Sunday, 22 May 2016

On Your Bike!

I decided that after spending a morning virtuously catching up on emails and booking flights to Manchester to do some Bernina Q24 training, I deserved time to mess about in my workshop! The African pancake quilt is now taking shape and if I decide to make it larger I now have even more fabrics from Nigeria, hand delivered by Helene, who almost came straight off the plane to pick up her quilts. 

I sliced the squares in my kit for the Feedsack Remake project into the required setting triangles, noting with trepidation that the cheap tartan frayed and stretched considerably. 

On my “fun” day I also had a go at designing a possible layout for a basic quilt that could have fish prints stamped onto it, although the colours are not at all fishy, just using random scraps to see if it would all fit together. 

A casual remark by a friend about Ebikes made me think how handy it would be to have a bicycle that gave me a boost on inclines. Weirdly, there was one that had just been posted for sale on a local buy/swap/sell website so I snapped it up before anyone else thought they might fancy it. It is in pristine condition, although when I took it for a spin, I realised that the tyres were as flat as pancakes. I have hardly ridden a bike in years as it is too hilly in Aberdeenshire for me to find it a pleasurable experience. The electric booster worked a treat so I may just make an effort to tootle around the countryside on rare sunny days which is better than no tootling at all;) 

I had 2 ridiculously early starts over the weekend, dropping off the younger two kids at their school trip rendezvoux. They are so different to each other - one will have a miserable, character-building experience whereas the other one would happily go on tour with friends indefinitely. Freya and I decided that 4am was an ideal opportunity to drive around practicing her parking skills as there were absolutely no other cars driving around, or parked in the carpark or even on the streets in Banchory at that time of day! Our day was so much longer because we did not go back to bed. By 7.00am we had enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and also taken the dog for a long walk.

Freya was getting rather bored with her study leave as she only has one exam to go so I bought her a tin of cream paint to revamp the garden Yurt. Obviously, it has not stopped raining since. It will probably be brilliantly sunny tomorrow when we have planned to go into town with no schedule to return since we don’t have the other kids to pick up or transport until Wednesday. I don’t know when my next “fun” day or foray into dress-making will be - for much of the coming week I will be busy teaching and I have to tackle a customer quilt with significant bottom border issues…

Sunday, 15 May 2016


To be perfectly honest I had no idea of the purpose of FIRMware as opposed to SOFTware until this week when both of my longarm machines had separate hissy-fits. The Q24 just decided to go on strike but after I downloaded an update and fed the new information into it via a USB it was as right as rain. The tablet attached to the QuiltPath on Millie randomly upgraded itself to Windows 10 while I was in the middle of a customer quilt, even though I was convinced it wasn’t even connected to the internet. Nothing worked after that until I was given excellent instructions by Angela Hugli Clark on how to update the “drivers”. I was thrilled when they both got sorted out so easily as it was all a bit Greek to me even though I like to think I can usually muddle my way along with computers.

I came up with a novel firmware solution of my own when forced to wear leggings while my only pair of jeans was in the wash. I loathe wearing leggings as I always feel like I am wearing tights and forgot to put on the rest of my outfit, unless I am wearing a frock and trying to look trendy. I was attempting to go about my daily business but the dreaded leggings kept falling down as there was obviously not enough spandex involved. Fed up with hoicking them up, I attached them to the underwires of my bra with bulldog clips,  wondering what had possessed me to donate my dungarees to the charity shop. The bulldog clips were not uncomfortable and certainly could not be seen so I think I should just keep a couple in my handbag just in case.

The upshot of all of this jiggery-pokery with firmware and time spent teaching was that I did not “make” much. At least the custom quilt was completed and Fergus hung out in the workshop with me while I printed some seaside themed fabric with which to make some class samples. He sewed some scraps together which he has not done since he was about 5, broke 2 needles, and roped me in to customise his drum kit. This entailed me removing the plastic wraps, cleaning off the incredibly sticky residue then supervising the sanding and varnishing. There seems to be nothing that I won’t try and fix these days!

