Sunday, 4 October 2015

Thinking Like an Artist

I have been attempting to think like an artist to work out how I am going to pull off the Purdah Quilt. I don’t seem to have enough patience to wait for a Muse to come along and  just one day spent indecisively drives me mad. While I was thinking I tried some more couching yarn out that I may or may not use when I eventually pluck up the courage to start quilting BzB. 

I could not decide whether to keep things simple or make them more complicated but I remembered that elaborate does not seem to be the key to the Fine-Art-Master category at FOQ. Next I wondered whether I should be improvising or sticking to something more traditional. The whole point of the Purdah Quilt is that will be layers of some sort so I guess that means I will making more than one quilt. I made up some test blocks to see if they would work with what I already had bouncing around in my head and I think I know sort of what I am doing now…

I spent 2 fun days at Newport Sewing Centre in Wales doing staff training for the Bernina Q24 longarm. They were enthusiastic to learn and try out new ideas but I have to confess that yet again I was too busy to remember to take any action photos. It is always interesting that no matter how many times you have taught a class or used a familiar machine, you can always find new or better ways of doing things. I left my pupils keen to work on new projects and pass on their knowledge to customers. I enjoyed seeing a great display of sewing and embroidery machines in the shop and even learned a trick for telling my Bernina 710 that I am using a straight stitch plate so it remembers when I forget so I can’t break a needle by zig-zagging.

I was annoyed that the little car I hired proved to be defective. When it refused to start at the airport I was told that I was not operating it correctly and by chance it fired up when I went back to it. However, when I made it struggle up steep, narrow lanes it started to make clunky noises. My B&B proved tricky to find because none of the hedged lanes were labelled and the road signs were in Welsh. I flagged down a farmer and a dog-walker and they explained that my destination had a completely different name on its gate than the one advertised on the internet. I had a very pleasant stay in a barn conversion and a lovely home-cooked breakfast. However, the crappy car would not start the next morning so I called the rescue service, then got it started and cancelled the AA truck which would never have found me anyway. There were warning beeps and flashes from the dashboard and a stern warning to stop and get the car fixed as there was a problem with the brakes or suspension. I made it to back to Newport without breaking down and called the rescue service again. The problem was quickly diagnosed - the battery connections were hanging loose which had confused the computer. My Landy, which works hard despite making various clunking and rattling noises, thankfully doesn’t have a computer telling it what to think;)

We have had glorious Indian summer weather this week with colourful sunsets and warm sunshine. I had an unusual visitor to my workshop - I found a tiny common lizard hiding under my wellies. It is a bit of a daft and uninspiring name when these lizards are quite uncommon in Northern Scotland. He was too quick for me to take a good photo and I was worried that he would get lost so I put him back outside. I wonder whether he would have found enough spiders to live off if I had not discovered him - maybe he fancied hibernating in a fabric drawer!

Sunday, 27 September 2015

The Unexpected Consequences of a Facetious Thought

The elusive quilt show prize that I will probably die trying to win is the Fine Art Quilt Masters at Festival of Quilts, UK. I was baffled as I studied some of the successful entries this year. These pieces apparently transcend the craft of patchwork and quilting and seem to be more about the artistic concept. I determined that I will eventually get one of my creations juried into this elusive category. I started thinking about how to achieve this accolade in my typically cynical and facetious manner. The cogs started whirring in my mind as I wondered how to make use of one of the ugliest textiles that I own - a black wool shawl that I bought cheaply from the Oxfam tent at the Womad Festival in 2014 when the evening temperature dipped. 

I have always flippantly called this shawl a burqa just because it is so black. I decided to think about how to use this within the theme of Purdah, defined as “the practice in certain Muslim and Hindu societies of screening women from men or strangers, especially by means of a curtain.” This quilt is still at the ideas stage but I plan to create something that hinges on the notion of beauty that is hidden. 

While tossing these weighty ideas around I looked up taboos in Indian society and discovered the shocking truth that one of the greatest and most shameful secrets involves the subject of menstruation. It may be a slightly uncomfortable and embarrassing subject  to discuss in the UK but in parts of rural India it is a forbidden topic. I read a BBC News article about an entrepreneur called Arunachalam Muruganantham. (Read more of his amazing story at the end of this blogpost…)

In the 21st century are still many taboos around menstruation in India. Women can't visit temples or public places, they're not allowed to cook or touch the water supply - essentially they are considered untouchable. Muruganantham found that it was hard even to broach the subject in such a conservative society. "To speak to rural women, we need permission from the husband or father," he says. "We can only talk to them through a blanket."
There are also myths and fears surrounding the use of sanitary pads - that women who use them will go blind, for example, or will never get married. 

