Sunday, 19 January 2020

Taking Advantage of a Dry Spell

We have had a week of unusually settled, dry, January weather so I put the Ercol rocking chair outside to try and strip off the rest of the dark wood stain. It was a much more complicated job than I had anticipated with so many fiddly struts and the only thing that really worked was sanding it all off. I used an electric Mouse sander and tried out a lookalike Dremel which was useless. Purists would have done the job by hand to avoid scratching the wood but that would have taken months. I applied a dry paste of Barkeepers Friend which contains oxalic acid to lighten the wood and it is almost there apart from a LOT more sanding still to do to get rid of the roughness, after which I should attempt to add some wax using wirewool.

Since I did not have any customer quilts to keep me busy I got into a routine of joining pieces of the Rainbow Warli quilt together in sections of very approximately 20” square, plus or minus a couple of inches. I have not ironed any of the sections, just relying on finger pressing to get the seams to match up. I will not actually be able to press anything on the right side of the quilt because of the giant sequins, silver lamé, glitter vinyl and screenprint foil. Progress seems to be going steadily and I have sewn 10 out of 16 sections. I daresay it will be challenging to get all of the slightly different sections to fit together and keep it all looking a bit haphazard but it is really nice to work on such a brightly coloured project in the middle of winter.

I developed 4 screens at my evening class, including transferring one of my original designs onto my own screen instead of one that belongs to the art school. One screen had not developed clearly, possibly due to an extra thick area of emulsion so it will have to be redone but I was pleased with the test prints. I took the huge screen home to print white ink onto indigo fabric but I did not remember to borrow a huge squeegee so I ordered my own. The first print was perfect but I did not leave enough space to print the next one so ended up with an annoying overlap. It is not easy to wash large screens at home so I took it outside and hosed it off with cold water, soaking myself in the process. I had enough indigo fabric to attempt 2 more prints - I flooded part of the first one and missed a bit one the second one. Screenprinting with such a huge screen and thick, opaque ink really can be a hit and miss affair!

I am trying to think of simple makes that I could sell using my doily prints so I made a prototype elasticated bowl cover. It is actually rather smart and could almost pass as a beret;)

Sunday, 12 January 2020

January Get Set Go

I took full advantage of Freya’s last week at home and worked on as many projects as possible. In addition, Nella had a session with an English tutor, started some psychotherapy and we both concentrated hard in our second session with a German teacher. 

I printed a dye paste onto 2 pieces of lovely Irish linen at the screen-print class but had mixed results. One of the prints was really patchy, which was disappointing but I will attempt to print additional doilies on top to make it more like a fabric. The other one was crisper but there were flooded areas at the edges. So far, the heavy muslin/calico has produced the best print. It is my intention to make new covers for an Ercol rocking chair that needs to be stripped back from a ratty dark brown. The prints are bigger than the cushions need to be so I can get away with some smudges but it is frustrating to “ruin” an expensive piece of fabric.

There are not many weeks left of the course so I have to get a move on to draw and develop any new designs and get pieces made for the student exhibition. I had hoped to make a ceramic lamp base imprinted with doily designs but I will just buy a plain base and make a doily print shade. IF there is time left I also hope to cover a footstool in indigo fabric printed with white doilies but it will need to be quilted as it is very thin… Oh, and I want to print a roller blind too;)

Freya and I tried using paint stripper to take off the chair’s dark brown stain and lacquer but it did not do much. It needs some serious sand-papering, for which I will need some dry weather. 

I made a start on the Rainbow Warlis at last. It is a tricky quilt to lay out because I did not make a plan of course, just a load of blocks in different sizes. I want it to go together spontaneously as there are too many bits to set out in an organised way. I think I am going to make 16 blocks around 20” square so I have shared out the bits into piles to work on smaller sections at a time, hoping that it will all miraculously fit together in the end with the aid of some filler strips and a lot of fiddling around!

Sunday, 5 January 2020

Dyeing to get into 2020

We had a quiet New Year without parties, fireworks or fuss, which suited me fine. I took advantage of having Freya home to keep Nella company while I got on with a couple of small projects. I spent a whole afternoon reorganising the IKEA drawers under my quilt machine. There was so much haberdashery stuffed into them that some of them would not shut because things had fallen down the back and caused a jam. I came across a few things that had got lost in plain sight and wondered why I had so many packets of laminating pouches.

