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.