Sunday, 31 January 2016

Daily Bread

Despite my good intentions to live on veggie smoothies (I tried it once), I have started making bread on a daily basis. I have phases of home made bread baking and this usually means that I cultivate a batch of lively sourdough, buy every type of unusual flour that I can find and bake relentlessly for weeks before slipping back to shop-bought bread. It is very easy to get into a bread making habit with the help of the Kitchenaid stand mixer and before long I don’t even need to consult the recipe book. This week we have enjoyed white farmhouse, seedy half and half, light rye, sourdough, ciabatta, and focaccia! The leftover crusts are stored in a bag until I whizz then bake rustic breadcrumbs. I even fruitlessly wasted an hour late one night trying to find a personalised loaf tin like an old Hovis tin. I have resisted joining any bakery forums because I could easily spend a lot of time trawling through recipes and learning new words such as “autolysing”.

I decided that I could not possibly begin the custom Civil War Sampler quilt until I had finished with Purdah 3 so I spent almost 2 days doing precisely that after adding far more woodblock prints. Some of them did not show up as well as I imagined but I decided simply to print other designs on top. Gaps inside hexagons were quilted with a subtly variegated pink thread then any remaining unstitched areas were filled in with my  favourite multi-fluorescent thread.  I decided that if this was the final quilt under all of the sombre Purdah layers then it might as well be outrageous. It took a while to hand stitch on the shisha-mirror-style crocheted rings and sequins with impossible to see invisible thread but I am pleased with the effect. The whole quilt is very distorted by all of its stitching so I think it might be a good idea to dampen and block it before I add painted highlights and crystals.

While I was waiting for more fabric paint to arrive by post, I had to face up to the Civil War Sampler and make a start. I don’t often do much traditional quilting so I had to mess up and unpick the corners before I really decided where I was going. The mistake was silly - I quilted right into the corners forgetting that the binding would chop off my motifs. The first day was slow while I worked out how to get from one side to the other with minimal stop-starts. It is hard to know where to draw the line with a quilt like this - I decided not to stitch down every single ditch since some of the squares are only 1” across. Many quilters would choose custom feathers for this type of quilt but I have convinced myself that I suffer from Pteronophobia (ha-ha!) so I only quilt individual down feathers, not great big wing feathers;) At least I have now overcome my fear of this quilt, made a start, regained my confidence and set myself up for a marathon of quilting in the week ahead, slightly regretting the natty but labour intensive border…

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Channelling Jaipur


I loaded up the Civil War customer quilt but I have not yet decided how to tackle it as some of the squares are only 1”. I jotted down a few ideas but kept thinking of other things to finish off first! It is one of those quilts that is rather intimidating but once there is a plan it will be fine…

I had a vague plan for the last Purdah quilt in that I wanted it to be busy and riotous in comparison to the other, more subtle ones in the upper layers. However, I could not decide whether it was lacking in sparkle or suffering from too much. I guess it will be one of those pieces that just needs MORE embellishment until it is absolutely saturated with colour and texture. 

I printed with woodblocks around the hexagon motifs and left some areas “clean” but I think I will go back after the background quilting is complete and print over the block seams to see if that ties it all together. There are disturbingly baggy areas in the middle of the triple-stitched large hexagons which may require some sort of crochet disguise. 

I have reached the point where I am worried that the quilting is too chaotic and yet I want to add more stitching with neon coloured thread! Part of the problem is that there is not really much background to fill in with paisley-style motifs so I expect it will all be a bit random. I am ever hopeful that by the time I have attached the little mirrors I will like this quilt again! My mission for the week ahead is to get it to that point and to make progress  on the scary quilt with lots and lots of tiny patches;)

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Every Stitch Counts

With a lack of urgent deadlines in January, it seemed like a good idea to work on the colourful Purdah quilt, the one that is behind ALL of the layers. I had a vague idea that I wanted hexagonal and pumpkin seed motifs like the carved stone Purdah screens from the Amber Fort in Jaipur. After the outlines were sewn on the longarm, I decided to use a decorative triple stitch on the Bernina 710 to highlight the motifs. In case you ever need to know, Bernina stitch 1353 makes 7 back and forth movements which you need to count carefully as you near each corner to ensure that you get neat turns! 

It is a pity that I am not good at hand embroidery since that was kind of the look I was after. In future, I will consider using a thicker thread and try quilting twice around the drawn lines. I spent a very long time triple stitching, listening to several radio plays, and still have not entirely decided what additional quilting will fill in the gaps between hexagons. It gave me time to think that this bold quilt in the Purdah series will also need some woodblock stamps, shisha mirrors, probably more embroidery and possibly even some sparkles. 

