Feed on
Posts
Comments

bottles

I’ve been fiddling about with the idea behind Mr & Mrs Magpie’s Inexplicable Emporium for a couple of years now. It started off as a Steampunk Thing, then it was an Etsy shop… and now it’s something else.

vampire_blood

It’s a blog, written in the form of letters from Mr & Mrs Magpie to their friend Olaf. It also contains snippets of the lives of Mr & Mrs Magpie, and their friend Miss Mouse. (Other friends will follow, I’m sure.)

basilisk_venom

It’s also a shop, that will sell things that Mr & Mrs Magpie have brought back from their travels, as well as things that they’ve made. There won’t be products in the shop all the time – everything will be limited edition, and will have to wait for inspiration to strike.

venom_glow

My main focus, business-wise, is still going to be hats. I have a huge great list of different styles I want to make, and an accompanying list of hat blocks that I need to save up for. But having the Emporium around gives me more of a place to play.

fairy_dust

It’s more of an art project than anything else, really. The outcome can be just about anything I feel like, from little letters for the blog, to anything that the characters themselves might create. I’m making lots of notes, and imagining things about their everyday lives as well as the epic adventures they’ll no doubt undertake.

dragon_scales

I’m not in any great rush with this. In fact, by necessity it’ll have to be slow. Too much other stuff to do, as always. Work, hats, aromatherapy lessons, medical appointments, laundry. (Speaking of which…)

dust_scales

So all of this, really, is a very long-winded way of saying that Mr & Mrs Magpie’s (new-and-improved) Inexplicable Emporium is now open for business!

Oh, and there’s a new Facebook page too. Hope to see you there.

Travelling Show

Carters Steam Fair

We try to visit Carter’s Steam Fair every time they come to our local park, and this weekend was no exception. I wanted to take lots of photographs of the typography. (I still haven’t saved up enough money to go on Joby Carter’s signwriting course, but one day I will. One day.)

Carters Steam Fair

The rides feature two main styles of artwork – the intricately carved and decorated work of the 19th century…

Carters Steam Fair

…and the streamlined Art Deco style of the early 20th century.

Carters Steam Fair

This gorgeous Morris JB van is from the late 1950s. Every time I see it, I mentally drive it away and use it to travel around selling lovely things. Fortunately for the Carters it’s extremely unlikely that I’m ever going to learn to drive, so their ice cream van remains safe for now!

One day I must be brave and ask for permission to photograph some of the fair’s living vans. (There were people doing that, but it seemed a little bit rude. They are people’s homes, after all.) The Carter’s website has some more information about them, but not about the one I fell most in love with, which was a very streamlined caravan, which you can catch a glimpse of from their Facebook page:

I must admit, I’d gone to Carter’s looking for magic, and didn’t find it there this time. (Not through any fault of the fair, which I absolutely love, but more to do with my own frame of mind at the moment.)

hedgespoken_logo_button

So, I was very excited to go online yesterday morning and find out about Rima and Tom‘s new project – Hedgespoken. It’s going to be a travelling performance space and home all in one! Please watch the film, it’s absolutely gorgeous, and explains their hopes and dreams beautifully.

I’m hoping to find a little money to send their way at the end of the month, and I’ll be following the project’s progress with great interest.

I’m always a little bit nervous talking about my interest in magic and liminality and travelling life (particularly when I don’t travel myself!), for fear of being thought even dafter than most people think I am already. But in a world as horrible as the one we’re currently living in, I can totally understand the need to create your own magic, and to share it as widely as you can.

From my sick bed

14_10_toes

I’d only been back at work for about five minutes after my holiday when I came down with The Plague – otherwise known as the stinking cold that I catch every year when 3,500 new students arrive at the University. Usually my hyperactive immune system knocks me down flat for a couple of days, during which I stay in bed, and then I emerge feeling sorry for myself but generally well enough to go back to work. This time I was off work for a week, mostly because I had a cough but no voice, and was therefore pretty useless on a telephone and a reception desk. Once that week was over I assumed I’d be fine, but no. I went to see the doctor yesterday (about something unrelated, as it happened), and she immediately gave me a note for another week off work.

