Around a bowl of soup.

Happy New Year everyone! December has been a nice full month and the start of January full of illness, so here we are back again with something non sewing related! I feel like I tried to make this into a sewing blog and have a really clear “brand identity” whatever that means and it’s ended up just making me more hesitant to write at all. I’ve decided that’s kind of stupid and pointless, since the entire idea of this blog at its outset was to just get writing again and get some of that mild existential rage out (not that I’m exactly angry all the time, but you know… I’m not not angry either? it’s like the choleric’s equivalent to artsy melancholy I guess.)

SO! With that bit of introspection out of the way, here’s something I wrote in April 2018 and never published – The Art of Simple had asked for essay submissions and I sent this in, but I figure since it’s been almost 2 years and they didn’t get back to me it’s probably time to get it out to the world on my own platform. We never did manage to get that sort of little community going in Groningen, sadly – though we did meet some lovely people and had good times. Maybe different places and different stages call for different kinds of hospitality? Maybe this new move and the fact that we have a garden and a larger kitchen means we can get back to feeding people soup? Maybe we’ll get a BBQ? Only time will tell.

Here’s to everyone who’s had soup at my table, and there’s a lot of you, thank you – and I hope we can get together again sometime… Around a bowl of soup.



It’s Monday lunchtime in the staff room of the elementary school. Everyone’s chatting about the week ahead. Report card time is coming and some people are planning on staying late tonight – after all a burden shared is split in half, right? Will I be joining them?  –  I snap out of my daydream. Tonight? No, tonight won’t work. Tonight there’ll be a horde of hungry physics undergrads at my table when I get home – trying to unravel the complexities of quantum mechanics over a sturdy round piece of solid oak. I’ll get home and start cooking onions and beans. Filling the air with earthy, homey smells while they fill it with questions and the sound of pencils scratching. “What did you get in part a? Could you have a sign error? Wait, what’s that constant again? Right.” And then the soup will be ready, textbooks pushed aside, stomachs filling to match full brains. The daydream at lunch was productive. Fried sage leaves are the perfect bean soup topping.

We’re not exactly sure how it happened, but sometime that semester our dining room table got dragged into the living room, the couch pushed against the sliding door to the balcony and every other Monday, from after class to after dark, our tiny apartment played host to “homework and soup” parties. We were 21 years old, in love, newly married and he was still an undergrad. I had a job with a way-too-long commute and colleagues my parents’ age. I loved to cook and needed community. They needed to get homework done and to eat good food. We’d make this work. After a while, people started bringing beer and desserts and bread to share. It was scruffy, it was cheap and it was very good.

Fast forward a few years and we’re living in a new town, with a new baby, a new job and once again needing community. We’re moving in different circles – grad students for him, mommy groups for me. There’s a bit more money to go around now, but they don’t really let you take babies to the bar – and besides – those places are loud and what I need most is adult conversation… The old Monday nights come to mind and we know we’ve struck gold. We’d buy a few extra chairs and each invite a friend or two (with any attached partner and children if applicable) distribute the wine, salad and bread duties among the guests, make soup and dessert and let the people roll in as soon as they were off work, every other Friday. Once again, it was scruffy, it was cheap and it was very good.

There were some great conversations around that table (a different one – a big, square, bar height thing) there was some great food. Some people came once, a few became regulars, a very few had us over in return, and after a season, like the Mondays before them our Fridays faded out. The weather got better, that kid got a sibling, and most importantly – we’d found our people. Soup people. Backyard BBQ people. Beach picnic people.

Today we’re in yet another town, with another job, another new baby on the way. We’re finding our feet now after a few months here and we’ve found a new table too (a rectangle this time, with handy drawers for napkins and coasters built in). I think it might be time to find it a few more chairs and bowls and start simmering a new pot of soup.


