Month: September 2013

Homeschooling: a surprisingly joyful choice

When our only daughter was born a little over five years ago, we gave a lot of thought to where she would study. We live in Edinburgh, where nearly 25% of children attend fee-paying private schools. Often these were set up as charitable homes or hospitals, for the orphans of Edinburgh. These days, they still offer a few places to ‘fatherless bairns’ free of charge but most of their students are from Edinburgh’s substantial middle & upper classes. They pay extortionate amounts of money each year – in fees, uniforms, music lessons, kit for sports, trips etc – and in return their children are drilled in a wide variety of academic subjects (no shortage of languages there) as well as hopefully given the sense of confidence – and sometimes entitlement – that their parents believe will pave a smooth path to university and joining the ruling classes. To be fair, that’s often how it works.

Papa Bear, who regularly mentors visiting high school students on work placements before they apply to university, says that the biggest difference between state & private school students is not intelligence or academic ability: it’s confidence.

We were reluctant to go down that path and not just because we couldn’t afford it: we both have first class honours degrees (& I have a PhD) after being in some pretty grim schools where a tiny percentage of students went on to university. I am the first member of my family to attend university, never mind have two degrees! While we don’t like the cookie-cutter approach of state classes, we felt the same was true of expensive private schools. That’s not prejudice, it’s just a fact when you have 30 children in a class. In our local primary school, the first year students (aged 4-5) are split into a class of 25 and one of… 40. Yes, forty. Two teachers and a teaching assistant but still.

In the end, we visited half a dozen nurseries, read online about different approaches to learning and found we agreed most with the Montessori one. It respected a child’s individuality, encouraged independence and cooperation with peers as well as focussing on real life skills. The fact that Montessori graduates tend to have a great record of creative thinking and confidence didn’t hurt either.

The school we chose didn’t take children until the age of 3, although we attended a parent and child group a few times a week once she was 18 months. It was a nice space and Wee Bear was happy to explore. When the time came for her to attend Children’s House, we moved across the city so that we could walk there each day – in ten minutes! – and enjoy freedom from the tyranny of the car. In fact we sold our car, but that’s because we couldn’t afford it.

Two years later – and two teachers later – we are taking her out before she completes her final year of Children’s House. Montessori operates on a three year cycle, so she should be there until she is 6 and transitions to Elementary. Why are we doing this crazy thing, having signed up so much to the Montessori philosophy that we moved house, and have invested a large amount in her education so far?

At the most basic level, she’s not happy. 90% of her peers left age 4 to move into mainstream schools. That’s up to their parents and we are not judging. Four children stayed on, including her. The other girl doesn’t speak to her at all (or anyone else, being the most reserved child I’ve ever met in my whole life) and one of the two boys hit her on the first day back. She’s worked hard to become his friend but its a daily struggle. All the other children are younger than her. I see a regression in her behaviour, as she tries to cope with classmates who don’t know how the room operates or respect her space. I see a daily reluctance to go to school. I see two hours of aggressive behaviour when she comes home, ever day. I see someone who is, frankly, bored. The school have tried to help but I don’t think they have the qualified staff to make much more than positive sounds.

So we are trying homeschool. I know, I always thought homeschoolers were a bit mad or religiously extreme or… Just odd. Now I’m one of them and yes, I am odd and I am religious.

We signed up to St Raphael’s Homeschool and bought a few books – the traditional kind of rhymes, stories and curriculum that have been used for years. We bought reading and writing materials from Simply Charlotte Mason whose “no twaddle” approach to reading material, emphasis on respect, good habits, practical life and short lessons to build a child’s concentration share a lot of common ground with Montessori and found a ton of free materials for extending reading, writing and lots of religious materials from Paidea Classics – as well as some books that can be bought.

How is it going? Well, we are working out our notice at Montessori but she goes less and less. When she does go, she comes home with an attitude or a virus. At home, we can squeak in a ten or fifteen minute reading session before dinner or whenever she shows signs of being ready. We talk about history, maths, the universe, writing a lot. We do baking, sewing, gardening, housework and yes, watch Dad’s Army on DVD. It’s her favourite show.

