Sunday, 22 February 2015

Nearly Finished;)

The Aurora Borealis quilt that I had casually named “Spinners” has a new name - I decided on “Bifrost Bridges” because in Norse mythology, Bifrost is a burning rainbow bridge that links the human world with the realm of the Gods. Obviously, I did not include any of that information on my show entry because I have only just thought of it!

It has felt like I have been working on a never-ending project this week. First I spent half a day experimenting with couching threads on scrap fabric before couching on some odd bobbly yarn that I was worried might run out. For some nonsensical idea, I decided to couch sparkly thread on top of that. 

The plan was to face this quilt instead of adding a conventional binding but I decided that its edges were too bulky to turn back neatly. Instead I went for a single binding, hand-sewn to the back and I have the finger callouses to prove it. I loathe sewing on sleeves and labels but decided to get that out of the way before adding any beads and sparkles. 

Somehow there is something bothering me about this quilt, probably to do with how much time I have spent on it yet am am not entirely sure that it has worked. Quilting friends who have seen it in person were not exactly blown away by it. I can’t decide if it is too simplistic or too fussy or even whether it is a worthy “show standard” quilt. The trouble with having instant access to images of amazing quilts via social media is that I begin to question whether I can come up with anything that is more original, more technical or more unique. 

I really am running out of time and patience with “Bifrost” - ideally I would like to encrust it with tiny glass beads but I will have to content myself with a feature area for now so it can get posted to its first show on time. I can always go back and add more later…

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Flying Visit to Switzerland

This week I was in Switzerland for 2 days at Bernina International, Steckborn. It was a little like a top secret visit to a (sewing machine) factory in a James Bond film. I was impressed to meet many wonderful, creative people involved with design, manufacture and training. I was there to receive instruction using the exciting new Q24 Bernina Longarm machine which I cannot say too much about at present as it has not yet been launched in the UK. All I can say is that I had a wonderful time, enjoyed good coffee,  excellent chocolate and I am really looking forward to representing Bernina. I just hope they don’t commission me to make another Smart Car Cover!

After catching up on emails back home, I held my breath standing at the quilt frame and braved the zany Northern Lights quilt. Having adjusted the hopping foot I only broke one needle but that upset the tension and resulted in some tedious unpicking. Some intersections are a bit thready but I am planning to do a bit of couching or beading over those. I did not risk using a ruler so it is all freehand and although it does not look like it, I restrained myself from quilting the whole thing with a variety of tiny fillers. Mentally, I am referring to it as “The Marmite Quilt” as I am unsure whether people will love it or hate it…

I am trying not to panic about how quickly the year is unfolding. I have to complete this quilt and get the Book into a near finished state by the end of this month. Although I am not teaching in schools, my kids are on a mid-term break so my time is not really my own. As they get older they get busier so I really need to keep track of who needs to be where and attempt to co-ordinate trips. When I take them to the cinema this week I will go via a wool shop to see if I can pick up some interesting yarn. If the “Marmite” quilt gets finished and bound for its first show I will be happy - then maybe I can add a few more embellishments before entering it into another one;)

Sunday, 8 February 2015

A Bit Thick

There are often times when I wonder what I was thinking…
I sewed all of the blocks together on the zany Aurora quilt and they matched up almost perfectly, except for two of the over-sized quarter square blocks that I seem to have trimmed oddly. I wanted to use a double layer of wadding to get a high loft and normally I would use a layer of cotton and a layer of wool. However, I had been put off wool after I had a batch of wadding that was ‘beardy”. I just knew that it ought to be cotton so it would be easy to block while damp so it would hang square. I could easily have used two sensible, thin layers of cotton but I chose to double-up with extra dense Warm Plush. 

I started dutifully stitching-in-the-ditch with invisible thread and immediately broke a needle. I broke a whole packet of needles and was quilting like a nervous wreck, holding my breath the entire time. It was good job I was wearing specs as the needle tips were shattering and pinging randomly. Fed up with seeing nasty little needle rips in the quilt, I finished off the SID on the domestic machine, sewing very slowly. 

I have now put the quilt back onto the Longarm and raised the hopping foot which I HOPE will make a difference so I can tackle some free-motion quilting. Currently, my show quilt for 2015 looks like a baggy, beginner’s project! 