Claire Oman is married to a brilliant young astronomer and mother to a small brood of children. She defines their family as Academic Nomads. When she’s not busy feeding people, she can be found reading, sewing, or blogging at

Wedding Outfits 4/4 – Mistral

Last but not least, baby girl. Mistral was so very excited to be a flower girl – she doesn’t really remember that she has done this before…. (and I made that dress too, though I guess I never blogged about it.) But yes, here’s the 2 year old hairless wonder girl in her frothy white frock. (I did NOT make any of tiny Sirocco’s clothes. Good job too as they were mostly destroyed later that evening in the bouncy castle…)


So, now that we have that bit of nostalgia out of the way. Pinterest inspo! Though I think we both agreed that the belt was a bit much, especially if she was going to carry a bouquet. (And seriously what is up with those shoes?)


I had some really wonderful double sided loose woven linen in ecru and pink in my stash for over a year that I just could not decide what to make with so when I heard the bride wanted a pinkish dress I knew just what to use. The clean lines on the inspiration photo made the pattern easy to choose too. Clearly this was a Made by Rae Geranium! That left the tutu skirt situation. My initial thought was just to add a couple of layers of tulle on top of the main fabric and sew it up as normal, but I was concerned about the bulk that would create, and how the loose woven linen would hold up. A detachable overskirt also has some practical advantages – while the complete look is quite formal, a simple light pink linen dress can definitely be worn more than once (and if I’m going to make these clothes, they are going to wear them!) So once more, we had Oliver+S come to the rescue. After several months of searching, I managed to secure a copy of the out of print Little Things to Sew book (serendipitous timing, as it was very shortly before taking on this project) which includes a really lovely tutu pattern – apron style, so no fussing with attaching tulle to elastics, and comes with a nice built in tie, extra long in this case, for making a beautiful “papillon” ( nœud papillon is French for a bow tie, literally a “butterfly bow” but “papillon” is also Mistral-speak for anything ever that is tied in any kind of bow).

The construction was a bit long, but definitely the most time consuming and nerve wracking bit was getting the layering order right to create the exact shade of pink I wanted… There are actually five colours of tulle in there which gives it a lovely depth especially when it’s moving around. I ended up basting by hand, because I felt more confident that way and it was a lovely quiet thing to do. Honestly hand basting is pretty fast and gives you so much more control over the end result, I highly recommend it.

Having already made the Geranium for Mistral, I was not worried about that so made the tutu first and then tried it on her with the old dress. The one in electric blue with polka dots and florals and things that I made from an old duvet colour, which she loves, but is really, clearly, NOT the one I was planning to put her in for the wedding. Right?


Classiest. Lady. But apparently something got lost in texting when I sent my poor future SIL this picture and she thought that this was the final look. The truth is, I had at this point decided that my life was clearly too easy, and that since I was going to be on holiday in Munich for a few weeks away from my sewing machine, I should bring some handwork. What better plan than to sneakily decide to do some beading on the bodice of the dress?! And obviously, I would keep it a surprise, so I couldn’t send any more dress updates… oops. Well, we all had a good laugh when she DID see the dress, and realized the mistake, though I was horribly embarrassed. Talk about a Pinterest fail!

Excuse the poor lighting, apparently I could only remember to take pictures after dark… but here’s what the beading looks like! I had a mid-sized bead as well as the large and small ones here, but neglected to check if they would fit on my needle, and sadly they did not, and I was away from home and didn’t want to try and find the right needle, so the effect is a bit more clunky than I had hoped, but not bad for a first attempt.


After that it was an easy but satisfying sew, no changes to the pattern other than using the extended bodice from the expansion and hand sewing the lining with a simple whipstitch rather than topstitching for a cleaner look. I think these photos from the first fitting in the whole outfit (albeit over her pjs) could be a visual definition of “delighted”.