The next article that I read online was written by Diksha Madhok for the Quartz India Wordpress blog in which she explores the superstitions surrounding menstruation. The one that I found the oddest was that menstruating women should not touch jars of pickles which they would cause to become contaminated.  A funny and provocative youtube video sponsored by the sanitary napkin brand, Whisper, encourages girls to go ahead and “Touch the Pickle!”
(Read Diksha Madhok’s article after the Arunachalam Muruganantham story…)

Eventually I came across a website which sold washable menstrual pads and hand-sewing kits for girls to make their own. I ordered samples which arrived in the mystery stitched parcel and I decided to make a “quilt” of menstrual pads to help raise awareness about this sensitive subject. First I had to research and accumulate materials! The samples were made from 6 layers of cotton flannel with a waterproof bottom layer but I decided that I wanted to donate the pads a women’s group in India after the unusual quilt has been exhibited.

I ordered fabrics from a washable nappy making company and made several prototypes. My pads would all feature Indian striped cotton and tartan flannel as the outer layers with a sandwich of plastic laminated knit, a super absorbent fleece and antibacterial hemp. One of the pads would be made using a pickle print fabric. I decided against sewing on metal poppers and discovered Kams plastic no-sew snaps. The outer fabrics were liable to fray easily and it was not always easy to keep the top edges rounded after I had inserted the shaped absorbent pad into their casings and completed the top-stitching. I worked on this project for several weeks and I worried that the finished pads were not all “perfect” in appearance but I know that they are all very carefully made, fit for purpose and may some day even help to keep a group of girls in education!


BBC NEWS - “In 1998 Arunachalam Muruganantham was newly married and his world revolved around his wife, Shanthi, and his widowed mother. One day he saw Shanthi was hiding something from him. He was shocked to discover what it was - rags, "nasty cloths" which she used during menstruation.
"I will be honest," says Muruganantham. "I would not even use it to clean my scooter." When he asked her why she didn't use sanitary pads, she pointed out that if she bought them for the women in the family, she wouldn't be able to afford to buy milk or run the household.

Wanting to impress his young wife, Muruganantham went into town to buy her a sanitary pad. It was handed to him hurriedly, as if it were contraband. He weighed it in his hand and wondered why 10g (less than 0.5oz) of cotton, which at the time cost 10 paise (£0.001), should sell for 4 rupees (£0.04) - 40 times the price. He decided he could make them cheaper himself.
He fashioned a sanitary pad out of cotton and gave it to Shanthi, demanding immediate feedback. She said he'd have to wait for some time - only then did he realise that periods were monthly. "I can't wait a month for each feedback, it'll take two decades!" He needed more volunteers.

When Muruganantham looked into it further, he discovered that hardly any women in the surrounding villages used sanitary pads - fewer than one in 10. His findings were echoed by a 2011 survey by AC Nielsen, commissioned by the Indian government, which found that only 12% of women across India use sanitary pads.
Muruganantham says that in rural areas, the take-up is far less than that. He was shocked to learn that women don't just use old rags, but other unhygienic substances such as sand, sawdust, leaves and even ash.
Women who do use cloths are often too embarrassed to dry them in the sun, which means they don't get disinfected. Approximately 70% of all reproductive diseases in India are caused by poor menstrual hygiene - it can also affect maternal mortality.
Finding volunteers to test his products was no mean feat. His sisters refused, so he had the idea of approaching female students at his local medical college. "But how can a workshop worker approach a medical college girl?" Muruganantham says. "Not even college boys can go near these girls!”

He managed to convince 20 students to try out his pads - but it still didn't quite work out. On the day he came to collect their feedback sheets he caught three of the girls industriously filling them all in. These results obviously could not be relied on. It was then that he decided to test the products on himself. "I became the man who wore a sanitary pad," he says.

He created a "uterus" from a football bladder by punching a couple of holes in it, and filling it with goat's blood. A former classmate, a butcher, would ring his bicycle bell outside the house whenever he was going to kill a goat. Muruganantham would collect the blood and mix in an additive he got from another friend at a blood bank to prevent it clotting too quickly - but it didn't stop the smell.
He walked, cycled and ran with the football bladder under his traditional clothes, constantly pumping blood out to test his sanitary pad's absorption rates. Everyone thought he'd gone mad.

He used to wash his bloodied clothes at a public well and the whole village concluded he had a sexual disease. Friends crossed the road to avoid him. "I had become a pervert," he says. At the same time, his wife got fed up - and left. "So you see God's sense of humour," he says "I'd started the research for my wife and after 18 months she left me!"
Then he had another brainwave - he would study used sanitary pads: surely this would reveal everything. This idea posed an even greater risk in such a superstitious community. "Even if I ask for a hair from a lady, she would suspect I am doing some black magic on her to mesmerise her," he says.

