I’ve been so terrible at blogging this year. I had good intentions, but I just seem to have been so busy, but with very little to write about!
Back in May I was in the midst of getting a summerhouse built in my garden so I could set it up as a little sewing studio. No more sewing in the corner of the kitchen, and having sewing supplies in piles all over the house.
Well, there are still piles of sewing supplies all over the house, but I do have a sewing studio!
I recently went on a workshop at my sewing hero Tilly Walnes’ studio in London, and was way more excited than I should have been about her choice of IKEA furniture. The turquoise Råskog trolley, a white Alex desk, white and turquoise Kallax shelving – WE HAVE ALL THE SAME FURNITURE! It must mean something, does it mean that me and Tilly are destined to be sewing buddies forever? Please say that it does.
I moved my sewing machine and supplies in, and I have spent many happy hours sitting at my desk, listening to gory true crime podcasts while I sew and watch out for a bloodthirsty serial killer vaulting over my fence to murder me in my sewing studio. That’s what a daily dose of true crime podcasts does to the imagination.
On the subject of gore, while I was putting the desk together for the summerhouse I managed to push a screwdriver through my thumbnail. I would not recommend this. Once the blood started coming up through the hole in my nail, I thought I was going to pass out and had to sit quietly on the kitchen floor for a while. Thankfully, that has been the only accident so far, and despite having an iron, a fan heater, various sharp implements and a very clumsy sewist in a very confined space, it has been fairly incident free.
When I first started planning the summerhouse, I felt guilty for spending so much money on myself, and I wondered if I would actually use it enough to warrant the cost, but I am so glad I did it. It means sewing without distraction, which feels like such a luxury, even for someone who lives alone. If I’m heading outside to my little Fortress of Solitude, I’m going there to spend time indulging in one of my favourite pastimes, and no annoying chores or other household distractions are going to tear me away from my project. It means time away from screens and computers, and I’ve really enjoyed listening to my podcast ‘friends’ while I work. My favourites to sew along to include My Favorite Murder, All Killa No Filla, Sword and Scale, Thinking Sideways and Casefile.
I’ve now been sewing for about two years, and I’m so proud of how far I’ve come. When I think about some of my first projects, I was so pleased to finish a simple cotton shift dress, or a gathered skirt, and now I’m challenging myself more to try new techniques and work with different fabrics. One of my first projects was the Margot pyjama bottoms from Tilly Walnes’ book, Love at First Stitch. I was so proud of these, they seemed like such an achievement at the time.
I’ve worked my way from these to this dress that I made for two weddings I attended this summer, with a lined bodice with contrast, fold-back panels and a hem that was approximately four miles long.
I feel like this dress is a long way from those pyjamas, and there have been a lot of fun projects in between, including helping Tilly test out some of her patterns before they went on sale, which has made me pay more attention to patterns and construction. I don’t look at clothes in the same way any more, and I’m forever picking garments up in shops, looking at them, saying, “I could make that,” and then returning them to the rack. Just being able to say that feels like an enormous achievement for someone who has taught themselves to sew, and who didn’t even know where to start with sewing in a zip two years ago. Incidentally, I still have not managed to master the elusive invisible zip. You know there are some things that you just can’t do, no matter how hard you try? Well, mine is invisible zips. Invisible zips and whistling. Perhaps I should try to master both of those in 2017.
I can’t wait for next year, and all the projects I’m going to sew in my summerhouse while I fill my mind with more true crime stories…
Back in April, I pledged to take part in Me-Made-May, a crafty challenge set by a sewing blogger, Zoe, which aims to get people who make their own clothes to wear them throughout the month of May. The point of the challenge is that sometimes we crafty types will spend hours making something, then it will hang in the wardrobe for years and never see the light of day. We can feel self-conscious in our own creations, far too aware of any mistakes or imperfections, or perhaps aware that sometimes our choice of fabric or style might be a bit outside of what other people deem to be fashionable.
Yesterday was the last day of May, and so the challenge has come to a close.
As outlined in a previous post, because of a camping holiday, my pledge was slightly modified to the usual one of wearing an item of me-made clothing every day in May:
“I endeavour to wear one me-made garment each day for the duration of May 2016 while I am at home in England, and as many as I can practically manage while I am zooming around on a European road trip with my best friend for two weeks in the middle of the month!”
I’m pleased to say that I managed to fulfil the pledge I made, wearing me-made clothing every day while I was in England (even if a couple of times that just meant the comfy cotton pyjama bottoms I made), and five times while I was on holiday. On most days, I put photos of my outfits on Instagram.
Here are a couple of my favourites (and please excuse the weird semi-finished cosplay arm you can see in the corner!):
This is my red Bettine dress, pattern by Tilly and the Buttons.
My heart-print needlecord Delphine skirt, also by Tilly and the Buttons.