Sunday, 8 May 2016


Because of the Mayday Holiday I had a 4 day week that felt as if everything was packed into 2 days. In addition to, a day in school, a DIY quilter and the usual kids’ activities,  I also had to attend evening meetings for their forthcoming school trips to London and Frankfurt. I have been trying to keep Fergus busy so he does not get so bored and fed up. We washed old bikes and advertised them for sale, stoked an impressive bonfire and attempted to cut back some brambles behind my workshop. He has been getting involved in the kitchen and taking Welly for extra walks and is definitely in a better mood having spent less time vegging out watching Youtube;)

I have not tinkered with anything of my own this week and have been working on a customer quilt. I don’t know what possessed me to quilt a LOT of half-inch grids but it does look really good. I need to finish it off then concentrate on making up samples for a series of requested classes with a fishy theme. Actually, updating my class-list has now been on my TO DO list for weeks and I feel guilty that this has not already been done but my calendar is becoming increasingly hectic which is good for business but not for my sanity!

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Not the End of the Road

I spent almost an entire day completing entry forms for Festival of Quilts, UK. It made me think how useful it would be in future to measure a quilt as soon as it is finished and enter that information onto a spreadsheet. The biggest challenge was writing the blurb for each quilt in a mere 50 words and considering that I had written an essay on Purdah, this was not easy! Only 2 images are allowed for the Fine Art Masters entries - one of the main quilt and ONE showing a detail. This is impossible for a multi-layered piece like Purdah so I sent a photo of the quilts being pulled back. I honestly don’t know whether potential judges will be able to understand what a complex piece I have created just by reading a 50 word blurb and looking at 2 photos.

Amazingly, “Tartan Tattoo” and a colour brochure from Paducah arrived back here only 4 days after being dispatched from Kentucky. The $20 show catalogue was packed full of colour photos of all of the entries, their sizes and makers. If FOQ entrants had to submit a good photo in plenty of time then I can’t see why we could not have a similar, high quality show guide in the UK for Europe’s premier quilt festival.

The rest of my week was filled with DIY quilters, teaching, making another cube bag using the excellent instructions by Hunters Design Studio and starting to sew the African pancake quilt together. It is not large enough to be a bed quilt but it can easily be extended later.

Freya and her chums painted a huge banner for their last day as Banchory Academy pupils dressed up as festival goers, partying and having a BBQ in between late April snow showers. They celebrated the end of their school-days with some high-jinx followed by a ceilidh. After exams and summer travels most of them will be off to University to study all sorts of cool subjects. 

I was very pleasantly surprised when the Landy Man called to say that it had scraped through its annual MOT test. It does need a new prop shaft and more baler twine to hold the mudflats on but I had really wondered if my Defender was rattling towards the end of its road.

I met up with Ellen and Kay at the new Knitting and Stitching Show in Edinburgh. We were obviously too busy yacking to remember to take a group-shot-selfie. It was a lovely day out. There were a few really good exhibitions and plenty of interesting traders. The show felt spacious and there were even spare seats in the cafe area. I made a few unnecessary purchases including a multi pompom maker for Fenella, dress patterns that will be lucky to be taken out of the packet, and some fancy interfacing for all of the pouches that I seem to be manufacturing. I should hide my new purchases from myself until I have finished all outstanding customer quilts and ongoing projects…

Sunday, 24 April 2016

An Honourable Mention!

I was surprised to wake up on Monday morning and see that I had been sent an email from AQS congratulating me on receiving some sort of award at Paducah for “Tartan Tattoo”! I had to stay up late on Tuesday night and watch the awards ceremony live to find out what sort of rosette that might be. My name was announced as one of the Honourable Mentions chosen by the 3 judges: Ricky Tims, Karen Kay Buckley and Donna Wilder.

