Monday, 30 March 2015

A dress for Miss Sophie

I'm playing catch up here, trying to remember the things we've done which were blog worthy while I was immersed in Richard III. This post is one I wrote a few weeks ago but never got around to publishing here.


We've been doing a lot of work with shapes lately, looking at how to use shape stencils to make pictures, playing with magnetic shapes, talking about relative size and measuring shapes on graph paper. I wanted to tie all this together in M's mind with a fun activity, focused on her love of drawing tutus, so I talked to M about needing new clothes for Miss Sophie Bear.

Miss Sophie is a simple knitted bear I made for M last year, complete with a selection of her own clothes. I think it is fair to say that M loves Sophie and she is well played with, not least because she is dressable which M loves to do. Asking M what kind of new clothes Sophie Bear would like, opened the floor gates to many impossible designs which wouldn't have looked out of place on a designers runway.

After allowing M some time to draw fantasy clothes, I explained that while they were fun to look at, could she see Miss Sophie wearing them? Playing in them? Or dancing in them?

M sadly acknowledged they were not very practical.

I asked M if she would like to draw a real dress and we would see if we could make it? This was greeted with much enthusiasm, so we got to work.

After explaining that while I would happily knit Sophie some more clothes, it would take a long time I asked M for suggestions on alternatives. We eventually settled on sewing as a possibility and M grew very excited when I revealed I do actually own a sewing machine. I also admitted I own more than one sewing machine, they sort of multiply... But I hadn't used one since before M was born, so my sewing skills were a little rusty.

First up, I dug out my scrap bag and let M rifle through it, watching with some concern as she pulled out netting and sheer organza scraps to show to Sophie Bear. I had visions of having to sew two slippery, sheer fabrics together to make some sort of puffy dress! After a while and a lot of dancing around with a bear draped in various fabrics, M finally settled on two fabrics. A firm but medium weight blue calendared cotton and a lightweight burgundy silky fabric which would have originally been used for lining.

M explained the blue cotton was firmer, more structured and should be an under-dress as it would support the thinner, more floaty burgundy fabric which would sit on top. I asked M to draw a picture of what she had in mind, which I then reinterpreted in a simple sketch so I could confirm I'd understood what she was after.

Together we measured Miss Sophie Bear, taking down her sizes and learning how to read a tape measure. M had lots of fun playing with the retractable tapes and measured Sophie several times to make sure we'd got the details right.
Measuring Miss Sophie for her new clothes.
With Miss Sophie's measurements on paper, we drafted our pattern. M and I looked at some of M's clothes, studying the shape, the seams, how they were put together. We used 1 cm grid graph paper and rounded all measurements up to whole centimeters and worked together to transfer the measurements taken earlier to the pattern. I kept it simple, Sophie's arms are 'T' shaped, so I decided this dress could be 'T' shaped too with nothing complicated for the sleeves. I added a seam allowance and after watching me for a while M felt confident enough to draw in some of the lines herself.
Drafting our pattern.
There was an odd moment when M told me she was worried and scared about making the dress; she said she was afraid it would go wrong. I gave her a hug and reassured her that I understood her concern and if we were using expensive fabric I'd be a bit anxious too. However, as we are using left over fabric there was nothing to worry about. If things went horribly wrong, it would be a bit disappointing and we'd have lost a little fabric, but we would have learned lots in the process which would mean that next time we'd do better.

We were finally ready to cut out our pattern and then our fabric pieces.
M cuts out our pattern pieces.
Our pattern cut out.
It took us a long, long time to get to this point so I called a halt for a couple of hours so M could recuperate a little. Once she was ready, we got the sewing machine out, dusted it off, threaded it up and I began to sew. It was a bit hair raising, I have to say. M was watching closely, trying to supervise and I had to keep reminding her to keep her fingers out of the way! I've also never sewed anything this tiny on the sewing machine and the burgundy stuff was a nightmare, refusing to stay where it was put. Ideally I should have adjusted the tension, practised and perhaps tacked first so the dress pieces were easier to sew, but with M hovering I wanted to get the job done quickly.

It took me at least an hour and half to sew this little dress together. I edged the burgundy stuff first to stop it from fraying. The blue fabric I pinked much to M's amusement as she decided my pinking shears had a silly name and looked like monster scissors. Normally I'd have pressed the seams, but again I skipped this for speed. A press fastening at the back allows the dress to be closed at the neck.
Miss Sophie, modelling a dress as designed by M.
M was very excited and ran off with the dress as soon as the last stitch was placed. A job well done I think.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Richard III

Blogging, or indeed spare time has been short over the last few weeks, mostly due to this chap:-

When the news reached us that Richard III was going to be buried in Leicester, I decided that if possible, we should mark the event. At four, M is too young to appreciate who Richard III was or the significance of a funeral for a medieval king, but I none the less wanted her to get some sense of the man, while also increasing her burgeoning understanding of history.