Yet another Tilly and the Buttons pattern, this time a Clémence skirt in some awesome Haunted Forest fabric.
Another Clémence skirt (I have several!), this time in Marvel fabric I bagged from Jo-Ann’s craft store last time I went to Florida. I adore this skirt.
And I didn’t limit my outfits to just things I’d sewn. I wore the anchor jumper I knitted while I was on holiday too.
I drafted the anchor pattern myself, and I’m pretty proud of this jumper, even if the raglan decreases are wonky on one side.
So, what did I gain from taking part? Well, I learned a few things, actually.
Firstly I learned that I do not have enough of a me-made wardrobe to do the challenge for a whole month. Maybe by next year I will, but even putting together the 19 outfits I wore meant I had to repeat several garments, and some days it felt like a case of finding something to wear rather than choosing something, if that makes sense.
Another thing I learned is that as my sewing skills improve, I’m less inclined to wear some of the things I made when I first started. Even though this whole exercise is about feeling more comfortable about displaying your own creations, warts and all, there were some things that I felt were not good enough for me to want to wear. There was one blue skirt I dug out which was one of the very first things I made, which I think will be going in a charity bag next time I have one. I felt self-conscious and uncomfortable in it all day, so I won’t be wearing it again.
It’s ill-fitting and too short. Definitely destined for a charity bag!
I’ve also learned where there are some gaps in my wardrobe. I do love crazy prints, but it would be good to have a few more plain separates in my me-made arsenal. So next time I’m looking at making a skirt or a top, maybe I should step away from the looney-tunes superhero or haunted forest print and choose a plain block of colour.
The final thing I learned was that there are some things which I am just never going to feel comfortable in. I recently pattern-tested a jumpsuit (the pattern is going on sale in June, I may blog about it then), and as pleased as I am with how it turned out sewing-wise, I’ve tried it on several times, and I just don’t feel comfortable in it, I think I look like a podgy baby. I even put it on when I was just mooching around all day at my mum’s house, and not going out, but after fifteen minutes I took it off again and it went back on the hanger. Me-made does not necessarily guarantee that it’s going to suit me!
I’m glad I took part, it has made me realise what kind of clothes suit me better, and where the holes in my me-made wardrobe are. I definitely don’t have enough dresses, so my next two projects are going to be a 1940s tea dress, and a 1950s-style sundress.
Maybe next year I’ll be able to do it for the whole month!
Our next destination was Austria, where we’d planned to stay for six nights to give us a break from travelling, and a nice chunk of proper relaxing holiday time. Our campsite was close to Zell am See, with snow-capped mountains surrounding it on all sides.
It was nice to know we were going to be in one place for a few days, and we spent our first night watching a livestream of the Eurovision Song Contest while we ate strudel, which felt exceptionally European of us.
Despite staying in Austria, our next Band of Brothers destination was back over the border in Germany. We drove to Obersalzburg near Berchtesgaden, to visit Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest, also known as The Kehlsteinhaus. It is a mountain retreat which was presented to Hitler as a birthday present, but apparently he wasn’t all that keen on it, and only visited a handful of times. There is some debate about which Allied troops were the first to liberate it, but Easy Company were amongst the first men to reach it.
It was wet and chilly, so luckily both of us had put on our winter coats and boots. When I packed for this trip I felt insane throwing in shorts and strappy tops as well as my winter coat and boots, but I am so glad I did.
When we arrived, we had to board special buses which took us to the top of the mountain. The track is narrow and steep, so this is the only way to get to the top. The buses made their way up in convoy, then we had to book ourselves a slot on one of the return buses, for when they made their way back down the mountain.
The Eagle’s Nest is over 1800 metres above sea level, and halfway up the mountain it started to snow. We were expecting rain and cloud, but we were not exactly prepared for snow, the weather forecasts had made no mention of snow at all. It got heavier and heavier the closer we got to the top.
When you disembark, you make your way into the tunnel carved into the mountain, then you get in the shiny brass lift which takes you up to the top. We snapped a selfie before we realised you weren’t supposed to take photos. Whoops.
We also both thought, independently of each other, that the lift area reminded both of us of the Gringotts ride at Uinversal Studios in Orlando, which is a bit weird.
My first impression when I got to the top was how accurately the TV series had recreated the main room, which is now the restaurant. The stone walls and the windows looked exactly how they did in the series. It was crammed with people, but we eventually found a table by asking to share with some young American girls, and we had sausage soup and apple cake. It was a little bit surreal to be eating lunch in Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest!
After we’d eaten, we made our way outside. First we came out into a corridor, which is obviously the setting for the funny scene in the Points episode of Band of Brothers, where Nixon, Welsh and Speirs are all drunk. Again, I was amazed by the accuracy of the TV show, it looked exactly the same.