Best of all, when I freaked out that she was too frustrated with the online classes, her absolutely wonderful teacher spent nearly an hour on the phone with me. We came up with a plan combining both the early Elementary and Elementary classes as Wee Bear is too far on for the younger class in some areas, using the school as both a curriculum and support network, so that I have back up and we can listen in until she gets to the point of wanting to participate again. In the meantime, she has one-to-one attention from me and I am following their curriculum at our pace. I’m not sure how it will go after Christmas, when we are home full-time, but I genuinely can’t wait to be watching her learn & helping her move on at her own speed.


She’s reading and writing – this is her Christmas list – so we are, I think, already half way there.

A Vintage (inspired) Wardrobe: made by me mostly

Ever look in your wardrobe and drawers and just sigh because, being brutally honest, there’s nothing there that you wear and feel good in? Nothing that sets your heart beating a little faster or makes you feel a million dollars? Or, more mundanely, little that fits, doesn’t have holes in it or is less than five years old?

*raises hand to all of the above*

I decided, quite insanely, that I want to completely revamp my wardrobe. There are a few pieces I’ll be keeping but here’s the thing: NOT MUCH. So why and where did I start?

WHY start over?

I’ve got to a point in my life where I’m at peace with who I am. I’m never going to have the shape that society idolizes. I’m unlikely to develop buns of steel or thighs of iron that never touch at this point. And you know what? That’s FINE BY ME. I’m 41 and that is so so different from 39 or even 40 I can’t explain it. I’m here, right now. I’m mostly healthy and my life is so fantastic on a global comparison type scale that frankly it’s not worth mentioning the tiny things that bug me… no, really.

You may recall my vintage hair-do a few months back. I loved it. My husband tolerated it. My friends loved it. Best of all? I felt groomed. That is such a rare thing for me but it made me feel more together somehow.

Ava-Gardner dressing table vintage lady

What am I going to wear today? Something SASSY I think.

I came across other women who felt the same and who had not only blogged about it but generously shared WHY they had done it: for example, the Glamorous Housewife or Tuppence Ha’Penny.

My main motivations are:

  • to streamline my morning decisions (even if we go ahead and homeschool, who wants to make every morning a big production?)
  • to feel like I care about myself and how I look, even if that seems a bit trivial sometimes
  • to show my daughter we can look after ourselves and still be fun, intelligent, modest and loving women
  • to make my husband glad he comes home every night
  • to simplify. So much of life feels like there’s just TOO MUCH of everything – today’s example, buying black eyeliner. Why do we need a zillion types of eyeliner? Gah.
  • to motivate myself to maintain my health, fitness and alignment. It’s easy, oh so easy, to slob about in my worn and threadbare Flax pinafores which allow my weight to fluctuate by anything up to thirty pounds (SERIOUSLY). But I’m 41 and there will come a point soon where losing those pounds gets harder and harder and has more of an impact on my overall health. With my darling mama facing double knee replacements aged (much younger than she has any right to be), that lazy laissez-faire attitude to health is not a great thing.
What type of FABULOUS do you want today?

What type of FABULOUS do you want today?

Where to Start

I began with the awesomeness that is the Tuppence Ha’Penny 1949 wardrobe blog. Please take the time to read it – what I loved was the practicality and simplicity of the items and the reasoning behind them – it really will take you anywhere.

The list includes: two suits, light grey, black. six dresses (print dinner dress, heavy crepe dress, four cotton); Petticoats, cami knickers, pants in tricot; 2 bras, girdles, six nylons(!); four pairs of shoes (tan walking, bronze ankle strap, black suede ankle strap, double strap); 2 pringle twin sets, one black evening sweater; four hats; accessories (4 gloves, long woolen stole, 3 cotton headscarves, gold necklace/belt).

So I sat down, wrote a list of what I did on a daily basis: I go to Church and occasionally coffee (although my hyperosmia imposes stupid limits on my socialising these days); I stay at home and paint, sew and clean (when I’m not blogging or browsing for patterns); I garden and look after chickens (currently four adorable bantams) and finally I suppose it makes sense to include clothes that would work for things like yoga or my wonderful MuTu. From that list, it’s really easy to see what kind of clothes I need.

