Friday, 28 June 2013


: (

As I'm sure you're sick of hearing, Google Reader is closing down SOON. I was pretty hacked off when I heard this, and even more so when I had to look for alternatives.
The two that are everywhere are Bloglovin' and Feedly (I bet they were popping champagne corks & ordering servers when they heard the news) but there are plenty of others out there and what you need to do to find the best alternative is to understand what a reader is.
Now I may be preaching to the converted here since Google Reader users will at least have to have come across the concept of an RSS feed, but it's amazing how many times I've seen Bloglovin' or Feedly recommended because "it has feature x!" when feature x is a standard RSS thing or common to all readers. Because I'm cynical and care too much it rather irks me that they're being given credit for things that were always there (although I know they're not doing it themselves) - like Apple making a big fuss about multitasking on iOS7 when Android has done it for years. What it all comes down to is that people don't know what they don't know, and you can't blame them for it, so all I can do is try to make things a bit clearer.

A reader is essentially a thing that brings together the RSS feeds from lots of different sites. Essentially an RSS feed is a page (probably not human-readable) that's a stripped down version of a site with only the entries/posts/items on it. (and lest you think it's just for blogs, every Flickr photostream and group has an RSS feed) Your RSS reader takes this and turns it into a nicely readable format and allows you to organise your feeds how you want them - usually with some sort of folders, fave-ing, mark-all-as-read, sharing buttons etc. That's it.

There are lots of different types of readers - web-based, app-based, desktop etc. Most of the web-based ones will also have a mobile version so you can read on the go and not have to mark all those items as read later; but one of the things that, in my opinion, made Google Reader great was that it had an API (Application Programming Interface). I didn't use the official Reader for Android app (the reviews weren't great), I used gReader and it linked perfectly happily to my google account. As far as I know with Bloglovin' you're locked in to using their app and if it sucks that's tough (you could move, but think of the bother). Feedly on the other hand do have an API - points for them!
Now the real selling point of Bloglovin' is its social-media-type framing of everything - blog owners can "claim" their blogs, while Feedly does "magazine-style" layouts. I'm not particularly fussed about either of those but you might be?
Any reader worth its salt will allow you to import your subscriptions from a file (clicking that Learn More link will get you there) and/or import directly from Google, so it's not whether or not it does this that you should judge a reader on, it's whether the internet is full of complaints about it not working.

A couple of other options I've come across are new readers made by Digg and AOL - and I think Yahoo have majorly missed the boat by not coming up with their own.
Digg Reader, which launched yesterday, seems alright if a little slow at present. Their aim was to make a direct replacement for Google Reader and then develop it from there. They've not been on top of their game for years but I really liked the sound of the project and their attitude. They're addressing the people (like me) who just really want Google Reader to carry on as-is.
AOL I haven't investigated properly, but having grown up with their hideous bloated browser/screen name system I'm none to keen to go back there. I do still have an account so I might have a poke about and see what it's like. The landing page actually looks encouraging and they too have an API. Plus it's blue, bonus points for that too :p

The "Next" button (and the subscribe button!)

Time for one final moan - I've seen people complain that they don't like readers because they take posts out of context, and claim that such-and-such-a-reader is better because you can click through to the articles. Both of these make me sad inside. Any reader should let you click through to an article and see it in context, and many bloggers (especially food ones with lots of pictures e.g. Smitten Kitchen) use shorter previews in their RSS feeds to encourage you to click through (and on their main sites so you don't have to scroll so far) so this complaint makes no sense!
Google Reader transcended this whole issue with the "Next" button. It lives in my favourites/bookmarks toolbar and when I click on it it takes me to the next unread article in my reader, in situ on the page it was published on. Beautiful and under-appreciated (although a bit hidden in the settings). It would have been even better if there was a version that went in oldest-newest order. It even had an easter egg - when you were down to 0 articles unread it would take you to a page congratulating you on reaching "the end of this internet" and offer you a link to look for another, which lead to the wikipedia page on interplanetary internet. Geeky & pleasantly real.