There’s a famous photo of Major Winters and the other officers sitting on the balcony at the Eagle’s Nest, and our main goal of the visit was to pose for a photo in the same spot. Unfortunately, it was difficult to figure out exactly where this was because the weather had obliterated every single geographic landmark we could have used to pinpoint it.
We posed for some photos anyway, and both of us were excited to see that the paving slabs look like they’re the exact same ones as in the photo, so we were walking on exactly the same ground. Yes, we’re that nerdy.
Just to illustrate how unforgiving the weather really was, this is what you’re supposed to be able to see from the balcony, and this is what we could actually see.
We attempted to walk the ‘panoramic mountain path’, but after having to scale a huge icy, snow-covered slope, we decided we’d turn back before one of us slipped and fell off the mountain. We got massive giggles about how ridiculously rubbish the view was.
After we headed back down the mountain we went to the Documentation Centre Museum, which has a lot of very interesting information about the Nazi takeover of Obersalzburg, and the construction of the Eagle’s Nest. Underneath the museum you can enter part of the huge complex of bunkers which spread out beneath the buildings.
It’s a fascinating place, and we enjoyed our visit despite the weather.
Our final day of Band of Brothers tourism was a visit to Kaprun and Zell am See.
In Kaprun we found the area opposite the castle where the last photographs of Easy Company were taken. It was tough to see from the old photos exactly where they’d been taken, but we think we got close enough.
In Zell am See we went on a boat and afterwards dipped our toes in the lake where Major Winters had taken his morning swim every day. I’ve heard that a lot of Band of Brothers fans have gone for a swim themselves, but it was way too cold for that!
We had hot chocolate and cake in the Grand Hotel tea room. The Grand Hotel was the Battalion HQ while the 506th were based here. After our cake we skulked about a bit and went upstairs into the hotel for a nosey. There were lots of old photos of the hotel on the walls, but nothing from 1945. Apparently other people who have visited have found the hotel staff to be unaware of the connection with the 506th, which I think is a shame.
That brought an end to our tour of Easy Company locations. We had originally planned to visit Haguenau and Mourmelon on our return journey through France, but time didn’t really allow for it, and we couldn’t find many significant locations in either place for us to visit.
But the Band of Brothers touring is not over for us! In December we’re headed back to Bastogne for another actors’ reunion, where we’re going to take another tour of the Bois Jacques with the actors. We hadn’t planned on visiting twice, but the reunion was announced after we’d booked this trip, and we couldn’t pass it up. The reunions are always fun for us on two levels – we love to see the actors and hear about the real stories behind the series, but we’ve also made a lot of very good friends through the various events we’ve attended, and the same faces tend to show up each time, so it acts as a reunion for us too.
I’d also like to tour more of the UK sites where Easy were based, and it seems crazy to have not done more of that. We’ve been to Upottery, but I’d like to see more of the places where they were based during their training. Also, next year we are hopefully planning to combine a holiday to Orlando with a few days in Georgia, where we’ll visit Toccoa and climb Currahee. I’m sorry to say that it will be a slow walk, rather than a run, for us though. Three miles up, three miles down!
There wasn’t a campsite near to Dachau in Germany, so we booked into a hotel. It was called something like the Tulip Inn Alp Style, so we were expecting some sort of quaint Alpine-style lodge, but what we got was a concrete block overlooking a roundabout and a Burger King. But it was clean and modern inside, so it was fine with us.
I was a bit hot and sweaty from sitting in the car all day, so I decided that before I had a shower I may as well get myself even more sweaty by going for a run. I got to the main road, randomly picked a direction and set off. I hadn’t been running for very long when I saw a watchtower and barbed wire.
Our purpose for coming to this area of Germany was to visit the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site, which I’ll admit is not a typical kind of holiday destination. As depicted in the Why We Fight episode of Band of Brothers, Easy Company liberated one of the satellite camps of Dachau, at Buchloe. There is nothing left of that site, so we decided to visit the main camp, which is now a memorial centre and museum. It’s a grim but important piece of Easy Company history.
Even though I’d done research into the location of the hotel, I had no idea it was quite so close to the camp, and it came as a bit of a shock to be jogging past it, it looked very eerie and imposing against the grey sky, which was by now promising rain.
It felt fitting that the weather stayed grey and cloudy the next day when we visited the camp. I expected it to be a very emotional experience, and it was, but not quite in the way I’d imagined. I cry easily, and I expected to be a blubbering wreck throughout our visit, but instead I just felt drained and exhausted.
Dachau was the first Concentration Camp built by the Nazis, and it was in operation almost continually for the whole 12 years of Nazi rule. It was used as a template for the other camps, and also as a training facility for the SS. Rudolf Höss, the commandant of Auschwitz, was a product of Dachau’s training programme. The people imprisoned here were mostly political prisoners at first, but this was widened to include Jewish people, homosexuals, gypsies, beggars and criminals.
