean salad and some couscous with chargrilled vegetables. That’s Sainsburys for you – right posh food.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Walcot Walk

After seeing the Jane Austen Centre we only had one other idea about where to go in Bath, so we located the tourist information centre to see what they had to suggest. I admit to having got caught up looking at all sorts not specific to Bath (art deco cards, fridge magnets, etc.) but did find a little booklet about the City Trail, so we set about following that. It had all sorts of historical tidbits in, such as, referring to the Cross Bath, where there was a gallery from which one could look down upon the women bathing below:

One custom during the 17th century was to dip pieces of bread into a glass of wine to improve its flavour [I've seen a couple of young men do this once in a restaurant in Cinque Terre, Italy]. The story is told that during the reign of Charles II, whilst a celebrated beauty was bathing, a spectator stepped forward, dipped his goblet into the water and drank the lady's health. This prompted his lusty companion to jump fully clothed into the bath and declare 'since he liked not the liquor he would have the toast!' From that moment the tradition of toasting a beautiful lady to improve the flavour became the fashion.
We walked along quite a bit of Bath that we'd already seen, but the booklet told us things we wouldn't already have known. For example, at Queen's Square,

the Obelisk (that word always makes me think it should be a round object, but of course it is not) there is to mark the visit of Frederick, Prince of Wales, in 1738. The booklet quotes his mother, Queen Caroline as saying,

My dear first-born is the greatest ass, the greatest liar and the greatest beast in the whole world and I heartily wish he was out of it.
So much for a mother's love. It made me curious to know more about Frederick.

We learned about the Bath Chair being the demise of the Sedan Chair, though I gather the latter were privately owned and therefore more luxurious; sort of the difference between having a car and taking a taxi. However, less expensive because only one person was required to provide locomotion.

Walcot Street continues along the riverside to the North East of the touristy area of Bath and is apparently the older

-- as in 500 AD -- part of Bath, except that they probably didn't consider themselves part of Aquae Sulis. The book describes and fountain and some vineyards which of course are gone.

This apparently was also the business district and 'Walcot' means 'city of foreigners'. This road becomes London Road which was once the main road into that capitol. Like many other riverside areas in the UK, being so close to industry it became the place for the poor to live. Still, the terraced houses look pretty grand to me.

St. Swithin's church, where Jane Austen's parents were married, can be found here. Along with funny little shops

that had I not travelled via Easy Jet with carry on luggage only, I might have investigated further. I was wishing we had something like The Makery in Newcastle, as I'm desperate to learn to sew better.

Bill and I found lots to photograph. We both liked the front of this building, designed specifically to allow carriages to turn.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Dear Jane*

*Austen, that is.

The celebrated novelist was once a resident of Bath, so of course they have a Jane Austen Centre for tourists to visit. This museum / tea house / shop is at #40 Gay Street, a house similar to #20-something on the same street, where Jane lived at one time.

I was rather startled by a statue near the entrance!

After purchasing a ticket in the shop, one is sent upstairs to wait in a room for a guide to come up and give a lecture. There are various drawings and silhouettes depicting how Jane might have looked, depending upon the skill or lack of her sister, Cassandra, who did her watercolour portrait from which there have been various other interpretations; also a sampler that Jane worked and various other items.

Bill and I both thought the museum had got rather caught up with modern media as various scenes showing Emma Thompson and Colin Firth were about. Whoever stocks the shop also apparently fancies Mr. Darcy something awful. I was quite tempted by Jane Austen’s Sewing Book, full of projects as mentioned in her novels; also by the old fashioned pens but then I realized they were a sharp object likely to be banned by airport security, and so I managed to escape without buying anything.

I thought the lecture was the best part of the museum, but there was a lot to see as well. The film on the website linked above shows quite a bit of it, so I've not added pictures that are of the same. [Be sure to spot the Bath Bun in the tea shop!] In addition to examples of various styles of everyone's dress there was information about card playing and pipe smoking, a display of one of Jane’s letters to her sister, bits about social customs and an explanation of ‘language of the fan.’ There was a discussion of the custom of taking tea at the Assembly Rooms:

Tea at the Assembly Rooms was served at 9pm in the Tea Room. It was rumoured that they used the tea three times over; they were sold to the guests first, then dried out and sold to the staff. Finally, they were dried out again and sold to the general public!
Bill manages to throw away my tea bags before I even have a chance at a second use!