Another bad habit that I have is trawling for junk on Ebay and Gumtree. I managed not buy a tiny camper van or sweet shop scales but I did go and see a bargain oil-fired Rayburn cooker. It will probably be 100 years before my husband agrees to have it installed in our kitchen and I have a nasty feeling that it may be too small to heat all of the radiators but I daresay I can always trade it in for a bigger model when the time comes. Meanwhile, it can replace the obsolete chest freezer in the garage as a place to store camping gear!

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Working it Out

All week I mass produced bias strips, pressed and fancy-stitched until I finally had enough oversized wonky squares to trim down into blocks and setting triangles. I did not actually know what size I was aiming for until I could figure out the largest square I could make from the ones that were destined to be setting triangles. I had started off with 20” square pieces of fabric that were eventually trimmed to a mere 12.5” then I worked out the other sizes accordingly in a backwards, roundabout way. By the time the quilt top is all connected I might even have to add an outer border to make sure its overall size fits certain competition categories. This maths may have been a bit challenging but not nearly so grim as Freya’s Higher Maths Prelim exam;)

There are lots of large offcuts from this quilt that might come in handy for some sort of project later on. I could use them for notebook covers or employ them more purposefully as crazy scraps in another freeform quilt.

The pieced blocks are bulky - they all have a layer of fusible interfacing, loads of stitching and thick bias strips. I will use a skinny needle and a straight stitch plate to sew them all together. The quilting looks like it could be fiddly - I don’t have a firm plan yet, just some scribbly sketches which are likely to morph. I have a pile of paperwork to attend to before I start on the next phase.

I have resigned my role as the UK’s rep for APQS after 5 years. I would like to be clear that I have parted on good terms with APQS and handed over to Ani and Kay. I do have other irons in the fire, as well as that Unfinished Book and all will be revealed before too long…

Excitingly, the trip that Ellen, Kay and I will make to Paducah in April is shaping up nicely. Almost all of the arrangements for flights, hotels and car-hire are sorted. We just need to book a couple of classes and decide which quilt shops to visit. I think we are all looking forward to a trip in the Spring that is just for fun:)

Sunday, 25 January 2015

An Excuse to use Neon Thread!

I was most impressed by the truck driver who managed to reverse halfway up our incredibly icy track on Monday. I thought he was going to inform me that he could not collect the pallet that would transport Lenni to France but he bravely used a small trolley to shift it and he even lifted the long boxes by himself. 

I tidied Fenella’s room so she could find all of the things that she claimed I had lost. Thistle proved that there was no room to swing a cat - she attempted to jump onto a chest of drawers but there was not even enough room for her small paws to land safely so she landed in a disgruntled heap, scattering pencils, nail polish and old Christmas cards. 

The notebook cover for my Book photos was finished off even though it needed an extension on one side so it would fit properly. I made a note to my readers that, unlike me, they should pay attention when cutting and assembling! A bulk order of spiral bound notebooks, wood block stamps and textile paints arrived. I will use these for my classes at the ICHF show in Glasgow in March so I will need to make a sample that fits ;) 

Having a ridiculously short time available to make the Northern Lights wobbly circles quilt made me slightly panicky and I spent an afternoon spent faffing around with different construction methods. I slept on it then decided to combine freeform curved piecing with some appliqué. I made my own bias tape to fit in between some of the wide “rings” then attached them very neatly with a machine blanket stitch. After applying fine interfacing to each wonky block, I selected a few reliable, non-puckering embroidery stitches and decorated the blocks with super-bright thread. The quilting will be very freestyle and will allow me to make good use of some reels of variegated neons. 

I ordered additional hand-dyed fabric from Farne Designs in Cornwall for the back and for the setting triangles. I have not quite worked out what size these will be since I will not trim the wonky blocks down until all of the distorting extra stitching is done.  I am enjoying working on a such a zingy project in the middle of winter and hope to have the top almost done by the end of next week.

Sunday, 18 January 2015


Sewing beads on may be a relaxing occupation but it does not feel like proper, productive sewing because it takes ages to see progress. My leather bags finally reached the stage where they could be photographed as book projects and I can continue to add extra beads later if I want. 

The next book project was quick to finish since it was a simple luggage label so I managed to run up a few of those and write the instructions before I forgot all about it. 

I could not find any trace of step-by-step pictures of how to make my fabric notebooks, even though I am convinced that I had already done it so I had to make a new cover from scratch, which will come in handy. The one that I use every day is now 10 years old and looking rather scruffy. 

A visiting DIY quilter visited and rattled off two lovely children’s quilts. I filed my online tax return, sourced a pallet to send Lenni to France and made around 16 trips in and out of Banchory, mostly to accommodate the kids at their various activities.

