Gerard’s Herbal and an exciting email

Re-bound copy of the 1597 edition of Gerard's Herbal
Gerard’s Herbal, 1597 edition, re-bound in leather with gold lettering and decoration

When I went in to the University Herbarium last week, I was extremely excited to discover that one of my fellow volunteers had very kindly brought in her incredibly beautiful first edition of Gerard’s Herbal, published in 1597. It’s been re-bound at some stage, and it’s absolutely immaculate. The paper is of variable quality, but the pages show hardly any signs of wear at all, which is incredible for a book that’s more than four hundred years old!

1597 edition of Gerard's Herbal: "The blue Harebells or English Hyacinth"
1597 edition of Gerard’s Herbal: “The blue Harebells or English Hyacinth”

I’d been looking at a digital copy earlier in the week, as well as my own facsimile copy of a later edition, because I’d been writing a blog post about making glue from bluebells. (It was released on the 4th for Patrons, and is available to everyone today.)

I’m incredibly grateful for digital collections such as, because they allow me to see the content of original texts and get stuck into some research even on the days when I’m too poorly to get out of bed, never mind venture out to visit an archive. There really is nothing quite as exciting as seeing the real thing though!

1597 edition of Gerard's Herbal: "A Table of the Natures, Virtue and Dangers"
1597 edition of Gerard’s Herbal: “A Table of the Natures, Virtue and Dangers”

For example, I didn’t know that Gerard’s Herbal included “A Table of the Natures, Vertue and Dangers“, because it isn’t part of my facsimile copy of the third edition. Now that I know about it, I can make plans to look up specific illnesses (some of them described in rather alarming detail!) and see which plants are recommended and how they should be used.

As if the afternoon wasn’t exciting enough, I checked my email and discovered that I’ve been offered an unconditional place on the History MA!

An unconditional offer to study a part-time MA in History at the University of Reading
An unconditional offer to study a part-time MA in History at the University of Reading

This might be the most ridiculous thing I’ve tried to do since I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia back in 2012 (well, okay, after the swordfighting!), but I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to it. Everybody I spoke to while I was in the process of applying agreed that part-time would be the best approach. Not only does it give my unreliable health as much recovery time as possible, it also allows me to actually enjoy the individual modules rather than rushing through them – not to mention giving me an extra year to fine tune the details of my PhD proposal, if that turns out to be the path I want to take.

I still have a couple of sewing and knitting projects for friends and family on the go (all delayed by my health having leapt out at me recently), but as soon as those are finished I’m going to be hitting the books and spending as much time as possible studying before I start the course. It’s twenty-two years since I graduated from my BA(Hons), so I need to make sure I can still remember how to write academic essays as well as informal blog posts. I just can’t wait to get started!

Welcome to the new website!

eternal magpie and miss mouse, image copyright Rainbright Photography
eternal magpie and miss mouse, image © Rainbright Photography

Hello! Hopefully this website switchover has been a relatively pain-free experience all round, and here we are!

So, in case you’re wondering, eternal magpie is now primarily a blog rather than a shop… although you can still buy dresses if you’d like to. I’m just making them exclusively to order these days, rather than trying to fill a little online shop with stock.

If you were a follower of my old blog, which has been going since 2006!, you’ll find that most of the archives have now been reinstated. Some of them are missing pictures and links, but I’m gradually going through and fixing as much as I can. I’m also putting back together the tutorials that people have been looking for – you can find those in the menu at the top of the page.

I’ve copied over a few blog posts from my previous website – mostly the ones that were about something other than announcing a new product for the shop, or a sale, or something marketing/admin related.

From now on I’m mostly going to be blogging about my own sewing and knitting and nature finds, much as I did on the old blog. I’ll also be linking out to Miss Mouse & friends when they’ve been up to something exciting, and to my other Patreon project, Mrs Magpie Writes.

Hopefully it will also be easier for you to leave comments and for me to respond to them now that I’m back in a proper blog format. I’m looking forward to chatting with you!

Visible Mending?

hand knitted black jumper with frayed cuff
hand knitted black jumper with frayed cuff

I recently starting following the #visiblemending hashtag on Instagram, and am currently filled with inspiration! I’ve been thinking about replacing this jumper for a long time (I’ve been wearing it for more than twenty years), but now I’m wondering whether I might just buy a ball of wool and re-knit the cuffs instead. The rest of the jumper’s fine!  Although in the spirit of visible mending, and also using what I have, perhaps it would be even better to have a rummage through my box of odds and ends, find something in the right weight, and replace the cuffs with that.

blue jeans with an almost worn out area
blue jeans with an almost worn out area

My jeans are going to need repairing pretty soon as well. When I bought my Monkee Genes I deliberately chose the longer length, despite being a short person, so that when they inevitably needed mending I could chop a couple of inches off the hems and use it to patch the knees. As it happens, they haven’t yet worn out at the knees, and I actually rather like wearing them turned up. The place where they are starting to wear out, which is on the thighs, also needs more fabric than I can scavenge from the turn-ups, so I need another solution. 