I am wondering how much longer I can indulge myself working exclusively on a whimsical show piece before I feel obliged to make a start on a customer quilt. Considering my dwindling bank balance, I would guess around the middle of next week…!

Sunday, 10 January 2016


It is unusual for Aberdeenshire to be featured on the BBC’s national news several days running but after 8 days of persistent rain, our area suffered its worst floods in almost 200 years. There was an unbelievable video of a static caravan being washed down the River Dee and shots of 400 year old Abergeldie Castle, near Braemar, perching precariously after 60 ft of riverbank was washed away. 

The local school was closed and many roads were awash with flood water and water running down off the land. I took my girls into Aberdeen for an orthodontist checkup but we had to figure out a route home that was mostly on higher ground as most of the bridges were closed to traffic. Despite its many rattles and clanks, the Landy did a sterling job of ploughing through deep water, even though it has a conventional exhaust rather than a snorkel. 

Luckily, our house is several metres above the river so we were not at risk from flooding but many homes and businesses have been badly affected. The awful weather put me in a gloomy, sluggish mood and I found it difficult to get motivated when daylight was so sparse. Instead of getting back to normal in my workshop, I had to dig an emergency trench to stop water seeping in under the doorframe. There was no damage other than a soggy carpet that will eventually out. 

Welly, the mad spaniel, decided to chase ducks in the raging torrent and was whooshed to the other side of the river. Not being a sensible dog, he attempted to swim back again and was swept along until he reached our side, much further downstream. He was not in the least bit bothered by his near death experience and was keen to give chase again so I will have to stick to walking the muddy fields beside my house for a while. Freya and I came across more flotsam after the river receded so we salvaged a garden chair and a large, very clean swede. 

The only really useful things I did during this rather uninspired week were to file my tax return, make some sourdough bread, reorganise my spice drawers, and finally finish quilting the Red and Black Purdah Quilt.

I had hoped to love the long staple black cotton thread made in the UK by Empress Mills but even though I lowered the tension significantly and went VERY slowly, it kept breaking. I could not wait to order 50 wt cotton from Aurifil or Mettler so I used black Isacord instead. I can see why quilters are recommended to press seams to one side - I had used a pale grey piecing thread and pressed the bulky seams open but now I can see the seam stitches! I will either have to see if I can disguise them with a black gel pen or choose a dense machine embroidery stitch to cover them up, which will take ages. 

I am optimistic that I will achieve more in the coming week and maybe even start on the multi-coloured Purdah Quilt. Alternatively, I will procrastinate and start reorganising the kitchen cupboards…

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Daphne's New Frock

I would love to brag about the lovely wrap dress that I spent 3 days making from the kit that I bought myself for Christmas but as per usual, Daphne the mannequin is more likely to wear it out in public than I am. There is really nothing wrong with the pattern - in fact I managed to follow it reasonably well but I was reminded yet again that I should have spent the past few rainy days doing some colouring-in, mindless patchwork piecing or doing a jigsaw puzzle instead. I almost threw the part-made frock in the bin but I was determined to get it finished, even if it will only ever be worn by Daphne. 

The first hurdle was choosing the correct size. My measurements gave me several options and I just could not decide how to redraft it so I opted for a kind of average, hoping for the best. My fatal error was cutting the length at the point where it could be lengthened or shortened. My finished frock only just covers my bum instead of reaching my knees. 

The silky jersey fabric was an absolute swine to sew. Despite using a fine microtex needle, dual feed and a straight stitch plate, it really did not want to cooperate. I wanted to use the overlocker but one of its air-threading loopers is not functioning so I need to find some thin wire or sturdy fishing line to attempt to fix it. 

I’m sure that I cut out all of the correct sized pieces yet the neckband which was meant to stretch a little had to really, really stretch to fit into the correct place. I am not going to say which pattern I used since the designer helpfully answered an email query from me and everyone else who posted pictures of their frocks online seemed to manage perfectly well. Maybe if I invest in an industrial set of foundation undergarments the frock will fit me better around the middle but even Daphne had to breathe in a bit to get it to hang properly at the bottom.

I should have taken the time to make a muslin to check the fit and learn how to follow the instructions but I was too impatient. I wished I had just bought myself a nice frock from a shop for Christmas. This is now the second item I have made a garment for myself that only fits Daphne on her slim setting which is telling me that I should either stop wasting my time with dressmaking OR try harder next time! 

