Sunday, 27 July 2014

Jam Packed

The family holiday in Norfolk came to an end and we boarded the train north with an assortment of luggage including a guitar and ukulele. Despite each of the carriages being designed to hold 80 passengers, there was only space for half a dozen small cases at one end so we guiltily left our stuff piled up in the space outside the loo since there was not an old fashioned guard's van.

The east coast haar had rolled by the time we reached Stonehaven but it was sunny in Crathes. The next few days were incredibly hot - temperatures near 30 Celsius are rare in Scotland and it was difficult to do anything as mundane as unpacking. I bought a jelly bag in anticipation of making jars of wild cherry jam without pips but a flock of starlings was determined to strip the tree before I could even collect enough for a bottle of cherry vodka!

I bribed the children to help me deliver the Coracle and Betula Totems to the Speyside Quilters exhibition on Friday with the promise of afternoon tea in Elgin. It was really a thinly disguised ploy to visit Veronique’s super shop on Commerce Street. 
There was a great selection of fabrics and a wicked choice of French haberdashery trimmings. She provided Freya with the perfect fabric for the skirt of her Higher Art dress project and I foolishly bought enough Kaffe Fasset material to make myself a frock. I also came home with 10 metres of gold spandex in case I have to remake the gold totem and to make the kits for my Mini-Metallic-Wholecloth class at FOQ.

Freya’s flowery frock got finished after I applied the bias binding by machine just like when I make a quilt. It fits her perfectly and she even likes it. The next challenge will be to make a separate tulle underskirt. Hopefully we have now mastered some basics between us to figure out how to put her dress project together once she has planned it all. We might even make use of the tailoring dummy that I purchased so enthusiastically 4 years ago…

Nell and I visited the Banchory Show and admired all the spruced up ponies and cattle. Her schoolfriend, Erin won several rosettes with her lovely heifer. The produce tent was bursting with jam, prize-carrots, scones and knitted hot water bottle covers. Sadly, there did not appear to be a patchwork category apart from some appliquéd felt Christmas stockings. 

I sent Sunday in Fochabers with some wonderfully friendly quilters and tried to explain what had possessed me to construct a spandex covered boat. Inevitably, I was asked what challenge I aimed to tackle next. I told them that I have a few ideas rattling around but I really must get That Book finished first!

Monday, 21 July 2014

Sunburn and Lightning

We enjoyed a super, action packed yet chilled out weekend in Norfolk with my folks.  The weather was warm and sticky most of the time except when we went to the beach where there was a cool breeze and I burnt my white legs in under an hour while sitting reading a novel. Fenella was not impressed with crunching sand in her sandwiches and declared that she never wanted to go on a seaside holiday.

My children loved meeting up with their younger cousins, playing with water pistols and going on an adventure to a dinosaur park with life sized fibre-glass T-rexes. It was hot and steamy in the Norfolk woodland and we could almost imagine ourselves being stalked by velociraptors after our jeep had been swallowed by a swamp.

We ate outside in the garden under a pergola at every opportunity and enjoyed the rare treat of reading our books in a deckchair. In Beccles we bought dress fabric, locally grown tomatoes and famous Seppings sausages.

I met up with an old school friend in Norwich and could not believe that we had not seen each other for 28 years. It seemed like just last week that we were messing about in Physics and she had to lend me clothes when my suitcase went astray on the trip to Greece. I always enjoy wandering around the lanes and back streets of the medieval city and I was delighted to rediscover my favourite shoe shop. Amazingly, on sale were green Danish shoes that looked like they would probably fit a trolI. I owned and loved an identical pair when I was 18 until they fell apart so I just had to buy them.

At the weekend we visited the Latitude Festival near Southwold. It was not quite as big as Glastonbury but there were crowds of people enjoying a vast choice of theatre, dance, comedy and music on different stages in the woodlands and parkland around the Henham Estate which I remember from being a pony club member as a teenager. It was another incredibly hot day and it was fascinating to observe all of the outlandish festival outfits, even a stag party of young guys all dolled up in summer frocks. On the main stage Booker TJones was incredible, followed by First Aid Kit, The Bombay Bicycle Club and an awe-inspiring performance from Damon Allbarn who used to front Britpop band, Blur. As he reached the end of his set there were ominous rumbles, quickly followed by dramatic forks and flashes of lightning. The heavens opened and we were very glad that we would not be spending the night in a tent. The drive out of the field was slippery and the road home was awash with water. 