I found it all very hard to process. The camp was enormous, especially the main yard where the prisoners were made to line up for hours for roll call. To think that this was one of a series of camps in the Dachau area, which was in turn part of the even bigger network of camps across the whole of the Nazi territory is mind-boggling to me. I have difficulty extrapolating the figures on that sort of scale.
I also found it difficult to process the horrors the prisoners were subjected to, which included sadistic experiments into infectious diseases and the effects of air pressure on the human body. The crematorium here is intact, as is the gas chamber, and although there is no evidence to suggest the gas chamber was ever put into large-scale operation, I still did not want to set foot in there. This was the part of the camp I found most affecting, there is a memorial trail behind the crematorium with markers placed at various points where there are mass graves, or where there were execution areas. My eyes welled with tears a few times and I felt physically sick, but on the whole I just felt too stunned to cry. I found it all so unfathomable.
I think everyone should visit a place like this just once, to see the devastating effect that prejudice, hatred and ignorance has on the world. I left the camp feeling drained, exhausted, and with a real sense of despair at what humans are capable of.
We’d planned to go out for dinner, but neither of us were really in the mood, so we retreated to our concrete block hotel with supplies from the supermarket, and had a hotel room picnic. The following day we’d be heading to Austria.
When we were in Normandy for the Band of Brothers actors’ reunion last year, we got chatting to Chris Langlois, who is the grandson of Eugene ‘Doc’ Roe, and we told him about our plans to take this trip. He mentioned a tour guide in Belgium called Reg Jans, who does WWII history tours around the Bastogne area, and said that nobody knew more about Easy Company’s part in the Battle of the Bulge than he did. So a tour with Reg was actually the first part of the holiday that we booked, the rest of the trip was planned around it.
We met at the Mardasson Memorial in Bastogne, which is next to the Bastogne War Museum. Reg took us to the aid station first, in the seminary school in Bastogne. This is the aid station which appears in Band of Brothers the TV show, although in reality the nurse Renee Lamaire wasn’t based at this station. Reg also told us about a Congolese nurse, Augusta Chiwy, who was based in Bastogne and who is alluded to in the series. I would really like to find out more about both Renee and Augusta.
We drove out to Halte Station, where there is a 101st memorial, paid for by various people including Tom Hanks. It’s very similar in design to the memorial at Brecourt Manor in Normandy, but there are some inaccuracies on the inscription, for instance Eugene Jackson was killed in Haguenau, yet his name appears on this memorial.
As we entered the Bois Jacques, Reg showed us where the patrol led by Johnny Martin had started out, and the area where John Julian was tragically killed.
Reg showed us where Major Winters had pointed out to him that he’d positioned the Battalion CP, there is still a horseshoe-shaped configuration of trenches visible in the grass. The CP would normally have been a lot further back from the front line, but it’s typical of the kind of commander Winters was that he chose to make it so close. We walked into the woods and Reg showed us the area where Guarnere and Toye were wounded, then we went deeper, right up to the front lines, which overlooked a road. The other side of the road was where the front of the German lines were, and I was amazed by how close it was, it was shown as being much further away in the TV series.
There were still some foxholes visible, and Reg thinks he is able to pinpoint which foxhole belonged to Smokey Gordon, as he was a machine gunner, and the machine gun trench was always a T-shape.
An unofficial memorial has sprung up in the woods with sticks, crosses, candles and other objects which people have left. I found the woods very atmospheric, and it was quite easy to imagine it covered with snow in the winter of 1944-45.
After we grabbed lunch, we drove to Foy, where Reg explained the assault on Foy, which was much longer and more complex than it is depicted in the TV series. We saw the building (below) from behind which Captain Speirs set off on his daring run across town to meet up with another company and exchange information on their positions to prevent friendly fire.
We also saw the window where the German sniper was positioned, and the place Shifty Powers was standing when he took him out. The sniper was in the top window in the photo below.
Above is the shot Shifty made, with the window just visible over the horizontal roof. Shifty really was one hell of a shot!
We moved on to Noville, where Lipton, Alley and Shames narrowly escaped being blown up by a tank, then on to Rachamps, which is a pretty little place with a nice church. There’s a tree which was planted near the church by Babe Heffron and Bill Guarnere
This is also the location of the ‘convent’, actually a school, where Easy spent their first night indoors after moving out of the woods.
The tour with Reg was excellent, he was so knowledgable and interesting, and I’d be willing to bet money on there being nothing about the military history of Bastogne that he doesn’t know. He really brought all the locations alive for us.
The following day we were back in Bastogne to visit the Bastogne War Museum and climb the Mardasson Memorial.