I painted the fuzzy, grey interfacing on the black wool shawl with fabric paint that was as black as possible but it still was not as black as the wool and there were annoying splodges of sticky stuff here and there. There other major issue was that when I measured the width of the shawl after its dyeing and shrinking experience it was actually 10 inches narrower than it had been which means that it would no longer cover the quilts underneath. I decided that the only way forward would be to layer it on top the other black wool shawl that I have and that it might as well have holes cut into the grid in an attempt to look like the perforated stonework found on some Indian palaces. I used very sharp embroidery scissors with my fingers underneath so I did not snip the wrong bits. I have ordered some black organza which might also come in handy. 

Coming up with something that is allegedly “Arty” without being rubbish seems to be rather challenging. The underneath quilts may well look good but I am convinced that the piece will be judged on the oddity of the outside. And I still don’t know how I will attach them all to each other for display. In the hanging instructions I will have to request the presence of a permanent Quilt Angel to flip the shawls back to reveal the hidden layers;)

Monday, 28 December 2015

Christmas Cheers!

Because of mild weather and the kids breaking up late for the holidays, nobody here seemed to be feeling particularly festive. I completed my wrapping marathon and braved the supermarket. One of the things I enjoy the most about Christmas is meeting Mo and Tania for coffee, sherry and mince pies. We always choose each other little gifts that usually include novelty socks, nag champa incense sticks, mugs, chocolate and something home-made. They were pleased with their printed chiffon scarves and tie-dyed pillowcases so I will count those experiments as a success.

I felt that I did a good job of choosing an interesting selection of gifts for my children from Ebay, Etsy and other more obscure internet sites. They already seem have all of the gadgets anyone could ever need so it was a little challenging coming up with something that was a surprise. I tracked down some vintage guitar effects pedals for Fergus, Freya liked her vintage typewriter and Jane Austen temporary tattoos, and Fenella was impressed with her silver spandex leggings and waffle maker. 

I may have ruined or enhanced the black wool shawl for the top layer of the Purdah piece. I picked off as much of the grey interfacing as I could but there was a lot of powdery glue residue left so I decided to give it a soak in some washing soda before dyeing it with black Dylon, hoping that the interfacing would take up the dye. Despite setting the washing machine at 40 degrees, the shawl got well and truly felted and the grey interfacing remained its original colour but with a crinkly texture. I decided to work with the theme of Abuse and pegged it out to weather a storm in which it blew away and got caught up in some brambles. I have not quite decided whether to paint over the remaining grey bits with black fabric paint or even try some machine needle felting with some black sheep fleece. There will definitely be a need to come up with some sort of artistic flannel about this process.

There is only so much cooking, eating, drinking gin and watching action movies that I can cope with in 48 hours before I start to think what I could be doing instead. I bought myself an Appleton dress-making kit from so I might pluck up the courage to have a go at that. Something that keeps niggling away at the back of my mind is the desire to write a novel of sorts. If I used all of the time that I waste searching online for things I don’t need on Ebay and Gumtree I could probably get it done in a letter of weeks! My best ideas come to the fore on dog walks but Welly always knows when I am not paying attention and uses the opportunity to go off on one of his detours. It would be great if someone would invent an app that turned thoughts into text - then my drivel would soon evolve into pages and pages of stream of consciousness.

In the meantime, I will keep jotting down things I should be doing and think of creative ways to use up all of the leftover festive cheese…

Sunday, 20 December 2015

A Bit Festive

It has been one of those weeks when I have to rack my brains to remember what I was so busy doing. There were lots of little things to do from assembling the horse cushion, making more triangular pouches to give away, quilting the curved Christmas trees (presents - so no photos) and tie-dyeing something that I will keep quiet about until next week (if it rinses out OK.)

I spent two whole days triple stitching around the hexagonal grid on the black shawl for Purdah but you can’t see it! I was worried when it all buckled up but it looks as though it will steam flat with a hot iron. I am having great difficulty removing the fusible interfacing from the reverse which I put there to mark the grid with purple sharpie. Let’s just say that black dye MAY be used and if it works the reverse might become the front in a strangely distressed kind of way - it is meant to be an Art Quilt, after all…

I eventually purchased Christmas cards and wrapping paper before the shops ran out completely but I did not write a report of my family’s year. I decided that if the folk who I send cards to are my friend on Facebook they know everything anyway.

Freya looked lovely for her Senior Prom in a lilac dress that I am glad to say came from a shop. All of the girls were very glamorous and far more fancily attired than I have ever been in my life. 