The storms continued for most of Sunday while Freya and I struggled to understand the instructions of her dress pattern. There seemed toy be rather a lot of gaps in the explanations, assuming that you knew exactly what to do. One of these days I might have to make a simple frock and write idiot-proof assembly instructions but in the meantime, dressmaking continues to be my sewing nemesis. Despite heavy rain and crashing thunder throughout the day, we packed up a picnic, umbrellas and raincoats to attend a small, outdoor pop-picnic. Many of the guests were dancing on puddle-soaked grass in summer dresses and wellies in a typically “never-mind-the-weather” British fashion. With only a couple of days left in Norfolk, we are under pressure to complete Freya’s frock, swim at the lido, have one last BBQ and try to fit in a final trip to the beach…

Monday, 14 July 2014

Cider with Linzi

We had a super week in Devon, travelling around sightseeing and tasting all sorts of wonderful, local produce, and fresh apple cider. Axminster offered an interesting selection of junk shops selling everything including vintage clothes and fossils. 

The River Cottage Canteen was super, combining a relaxed atmosphere in a semi industrial building with delicious, ethically sourced, seasonal food. We went there for a lunch and a dinner where I especially enjoyed their strawberry vodka bellinis and slow-roasted belly pork.

We explored the narrow, leafy, countryside lanes and coastline and exploited our National Trust membership to visit the quirky 16-sided house full of curiosities called A La Ronde near Exmouth. The house had been designed to enjoy the sun throughout the day before electric lights were invented. 

Castle Drogo, designed by Lutyens, was having an expensive renovation to replace the flat roof that had leaked since it was built in the 1920’s. I climbed the scaffolding to survey the huge site which will be completed in 2017. 

The most picturesque places that we visited were Budleigh-Salterton, Branscombe and Sidmouth. There was every kind of architecture from sagging thatched roofs to Regency elegance. 

A large market was in full swing in Dorchester where we visited Max Gate, the house owned by novelist, Thomas Hardy. Freya has been wading through “Tess of the D’Urbevilles”, not as enamoured by the style of the book as I had been. We had lunch in an oak panelled tearoom that had been used as a courtroom during the English Civil War.

The highlight of the week was the day that Freya and I spent at the River Cottage HQ cookery school. We did not actually meet my food hero, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall but everything was exactly as it appears on the TV programme. We were allowed to wander around and meet the pigs, poke our noses in the Yurt and see where some filming had been going on for the next series.

It was an intensive day of cookery lessons, guided by one of the River Cottage chefs who was passionate about using seasonal ingredients. We kneaded bread, made blackcurrant curd, rhubarb and lemon verbena tarts, chorizo meatballs with broad beans and learned how to fillet a flat fish. All of food had come from the fields and gardens of River Cottage HQ apart from the fish which had been landed at Lyme Regis earlier in the morning. 

We reluctantly climbed onto the tractor trailer at the end of the day with our freshly baked loaves and jars of curd after thanking all of the staff and apprentices. I certainly hope to go back another time to undertake another day of curing and smoking or maybe even bee-keeping;)

We spent our last day in Devon at Lyme sitting on the beach and finding out about Victorian fossil hunters in the museum. Since the weather was so lovely, we made ourselves a cream tea back at the cottage. Later in the evening we headed out for a pub supper which we ate outside and washed it down with yet more cider.

We set off towards Norfolk on Saturday morning with the intention of visiting Stonehenge en route. Google informed me that the carpark would cost £5 then the family ticket would be a further £36. We decided to simply drive along the A303 and spot it from the car window. There were hordes of people admiring it from a cordoned-off distance which I felt was rather a shame. I remember scrambling about on the stones as a child in the 1970’s before they became “fashionable” and I much prefer the unlimited access to stone circles that we have in Scotland.

