Sunday, 18 September 2016

Washing Away the Blues


I am finding teaching part-time in school regularly for 2 days a week challenging. I am now beholden to write lengthy plans and learn the latest, pointless jargon, both of which sap my time and enthusiasm. I guess I just not quite plucked up the courage to declare myself a bona-fide textile artist who can actually earn a living. Currently in my over-crowded week, I can have 2-3 days of DIY quilters, 2 days in school, some customer quilts and very little time to experiment. 




However, I was determined to dye the wool for “Shield Maiden” this weekend. I had a buff coloured Indian wool shawl and a couple of old wool blankets. Dyeing with woad was fascinating but long-winded. The process is similar to dealing with indigo dye but was further complicated with preparing the wool for dyeing. It took a whole day of dipping and exposing the woad dye to the air to get a deep enough hue. I wish my Chemistry A Level had been half as exciting as the mixing and measuring I had to do with all of my powders and potions. I even had to test the pH of my solution with litmus paper! The wool blanket was just wishy-washy in the woad dye bath so I decided to run it through the machine with Hungarian dyes. Even though it had been mordanted, the colour all washed away until I remembered that I had some acid dye for wool stashed away and finally achieved the royal blue that I had been looking for. I am not sure whether the now felted blue wool is too thick so I also have the fine wool shawl as an alternative.

 




Mind you, what was meant to be a fun afternoon became very stressful as the washing machine broke down before I had done any of the weekend’s laundry. It had to be taken apart to cough up some trash (ahem - wool gunge amongst other random objects) that had  clogged up the pump. While dealing with a non-draining machine, dip-dyeing with woad and doing a customer quilt, Fergus got me to act as his roadie to change the strings on his guitar after he had taken off the old set and forgotten how to wind on the new ones - in about 10 minutes before he was due to debut with his school’s Soul Band!



I have tried to make samples to decide which method of appliqué to use on “Shield Maiden”. I like the edges folded under but can’t get super-sharp points with the coarse linen so I may have to add curves to my original design so the linen can bend where it has to change direction. I have already ruled out piecing as the materials are too thick. I had a go at rune-like designs using satin-stitch but it is not “right” so I will have another think about that element.




I made a prototype hot water bottle cover to work out whether to add binding on the outside or not and learned that my overlocker could not deal with the tight curves of the hottie’s shoulders. Freya was delighted to receive a “hottie” to match her quilt in a parcel from home. I expect she will tell me to stop sending her stuff after a while. This week I had a go at making a prototype pair of PJ shorts which may get posted off to Uni. Funny how quite a few projects don’t ever make it past the prototype phase;) 





Sunday, 11 September 2016

Preparing to Create



I have been frustrated that I have not yet started on Shield Maiden but at least now I have all of the materials ready. There is an inviting piece of natural linen, a wool shawl, woad powder, alum all waiting patiently on my worktable. I am still tempted to ferment a bucket of urine for two weeks to dye the wool “authentically”. 
 (not my sample!)

I have been kept busy with my 2 days per week at school but more annoying and time sappingly, doing paperwork for school.  At least I unwound for a while by returning to a long abandoned “in the background” quilt…

A customer was here DIY quilting two of four large Harris Tweed quilts which will look fantastic in her Highland holiday cottage and most certainly keep the draughts out in winter. 

As the weather gradually turns more autumnal I decided to make Freya a hot water bottle cover using the scraps from her “Goosey Guddle” quilt. I have pieced and quilted it now need to decide whether to make it hot water bottle shaped and whether to add bias binding around the outside. Obviously, I am incapable of making the simplest option!



I had a great meeting over coffee at Buchanans Bistro with a small Craft Collective from  my local area. We already had a Facebook Page @CreativeCrathes as a means of advertising our small businesses but other than that we did not exactly have a purpose. In fact, we don’t really need any justification. It is quite simply nice to meet up for coffee without an agenda which can lead to sharing ideas or mentioning other contacts or organisations which could prove useful. Since then I have signed up to an online network called Craft Scotland, www.craftscotland.org added new posts to the Creative Creathes FB page and agreed to meet again in 6 weeks. And it is is nice to know that other Makers suffer the same self-doubts and pressures of time;) 

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Freya Goes Off to Uni


Freya’s last week at home flew by - we did the last bit of shopping, packing/unpacking, and she got bored waiting to go. I fitted in a customer quilt and 2 days of school. Nell was dreading Saturday morning and it seemed like she even tried to almost break her ankle by falling off a farm gate to delay the departure. 