My problem was, when it came down to it, I just didn't know very much about Richard III, the late medieval period or The War of The Roses. Admittedly, we were unlikely to cover any of these areas in any depth with M at this age, but if she asked me any difficult questions I wanted to have a clue as to how to answer.

I came across a MOOC about Richard III from Leicester University, through the FutureLearn site, so signed up. The course itself is supposed to only take three hours of study a week, but when you are already squeezed on available spare time, that is a lot to fit in. Somehow I did it, I even completed the course yesterday (as M wanted to know the end of the story) doing a 'week's worth of work in one day!

The MOOC incidentally, was very good and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants an introduction to life in England during the latter part of The War of The Roses

The course lost me a bit during the first week, going through the political intrigues and switching allegiances which marked The War of the Roses. After that however, I was back on more familiar ground looking at culture, life, food, books and ideas around death in the 15th century.

The upshot of the course is that blogging and indeed anything else I'd normally do in my spare time, has taken a back seat for the past few weeks.

While I did hunt around for any further information on the War of the Roses, Richard III or medieval life, I couldn't find much in the way of resources that would have appealed to M. Like most four year olds, M likes castles, but she likes castles because they are old buildings rather than because of knights and princesses. Most of the resources intended for children, seem to focus solely on this aspect. In the end, I went for just talking about Richard III in the context of the Tudors and Shakespeare, who is a recent discovery for M.

We watched the video above and sang along to the Richard III song, sung here by children in Leicester. We browsed the King Richard in Leicester website, which I summarised for M. We watched the videos in the last part of the course together and I answered questions. M was very curious about the whole process of how and why Richard III was killed and speculated on what might have happened if he had lived.

And of course, we headed into Leicestershire to witness the passing of Richard III's funeral cortege. 

After checking the events list, we headed to Market Bosworth as most likely to appeal to M. We parked in a field just outside the town and for the first time ever, the car got stuck in the mud! It had to be pushed onto firmer ground so I could park.

We took a shuttle bus into the village, which amused M - "Mummy, a shuttle bus is a bus which zooms into space!"

We got our bearings, ate lunch, M played with some leaves and we all chatted to re-enactors. 
So much fun to be had in a leaf filled ditch.
M liked these poppets, but the lady's sewing kit was more interesting.
Learning about medieval weapons.
M watching and listening to the man painting standards.
At the craft fair, M regaled a bemused sewer with her own sewing exploits, then we started looking for somewhere to watch Richard III go past.
White roses lined the route of the funeral cortege.
The market square and main streets in and out of the village were packed to the point that I carried M for her own safety, but we couldn't get through and were stuck in the press of people. In the end, we followed a man next to us with a pram which he was used to clear a path through the crowd onto the road itself (while his wife carried their baby). Walking along the middle of the road, surrounded by waiting crowds felt very strange but it was that or stay stuck.

We found a less crowded spot at the end of the road where the cortege would pass us as it left Market Bosworth.
Sitting on a kerb and waiting for Richard III.
I think it is fair to say that while M was caught up in the event, she was underwhelmed by the cortege as it passed. Once the hearse had driven past as we watched in solemn silence, M asked loudly "But where is Richard III?"

The funeral cortege of Richard III.
The honour guard was more to her liking.

The honour guard.
Once the cortege had passed, the crowds began to disperse but M had her first halberd drill before we headed home. 
M is drilled in halberd use.
M insisted on having a go, following the re-enactors onto the field and having to be called off so they could demonstrate safely.

Being the smallest and youngest child on the field presented its own problems as M had difficulty controlling the halberd, which is why Dave accompanied her.  There were issues with the instructions too - take five paces backwards for example... M had no problem doing this, but her little legs covered about 2/3 as much ground as the other children, leaving her on her own and breaking the line.

Concentrating very hard on holding the halberd as she 'knee-bends'.
M was thrilled and could be heard cheerfully correcting the captain who was running the drill, as she took exception to his use of words.

"Right you 'orrible lot..."

"I'm not horrible!"

"One look at your ugly faces..."

"But my face isn't ugly!"

So ended a fabulous day out for all of us and we happily walked back to the bus stop to catch our ride back to the car. After a bit of hesitation, the car moved off the mud, allowing us to go home, tired but happy that we went to witness this historic event.

Useful websites:-