LARGE WALL QUILTS: Longarm Machine Quilted sponsored by Nolting® Longarm Quilting Machines
1ST #625 JUDGEMENT OF OSIRIS, Georgia Spalding Pierce, Seattle, WA
2ND #624 ‘TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS, Linda Neal and Jackie Brown, McKinney, TX
3RD #636 A QUILTER’S GARDEN, Kristin Vierra, Lincoln, NE
HM #634 TARTAN TATTOO, Linzi Upton, Banchory, Aberdeenshire, United Kingdom 

Andrea Brokenshire kindly send me photos of TT hanging very nicely. It was well lit and the colours looked bold. I think it is a fairly understated quilt with no paint, sparkles or clever binding so I am really pleased that the judges decided it was worthy of the HM ribbon.

I loved seeing all of the Quilters’ Facebook posts from spring-like Paducah and will certainly make a return visit there some time, hopefully when the Quilted Yurt is ready for display.

I had a pretty busy week with DIY quilters, private tuition and a day in school but I was determined to have a go at making a cube shaped zippy bag. It is a fun shape but could do with being made of stiffer stuff so it holds its shape better. I learnt a new way of making neater box corners courtesy of Hunters Design Studio’s blog so I might have to buy some more long zips and play around with those. A fun workshop could be to use woodblock stamps to decorate the fabric then turn them into zippy bags. Obviously on a bit of a mission with zips, I watched a Youtube video on making a zip with lining, which I thought was quite impressive. When I have time I may have to invent a new version of my wee bag project.

I roped Mo into helping me come up with a hanging system for the Purdah series. We were going to cut down an existing curtain pelmet but decided to go to B&Q and custom make one instead. Due to Health and Safety nonsense they would not cut the plank of wood so I could fit it into the VW Beetle. We bought a cheap saw and hacked a bit off in the carpark. I should have taken a photo for the comedy value of using a shopping trolley as a saw-horse in the rain. A tin of black spray paint made the net-curtain-rod-contraption look quite professional. Now that it has been strung up with a bunch of IKEA curtain clips, it will only need a couple of screws to hold it to a display batten, making it relatively easy to hang at a show (with the help of an annotated hanging digram).

I spent some time at the weekend hashing around with Purdah’s artistic blurb. The FOQ entry form only allows 50 words of description so I will have to précis my essay considerably. The other tricky matter is that I can only submit 2 entry photos so I will have to think creatively how to send in a detailed picture that somehow shows off the hidden layers. I took the photos outside in good light but I am worried that the shawl looked a bit wrinkly. I just need to complete the entry form, post it then wait and see whether the FOQ FineArtMasters judges “get” it.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

The Impact of Moving Just ONE Piece of Furniture!

The impact of moving just ONE piece of furniture was not foreseen by me when I decided to swap a redundant chest of drawers in my workshop to make a space for my quilt cupboard which in turn would give Fergus more room for his drum kit. The cupboards had to be emptied to be shifted and their contents sorted and reorganised. It became an opportunity to tidy up shelves and make a new space for my wadding so the whole operation took longer than anticipated. 

I made a pleated potential pelmet for Purdah which I might not use and I made the skinny inner sleeve so the next task will be to trim and paint the wooden pelmet hanger.

An oversized circle of life stamp arrived from India which spurred a desire to make a circular purse with a zip around the edge. My initial attempts were not great and I realised that the neatest way to make a round purse would be to treat it like a biscuit tin but I would still like to make a zipped pancake shaped purse just for my own satisfaction. My next challenge will be to figure out cube shaped purse. I have absolutely no idea what I intend to do with all of my perfectly functional purse prototypes.

Considering that it was still the Easter hols and we had a day in St Andrews for Freya to ask students whether she would need a bike, I still managed to fit it a couple of DIY quilters and a small customer quilt made from a great selection of African fabrics. The automated quilt program that I sometimes use for simple quilts had gone a bit haywire so I had stern words with it and quilted several pantographs on top of each other until it got the bug out of its system. I did not like the twee turquoise backing fabric that I used for the sample so I dyed it arsenic green and decided that it could be used to manufacture a multitude of pouch prototypes;)

As a reward for getting things done, I allowed myself to sew up my “quilt as you go” African circles. I don’t suppose I will be able to leave them alone now that the whole pile is ready to quilt and attach…

Sunday, 10 April 2016

If there was a Prize for Perseverance...