I’ve been spending a fair few nights awake, propped up on the sofa, to try and avoid keeping Paul awake with my terrible coughing. This has resulted in quite a lot of knitting being done, including learning a new technique. This nightmarish tangled mess, for which I do not currently have enough swear words, is two socks at the same time, on two circular needles. It only took me two goes to cast them both on the right way round, and I only knitted with the wrong needle (thereby finding myself trapped in an impossible loop) three or four times, so I think I’m getting the hang of it now. The toes are done, and I’m knitting my way slowly up the feet. (Very slowly, as these are for Paul, who has Very Big Feet.) I’m fairly certain I’m spending more time untangling the two balls of yarn than I am actually knitting, which is extremely frustrating, and makes the whole process seem very slow.

The yarn, by the way, is the “Sulley” colour way of Superwash sock from Woolly Wonders. It was supposed to be for me, but for the first time ever, Paul saw it in my knitting bag and quietly asked me whether it might turn into a pair of socks for him. Despite his size twelves, there was no way I could refuse… and I do have two other fantastically bright skeins (Carnival and Rainbow Sparkle) to knit socks for myself!

14_10_bottles

I’ve also been doing  a few bits and bobs for the new incarnation of Mr & Mrs Magpie’s Inexplicable Emporium. They’re explained (sort of) in the first blog post, and will be available in the shop as soon as the set is complete.

I have to confess to feeling horribly guilty about doing any kind of making while I’m off sick from my Proper Job. The thing is though, there are times when I’m genuinely not well enough to leave the house by 8am, speak to people all day, answer the telephone, concentrate on booking forms and looking after visitors… but I am well enough to sit at a table and quietly make something. (Well, I say quietly, but you haven’t heard this cough!) At home I can get up when I feel like it (except for Paul leaving to drive to a meeting at some ungodly hour this morning), I don’t have to speak to anyone, so my cough is slowly getting better, and if I want to pack everything away and go for a nap half way through the day, nobody will mind! If it was possible for me to do my Proper Job from home I’d be doing just that, but moving the museum’s reception desk to my house doesn’t seem terribly convenient. So, I’m mooching about, doing everything very slowly, and achieving what I can as I try to look after myself.

Desire To Fly from R&A Collaborations on Vimeo.

I’ve been reading a lot of blogs while I’ve been tucked up cosily on the sofa, looking in particular for artists who work with magic and fantasy and character. There are a whole bunch of people I could list (Mister Finch, The Pale Rook, and Amanda Louise Spayd, for a start), but I’ve been particularly enjoying the fairies of Samantha Bryan. I love the fact that she imagines a busy working life for her fairies – and then provides them with everything they might need to be successful. Absolutely wonderful!

There’s a bit of character-related work going on behind the scenes here, although it’s currently very firmly in the “thinking about it” stage. Lots of notes and lots of ideas, but absolutely nothing to show for it just yet. It’s related to the Emporium, in that I’m hoping to be able to bring Mr & Mrs Magpie to life a little bit… but it’s an ambitious project, so it’s sitting quietly in the background for now. We’ll see how it goes.

Prototype Hats

Jersey turban (prototype)

I’m still working on various different styles of sewn hats, as well as the blocked felt ones. This is a prototype stretch turban, which I’m really rather pleased with! It’s inspired by 1940s styles, and I don’t think it makes me look too much as though I should be wearing a housecoat and have hair curlers poking out from underneath…

Mind you, even if it does, I don’t much care, because it’s just so comfortable. The band can be pulled right down over your ears, which means it’ll be really cosy on windy days, but it’s light enough to wear in this in-between weather when it’s still not too cold. It’s also soft enough that it scrunches down to nothing, so if the sun does decide to come out you can just take it off and stick in in a pocket. Perfect!

Jersey turban (prototype)

This is prototype number two, in stretch velvet. Not as comfortable as the first one, because the fabric’s quite a bit thicker. You can’t see from these photos, but there are pleats all down the back of the hat to gather it into place. I need to undo them and replace them with something a bit less bumpy, as this one’s not quite as comfortable as the jersey version. But hey – that’s what prototypes are for – to work out exactly this kind of thing, and make any modifications that might turn out to be necessary.