We made a flying visit to the area of Suffolk where we lived when Freya was a baby and had a pint of Adnams Ale at the popular Butt and Oyster pub, overlooking old sailing barges. We were reminded how balmy and sociable summer evenings can be in East Anglia. We are hopeful that we will also get some sunny weather in Norfolk so we can go to the beach and have a couple of BBQs. There are also plans to visit Norwich, a dinosaur park, make a dress, go swimming at a lido and spend a day at a festival so the holiday will simply disappear in a flash!

Monday, 7 July 2014

End of Term!

After spending Monday morning battling with a roll of bubble wrap, parcel tape and trying to fit 9 sponge columns into two agricultural feed sacks, I collected Freya and some of her friends from Ballater. They had completed an impressive 40 mile hilly hike for their silver Duke of Edinburgh expedition practice and were worn out, muddy and sunburnt. 

It was a relief when the haulier finally picked up the ridiculously large package of totems, especially as they were taking up rather a lot of space. It was a particularly busy week since the school holidays were due to begin and we were heading off straight away. I had to sort out arrangements for the dogs, cat and hens to be looked after by Mo and try to organise packing lists. Inevitably, I forgot to include a couple of things that may have been useful such as my pocket-rocket gas stove for impromptu cups of tea on the beach and suncream.

I made an effort to complete all of the pending customer quilts. One was a customer’s labour of love that had been a part-work magazine project with less than perfect instructions. She had found it both challenging and frustrating but the quilt looked great when it was all done. I turned my thoughts to how I could make a luxury patchwork sleeping bag and ordered a striped flannel sheet from Ebay to go on the back of an unfinished quilt top. I need a heavy duty zip then want to fiddle about with the design to see if I think it needs a hood or a pillow section. It all depends whether it is for “glamping” or taking on a hardcore D of E trek… My Mother requested a quilted ceramic hob cover so I rustled one up quickly in a couple of hours to shove at the bottom of my suitcase. I even cut out fabric for the draft bed version of Dunes Duet just in case I get a chance to whip it up while visiting my folks in Norfolk.

I attended two end of term celebrations - Fenella played violin and sang at the Durris Primary Church service on Thursday morning then in the afternoon, Freya was awarded with prizes for being the top student in her year for English and Modern Studies. 

My husband hired a car for our long drive to Devon instead of putting up with the dependable but rather utilitarian Landrover. With just a couple of brief stops, we finally reached the village of Kilmington, near Axminster after 11 hours. The back lanes leading to the cottage were only 6 feet wide but the holiday cottage was a delight. It is listed in the Domesday Book and the original part is thought to date back to the twelfth century. The children loved the low beams, wonky floors, warped bookshelves and sagging thatched roof. 

We enjoyed traipsing around Lyme Regis on Sunday and because the English schools are not yet on holiday, it was not too busy. I asked the rest of the family to look for flint stones with holes all the way through on the beach. I could have spent a small fortune on nautical style clothes in the Seasalt shop. We stumbled upon a charming vintage inspired dress-making studio and bought two dress patterns for Freya to experiment with in preparation for her Higher Art dress design project. It was very pleasant to eat a simple supper in the garden at our cottage and plan outings for the week ahead. 

Sunday, 29 June 2014

What happens after you finish making a Henge?

With a successful and mostly dry School Sports Day out of the way, I managed to sew shut the final seam on the last totem then fiddle about with eyelets and corset strings. It felt strange to decide that such a long running project was finished. I keep looking at it and wavering between feeling proud of my efforts while wondering if anyone else at a Festival of Quilts will appreciate my creation. Maybe they will find it too simplistic and not arty enough but I don’t care if anyone thinks it is just weird.

Having got The Henge finished I was anxious to work out how it would actually get to FOQ. I soon discovered that if I mentioned the words, “textile art”, couriers would not touch it. Next I was told that it would have to travel in custom-made boxes and could cost between £200-£400! I decided to be more cunning and asked a more basic transport haulier if they could shift “cushions” that were bubble wrapped and shoved into a giant fertiliser bag. They agreed to stick it on a pallet, shrink-wrap it in clingfilm and get it there without a fuss, far more economically.

Frustratingly, I discovered that my Windows Live email account had been hacked and then shut down. Luckily, no data appears to have gone astray so after changing passwords on all of my devices, I eventually got everything restored. 