If there was a prize for perseverance then Purdah would win every quilt competition for that very thing. I am to be congratulated on keeping going with it all week except for a slight dalliance with peapod shaped pouches using just one half of a zip. I rather like the way the zip folds around so there is only one awkwardly bulky end. There was also a mini project that will be a birthday present for one of Freya’s friends involving beads and I managed to keep my hands off both of the quilts that I have sitting waiting temptingly in kit form!

Back to Purdah… I took a photo of it during the week where it just looked like a wrinkled mess. The plan had been to stamp paisley shapes down both long edges of the shawl using black embossing powder but I changed my mind and printed seed pod shapes instead which were barely perceptible. This made me decide to blanket stitch around every single almost invisible shape then sew black beads down the centres in the same style as on the felt purdah screen section - which took much longer than I thought. 

I consulted Mo on her opinion on how to hang the finished piece and initially I considered curved curtain poles. We discovered a shaped wooden pelmet frame in her shed so that looks like a promising way to go after trimming it down and painting it black. She tried to persuade me to add a splash of red onto the black shawl but I stood firm, insisting that the front shawl has to be absolutely black. I looked at images of burqas and chador shawls online and was convinced not to start adding any more embellishment as they are so plain. When I originally thought of this project, I intended to hang everything behind an unadorned shawl but I realised there would have to be something to see, leading to examining the layers beneath.

I triple stitched around the entire shawl using the dual feed lever, carefully making sure that the sides did not gather in too much under such a heavy duty stitch. The mindless job that took almost 10 hours to complete was pulling away the threads from the cut edges to create a neat fringed edge all of the way around,  which was more than 332 inches to be precise. Because the wool suiting was a close weave this took ages and my fingers ached.

I think I am finally in sight of finishing Purdah after months of work. I have to make a simple black sleeve to attach the 3 quilts together which will reduce the bulk that has to be attached to the doubled-up shawl. It will take some time to ensure that there are no more stray threads and bits of fluff but I won’t really be happy until the label is sewn on and I can take the submission photos. Oh…and just one more thing will be to write an amazingly highfaluting artistic statement that will attempt to explain what I was thinking! 

Sunday, 3 April 2016


It has been a crazy week! I had 3 DIY quilters plus a day in school. It was Freya’s 18th birthday and the Landy was put into service taking sound equipment to the Junior Prom, organised by the sixth years. 

I tried to sell more than buy on Ebay, encouraging the kids to have a similar purge, which resulted in several trips to the Post Office;)

I have managed to find a buyer for my Elna sewing machine and table so I was on the lookout for a small table to fill the gap where I could put my laptop and notebook. I could not believe my luck when I laid claim to a drop-leaf table and anglepoise lamp left out in the rain in the rubbish skip outside the junk shop. After 48 hours drying off, a squirt of WD40, a new fuse and bulb - the lamp worked!

I introduced Freya to thermofax screen printing using images from her art project. By the end of a very productive weekend including a 7am Sunday morning start, her portfolio has increased substantially to include several items exploring colour and print techniques. 

Rather weirdly, the kids have just started their Easter holiday - a week after the Easter weekend. I expect there will be plenty of driving practice in “Angela”, the VW Beetle, lots of catering, exam revision, and maybe even time to sew some more black beads onto the Purdah shawl…

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Pretty Random

The Postie brought me a copy of “Pretty Patches” magazine with a super article about The Quilt Quine and my Ebook, “Deviant Quilting”. Let’s just hope that helps to boost my sales because my first loyalty cheque was only just short of a fish supper!