Eventually the Landy was loaded up with a trunk, suitcase, bicycle, a crochet cactus and a litre of gin. St Andrew is only about 2 hours away so we soon arrived to the chaos of many excited young people collecting keys, juggling boxes, and finding bike sheds. There were accents from all over the world all settling into their new life for the next 4 years. Freya was excited and a little nervous when we left her to finish her unpacking. 



She has kept me posted with photos of the traditional Freshers’ pier walk and her new friends from England, Canada and USA. The first week for the Freshers will be a whirlwind of meet-and-greet, social events and finding their way around. I have already made a gingerbread loaf to send in the post and Nell is writing a letter with an owl on the front because we think it is all very like Hogwarts;)





Now that major happening is all over I will have to knuckle down and order fabric for my next quilt and try to work out how on earth I am going to fit that in!

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Getting Stuff Done


Before Freya leaves home next weekend to study at St. Andrews I enlisted her help as chief engineer to lower the Q24 table which I had set up 6 inches too high. I was having to stand on tiptoes while quilting but had just not got around to making any adjustments. It seemed like a good opportunity to sort out scrap wadding, unpack quilts that were still in transit boxes and try to work out what the “useful” pile of interfacings were meant to be. I was also reminded of a few projects that had been temporarily suspended…

Part of the clutter in my workshop is Freya’s stuff for going away to Uni - everything from a bicycle pump to emergency milk sachets with bedding, stationery and cake tins in between. 

Despite the muddle, I managed to work on 3 simple customer quilts, edit an article about the “Purdah” quilts and plan a fun maths lesson involving mixing magic potions to explore measuring by volume.




I ordered a book on the history behind natural dyes for one of my latest quilt ideas and Helen personally delivered several dress lengths of African fabric from Nigeria in case I find any spare time in which to have a go at dress-making. I was fairly pleased with the “Kate” dress prototype from Sew Me Something so you never know;)



As usual, I have lots on my To Do list but I have told myself that it does not all have to be done in just one week but after Freya has gone away the gloves are off and I have to seriously find some extra hours! 


Sunday, 21 August 2016

Back to School 2016


I finally arrived home from FOQ around 10pm on Monday night after delays on the road and a detour to a fabric outlet in Lancaster. 

I left all of my luggage in the Landy and went to school the next morning without unpacking to give the new teacher some moral support on the first day of term. We are job-sharing in a very small school where it is pretty challenging to have pupils aged 5-12 in one class. I will be working on Thursdays and Fridays covering more hands-on activities such as baking, making and practical maths. I had a slight technical hitch with the stupid interactive board which was projecting everything upside down. I flooded the classroom floor when I went off for my break-time coffee leaving the slow draining water-play tank unattended. The children had been used investigating capacity and volume so it was quite amusing to work out how many buckets were needed to empty it. They all managed to use the sewing machine to hem some simple cushions printed with super-hero fabric for the school library and I helped them to apply popper-snap closures instead of zips. 

By Friday night I felt that my GandT was well deserved, having caught up on emails, taken Freya to do some Uni shopping and got back into the routine of after school activities and kids’ social lives. When my customer quilting gets going again goodness knows when I will be able to fit in my plans for show quilts. As usual, I have a few ideas on the back burner but there are two that I hope to tackle for next year…

Freya and I ran up 2 very snazzy, roomy laundry bags for lights and darks. They have a drawstring and a carry handle so the Student can easily take them to the launderette instead of coming home for the weekend with an enormous pile of washing;) 


Wednesday, 17 August 2016

FOQ 2016


It is a fair indication that if I go to bed without reading a couple of chapters then I am really tired! This year FOQ felt incredibly busy - there was an energy about the show, with more quilts than I have seen in a while, many of which were of an incredible standard. It took a good two days to set up the imposing Bernina stand which was bigger and grander than ever in order to accommodate 2 full sized Q24 longarm frames and 3 Q20 sit-down tables. Machines had arrived from London, Cardiff, Steckborn and New Orleans so there were many boxes to unpack amidst electricians, carpenters and a guy with a paint roller. In addition to UK chief technician, Alan and his willing helper, Chris, we had Aggy from Switzerland and Regina from Germany in the set-up team to make sure that everything was done perfectly. 