I taught my last half day of the term then loaded up an overdue customer quilt. I decided to “let” the computerised system do this one as it was so big and the customer wanted something simple. I swore at the computer a few times because it seemed to ignore what I was trying to tell it to do but in the end it quilted a modern version of pumpkin seeds really well. When I was sure that it was not going to muck-up, I was able to sort through some of the photos for my E-book. I even had a cup of tea with a visiting American quilter while it sewed away in the background. I still don’t actually LIKE the computerised system and much prefer to freehand just about everything but I acknowledge that not all quilts require fancy or dense stitching. It was rather boring supervising while the machine did its own thing but I have a large customer quilt coming up next that needs a lot of freehand taming.

Mo, Nell and I went on a bit of a jaunt on Saturday and ended up “raking” at a car-boot sale, a vintage-style craft fair and a lovely tea-shop. We came home with all sorts of treasures including blue and white napkins and retro saucepans. 

I took Nell up to the Portsoy Boat Festival on Sunday and insisted that she have a go at paddling a coracle in the sheltered harbour. I showed photos of my coracle to the Coracle Society experts who pointed out that I should have fitted my cover over the top edges of the wicker frame. I tried to explain that it was purely decorative and I wanted to show off the wicker and beading but they were more interested in practicalities. One cocky teenager discovered how unstable coracles really are and he was tipped out into the harbour. There was a great atmosphere with craft stalls, food stalls, buskers and antique sailing boats all over the fishing village and we agreed that it could be fun to stay for the whole weekend to see more live music and take part in coracle racing. I was even moderately tempted to join the Coracle Society and consider making another coracle…

Sunday, 22 June 2014

The Devil in the Detail

It is amazing what I can get done in an almost uninterrupted week in the workshop. I even have achy arms, sore hands and punctured fingers to prove it. I thought I would never complete the irregular grey pebbles and had to force myself to sew a whole bobbin at a time non-stop and not allow myself any breaks until at least four bobbins were emptied. I used chalk and string to mark out a circle then trimmed and bound it as soon as it came off the frame. I still have a lot of thread tails to tidy up but it is more or less done and ready to stand the totems on. 

Yurtman sent the plywood circular bases which added an inch of height to each totem so I used my electric carving knife to trim down all of the columns. I had to wrestle the foam columns into their tight covers by squashing them into banana shapes, discovering that the only way to get them to fit was to put slippery plastic bin-bags onto the ends. 

Hand-sewing them shut neatly proved to be a major challenge and I unpicked several attempts before managing to do an invisible ladder stitch as tidily as Mo had demonstrated. I should probably have attempted to tear the plastic bags out because one or two of them are not yet sitting as flat on top as I would like.

After checking that my hand punch was cutting holes in scrap leather nicely and deciding that they were not, I ordered a more industrial press punch for 5mm eyelets. This is much easier to use and does not make my hands hurt after just 2 or 3 holes have been made. I discovered that the latest beaded skins must be a fair bit smaller than the white Imbolc one because I was woefully short of cord for lacing up the backs on the largest columns. 

I have reached the point now where the project is almost complete but I am looking hyper-critically at the quality of the finish. Some of the binding on the awkwardly shaped skins looks a little loose so I am wondering how to fix it without cutting it all off and starting again. The cheap gold lamé is a nightmare because some of the quilted stitching has burst and wadding is poking through in places. I hope that adding a little gold paint will solve that problem but at the back of my mind is the thought that I should make an entirely new gold totem!

I did emerge from the workshop occasionally to enjoy snatches of midsummer sun and do battle with the idiots at the Planning Department over their crass objections to the School’s application to build a small parking bay because the site-diagram did not have red pen around the outside. This saga has been going on for nearly 9 years and the Parent Council won’t let me resign until I cut the ribbon on the parking spaces.

Freya and I celebrated the Solstice with friends at the top of Scotly Hill. There was a bonfire, jamming guitars, midges and a typically damp, glowering sky. I took a photo as the light faded and used an app on the Ipad to create a watercolour scene. There are just two weeks left to the end of term so the pressure is on to attend to the final details of the Totem Henge and get them wrapped up ready to send to FOQ!

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Beanz and Walnut Whips

There are some days when the perfect supper is beans on toast followed by walnut whips from M&S. I survived 3 days with Primary One but admit that I found it really hard work. They wore me out squabbling over pencils, hand-puppets and lego. I kept them as busy as possible and heaved a sigh of relief when the bell rang on Friday. 

