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…;)

Monday, 3 August 2015

Norfolk - Here Be Dragons

Our week on the Norfolk/Suffolk border with family was low-key and relaxing despite the unseasonal damp weather. It is normally the driest part of the UK but we were accused of taking Scottish rain with us. We mooched around Beccles and Bungay, amazed by the number of vintage shops, some of which were retro and trendy whilst others were struggling to sell utter junk.

We had lunch at a beachside cafe in Gorleston after visiting several hardware stores in search of hooks, which reminded me of family shopping trips from the 1970’s when we would wait for ages in the car while my Dad tracked down elusive industrial bits and pieces.

There was a fun excursion on the River Waveney on a family friend’s boat that was unfortunately cut short by a leaking petrol hose. This was reminiscent of similar expeditions in my childhood when boat engines would conk out or sailing boats would run aground on mud so we shrugged off the melodramatic warning by the boatyard that the Broads cruiser could have exploded at any time.

Freya spent the week on a Tallship racing from Norway to Denmark but the winds were so light that the race was abandoned. She was happy to report that nobody suffered from seasickness and there was plenty of time to learn new card games and enjoy the harbour festivals. 

Nell and Fergus managed not to bicker too much while we wandered around the quaint alleyways of Norwich, impressed by the number of street cafes and by how I can still just about find my way around. The city is full of dragons this summer and I managed to find one with a patchwork theme. When I was not busy doing very little on holiday I even managed to run up the small quilt that my sister had cut out using my Mother’s “vintage” Bernina which I will quilt on the very modern Q24.

After arriving home, to even grimmer non-August weather, I blocked the Tartan quilt again before bundling it into my suitcase ready for FOQ later this week…

Sunday, 19 July 2015

What I Actually did while I was Meant to be doing Other Things

I am glad that I made myself attach the hanging sleeve and label onto the Tartan quilt at the start of the week as I have become sick of the sight of it now. It took me days to get around to tidying up the hundreds of microscopic thread ends on the back that I am paranoid the judges will scrutinise with a magnifying glass. The last major operation will be to de-fluff it from the fibres of wool wadding and to pin it out damp again in an attempt to get its wayward edges to hang straight. I may eventually decide to make another everyday version in different colours but I will definitely quilt it with a utility pattern instead.

The summer holidays continued with typically dreich weather and monsoon rains. I bought 4 new tarpaulins to weather proof the garden yurt but just can’t get dry and still weather to take off the roof canvas and make the repairs. Everything in the garden is growing out of control and I almost can’t get into my workshop past the overhanging greenery. It took days for Freya’s tent to dry out because it just kept on raining.

Fenella and I made a determined effort to sell some clutter on Gumtree. I feel that our house is bursting with unused “stuff”. She did very well as a Sylvanian Family estate agent but she still has the equivalent of a city to relocate, having inherited Freya’s extensive collection. This week I am planning to list 2 redundant coffee machines and my Kindle 3 which will free up a tiny space. I would also like to get rid of folding tables that I only use occasionally and I think it could be time to try and get rid of a couple of seized antique Singers.

One afternoon, while avoiding snipping loose threads, I rustled up a quilted book bag for Fenella to use at The Academy to protect her textbooks from getting too battered. 

I was given a promotional canvas bag when I ordered the “new” Harper Lee novel and I decided to make it into a cushion. I used a Japanese linen printed with retro specs to make a border then quilted it with a wavy grid. I took it into a local furnishings shop to buy a cheap cushion pad and the shop assistant was really impressed and asked if I would consider making more cushions. The bookshop Lady was delighted and immediately added it to her window display. Apparently. she often gets printed canvas bags with new book titles so maybe I could make a few more?!

I have cut up lots of strips, squares and mini-quilts ready for the Ebook videography session this week. Vivienne asked me if I would prepare a rough Yutube clip to launch the book. I tried to film myself using a webcam but I just could not look at the camera and read my script at the same time. I am useless at memorising what I want to say so will have to rely on ad-libbing without fluffing up my lines. I wonder if I really speak like the posh scruffy woman with a peculiar accent who over enunciates every other word in the video clip…

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Bernard and the Tartan Quilt

After a successful test run and showing off to some studio visitors, I put “Bernard” to work finishing off the Tartan Quilt. He was superbly smooth, although I think I need a little tweak somewhere since there was a tiny bit of vibration through the handles. I had to switch everything off for a whole afternoon while we had a Scottish monsoon with lightning so I fiddled around making striped bias binding instead.

I decided to throw the entire quilt into the washing machine to get rid of the markings and I am glad that I put in 3 colour catchers to soak up rogue red dye. It survived the wash but was rather distorted so I pinned it all out flat onto some large foam insulation boards. The needle-break hole did not improve with washing. It is really small and sometimes I don’t spot it but I am tempted to paint that entire section with pewter fabric paint just to seal in the fuzzy blobs of wadding that only I can see. I have started to attach the binding before I start trimming tiny stray threads or painting. I can see that the edges seem to be warping so the whole thing will need to be starched and steamed before it can be seen in public. I wonder if this quilt will ever live up to my expectations?