I had a go at dyeing some plain cotton poplin fabric to see if I could get close to some of the vibrant Indian Rubia fabrics that I am using for my Rainbow Warli quilt. I did not have the right colours in Hungarian dyes to use my preferred method of dyeing in the washing machine so I made up large quantities of soda ash and salt solution and attempted cold Procion dyeing in plastic bags. It was difficult to gauge the intensity of the dye, even when dipping in pieces of paper towel to see what was developing. I left the pieces soaking for 24 hours but much of the colour washed out. The results were not awful but they were not nearly as strongly dyed as I had hoped.

I tried again with a couple of the colours in a large pan of very hot water and the hues definitely fixed better but were still not the right shades so I caved and ordered a selection of plain dyed Rose & Hubble plains from Doughtys. The one colour that I really could not source or dye was a shade of pinky peach that I call “Jaipur pink”. I ordered some from an ebay seller in India, hopeful that it will match my original fabric. 

I sewed up some skinny strip sets to chop up into sashing so I hope to start putting the Rainbow Warlis together soon…

For someone who cannot grasp crochet, I seem to be doing pretty well with macrame. I knotted together a hanging vase/large jar holder. I don’t really have a purpose for it, I just felt like having a go. I used the leftover strands to make a zig-zagged rope bowl to collect scraps beside my sewing machine. I’m not sure that I can think of many practical uses for macrame without turning my house into a retro hipster pad. The only thing putting me off making a hammock is that a rough guide to how much cord required for each project is that you need to reel off roughly 8 times the length of the finished item so presumably a 6 foot hammock would need 48 feet of cord for EACH strand! I should definitely set my sights on something smaller;)

Sunday, 29 December 2019

Mildly Chilled Xmas

Don’t get me wrong - I do actually enjoy the ritual of making braised cabbage and bread sauce plus other trimmings on Christmas Eve but I think I will try to get more ready made stuff next year so I can just eat mince-pies and watch films all day. The idea is meant to be that there are plenty of leftovers for the next few days but with a vegan roast instead of turkey and having to go traipsing to and from the garage because my fridge is not very big, I don’t tend to over cater. 

Christmas itself was low key and minimal - we hardly even watched any telly. Despite the dreich weather we had a couple of short walks down by the river. I received some lovely gifts from my girls such as a felted Bumble (made by Mo) and an Indian cushion. I am glad to report that I was not given any chilli sauce, bath salts or toffees and I treated myself to a huge reel of macrame cord.

So far I have managed to make a couple of star decorations and 3 successful plant hangers. I have no idea how I can work out how to tie specific knots into a pattern yet I cannot conquer simple crochet. 

I pulled out my Rainbow Warli quilt blocks to see if I can work out what to do next. I think I need to put it together spontaneously like the red, black and white version with filler strips where the blocks don’t match up perfectly in size. I examined some antique textile scraps that I got in Jaipur and decided that I will piece skinny strips to punctuate the larger blocks.  

Since I may want to add borders using some sort of bunting/flaps I will not have enough of the original fabrics from the bazaar. I wasted time online looking for Rubia/Running-Cloth/plain fabrics but cannot find exactly what I am looking for in such vibrant colours and at a sensible price. There is one colour which I think of as Jaipur pink that I can’t see online so I will attempt to mix up some Hungarian dyes to see if I can make something close. I realised that I have no idea what strength and type the powder dye that bought in India actually is and the one that was labelled blue turned out purple!

One of the things that I intend to do before the New Year comes and goes is to have a  mini-sort-out in my workshop. I just want to go through all of the drawers and boxes to see what I actually have before I think I have lost things and feel the need to repurchase duplicates;)

Sunday, 22 December 2019

Pre Xmas 2019

I always enjoy the time before Christmas far more than Christmas itself. It is probably because it is a busy time and I don’t cope well with nothing to do. It is great having Freya home as it means another person can keep Nella company. The girls helped me write Christmas cards which is a job I think takes ages but in fact is perfectly easy once you get started. They have made Christmas wreaths, built a bonfire and watched corny Christmas films. We had an outing to the cinema one evening to see “Last Christmas”, a typically British feel-good film with music by George Michael as the soundtrack. We have seen little of Fergus as he has been out partying with pals most nights - until the novelty of being 18 wears off or he runs out of funds.

I was desperate to make something but feel that cannot spread my Warli quilt blocks out until after Christmas so I made up a big batch of manutex paste to mix with procion dye. I did not have a measuring jug so I had to work out how many empty gin bottles worth of hot water were in 4 litres and because I could not be bothered to go and fetch the kitchen scales, I had to measure 24 dessert spoons of soda ash, having made a rough conversion of the tablespoon equivalent. 