When I checked my calendar for the coming week, I was delighted to see that there were no teaching days scheduled so I will work hard to get the Totem Henge nearer to completion. I have all of the bits and pieces ready to punch eyelets and lace up the leather skins and a weird collection of antler toggles to dangle from the cords. 

I quilted random concentric circles onto the large piece of grey tie-dyed fabric then started the endless chore of filling in all of the background with unevenly sized pebbles to make it look a bit like granite. I am worried that I may run out of matching pre-wound bobbin thread. I have been quilting these in non-stitch-regulated mode as fast as I dare and a bobbin only lasts for about one square foot. 

The floor quilt is not meant to be a large feature of the henge, just a base for it to sit on but I would still like to add some machine embroidery around some of the circles to add some definition although the Elna which does the dotty stitch that I like is not sounding too healthy and probably needs a new bobbin assembly. I have a pile of slate-grey bias strips waiting to be turned into over 300 inches of binding for the circular quilt so now I feel that the push  towards the  finish has finally begun. Then I need to ask the local florist to save me some tall boxes and get quotes from couriers to get my large project to FOQ…

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Quilted Tree Trunks

I asked soft-furnishings-guru, Mo for a reminder on how to tackle piped binding which she sews most expertly upside down using a zip foot. I then ignored her sage advice and worked out my own way using my original Husqvarna which has a nifty grooved piping foot. I was satisfied that I had attached the piping and finished off the ends really neatly but it took me a couple more days to pluck up the courage to tackle sewing these “log ends” onto the “trunks” of the totems. I decided that I would write instructions on how to do this so that a fitted bolster cushion can go into my Book but even with careful measuring, there seemed to be a weird, slight variation in fit on every other one. They are starting to take shape at last but it is rather a wrestle getting the bolster-quilts to fit onto the horrible, synthetic foam!

I commissioned Yurtman to cut me a set of plywood circles to fit into the bottom end of each totem to give them some weight and stability. I won’t be able to hand-sew the 9 totems shut until he has got around to doing that small job in amongst completing orders for half a dozen yurts. I  will have to use my electric carving knife to cut bits off the  columns once the bases go in as I have made them the exact height of the foam in case I decide to scrap the weighted bottoms if Yurtman is too busy. At least I have bought all of the eyelets, cord and toggles to complete the leather quilts which will be laced onto the largest columns. 

When I failed to find a king-sized cotton sheet to dye for the back of the grey tie-dyed fabric, I decided to make use of some curtain fabric that I have had for a while. After using 4 packs of fekete/charcoal Hungarian dye, the reverse of the linen shows no signs of having had poppies printed onto it. It was a bit of a chore ironing all of that crumpled fabric but it is now on the frame waiting for me to start quilting circles and pebbles all over it. 

Frustratingly, I will only have a short time in my workshop to crack on with The Henge this week as I am teaching 5 year olds for 3 days in a row this week. Last week, after muddling along and inventing activities such as balancing salt-dough with a bucketful of plastic dinosaurs on defective scales and modelling beanstalks with real beans embedded in them, I had to treat myself to a bottle of Edinburgh Gin. I have decided that it is impossible for me to teach small children and also be teetotal…

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Lost Words

After taking almost all of Monday writing up my blog about Norway, I was annoyed to discover that for over a year Blogger seemed to have lost all of my text! Luckily I had saved the writing on my laptop so I managed to reattach it all. I daresay that if anyone was just following me on Blogger, rather than Wordpress, they would have lost interest in a blog without any commentary months ago. 

I decided to complete the quilting and embroidery on my Northern Lights cushion class “flimsy” and make another unquilted sample so the students can see the exact same before and after project that they would have in their packs. I can’t say quite why but it ended up being a rectangular cushion instead of a square one. Luckily, the local soft-furnishings shop was able to accommodate my irregularly sized cushion.

Instead of dutifully attending to paperwork and planning, I finished painting and embroidering the rings on the tops of all 9 totems. I really want to add the piping and start constructing the henge. I also need to get tackle the floor quilt pretty soon!