He supplied his group of medical students with sanitary pads and collected them afterwards. He laid his haul out in the back yard to study, only for his mother to stumble across the grisly scene one afternoon. It was the final straw. She cried, put her sari on the ground, put her belongings into it, and left. "It was a problem for me," he says. "I had to cook my own food.”

Worse was to come. The villagers became convinced he was possessed by evil spirits, and were about to chain him upside down to a tree to be "healed" by the local soothsayer. He only narrowly avoided this treatment by agreeing to leave the village. It was a terrible price to pay. "My wife gone, my mum gone, ostracised by my village" he says. "I was left all alone in life.”

Still, he carried on. The biggest mystery was what successful sanitary pads were made of. He had sent some off for laboratory analysis and reports came back that it was cotton, but his own cotton creations did not work. It was something he could only ask the multinational companies who produced sanitary products - but how? "It's like knocking on the door of Coke and saying, 'Can I ask you how your cola is manufactured?’"

Muruganantham wrote to the big manufacturing companies with the help of a college professor, whom he repaid by doing domestic work - he didn't speak much English at the time. He also spent almost 7,000 rupees (£70) on telephone calls - money he didn't have. "When I got through, they asked me what kind of plant I had," he says. "I didn't really understand what they meant.”

In the end, he said he was a textile mill owner in Coimbatore who was thinking of moving into the business, and requested some samples. A few weeks later, mysterious hard boards appeared in the mail - cellulose, from the bark of a tree. It had taken two years and three months to discover what sanitary pads are made of, but there was a snag - the machine required to break this material down and turn it into pads cost many thousands of dollars. He would have to design his own.

Four-and-a-half years later, he succeeded in creating a low-cost method for the production of sanitary towels. The process involves four simple steps. First, a machine similar to a kitchen grinder breaks down the hard cellulose into fluffy material, which is packed into rectangular cakes with another machine.
The cakes are then wrapped in non-woven cloth and disinfected in an ultraviolet treatment unit. The whole process can be learned in an hour.

Muruganantham's goal was to create user-friendly technology. The mission was not just to increase the use of sanitary pads, but also to create jobs for rural women - women like his mother. Following her husband's death in a road accident, Muruganantham's mother had had to sell everything she owned and get a job as a farm labourer, but earning $1 a day wasn't enough to support four children. That's why, at the age of 14, Muruganantham had left school to find work.

The machines are kept deliberately simple and skeletal so that they can be maintained by the women themselves. "It looks like the Wright brothers' first flight," he says. The first model was mostly made of wood, and when he showed it to the Indian Institute of Technology, IIT, in Madras, scientists were sceptical - how was this man going to compete against multinationals?

But Muruganantham had confidence. As the son of a handloom worker, he had seen his father survive with a simple wooden handloom, despite 446 fully mechanised mills in the city. That gave him the courage to take on the big companies with his small machine made of wood - besides, his aim was not really to compete. "We are creating a new market, we are paving the way for them," he says.

Unbeknown to him, the IIT entered his machine in a competition for a national innovation award. Out of 943 entries, it came first. He was given the award by the then President of India, Pratibha Patil - quite an achievement for a school dropout. Suddenly he was in the limelight.

"It was instant glory, media flashing in my face, everything" he says. "The irony is, after five-and-a-half years I get a call on my mobile - the voice huskily says: Remember me?”

It was his wife, Shanthi. She was not entirely surprised by her husband's success. "Every time he comes to know something new, he wants to know everything about it," she says. "And then he wants to do something about it that nobody else has done before."
However, this kind of ambition was not easy to live with. Not only was she shocked by his interest in such a matter, but it took up all of his time and money - at the time, they hardly had enough money to eat properly. And her troubles were compounded by gossip.
"The hardest thing was when the villagers started talking and treating us really badly," she says. "There were rumours that he was having affairs with other women, and that was why he was doing such things." She decided to go back home to live with her mother.
After Shanthi, eventually Muruganantham's own mother and the rest of the villagers - who had all condemned, criticised and ostracised him - came round too.
It took Muruganantham 18 months to build 250 machines, which he took out to the poorest and most underdeveloped states in Northern India - the so-called BIMARU or "sick" states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh. Here, women often have to walk for miles to fetch water, something they can't do when they are menstruating - so families suffer.

