When we went into lockdown here in Scotland back in March, I rather naively believed it wouldn’t impact on me unduly (apart from securing adequate supplies of food – and wine of course!). As a writer I’m used to working at home, and I don’t do a lot of socialising, so I assumed at first that I’d pretty much continue as usual, day-to-day. I couldn’t have been more wrong!

I’m very fortunate, in that my writing provided me with a place to temporarily escape the depressing reality of the pandemic, and if anything I became more focused, work-wise than before. But when I wasn’t writing, there seemed to be, suddenly, massive swathes of time to fill. Determined to make productive use of  it, I ransacked my big box of remnants. There’s fabric in there going back decades, including evidence of my sometimes embarrassing fashion history: velvet from a Red Riding hood cloak; flannelette from a teddy bear shirt, pink stripes from an attempt at Andy Pandy-style dungarees, to mention only a few. In addition to bigger swatches, I have a bag of small scraps which I’ve always meant to turn into a patchwork quilt but I’ve never quite got round to it. Since the prospects of my going out anywhere soon were slim to zero, making new clothes seemed a bit pointless. Making personal gifts for family and friends I was missing hugely, on the other hand, appealed enormously.

My first attempt at a tote bag was a patchwork of all sorts of remnants from other projects, from tea cosies (the owls!) to summer dresses. A close friend now uses it as a knitting bag. The next tote I made was with offcuts from the sofa cushions I had recovered, but by the time I made the next two, my lovely local craft shop, Jinty & Baa was allowed to open again, and the red and black fabric was especially chosen.

After tote bags, I turned to mask making for friends and family. It’s a scary indictment of the times we are living through that when before you could never have too many shoes or handbags, now you can never have too many masks. (Oh, how I am looking forward to the day when I can start purchasing entirely unnecessary fashion items again, and wearing them!) You can read about my ‘mask factory’ in a previous blog here. Since I wrote that, I’ve become more inventive, making reversible versions, and most recently (thanks to my new toy, of which more in a moment) recycling t-shirts for the inner lining layer. Investing in a cutting board and rotary cutter made mass-producing masks so much easier, assisted by my hand-made tailor’s ham, and the beautiful weights which a lovely friend, who was also finding time and solace in sewing during lockdown, made for me to use when cutting out.

In the summer, when the outlook became more positive, I turned to dress-making once again with a vintage pattern I’d previously used for another friend. Alas, by the time it was finished, so too was our brief period of optimism and the idea of wearing it up to the big smoke for a posh lunch lost its appeal. I used the Liberty fabric I’d intended for another vintage dress to make a pinafore instead, and returned to my now default attire of yoga pants and t-shirts.

And so to my new toy. I’d long coveted the overlocker machines I’d seen used on the Great British Sewing Bee, and decided to buy one with some of my unused holiday fund. When it finally arrived however (by this time, sewing machines were almost as scarce as pasta and toilet roll at the beginning of lockdown) I took one look at the fiendishly complicated device and got very cold feet. Back it went into the box for a few weeks before I plucked up the courage to attempt to thread it. Two hours later, it clanked into action – what a racket compared to my lovely quiet computerised machine!

I needed to practice on simple things with straight lines, and coincidentally I also needed to stock up on pyjamas (my most-worn clothes apart from yoga pants), so that’s what I did. I particularly like the cat’s pyjamas (!) and so too do my sisters, so that might well be Christmas sorted. Of course the demand for my masks remained constant, and here my overlocker really started to come into its own.

One of my fabulous sisters is a community nurse. When she asked me if I could use some left over material to make bags to hold syringe drivers used in administering pain relief, I was delighted. It’s a very, very small contribution to be able to make, but I’ve found that creating something practical for people makes me feel less helpless. I contacted my local hospice and discovered that they too were short of the bags, and so that’s my latest production line. Sixteen and counting so far, with some in rather less girly colours for the gents.

My sewing room is my safe haven now. It’s a place where I can lock myself away from the world and lose myself in creating, knowing that what I’m making is going to bring a smile to someone’s face – even if it is hidden behind a mask. Now that they are allowed to open again, craft and fabric shops like Jinty & Baa are busier than ever with people discovering the pleasures of making something with love and care, of learning new skills and sharing them too. It’s worth remembering amid all the gloom and worry that every situation throws up positive outcomes. I never at any point stock-piled loo roll or tinned tomatoes, but I must confess to having a stash of fabric now, intended for presents, for more masks and syringe bags, maybe even for a ‘coming out of lockdown’ outfit. Whenever that may be, I’ll be ready!

What about you, have you taken up a new hobby this year, or found renewed pleasure in an old one? I’d love to hear how you’ve benefitted in some small way from the enforced restrictions on our normal lives.