And that was that! Leaving only the flower crown to do on the morning of the wedding. Mistral had fallen absolutely in love with this crown she saw on Pinterest and decided that she must have one for the wedding. This honestly made my life easy, because that would mean just washing her hair, letting it curl and tucking her half grown out bangs under the crown. We went with white florist tape and flowers all the way around, but otherwise just followed this tutorial. Mistral helped by plucking small bits of the flowers and I did the taping. Fun girly wedding morning craft time!babys-breath-crown-7

I think the effect was rather charming, don’t you?

photo: Kelsey Vera Photography


(and one last glamour shot of that tutu for the road)


In case you missed it:
My dress
Chinook’s romper
Sirocco’s waistcoat and shorts


Wedding outfits 3/4 – Sirocco

Guys, I made a waistcoat. Pinterest inspiration was this photo, but in darker colours to match the wedding party. I think we pretty much nailed it honestly. But man, am I glad I didn’t do four of these…

The main parts were made in a wool/poly suiting in navy with a light blue pinstripe. The same as for the baby overalls. It was super pretty and didn’t wrinkle, which was wonderful, but didn’t really hold a press either, which was a pain… if anyone has good tips for solving this do let me know in the comments! Because I am a slightly ridiculous person, and because I like to tease my little brother, and because the wedding was in rural Alberta (Canada) the he facings are made in a very bright tractor print poplin. Because my father-in-law was visiting and decided I needed pictures of me crafting, you get to enjoy the fabric in all it’s freshly ironed glory! 

My sewing room looks exceptionally tidy in this photo. A highly irregular situation!

There were all kinds of notions needed here… but I eventually managed to source the correct size of slider for the back of the waistcoat, and matching buttons in two sizes!  I find selecting buttons is always a painful part of the process. Because the shorts and waistcoat both needed them, but it would look silly to have them all the same size and sillier to have them not match. The struggles of an artist, I tell you. Anyhow, the buttons are baby blue dyed corozo nut (called steennoot in Dutch which translates to “stone nut”, these are durable!) 

And now, patterns. For the shorts, I considered a few options – but decided to go for a tried and true. The Sailboat Pants by Oliver + S (which I talk about here!) simply cropped to be knee length. I had made one pair earlier in the summer (which got some prime time on the O+S instagram because of epic stripe matching) but here’s also a full shot.

Yes, it’s the same fabric as Chinook’s test run for the romper, a fun piece I picked up from the local charity shop and just barely large enough to fit these two patterns on. Thrifty mom win!

For the waistcoat, I considered another Oliver+S pattern – the Art Gallery (which incidentally is one of Sirrocco’s favourite places to visit, so it would be fitting). But I was leafing through some Ottobre magazines that my Mom had kindly given me for Christmas and found just the  thing I was looking for in issue 6/2017.

I like the Ottobre patterns because they seem to fit my tall boy quite well and so I felt confident (and tight on time) and went ahead without a muslin. (Though I DID practice before putting in those THREE tiny welt pockets!) Oh, and I think I did it more or less correctly but I guess we will never know since this copy was in Dutch and while I can sort of read Dutch, it’s still a bit iffy and the instructions are a bit sparse so I winged a few bits – further Ottobre magazines will be purchased in French or English. I love that back tie, it just takes the whole thing to a nice professional place.

This project was definitely a challenge, and honestly, what with the schedule, it was only possible because my father-in-law was visiting and, when he wasn’t playing paparazzi in the sewing room, he and Kyle spent a few days making sure I could work undisturbed for several hours at a time, emerging occasionally to make coffee and excitedly wave completed welt pockets in their faces. It’s nice to feel loved.

And here’s the handsome boy himself, all dressed up with nowhere to go. (And apparently before the buttons were added, which I forgot until seeing this picture again.)


p.s. It seems I made a mistake in my queuing and this was briefly published as a blank post. Hopefully this updated version is a bit more interesting!

The other outfits are here!
My dress
Chinook’s romper
Mistral’s dress

Wedding Outfits 2/4 – Chinook and co.

Chinook’s outfit was inspired by a couple of adorable finds on Pinterest and a general sort of “Brit-chic baby” aesthetic. Basically we wanted the poshest babies* around.  Bubble romper, knee socks, tiny leather shoes, there was a vague notion of a chunky cardigan, but I didn’t find anything and the day ended up gorgeously warm anyway.