"My inner conscience said if I can crack it in Bihar, a very tough nut to crack, I can make it anywhere," says Muruganantham.
But slowly, village by village, there was cautious acceptance and over time the machines spread to 1,300 villages in 23 states.
In each case, it's the women who produce the sanitary pads who sell them directly to the customer. Shops are usually run by men, which can put women off. And when customers get them from women they know, they can also acquire important information on how to use them. Purchasers may not even need any money - many women barter for onions and potatoes.

While getting the message out to new areas of the country is still difficult, Muruganantham is sceptical about the effectiveness of TV advertising. "You always have a girl in white jeans, jumping over a wall," he says. "They never talk about hygiene."

Most of Muruganantham's clients are NGOs and women's self-help groups. A manual machine costs around 75,000 Indian rupees (£723) - a semi-automated machine costs more. Each machine converts 3,000 women to pad usage, and provides employment for 10. They can produce 200-250 pads a day which sell for an average of about 2.5 rupees (£0.025) each.
Women choose their own brand-name for their range of sanitary pads, so there is no over-arching brand - it is "by the women, for the women, and to the women".
Muruganantham also works with schools - 23% of girls drop out of education once they start menstruating. Now school girls make their own pads. "Why wait till they are women? Why not empower girls?"

The Indian government recently announced it would distribute subsidised sanitary products to poorer women. It was a blow for Muruganantham that it did not choose to work with him, but he now has his eyes on the wider world. "My aim was to create one million jobs for poor women - but why not 10 million jobs worldwide?" he asks. He is expanding to 106 countries across the globe, including Kenya, Nigeria, Mauritius, the Philippines, and Bangladesh.
"Our success is entirely down to word-of-mouth publicity," he says. "Because this is a problem all developing nations face.”

Muruganantham now lives with his family in a modest apartment. He owns a jeep, "a rugged car that will take me to hillsides, jungles, forest", but has no desire to accumulate possessions. "I have accumulated no money but I accumulate a lot of happiness," he says. "If you get rich, you have an apartment with an extra bedroom - and then you die."
He prefers to spend his time talking to university and college students. He's an engaging and funny speaker, despite his idiosyncratic English. He says he is not working brain to brain but heart to heart.

"Luckily I'm not educated," he tells students. "If you act like an illiterate man, your learning will never stop... Being uneducated, you have no fear of the future."
His wife Shanthi agrees with him on this point. "If he had completed his education, he would be like any other guy, who works for someone else, who gets a daily wage," she says. "But because he did not complete school, he had the courage to come out to start a business of his own. Now he's employing other people."
Shanthi and Muruganantham are now a tight unit. "My wife, the business - it is not a separate thing, it is mixed up with our life," he says.

When a girl reaches puberty in their village, there is a ceremony - traditionally it meant that they were ready to marry. Shanthi always brings a sanitary pad as a gift and explains how to use it.
"Initially I used to be very shy when talking to people about it," she says. "But after all this time, people have started to open up. Now they come and talk to me, they ask questions and they also get sanitary napkins to try them. They have all changed a lot in the village.”

Muruganantham says she does a wonderful job.
He was once asked whether receiving the award from the Indian president was the happiest moment of his life. He said no - his proudest moment came after he installed a machine in a remote village in Uttarakhand, in the foothills of the Himalayas, where for many generations nobody had earned enough to allow children to go to school.

A year later, he received a call from a woman in the village to say that her daughter had started school. "Where Nehru failed," he says, "one machine succeeded.”

DIKSHA MADHOK - “In his first Independence Day speech, prime minister Narendra Modi discomfited the country when he stressed on the pain and diseases many Indian women are vulnerable to because they do not have access to toilets and have to control their urges till after dark. Hardly any other prime minister has discussed sanitation for women so frankly and openly.

While that is bad enough, attitudes about another normal female bodily function—menstruation—are even more rooted in superstition. The extent of ignorance regarding menstruation has been documented in a recent study by sanitary napkin maker Whisper and market researcher IPSOS. The survey was conducted among more than 1,100 respondents from across India.

The results show that the stranglehold of custom and superstition is not easing even in urban areas.

A majority of women believe that they should not touch a pickle jar during their periods. They also don’t water plants, enter temples, cook food or sleep in the same bed as their husbands. Most of these taboos are rooted in the belief that a menstruating woman is impure and can contaminate anything she touches. It is important to note that most of the people interviewed were not from villages, but urban Indian cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore and Hyderabad.

According to research firm Euromonitor, nearly 70% of Indian women, out of ignorance and poverty, use old rags instead of sanitary towels to stem their periods. Such unhygienic practices increase the risk of reproductive diseases in Indian women.

