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A Lot More Than Nine Stitches

I have just completed another sewing project for my characters – this time a sleeved waistcoat for my pirate Captain Burwash. As always I ensured it got done by setting a deadline – before my school visit tomorrow. Thus the task involved several 2 am bedtimes! I am happy with how it turned out.

I wanted a waistcoat just like that of an early 18th century sailor. I did some research and these were the sort of images I found.


This was years ago! Two years passed before I could find the cloth – woven-in blue and white stripes, 100% linen. Then many more months passed whilst I let other jobs get in the way.But last week I finally began (during a temporary lull in bookings.) And as of midnight yesterday …


It does have the shape of the first picture, but it doesn’t really hang on a hanger in such a way as to show it. I am very happy with it, and admit I will be a little bit excited to wear it tomorrow (as I usually am when I make something new).

I had fun converting my only ‘pattern’ for a coat – four constituent shapes taken from a late 17th century coat and from which I have converted every coat and waistcoat since. Cutting a pattern from striped fabric was new to me. It was easier in some ways, more difficult in others. I made it in one of the ways clothes were made back then: each piece was made separate (front and lining sewn together as one). 8 pieces in all, sewed inside out then turned right way out. Then I joined it all up by sewing the inside seams (the lining), then sewed the outside seams, then sewed the edges all around. All by hand, and all with real linen thread. If you’re going to go to all this effort, might as well use all the right materials.

I then sewed the button holes by sewing 24 little lines in pairs, allowing me to cut between them and have a gap that would not fray while I sewed the button hole stitch. I am very proud of my button holes. Here is one …


I am now itching to do some more sewing. Maybe some new shirts are in order?

If you want to know more about Captain Burwash, click here.

Preparing for the Future – the Distant Future!

Sir William Petty has been very busy of late gathering all he might need for his audacious journey through time. He wants to ensure he has everything required to measure and record what he finds, as well as take samples; to scrutinise and inspect both the larger world as well as all contained within it. He hopes to encounter the denizens of the future, and thus be able to question them concerning all manner of things. Suspecting, however, that the future may well contain myriad dangers, he plans to take all he might need to protect himself too.

Here you can see not only his trays of specimen bottles, as well as some of his weighing and measuring instruments, but also the plague doctor’s mask his assistant has fashioned just in case the air of the future is replete with foul miasmas and poisonous vapours.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI suppose you could call me Sir William’s assistant. Currently, every spare moment I get (between school visits and the boys) is spent on reading, research and readying the artefacts and materials needed for his trip. Let’s just hope that when he is transported through time all this stuff travels with him!

Now, I must get back to work. Sir William is a hard task master.

My First Trip Around the World!

I have been three different kinds of pirates this week: a highwayman on Monday (a land pirate), an Elizabethan Sea Rover on Wednesday (a patriotic pirate) and a plain old scurvy scallywag yesterday (from the ‘Golden Age’ of piracy). All great fun.

One of these visits was my very first as a new character. On Wednesday at Bottesford Infants I became Laurence Eliot, one of Sir Francis Drake’s sailors who went all around the world with him in 1577-80. The teachers at Bottesford wanted their children to study a historical traveler to compare and contrast with Neil Armstrong, so I suggested Sir Francis Drake and his incredible journey – and thus talked myself into a summer of reading and learning for the new character. Of course, I loved it as reading history books is my favourite thing!

The day went very well, as I suspected it would. The story of the circumnavigation is a great adventure, full of strange events, curiosities and terrifying dangers – Patagonian giants and magical cannibals, mountains made of silver and flying fish, giant crabs and storms that lasting for weeks and weeks. The children listened wonderfully well (and all 90 had only just started Year 2).Eliot1Of course I had all sorts of artifacts and things to show them as well, from mysterious navigational instruments to rapiers and muskets, from bags of spices we brought back from the Moluccas to a bar of silver taken from the back of a Llama on the coast of Peru. We even had a knot tying competition to see if the children could have helped us repair our ships, and other children carried various things to get a feel for what we took with us.