LOOK BOOK - BOY - BABY -  - #BabyClothing

Pilar Batanero







I went with the Wild One Bubble Romper by Made by Jack’s Mum as the pattern. I knew it was cute from having made it once already in a soft double gauze, but decided to make a second one in a firmer fabric, just to be sure. I ended up widening the crotch just a little bit for a bit more coverage, but I think if I was to do it again, I would just adjust the angle of the leg openings instead as it is quite steep and that would add a bit more down the leg. Anyhow, these were the two “wearable toiles” which Chinook wore in constant rotation all summer.

As you can see on the first one the snaps are visible, which is cute on a little casual romper, but I wanted something dressier for the wedding. On the second, I experimented with having hidden back snaps. They tie at the back and the actual snaps are set inside the lining of the romper, so they are completely invisible.


Using a striped fabric also made me very aware of the importance of stripe matching for a nice look. These are NOT and it is a bit visually distracting. I was sighing big sighs of having to match stripes on tiny straps when suddenly I glanced over at some wide navy twill tape in my stash and had one of those lightbulb moments. It looks sharp, doesn’t require any faffing about with turning tubes of fabric or indeed buying any more supplies! And so, after a quick pin fit on an escaping baby, it was a go.

This wasn’t exactly the final styling, but I love this little snap I sent to the bride when I finished the rompers. The white shirt was thrifted, bnwt, and the blue one is a traditional Ukrainian shirt that was a hand me down from some sweet friends from church. Those tassels and the pulled thread work on it just make my heart sing every time he wears it!


So here you are, official photo and teaser shot of the other two lovelies… whose outfits were definitely more work!

photo: Kelsey Vera Photography


*Other babies not pictured, as they are not mine.

More wedding clothes here!
My dress
Sirocco’s waistcoat and shorts
Mistral’s dress

Wedding outfits 1/4 – My dress

This summer, amidst other things (like an international move), my baby brother got married! Go Lil G! Seeing as I had volunteered to make bridesmaids dresses (little ones, flower girls for you North American folk) for my brother in law, under similar circumstances, I felt obliged to offer the same to my own brother. Of course, because I am a recovering overachiever I also offered to make outfits for the small boy attendants, assuming it would just be for my own three, and OF COURSE when told they were thinking of also having two more small boys there, I said to myself that making three tiny rompers could not be much more work than one, AND THEN, of course… I had some of the most beautiful Seasalt Cornwall (not sponsored, though I would gladly rave about them more if they wanted me to!) printed cotton voile in my stash waiting to be made into a lovely late summer dress, so obviously, I made my dress too. So that’s what we’re going to talk about first!


The fabric is sadly no longer available as it is a limited run, like all their fabrics. It’s so worth snagging them if you like a print though, because the quality is absolutely fantastic. The voile is light, crisp, but not transparent. The print goes right through to the wrong side, but is perfectly sharp. I still have a bit left and you will be seeing more of this, because it would be a crime to waste!

For the pattern I initially decided to keep life simple and do another Hinterland, this time with a slightly longer length and “maybe something with the sleeves” to make it a bit more formal. Then, a few days before I was set to start, Meg posted a tutorial to change the neckline to a V and move the darts around to the bottom and I thought, “oh! let’s do that!” and then…. well a back V is so pretty, “let’s do that too! and why not a flutter sleeve? or a tie on the sleeve? OH! and definitely it should have buttons all the way down.” And then, it wasn’t so simple anymore. Especially as my initial thought of simply using the pattern I had cut was out the window as my measurements now but me a solidly one to two sizes down from the previous iteration (thanks post partum/stress weightloss… not.)

Several muslins (aka old bedsheets and curtains) and experiments and buttonholes later… It was a lovely dress to dance the night away in.