I really do need to get some basic dyeing equipment to save myself much time and overcomplicated sums. I soaked linen in a soda ash water bath, rescued just in time from being washed out in a downpour when I hung it outside to dry. I decided to test the process thoroughly and found that the dye ran a bit when rinsed in cold water so something needs to improve the fixing of the colour. Mind you, I don’t actually know what the efficacy of the dye is, having mixed together turquoise and black powders that I bought from the bazaar in Jaipur.

I was not joking last week about wanting to have a go at Macramé. I made a prototype shelf hanger using washing line and a clementine box. It was easier than learning crochet and quite addictive so I ordered myself a Christmas treat of a big reel of macrame cord and will go and get knotted! 

Sunday, 15 December 2019

On the Edge

Ever since I first became a Quilter I have been active on social media - first it was for information or advice on quilting forums then Facebook and Instagram came along. I posted something or made comments almost every day and for a while I did my 30 seconds max daily vlog, either about a project, my travels or something daft that I had done. My laptop tells me I have written over 11 000 emails since I got it in 2012! My weekly blog is really just an electronic journal for myself which some people happen to see sometimes. Recently, I have posted very little and I have felt increasingly like a quilting recluse with very little to show off about and currently I feel like I am not actively involved in the quilting world.

This week I kept thinking I should at least be running up a batch of home-made Christmas presents as I was not busy quilting. As  parcels arrived from the Postie and I kept track of my festive spending, I realised that my business has suffered. I may not be able to travel or teach at present but I can still undertake customer quilts so I will need to promote that service in the New Year. 

Freya came home for a couple of days to celebrate Fergus 18th birthday. It was a bit of a low key affair as we did not go out to celebrate but he made up for it after his gig on Friday night, going out to a nightclub (legally!) with his pals. Of course he did not actually feel any different to being 17 but the very next day he cast his vote for the first time in a momentous UK general election. 

I have had to hand over the reins of organising Bernina longarm quilting classes at FOQ 2020 but I hope to be able to take Nella with me to Birmingham for a couple of days instead of a whole week and teach one of the classes that I have offered previously. To be honest, nobody knows what life will be like by next summer but I hope it will at least be more predictable.

At least I managed to screen-print a few cushion covers and a couple of birthday T-shirts for Fergus, despite breaking the on-off switch on my workshop water heater. The worst part of screen-printing is actually cleaning off the equipment afterwards. I can temporarily use the tap with the aid of a screwdriver or hope the garden hose is not frozen. I can cope with up to A3 sized screens in my old Belfast sink but I would only be able to deal with the giant doily screen at the art school as they have a huge washing trough. I am really enjoying screen-printing and would like to see where it takes me, unless I get into another new hobby such as Macramé…!

Sunday, 8 December 2019

All I Want for Christmas

Freya asked what I would like for Christmas and I could think of absolutely nothing that I “need” or even want - except that I would love to have my life back! I cannot make any bookings to teach quilting away from home or even schedule classes here, I have no foreign trips or holidays planned and some days that simply gets to me. (Don’t feel sorry for me - I just have to sulk occasionally) I am grateful that I have been able to support Nella in long battle with Anorexia and things have improved but there are really no days off for either of us. Something that I struggle with in life is not having a plan for the day. I hate waking up and not knowing what I will make or do! 

I felt that I should be making hand-made gifts of some sort but could not decide on what or for whom so on a whim I rustled up a couple of sets of practical, padded microwave bowl cozies. They may sound naff but they are really handy and prevent scalds when serving individual portions of hot soup or porridge.

I decided that I need a ready-to-go project so I cut out some more hen blocks by “Cluck, Cluck Sew”. I hope I don’t run into trouble for not pre-washing the Indian indigo which left my hands blue after cutting;) 

Nella and I had a go at a Regan sweatshirt top from “Sew Me Something”. We used an interlock jersey and striped, stretchy ribbing for cuffs and collar. The jersey was a bargain so we could have a go and not worry about messing up. However, I did not expect it to be peppered with little holes so I have had to make a complaint to the supplier. We did the whole project using the overlocker and coverlocker. The instructions are clear and easy to follow - we added a turtle neck instead of a t-shirt neck and when we make another, will add pockets. I was impressed that we coped with the stretchy fabric and actually made a wearable garment. 

