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I’ve Moved!

Hello… I know I said I was going to try and post more often, but it doesn’t look as though that’s going to happen for a while.

Anyway, in the course of a little online tidying, THIS BLOG HAS MOVED. You can now find it at http://www.eternalmagpie.com/news.

This one will remain here as an archive, and I’ll still be able to respond to comments and questions, but all the updates will happen on the new blog. So please update your bookmarks, or readers, or fancy phones, or whatever people use for reading the interwebs these days.

(Honestly, I can’t believe I used to be a web designer/developer. I have no clue about how it all works now!)

I’m sure I’ll be pressing buttons and fiddling with settings and doing a little bit of swearing at things for a while yet, but it would be lovely if you felt like joining me. See you there!

Happy New Year!

The Challenge

I was going to try and catch up with what I’ve been doing since the middle of November, when I last posted, but honestly I don’t really remember! I know there have been two craft fairs (a small one and a big one), and I’m sure Christmas was in there somewhere, amongst a whole lot of germs, but mainly I’ve just been going to work, coming home again, being ill, making hats, and trying to sell them. Not a lot else going on really. I was so poorly over Christmas that my niece doesn’t even have her annual dress yet!

I’m currently panicking like mad about having to go back to work on Monday, and still being a bit ill, and not having actually achieved anything with my time off over Christmas despite having lots of things planned. I’m trying very hard to take a little bit of time to myself, to write my work rota into my diary, get myself organised, and have a good think about what my goals need to be for the year ahead.

Honey and Ollie "One Word" bracelet

I’ve downloaded Susannah Conway’s Unravelling The Year Ahead workshop again (it’s free! go for it!), and have just completed a rather puzzling Oracle reading that I hope will become clearer as the year unfolds. I pulled an extra card to try and find some clarification, and was met with The Challenge… so that didn’t help much. I didn’t buy Leonie Dawson’s workbooks again this year, entirely because I never actually filled them in. The thought of having to make plans and examine my life in detail when all I wanted to do was NOT BE ILL was all a bit too much, to be honest. I may have rather cheekily printed out a clean copy, and am merrily changing all the 2014s into 2015s with a big fat marker pen. Sorry Leonie! Maybe next year…

I have, however, chosen a word that I want to be able to embody this year, and that word is focus. (I’ve also ordered another One Word bracelet from Honey & Ollie, to wear with last year’s.)

Last year I tried to do far too many things, with the net result that I didn’t put as much time and effort as I would have liked into the things I was really enjoying. I spent too long thinking about what might sell rather than what I wanted to make, and that just made me miserable.

This year it’s about three things:


Hats first, as I have a stand at a local wedding fair in three weeks’ time. Lots of preparation to do for that. But from February onwards, I’m hoping to be able to do some work on the other two.

Mind you, such a lot depends on my health, and of course first and foremost I need to be well enough (and stay well enough) to go to work. Whether I have the energy for HATS, SHOES and DOLLS after that remains to be seen.

Style 3349, 1971

I bought this sewing pattern for the grand total of £2 in my local Sue Ryder charity shop, although the general consensus of the internet was that I’d overpaid. Charming! A few weeks ago – or is it actually months now? – I started making the 1970s smock-style overdress, and was distracted half way through by other things.

All it needed was the top stitching and the buttonholes, which I’d been putting off because making them by hand (oh, and doing the hemming by hand too) was going to take so long. In the end I bit the bullet and risked making the buttonholes on my notoriously uncooperative sewing machine. They’re not perfect, but they’re lot better (and involved a lot less swearing) than I expected, which was a pleasant surprise!


Unfortunately this is the best picture I could get of me wearing it. This house is so dark, the mirror’s propped up in my sock drawer because there’s nowhere to actually hang it on a wall… and I’ve found out today that we’re not going to be building the beautiful new sewing room that we’ve been planning for the year since we moved in here, because the quote from the architect was rather a lot more money than we can afford. So, until the clocks change again and we start getting a bit more daylight into the house, crappy pictures of sewing (or Instagram filters) it is!


This is my newest old pattern (dating from 1955), and I bought it specifically for view 3, the short one at the top. When I unfolded the pattern pieces I was amused to note that it’s not actually mid-thigh length, as shown in the illustration, it actually reaches almost to my knees. But that’s what I want – something to wear over my many pairs of coloured trousers, that’s a bit smarter than a t-shirt. (Whether my colleagues will consider the 1970s smock top an improvement over a t-shirt remains to be seen, in fact I’m a bit nervous about wearing it, but it’s rather a waste of time and fabric if I don’t!)


The pattern only gives fabric requirements for non-directional prints, so I had to work out the yardage that I’d need for a fabric which can only go one way up. Because the skirt is made up of six very wide gores, the answer turned out to be A LOT! Five yards for a knee-length dress, in fact! I didn’t have enough of the fabric I’d had in mind (I suspect that will now become another 1970s smock), so I’ve started it off in a lovely organic cotton check. I’m currently deciding whether it needs a contrast trim (collar, cuffs, pocket yoke and tie belt), or whether it would be better in just the one fabric. In fact, as I haven’t actually traced the skirt pieces yet, I’m wondering whether to make the most of having quite a lot of this cotton, and actually making the calf-length version instead. I’m leaving the bodice on the dress form while I have a bit of a think about it.

Given my current sewing speed, you’ll probably see it again next year!

Hats to order

Russett cloche with organic cotton lace

I was doing well for a while, keeping up with the blog, and then I was ill, and then busy catching up with work, and here I am behind again. This is one of the things I’ve been up to – a new hat! It’s my favourite asymmetric cloche shape, with an organic cotton lace motif and Swarovski crystal trim. Available now in the Etsy shop, or made to order in a colour of your choice!

Nicola's ORANGE hat!

I’ve popped a few other hats in the Etsy shop too, so that I can make them to order. This is one of the first hats I made, and I’m still completely in love with the giant felt flower. You can now order one of your own, though it doesn’t have to be bright orange of course!

I never did get around to making fascinators with the other felted flowers that I made, and they haven’t sold at all well on hair combs, so I think they’ll be coming soon to a hat near you.

Hand blocked wool felt fuchsia pink cloche hat with black guipure lace and button trim

This is one of the simpler styles of hat, a plain round cloche trimmed with guipure lace. I think it’s the one I’ve made the most of (three pink and one grey, at the last count), and now you can order one for yourself. The hat can be made in any of 25 different colours, but the lace is only available in black or ivory.

The next step on the hat journey is going to be pillboxes! I’m just waiting for a clever widget to arrive from Guy Morse-Brown, which will allow me to use my existing blocks to make little felt pillbox shapes. I’m not sure yet how I’m going to trim those, I need to see how they sit on the head before I decide. At the moment I’m thinking big felt bows, or maybe lots of little flowers. We’ll see.

Milly's witch's hat

And just by way of a complete contrast, I spent the weekend making this! The reason it looks a little bit too small for me is that it’s intended for my three year old niece. Although I have to confess I’m pretty tempted to make another one that I can keep! This one has a secret pocket inside the brim (where else does a witch keep her important things?), complete with a little packet of “Magic Dust” for casting spells with. I really hope she likes it!


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.


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.)


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.


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.


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.


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…)


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.)


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


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!


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.


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!

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