Once I’ve got these little niggles worked out, I’ll be popping some photos in the Etsy shop and taking orders for these. I expect I’ll be making a couple more to keep, too.

Draped 1920s turban

This somewhat different style is my prototype Draped Turban, from a set of original 1920s instructions by Ruth Wyeth Spears.

14_10_turban

I’m not convinced it looks quite like the picture, are you?!

I found the instructions on Pinterest, courtesy of The Midvale Cottage Post blog, which I am now eagerly following. (Vintage sewing patterns and instructions? Yes please!) I cut all the pieces out as specified, without really thinking too much about the measurements. When I came to sew the side band to the crown, I discovered that the circumference of an 8″ diameter circle isn’t anywhere near 29″, so I’m not entirely certain why I was advised to cut the pieces so big. The other problem was that it simply isn’t possible to pop down to a department store and buy a handy buckram crown, so I needed to make an inner foundation for the hat. I did this with six segments made from heavy interfacing, and then again with lining. I made them a little smaller than the outer hat, because the instructions say to “distribute fullness” at the bottom.

Unfortunately my own maths had apparently also gone a little bit awry, because the dratted thing now has a circumference of only 21-and-a-bit inches, which means it’s much too small. It wouldn’t even fit on my polystyrene head without the wig, and I managed to gouge a chunk out of her ear as I was trying to force the issue. (Sorry, polystyrene lady!) I also think the inner foundation isn’t quite tall enough. It’s supposed to be a floppy hat, but there seems to be a lot more fabric to play with than the picture might suggest.

So, it’s back to the drawing board with this one, I think. Which is a shame, because I would wear the heck out of this hat… if I could get it on my head!

Selfish Sewing

Sew-Knit-N-Stretch 206, 1969

I work on alternate Mondays, so the two I’m at home have been officially designated “Selfish Sewing” days. Days when I can try out new patterns and work on my own wardrobe, without worrying about whether I should be sewing for the Eternal Magpie shop.

My Panty Girdle (with Crotch Piece) pattern arrived at the weekend, so that was the ideal candidate for my first day of Selfish Sewing!

Sew Knit N Stretch 206

I wasn’t sure what size to make (there are no measurements given anywhere on the pattern!), so I decided to go with XL, which is usually around a vintage size 18. As you can see, the pattern’s nested really nicely, so I can still make other sizes if I need to. As it turns out, in the fabric I’ve chosen (which is just a printed jersey t-shirting), the size XL was almost perfect! The only thing I need to change on the next version is to make a small sway back adjustment, by taking an inch or so out of the centre back seam at the top. Excellent!

I left out the suspender attachments on this first try, mainly because the fabric is nowhere near strong enough to hold them up. If I do decide to make a power mesh version for wearing with stockings, I think I’d probably need to cut a size smaller, to make them more like a proper “control” garment. As it is, they fit really nicely in jersey, are very comfortable, and I think this first pair will make quite serviceable summer pyjamas.

Sew Knit N Stretch 206

The cotton jersey t-shirting was a piece I had left over in the stash, as was the little lace panel. As you can see, these shorts aren’t going to win any prizes for glamour or beauty, but they make a fine wearable muslin, which was the point of the exercise. Before I make more, I need to acquire two things – some stretch lace for the legs, to stop them from riding up, and some stronger elastic for the waistband. The piece I used is nice and soft, but it lacks recovery – when I stretched it out to stitch it into place, it didn’t stretch back as far as it should have done, which could be a problem once they’ve been through the wash a few times!

The instructions for these were more comprehensive than those for the bra slip, and they had lovely little step-by-step illustrations. The only one that was a little bit tricky to understand was the diagram for the waistband elastic – it was too small to really see what was going on, and I think if you didn’t have experience of applying lingerie elastic, you could get yourself into a bit of a muddle. I’m particularly glad that my sewing machine has both a triple straight stitch and a triple zigzag – those are absolutely invaluable for sewing strong stretch seams. The triple zigzag also makes the top stitching look very professional, although all this triple stitching does use up an awful lot of thread. Two complete bobbins, for a garment that only takes half a metre of fabric!

