Toaster Sweater 2 and a trip to Rotterdam

At the end of last year I signed up for Sew My Style 2017. The first item, to be sewn in January, was the Toaster Sweater 2 by Sew House 7.  I had some wonderful sweatshirt fabric that I had bought from Guthrie & Ghani with the intention to turn it into a Linden sweatshirt. However, I didn't get round to sewing the Linden, and when the time came to sew the Toaster sweater, I decided to use my fabric for this.

The sweater sewed up really quickly and easily. It is incredibly comfortable, yet looks stylish, thanks to the neckline shape. I didn't do any modifications at all, and while I am happy with it, next time I will lengthen the hem slightly. Also, I'll try a slightly thinner fabric. My sweatshirt fabric is very thick, and as a result a bit stiff. It looks fine, but I think a bit more drape would look even better. 

Shortly after I made Toaster sweater Josh and I were heading to Rotterdam for a long weekend. It was early February and still cold, so I packed the Toaster. And it did a great job keeping me toasty.

So overall, I am a fan. So much so that I made one for my friend as a birthday present recently. 

The February Sew My Style item was a disaster for me, but that's a story for another time.

And regarding Rotterdam, it is a lovely city. The reason we chose to go was to see a photo exhibition at the Kunsthal. We knew very little about the city before going, except that is has the largest port in Europe. I had been told by a colleague who'd been that it's quite ugly. 

But actually, I didn't find it ugly at all! I loved the architecture! And the mix of old Dutch houses and new, funky buildings.

Of course, it's nowhere near as beautiful as Amsterdam, but it has its own charm.

I wouldn't necessarily go again, as I have an endless list of other places I'd like to see, but I enjoyed our trip here very much.

Photo credit: first 3 photos are by Josh.

Goals for 2017

So last year I outlined how I don't like new year's resolutions, but I'm a big fan of setting myself goals every year.  However small, they motivate me to do something differently. This year is no different. But before listing my goals for 2017, a quick evaluation of my 2016 goals.

2016 goals...

1. Learn to knit more advanced things.
Evaluation: Yes. I knitted my first ever pair of socks in 2016. And two more pairs before the end of the year. I also knitted two cardigans for babies, which is the cheat version of knitting clothes. 

2. Drive more. 
EvaluationBig fat YES. I started the year by driving to Ascot for afternoon tea with friends. Not terribly far, but far enough to test my confidence. Since then I have driven to (well, home from) Devon and the Lake District. I’ve even driven on another continent! Canberra to the Snowy Mountains in Australia. Bit of a silly goal to some, but considering what a nervous driver I was at the beginning of 2016 this one feels like a real victory.

3. See more of the UK. 
Evaluation: Yes. I went with Josh to Devon and the Lake District. I also made a couple of day trips with friends. First to Welford Park in Berkshire to see the snowdrops, then to Hitchin in Hertfordshire to see the lavender fields, and to Bristol to see the hot air balloons ascend over the city. 

4. Work on focus and mindfulness. Yoga and/or meditation. 
Evaluation: Yes and no. I went to a lot of body balance and pilates classes in 2016, which helped massively with anxiety, restlessness, bad sleep, the lot. I stopped going when I switched gyms, but the effects seem to have lasted. To be honest, I think what I needed was a change in mindset and body balance/pilates gave me the opportunity to clear my mind to help me make that change.

5. In terms of sewing, make things using fabrics and patterns I already have instead of buying new.
Evaluation: Fail! Big, massive fail. I have been buying fabrics at a much faster rate than I sew. So it looks like this goal will make a re-appearance this year.

6. Take and share more and better photos on this blog and Instagram.
Evaluation: Yes and no. I made much more of an effort with Instagram and think the quality of my photos are better. The blog, not so much, and it is something I’d like to do as I love having it as a visual diary. So carry-over until this year.

7. Live more frugally. 
EvaluationFail. But it was very pleasant failing at this one. Jokes aside, carryover for this year.

8. Start being a grown-up about my career.
Evaluation: Big yes. I did a lot of thinking about my career and future and spent October-December working really hard on trying to make the changes.

And in 2017 I will...

1. Read more books. Ideally an average of one per month
This might be one of the most simple pleasures, yet I often leave the book on my bedside untouched in favour of scrolling through Instagram. When I think of how many books I could have gotten through in the last 365 days if I had spent those 20 min of scrolling on reading instead I feel like I've cheated myself.

2. Do more!
Bit of a vague goal, but essentially I'd like to fill my free time with more experiences. Day trips. Long walks in the woods/fields. Driving to the beach on a hot weekend. Spa days. Hiking trips. Whatever really. My favourite days from last year was experiencing things with friends and Josh. So more of that.