I broke that down into:

  • Working at home: day dresses (cotton, jersey). Cardigans. Skirt & Blouse. Aprons. Tunic & long bloomers (for feeling funky or bloated).
  • Gardening Dungarees (from kwik sew pattern), skirts (yes, I garden in skirts), 2-3 jersey tops.
  • Church/Shops: day dresses (cotton, jersey). Skirt & Blouse. Cardigan (although it gets stinking hot in our wee church each week).
  • Walking/Working Out: tracksuit bottoms (2-3), jersey tops, one t-shirt (I don’t do upper arms).

That’s not bad, is it?

From my current wardrobe, I will be keeping:

  •  Unmentionables
  • Black velvet long hooded coat; tailored velvet jacket (although it’s not that great, it could work)
  • Green wool jacket (handmade, with a convertible collar and sort of 1915 styling)
  • Brown velvet cape (mainly for stroking)
  • Purple anorak (because I live in Scotland and the rain is horizontal).
  • White linen blouse (hip length, elbow length sleeves, self tie belt & pintuck front)
  • Grey linen waterfall front jacket and matching wide leg trousers (that don’t quite fit at the moment)
  • Black linen dress (to hide in: peter pan collar, long sleeves, waist ties and floor length skirt)
  • Tracksuit bottoms and v-neck jersey tops that don’t have paint on them. Yet.

This means my “To be made” list includes:

  • Grey wool fitted coat (5 metres of grey coating, 100% wool has been in my wardrobe for, oh, 7 years?)
  • Grey skirt, Black skirt
  • Dungarees (pattern and fabric – floral denim and burgundy corduroy – already in cupboard).
  • Tunic and Bloomers (for when I’m feeling funky or fat)
  • Cotton Dresses: The Colette Hawthorn, McCalls Shirtdress and possibly Miz Mozelle too.
  • Jersey Dresses: Black, Grey, Red or Purple, using various patterns; Tiramisu by Cake which has a long sleeve hack, Vogue 1027 like Kate and maybe New Look 6823 which reminds me of Gertie’s “Background Dress” – I like the Vogue one here too but a zip? in a jersey dress?
  • Blouses: print voile, grey print cotton lawn, 2 or 3 solid colours. I’m a bit stuck on the patterns for these but the Colette Hawthorn also makes a peplum blouse, Sewaholic “Alma” is adaptable but I’m open to suggestions!
  • Aprons: 1 full length (I have the Sensibility Edwardian pattern for me and Wee Bear) and 2 or 3 bib front ones for wearing while cooking.

And so that means that my list of What To Buy is admirable short:

  • new knickers. I have TONS of cute lingerie fabric but I’m not spending precious sewing time cutting and sewing up plain underwear, which is a different animal altogether.
  • Twin sets: Black, green, red. Maybe two black sets.
  • Hats: black, green, red or purple. Maybe both. My friend Joyce Paton is an extraordinary dressmaker and milliner who I’m hoping will either do a guest post on millinery or erm, let me try some hats on!
  • Shoes: walking shoes in black and neutral. This is tricky because I can’t do heels. I have plantar fasciitis that has caused huge issues over the last year and is only slightly resolving now, thanks to Katy Bowman and her stretches. So. Flat black walking shoes, either tan or grey walking shoes, and something like a slip on mary jane – but all FLAT and all breathable. I have to confess I spend nearly 9 months of the year in sandals because I hate having hot feet.
  • Handbags, scarves and gloves. I want natty cotton gloves in black, grey and possibly red. Why not? Women look amazing when their accessories bring neutral colours to life.


I don't have enough hats.

I don’t have enough hats.

Wish me luck! I will be throwing things out or selling them before I fill up my wardrobe again so I’d better get sewing fast.

All photographs are from the site of Penny Dreadful Vintage: they sell all manner of glorious vintage clothing (a few things I remember first time around…) and ship globally.

Sewing World Magazine: a Review (& recommendation)

SW131001There are literally dozens of ‘sewing’ magazines on the racks these days, aren’t there? How on earth do you choose among them? Do you really want yet another set of a dozen felted handsewn animal finger puppets and how to recycle old newspapers into crocheted doilies?

I don’t. Not very often. I’m incredibly old fashioned and like my knitting patterns in a knitting magazine, crochet in crochet magazine and best of all, a sewing magazine which concentrates on that because, let’s face it, time is short folks. I was kindly sent a copy of Sewing World Magazine to review and received the July 2013 issue. I’m about to order the October one and a couple of back issues so that should tell you what I thought of it!