Me and baby and baby bro, snappy dressers unite. credit: Kelsey Vera Photography


For more kids and cuteness see also:
Chinook’s romper
Sirocco’s waistcoat and trousers
Mistral’s dress

Back at it

I generally disapprove of this sort of post… Mostly because it seems so common to have several of them in a row, promising to get back into blogging, apologizing for a hiatus, etc. But this one is mostly for me, just writing as catharsis and as I type, I’m not sure if I will hit publish. The last 11 months have been hard. There’s been a lot of good, a lot of bad and a lot in between. I had no qualms before they arrived about hitting my 30s. I was happy to be finally leaving the awkwardness of being in my 20s with three kids in tow behind me (especially in a place where new moms tended to be closer to 40 than 20.) But our collective 30s (Kyle and mine, I mean) started with a bang on the last day he was 29 and it’s been a wild ride since then. One which, I think, I hope, is slowing down a bit into a rhythm, a pattern we can at least follow, a form emerging from the abstraction of illness, death, new life, new countries, transatlantic flights, visas and residence permits, travel and general stress that have existed on top of the usual growing pains of a young family.

So here’s to quiet, simple, routine and new adventures in Merry Ole.

“(It)is brought home to me: it is no bad thing to celebrate a simple life.” — — J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring (as spoken by Bilbo Baggins)



Hinterland holiday dress

No, not the Christmas holidays… the Fall holiday. I am playing blog catch up. I think my 2019 blogging goal is going to be writing up all my 2018 makes!


Anyhow, in another serendipitous sewing contest occurence, the Hinterland Sew Off arrived just about the same time as the fabric I had ordered to make one! Kyle got me the pattern as a birthday gift at the end of summer and my lovely in-laws had sent me the means for a fabric shopping spree, specifing that it should be for selfish sewing. And yes, I am very thankful have married into such a thoughtful family!


Now, the only missing piece was to sort out the fit. As some of you may have noticed, motherhood changes people in a number of ways. Since entering this phase of life, I like to refer to myself as a shape-shifter. Mostly because it sounds cool. But also because TRUTH. And loving your body. And just being where you’re at. Because women are pretty cool and shapeshifting magic is second only to  baby building magic.


All this rambling to say that I made my first muslin for this pattern! And also my second muslin…. and some tissue fitting… And it took a good week to sort out the bodice. And it looked darn good when it was done, but I will probably have to go through the whole process again for my next version, because shape shifting. It still looks lovely, just a touch more oversized, which actually works well with the fabric.

It was overall a great pattern to sew, I was a bit intimidated by the buttons, but I hate zippers and nursing access is key at this point in the shape shifting lifestyle, so buttons were not optional for me. I slightly melted the interfacing in the placket and the overlap is a few millimetres off, but overall it went well…. until I tried to make the button holes. I (sensibly) tested things out on some scraps before attacking (note the choice of word) the actual bodice. Several minutes of continuous testing and a fair bit of cursing led to the conclusion that in spite of diagrams claimimg so, my machine does not, in fact, make button holes.


No matter, a youtbe tutorial and a chatty call to my Mom while hand sewing button holes solved that problem. Honestly, it was kind of fun.


The skirt and pockets came together without a hitch, though next time I think I will use french seams (amusingly called “coutures anglaises” –  english seams, in French) as the zigzag looks a bit messy, especially with the double gauze. And the pockets are a good size and well positioned.


I really love the look of this dress – easy but put together. It works equally well with tights and is pretty much appropriate for anything I do in my life these days. I mean, I’ve worn it to church and hiking… on the same day. It was a good day and it’s a good dress.




Pyjama sewing!