I did think about going to a charity shop and buying a sacrifical pair of jeans, that could live in the sewing pile and be used to make patches until my Monkee Genes have worn out completely. And then I thought, again, that I have miles and miles of fabric in my stash, so why not use some of that? 

square liberty print patches and a rotary cutter, on a cutting board
square liberty print patches and a rotary cutter, on a cutting board

What I’d quite like to use is some Liberty print cotton, as I have quite a few rather small pieces. Even though it’s very fine, the Tana Lawn is a very closely woven fabric, so with a bit of something plain layered up behind it, it should actually make quite a serviceable patch.

But… given the nature of the floral prints… and given the nature of the area that needs patching… is it going to look as though there’s been some kind of disaster in the underwear department, if I patch the thighs of my jeans with Liberty lawn? I might have to loosely tack some pieces on, and see what I think!

Dyeing Disaster Averted!

old duvet cover dyed pink with dylon machine dye
old duvet cover dyed pink with dylon machine dye

At the weekend I decided to buy some Dylon dye pods to transform some duvet covers from my stash so I could use them to make dresses, rather than buying five metres of brand new fabric that I didn’t really need. This first one was almost a complete disaster that thankfully has turned out well in the end! 

The fabric is poly/cotton, so I knew it wouldn’t dye to a deep colour… but I forgot that I really needed two pods per duvet cover, and I accidentally bought Tulip Red (a bright, blue-toned red) instead of Rosewood Red (a deeper, orangey-red) because I couldn’t remember which one matched my previously-dyed yoga pants. Oops. Thankfully it’s actually turned out a really nice shade of bright pink, so I’m calling that a success! 

(It doesn’t even remotely go with my yoga pants, but it’s turned out beautifully in its own right!)

old duvet cover dyed turquoise with dylon machine dye
old duvet cover dyed turquoise with dylon machine dye

This photo is not terribly accurate colour-wise, it has to be said. It’s Paradise Blue, a lovely shade of turquoise. This duvet cover does seem to be 100% cotton (there was no label), as the dye has taken more deeply. Again, I used one pod instead of two, so it’s dyed to a lighter shade and the original print still shows through. I’m really looking forward to turning this one into a pretty dress for the summer – and hopefully showing you a much better photo of the fabric! 

old duvet cover dyed blue with dylon machine dye
old duvet cover dyed blue with dylon machine dye

This photo has also come out terrible, and doesn’t give a good impression of the fabric at all! It was white, again a poly/cotton blend, so you get an interesting textured or marled effect where the dye doesn’t stick to the polyester part of the fabric. Believe it or not, it’s dyed with Navy Blue, and in real life it’s a rather nice faded denim colour. All I need to do is decide on the pattern placement for the different print elements, and this one will be a winter shirt dress for wearing over a long-sleeved t-shirt and thick leggings.

Coincidentally a friend messaged me over the weekend for advice on how to dye her son’s school trousers without ruining her washing machine. All I could say was follow the instructions, and you’ll be absolutely fine! I must admit that, living in a hard water area, you do get dye residue sticking to any limescale that’s on the glass door or the rubber seal, but it washes off if you can be bothered. In all the (many!) years I’ve been using Dylon in the washing machine I’ve never had any kind of incident in terms of the following washes having traces of colour on them, or with dyed garments leaching colour onto anything else. I highly recommend it for breathing a new lease of life into your clothes – and duvet covers!

(PS – Dylon? Still not impressed with the new pods, to be honest. I love that they contain the salt now, I love that you can just chuck them in the machine… but I hate that they’re a big lump of plastic that my local council doesn’t recycle. At least with the old packaging I could recycle the cardboard box, and there was only the small plastic lining sachet to go in the bin. Oh, and they’re an absolute nightmare to store in a cupboard, because they don’t stack, and they take up loads of space!)

I made a basket!

basket weaving workshop - basket base
basket weaving workshop – basket base

On Saturday I went to a Basket Weaving workshop with Christine Brewster at Reading Museum, as part of their “Art in the Dark Ages” series. There were ten of us altogether, all completely new to basket weaving, although most of us were craftspeople of some sort. We spent six hours with hardly a break (but plenty of cups of tea!) working hard to overcome the technical challenges involved in making a willow basket in a single day. We all started with a twisted willow hoop that was provided, which determined the overall size of the basket. The picture above is the completed base. So far, so satisfying and extremely therapeutic! 