Here I am demonstrating a log line, the instrument used to determine how fast a ship is moving (in knots, of course) …

Eliot4And here I am showing them a little iron round-shot, the sort we used to frighten the Spanish sailors in the great South Sea into surrendering …
Eliot2It was a lovely day. I hope soon to create a new web page for this new character. But in the meantime, if any of you teachers are interested in such a well traveled character from the past, who can tell all about the very famous Sir Francis Drake’s most marvelous exploit, then please get in touch and we’ll arrange a date.

I can’t wait to go around the world again!






Sir John Stouts it Out Again

Last weekend Skipton Castle was once again defended by Colonel Sir John Mallory, as well as many well affected gentlemen, officers, soldiers and much of the populace of Skipton, as Commissary General Sydenham Poyntz’s besieging force set about surrounding the castle and building batteries for the artillery pieces expected to arrive any day.

Well, I say all those people were there … But the funny thing was Sir John could find none of them, not one soldier nor even his own manservant William Layton. It seemed to him, as he stood looking out over the little courtyard in the midst of the tower, that he may as well be on his own!

Sir John ponders

Sir John ponders

Luckily for him, great crowds of visitors soon arrived to swell the garrison, so he set about explaining the castle’s predicament and why they should not yet give up hope in the king’s cause. As the able bodied lads amongst the crowds could be put to good use defending the castle, he busied himself teaching them the art of war, such as the loading of a matchlock musket …


… as well as a pistol …



The time passed very quickly (at one point, when Sir John thought it must be about 1 o’clock, it turned out to be after 4 o’clock!) as he had the children act out stories from the last two years of the war at Skipton, asked the sneakiest looking children how many roundshot they could carry back into the castle that night so that they could be fired again the next day, as well as gleaning as much intelligence as he could concerning the ‘German game’ being played by Colonel Alured’s and Colonel Lambert’s men outside (which turned out to be very little.)

Whilst on the topic of being very little, Sir John failed to notice two things – one not so surprising, the other extraordinary. The first was that his little daughter Elizabeth, a girl of 3 years old, had sneaked in to listen to him wax lyrical about why he served the king so loyally. The second was the strange fact that his daughter looked just like a little boy! Admittedly a very handsome one, but a boy nevertheless.

Actually my real son Thomas

Actually my real son Thomas

It was a great weekend.

I am now preparing for the Autumn school term – from reading to sewing, from fashioning maps to buying spices. To see which of my characters you might like to visit your school, please take a look at my page of Characters. I hope to hear from you.

Sanctuary at Oakwell Hall

As so often in recent years, the infamous highwaymen John Nevison found himself in need of a place to hide a week last Sunday. Being close unto Batley, and once again parted from his wonderful horse Nutmeg, he was forced to make his way on foot to Oakwell Hall, the steward there being a drinking friend of his. Indeed they had shared several many rambuctious evenings supping at an alehouse east of Bradford while the steward was abroad upon his master’s business. Having promised he would say nowt to anyone concerning their friendship – public knowledge of which would ruin the steward’s good reputation, if not see him tried and punished for aiding and abetting a known felon – the steward graciously permitted Nevison to stay there for the day.

Nevison breathed a sigh of relief as he leaned on the gatepost and pondered his next move.


Of course, he did not want to lose his horse Nutmeg, for he reckoned her to be the best mount north of the river Trent. Thus it was he decided he would simply wait until darkness then sneak back to where she was stabled and make his get away. What he couldn’t know was that so many people would be visiting Oakwell Hall that day, and being a gregarious sort of fellow, he could not help himself but begin telling all and sundry of his adventures and escapes. Here you can see him in the heat of the afternoon sun, waxing lyrical of his cunning escape from Leicester goal to a crowd of visitors.


Having retrieved Nutmeg as he planned, he subsequently went about his usual activities, until more trouble today as the hue and cry was raised to have him arrested, once again close to Batley. So it is that tomorrow he will seek refuge again at Oakwell Hall.

The event is organised by the Milestone Society http://www.yorkshire-milestones.co.uk/ as part of their ‘Beyond Graffiti’ project http://www.beyond-graffiti.co.uk/ and takes place on Saturday 26th July 2014 at Oakwell Hall http://www.kirklees.gov.uk/events/eventdetails.asp?evID=20657&evDtID=130115

Please click here to find out more about Swift Nicks Nevison visiting your school.