Seventy five percent women in India buy sanitary napkins wrapped in a brown bag or newspaper, because of the shame associated with menstruation. They also never ask a male member of the family to buy sanitary towels or tampons.

Aditi Gupta is the founder of a website and comic book called, which aims to shatter the stigma associated with periods. She says she used old rags while growing up to stem periods because she was too embarrassed to ask a male shopkeeper for sanitary napkins. “I come from a very educated family, but we never questioned the shame or myths surrounding the female body,” says 29-year-old Gupta, whose one-year-old website on menstrual awareness gets nearly 100,000 visitors every month.

Women also fear social discrimination, both within and outside their homes. Nearly 50% of the respondents from South India do not share a bed with their spouse during periods. More than one-third of urban Indian parents treat their daughters as impure during periods.

One of the most popular myths surrounding periods is that a woman is impure during this time and her touch will spoil pickles. Many families still forbid girls from entering the kitchen while they are menstruating.

“Decades ago, village women used to bathe in ponds and during periods they were told to avoid communal bathing.” says Aditi, while explaining why women do not wash their hair while menstruating. “But now we live in modern, urban houses with private bathrooms.”

Along with this survey, sanitary napkin brand Whisper has also launched a campaign called Touch the Pickle.

The researchers also interviewed more than 200 men about periods, and the good news is that almost all of them want the secrecy and embarrassment to end. However, both men and women learn very little about periods while they are in school. In fact, more than half the women did not know much about menstrual cycle till they got their first periods.”

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Simplicity is Overrated

I wonder why I find it so difficult to keep things ‘“simple”? One of my customers requested simple and minimal quilting but I ran into difficulty when I realised that the borders were full and wavy. I should have noticed sooner - the easiest and quickest thing would have been to remove and reattach the borders but I unwisely reckoned that I could keep on quilting to get them under control. The bottom border had an excess of 3 inches so I had to make a generous tuck and hide the little pleats with additional spirals. I decided that there would need to be matching quilting in the other borders and randomly filled spirals across the quilt to make it look like a planned design choice. I really liked the end result but a job that should have taken half a day took almost 2 days. 

In contrast, an automated pantograph called “Honeycvomb” looked fantastic on a very nice purple and cream snowball block quilt. It is one of those designs that looks great on all sorts of quilts and I wondered why I had not just done this with the previous one;) Since I had to post that quilt back to its owner, I decided to block Tartan Tattoo once more for good luck before sending it of to Holland in good time for the OEQC in Maastricht.

As a reward for completing 2 customer quilts, I allowed myself time to work on the Gloria Loughman workshop piece. There was a point, after 5 hours of messing about with Indian wood blocks, when I wondered whether I had gone too far. Things could only get much worse or considerably better after quilting hundreds of overlapping circles. I decided that shisha mirrors might add a little something so I was delighted when an Ebay purchase arrived within 24 hours. The crochet circles were a bit cheap and nasty but they looked fine alongside the other hot-fix mirror circles. If only I could learn how to make tiny crochet circles then I could add shisha mirrors to everything.

I spent some more time working on prototype “blocks” for one of the top-secret projects. I kept adjusting the size, shape, construction method, and combination of fabrics. It was annoying that the Kaffe Fasset stripes seemed to be the stingiest possible 25cm long-quarters and I struggled to get not-quite 10” cuts out of them. I am hoping that the other fabrics will arrive this week so I can crack on with this. 

Because I am waiting for some yarn to arrive from Bulgaria, I still have to complete my couching experiments on the Q24 before I can start on BzB and decide whether additional colour is added before or after quilting. At least the new supply of wadding has arrived so I can no longer use the excuse that I don’t have almost all of the raw materials to get going…

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Spikes of Activity

I have had one of those seemingly busy weeks where I have got through a lot of thread and driven the kids around all over the place but my To Do list is still far too long and I have not sewn a single stitch on one of my own projects. 

I started the week with Helene’s super African quilt that will brighten up her son’s cell-like room at University. She was able to tell me where every single patch had come from and the whole crazy mix looked fantastic in its black background.

The Postie thought it was my birthday because so many packages arrived from Ebay but it was all stuff for one of my secret projects and I had to resist the temptation of playing with the contents in order to work on a very intricate Judy Niemeyer double wedding ring. 

The customer showed me the original pattern which had been quilted in spikes all over but I decided that it was just a bit too spiky so I decided on curved lines and pebbles in the squashed centres and that it also needed stitch-in-the-ditch. It took rather longer than I anticipated and I only just finished it on Sunday evening, determining to mess about with some of my own stuff for a day or two this coming week. 