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8 Comments

  1. Lovely to hear about your activities, Marguerite, and I’ve even benefitted from them to the tune of one lovely green bag. I finally mastered sourdough and make my own bread every day now. Any coming out of lockdown outfit might need to be a bit bigger, though!

    1. I am seriously impressed that you make bread every day! I have to manage my baking to maybe once a fortnight because I cannot resist eating it – especially bread. Though my sourdough pizza and baguettes are good, my loaves have been very hit or miss, so if you have a good recipe I’d love to see it.

  2. I’ve rediscovered my love for cross-stitch after about 15 years of dormancy. I actually brought back my in-progress projects from my parents’ house after Christmas last year, along with a bag of crochet, and I thought I’d take up the crochet again first, but when the pandemic hit it was the cross-stitch I reached for. I started with pattern kits and I’ve since moved on to free-standing patterns. Unfortunately, cross-stitch has not experienced quite the renaissance that crochet and knitting have, so there aren’t any new pattern books out there (which is a shame – I distinctly remember looking at pattern books in the craft stores as a kid and wishing I could collect them all!). Instead I’ve inherited my mother’s collection of magazines and books, and I’ve ordered several vintage pattern books through Paperback Swap.

    I’ve also been making things for my friends. I wanted to figure out how to decorate plain canvas tote bags so I learned about soluable canvas, and voila! I made a friend several decorated bags for her birthday as a surprise. She loved them! She’s also big into Halloween (its her favorite holiday), so I made her a Halloween cat from a free pattern on the DMC website and sent it to her, also as a surprise.

    When my mother learned that I was working on bags, she decided to make some bags (as the sewer in the family), so we collaborated on a pair of tote bags, her making and cutting the patterns for the bags and straps, and me cross-stitching a design on them. They really turned out beautifully, and it was nice to collaborate with her on a project, even if it was from afar 🙂

    My mom, a retired nurse, went into mask production fairly soon after lockdown, so all of my masks are from her. They have straps to tie around your head instead of ear straps, and I think that makes them much more comfortable, because you can adjust the straps (and no elastic pulling on your ears!). I’m still 100% wfh so I’m only wearing them on the rare occasions that I venture out (mostly to the craft store for more cross-stitch supplies, ha!) but even on a long day with the grocery run its comfortable and breathable.

    I’m making cross-stitch Christmas gifts (my framing game is getting better with each project) as well as things that I, myself, enjoy. I’ve really come to appreciate vintage in general as I’ve gotten older, so it doesn’t bother me too much that there hasn’t been a particular revival of this subgenre of embroidery – there’s still a plethora of material available from the past, and hunting it down is half the fun!

    1. I have never attempted cross stitch, probably because it’s not one of my mum’s skills. My mum taught me to sew very young, and to knit too – and we both knit rather than crochet, isn’t it funny how you stick with what you know? I love the idea of collaborating on a project, I’d love to see some pics of your tote bags. My mum has taken her sewing machine back out of the cupboard for the first time in years too, and has just bought a whole load of craft fabrics, though she has no idea what she’s going to do with them – but Christmas gifts are the intention. We won’t be able to be with our loved ones properly for some time now, but hand-made gifts are definitely a way of bringing us closer, and being an optimist at heart, I hope that all the people who have taken up or returned to crafting will carry on with it long after all this is over.

      1. Cross-stitch is very, very easy to do – it’s literally making rows of Xs in various colors 😄 I’m definitely of the old school, using patterns, but there are kits out there with the pattern stamped right onto the fabric, easy peasy. The UK has a lot of wonderful pattern designers, including Jane Greenoff, who literally wrote the book on cross-stitching: https://janegreenoff.com/

        I understand what you mean about inheriting skills from our mothers, though – my mother taught me both cross-stitch and crochet. She’s taught herself to knit in the last few years, but two needles are two too many for me, haha – I’m just not that coordinated!!

        I’ll definitely link the piccies of our tote bags here once I upload them. The weather’s been rather frightful and I have yet to get a good picture of my bag, which is a bright shade of blue.

          1. Thank you so much. The bags are absolutely gorgeous and a lovely size too. I must admit to preferring your choice of colours, I adore the blue and it’s exactly what I’d have picked myself. Thank you for sharing your other projects too. I just loved the Garfield library bag – I am a sucker for a ginger cta, real or imagined.

            I started wading through all my fabric from my big box yesterday in search of inspiration for Christmas gifts and though I’m not yet venturing into cross stitching, I am going to be personalising some napkins using some of the embroidery my machine can do. And of course there will be tote bags.

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