It is surprising how much can be achieved with a tight deadline. I discovered that I had 24 hours to enter the ICHF show in Glasgow. Luckily I was able to enter by email and instead of a photo, a sketch was allowed if the quilt was not actually finished. Technically, my quilt has not actually even been started yet but I managed to make up a rough draft of a possible quilt using EQ7. I started experimenting with a couple of different construction methods for improvisational circles using scrap fabric. The end result may not look quite the same as my “drawing” - it will probably evolve considerably, depending on time and how much fabric I have without having to resort to ordering any more!

I successfully completed a task that I had been dreading at the weekend when I cut up and reconstructed two tiny 2-piece Aladdin costumes to fit bigger girls at the forthcoming Deeside Dance Centre Show. Worried that I may not have the dress-making skills necessary, I spent some time online trying to source adult versions of the same costume but I kept being directed to sexy belly-dancing outfitters. I am pleased that I managed to sew everything back together and the new roomier pantaloons should stay up with the help of heavy-duty elastic. I am seriously contemplating applying my new-found tailoring confidence to making a frock for myself…

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Getting There in the End

I made a mental note never to sew thousands of beads onto leather ever again but obviously I did not actually mean it. After a while the projects started to look amazing and the temptation was to encrust them with as many beads as possible. When I nipped to the craft shop to buy another couple of yards of bias-binding, I spent quite a bit on yet more beads. 

The bags that I had planned in my head evolved a couple of times after I made calico mock-ups because the point of making them was actually to write clear instructions for a book project. I decided to make one of them very simple and the other one could be really fancy.  Typically, I thought of other ways that I would tackle the same project if I started it again but I don’t have time to make any more beaded, leather bags so I might just write a paragraph on “modifications”. 

Following a stormy night, we had a power cut for most of the day on Friday so I could not do anything that involved sewing machines or required decent light. Luckily, my IKEA delivery arrived and I made a start on figuring out the assembly diagrams. The first item was a challenge but after I eventually got it sussed, I rattled off the others fairly quickly. It took all weekend before everything was finally constructed and tidied up. The totems were stored out of the way on high shelves and it feels great not to be climbing over obstacles in my workshop. There is no disputing that smaller projects like handbags take up far less space!

Sunday, 4 January 2015


Bank holidays within holidays make it difficult to work out what day of the week it really is. There is only one cure for this which is to potter away at sorting out drawers, cupboards and have a go at furniture rearranging. I had to pack Lenni up for his imminent move to a new home in France so it seemed like a good opportunity to sort out my workshop which was becoming full of “stuff”. 

To begin with I created more of a mess than the one I started with and I just stood and wondered how I was going to get things tidy again. I decided to part with the old, bouncy office desks and odd chests of drawers that were squeezed into awkward corners. I have ordered matching, low chests of drawers that will fit neatly under the long-arm, and a couple of sturdy, basic tables from IKEA, plus sturdy shelving to store the totems so I don’t have to keep falling over them.

I even cleared out my wardrobe so I would not be stalling at the beginning of the week when the kids go back to school. The loose plan is to tidy up my fabric stash and get back to some serious book editing. Although I am keen to start a new show quilt, I need to complete the evening-bag chapter first…

Monday, 29 December 2014

Lazy Christmas Holidays

Christmas started for me on December 23rd when Mo, Tania and I exchanged gifts that included socks, cushions, home-made damson gin and sketches. We always seem to choose perfect items for each other. I have a new set of little nesting boxes printed with London Underground stations…

Our family Christmas was relaxed and involved lots of cooking spread out so we could digest a new course every few hours. It created more washing up but at least we were not stuffed by gorging on all of the festive food in one sitting. Our days were slow and started off with frosty dog walks, followed by eating chocolate then watching utter rubbish on TV. We went to a family ceilidh to burn off a few calories except that stoves were served at 10.30pm. It was fun watching everyone get in a muddle on the dance floor and definitely more enjoyable than a disco. I was not at all co-ordinated and it made me realise how difficult it must be to be a contestant on “Strictly”!

I took the girls into Aberdeen to return a couple of things and browse the post-Christmas sales. We did not make any successful bargain purchases, deciding that the shops must have stored away all of the good stuff and dragged out unwanted stock. We really enjoyed the “Paddington” movie which did not veer too much from the original character of a marmalade-loving bear. Having worn our duffle coats to the cinema in Paddington’s honour, we loved the scene when the Browns present him with his own duffle coat with “sandwich compartments” (deep pockets). 