I received a lovely parcel from Germany this week - Regina sent me some vintage doilies that she came across when clearing her Mother-in-Law’s house, along with 2 big bags of Haribos (not part of the house clearance!) The doilies are great so I think I will have to draw them out on acetate in order to make screens - maybe these might replace one of those that I did before. I printed some of the screen-print doilies out onto IKEA cushions and they look like festive snowflakes on the pale blue or red cushions.

Nella and I went into Aberdeen for late-night shopping on Thursday evening. It was not a serious shopping trip and we only went to John Lewis. It was great because it was almost deserted which is just how I like it! The rest of my purchases will be made online and locally. Mind you, before the Christmas countdown totally takes over we have to celebrate Fergus’ 18th birthday so I have 2 lots of unique presents to source within 2 weeks;)

Sunday, 1 December 2019

Some Project Time

I can’t tell you how long it took me to browse images of clothes peg bag images before choosing the first one I found. I made my Mother a smart, new peg bag for Christmas since that is what she asked for. I could probably make more of those or cosmetics bags or some other complicated projects or actually nothing at all;)

I completed 3 blissfully straightforward customer quilts in short order, even though one had a back that was slightly too small. I simply advised the customer to apply extra wide binding. That left me the rest of my time to work on some of my remaining Rainbow Warli blocks. 

Obviously I had to fiddle with the perfectly good settings that I had previously settled on for making eyelets. Once the eyelets were made they were sewn onto squares of silver lame so they look like shisha mirrors. I added a touch of silver glitter paint to each one just to seal the thread ends. 

The organza Warli blocks were not as great as I had hoped because it would seem that not all organza is the same. Some did not burn right off with the soldering iron which was disappointing so I wondered whether to fill in the twin needle stripes with silver foil or glitter but it made the figures look they were in jail. Just to see what it would look like I tested out a sample of rustic Kantha stitching with razzle-dazzle thread in case I decide to add some insane stitching to the finished quilt. I am hoping that when Freya is home at Christmas I might get “free” time to lay the whole quilt out or at least work out what it could be - quilt, canopy or tent…

The thing I was most excited by this week was deciding to make a screen-print table top. I was lucky that a nice young man offered to help me get my MDF into the back of the Landy otherwise I would have had to go back into the shop to buy rope to strap it onto the roof. I stapled down 4 layers of quilt wadding plus a layer of heavyweight muslin and now have a padded printing surface the same size as my farmhouse table. I tested it out by printing some doilies onto plain cushions which I will give away as gifts.  

I have now ordered an unmarked heavy duty cutting mat that can sit on top when I am not printing so there will be no excuse for Nella and I not to become good at dressmaking - or at the very least we might get good at cutting the patterns out;)

Sunday, 24 November 2019

Feeling Blue and Willow Too

It was the last evening class of the year for Textile Printing so I had to really shift to get everything done. There were some successes and some minor disasters. My final acetate design did not quite fit onto its screen which was disappointing and I left a piece of polycotton devore in the oven for too long so it simply burned. However, the huge doily printed with navy blue procion dye paste onto calico worked beautifully. I took the smaller screens home to experiment with before the class restarts in January and I have already printed colour discharge paste onto Indian indigo fabric. It was done in a hurry without a decent printing surface in poor light onto creased fabric but it seemed to come out quite well all the same.

Nella and I managed to complete the fine corduroy dress and finished the hem on our new Bernette Funlock 42 coverstitch machine. The frock looks really cute and Christmassy and we feel inspired to have a go with some jersey fabric. I wasted a lot of time trying to find cheap jersey to practise with online. It would be far better to buy it from an actual shop but there is nowhere I can think of anywhere remotely local that would stock any. I have seen some lovely jersey knit on a Norwegian website but I want to feel confident that we can make something wearable before spending too much on nice fabric. 

I finally completed the Christmas Tree quilt that I had been working on for a customer. I thought the background quilting was never going to end! It does look good, even though I say so myself;) While I was busy doing that Nella made good progress on her first pair of knitted socks. I am very impressed that she can manage 3 knitting needles. Her physical health is getting better but she is still suffering mental anguish from anorexia. I keep hoping that as her nutrition improves her mental health will follow.

We both went to a willow weaving workshop with expert basket maker, Helen Jackson, to learn how to make deers and trees. The class was relaxed and easy - we came home thrilled with our very rustic Christmas decorations. 

Bumble the Scottie Dog stopped eating, became very frail and kept looking for a corner to hide in. We were with her when she died and even though it had been expected for a while we were devasted. I felt as though my shadow had disappeared and kept expecting her to be under my desk or in the workshop. Although I only had her for a couple of years in her old age she was my best furry friend ever and I will miss her dreadfully.