Thoughts on New Year's Day

As the year draws to a close it seems natural, at least for myself, to reflect on the year that has been and look ahead to the one to come. I’ve been thinking about what I want to hold on to and what I need to let go of — whether beliefs, or habits, or hobbies, or dreams. I realised a necessary pruning is in order, not just of the mind but also of the heart.  Continue reading “Thoughts on New Year's Day”


Undeniably inspired by the sewing lesson I had three months ago, I’ve been on fire to learn another new skill. So, I recently got into modern calligraphy. That’s something I’ve been wanting to do in the last couple of years but just never got around to actually doing it. But before I’m quite there, let me just say that I like to learn something new each day, and it is a lifelong aspiration. It could be as simple as memorising a new ‘big word’ I come across with in my daily reading, or it could be a more complex activity involving skill in making things by handwork like sewing. I do it not just to gain an intellectual knowledge and a new skill to do a craft, but also to unwind. 

When I was in graduate school I took lessons on brush calligraphy, ikebana (flower arrangement), and tea ceremony. And before I got married I also did try my hand at many things — golf, all types of water sports, etc. — to find a new hobby. And one thing I tried that I absolutely enjoyed was pottery making — thanks to a friend who got me into her favourite pastime. It’s a wonderful recreation to get into. Very relaxing and therapeutic. Regrettably, I didn’t pursue it when I moved to the UK. Not only because I didn’t find a place to do it in central London, but it’s also a very costly and time consuming hobby. I might take up pottery making again in the near future.


Being left-handed, I imagined learning modern calligraphy would be a little bit challenging because I always tend to write in small letters.

This is my handwriting when I’m not in a rush — not very good but readable. 

I’ve done Japanese calligraphy before, and thought using a brush is fairly easy than using a dip pen. I was a little bit hesitant about doing modern calligraphy although it’s been on my ‘must try’ list for a couple of years.

Image: screenshot from Rhoda’s Instagram account

It was my friend Rhodawho inspired me to finally do it. When she posted some photos on Instagram, I immediately contacted Lucy to find out if she has a modern calligraphy beginner’s class coming up in west London. I already got Lucy’s book for my birthday but never even finished reading it until I saw Rhoda’s Instagram post.


After I made the booking in June, I told my friend Joy about it and she was thrilled to do the calligraphy lesson with me. (Joy is a church mate of mine, and just like Rhoda, she is an incredibly talented lady). Thankfully, she was able to reserve a seat on the same class I signed up for.


So glad Joy and I were able to do it together, it was so much fun doing it with a friend.

That’s my ‘young-self’ many moons ago doing Japanese brush calligraphy on a piece of lacquerware. 

I find modern calligraphy arduous, at least in the beginning. It is learning a new style of writing and I had to condition my mind to forget about my own handwriting. Just trying to write massive letters to practice A-Z was quite a challenge for me. But I went home after the workshop quite happy that I learned a series of techniques that will allow me to continue doing it on my own, and at the same time determined to practice it religiously and get better at it.


Lucy was very sweet and quite helpful in giving clear instructions on how to do it from scratch — putting the nibs on the dip pen, holding the pen properly, and so on and so forth. She went around and took the time to teach one of us, there was a dozen of us, and she practically did the best she can in such a short period of time, just two hours. I felt that it wasn’t enough and I plan on attending more of Lucy’s calligraphy classes.


On the first week I devoted half an hour to forty five minutes practicing the alphabets just about everyday. The second week was quite hectic; I didn’t get to practice except for an hour and I felt terribly bad about it.


On the third week I promised myself not to neglect my calligraphy practice and I just got on with it every opportunity I had. However, I got tired of writing A-Z and decided to write words like the attributes of God and then moved into scribbling full scripture verses. The repetitive task of writing the scripture verses can be meditative and I’m thoroughly enjoying it.


Despite my busy schedule, I have been able to practice religiously for 45 minutes everyday, except Sunday, in the last couple of weeks.


This week I started writing proverbs by using an antique mahogany dip pen. Although it doesn’t work like a new pen I still enjoy using it.


 I am in the process of learning different calligraphy fonts and formats trying to come up with a personal style that I can hopefully develop. The goal is not to necessarily master modern calligraphy, but rather to continue expressing myself through this medium. I’ve always been fascinated by Calligraphy, particularly the Gothic and Medieval script. It is something I wanted to explore in the future but for now, I’ll focus on modern calligraphy. It’s been a month now since I attended Lucy’s class and I am making some progress albeit rather slow. I find it so relaxing and therapeutic, and I’m determined to continue doing it.


Soon there will be another post about my Victorian laptop.  That is, the portable writing box that was popular in the Georgian and Victorian era.


So I have finally started learning how to sew! When I told an old friend of mine back in Manila that I was in the process of sewing a dress, she told me it’s pretty ambitious to do a shift dress for a first sewing project, and that I should have started with a pillow case or a placemat. I reasoned out and told her, “But it would be very easy sewing a pillow case or a placemat.” 