When I got my first batch of Oliver+S patterns around my birthday I was quite set on sewing up some Christmas jammies for the kids. I didn’t have a particularly clear vision for them, but I knew I had some large quantity of brushed cotton scraps from making PJ pants for Kyle. He has very long legs but is not very large around so making him pants results in very long narrow-ish scraps. I figured this would be fine and pulled out the fabrics to have a look and after lots of hemming, hawing and moving pattern pieces around on the cloth (laid out in the majority of the living/bedroom space in our appartment I came up with a design. Mistral would have white sleeves and bands, large scale red on the body and Sirroco the opposite, the main part of the pants, the collar bands and ties would be the same small scale Royal Stuart plaid for both.  Is this outrageous print mixing? Yes. But these are Christmas Pjs for preschoolers, so we’re running with it. IMG_20190102_175223

The cutting was really the most complicated part. Some pieces run cross grain, some on grain (though with the shifty brushed cotton twill I was careful not to do any on the bias!!). There was absolutely NO effort at matching plaids in the tops other than having the sleeves in about the same place and purposely offsetting the (added) back piecing (necessary due to lack of wide pieces, as discussed above). The pants were cut on the fold and so match up pretty well. Sadly in my hyperfocused cutting session I was a bad blogger and neglected to take any pictures (not that there’s much light here this time of year, hah!)

Pieced back is nice and obvious. Also the fact that the plaid is on grain in one piece and cross grain in the other! One of those #makeitwork moments…

After cutting out the big kids’ outfits I figured we could squeeze in something for the baby, but it was really pushing it. I cut a Lullaby layette top (sz. 6-12mo) with piecing on both the front and back as well as one sleeve. To tie things together a bit I chose to turn the placket to the outside so cut it from the same colour as the contrast sleeves. The neck binding is a scrap of premade red bias, barely long enough to fit. How’s that for stash busting?! The pants are the Wiksten bloomer pants but apparently my giant baby should be into the next size… *sigh*

I agonized over button colour… red would have been great, but my red snaps clashed *horribly* so yellow it was!

Between the piecing and the fact that my darlings are inexplicably tough on sleepwear AND the fact that I would like to see the two larger sets handed down I really went to town on the seam finishes. I don’t own a serger, but have recently learnt to do flat-felled and french seams and I’m in love. Back piecing, shoulder seams and crotch seams are all flat felled for comfort and durability. The inside leg seams are “frenched” and look lovely too. I did just zigzag the side seams on the tops, but after looking at my favourite (slighly higher end) RTW shirtdress I am seeing I could have done french seams there too… Next time I suppose! Because I think there will be a next time – they are lovely to sew and wear.

Perfect for opening presents…


And playing with new toys…


One last note on construction – I decided to use some ribbon for the inner ties. I grabbed some satin ribbon I had in the stash and while it ties beautifully and doesn’t come undone one of Mistral’s did get eaten (read: completely unraveled) on the first wash… So I will be taking a few minutes and replacing those with some newly acquired and (presumed) sturdier twill tape!

Hope you all enjoyed a lovely and relaxing holiday!
Anyone have stash busting goals for the new year? (I don’t exactly… but you might!)


Made stuff Monday 6 – Sailboats and Lullabies!

I mentioned previously that I discovered the wonderful world of indie pattern designers… Well, one name that kept coming up was Oliver+S, so I figured I would look into that, and wow. Smitten. Between the (sadly discontinued) paper doll styling on the envelopes, and the really lovely, clean lines of designs, and the awesome names and the fact that there are a decent number of boy options that aren’t just a t-shirt or a button down… I am in love. And THEN, just as I was sitting, hemming and hawing about these patterns, there’s a sale. So, that happened. I got the Sailboat, Lullaby, Book Report and Bedtime Story patterns. (And have now, 2 months later, used all but one of them (which is slated for making Christmas PJs), so it was definitely worthwhile!)

Thankfully, they are available as printable PDF files, because shipping from the States is of course, outrageous. The Sailboat Pattern has truly adorable little cropped trousers which I just had to make for Sirocco (5 is still little enough to be truly adorable, right?). So armed with my new pattern and some lovely seersucker that my wonderful Mum got me as part of my Birthday Fabric Shopping Extravaganza, I set out to make the pants. But there was going to be some fabric left, so I wondered if maybe I could get Mistral a matching skirt in there…And then it didn’t seem fair to leave out Baby Chinook, so, maybe, if I turn this, and squeeze that, and use a contrast for the side panels…. Success! Ninja cutting at it’s finest, though I do say so myself. Trousers, skirt and a sweet little shirt out of one (perhaps generous) meter.