I think the vintage-inspired wardrobe is making good progress – I just need to make a few more of everything now!

Making Changes

Right! Here we go. All of my sadly neglected Etsy listings have all now been moved into the Eternal Magpie Etsy Shop. It’s rather flooded with felt flower brooches and hair clips as the moment, which is emphasising the fact that I really need to take some new photos of those “in action”, so that people can get a better idea of what they’ll look like being worn.

I have some new hats drying on the blocks at the moment, so while I’m waiting for them to be ready I can have a good think about what kinds of trimmings I want to add to them. After several months off, it’ll be nice to have some new hats to work on!

I’ll also be getting rid of the sewing patterns and haberdashery altogether. Once their listings expire, that’s it, I’ll be taking them down to my local charity shop. They’re taking up space, they’re making the shop look untidy, and I’d rather they just went to a good home.

The Inexplicable Emporium on Etsy is now almost empty. I’m allowing the remaining listings to expire, and keeping up one post which explains where all the hats have gone! The reason for emptying this particular Etsy store is that I’ve started the process of moving it to its own domain. As a result, Mr & Mrs Magpie’s Inexplicable Emporium will have its own website, with a blog and a store, although it’s very much a work in progress at the moment. The purpose of moving this one away from Etsy was to allow us to have greater scope in the products that we’re able to offer. The ceramic oil burner, for example, goes perfectly with the soy wax tarts that I’m going to make. But because the burner isn’t hand made, I didn’t feel comfortable selling it on Etsy. (I know that I could probably have “got away with it”, under their new rules allowing third-party manufacture, but frankly I don’t think that’s what Etsy should be about. So there you go.)  There’s a lot of fiddling still to do (and a lot of blog posts and an entire back-story to write), but I will do a proper announcement when it’s all “officially” up and running.

It’s all slow progress, I know. But I am starting to feel as though it’s actual progress now, rather than just faffing about, so that must be good!

Doing the Sums

I’ve been running Eternal Magpie and the Inexplicable Emporium as a tiny business since April this year. I’ve been very good so far, and sitting down once a month to do the sums, rather than leaving it all until I have to have one giant panic about the tax return in January. (I have yet to make a suit out of my taxes, but I’m sure the time will come!)

Sitting down to fill in my spreadsheet this afternoon, I was disappointed to discover that this is the first month that I’ve failed to break even – mainly because I haven’t made as many sales as usual, and I still have Etsy fees to pay. The numbers are small, deliberately so in these early stages, but I was still slightly confused about where all the money had gone – not just this month, but since I started.

Each time I make a little profit, I’ve been buying materials to make the next lot of Things. Except, as it turns out, I haven’t actually been using those materials. I’ve been putting them in a cupboard and “saving them for later”. Well, it looks as though “later” might be here! I can’t afford to buy anything else right now, so I’d better start using up what I’ve got.

What I’ve Got turns out to look like this:

  • A huge bag of 2″ d-rings and steel rivets, for making belts
  • Three different kinds of mordant, for natural dyeing
  • A bag of linen buttons, for natural dyeing
  • Moulds for making scented wax tarts
  • Three large wool batts for making felt
  • Three different kinds of wooden buttons, for adorning naturally-dyed accessories
  • Three different kinds of powdered natural dyestuffs
  • Eight felt hoods for making new cloche hats
  • Craft felt and beads for making brooches
  • Wool felt pieces for making hat embellishments

Of course there have been other costs too – stationery , shipping, and Etsy/PayPal fees being the greatest of them. But I do have rather a lot of materials here, just waiting to be used.

Sadly the natural dyeing went completely by the wayside this summer, as the new garden simply wasn’t in a state where I could grow any useful plants. But I do have powdered dye, and mordants, and cream cotton fabric and undyed wool, so that’s something I can make a start on while the weather’s still nice. (It’s an outdoor/garage-based activity really, as the dyes sometimes smell very bad!)

The D-rings are waiting for me to actually finish my first experimental felted belt – I wasn’t sure it would be sturdy enough to carry the weight of the rings. That’s about an hour’s work, to finish off the felting and hammer in the rivets, so I’ve got no excuse for just getting that done! In fact, I could go and do that now.

