This year’s Christmas gifts for Darwin’s teachers and nursery staff have been sanded, lacquered and finished with all the fine details needed. This year we have made each of the six keyworker staff a personalised pencil box and a matching tree decoration of wood. The […]
Every year for Darwin’s birthday I have asked him what birthday cake he would like. He needed a bit of guidance the first couple of years, so I gave him a few of his favourite CeeBeebies characters to choose from. This year his imagination and language were such that I knew I could give him complete carte blanche.
Darwin chose a rainbow. Like mother, like son, I guess. He loves anything with a rainbow design on it, and so the idea of a rainbow cake was wonderful to me. But, he said, he was really like it to be chocolate inside. So, between the two of us we decided on a chocolate fudge cake with rainbow icing.
The cake was not easy to make, but despite the fact that I struggled with it and that it was far from perfect, I really enjoyed decorating his cake. I do every year.
But every year I seem to get a number of people tell me that I make too much effort for a 1, 2, 3… now 4 year old. He doesn’t care what’s on his cake! He won’t even remember it. Just buy him one. Haven’t I got anything better to do with my time?
Honestly, I don’t see it that way. Every year previously I have been up really late at night, working on that cake. This year I actually managed to ice the cake whilst my husband and child went swimming. I make time, sometimes at the expense of an early night or another activity, but every year I feel pressured to defend that choice.
So why would people mock or even try to shame me for doing it? Maybe they do not realise why it is important to me.
When I was young my grandmother, Nan, made me a birthday cake. She was a fabulous baker, and she was brilliant at beautiful classic piped icing. Nan only had one hand, so instead of a piping bag she used something akin to a huge syringe, which she could guide with one hand. Every year I had a birthday cake made just for me.
What special memories I have of choosing what colours of icing I would have. What kind of cake I might like: The sponge, the filling, the pattern.
But that is not the only reason I will make my child a cake for his birthday every year.
My husband’s mother passed away when he was only a few years old. His memories of his mum are scant snapshots of immature remembrance, but one of his strongest and fondest memories of his time with her was consulting a book of children’s cake designs so that he might choose a cake for her to make for his birthday.
You know, we’ve had one hell of a year. I started off catching a common virus that, with my weakened immune system spread to my heart and stopped it working properly. I have had nine months of pain and fear that I would not even get to see my boy turn four. But I did. And I got to play out our little family tradition again.
And I know what many will be thinking. Gosh, she’s a bit defensive about making a cake, isn’t she? Yup. I defend parenting choices. I defend those tired parents who put on Moana for the fortieth time so that they can get just a bit of peace and tidy the house… or not to tidy, but to read a book, or do a crossword, exercise, nap. I also defend those parents who try to make their childrens’ days a multicoloured confection. Most of us fall somewhere in between, and whatever works best for families is great. And I defend those same choices for people who aren’t parenting. For those in relationships, for single people. You set your own priorities and what you make time for.
Ignore the people who mock the idea that you are making all of this extra work for yourself, and make the damn cake, Mimi. It makes you happy. It makes your son happy. Look at it. The pictures make you happy all over again.
I hope that family made birthday cakes will be part of Darwin’s memories for as long as he wants them, and I will work hard to be there to wipe his sticky hands and kiss his sticky smile.
There’s an account I follow on Instagram, ViktoriaAstrom, where I have seen the most wonderful little illustrations turned into large carved stamps and used to print wonderful and whimsical pieces of art. I always fancied a go at making one, but like many crafts it […]
Though I wrote about my Self Portrait embroidery first, because it was such an important piece of work for me, I actually made another embroidery piece before that one. This embroidery piece was made to mark my fifth wedding anniversary in July.
When I first met my husband I was in a very confused and emotionally turbulent place. I was not looking for anybody and had in mind a time of just being alone and finding myself and growing friendships. I had very few people in my life, but of the few people that I was in contact with, all were very precious to me.
Russell and I had known each other online for years, so as we met as friends and things grew from that friendship, we never really had a first date. Despite there not being a definable first date, I have in mind that the first romantically significant thing that we did together was to take a walk along the beach from Whitley Bay, where Russell lived, to St Mary’s Lighthouse.
The walk was my idea. Russell was not (is not) one for walking for walking’s sake, but still he waded through the sinking, dry sand with me in ridiculous heat. Russell was wearing a heavy jacket. I was wearing a purple pure wool jumper that a friend had given me from a charity donation. The heat grew more and more oppressive as we walked and we were relieved to find an ice cream stand at the lighthouse. We had only just started enjoying our ice cream prizes as the rain started. Heavy from the start, it soon turned into a full blown storm with thunder that sounded like someone was ripping the fabric of the sky and lightning that zipped between the heavens and earth like a cracking whip.
There was nothing that could be done. We’d walked about an hour to get there and wouldn’t be walking back much faster. There was no shelter, so there was nothing we could do but to let ourselves get caught in the rain at the lighthouse.
My jumper got heavy. It was still hot and the rain fell warm. As we walked back my jumper, wet through, began to shrink. The arms grew shorter and the wool grew thicker and less flexible. Over the walk home it shrank around me until it was quite restrictive, but I had nothing underneath to allow me to remove it. In many respects it was an awful first ‘date’, but it was fun, and it was silly, and it felt like so much life to be next to the sea as it raged. We walked smartly under a sky heavy with electricity that it could no longer contain, but despite nature showing her fiercer side I began to feel like I was… cared for. I was scared, but I also felt a safety I had not felt in a very long while, perhaps since childhood.
This embroidery marks all of those feelings for me, and so many of them are still appropriate in my life still today.
The actual making of this piece was very straightforward. I have never really done much embroidery (the craft snack piece and sewing machine cover being the last two pieces that I’ve embroidered), but it’s something I feel I can make a semi-decent attempt at when I want to.
The design started off as a quick sketch I made on the anniversary of our meeting, which I put on my Instagram account.
I made a few changes to the initial sketch (left) when I had the idea to turn the sketch into a piece of embroidery.
Mostly, it was to change the position of the lightning bolt so it could strike the lighthouse, lighting up the sky. This (of course) did not happen, but I really liked it as a visual metaphor for the moment it represented. I also changed the direction of the rain, though I can’t remember why and indeed changed it back to the initial direction when I came to stitch the design, as I preferred the direction being opposed to the diagonal line of the lightning bolt, for visual interest.
The piece is in a large 30cm (12″) hoop. I stitched mostly in stem stitch and back stitch on a piece of pale grey linen using a couple of different shades of grey embroidery floss for the outlines and a bright yellow for the lighthouse light and lightning bolt.
I decided to add a little hint of the light cast by the lighthouse by using a piece of tulle netting in yellow, to compliment the satin stitched bolt of lightning.
The pieces of tulle are attached to the background linen with the tiniest of anchoring stitches. They really are tiny. I can’t even see them when I look very closely, so it looks as though the tulle is just laid on before the rain was embroidered, though in reality it is securely attached all the way around.
The rain was made in lines of long straight stitch, with each stitch and the spacing between being of random length. I used a variegated grey thread for the raindrops, which, along with the changes in the depth of colour of the thread, gives a hint of varying distance for the rainfall. I had some of the raindrops fall in front of the foreground figures but most is shielded, to give a sense of distance.
The finished piece is not very detailed nor technically complex, but I think it is mostly true to my initial sketch (with a few details amended) and it suits my style, as little as I have one. Russell had said of the initial sketch that it would be nice to get it printed and framed. My sketch was not of a high enough resolution to print, but this now sits in a special place on our family wall, with all of our other memories and space for making more.