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Wacky Colours, Weird Fabrics and Wondrous Yarns

Predictably, I did not exactly follow instructions in Gloria Loughman’s 2-day class on playing with colour. It was a super class, with fantastic exercises in how to combine and blend colours. She brought an amazing selection of quilts that glowed with subtle light changes. Students were assigned the task of cutting diamonds or squares from hand-dyed fabrics and blending them from light to dark from the top to the bottom of the quilt onto another hand-dyed background. I had already decided that I wanted to use leftovers from Bifrost but those neon colours needed to be more scattered. Smaller squares and cut-outs were layered on top. Gloria remembered my subversive approach from the class that I was in 6 years ago when I put together the yurt panel, “Salmon Leap” and declared that she had not expected a different outcome this time round. My finished piece is loud, not subtle and I have decided that I might as well go the whole hog and print with some Indian stamps using neon paints before I quilt it with lots of circles. Despite not working on quite the same task as the teacher suggested, I have thought about how I could put her ideas into practice on an almost monochrome piece. I have so many other things that I want to work on that I will just have to jot that idea somewhere safe until I get around to it.

I spent a lot of time and money online this week sourcing and ordering materials for forthcoming projects. My recalcitrant Postie will be busy delivering paints, rulers, and some unusual materials that will relate to the top-secret parcel that arrived from India. This is one that will definitely be kept under wraps for a while! 

A large bag of fancy yarns from “Wool for Ewe” in Aberdeen is waiting for me to find time to test their couchability. This is just one technique that I hope to employ when I finally get around to dealing with BzB. I still need to work out how I am going to tackle this behemoth of an anti-wholecloth… 

I am not entirely sure what the appeal was, other than I like to work with unusual fabrics, but I decided to make the Merchant & Mills classic top 64 for myself in antique British oilcloth. It was rather nice to work with as it moisturised my hands the more I handled it but it did not have any “give” in it at all. Just try to imagine something made from the waterproof wrappings that might have encased secret plans in WW2 on a dangerous submarine mission. I have to say, the top went together beautifully - I managed to follow the instructions and the top-stitching looked good. However, it only just fits me and I discovered that once it was on it seemed destined to stay on unless I could summon help to peel it off. On the plus side, it seems to be totally wind proof and I should think that water will run straight off. If I can find a keen gardener or fisherman, smaller than me who wants a most useful top then I will hand it over. I had high hopes that I would make myself lots of useful tops in denim and wool from my sturdy cardboard pattern but I think I might need to order a larger size.

The one thing that did seem to work out well this week was peeling off the old garden yurt cover that was teeming with earwigs and find a couple of dry-weather hours to throw on 3 brand-new, large tarps that should keep the worst of the winter rain out. Instead of cutting the spare ends off the rectangular tarps, I have rolled them up and trapped them under the top cover, hoping that water will run off the old roof cover and down the outside of the walls. I will just have to see how it survives the next blustery wind and hope that it does not just become a new way for stagnant water and creep-crawlies to collect.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Self Promotion

I feel quite uncomfortable about “showing off”. Kay and I have had many discussions and laughs about how our generation was not encouraged to blow our own trumpet. We send each other messages when a new quilter on the scene lands an incredible deal designing fabric or has a thread range named after them wondering how they got noticed. We reckon it is because they are good at self promotion. I argued with myself then finally plucked up the courage to send out messages to some Big Cheeses in the Quilt World to ask if they would do a short video introduction for my Ebook. Most of them ignored me but I was delighted that a generous handful agreed to endorse my book, even though they have not even received a review copy yet. I hope to have a few “Stunt Reviewers” who will introduce the book in their own unique ways, in different languages and accents using their phone cameras. I might even have another go at introducing it myself without fluffing up my lines. I asked Fergus whether it would be possible to lip-synch or subtitle Bluecat. I am keen to make sure that a bit of quirky self-promotion may actually sell this book which took so long to produce and that it does not need to be immediately discounted as a flop!

After checking that my ETSY shop was still open, despite all of the listings having elapsed, I managed to upload Tartan Tattoo as a PDF pattern for $10.00 - sales in the first 24 hours have not exactly been brisk;)
Maybe there will be a rush after TT has been exhibited at the Open European Quilt Show in Maastricht! A very nice acceptance letter from Ada Honders arrived this week so I will soon have to think about re-blocking it before packing it up to travel to Holland.

I used the Bernina Q24 to freehand some snail-spirals onto my nephew’s quilt and the Milliennium was used to quilt a honeycomb pattern all over Eleanor’s reversible quilt. Because she had added over-sized plain borders onto one of the quilts, it was easier than usual to make sure that the 2 quilts were properly centred. She asked me to complete the binding and I was really pleased with how it turned out. 