Poorly lit, sewing room floor shot. Victory! It will fit!

I loved making the Sailboats, the instructions were as good as generally reported (thanks to my reading of most of the archive of both Bartacks and Singletrack and Five and counting… in a fog of newborn nursing – Ladies, if you’re reading this, thanks.)


Look at that facing!

I felt very pro making these, whereas I usually feel like I just throw things together. In fact, I wpuld say this really marked a turning point in my sewing, something just clicked. I loved learning new techniques too! I did go the lazy route on the button and used snaps… we’ll just claim it was for ease of self dressing for the kids, mmk?


Definitely kid-approved!


The Lullaby top was lovely too. I was a bit concetned about the shape, that it would be too brrezy, or ride up, or look a bit girly with the width at the bottom, but it stays down beautifully and just flows over that darling baby belly. Key element here is the sleeve length: long enough to keep little arms warm and short enough not to get slobbered on (too much). That bias bound neck and cute little placket make my heart sing. I am thinking it could be cute inserted on the outside for a bit of contrast too.

It’s styled here with some darling Wiksten bloomers made out of the last useable scraps of a large sailboat print thrifted shirt that has made 3 different kid garments. Not bad, if you ask me!

Anyway, that’s it for this edition! So many makes yet unblogged! Working on it… really hoping to get them all shared up here!



Women in STEM and other hot topics part 2/2

Right, so I  had great intentions of finishing this off on Friday, but we were hit by a vomiting sickness, so yeah. Everyone is better now, thanks for asking.

When we left off we’d determined you need Smarts, yes but also Spark. But that’s not quite enough, there’s a third “S”. Support. And here, ladies and gents, is where I think we fail women, (and other minorities, but let’s keep our focus for now.)

Support. We touched on it, with mentors/teachers/family encouraging people along their path, or not. Or encouraging them to follow other paths.  This is a subtle, complex issue. It can’t be understood by looking at a few statistics nor summarized in a cute infographic, but it can easily be dismissed with a stinging cartoon.

Financial support is probably the first thing that springs to mind – grants, scholarships, fellowships exist that are reserved for women and this is great! But why are they necessary? Shouldn’t women be able to compete on their own merit? Well, it would be lovely if they could! But this is the last step in the support network and to even be there and compete for financial support we need to make sure that students are supported in other ways through the earlier parts of their academic career. This is very much a  “band aid solution” addressing the symptom (women are not hired) without going to the root cause, without even needing to ask the question (WHY they are not hired). It’s an easy way to seem/feel helpful without addressing the underlying issues and structures that are causing the symptoms. It’s not an important thing, given the circumstances, but it’s laughably insufficient.

Emotional support. Loaded expression, isn’t it? “The problem with girls in the lab is that when you criticize them, they cry.” We’re not talking about that kind of emotional (though if you’re trying to make your students cry you’ll probably succeed and you’re probably an ass.) I think that most young women of my generation have been told over and over that “girls can do anything!” and that sounded great. Our brothers and guy friends were NOT told that boys could do anything though… Nobody told them that they could be preschool teachers, secretaries, nurses, dancers, or that they might want to take some time off from their careers to care for growing families. Nobody told them that if they found the right girl they could just drop everything and move to the town with the great PhD program she got accepted in. Nobody told them that these were valid and valuable choices. But they are. They ARE. If you’re a guy reading this and have never even thought about this before, you can perhaps start to appreciate the intangible biases women face. When were told we can “do anything”, but we were shown that we should do traditional “women’s work”, we absorbed both messages. Keep a spotless home, have all the babies, get to the top of your field! Because “girls can do anything!”Anything! Everything! Because “girls can do anything” women feel like they have to do everything… we have to unlearn that. We need a different narrative for our daughters, we need to talk to our sons too. To our young friends, to our students. Nobody can do everything. We all need each other.

