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;)

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Bad Computer!

My Mac almost had a nervous breakdown this week but after several hours on the phone with Jack from Apple Support, things have improved. The Mac had decided to do some massive indexing task after my photo spring-clean and just went into a kind of memory overload meltdown. I am hugely relieved that I managed to back everything up - I had feared that a total crash was imminent. At some point I may have to take it to the Apple Store and add some more memory and get a real person to check it over. It was annoying how much time this all took as I had planned to complete the Yurt panel descriptions. 

My new friend, the dress-making dummy, whom I have named, Daphne, arrived in the post and she is now modelling my waistcoat. She still looks very slim as I have not adjusted her dimensions to match mine. At some point, I will have to select a suitable garment to construct so I can justify her existence.

Freya and I gutted the garden yurt, heaving out the soggy carpet and disposing of the wasps’ nest. There were rather a lot of bugs to remove and the stove contained 2 dead greenfinches plus a bat corpse. We wrapped up the sailing dinghy that had been stored inside temporarily two years ago and swapped it for my cable-reel table. The roof still leaks but the yurt is no longer cobwebby or full of wasp-killing powder so the kids will be able to use it over the summer (which does not show any signs of arriving yet this year).

The Bernina Q24 longarm is on its way at last; I am hopeful that the courier who estimated up to a 10 day delivery period to Scotland was over being cautious! I was getting anxious about completing the Tartan quilt in time for FOQ so I decided to go ahead and do all of the invisible stitch-in-the-ditch on the Millie. I have now made several sketch plans for the quilting of this project. I think it would look “authentic” if I only quilted diagonal lines for the whole thing to look like woven wool but the purpose of this quilt is to demonstrate what the Q24 can do so it really needs a variety ruler work and freehand quilting. My problem is keeping it simple, achievable, a bit Welsh/Celtic and showing off a bit at the same time! It looks like I will be changing my mind as I go along…

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Ta-da! (and some boring stuff)

I finished off my waistcoat and I am relieved to say that it fits fairly well. The operation of turning it into a garment was really weird as I had to pull the whole thing through the armholes after sewing some of the seams. Joining the side seams was even stranger and seemed to involve hand-sewing but I just did some tricky ironing and topstitched the sides shut. Mo covered some buttons for me using scraps from the project and I have ordered Norwegian cardigan clasps to close it at the top. As with all adventures into dressmaking, I might tackle this one again but change quite a few of the construction methods. 

Feeling rather inspired, I searched the internet for a dressmaking mannequin that is fatter than my Lady Valet. Her dials are difficult to turn and she is nowhere near as generously sized as I was led to believe;) 
I bid rather more than I had intended for a vintage, made-in-england size B Diana on Ebay but hopefully my new friend, “Daphne” and I will become firm friends. 

Feeling frustrated with having so many odds and ends to attend to, I realised that the only way to move on would be to deal with some really boring tasks. Hence, I have been mercilessly sorting through digital photos. Many of those related to the Quilted Yurts and they seemed to be scattered and duplicated all over my laptop in different locations. This led to organising gazillions of other photos, including files from before 2008. My Mac’s trashcan contained 27000 items! I was worried that my computer was going to have a nervous breakdown when it keep freezing as I moved dozens of items around its desktop. 
After sorting out my paperwork, I was reminded that my outgoings far exceed my quilt related income so it is just as well that I have kept up my annual Scottish teacher registration just in case.

Many other little tasks were crossed off my list such as booking Freya’s travels for her Tallship Race in the summer, dealing with “official” emails on behalf of the Parent Council and at least thinking about the peeling paint on the bathroom ceiling.

Another satisfying job that I got done was packing the Yurt into 2 boxes, making a note of their dimensions then struggling to suspend them from the luggage scales. I almost have all of the copies of the Yurt documents and photos ready to load onto a USB stick so I expect it won’t be much longer before I am ready to send everything off to Paducah.

I dealt with 2 more items from my unfinished quilts basket. A huge Indian bedspread was quilted with more wavy lines but it is almost impossible to see any quilting at all. There are not any beds large enough for such a quilt in my house so I may try to sell it. Next, I tried to quilt a very simple pantograph on an ugly Ebay quilt top but soon realised that it needed far more dense quilting to deal with its bulges and ripples. I ended up adding freehand loops in between all of the rows. At least it looked more “vintage” after a hot wash and tumble but I really don’t know where that one will end up - it looks like it should be taken camping;)

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Remind me... less can be more;)

After the vintage hexie quilt was sort-of squared up and bound I decided to quilt more simple wavy lines on the deer bargello quilt and give it to Nell’s Headmistress when she retires at the end of term. I love the simple texture of the soft waves - I have an Indian bedspread waiting to be quilted that might just get the same treatment. 