Bastogne War Museum is very interesting, and they have some great exhibits, including some of General Patton’s stars from his helmet. The museum gives a lot of information about the Battle of the Bulge, plus background information on WWII in general, and it always terrifies me that the lead up to the war has a lot of similarities with today’s politics – financial problems being blamed on minorities, the rise of far right politics, etc. It saddens and frustrates me that people just don’t seem to learn.
Outside the museum is the final beacon on the Liberty Road, which stretches all the way from Normandy. I’ve now visited the first and the last beacons.
We drove all the way to the American Cemetery in Luxembourg in the rain, only to find it was closed, which was bad planning on my part, but the only itinerary fail we had throughout the whole trip. We returned the following morning, in glorious sunshine. There are five Easy Company soldiers buried here: Patrick Neill, Kenneth Webb, John Julian, Warren ‘Skip’ Muck, and Alex Penkala.
We visited all the graves and left poppy crosses for Muck and Penkala. I was kind of sad they weren’t buried closer together.
General Patton is also buried here.
As always, the cemetery was immaculately maintained. It’s so sad to see all the thousands of gravestones, but I like visiting these places to pay my respects and keep the men’s memories alive, and I’ve always had a weird thing about liking graveyards ever since I was a toddler. I’m a bit of a war graves nerd since I started volunteering for The War Graves Photographic Project, and I like to see war graves being preserved and maintained.
One of the relatives of Warren ‘Skip’ Muck actually saw Jo’s post on Facebook about visiting the cemetery, and sent her a message to say how much it meant to them that people went there. I wish I could have placed a poppy on every single grave.
After the cemetery, we got in the car and travelled to the next destination on our trip – Germany.
Being huge Band of Brothers fans, me and my best friend Jo have been wanting to visit the locations where the real Easy Company fought for a while. Originally the plan was to do the whole thing from Normandy right through to Zell am See in Austria, but we soon realised that this was going to be too expensive. We did Normandy on its own in two trips, because there was just so much to see. If you click on the Normandy tag on the right, you’ll find my blog posts about those trips, and the Band of Brothers actors’ reunions.
This Band of Brothers trip was years in the planning, and the itinerary had to be scheduled very carefully, because we had such a limited time in each place to see everything. I spent ages researching the exact locations of all the key Easy Company history, as well as some other WWII stuff that would be interesting to see along the way. We decided the best way to do it was the way which made the most sense for us geographically, rather than following Easy Company’s route in the same order they did, but in the end, we did it in almost chronological order anyway. We were getting the ferry from Dover to Dunkirk, driving to the Netherlands, then on to Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and Austria, and then back into France, getting the ferry back home from Calais two weeks later.
We drove from Dunkirk to Hilvarenbeek in the Netherlands on our first day, arriving in scorching sunshine on our Eurocamp site. The campsite was enormous, part of a huge safari-themed complex with chalets, tents, mobile homes and amusingly named ‘jungalows’. The site is attached to an actual safari park, hence the safari theme. Once we were on the campsite, it took us about half an hour to find the Eurocamp section, and the signs said we had driven through Angola and Botswana. It felt like we’d driven through Mordor and Narnia by the time we found it. It turns out we just had to turn left at the signpost with the yak on it. Once we figured that out, it was pretty easy to navigate.
Our first day of Band of Brothers tourism was based in and around Nijmegen and Arnhem. The first place we stopped was Tor Schoonderlogt, which was a farm that acted as the 2nd Battalion Headquarters while they were based in the area. It’s where the famous photo of Major Winters was taken, under the archway on the drive, so of course we had to try to recreate it. This house is private property, so we felt a bit cheeky sneaking up their driveway to take photos, but nobody ran out and chased us away, so I think we got away with it!
This is the iconic photo of Winters, with Damian Lewis’ pretty accurate reconstruction on the left, and my not all that convincing attempt on the right.
Those who have watched the series will remember the scene in the Crossroads episode where Easy Company are positioned along a dike, then they make a run across a field, and come face-to-face with a whole company of Germans at the crossroads. The crossroads was our next stop. There is a memorial to mark the battle, and also in memory of Sergeant Dukeman, who was killed there.
On a beautiful day like this, with people cycling along the dike in the sunshine, it’s difficult to imagine combat taking place here.
There is another memorial to the 101st a little further down the dike.
Next we headed to the Island Museum. I’d looked it up online and found the location, but we were both very confused when our sat nav took us to a housing estate. After a little bit of driving around, I happened to turn my head and caught sight of a small plaque on the side of a house, which said it was the museum. We had to ring the doorbell and enter through the house’s kitchen to get to the museum, which was a remarkable collection of rare uniforms and equipment in a small outbuilding, all expertly cared for and preserved by Marcel, who lives there. He also has a very cute dog, which is something I wish all museums had.
I liked Marcel’s garden, complete with bits of tank, artillery and helmets.