After a couple of days I was weary of doing nothing so decided to tackle last year’s business spreadsheets. It took me a while to get all of the columns to tally because I had not selected everything correctly but I am now virtuously ready to complete my tax return. I am keen to something useful next but can’t decide whether to make a frock, cull my wardrobe, reorganise my workshop or crack on with book edits. To decide where to start I had better make coffee and finish off my stash of chocolate…

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Party Frocks and Parcels

Radio 4 got me through the boredom of completing the unpicking and de-fluffing of the “Quilt that nearly stole Christmas”. There were still a good two days worth of quilting to complete and because I had been cursing it for so long I wondered if its maker would even be pleased in the end. There were hundreds of thread ends to tidy up and it had to be bound on both sides so I became irritated by all of the cheery enquiries as to whether I was “all organised for Christmas yet?” 

I wrote my Christmas cards very scruffily on the last second-class posting day and hurriedly sellotaped the parcels to Norfolk to get them sent away. I did not write an impressive end of the year family newsletter with colour photos and I did not create a hand-made holly wreath for my front door. The postie and various couriers delivered everything that I had ordered online and I wrapped all of the kids’ parcels in a slapdash style without bows or labels, simply using colour-coded paper for each recipient. Maybe a touch more sherry will give me some much needed Christmas spirit…

I decided to make a couple of last-minute gifts for friends so I have run up two cushions and quilted some fabric for notebooks - all I have to do is get them finished off on time!

The most exciting event of the week was Freya’s much anticipated Senior Prom. Thankfully, Mo and her daughter took charge of the glamorising and Freya looked fabulous. She was astounded at all of the compliments that she received. Nobody could believe that her dress was home-made and they thought her gold Doc Martens were awesome. The boys all scrubbed up beautifully in their kilts. Parents watched as young ladies in fancy frocks and incredible shoes tottered their way to the buses that would ferry the kids to a posh hotel for Christmas dinner and ceilidh dancing. Most of them commented nostalgically that they had only gone to crummy school discos at that age where the only catering was a can of coke and a bag of crisps;)

I attended my 11th nativity service as a parent and was very proud as Fenella played violin in her last Christmas concert at primary school. I still need to run a few errands before Christmas arrives, sourcing a large roll of corrugated cardboard and brussel sprouts. There will also be some cooking to do, mince pies to eat and a festive catch up with my two best-friends. By the end of next week I will be dying to reorganise my workshop and itching to start some new projects!

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Festive Frustration

I could  no longer deny that Christmas is fast approaching so I decided to do as much shopping as possible in John Lewis, Aberdeen so I could make use of their “collect it later” service. This did not prove to be such a good idea as they lost half of my packages. I waited for over an hour along with several other irate customers who had missing or incorrect goods. Two days later the missing items arrived in the post after speaking to a clueless and rude person at customer services. 

I decided that the most efficient use of workshop time was to crack on with the last customer quilt. It was not a thrilling job since I had been asked to reproduce exactly the same quilting that was in the project photo in the book but it was enjoyably straight-forward. In between times I continued to unpick the top section of the other quilt, making painfully slow progress. There were many interruptions that kept eating away at my time such as a parents’ evening, Fergus’s birthday and cinema trip, Fenella’s school book launch, the girls’ piano concert, and being asked to whizz up 3 fabric notebook covers. 

Freya and I went foraging for our Christmas tree from some rough, boggy ground a couple of fields away from the house. We had to give it a bit of a trim but it looks quite forest-like in our family room. I let the girls have carte-blanche with the decorations since I was making gingerbread so Nell has dressed it with the pink tinsel that I had banished to her room.  

This week I MUST finish the last customer quilt and wrap the presents that I have stashed away before the kids finish school for the holidays. Then maybe I can rustle up one or two cushions as gifts before the festive catering frenzy begins…

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Pre-Christmas Custom Quilting

There are times, like in the run-up to Christmas when it would be advantageous to persuade customers that their quilts would look perfectly lovely with a simple all-over quilt design like Baptist Fan. I have two large customs quilts to complete by Christmas and I have not yet written a single greetings-card or ordered a turkey. 