I was timetabled to teach up to 10 x 40 minute slots of sit-down quilting each day to a pair of students. Most of those sessions were fully booked and I barely had a chance to look up and wave at passers-by. My teaching background came in handy as my pupils were of all ranges of ability, age, nationality and character and I had to put all of them at ease with free-motion quilting, ensure they had fun and maintain a jolly demeanour throughout. After a while I decided that I could easily apply for a job on a shopping channel and talk enthusiastically for hours about any kind of gadget until the producer switched off the cameras. 

Her Majesty’s quilt looked fantastic under the spotlights and it was great to hear more about the block makers and their inspiration. I was complimented on my quilting, particularly the border and binding so I was both relieved and delighted. My Mother came to visit for the day on Saturday so I was able to give her a brief tour of the show between my classes. She was impressed to see so many incredible quilts and enjoyed meeting all of my international friends. 



Before the show opened I had a gloomy feeling that my quilts did not stand up to some of amazing entries. “Touch the Pickle” obviously did not belong in the Contemporary category but I had deliberately put it there to cause more discussion than it would have in Quilted Creations where the audience expects the unusual. There were viewers who did not realise that it was a series of washable sanitary pads, some looked affronted but it got many people discussing the issue of how lack of sanitary provision affects the lives and education of girls and women in other countries. “Tartan Tattoo” seemed to have been hung too high so its centre was above eye-level and it did not look as good as it should under the NEC’s orange-tinted sodium lighting. “Pretty Hippy” really only went for an outing  as it was never intended to be a competition quilt. 





I scrutinised the quilts in the Fine Art Masters gallery to see what qualities they had that “Purdah” may have lacked. The entries were interesting - some simple, some weird and certainly “arty” but I felt that Purdah really could have fitted in there and nobody would have questioned its provenance. It was actually hanging on a white wall in an area of the Art Quilts without good lighting and the first time I walked by someone screwed their face up and simply said, “Why?” All I could think was that I had wasted months of my time creating something that had no appeal to the public. However, later on I was told that an amazing steward had started to give “guided tours” of Purdah that were pulling in crowds of people. Before long, the stewards were timetabling themselves 15 minute slots to take it in turns to reveal the hidden layers. When they were asked why it had not been displayed to show all of the layers separately, they explained that the POINT of “Purdah” was that the chador shawl was designed to make you consider what could be underneath. I was delighted that so many visitors the grasped what it was all about. They were able to interpret it in different ways, some thinking that what was hidden was about women’s oppression while others considered that the chador could be providing a type of protective liberation. This was exactly the kind of thinking that I had hoped to provoke. Some viewers were emotional as they told me about their responses and said that they had put “Purdah” forward for the Visitors’ Choice Award. I took a wee video on my phone of one steward and love hearing, “Oh, Wow!”



On the whole, everyone was pleased with the selection of FOQ winners this year although there was some discussion about whether quilts using non-original patterns should be “allowed” to win prizes. The best in show was a fantastic cream whole cloth by longarm quilter, Sandy Chandler. As usual I found that judges’ comments on my quilts were incredibly varied despite supposedly having the same criteria applied. One judge noted that “Tartan Tattoo” had superb and skilful quilting but only scored that element as “good”. One of “Purdah’s” judges advised me to improve my piecing and scored it as “satisfactory” which just made me laugh. Because the scoresheets were so inconsistent and thanks to the wonderful reactions of visitors to the show, I have finally decided to stop worrying about how the judges see my quilts!

Of course, in the evenings it was great to eat out with friends and unwind. The international ambassadors for Bernina came out for a Balti at my favourite authentic Indian restaurant house and enjoyed a selection of curries and poppadums. One evening I was given a lift back from the pub in the cargo section of a van which only had 3 cab seats and we just laughed about the silliest things. Kay is a great room-mate because I can be angst ridden one minute then excitedly coming up with obscure ideas on how to win that elusive Fine Art Masters the next. We stayed up far too late drinking wine or gin then woke up for tea and shortbread around 6am ready to start another day. Even though it is mentally and physically hard work to be on a booth at a major quilt show, we are always sad when it is all packed up and time to go home so she has already booked our room for next year! 





Sunday, 7 August 2016

All Geared Up


I finished Freya’s 1930’s inspired quilt and added a pieced tartan binding so it should brighten up her student room. I expect her room will be very colourful after we have made a couple of laundry bags and cushions and she has garlanded it with fairy lights. We made a start on collecting household goods for her Off-to-Uni list, agreeing that it is a good job we have the Landy to shift all of her gear and a bicycle!