Because of the size of the museum, we expected to be there for less than an hour, but we were actually there for over 90 minutes, as Marcel possesses an astonishing amount of knowledge about the military action in the area. He knew specific details about items and uniforms in the museum, and even knew which particular soldiers had owned a lot of the exhibits. My favourite item was this section of wooden boat. It had been made into an apple and pear selection table by a farmer, but was actually one of the boats used by Easy Company in Operation Pegasus, when they rescued British Airbourne troops who had been stranded after the fighting in Arnhem.
After we left Marcel, we went to the Airborne Museum Hartenstein in Oosterbeek, which tells the story of the fighting in and around Arnhem. I found it particularly interesting to read about the effect the fighting had on the civilians, most of whom were forced to pack up what belongings they could and leave. I think the effect of war on regular people is something that gets overlooked a lot in military history.
They have some memorials in the grounds, plus some artillery and tanks.
Our last destination for the day was the John Frost bridge at Arnhem – the famous ‘bridge too far’ from Operation Market Garden.
Again, I think it’s tough to imagine combat taking place here, so this is a photo of the bridge from September 1944. I believe the bridge that stands today is a new one which was rebuilt after the fighting.
The next morning, we made our final stops in the Netherlands, one of which was at the 101st Airborne Memorial in Eindhoven, placed in the spot where the men of the 101st entered the city to liberate Eindhoven. Private Robert Van Klinken is one of the names on the memorial.
Unfortunately, the liberation was not the end of the suffering for the people of Eindhoven and the surrounding areas, as they were bombed heavily the following day and suffered a large number of casualties. The men of the Allied forces were not the only people who paid a high price to liberate the Netherlands, the people endured huge hardship and suffering too.
The very last place we visited was the Wings of Liberation Museum, outside the city. It was only a small place, but had some interesting exhibits, and was where I bought my only souvenir of the trip – a 101st decorative plate. I’ve yet to decide whether to display it or use it for serving custard creams.
Our time in the Netherlands had been really fascinating, but it was time to move on to Belgium.
After having been dressmaking for about a year, I now feel like it’s firmly become one of my main hobbies. I seem to spend so much time thinking about what patterns I want to make, browsing for fabric and reading up about techniques. I can sit and leaf through my dressmaking books for hours, looking at the patterns and planning which ones I’m going to add to my ‘to do’ list. And that’s apart from the entire weekends I spend sitting behind my sewing machine.
So, I’ve decided to take the plunge and spend a stupid amount of money on setting myself up a permanent sewing space.
It was my mum’s idea, she was staying with me for the weekend, and she looked out at my crap old shed and said that I should replace it with a nice new summerhouse, and turn it into a little sewing studio.
After that, I just could not stop thinking about the possibilities. I live alone, so it doesn’t really matter if I leave my unfinished sewing projects out, but it would be so much nicer to have a special place just for sewing, rather than having my projects infused with gross cooking smells if I leave them out in the kitchen, where I currently do all my sewing.
I also have two tortoises, who live in the kitchen, right behind where I sit to sew. On a warm day (my kitchen is like a greenhouse when the sun is out), they tear around their wooden enclosures, and they have no spatial awareness, so all I can hear is the clonking of their shells against the wood. It is VERY annoying when you’re trying to concentrate on sewing in a zip!
I’m sure most sewists will understand the pain of trying to find room to store all their patterns, supplies and fabrics properly, and this is one of my main problems. My battered old dummy is upstairs, and I have fabric stashed in three rooms of the house. How nice it would be to have it conveniently all in one place, alongside my sewing machine.
I immediately started furiously pinning sewing rooms and summerhouses on Pinterest, and doing a whole buttload of research into whether or not I could afford to do it, and I can. With some careful budgeting, I can get the studio in place this summer and have it all paid off by Christmas.
After numerous hours of research, even drawing up a floor plan to see how much furniture I could fit into it, I have ordered my summerhouse. I’m having this style, but in the green and cream colours shown in the swatches. Plus I’ve chosen all this super cute furniture from IKEA, and a swanky new dummy.
It’s not all exactly the same shade of turquoise/green, but I’m going for a general palette, rather than ultra match-matchy, which is a bit of a departure from the way I plan what clothes and accessories I wear!
I’ve had to look into solutions to prevent damp, because obviously the last thing I want to happen to my fabric stash is for it to go mouldy. I think I’m going to get a nifty little thermotube heater. You can leave them on all the time, and they just heat the air enough to remove the humidity, and they only cost about 24p a day to run. My garden is also south-facing with only fields behind, and gets a lot of sun even in winter.
I’ve also been looking at fun ways to decorate the space. I think there absolutely has to be some bunting made for it at some point, and I’ve found loads of images from old dress pattern envelopes which I think I’m going to print out and frame, like these:
I’m trying very hard to stick to the green/turquoise theme I seem to have got going.