Oh Google Reader, you shall be missed.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

25 Before 24

This is definitely a bit late but I've been collecting ideas since well before my birthday and have already completed a couple so I'm going to post them up anyway.
If you're not familiar with the concept, my 25 Before... is  a list of things I'd like to have done by my next birthday. I started my first one in August last year for my March birthday and managed to complete about half of it. This time I have more time to do the Things and some of the points are carried over as not-yet-complete.

25 Things

  1. Cycle to Bath - carried over from last year
  2. Visit my sister at university - ditto
  3. Go to a sewing meet
  4. Make 5 items of clothing
  5. Go to Cornwall and/or somewhere warm
  6. Learn some Perl/Ruby/C++/SQL
  7. Keep a list of things to cook and make them
  8. Read twelve or more books 
  9. Cut down my photo-uploading backlog - a repeat entry
  10. Scrapbook - another repeat entry
  11. Visit 5 new towns or cities
  12. Keep job/get good/become independent
  13. Go to a pop-up restaurant or  supper club
  14. Finish things
  15. Mend/alter
  16. See cousins
  17. Go to a gig/film/... every month
  18. Walk lots
  19. Visit new cafés/things in Bristol
  20. Do something creative every week
  21. Make effort to go to things
  22. Learn to knit properly
  23. Listen to the radio
  24. Use stashes
  25. Get teeth fixed
They're a varied bunch - lots of creative ones, some self-improvement, career-type bits, and a couple of boring necessities. Hopefully keeping count will help me get on with them :)
I'll try and update regularly - perhaps once a month - and see whether I can beat my score from last time.
Have you ever tried a similar project? Any tips?

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Raiding The Rag Market

Please excuse my terrible photos, I sacrificed light for promptness
If you went down to the woods Birmingham Rag Market today you would have come across a small hoard of ladies with button rosettes like the one you see above. Almost forty of us, fearlessly led by Kat & Marie, descended upon the midlands to buy, swap, chat, & buy some more. It was a good day.

The rosettes were kindly made by our wonderful hosts, while the very generous & organised Claire provided name stickers (very useful in matching people up with their lunch!), and mid-way through the afternoon produced two large tupperware containers of cake from her trolley. <3

The day started with a walk to Barry's Warehouse, where I became so overwhelmed by the amount and variety of fabric available that I didn't buy anything. I wandered in circles, trying to work out what it was I'd planned to buy, and how much I'd need for the patterns I couldn't remember the names of. After a while of this we headed off to Café Soya for lunch, getting thoroughly rained upon on the way.

The post-lunch swapping of fabric, patterns & notions was quite a sight to behold too. Everyone seemed to pick up something good, and after initially choosing one item from each table (fabric, patterns, notions) and holding back to let more able (and efficient) seamstresses get a pick, there was still heaps to be had. I came away feeling like I'd done rather too well out of the whole thing!

I picked up: salmon pink cotton (from Claire), red/pink vintage shiny fabric (from Marie, who later told me about it), and this rose print printed cotton (blend?), three sets of buttons, and two patterns.
The skirt pattern was exactly what I wanted - it's a simple a-line with a waistband and two back darts - and will hopefully provide some wardrobe staples. The dress pattern was a last-minute choice - I'd assumed it would be tiny, but it turned out to be just about right! (judging on the bust measurement, inches can't have changed since 1970?!)
The pink cotton is destined for an M6503* - possibly with one of those sets of buttons.
Post-swap, refreshed and somewhat drier, we headed on to the rag market.

 We were equipped with copies of Kat & Marie's ace map (which it was) and allowed to run amok among the many stalls packed with shiny things. Unable to resist a bargain I bought ten zips for a pound - that's got to be a good deal, right? I was also excited to discover the existence of satin-y bias binding. I'm thinking it'd be good for binding seams smoothly and/or giving my makes shiny innards.

Outside I found a stall selling this lovely purple broderie anglaise for £4/metre - I bought two for a skirt of some description. I dithered over and eventually splurged (relatively) on this lovely Liberty-ish printed cotton lawn which was £8/metre. The selvedges are missing so there's a chance that it could actually be Liberty. Either way I think it's lovely. I bought a metre and a half for a blouse of some description (a Colette Jasmine perhaps?)