3. Go somewhere I’ve never been before
I think I’ll make this a yearly goal.

4. Keep exercising
I feel so good when I do it, yet it’s the first thing I give up when I’m going through a busy period in my life (and when I probably need it the most). So I’m going to try really hard to just make it part of my normal routine. Cycling to work definitely helps, even if it doesn’t feel like that on an unlit path in darkest December with icy pouring rain coming down.

5. Continue keeping a visual diary
The older I get the more I feel that time is going quickly. I don’t mind, as I think I’m reasonably good at filling it with nice things, but I’m not so good at remembering those things. Particularly the small details, which often bring the most pleasure. So I will make a real effort to document things on this blog.

6. Sew a coat and a pair or jeans
I didn't really challenge myself last year or learn any new sewing skills, so this year I'm planning to go outside my comfort zone a bit. A coat and a pair of jeans should be two good challenges.

7. Finally finish that quilt
For my mom's 50th birthday I decided to make her a quilt. I didn't finish it on time. She just turned 53 and I still haven't finished it. So I'll aim to finish it for her 54th instead. And make it epic to make up for the time!

8. Career, career, career
I’ll keep the details of my goals here to myself, but this is massively on my mind and something I’m going to continue pouring time and effort into.

9. Consume less/live more frugally
Last year I aimed to not buy so much new fabric and instead use what I already had. And I failed miserably. So I'll try again this year. And while I'm at it, I'll aim to not buy a lot of crap when it comes to material things generally.

My 2016 summary in Instagram photos

So...last year went by fast! I remember writing my summary of 2015. It doesn't feel long ago at all. And yet it does. It has been a busy year, and overall quite a good one. Well, for me personally. What has been happening in the world around us is a whole different story.

So for the second year running, my summary of the previous year, in Instagram photos:

January last year was kind of miserable. SAD struck with quite some force. My mood was low, I was sluggish, it was just an unhappy couple of weeks.

Towards the end of January my mood was improving. I decided to do something fun to start the year off in a more cheerful way and went to Coworth Park with two friends for afternoon tea. It was so lovely that we are doing it again in a few weeks.

February came and with it sad personal news. Spending time with friends and family helped. The photo above is from a visit I made to Welford Park with a friend to see the snowdrops. The ground was white with them, it was really quite beautiful. It's also the place where the last few seasons of the Great British Bake-Off were filmed.

I knitted my first pair of socks in February. I wrote a post about them and how switching attention from big problems to small challenges was helpful during this time. These socks are so ugly in real life, one is a lot bigger than the other and in the first wash the colours bled and now they are mostly just grey, but I absolutely love them.

Things got a lot better from March onwards. The days got longer and brought sunshine and I started running regularly again. Running has always been my anti-depressant.

One of my closest friends has her birthday in March so we had brunch at the Shard one sunny weekend to celebrate. The view was completely ok. :)

I went to Australia in April. Finally, after intending to for the 4 years my friend had lived out there. It was incredible. I loved everything about Australia. If it wasn't so far away from everything I would be tempted to migrate. This photo is of Manly beach, taken shortly after getting off the 22h flight.

May was incredible. The weather couldn't have been better, everything was blossoming, and I started training for my next half-marathon. After one 10 km Sunday run I laid down in the grass among the buttercups and cows in this meadow and contemplated how ridiculously idyllic life is some days.

June was all about running and spending time with friends and Josh. The evenings were balmy and I'd often come home from work and go straight for a run in the afternoon sunshine. In the photo above I had finished one such run and gotten dressed to go to the movies with Josh. My top is a refashion of a shirt I had originally made for him.

We drove down to Devon for a wedding. The weather was appalling. Relentless rain and floods. But we had fun on the way down, listening to football games on the radio and eating strawberries. And the wedding was beautiful, as love always is.

The weather improved again in July and I spent most of my free time either running or reading books on various lawns.

And August brought some guessed it, running. My friend and I upped our training for the half-marathon and in the photo above we had covered 15 km. Unfortunately we also got lost in some fields, which wasn't fun at the time, but we laughed plenty at it afterwards.

August also saw me do a couple of day trips with a friend. I love day trips, they are such a good way of actually doing and seeing something in a weekend. The photo above is from one such day trip to Bristol. We went specifically for the Bristol Balloon Fiesta and were lucky to see the balloons as every prior planned ascent had gotten cancelled due to strong winds.

On the last day of August we moved! This was kind of unplanned, but when our rent for a teeny tiny apartment went up to an extortionate amount we started looking around. We found an adorable cottage in the most charming location. This is the kind of place I will be looking for when I'm ready to buy a property.

Because of the move September was stupid busy. It was made extra busy because we were making a trip to the Lake District (planned before the move) and because I was going away for 5 days with work to a conference in London. By the time September ended I was exhausted. But happy. 

I didn't take a great deal of photos in October. It was a busy month both at work and outside of work. When I had a free moment I spent it reading in bed.