basket weaving workshop - basket detail
basket weaving workshop – basket detail

As soon as I started to weave the beginnings of the basket proper… that’s when I discovered that it’s not as therapeutic as it first seems – unless you already know what you’re doing! If you haven’t selected nice sturdy willow pieces right at the beginning (which I hadn’t, in a few spots), it makes the weaving a teensy bit difficult. You can see on the right where one of the uprights has collapsed and is bending around the horizontals that are being woven on either side of it. That’s not supposed to happen… but thankfully Christine was extremely good at troubleshooting all of our wonky bits, and was also extremely patient with our many, many questions!

basket weaving workshop - basket detail of hole
basket weaving workshop – basket detail of hole

Christine did say that as soon as you’ve started to get the hang of weaving your first basket, you almost immediately want to start making your second one. It’s not long before you’re able to spot things that you should have done differently right at the beginning that affect the basket as it grows. Sadly basket weaving is not like knitting, where you can just unravel a little bit and go back to put something right. If you start off wonky you’re going to end up wonky! I’ll admit it took me quite a while (and a lot of grumbling) to get past my inner perfectionist and relax into the fact that my basket was just going to be a bit wobbly and have some interesting holes in it. 

basket weaving workshop - Claire holding completed basket
basket weaving workshop – Claire holding completed basket

But look at this! In just six hours I made a willow basket, complete with a wrapped cane handle!

Some people’s baskets had shaped finger holes, some had no handles at all, some had vertical stripes, and some were all one colour. In fact every single basket came out completely different, even though we were all working with the same materials and to the same instructions. 

I haven’t yet decided what I’m going to keep in my basket, but I have made a note in my diary to remind me that I need to leave it out in the rain once a year, to keep it from going brittle. The things you learn on a good workshop! I really, really enjoyed it.

A long (overdue) skirt

long green skirt made from recycled tablecloth
long green skirt made from recycled tablecloth

Skirt up a tree! A very bare lilac tree, on a sunny winter’s day. It snowed on the morning that I took this, just a little bit, and the rest of the day was bright sunshine. Lovely.

The colour doesn’t show too brilliantly here, it’s actually a lovely green overdyed on top of a gorgeous swirly coral-like pattern. The translucent effect is what happens when you dye over an existing pattern, particularly on a polyester/cotton blend fabric. The dye doesn’t stick to the polyester, so you get a lovely textured effect. In its former life the fabric was a big circular Marks & Spencer tablecloth, and the ruffle is original.

I made it for Sarah of Rainbright Photography, as a very long overdue swap for the gorgeous photo shoot she did for me back in June. (Seven months! Oh dear. Sorry Sarah!)

I find it difficult to photograph skirts – even on the mannequin they look a bit sad because it’s the movement as you wear them that brings them to life. This one has pockets (of course!), and the waistband is elasticated at the back so it should be super comfy. With leggings or nice thick tights underneath, it will be nice and warm for the impending cold weather – not that winter is putting Sarah off from getting outside with her camera. If you follow her on Facebook or Instagram, you’ll see lots of gorgeous winter portraits, and there’s even a special package where you can book a set of photo shoots across all four seasons!

The planners are staying!

the my busy week planners are staying!
the my busy week planners are staying!

I just want to say a big THANK YOU to the folks who asked whether the children’s planners would be sticking around once this website changes from a shop into a blog. The answer is yes! I loved designing them, and I love that people are finding them useful, so they’re definitely going to stay. 

I currently order them in small batches, to try and keep the printing costs at a sensible price. I can’t have them printed on demand as they’re ordered, as having them printed one at a time makes the books around £45 each! And that’s just silly. But the difficulty with having to wait until I have enough pre-orders to get a small batch printed is that I have no way of telling people how long that might take. So I tend to do a couple of pre-orders a year, one before the start of the school term, and again before Christmas. BUT! One of the main points of the planner is that it’s undated, so you can buy one at any time of the year and start filling it in whenever you like. And that’s impossible if there isn’t a pre-order taking place when you want to start your planner. 

So… I’m looking at ways of making them more easily available. 
(But don’t worry – I will keep the current pre-order system running for the forseeable future.) 

the moon journal is now available on amazon
the moon journal is now available on amazon

To get the ball rolling, this week I did a little experiment. I re-formatted the Moon Journal, and uploaded it to Amazon. Now Amazon don’t offer spiral binding or landscape format, so if I were to do this with the children’s planners, they would have to change a little bit. I’m still thinking about that, as I’m really very fond of the whole landscape format and spiral bound design. We’ll see.

But, I’ve made the Moon Journal available, and ordered a copy for myself so that I can see what the quality is like. When it arrives I’m going to write in it with as many different pens as I can lay my hands on, to make sure that the paper is thick enough to withstand felt tips and little kids. I’m also going to lay the pages out as flat as possible, and just generally try to trash the binding, to see what kind of punishment it will live up to! If I think it’s going to be suitable, I might just have a couple of experimental planners printed, let some children loose with them, and see what happens. Then I can decide whether to switch them over to print on demand via Amazon, or stick with doing these small batch print runs myself. 