I completed another Merchant & Mills trapeze dress using the cardboard pattern. I added two simple pockets onto the front but I was annoyed that I while I was busy listening to The Archers on Radio 4, I forgot to pattern match the multi-coloured zebras and then discovered that the fabric did not fare well with unpicking so I just had to leave them alone. 

Since I seemed to be ahead of myself and I was not ready to launch straight into one of my Big Projects, I experimented with couching threads on the Q24. Some of the yarn went through the couching foot and was attached successfully while other yarn did not get caught so easily. I spent most of an afternoon swapping threads and yarns so I know what to look for when I visit a specialist yarn shop. I also had a go with a twin needle which looked great on the top of the quilt but a bit messy on the back. I was curious to see how the Q24 would manage with quilting through some old leather that I have been “saving”. It stitched very nicely indeed and it looks like it will not be necessary to soften it first. Some other pieces of the vintage leather are quite brittle and dry so I soaked a sample in baby oil and hung it outside to dry. Several days later it was still slimey so I think a different moisturiser might be necessary. 

I am pleased that I have got on top of my customer quilts so I can enjoy a 2-day course with Australian quilt teacher, Gloria Loughman this week. This time I intend to “stick to her script” and not go off and make a far larger piece involving fabrics that shred or melt…

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Back to School and My Workshop!

FOQ seems like weeks ago but this week Luana Rubin posted a super picture on Facebook that was taken of Kay Bell, Luana, Me and Sarah Caldwell outside the NEC. This was quite an international line-up - Kay is English but lives in Scotland, Luana is American, I’m 50/50 English/Scots and live in Scotland and Sarah is a New-Zealander who lives in Switzerland!

Although I had not technically taken any time out of my workshop over the summer, when the kids went back to school I went back into “work” mode. I don’t really know what happened to our summer. The weather was not great yet despite not doing much, it seemed to fly past. Freya began her final year at school and Fenella joined her siblings at The Academy. It will be the last year that all 3 of my children will attend the same school. Nell had a great first week, apart from getting sore feet in brand new Doc Martens and she made lots of new friends. Freya said that she felt the holidays had never happened and Fergus just wished that it was not a legal requirement to attend school. 

I continued working on my Tartan Tattoo pattern so it can be uploaded onto Easy for sale as a downloadable PDF pattern. There are so many step-by-step diagrams that it is now an epic 20 pages long. I decided against shrinking it because I have always struggled to follow sparse instructions. Besides, since it will be sold in an electronic form, it is not actually necessary to print any of the pages;)

Catherine brought me a very hairy baby quilt that had been in a mild wash. I could not believe that a quilt had suffered such severe “bearding”. I researched remedies online and tried re-washing with lots of fabric softener then drying it with anti-static sheets. If anything, it became worse. It took me a while to realise that I had used a leftover piece of the rogue wool wadding from Sew-Simple. I will offer to remake the quilt because I feel so badly about the outcome. I was tempted to dump the rest of the roll but I may keep it and use it solely in a leather project that will never get washed. I looked into buying a roll of better quality wool wadding and discovered that it is like hen’s teeth in the UK. Matilda’s Own from Australia is no longer available and the cheapest alternative by Hobbs would cost £312. It might be more sensible to buy packs of wool wadding if I happen to want to use it for a show quilt. From now on, I will not even offer the option of wool to customers. 

I enjoyed working on a small African themed quilt, using a mixture of fillers and geometric quilting in some of the colourful blocks. Stitch-in-the-ditch through the continent was a bit nerve-racking as the seams were so bulky. The maker has left me with another fun quilt made from many fabric that she purchased in Nigeria.

The other customer job this week was to make a piece of furnishing fabric into a quilted wall hanging. I decided not to make it too fussy so I chose a simple design that was like the feathery fabric on the reverse. The cotton duck fabric was quite hefty so it should hang nice and straight!

In addition to an old idea that is lurking in the background for some type of arty-farty quilt, I have a bit of an odd one currently rattling around. I confess that it started as a reactionary idea to some of the more obscure entries in the Fine Art Quilt Masters at FOQ. However, my idea is developing into something that could convey a powerful message if I can figure out how best to interpret it in textiles. The winning entries to date have been minimal and that is an approach that baffles me. As a quilter I want to stitch and embellish with abandon but to think like an artist I need to concentrate on the concept. Time will tell whether I take this forward but I can say that I have ordered something unusual from India as inspiration…

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Footling and Fixing

 Tartan Tattoo in EQ7

I don’t know what it is about coming home after a trip - I always seem to footle about for days worrying about catching up with emails, phone calls and putting everything back in its correct place before I feel ready to get back to normal. The only sewing I did was to attach name labels to school uniform. I must have bought enough new stationery to open my own educational establishment. 