It was an oddly expectant week. Freya was waiting for the “execution” of the her Higher Maths exam which most of the 17 year olds in Scotland subsequently complained was grim. She revised hard for that exam and also had a tutor in recent weeks so my fingers are crossed that she managed to perform well enough to pass. I am waiting for the Bernina Q24 longarm machine to be delivered at any time so I tidied up my workshop and tried not to start any major, messy projects. 

I began a major reorganisation of my digital photos. I have no idea how many there are altogether but my Mac is storing 93GB worth of pictures! There were Yurt photos in dozens of different locations and also photos that had been transferred from my previous laptop. I still have a lot more sorting to do but hopefully it will be far easier to find them the next time I need to write an article or pattern.

I decided to have a crack at the waistcoat pattern that I bought from Cherrywood Fabrics in Paducah. I managed the patchwork aspect easily but as usual my “pattern dyslexia” challenged me. I almost wished that I had just quilted some fabric, then sewed it all together and finished it all off with a binding. The finished example at the show was stitched with a few simple, vertical lines but I don’t know whether they did that before or after assembly. 

Obviously, I let myself get carried away and spent almost 2 days stitching and couching onto my patchwork fabric before even cutting out my pattern pieces. I enjoyed using my Indian wood blocks from Colouricious to print the plain grey lining fabric with red, grey and black paint. 

After reading then ignoring some of the instructions I finally had the outside and inside pieces all joined together along curves with 5/8” seam allowances. To accommodate my bust, I made the XL size as per the instruction leaflet but after a quick try-on while it was just pinned together, I was concerned that it might too baggy. I am hopeful that it will all fit more neatly after it is finished, otherwise I may have to buy a big padded bra. Putting the waistcoat together looks a bit of a palaver as the lining has to be “posted” through the inside-out outer part in some mysterious way. I must remember to use a generous stitch length in case I need to take it all apart. Perhaps I can adjust the side seams? I was annoyed that my tailor’s dummy was too skinny even when fully expanded so I may have to look into getting a more curvaceous mannequin!

Freya, whose gold prom dress sits neatly on the skinny tailor’s dummy, strutted her stuff on the catwalk at the village hall, looking fabulous in a vintage mustard yellow jumpsuit with a fur coat at a Red Cross Shop charity fashion event. The second-hand outfits modelled were all pretty fantastic and the audience enjoyed the novelty of drinking cocktails from china teacups;)

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Bunking Off

The tartan quilt top for the Bernina stand at FOQ is complete. I could not figure out why I seemed to have two spare sections but the mystery was solved when I tried to join the 3 main sections together and discovered that one side was too short because I had missed something out! It is a bit larger than I had planned because I had not included the side borders in my rough sketch. I am torn between wanting to do some variation of traditional Welsh whole cloth quilting or sticking to the tartan weave theme and only quilting with diagonal lines. I expect there will some sort of mash-up of those ideas when I get the new Bernina Q24 machine set up and ready to quilt.

I was pleased that “Bifrost Bridges” was awarded a Judge’s Merit ribbon at Malvern. At least it shows that the quilt is skilfully made even if if does not wow the judges with its design. It is the only suitable piece that I have available for FOQ this year and I will probably enter it but at this stage I don’t intend to enter it into any shows overseas since the shipping is too expensive for a quilt that does not appear to be a “contender”.

While I was waiting for the painfully slow internet to upload my quilting photos I decided to do a simple quilt from my basket. Although I have a couple of quilts that have been waiting their turn for ages, I chose the Paducah hexie quilt. It was extremely stretchy and seemed to have different numbers of hexagons or half hexagons on all 4 sides but it was big enough that it could afford to have a bit hacked off. I was just going to quilt soft, wavy horizontal lines but when I noticed that some of the piecing was coming adrift, I decided to turn the quilt once I reached the bottom and go back the other way as well. I am delighted with how good it looks with its curvy ¾” allover grid. It looks even better now that it has had a good wash so all I have left to do is trim it to a regular size then find it some binding.

I thoroughly enjoyed a 2 day workshop with Jamie Malden from Colouricious that was organised by the Aberdeen P&Q Group. We had plenty of space and light in a large workroom at Papeterie, a paper-craft shop at the paper mill near Dyce. I have not taken part in a workshop for ages and it was great fun just to play with Indian wood block stamps and stencils for two whole days. We produced several fabric samples using a combination of stamping, stencilling and mono-printing using Gelli plates. Jamie was enthusiastic and got us working at a great pace. I already had a few blocks and paints that I had bought at quilt shows but I had never experimented with them before. It was great to learn the techniques properly and to be told about the best paints to use. Printing with the wood blocks was simple and serendipity played a large part, making it a great craft that children would enjoy. I think it is fantastic that Colouricious  is able to provide work for 40 traditional Indian carpenters and their families because of its successful online shop and textile tours of India. I came away feeling inspired, with a few more paints and blocks that I can use on some of my leftover plain fabrics. I just need to decide what to make with my samples. It would be easy to get completely carried away and start creating dress fabric, T-shirts, scarves and lampshades. Perhaps I should start thinking about making some Christmas presents;)