Freya suggested that it would be a great idea to use the modern-vintage dress pattern that we bought 2 years ago to run up a party-frock with a large Amy Butler print. There were rather a lot of pieces and even though we had cut out the paper pattern ages ago, it took a whole day to match the large-scale pattern and cut out the fabric. This left one day to create a dress that would be ready by 6.30pm latest. 

I know I am a bit Pattern Phobic but she is normally pretty good at working out instructions and we have to say that they were abysmal! There was a lot of information missing and pieces of fabric that were not actually required in the end as if they had just recycled the instructions from a different dress pattern. Some grayscale photos were the only clues we had on how to construct pleats. We did not do it correctly but they actually worked out OK. I changed the way the invisible zip went in and messed up turning the bodice magically through the shoulders. My workshop was as messy as it has ever been and it was very stressful keeping an eye on the time. I am in awe of the “Sewing Bee” contestants - I am surprised that nobody has dropped dead during filming;) In the end, with minutes to spare, I released the pleats, overlocked the hem and Freya wore it to the party with a safety pin tuck at the back and a belt to pull it in a touch. It was admired by her friends enough that we think we will finish the hem off properly and make a couple of darts in the back some day.



I spent another half day in school discussing the timetable with the other part-time teacher, simultaneously rearranging the staff kitchen cupboards and rummaging for maths books. At least everything looks organised which we hope will provide a calm atmosphere when term starts.


Despite waking up at 4am because of a weird dream that FOQ was being held in confusing, voluminous tents and the quilt angels could not be bothered to hang “Touch the Pickle”, I think I have actually packed everything for my week away. Considering that I have been going to FOQ for 10 years now I should feel pretty laid back about my preparations. I have checked everything off my list, ensured that I have included teabags and Schweppes tonic, packed too many outfits but still can’t shake off the nagging feeling that I might have forgotten something. I daresay that once I have filled up with diesel, tuned into Radio 4 and headed south, I will look forward to spending a week away with quilters from around the world!

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Fanfare - The Royal Quilt is Finished!


Despite not receiving any assistance from magic elves, I worked hard to finish off HM The Queen’s 90th Birthday Quilt so it could be sent to London to be photographed by Bernina UK, prior to being displayed at FOQ. I clocked up a total of 88 hours and many of them were just last week! I had to abandon the idea of wishbone twin needle sashing after hours of unpicking. It worked beautifully off the edge of the quilt but the thread kept breaking on the royal blue fabric, the un-sewing was starting to show and I just did not have time to persevere. 




It took a really long time to triple stitch around the scallops and blocks but I think it made them “pop”.  The thin gold braid adds just a hint of bling and the tiny checked flange under the red binding looks like the edge of an airmail letter. I spent hours hand-sewing the binding to the back and by the time I sewed on the hanging sleeve, my fingers were numb. I would probably have to make royal quilts regularly for 10 years before I could apply to display a Royal Warrant so my blog is unlikely to display any official lion/unicorn logos.


It was an enormous relief to have finished in good time and to discover that the entire quilt lies flat on the table so should hang nicely without too much persuasion. I only dislodged one tiny embellishment while working on the quilt but I have sewn it back on and no-one will ever know;) 




Rather than hoover up after the marathon Royal project, I loaded up Freya’s Going-to-Uni quilt and cracked on with it. There is not much holiday left, including FOQ and she goes away at the beginning of September! I have made a multi strip binding of tartan offcuts, having decided that it feels super organised to make the binding before the quilting is  even finished. Maybe I will get that done AND have a trip to the beach next week, even if it is raining…

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Knowing When to Stop


We finished off our trip to Norfolk with very hot weather then came home to damp and muggy weather that made the weeds and grass grow exponentially. I purchased a second-hand ride-on mower but it could not cope with the long, wet grass so I will have to get a guy in with an industrial grass machine. The shrubs beside my workshop must have sprouted 2 feet of growth since I was away so I had to hack them back before I could get  on with any quilting.

I had a couple of DIY quilters in, one of whom requested the computerised system then generously offered to help me label and pack my FOQ entries while she was waiting for her quilt to be completed. This was an absolute boon as it meant an extra pair of eyes to check for fluff and to ensure that I pinned on the correct labels. I scavenged 2 tall lily boxes from the florist shop and arranged an online courier pickup so as long as that goes according to plan, everything should reach its destination in good time.