As soon as I’d ordered the summerhouse I was wracked with guilt and doubt. Will it be worth the cost? Will I get enough use out of it? It suddenly seemed like such a lot of money to spend on something so frivolous, that was just for me. But I reassured myself with the knowledge that even if, for some reason, I lose the taste for dressmaking, I could convert it into a proper summerhouse with comfy chairs and a TV, or even a super posh reading nook. I’ve always wanted a reading nook.
And anyway, it’s my money, so I can spend it how I like!
Now I just have to be patient until June, when I can start using my gorgeous new Sewing Palace.
For those of you who don’t know, Me-Made-May is a challenge run by sewing blogger Zoe, which aims to get people who knit, sew or upcycle clothes to wear their own creations during the month of May. Everyone who signs up sets their own challenge, and most people share their experiences, and sometimes photos of their outfits, on their blogs and social media. You can find out how to sign up here.
I think the challenge is a great idea. I always feel very proud when I’ve made something new, but I do still feel a little bit self-conscious about wearing my own creations, because people tend to comment on them (mostly because I usually choose unusual print fabric!). Plus, there’s the issue that I know all the little things I botched while I was making it, like a wonky hem or a slightly less-than-perfect zip, and those things are always on my mind when I’m wearing something. Anything that gets me more used to wearing my own creations can only be a good thing.
I wanted to take part in Me-Made May last year, but because I had a two-week holiday booked for May, I decided it wasn’t going to be possible, and that I’d do it this year instead.
Then I booked a holiday for May this year too, so it looked like I would have to postpone for another year, but I’m determined not to let it stop me in 2016.
I’m going on a European World War II road trip with my best friend for two weeks in the middle of May. We’re huge Band of Brothers fans, so we’re going to be visiting some of the places connected with the real soldiers behind the story of Band of Brothers. We’ll be visiting France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and Austria, and we’ll be camping for the most part, so it’s not exactly the most practical setting for wearing my me-made wardrobe, most of which is dresses and skirts I wear to work.
So, I’ve had to tailor my pledge a bit more specifically to allow me to take part:
I, Lindsey of Squeakythepin.wordpress.com (Twitter: @squeaky_the_pin, Instagram: squeakythepin), sign up as a participant of Me-Made-May ’16. I endeavour to wear one me-made garment each day for the duration of May 2016 while I am at home in England, and as many as I can practically manage while I am zooming around on a European road trip with my best friend for two weeks in the middle of the month!
There are a few things I can easily see me wearing on our trip, particularly a warm jumper I knitted, and a corduroy skirt I made, which tends not to crease. I may pack a couple of the cotton dresses I made in case we go out for a meal, and maybe a top too. Other than that, I think I’m going to be mostly slobbing around in leggings and T-shirts! I will definitely do my best to wear something every day for the rest of the month though.
I will try to make a blog post or two about how I get on once May arrives!
Dressmaking seems to have taken over my entire brain, house and bank balance since I took it up seriously last year, so I thought I would post about a few of the things which have inspired me the most.
- Tilly Walnes
Since I took up dressmaking, I’ve been completely obsessed with Tilly Walnes and her gorgeous patterns. It’s thanks to her book, Love at First Stitch, that I’ve even mastered sewing clothes in the first place.
I love her clear instructions and her stylish retro patterns, and so it was a huge honour for me to be able to test out one of the new patterns for her last year. It was the Martha pattern, which is now on sale in her shop. I can’t even tell you how excited I was to get a handwritten note from my sewing idol along with the test pattern. It made this learner dressmaker very, very happy!
I’m very excited to have been asked to test another pattern for her too, although it is top secret, so I can’t reveal any details. I will hopefully be getting started on it this weekend. I hope I make a good job of it, I can’t let Tilly down!
This is an obvious one, but I was very late to the party with Pinterest. I already had Facebook, Twitter, this blog and two Tumblr blogs, so I resisted the urge to get on Pinterest and waste even more of my time with social media. But it’s an awesome source of tips and techniques, plus it’s a great way to find inspiration for dressmaking styles, colour schemes and fabric choices. One of my favourite boards is my vintage fashion board, where I pin gorgeous things like this, which one day I will attempt to recreate, once my skill level has caught up with my ambition.
I have a confession to make though, my absolute favourite board is my hot men in knitwear board, where I pin these glorious man creatures, amongst others.
I would not like to say how many hours I’ve spent searching for pictures of hot men in knitwear. Bless you Pinterest, you filthy enabler.
3. Gretchen Hirsch
Gretchen Hirsch, AKA Gertie, is my latest dressmaking obsession, after I spent my birthday money on two of her books.