I taught 5 year olds for two days in an open plan classroom and found that I was quite hoarse by the end of the day. I found it very difficult reading a story while the other class was being noisy on the other side of the room. It is not easy to keep the attention of P1 pupils without distractions. I survived both days despite one pupil wetting their knickers, another having a tantrum about Lego and another who just refused to do anything at all. They were not convinced by my version of Jack from the Beanstalk, refusing to believe that he might have had dreadlocks and liked to annoy his mother by playing on his Xbox all day. My attempt at “Active Maths” involved weighing and sorting different types of dried beans then spending around 15 minutes picking them all up off the floor. At least my wall-collage of the Giant with a patchwork tartan shirt looked impressive…

I was in and out of my workshop at the weekend, trying to enjoy the summery weather in between sections of two customer quilts. I tried to keep them simple with giant bubbles and big feathers. Freya went to two parties, having finally made it to the end of 5 weeks of exams. Mo, Tania, Fenella and I enjoyed a superb, balmy evening of Fiddlers in Finzean Hall and we decided that we would love to spend a long-overdue weekend away in Shetland, tracking down folk-singers in small pubs, instead of enjoying a more cosmopolitan break in Edinburgh;)

Monday, 26 May 2014

Cruising in Norway

By the end of Monday I was beginning to wonder if I had told each class the same pertinent information. Everyone managed to construct the cushion top in the lesson then they worked on the quilting and embroidery in the “Sit and Stitch” free time sessions. I was delighted at how good their “quilts” looked. They were all subtly different and the hand-dyed fabrics that Ani Catt had sent were just perfect for an Aurora Borealis inspired project. My pupils seemed to enjoy how this class was very laid back and that many of my words and explanations ended with an “-ish” suffix. 

In the evening we moored up at a jetty in a deep fjord by the tiny village of Skjolden. We had a wander around and were amazed to see what looked like standing stones being used to hold up fences. The scenery was stunning - Norway is like a much bigger and older version of Scotland. There was still a lot of snow on the jagged mountains and the glaciers on their tops had begun to melt, producing impressive waterfalls. When Angela from Traplet tried to take some late afternoon photos on her iPad, she kept getting a subtle green or pink glow in the sky which I would like to think may have been a hint of the Northern Lights. 

The next morning Judi, Angela and I decided to have a lazy start. After wandering around the enormous Windjammer Cafe without the faintest idea of what to chose for breakfast, we enjoyed spectacular views from the top deck of the picturesque village of Flam which looked like it could have been made from Lego. The excursion to the funicular railway was full so we got last minute tickets on a bus trip to a mountain viewpoint. The hairpin bends were incredibly tight and the bus drove perilously close to the edge of a sheer drop several thousand feet below. The water in the 1700 metre deep fjord was crystal clear. It was easy to imagine a fleet of Viking longships gliding along on their way to a raid or battle. I made myself a salted herring rye-bread sandwich for lunch. I confess that this was not the most delicious snack I have ever had so a beer from the Viking brewery went down really well afterwards. 

After a quilting quiz and another gourmet dinner, Stuart Hillard from the “Great British Sewing Bee” gave a very amusing talk in the evening all about his baptism of fire into the world of competitive dress-making on television. We joined the keen students in the sewing room for an hour or two then went back on deck to watch a glorious sunset. The sun turned into a glowing red ball before disappearing behind some granite rocks on the horizon. The sea was flat calm and shimmered with reflections of the pink sky. Even after sundown at almost 11pm, it was not fully dark. 

Wednesday morning was a little damp and the first glimpse of a slightly tacky row of souvenir shops was not so inspiring. However, we booked a trip on a red “Hop-on-Hop-Off” bus with a local guide called Ott. As we left the main village behind, we discovered that we were in a beautiful glacial valley. The minerals in the melt water from the glacier turn the water in the lakes below a deep turquoise colour. Ott gave an interesting commentary about past and present Norwegian rural life, describing the way the farmers used to move seasonally to their summer-houses on the higher slopes with their goats. He also described how some farms and villages had been utterly destroyed by hurricanes, avalanches and even a 70 metre tsunami when a massive granite cliff broke off into the fjord below. 