The wax tarts have been put on one side until the winter, which I think is nearly upon us, despite the fact that today is glorious! I plan to melt down the old scented candles, dilute them with a little more soy wax (our overwhelming feedback was that they were a bit strong!), and pour them into shapes that can be melted with an oil burner. I’ve also now found a supplier of ethically-produced and imported oil burners, so I can put together a gift set for anybody who doesn’t own one already.

I haven’t done a great deal of felting lately, mainly because I’ve been a bit down in the dumps about it. I made lots of felted flowers back in the summer, which were widely “ooooh”ed at on Facebook and Instagram, but I haven’t actually sold many of them, and their Etsy listings are just about to expire. I tried turning one of the larger ones into a fascinator, but I wasn’t very happy with the way it came out. I think they might need a little more work (perhaps embroidery? or beads?) before they’re right.

Same with the hats, really – I’ve just been a bit un-inspired. It’s difficult to find the motivation for making lots of new hats, when the ones I’ve made already are sitting on a shelf unsold. Of course it’s been summer, which isn’t the right time of year for selling warm wool hats! I’ve been watching a lot of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, to get me in the 1920s hat frame of mind, and now that the winter coats are starting to turn up in the shops, it’s getting easier to see what colours and styles people might want to wear this season.

Trouble is, sitting around feeling uninspired turns out to be a terrible way of generating new sales. (Surprise!!) If I’m not feeling enthusiastic about my own work, there’s no reason on earth why anybody else should be, so no wonder my sales have been low this month. But, plans are in place for making improvements, and for kicking myself up the behind. And, of course, I’ve got lots of lovely new materials, all ready and waiting for me to make lots of new things!

Onwards and upwards, as they say.

A quiet month

1970s dress

Oh dear, I do seem to have got out of the habit of blogging again lately. I’ve just been feeling a bit… quiet. Which anybody who knows me will be aware, isn’t very much like me at all. I’m somewhat lacking in creative inspiration, and I’m feeling a bit fed up about it, and not really sure quite what to do with myself.

Still, the odd bit of making is happening. This is the result of Butterick 4736, the 1970s dress pattern I mentioned last time. I’ve been wearing it quite a lot, and it’s really comfortable. One person did ask me whether it was vintage or reproduction (both, I guess?), thanks to the enormous collars, but I have to admit I rather like them.

1970s Butterick 4376

I made the shorter length which, being a not-very-tall person, is pretty much spot on. I keep half wondering whether I could cut it off at hip level to make a blouse, but I’m not quite sure that would work. I need to dig out a piece of fabric that’s not quite long enough to make a whole dress, and see how it comes out.

1960s Sew Knit N Stretch 228

I have also made this bra slip, and against all odds it fitted perfectly! Straight out of the packet! While I was rummaging around in the sewing room I found a forgotten bra-making kit, which had just enough fabric and elastic to make the top half. A quick dash to the fabric shop later (the princely sum of £2.14 having exchanged hands) and I had a metre and a half each of polyester habutae and nylon lace to make the bottom half. It’s the perfect length to go underneath the 1970s dress, and now that I’ve established the fit I can make more in some nicer fabrics. I’m thinking stretch silk, and maybe some soft jersey versions to wear as vests.

fleece jacket

Oh, and then there’s this. Inspired by a knitting pattern I saw on Etsy, where the collar folds back to make pockets, I put together this fleecy jacket. It looks a bit too much like a dressing gown in this spotty fleece, but once I’ve ironed out some technical hitches (I made a mistake on one of the lining pieces, so it doesn’t fit together quite right) I can feel quite a few versions of this one coming on too. It has wide kimono sleeves, which means that the sleeves of my dresses will actually fit down it – currently a problem, as all of my existing cardigans were bought or made to go over t-shirts!