I absolutely love her retro, kitschy style, and the fun fabrics and colours she uses to make her clothes. I am itching to make one of the dresses she designed for Butterick, to wear to two weddings I’m going to later in the year. I’m already on the lookout for some suitable fabric for it. Apparently Gertie has designed some fabrics for the Jo-Ann’s craft store chain in the USA, which means next time I go to Florida (hopefully next year), I might end up spending even more on fabric in Jo-Ann’s than I did when I was there last year.
4. The Great British Sewing Bee
This is where it all started! It was watching this show that first inspired me to take up dressmaking, having only dabbled with it slightly in textile class at secondary school. It took me a while to build up the confidence to enrol on a sewing course and give it a go, but I feel like I’ve made a lot of progress since then. Watching the contestants making such beautiful and original garments gave me the sewing bug, and I can’t wait for the new series to start.
Patrick and May would probably have a few things to say about my less than perfect hems and my complete and utter inability to insert an invisible zip, but I’m sure they’d be pleased that they’d inspired someone to get behind a sewing machine and start creating their own clothes. To think I’ve gone from starting and abandoning a McCall’s sun dress, to making a party dress with a lined bodice and full pleated skirt in such a short space of time is something I’m really, really proud of, and I won’t be giving up this hobby any time soon – I have too much fabric stashed in my house to stop now!
It dawned on me the other day that I’ve now been dressmaking for about a year, which is mind-boggling. It’s gone so quickly, and I feel like I’ve learned so much. I have had some notable disasters (like the princess seamed dress where I stitched all the panels the wrong way round!), but I’ve also had some successes. This week I’ve proudly come to work in three different garments that I’ve sewn myself, which is a nice feeling.
This week’s sewing adventures began by me finally rectifying a mistake I made a few weeks ago. I was making a version of Tilly Walnes’ Lilou pattern, but with a gathered skirt rather than the pleated version in this picture, and minus the bow belt.
I’d bought some gorgeous cotton fabric from a shop in York with teacups all over it, and was excited to make this dress with it. I’d done the lined bodice, gathered the skirt and sewn it to the bodice, and then disaster struck. The instructions told you to trim the seam allowances, and I actually wondered to myself whether it was worth bothering to do it, but then I decided to be a good girl and do as I was told. On about the fifth snip, I realised something was wrong. Look what I had done to the bodice…
Somehow, the bodice had got folded in with the seam allowances, and I cut right through it. Luckily, it didn’t go through any darts or seams.
I was so upset I wanted to throw the whole thing in the bin, but I phoned my mum and she talked me down! I put the dress into the wardrobe in my spare room, where I couldn’t see it, then let myself calm down before I decided to try to do anything with it. It took WEEKS for me to feel like I was able to face it again.
Eventually I felt calm enough to have a go at fixing the dress. I sewed some fabric behind the hole to hold the whole thing together, then I added a nifty waistband, in fabric which matched the polka dot lining. It’s a little bit thicker on the side where the hole had to be repaired, but I don’t think most people would notice. I was really pleased with the finished dress, and I actually think the waistband adds a little something to it.
Most of all, I think this episode has taught me that I am still learning when it comes to dressmaking, and I really should be less critical of my efforts. Nobody is going to care that my zip is slightly wonky, or my hem stitching might go for a slight walk halfway around, so I shouldn’t. And at the end of it all, I’ve got clothes that nobody else has, which is not something everyone can say.
Feeling more confident after rectifying my mistake, I decided I was on a sewing roll, so I was going to carry on with some more projects. I whipped up another of Tilly’s gorgeous patterns, a Delphine skirt, in a cute heart-print needlecord. I didn’t take a picture, unfortunately. I managed the whole thing from start to finish in one day, which was impressive for me, as I usually sew at the pace of an exhausted tortoise.
With some of my birthday money I’d recently bought these two Gretchen Hirsch books.
I decided to try out one of the patterns from the books, so I embarked on what I thought looked like the simplest, the Portrait Blouse.
I have a feeling that Gertie might become my new sewing icon, alongside Tilly. I love her style, and I’m itching to make so many of her designs.
I chose some cheapo polycotton to make my portrait blouse, and it actually turned out to be a pretty good choice. The top was easy to sew, and the fabric held its shape well without creasing too badly when I wore it.
My only slight concern with Gertie’s patterns is her sizing. I’m pear-shaped, so usually I end up making a combination of two to three different sizes, gradually grading from the smallest to the largest. With Gertie’s patterns, I seem to jump up one measurement for my waist, then back down again for my hips. It’s going to make some of the more fitted dress patterns slightly tricky, I think.
Here is my finished portrait blouse, with my face cropped out of the second picture because it was right before bedtime and I was not exactly looking my best.
I think my blouse ended up slightly more fitted than Gertie’s, but I like it that way. And yes, I am wearing Star Wars PJ bottoms in this picture.
So, I think I can say I’m back on the horse after my accident, which is bad news for my bank balance, because it means I’m going to be buying A LOT more fabric…