Pam Holland gave an inspiring talk about her life and quilting during the evening. She takes fantastic photographs on her textile related travels all over the world and I have never seen such an engrossing Powerpoint presentation that used page-turning images, text and music. 
Another late evening sewing session followed Pam’s talk and I finished off the beading on my brown leather skin for the autumn totem. I found that I did not really have any “spare” time to waste on sorting photos or learning how to use EQ7 as I was really enjoying spending time giving a little guidance to any students who asked my opinion about their choice of stitches on the Northern Lights projects. 

By the next morning we had arrived in the town of Alesund. I spent most of the day hopping on and off a red bus, stopping at interesting destinations. The audio commentary was informative and I learned that a severe fire had broken out in 1905, destroying most of the wooden buildings, whereafter much of the town was rebuilt in an Art-Nouveau style. From a high viewpoint even the cruise-ship looked tiny in the harbour. There was an outdoor museum that had an extensive collection of rebuilt or reconstructed wooden buildings from school houses to livestock huts. A jetty and a large boat shed housed a selection of old fishing boats and a pretty impressive, recently built longship that smelled of pitch. Back in the old town I visited a couple of quaint shops including one that sold traditional costumes and folk jewellery that many Norwegians wear on their National Day. 

Most of the entertainment on offer on board such as a Queen Tribute Band and a casino was not really my “cup of tea” but that evening we all marvelled at a professional ice-skating show with skaters whirling around despite choppy sea conditions. Later, Jim West of “Sew Many Places” hosted an exciting game of Quilt Bingo and awarded one lucky quilter the top prize of a trip to Tuscany next spring. The view from the top deck was pretty misty but quite by chance we caught fleeting glimpses of a school of whales as the ship left the rocky coast behind. I wished I had not left my binoculars at home!

Our final shore visit was to the oil city of Stavanger where I set off on an organised tour of an iron-age farm where we were met by a Viking lady farmer who led the party into a turf roofed long-house and explained all about how she could light fires using a flint and lye-soaked fungus. Apparently, it could take up to two years to spin enough sheep’s wool to make a new dress. If I had been a lady Viking I may have been rather frustrated at how long this process would take;) In the market square I bought Fenella a Nordic cardigan in itchy, warm wool but I did not find any amber or silver jewellery for myself. We waved goodbye to tiny people on the quayside and the ship sounded its almighty fog-horn in salute as it will be the last visit that Independence of the Seas makes to Norway.

On the final morning Judi and I could not miss a demonstration on “Towel Art”. The towel sculptures of animals were so bizarrely hilarious that we would enter our cabin and just double-up with helpless laughter. I thought that the penguin looked more like a Jedi and I still don’t know if it was a towelling seal or an aardvark that was sitting on our sofa wearing a pair of specs.

Enthusiastic quilters beavered away trying to finish off all four of their projects and we even inspired Angela, who had never even sewed on a button in her life to buy some fabric. She sat with Pfaff representative, Joy and quilted lines on her fabric then I guided her through the process of making one of my “Wee Bags”. She was delighted that she had made such a useful item and other quilters requested an extra mini class since they had almost run out of things to make. The wee bags are perfect for running up in around an hour so a few more were constructed before the machines all had to be packed away. There was a final, impressive “Show & Tell” where we got to see items that the quilters had brought from home or created in the classes. At the cocktail party Jim announced that he was planning a future cruise to France/Spain or Houston followed by the Caribbean. The students were all very complimentary about their tutors and I felt that we had made a new bunch of quilting friends. It was a busy week with incredible scenery, many laughs, far too much food and countless trips up and down in glass elevators. It really was an incredible experience.

On Sunday I disembarked early and decided to catch a train into central London, hoping to see the Viking Exhibition at the British Museum. As I struggled on the Tube with two suitcases, I remembered why I used to use a rucksack when travelling. Unfortunately, I was denied entry to the museum with my luggage. I tried several hotel concierges nearby but they refused to be paid to look after my bags for an hour. I could have taken it to the left luggage department at King’s Cross Station but I worried that I would be rushed for time so I miserably decided to stop trailing my stuff around and sat and sulked at an outdoor cafe in Bloomsbury, watching the world go by. An enormous croissant and coffee soon cheered me up as I caught up with a week’s worth of emails and contemplated returning to everyday life without “staff” and sequins.