I did put a frock on for a day trip to Edinburgh to meet Ellen. Since neither of us really enjoys shopping, other than in a quilt shop, I am pleased to say that we dropped into 3 different bars in the city for cocktails throughout the afternoon. It was very busy with pop-up markets all over the place, a skating rink and a maze of lit Christmas trees. I treated myself to a first class train ticket which was very civilised, starting with a smoked salmon breakfast and supper on the way home.

Mo, Tania and I met up for mulled wine and cake which is something we rarely do these days. I miss the times when we had coffee and sherry every other day during December.

Fenella and I went to an outdoor Nativity play. Despite the rain it was terrifically entertaining with live sheep and a donkey, wise men on quad bikes and a timely message about the plight of Middle-Eastern refugees. 

I am relieved that the kids have two more days at school so I can get  my wrapping done in peace before getting stuck into Christmas food and drink;) I wish all of my Blog readers a relaxing and Merry Christmas - it won’t be long before I feel the need to tidy up my workshop after it has been a seasonal larder and wrapping zone and crack on with Quilting!

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Just Say Neigh!!!

I find it baffling that an item ordered on Ebay with free postage can arrive here in less than 24 hours yet items where I have paid extra can take more than a week. I was waiting impatiently for black thread to continue with Purdah so I felt obliged to fill my time with extra projects instead. I had to crack using the Bernina 2mm rolled hem foot so I spray starched the edge of some fine cotton and ticked that off my list. 

I made two more ladybird purses from quilted fabric which took far longer than the leather versions in red and now orange but at least I can say I did it. 

I meant to have a go at making ONE test block for SewWonderful’s curved Christmas tree project but I seemed to end up making two samples which will now need quilting before Christmas. It was a bit of a rush job so they are not perfect;)

The job that I was dreading took me 2 whole days…the horse cushion that I promised LandyMan was never going to be easy for someone who does not draw and does not ever consider making pictorial quilts. Using a basic photo that I printed, I traced the outlines onto acetate then moved an old overhead projector to create an image that was roughly 18” square. I sketched that image onto paper that I taped to the roller blinds in my workshop. If I knew more about appliqué then I may have cut out and attached the pieces in a different order. The legs were tricky because I sort of mislaid the pieces or maybe I just muddled them up. The photo was not detailed enough for me to work out how to make the eyes lifelike but apart from that I think the horse looks passably like the original image.

The horse then required quilting, machine embroidery and a tail made from tapestry wool, which turned out to be navy rather than black in daylight. I hand-printed a back, purchased a feather pad and just need to sew it all together before plucking a figure out of the air to charge for it. If I was a driving instructor then I would be demanding a cool £300 plus materials but no-one is likely to want to pay even a third of that figure for a cushion. So the next time I am asked whether I can run something like that up I need to say “Neighhh!!!”

Sunday, 6 December 2015

No Peeking!

I am sure that Fergus has been rooting around in my workshop to see what might have been stashed away for his birthday or Christmas. I think there is nothing more fun than surprise gifts so I hope he didn’t find any of my Ebay purchases! 

I have made a couple more triangular pouches, still trying to decide on the “perfect” construction method. The red ladybird was joined by a fatter, orange friend and I spent a day printing chiffon for gift scarves. I was enjoying messing about with a gelli plate, which I had forgotten about. It’s a good job that scarves are usually seen all scrunched up because my printing was a bit wonky and distinctly artisan looking.

There were 3 DIY Quilters here this week, two of whom finished off long overdue projects. Carol bravely chose to quilt her Di Ford Montmellick appliqué quilt herself. I daresay that most folk would choose to hand stitch quilts like that as they have so many small pieces. I insisted on whizzing some stitch-in-the-ditch around a few of the larger motifs. It was definitely a good plan to use a puffier poly wadding to fill out some of the inevitable fullness. Shona allowed the Quilt Path computer to quilt leaves onto her large flannel quilt. Despite being made from flannel on both sides, it felt so light after quilting because we chose Tuscany wool wadding. 

While other people were here I have made a little progress on the second Purdah quilt. Bernard, the Q24 proved to be excellent at ruler work. Having worked on a more intense project rather than just practice pieces, I realise that I have set the frame up too high so I will need to make some easy adjustments to its legs so it is more comfortable. An optional extra is a hydraulic lift system which would be great for different users or even for sitting on a stool to do intricate work.

I am trying not to panic that I have not bought any Christmas cards or started on the horse cushion, let alone get swept along with festive functions, last minute quilts or deciding to make more gifts from scratch. This week, in addition to my usual parental and pet duties, I am determined to master the rolled hem foot, write definitive instructions for the triangle pouches, make a quilted ladybird and finish quilting Purdah2…!