If you’d like to be kept posted about how it’s all going, you might want to join the mailing list (in the right side bar, or down at the bottom of the page if you’re on mobile), which is where I send out monthly updates about what’s going on. 

Christmas Sewing – Peter Pan skirts!

elastic waist child's skirt made from Peter Pan fabric
elastic waist child’s skirt made from Peter Pan fabric

I made a couple of simple skirts for my niece this Christmas. As is often the way, I was lured over to Elephant in my Handbag, who have some excellent novelty prints including this fabulous Peter Pan design by Sarah Jane for Michael Miller. 

elastic waist child's skirt made from Peter Pan fabric
elastic waist child’s skirt made from Peter Pan fabric

While I was there, I also snapped up the very last piece of this gorgeous border print featuring Peter Pan, Wendy, John and Michael (and Michael’s teddy bear, just hidden around the side!) flying over a London cityscape. 

They really are the simplest little skirts to make. I know I’ve said this about a lot of things, but I really must write up a tutorial for you sometime. For a skirt that will fit a child up to about age seven or eight, all you need is half a metre of fabric and enough elastic to go around their waist. Easy peasy! 

I’ve lost count of how many of these little skirts I’ve made for her, but I absolutely love seeing pictures of my niece wearing them. It warms my heart that she’s almost eight, and still (for now) happy to wear things that her silly Aunty makes. 

Happy New Year!

Miss Mouse recovers from a New year's Eve party!
Miss Mouse recovers from a New year’s Eve party!

I don’t know what sort of party Miss Mouse went to last night, but it looks as though it was a good one! 

I did say that things would be changing around here in the New Year, so… what’s different? Well, as of right this second, absolutely nothing. That’s because the eternal magpie website in its current format is paid for until the middle of February, so I’m going to let it run its course before I switch over to being a blog again, rather than a shop. 

So, I’ve decided to allow the 75% Off Nearly Everything Sale to run until the end of January. At that point anything that isn’t sold will be making its way to a charity shop, so if there’s anything you’ve had your eye on, BUY IT NOW. If you’ve signed up to the mailing list or you’ve bought from me before, you’ll also have a discount code that you can use on top of the sale prices. 

(If you’re not on the mailing list, check out the form in the top menu.)

From February onwards, the site will be switching over to a WordPress blog, which is how it originally started way back in the mists of 2009. I’ve managed to import the majority of the old content back in, so I should hopefully be able to restore access to some of the sewing and felting tutorials that people are still looking for.

If I’m not going to be running a shop, what am I going to blog about? Well, the same things that I blogged about before, I think. Sustainable fashion, ethical shopping, how to make stuff, that kind of thing. I’ll also go back to blogging about my personal sewing and knitting projects, which I haven’t felt able to do while I’ve been running the shop as a focussed brand. And of course there’s always Miss Mouse, and I’m also working on a writing project which I need to get back on track in the New Year. So there will be links out to those two Patreon blogs as well. 

The mailing list will continue to run, with updates at the beginning of each month. They’ll be a round-up of what’s been happening on the blog, for anyone who doesn’t use a feed reader and doesn’t want to keep checking the website. The Facebook and Instagram pages will also be kept updated whenever a blog post goes up, so that’s another easy way to keep in touch. 

If you’re waiting for me to make something for you (I know that Rebecca has some curtains which are heading in my direction!), or you see the perfect fabric that you definitely need to have transformed into one of my dresses, please just ask! I’m not giving up sewing for other people entirely, I’m just not going to be running it as a little branded shop for a while.

(If I can figure out the logistics, I might be able to pop some easy payment buttons onto the new blog, but I haven’t got that far into the process yet.) 

So… check out the sale before I clear out my workshop… sign up to the mailing list if you’d like to be kept up to date… or follow me on Facebook or Instagram if that’s where you hang out. The promised changes are happening very soon!

Surprise Maternity Dress

dott's eternal magpie space themed maternity dress
dott’s eternal magpie space themed maternity dress

Remember the space-themed duvet cover that I turned into a maternity dress? Well, Dott and I share a love of Very Silly Fabrics, so I when I heard the news I couldn’t resist treating her to a special dress. Here it is in action – complete with a cuddly dog in each pocket! 

dott's eternal magpie space themed maternity dress
dott’s eternal magpie space themed maternity dress

This dress has the advantage that with only a small alteration (basically a big seam/dart right up the centre front) it will be perfectly wearable as a non-maternity dress too. I love the way that Dott has styled it with a fabulous pink sash belt – I love seeing how people put their outfits together. 

I’d like to say a big thank you to Dott and Dave for the photos – as well as CONGRATULATIONS, of course, on the safe arrival of Carys, who made her way into the world this week!