The Landy and I made another marathon trip to Strathallan Castle with Freya and Friends to the largest music festival in Scotland, “T in the Park”, loaded up with tents, snacks and wellies. I was secretly glad to drive away from 80 000 revellers, inadequate toilets and camping in the rain but I expect they will have had a great time;)

I took Nell and Fergus shopping for shorts and was met with their resistance and mortification in Gap. I bought them anyway and was relieved when they conceded to wear them when they got home. Fergus much preferred the visit to the guitar shop and Nell was thrilled to purchase her first pair of new Docs that had not previously been worn by anyone else. She glared at the assistant who informed her that they would take a bit of wearing in as if she had never clumped around in Docs before. I decided to quit while I was ahead and put off the school uniform shopping for another day. 

The second most important item on the week ahead’s To Do list is to prepare for the videography session for my Ebook. I need to get some mini projects ready and try to remember what I plan to show off. But first, I need to get that dreaded Tartan Quilt ready to hang at FOQ…

Monday, 6 July 2015


I was in Cardiff again last week and it was even hotter at 32 Celsius! I think I bonded thoroughly with the Q24 there with a spare afternoon to fiddle around with the settings and different threads. 

It was considerably cooler and more comfortable at home in Aberdeenshire until Banchory Academy Prize-Giving when the temperature inside the church was uncharacteristic of old buildings. Nell said goodbye to Durris Primary in an emotional end of term service due to the retirement of the Headmistress who taught all 3 of my children. She was delighted with her gift of a travel-sized quilt and a bottle of champagne.

On the morning of the P7 BBQ the rain was torrential and the grass was squelching. I checked the forecast, held my nerve, delayed the start time, and lit the Yurt stove. Lo and behold, the sun came out, the midges stayed away because of my smoky fire-pit and we had a super evening!

Freya’s logical understanding of written instructions helped enormously with the assembly of the Bernina Q24 which finally arrived safely. It all fits into the workshop neatly and I have managed to store its huge boxes under the other quilt frame. I will have to suspend the Coracle from the rafters to get it out of the way. The new machine is called “Bernard” and will be put through its paces this week as I have a quilt to finish… 

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Am I on the Right Road?

My act of rebellion this week was disobeying Satnav Lady’s instructions. She had determined that I needed to drive from Bristol to Cardiff in a hire car avoiding ALL major roads in order for me to sit in as much traffic as possible. It was quite fun driving a nippy little car with a steering wheel that was half the diameter of the Landy's, except when the buttons on my cuffs got stuck in a weird groove that contained the airbag. 

I gave two basic training workshops to UK Bernina technicians so they could get a new customer up and running. They will be able to opt for more advanced lessons later if they need to. The Q24 frame machine and sit-down Q20 are lovely machines and they both stitched beautifully, using a standard size 80 needle and all sorts of threads, including metallic and monofilament. Luckily, I had a full afternoon to familiarise myself with the controls as my machine is still “in transit”. I really liked the ratchet rollers which held the fabric perfectly with no slipping. There are so many super features, including basting stitches and couching! I think I will be able to have a go at all sorts of things…

The Tartan quilt has frustrated me - I detested the sight of it and it could even swear me off using stretchy shot cottons in future. I decided to use the Bernina 710 for some of the long lines but I wished I had made a much smaller quilt. Even though I have a generously sized domestic machine, it still struggled right in the middle. The sheer weight of the quilt made some of the stitches too tight and I accidentally knocked the stitch length button a couple of times. The job that was even worse was adding embroidery stitching to all of the ditch lines. All I could see was every wonky line and too many missed stitches. I might have been tempted to give up except that I had already spent a ridiculous amount of time on this project. I have no idea how it will flatten out and eagle-eyed judges are bound to find all of its faults. Kay reminded me that quilting is meant to be FUN as she described how she had wasted hours skinning an entire quilt. I still have a long way to go before the Tartan quilt is ready to display at FOQ and although it will look pretty good, it is not the show-stopper that I had imagined.

I loaded Freya, her pals and their canoe gear into the Landy and drove them to a bunkhouse near Aberfeldy via Braemar. It was a damp, grey evening but the scenery was still stunning. I wished I had asked one of them to take some photos as we avoided sheep and a herd of red deer on the road while lapwings flew overhead. The road was narrow and winding and seemed to go on forever with very little traffic. One of the girls felt a little queasy after 2 ½ hours so we made a quick stop and checked the map. The other car which had taken the sensible main road route got lost so we both arrived at the same time. 
I took a different cross-country road home yet my journey time was exactly the same. I did question my judgement as we crawled slowly up and over the Cairn O’Mount at nearly midnight through low clouds but despite some ominous creaky groans, the Landy got me there in the end.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Between the Lines

 Most of my week was spent in my workshop or making official complaints of some sort. I really had to give a courier company based in the south of England “what for” when they failed to deliver the Bernina Q24 yet again. They wanted to deliver it next week while I am in Cardiff so I need to get a babysitter in otherwise I will have to rejoin the queue and may have to wait up to 3 more weeks. I don’t believe they will be asked to transport to the wilds of Scotland again. I called Fedex to arrange for the Quilted Yurt to be sent to Paducah and they picked it up the very next day. So it is on to its way to a deserving new home in the USA, complete with its textile visa. I would love to visit it there and tell its story!