I secretly welcomed the persistent rain which “allowed” me to make up flyers to advertise DIY quilting with The Quilt Quine and concentrate on writing the pattern for Tartan Tattoo. I could easily have made and photographed an entirely new quilt in the time it took me to relearn EQ7 and dismiss using the Paper 53 drawing app on the iPad. I have now made myself a crib sheet for the next time I forget how to use quilt design software. I plan to sell the pattern as a download somehow.

It was fun to be featured on the Oakshott blog 
and to see myself looking daft on the Bernina Nordic webinar at FOQ 
This went some way to make up for the disappointment that Bifrost was not placed at The World Quilt Show in the face of stiff competition.

The girls decided to make ice cream with our wild cherries but they did not want to bother me when I was typing away so they used the wrong paddle in the Kitchenaid and sheared one of the internal gears. I tried not to be annoyed and ordered the necessary spare parts from Ebay. As I had already completed this major operation previously, it took me a fraction of the time, less hammering and minimal swearing to get it working again. The repair cost me £10, as opposed to an unknown bill from a repair man or buying a new mixer for over £400! I made a huge chocolate and cherry cake for a friend’s birthday using a 40+ year old Kenwood Chefette, substituting several of the ingredients in my usual fashion. It would not have won any prizes for finesse but it tasted great and we struggled to finish our generous slices. 

I phoned Farmer Raymond to let him know that a spirited young heifer had escaped from the field and it was making the rest of the herd panic. It turned out that he was enjoying himself in a pub on holiday so I pulled my wellies on and chased it through wet, waist-high barley until it jumped back over the dry stone dyke. I mended the live electric fence that had been pulled down and sternly told the cows to calm down. 

At least it did not take me long to dry out, unlike Freya’s Gold D of E team who canoed 60 miles in 4 days from Fort William to Inverness on their qualifying expedition. They have benefitted enormously from their D of E adventures, gaining independence, determinedly battling some challenging conditions and making  lasting friendships.

I have 2 customer quilts to crack on with this week and I want some time to experiment  with some new techniques on my Bernina longarm so I can get going on the long-abandoned BzB project over the winter…

Monday, 10 August 2015

A Different FOQ for Quilt Quine in 2015

FOQ felt completely different for me this year in many ways. Instead of loading the Landy with gear and driving all the way down I flew in and “supervised” the Bernina guys putting the longarm frame together. I loved being part of the professional and friendly  Bernina team which included representatives from Switzerland and Scandinavia. It was great to have the chance to discuss techniques and projects that they have tried out on the Q24. I was thrilled that everyone loved the brand and that the new Bernina Longarms proved very popular with the visitors to the show. They were all so impressed with the quality of the stitches how I could easily swap feet to add couching or twin needle stitching. 

The centrally located stand was incredibly busy and I did not have any time to wander off or stand idly chatting. I dashed around the show quilts first thing in the morning, not really giving the quilt galleries the time that they deserved.  Even my shopping was done in less than half an hour on Sunday afternoon;) I demonstrated and explained longarming non-stop to all sorts of quilters from all over the world. 

My Tartan Tattoo quilt looked good even if I say so myself - nobody spotted the disaster area or commented on the wobbly lines that only I know about. I wished that I had entered it into the competition after all so I definitely want to enter it elsewhere to see how it gets on. Michael Oakshott was impressed with the use of his fabrics which made me think that I ought to publish a pattern and offer it for sale.

Vivienne and I were privileged to sit with Luana Rubin at the Gala Dinner and we spoke about all sorts of topics including how Amazon gives authors such a poor deal. Luana and I realised that we have a mutual friend in Wisconsin and our conversation seemed to flow naturally without any heirs or graces from such a well known quilting personality. 

I took very few photos at the show and since there are plenty of pictures of the winners online, I decided just to show a few unusual quilts on my blog that made me look twice as I passed them at a trot. I am always entertained by the 3D category and often baffled by the Fine Art Masters. 

Kay’s double-sided quilt looked splendid and is bound to win prizes in other places. (I am delighted that she shared the Visitors’ Choice award with Dutch piecer, Coriene for “Stonefields”.)

I felt guilty about leaving the show just before it closed on Sunday in order to catch my flight home but I was not sorry about missing the melee of teardown and van jostling. At least one FOQ tradition was maintained - the annual trip to Shabar for a Balti with old friends! I am already looking forward to next year and I am determined to enter at least one new quilt…;)