Which brings us to community support. How can our communities, our families be more supportive? This differs from emotional support in my mind – we’re talking more concrete actions here rather than words and attitudes. I have some suggestions and questions for different groups (and as this little rant has gone on for some length already, I think we’ll end with those. Please feel free to discuss this further with me in person or in the comments though!)

If you are a woman in science (or a man in a traditionally feminine line of work): You go! You’re awesome! And this was probably a lot of work… You likely deal with unkind comments on a regular basis, or perhaps worse, condescending comments. “Oh, you’re so brave… I could never do that.” can be as grating as “You don’t belong here.” If you happen to have a bit of energy to spare, try and be visible in the community. Befriend people with kids if you don’t have your own. My kids love their “Astro Aunties” and their “Uncle Nurse” and there’s no better way to challenge stereotypes than by creating a new normal.

If you are a man in science (these tips are from Kyle): “Talk about this stuff. Decide not to be a jerk. If you see other people being jerks, tell them to stop.” I admit it does sum it up nicely.

If you are the partner of a woman in science: Discuss your career plans! Be supportive and encourage her. Ask what her ambitions are! Ask her what you can do to help with them. Ask yourself questions too. Would I relocate to advance her career? Am I doing my share in running the household? How can I support her work if we have kids? Am I willing to be the primary caregiver for a period of time? (Yes, pregnancy is a ladies only thing, and newborn care is probably easier for women if they are breastfeeding, but past that really early stage men can be extremely competent!) If some of these questions had never occurred to you, ask yourself why and ask her if the opposite ones had occurred to her. You might be surprised by your bias.

If you are the friend of a woman in science: Feed that woman! Like literally, especially during proposal time or thesis writing. But also figuratively, make sure she’s keeping up her mental health and doing the other things she loves. Friends don’t let friends burn out. Celebrate milestones! Ask her seriously about the workplace situation, especially if she’s just moved to a new group. Is she being respected? Are people supportive of her work? If not, she’ll be glad to have someone to discuss it with and if so, celebrate that too!

If you are a conference organizer or employer: Does your workspace include facilities for families? Childminding and/or playrooms can be the difference in mothers attending and are also a chance for the next generation to be around scientists and think it’s a cool job. Mistral still goes on about “her office” at MITP... small steps to big changes…

If you are a teacher: Try and get to know a student’s interests before suggesting a career path? It sounds so obvious… but seriously grades DO NOT always equal passion. Check your bias too, are you letting it influence how you treat students? Get to know some scientists! And artists! And just people in other careers generally. As a “retired” teacher, I know that the community can be very insular and by not reaching out beyond our little education circle we are doing a disservice to all.

If you are a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, influential adult in a kid’s life: We are living in the digital age, we are also in an era of re-skilling, there are so many ways to get by, so many possibilities for work, so many options to pursue, the world is different and will continue to change, a “good education” is not what it was 50 years ago or even 10 years ago. Let the kids cast the net wide, let them pursue their interests. Teach them to be responsible with resources, to think and question what they are told. Read them fairy tales and biographies. Make art and food and messes with them and then clean up together. Introduce them to your friends, have them talk to adults. Trust them, love them. Accept that your girls could want to be home makers or programmers, authors or landscapers. Accept that your boys could also make any of those choices. Try to raise them not to be jerks and hopefully the rest will follow.


p.s. There is so much so much left unsaid here, but I’m glad to have this space to at least hash out some thoughts. Sadly it seems that the Strickland Nobel is now tainted by her former supervisor and fellow recipient’s grossly inappropriate videos and total lack of recognition of her work. Distasteful doesn’t even begin to cover it. We can and must do better. Drs. Azi, Arianna, Anastasia, Helen, Hannah, thanks to you and all the others who’ve been there having these conversations with me and others over the years.