Sew-Knit-N-Stretch 206, 1969

And then, to add to my increasingly glamorous collection of old-fashioned underthings, there’s this. Currently on its way to me from the US, it’s a 1969 pattern for a long-leg panty girdle “with crotch piece”. This is important, as the opposite of “with crotch piece” is not “crotchless”, it is in fact “with a godawful seam in a terrible place”. Which is why I don’t wear ordinary cycling shorts underneath my dresses. So uncomfortable! These shorts can be made from a variety of materials, depending on how restrictive you want them to be. I’m aiming more for comfort than shapewear, so I’m thinking about cotton jersey, and maybe just the faintest whiff of lycra for the front panel. I’m quite interested to see the instructions for these, as the directions for the bra slip were quite minimal. I’m hoping this one’s a bit more thorough.

I think I’m finally starting to get somewhere with my new-old wardrobe though. I’m still very tempted by beautiful 1950s dresses, but it’s looking very much as though the 1970s are actually much more me!

I am 40!

Today is my very last day of Being Forty. As of tomorrow I’m forty-one, which puts me officially In My Forties. Does that mean I’m supposed to start pretending to be a grown-up? I do hope not.

Anyway, for the third year running, I’m having a one-day Birthday Sale in both of my Etsy shops. If you’d like to make a purchase, you can use the code “HAPPYBIRTHDAY” at checkout to receive a whopping 41% off everything except the cost of shipping.

The Eternal Magpie shop can be found here

and here’s Mr & Mrs Magpie’s Inexplicable Emporium.

Enjoy my birthday and your shopping!

Walk in the woods.

Oldpond Copse, Earley

My mind’s been full of bees, lately.

Busy. Buzzy. Noisy. Distracted.

The only thing for it was to go for a walk.

Oldpond Copse, Earley

I borrowed Paul’s little Lumix camera, and made my way down to Oldpond Copse, the piece of woodland next to our old house. I’ve missed coming here.

It’s not far away – just a 15 minute walk from the new place – but that seems a lot, compared with being able to step out of the old house and be in a little field almost immediately. We do have a huge garden now, but that’s nowhere close to being the sanctuary I need it to be. We have a park too, but it’s small and surrounded by houses. I knew I missed the lake, but I hadn’t quite realised how much I needed this little patch of trees.

Oldpond Copse, Earley

This is where we had our engagement photos taken. I think the photographer was a bit surprised when we took him to a gap in the hedge and led him down the steps, but the photos he took that day are the nicest ones we have. (Nicer than the wedding photos, even.)

Oldpond Copse, Earley

I love the way that you can really feel alone here. Despite the dog-walkers, local walking club, “Erlegh Elfins” kindergarten, fishermen at the lake, and the countless other people that use this space, it’s a really good spot to go for thinking. Listening. Watching the birds and the squirrels. Getting to know the trees. Really looking, to see how it’s changed since you were last there.

Oldpond Copse, Earley

The little stream was slow and shallow today. I was able to climb across it to capture this little feather. All of an inch deep, the water could barely be bothered to move.

Oldpond Copse, Earley

I love all of the different elements in this one, all mixed up together. The earth underneath the water. The sky reflected below the feather. Everything slow, and gentle.

Oldpond Copse, Earley

Even though I know that these steps lead up to a sports field, the light at the top always seems to make them feel magical. As though you could climb up, and come out in a different place every time. I can’t remember what the sign says, probably something about keeping your dog on a lead (which nobody does), or not riding your bike through the woodland. I like to think it says “Narnia” or “Wall” or maybe “Keep Out”, depending on who’s looking at it.

Oldpond Copse, Earley

This was the only fungus I managed to capture in focus, but there were plenty of them around. There was a huge great chicken of the woods, sadly trampled underfoot, and lots of things I didn’t recognise – including this. It looks so beautiful on the trunk of this dead silver birch tree, as though it couldn’t possibly have grown anywhere but here.

Oldpond Copse, Earley

The lake was busy with people today, so I didn’t stop for long. Just long enough to notice the fluffiest feather I think I’ve ever seen.

On my way back through the Real World, I noticed a stunning garden filled to bursting with dahlias – an absolute shock of colour in an otherwise nowhere street. I popped into the local shop on the way past (soon to be usurped by a horrible new Tesco that’s taking up residence in what used to be the local pub), and bought a knitting magazine full of potential Christmas gifts. I think that might take up the rest of my day now. A bit of laundry, a bit of cleaning, and a lot of knitting, to try and keep my head in the space that the copse has cleared for it.

Older Posts »