Anyway, I’m doing this for a few reasons, and here’s why I am doing it:

  • Because I wanted to learn how to make my own clothes. Learning a new skill is really important to feeling enthusiastic about being creative even if it means trying and failing. (And I am not very creative so this is a big challenge.)
  • Because I thought it would be a lot of fun. I like buying fabrics and I especially love Liberty London fabrics. I also convinced myself that I could make my own clothes; that I could create something, but just the act of taking my body measurement out on a piece of paper then make a pattern and cut the fabric sounded fun — seems like a delightful release from the seriousness of my work.
  • Because I simply want to challenge myself and prove to myself that I can do it. The challenge of a task that I consider really big is quite exciting.

So yes, dressmaking it is that I have added into my list of hobby!  But the truth is I’ve been here before — many moons ago. In high school I had a Dressmaking/Tailoring class — it was part of the secondary school curriculum back in the Philippines. All the girls in my class were taught how to make a pattern for a set of pajama; I actually made one for myself and wore it until it did no longer fit me. Regrettably, I did not develop any of those practical skills I have learned in high school (I was more interested in scholarly pursuits), but I do have great memories about my Dressmaking/Tailoring teachers, Miss Monica and Mrs. Avila. Both ladies were very gentle and soft-spoken, and I absolutely adored them.

Anyway, three months ago I was chatting with one of my church mates, Melita, and she informed me that her mother (who is a dressmaker in the Philippines) was coming to London and stay with her for five months to help out with the kids. Melita heard me say a few times before that I wanted to learn sewing so she kindly offered me to come over to their flat and take lessons from her mother. I thought it was a brilliant idea. So I spoke with her mother about it as soon as she arrived in the country and she happily agreed to teach me but it took me a month or two before I could finally come over to their place to finally do it. I must mention that Tita Mely is a very gentle and soft-spoken lady who reminded me so much of my dressmaking/tailoring teachers back in high school.

I showed up at their flat one morning with some fabrics, pattern drafting paper, tape measure, and other sewing accessories, and Tita Mely (pictures above) very patiently taught me how to take my body measurement, how to make a pattern for a dress, skirt, top and trousers, and even showed me how to cut the fabric. It took two and a half hours to do all of that. Thankfully, Ken Zion, Tita Mely’s grandson, slept the whole time and there was no interruption.


After that crash course, I had a fabric ready for sewing and it took another 2-3 weeks before the sewing machine I ordered online was finally delivered. I originally wanted a brand named Robert but it was out of stock and was told I have to wait until mid-summer for a new stock to arrive. Incidentally, I found this sewing machine brand named after myself  Elna (or was I named after it? haha), and it was on sale and came with special offer such as free extended guarantee for 5 years, 50 pieces of threads, 5 scissors, 5 bobbins, and many other sewing accessories. When I checked it online and found out it’s good enough for me, I went ahead and ordered it. (BTW, I’ve only heard about this brand 3 months ago while searching for a new sewing machine to buy, and I got mine from Sewing Machine Direct and received an excellent service.) And as soon as it was delivered I played around with it; learned how to load the bobbin, the 20 Stitch selection, etc.


The next day I talked to Tita Mely and asked her where to start — she explained that I need to cut the interfacing from the leftover fabrics and start sewing them together, then the arm hole, and so on and so forth. I thought it was a bit daunting that she won’t be around when I finally do it. And by the way, she is taking care of her 10 month-old grandson when her daughter goes to work (Melita is a physical therapist and works at a hospital in north London), so it would be too much for me to carry my 6-7 kilos sewing machine to their place or to ask her to come over and take me through the whole sewing process.


So I took her instructions and also referred to the Sewing book that Phebe, another lady at our church, gave me. As soon as I started sewing to connect the interfacing, the fabric got stuck, the needle was twisted and I had to do it all over again.


After sewing the arm hole, sides, etc., it was time to put the zipper on. I hand stitched it rather than use pins, then after sewing it I found out that the zipper wasn’t concealed as it should be. I obviously didn’t do it right. After reading the sewing machine manual I was reminded that there’s a little device called ‘Zipper Foot’ I need to use for sewing the concealed zipper. Anyway, the Seam Ripper came in very handy and I spent a good 15-20 minutes taking the stitches off before I could finally fix it.


The last thing I worked on was the hem of the dress — the easiest bit — started sewing the one end of the slit (top left photo) to the other end to finish it off. I devoted 2 hours each day for 4 days sewing this dress, and that was the end of my first dressmaking journey.

Here am I traipsing around the streets of Notting Hill with the very first dress I made! Jared and I actually took a little walk around the neighbourhood on the same afternoon I finished sewing just so he could take some pictures of myself. 

The dress is made of one meter Liberty Cotton Tana Lawn fabric (which I bought for only £9 — regular price is £22.50), and it was good enough to make this simple shift dress. When I brought Tita Mely and Melita to Liberty department store to show them the fabrics department (I love going there just to admire their massive collection), they were on sale and we were able to buy some at a bargain price. I love the pink and purple flower print on my new dress and couldn’t be any happier with my first project.


I got all these five other Liberty fabrics and plan on making a maxi ball skirt, a top, and more dresses. Can’t wait!

With my mentor at Liberty department store after we shopped for fabrics over a month ago. Thanks Tita Mely for the sewing lesson!