An irate customer phoned me to demand where I was because she was waiting for me at my studio while I was at school teaching mathematical Probability to some under 12’s. We both seemed to have different days marked on our calendars which was unfortunate. I had enjoyed my bonus “free” day to complete the appliqué on Purdah and decide whether to order a big bag of black beads when she didn’t show up as expected the day before;)

One of my clients, who lives as an ex-pat in Nigeria, came back to Scotland for a brief visit and brought me an amazing bag full of African fabrics. I had told her that I wanted to have a go at a quilt that I had seen in an Amy Butler supplement which was a take on Japanese folded patchwork. It is a quilt as you go project so I immediately cut some large circles to have a go! I think it would be better to use a very thin wadding but I decided to use up some leftover pieces of 80/20 so it is a little bulky. I expect it will soften up with washing or general use. The magazine project was not actually quilted, except at the seam joins and where the flaps were sewn down but obviously, I thought it would look better with some quilting and machine embroidery. I was so enthusiastic about my new project that I went ahead and cut out enough fabric and wadding to make an entire single quilt, despite having other projects to finish first… 

Inspired by having an entire quilt ready to construct in kit form, I went ahead and calculated the required number of pieces for 20 blocks of my 1930 reproduction quilt that I still don’t know whether to call “Grumpy Goose/Bloody Mabel”. It took a whole day to raid my stash of plaids, spots and vaguely feed-sack style prints plus whatever else might go. It will be a pretty random quilt, including all sorts of prints, checks and polka-dots. There is a possibility that it could be an ugly quilt but I am hoping that it will look charmingly scrappy. I intend to put the pieces for each block into 20 poly-pockets which will take a while to organise. The original quilt has some very co-ordinated blocks but also some garish ones that obviously used up the dregs of someone’s scrap bag. I wonder how long I can resist the temptation to work on one of my “kit” quilts while I still have to complete the black Purdah shawl?!

Sunday, 20 March 2016

I am Not a Fabric Snob

If you look at all of the fabrics in an old feed-sack quilt you will notice that the maker simply used a selection of whatever fabric they could lay her hands on. I have some old quilts that include pieces of shirting, linen and even crimpelene. When I decided to make Freya a quilt using my Grumpy Gertie/Bloody Mabel block I was getting all enthusiastic looking at bundles of lovely reproduction fabrics even though I already own all sorts of suitable materials. I reined myself in and made up my mind to use up stash fabric (mostly). I confess that I happened to find a bundle of rather nice plaids on Ebay which were very inexpensive because they are POLY-cotton. I was really pleased when they arrived as they are great colours and don’t feel horrible. I might wash them - but probably won’t - and I certainly won’t worry about the quilt disintegrating after I am dead because it is not meant to be an heirloom!

Black wool suiting arrived in the post which declared on its selvage that it had been “Woven in England Specially for the Ministry of the Interior of Kuwait”. This is an intriguing provenance - perhaps it was destined to be made into uniforms? It is very fine and silky; riskily, I decided to cut out the felted shawl and appliqué it onto the fine black wool. I attached tiny strips of bondaweb onto the reverse of the felted wool and used a lot of steam to try and get it to stick . Some of it adhered quite well but other areas just would not! The Bernina 710 did a great job of neatly machine blanket stitching the felted wool onto the suiting. It took many hours to stitch around all of the cut-out hexagons and triangles which I might embellish further with some simple hand stitching. There is also a possibility that I may attempt to print some black motifs down the edges to look like a sort of jacquard border.

I was invited by Aberdeen Patchwork and Quilting Group to a day class with Edwina Mackinnon to experiment with printing on fabric. We were generously provided with 2 metres of soda-ash treated fabric and guided through various processes. A day just was not long enough to try everything out! I decided that I was pretty useless at sticking pieces of masking tape to a screen to create a negative image for screen printing but at least I found out how to use a silk screen frame with stencils. I loved messing about with thickened dyes and thermofax screens and I could probably become as hooked on them as I seem to have become on Indian wood-blocks.

Edwina had to step in and command me to stop printing more detail on my blue fish  which everyone found highly amusing. It would seem that I have a reputation for not knowing when to stop;)

I must say that I really enjoyed a day out experimenting with new-to-me creative techniques and learning how to use some of the dyes and kits that I may have purchased at at show and have not looked at since. It could easily lead to a new idea…