Overall the look is clean: not too much whimsy, not toooooo girly, (indeed one of the articles is about men who sew – they do!) and of course the requisite advertising which, thankfully, doesn’t dominate the copy or patterns (which happens in other magazines we won’t mention).

The contents are clearly laid out so you can skip to the pattern you’re interested in fast and in this particular issue there are:- a quilt pattern, sewing machine cover, glasses case, cushions and coasters (to practice your machine embroidery), a light voile blouse (to practice your placket insertion), a doll and bunny set and a small girls skirt made from strips that would be a good stash buster, beginners project or way to use up a jelly roll. There are also tips on beating the overlocker blues (which we’ve all had), working with chiffon and a ‘masterclass’ on adapting and fitting a shift dress.

Apart from a minor gripe about the poly dupion used in the masterclass pattern dress (which makes my skin creep just thinking about it) I thought it was a really helpful ‘hand hold’ for those who are unsure about sewing from a multi-size pattern: I’m not sure if making a muslin was covered in an earlier edition but I have to say, every time I haven’t I’ve regretted it! The Pippi style doll is very sweet, with a naive look and lots of pockets for treasures – she would be a perfect gift, if a little fiddly for those of us with little patience *cough*… the Rainbows Edge quilt is very modern and fresh but without being ghastly and garish – the Kona solids jelly roll was used and I have to say, I’m seriously tempted: it would look fantastic in our room, or covering a sofa. The best range I’ve seen in the UK are here from Cottonpatch although I’m not sure which one I will choose… Maybe I’ll have to make two? Three? There is something incredibly soothing about machining a quilt together after hours of doll’s dresses and smocking.

I have to confess: I’m not a massive fan of sewing cushion covers, bags, coasters etc. I do, sometimes, get down to it (and there’s a tutorial for a yoga bolster coming soon!) but generally, I don’t have time. They are great to get started on machine embellishment though, so who knows, I may return to it in time. Likewise, I wasn’t massively enamoured of the little girl’s skirt: it was cute but I’m spoiled by the patterns I have from Farbenmix et al.

Most usefully the patterns are printed on a separate, pull-out sheet in nice sturdy paper. No tissue paper going into holes as you trace it out! If you happen to lose it, the patterns can also be downloaded from the magazine website! I also enjoyed the piece on sewing with chiffon, written by the Fabric Godmother who also happens to have a fabulous selection of fabrics and patterns by my favourite modern pattern-makers online. Perfect.

There’s a Pattern Showcase which is a speedy way to keep up with who’s publishing what as well as website addresses: I know we can all google but frankly, it’s yet another thoughtful piece of information that tells me this magazine is written for people like me who love sewing but are short on time. Or feel short on time!

Best of all: the overlocker troubleshooting guide! What I would’ve given for this a few months ago when my trusty workhorse just would NOT PLAY. Ugh. I love my overlocker in the way that most women love chocolate: they couldn’t do without it but it doesn’t half cause some stress! Finally, after a bit of advertising and some helpful directories, there’s a large spread of Simplicity New Look patterns at a bargain price – in this case mostly for summer but the pictures are large enough to allow you to see the details and there’s a short description such as you’d give to a friend asking about the pattern.

I really enjoyed the magazine and will actually make things from it, as well as keep it for the next time I’m working with slippery chiffon on a spring blouse or my overlocker has a hissy fit – no mean feat to escape the recycling pile in this house! I wholeheartedly recommend it for people who actually love sewing best of all.


Retro Shoes: American Duchess giveaway!

There are several super-cool posts just awaiting the removal of my current lurgy & pre-autumnal apathy (anyone else get that end-of-summer-dip? just me?) but in the short term, here’s a super, super cute giveaway.

American Duchess, purveyors of fine historical footwear, have produced a pair of adorable 1930s inspired shoes. Not only of their usual high quality and style but one pair is being given away free. Free. Nada, gratis, not a penny required. Why wouldn’t anyone sign up for that? I dunno.

clare-comp-1 claremont-1930s-suede-oxford-brown-2 Claremont-pre-order-banner-1

Tere you are: a linkety link and a few beyootiful pics to whet your vintage appetites. Now, I must fly – coffee, a warm scarf around my poorly neck and plotting my next few posts await. Seriously.