Without the Q24, I had to carry on doing some quilting on the Tartan quilt with Millie otherwise it will never be done in time for FOQ or for OEQC. Obviously, I must leave a good proportion so that the Q24 can do a fair chunk. I will certainly let it do all of the lines - my clumsy longarm brake kept slipping and the woven shot-cotton fabrics were nowhere near as taut as they could be so I spent a frustratingly long time unpicking some of the unsatisfactory, wobbly lines. 

I came across a couple of creative writing journals from College. It was funny to come across a script and some short stories written longhand in fountain pen well before the days of word-processing. I had completely forgotten the doomed play and the dysfunctional cast members. Some of it was obviously written in a hurry the night before the deadline but some showed promise - the tutor’s comments were either full of praise or downright offensive;)

In my capacity as Chairperson of the Parent Council, I attended a meeting with a representative of the local education authority to put forward my objections about cutting a teacher from Durris Primary because the school roll has dropped slightly, particularly when a new Headteacher has not yet been appointed. Our concerns were duly noted and ignored despite my attempts to bamboozle her with some impressive big words. I think she may have been slightly intimidated by my Paddington stares.

Thistle has been busy murdering creatures and is obviously so satiated that she can’t be bothered to eat most of her victims. The canny cows escaped a few more times but we managed to alert the farmer before they wandered onto the main road. Freya enjoyed her first driving lesson and impressed herself by driving along the High Street in Banchory. Less impressive was my made-from-scratch custard which may have curdled just a little. By the time I added more cream and rhubarb and churned it in the ice-cream maker the slightly grainy texture was almost imperceptible. 

I took the female half of Freya’s D of E team to another canoe practice on the River Dee and the Canoe Guru was most impressed with the girls. She is now fully kitted out with neoprene trousers, thermals, a handful of carabiners and a 122 decibel rescue whistle, ready for an expedition on Loch Tay next weekend. 

I will be in Cardiff most of this week, doing Q24 training with some of the UK Bernina dealers. Luckily, I will have a whole day to familiarise myself with the machine before they arrive and when I get home my Q24 should be waiting for me. However, I’m not sure whether I will manage to unpack it before returning to Cardiff the following week since I have to take the D of E team to Perthshire and drag Fergus to his guitar exam!

Sunday, 14 June 2015

True to Form

Despite telling myself that the Tartan quilt should have simple and minimal quilting, typically and as expected, I seem to have let myself get carried away with rather a lot of ruler work and tiny, tiny spirals. I decided that I needed to continue quilting on my Millie until the Bernina Q24 arrives and I can swap the quilt over onto the new machine otherwise it would never be anywhere near ready to exhibit at FOQ in August. This was the only project that I worked on all week yet I only managed to complete 8 inches across the quilt! There was an element of changing my mind as I went along and some time-consuming unpicking so maybe I will get faster now that I have decided what I am doing.

There are a few small rectangles that I am not happy with but picking out the offending micro stitching is not feasible. I have to confess that I am not always successful at quilting truly straight lines. Mind you, I really wanted to quilt lines that were ⅓” apart but the hopping foot and rulers are marked in ¼” increments. I tried to mark a ¾” grid but this did not fit nicely into the blocks. I don’t know why I always seem to want to over complicated the maths! The thing that I found most annoying was that my ruler base does not feel big or stable enough for long diagonals and curves. I also wish I had chosen a printed fabric for the back rather than plain, pale grey because every snaggy thread and wobbly line will show unless I have time to disguise them with paint.

Fergus has been warned by his guitar teacher that unless he concentrated on playing scales and working on technique, he will not pass his forthcoming exam. Instead, he downloaded the latest Muse album and played for 6 hours solid until he had worked out all of the riffs. I don’t suppose I can blame him for inheriting a lack of concentration. I looked at some old blog posts to remind myself about the inspiration and techniques used for some of the Yurt panels in order to complete their descriptions and I kept coming across myself going off at tangents and never getting to the end of my endless To Do lists…

We had a few days of glorious summer weather that I missed by stitching away in my workshop but one evening I drove Freya’s D of E team up to Aboyne to do some more paddling practice for their Gold Expedition. It is unusual for us to be able to sit outside in shirt-sleeves beside the river in the evening but the weather was perfect and the kids were even getting sunburned after 8pm.

The next morning was typically grey and foggy. While the kids waited for the school bus, they spotted escaped cows wandering towards the main road. Some of the calves had jumped over a tumble-down dyke so the whole herd followed and tramped around the gateless barley field. I shooed them back in the right direction and just as the farmer arrived to sort them out, they trotted back off back to their own field pretending that nothing untoward had happened. It was rather nice to pretend to be a Lady Farmer for 10 minutes without any of the responsibility;)