While I don't have any pictures of it, I ran the Oxford half-marathon for the second time in October. Improved my time and finally broke the 2 h mark.

November was also busy. So busy. I went for walks in the fields near my house every free moment when there was daylight, visiting the sheep and watching the leaves change colours and ultimately fall off the trees. I didn't sew a lot, but I made about three of these turtlenecks. I've blogged one of them.

And December was...busy. Until the 16th anyways. Then me and Josh hopped on a flight to Sweden and took a well-deserved break. We visited our friends in Swedish Lapland where we spent the days riding snow scooters, reading books, playing board games, eating good food and just enjoying each other's company. Then followed a super-lazy week with my family. And we came back to the UK rested, refreshed and ready to take on 2017.

A love for turtle necks

I've said it before and I'll say it again, I love comfy clothes above any other clothes! And I love turtle necks. So naturally it was just a matter of time before I started sewing my own super-comfy turtle necks. Enter the Paola turtle neck tee from Named Clothing.

I have to admit that while I pretty much only use indie patterns, I didn't try a Named pattern until recently. No reason, except that my sewing queue was near-infinite and my free time non-existent. But I couldn't resist the Beatrix dress and once I had made that I became OBSESSED. Like, I want ALL the Named patterns! The fit is out of this world. I've never received so many compliments on a dress, handmade or otherwise. (A post about Beatrix will definitely come once I've taken some photos, but it's my favourite me-made dress to date, so I have to do her justice.)

As mentioned, my free time is limited at the moment, so I had to pick something quick and easy for my next Named pattern. I chose Paola.

And the verdict? I love Paula as much as Beatrix! So easy to make, such good (COMFY!) fit, so perfect.

In fact, I like Paola so much I've made three. Two are the straight up tee, including the one pictured in this post, the third is a frankendress with Moneta. Both from the same lovely Milano jersey from Fabric Godmother, in my favourite colour for November, soulless grey.

The other day I was in a horrific, full-on SAD mood. So I paired the tee with some jeans, my Hunters, my lacy shawl and a big heavy coat for a November walk in the fields behind my house. And felt amazing after. Fresh air cures everything.

I think these guys had a proper giggle over me posing for the self-timer.

Autumnal Darling Ranges Dress and A Lacy Shawl

Almost two months ago I moved from an urban apartment to a rural cottage. And my quality of life went through the roof! In the country there is so much space, it is so quiet, my one (!) neighbour is lovely, he gives me crab apples and sloe berries and I give him some blackberry jam I made, the air feels clean, there is a field of sheep a few hundred metres down the road looking cute every time I cycle past them, the view out the window is always pretty and the local pub serves fantastic food. Did I mention how quiet it is? So quiet!

I have fully embraced this country bumpkin lifestyle and shortly after moving in bought a pair of Hunter wellies. Partly out of vanity, partly necessity. The necessity is that it is muddy here when it rains, so wellies are the most sensible footwear. The vanity is that it could have been any wellies, but for me they have to look good enough to wear in public (the public clearly being the flock of sheep and my one neighbour).

Next up I wanted a girly dress. You see, ever since seeing the film The Edge of Love in which Kiera Knightley and Sienna Miller walk on a Welsh beach in dresses and wellies, I've had been obsessed with that type of outfit. Now that I had the boots, making the dress was easy.

Especially as I had the fabric! A friend gifted me some fabric about two years ago and I haven't quite known what to make with it. I asked the sewing goddesses of Instagram, and got some good suggestions. But something told me to save the fabric. And a few weeks later I realised - the fabric would look perfect as a Darling Ranges dress!

I had made one ages ago which I loved. But I remember having issues with the darts. As luck would have it, I was looking at the pattern online and noticed that it now had waist darts instead. I emailed Megan about the new pattern, and with my response I got a copy of the new pattern. And guess what? No issues with the darts this time! Thanks Megan!

(Btw, that wasn't the reason the pattern changed, my issues with the chest darts were because my body type is simply different from that for which the pattern was designed.)

The dress sewed up fairly easily and quickly. The pattern is a delight and very easy to follow. I made no changes with this version.

The fabric presented some issues when it decided to slide all over the sewing table, or not press, but we got there in the end.

The shawl was a long time in the making. I had made one before, for my mom, but liked it so much I wanted one. So when I went to Australia earlier this year I decided that this pattern would be a good form of entertainment for the 22 hours of flight time each way.

I made a lot of mistakes in the first few rows due know, sleep deprivation and jet lag and all that. But you won't see them if you don't know they are there.

I made one big and impactful thing differently with this shawl compared to the previous. I wet blocked it. And while it was a huge pain in the backside the result is fantastic. I am a complete convert.

Now I just gotta work on that Range Rover to go with my country lifestyle....