I got back to HM The Queen’s 90th Birthday Quilt and completed the borders then went back to the blocks to add some background fillers. I am finding it difficult not to add tiny quilting patterns to every single block! Some have lots of empty space whereas others are too embellished or busy to need much at all. My problem is that I see the un-quilted blocks as looking “naked” next to the ones that I have filled in. I will have to be strong and resist the urge to fill up every gap as I still have the sashing to quilt and I have a notion to surround all of the blocks with triple-stitch embroidery or even couching;) I have prepared some skinny bias to insert a red, white and blue checked flange under the red binding so I am feeling virtuous that the binding is all ready to apply.

I dragged Fergus along to help me shift some large items of furniture at the school where I will have a temporary 2-day-a-week job from August. It has had a succession of temporary teachers over the past year and needs a good sort-out. It is one of those jobs that could potentially take a least a full week of reorganising but I will have to rein myself in from wanting to tidy every single drawer and cupboard if I am to have any holiday time left in which to finish my royal commission!



Sunday, 17 July 2016

Intermission


There has been no quilting at all this week as I am in Norfolk with my kids staying with my folks. We have been to junk shops, gone crabbing and eaten loads of strawberries. I am just writing a brief post from the eclectic and chilled out Latitude Festival, actually hoping it might rain as it is so hot! We are enjoying the sights, great music, world food and even a rather nice beer:)




Sunday, 10 July 2016

Rather Royal Week




 







I had to wear a posh frock and even posher shoes to attend the presentation of Freya’s Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh. The Earl of Wessex, Prince Edward, chatted briefly to each group of youngsters about their adventures and experiences.  A military band played on despite the rain and we especially enjoyed their rendition of the “Game of Thrones” theme tune. It was a truly memorable occasion, particularly as the entire palace gardens fell silent as the Earl appeared following the National Anthem. Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Phillip arrived by helicopter and waved as they whizzed away in a Range Rover. They had been on an official visit to Dundee and we wondered if they would kick off their shoes and have a cup of tea when they were off duty. We rounded off the day with a splendid afternoon tea and champagne at “The Dome”.

By complete contrast, the next day I drove Freya and a couple of chums down to the “T in the Park” festival. The drop-off car-park was already strewn with bottles and rubbish just minutes after the main gates opened. I suppose the DofE expeditions will have come in handy for preparing them for a weekend camping out in the open with plenty of mud and no showers;)

A box from Bernina in London arrived containing my special commission. I am honoured to be the quilter who completes the competition quilt in time for Festival of Quilts which is only 4 weeks from now (and I will be away in Norfolk with family for just over a week)!



Quilt for a Queen

To mark Her Majesty the Queen’s 90th birthday in 2016, we're inviting you to contribute to a special “Quilt For A Queen”. This project will create a unique gift to mark this special occasion while raising funds for Friends of the Elderly, one of the charities of which the Queen is patron. 

For a charitable donation of £15 or above, we will send you a fabric square (and a spare one to practise on) which you can sew, embroider or decorate with your own birthday design. Your square will contribute to a virtual online quilt, which will include your name. In addition, 60 squares will be selected by an invited panel of judges, including world-renowned quilter Philippa Naylor, to create the quilt that will given to Her Majesty

On Friday morning I faffed around for ages, looking at the quilt, measuring it, making sketches and taking deep breaths. Eventually I just loaded it and started the stitch-in-the-ditch around all of the blocks and around as many of the motifs as I could, allowing for ribbons, beads and other hazardous embellishments. The “winning” blocks have been made by individuals, groups, beginners and talented seamstresses/seamchaps. Once I got going the hours passed quickly and I made good progress. I am glad that there is not a spy-cam in my studio as I stuck my tongue out with concentration and nearly turned blue from asphyxiation when I plucked up the courage to freehand the lettering that I had traced with chalk. By the end of the weekend all of the SID was done and I had quilted the bones of the borders which actually beat the target that I had set myself before I go away next week. I will not show pictures of any of the blocks but I can show glimpses of the borders so far. 









Some of the blocks will need additional filler quilting and I intend to add to add twin-needle stitching and couching to show what the Q24 can do. This project is really putting it through its paces and it is great being able to switch easily from a deep ruler foot to a dainty cut-away embroidery foot.  The Q24 is performing beautifully so far but I will probably wish for a motorised fabric advance after I have wound the quilt backwards and forwards a few more times…