Gratuitous close-up
And finally, after various people had left to catch trains, we visited the Fancy Silk Store. Contrary to its name the shop sells all sorts of fabrics - literally piled up to the roof. I was attracted by various fabrics, including granddad-ish  paisley brushed cotton, but in the end came away with three metres of roses on black at £4.99/metre. It's 100% cotton and looks almost linen-ish but feels very soft. It's destined for some sort of dress, with as full a skirt as I can muster.

Hurrah for Birmingham!
Thankyou very very much to Marie, Kat, and to Claire too, for making it such a good day. It was great to meet so many people and put faces to blogs, and to see makes in real life! Kat's Minoru, Rose's & Sabs' Sureaus were among the ones I spotted & admired :)

* For some reason the McCall site says that the pattern is for stretch knits. Further down the page (and on the pattern envelope) it says "Designed for light to medium weight woven fabrics". Hmm.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Simplicity 2451 - I made a skirt!

In all its wrinkly glory

In the spirit of having some actual sewing on my blog before going to the Birmingham sewists' meet-up next weekend, here is my Simplicity 2451. I first mentioned it way back in October, and it's been almost done for quite a while. Since getting my sewing machine I've zig-zagged some seam allowances, and today I finally took some photos.
Please excuse the wrinkles - it had been through a whole day at work. And of course this is just an accurate representation of the fabric...

I made view D, the short one, and it really is short. I made the biggest size as I was worried about making it too small but this wasn't the right thing to do - what should be the waistband sits on my hips. At least this means it hits just above the knees rather than being a crotch-grazing super-mini... If it had turned out like that I don't think it would have got half the wear it has, so it's not all bad.
Since this was intended to be a wearable muslin I made it out of a remnant of bottle green sheeting from John Lewis and used a scrap of amazing tropical fabric inherited from my Grandma for the pocket and back waistband facings. Sadly I didn't have enough for the front waistband facing too.

I'm not sure what you call this type of pocket but I like it. Also in this photo you can (not) see where I've stitched-in-the-ditch. I was a) apprehensive about doing this b) had a lot of spare car journey time and c) couldn't be bothered to change the thread in my Mum's sewing machine, so I did this bit by hand. It looks somewhat rough on the inside, but that's only for me to look at so it's ok. In future versions I'll conquer machine ditch-stitching - now I know how simple my machine is to thread I'm more likely to bother doing it :)
Changing feet was also beyond me (and I'm not sure Mum has a zip foot - her machine is a lovely old 70s Bernina so it probably wouldn't be cheap). I think I did a pretty good job for my first lapped zip. It's slightly wonky at the waistband but it's good enough for me!

The inside is definitely not glorious. I didn't really put much thought into seam finishing 'til I was mostly done. Then I naively thought zig-zagging with my new machine would be a good way to neaten things. Ha. Wobbling and puckers everywhere - my flatmate was quite alarmed at the outbursts this caused. I might go back and apply the pinking shears one day, if I can face it.
I think future versions will feature lining to hide the insides and prevent sticking when wearing tights (i.e. always).

There's that awesome back facing and the somewhat fudged waistband finish. You can also see here that I used white for the majority of the stitching (see laziness, above) which means that you can see the darts stretching out. Not attractive.

The main fabric cost £2.57, and the zip maybe a couple of pounds. Everything else came from my stash or Mum's.Having made this once and found it pretty straight forward I'm sure there will be future versions. I'd like to try to move the zip to a side seam, add a lining, use a thicker fabric, and make things generally a bit straighter and neater.
I'm fighting my perfectionist instincts but I know that for a first skirt I've done a pretty reasonable job :)

Monday, 3 June 2013


On a slightly hazey but very pleasant day in April.
Mum, The Boy, & I had lunch by the sea, strolled along the pier, and generally enjoyed the sunshine.
The building being demolished next to the pier is an old hotel and it's set to be replaced by swanky new flats (sold by a fancy Clifton estate agent).