Like a good student, I took notes during the lecture. In checking with other sources, to clarify some of those notes, I find there is conflicting information, so best not rely too much on the details! Still, I really enjoyed the lecture and so will share my version of it:

Two of Jane’s novels are set in or feature Bath, and I'm looking forward to re-reading them to see what I can recognize from our visit. When she wrote Northanger Abbey, in 1797, she’d visited Bath and liked it. In her last novel, Persuasion, written 18 years later when she had lived there, she didn’t much care for Bath at all.

Jane was a writer from an early age, having written at age 11 a book called History of England (without many dates, she says). I flipped through a copy which seemed even at that early age to take a satirical view of a list of historical figures.

Jane was born in 1775, the 7th of 8 children. Cassandra, two years her elder, was her only sister and best friend; they both died unmarried. Much of what is known about Jane is through her letters to Cassandra when they lived apart.

The 2 brothers born either side of Jane both joined the Navy and did well. Not much is known of the 2nd eldest brother, George, though he lived to his 70s. The eldest was 10 years older than Jane and was a member of the clergy, as was her father and the 4th son, Henry, after an unsuccessful stint in banking. Henry was the brother Jane was closest to and was responsible for getting her work published. The third son, Edward, had the unusual fortune to be adopted by a very wealthy family who lacked an heir and eventually changed his surname from Austen to Knight.

Jane’s parents were married in Bath; we later learned this was at St Swithin’s when we took a booklet guided walk the next day. Mr. Austen died very suddenly in 1885 after the family had moved to Bath from someplace I didn’t write down; he is buried in the graveyard across the main road from St. Swithin’s.

The lecture included a list of houses at which the Austen’s lived before and after Mr. A’s death, some of which no longer stand, some are private homes and one is a dentist’s office. We never did hunt those addresses as I thought we might. Having been made poorer by the father’s death, the family moved to less and less prestigious houses, though never into truly awful conditions. It would seem that either living amongst the Bath society or having slid down the social scale a bit caused Jane to dislike Bath and the rich, showy people she encountered. They became the target for her satire.

It was in a cottage supplied rent-free by her wealthy brother, Edward Knight, that Jane spent her last years, having found herself in reduced circumstances. Edward’s estate was at Chawton, near Alton, in the South of England. Jane died in 1817 at the age of 41, from Addison’s Disease, something to do with the adrenal glands according to the lecturer. She is buried at Winchester Cathedral near there, next to her brother, Henry.

Jane was always very private about her writing and never saw her name in print. She requested that the door hinges of her bedroom not be oiled so that she would hear anyone come in and could hide the small (about paperback book sized) pages which she covered in very small writing, possibly because paper was expensive in those days. It was only through her brother Henry’s insistence that the novels were ever submitted to a publisher and apparently there were rejections!

In 1811, Sense and Sensibility was published as having been written ‘By a Lady’. Pride and Prejudice was published in 1813, ‘By the Author of Sense & Sensibility’. The Prince Regent was a fan and requested a dedication in her books to him. That she did not admire the man and did so grudgingly is evident in her dedication:


This work is,
most respectfully
By his Royal Highness's
and obedient
humble servant,
The Author.

Jane’s name was only made public when her novels written first and last, the two referring to Bath, were published after her death. Even for those books published during her lifetime, she had had to supply a large portion of the initial publishing costs, not an uncommon practice of that time. She did have some income from the royalties of her published works, but this wasn’t apparently a great deal of money.

Her work is no longer under copyright, which was in any case sold by her family long ago. There was a film of an older woman, a distant cousin descended from one of Jane’s brothers, who lives in Lyme Regis, telling about how that place was one of Jane’s favourite vacation spots. The lack of copyright, the lecturer pointed out, may account for part of the work’s popularity with movie makers, the most recent film being ‘Becoming Jane’ with Ann Hathaway, which I think I may have to track down.

There is an incredible amount of information about Jane Austen on the internet, so if she is one of your passions, you're very lucky!