I worked for 4 days solid on one quilt, putting flowers in every single small and tiny square then free-handing stitch-in-the-ditch around every single slightly wonky patch. The brief was to keep the quilt unfussy and simple but it has been tricky to execute. I decided that my freehand flowers and loopy lines in row one were not what the customer had in mind so they would have to be painstakingly ripped out - stitch by tiny stitch. I am in two minds whether to load the second quilt which is simpler before I have finished unpicking or whether to just sit with the seam ripper until the first quilt is ready to fix. 

At least I am pleased with a wonderfully simple customer’s baby quilt. It looks super with its appliquéd yo-yos although the gathered sections on some of them were bulky to quilt through. 

Things will be getting hectic in the next couple of weeks - we attended the girls’ choir concert - the first of several festive shows, parties and pantos. I could have done without an afternoon spent racing around trying to find someone to fix my Landy’s headlights before it got dark and I could definitely do without the constant battle of wills between Fergus and everyone else in the household/world! 

My plan is to go Christmas shopping at 9am on Monday morning. If I don’t fulfil my mission in John Lewis, Aberdeen then the rest of my Christmas purchases will have to be sourced online or bought locally. 

Apart from that, I will be spending some quality time with my seam ripper…

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Dress Stress!

Almost all I thought about this week was figuring out how to join the top and bottom halves of Freya’s frock and get the zip in, having deviated way off the original printed pattern’s instructions. It would have been FAR more sensible to put the zip into the entire back first before joining the sides but we were too worried about getting the fit right and attaching lurex binding to the neck and arm holes. The biggest worry was the strangely crinkly, flimsy fabric for the skirt which kept shifting, puckering and shredding thread. Getting the darts in at all was miraculous and then there was the challenge of distributing the skirt fabric around a piece of bias tape that served as a sort of waistband that tacked onto the bodice. 

We must have had 3 or 4 goes at getting the zip into the skirt, even resorting to sewing it by hand. It is just a little gappy so I have decided that when Freya wears it for her Prom I will put in a few little stitches after it is zipped up to keep everything tidy. Apart from that the zip is now nice and robust and the dress fits remarkably well. After experimenting with scraps of crinkly fabric to work out how to do the hem, I think we have decided not to sew it at all since it does not even fray and it will allow the skirt to drape better. I just hope that it won’t look too obviously ‘home-made”…

After a bit of a palaver, I managed to enter “Dunes” into Paducah. I could not upload photos from my Mac so I had to borrow Freya’s laptop. I had hoped to enter “Odin’s Trilogy” or even just one of the trio but they did not fit into any of the AQS size categories for small or large wall quilts. 

There were other interruptions such as a trip to the orthodontist to get Nell’s first set of braces and helping Mo to shift the last of her stuff from her upholstery workshop back to a workroom at her house. I also collected “Copper Capercaillie” from the picture framer who had cleverly managed to leave the back exposed and I dropped it off at a gallery to see if a buyer could be found. 

My Millie machine with QP did a great job of quilting poinsettias across a Christmas quilt and I managed to give the Lenni longarm a service in between commands since he might soon be on his way to a new owner in France. 

While not worrying about the Prom Frock I have been worrying about getting the E-book finished so I devoted some time to editing photos and instructions for 3 projects. If I can get the next two large custom quilts completed the next thing I want to do is take step-by-step pictures of the leather evening bags which should be the final book project.  Unfortunately, my plans could be scuppered when I have to face the fact that Christmas is coming and I have not yet done anything about it ;) 

Monday, 24 November 2014

To-ing and Fro-ing

This week was spent dashing around as the kids had 3 days off because of teacher training. Some days we were in and out of town 3 or 4 times, being unable to co-ordinate the various activities and appointments. Thistle went to the vet to be neutered and bounced back to torment Bluecat within hours, although there there seems to have been a bit of a truce since the weather turned wetter and colder.  

On Tuesday I left home at 5.30am to catch the “redeye” Flybe flight to London for a meeting at Bernina UK in my capacity as an ambassador for the B710. All of the other passengers were soberly attired geologists on their way to an oil and gas conference so my purple and green clashy outfit made me really stand out from the crowd. I was disappointed to be offered wishy-washy tea and a chocolate biscuit for breakfast and decided that if I repeated this trip I would definitely fly with British Airways. The Bernina UK team admired “5BarGate2” and will hang it on one of the office walls unless it is required as a  demo quilt at a show. I dashed back across London to get the afternoon flight home, wondering at the strange life of people who regularly commute up and down the country.

I finally got started on a customer quilt on Thursday, working on it solidly for two days. Since the blocks were large, there was a lot of rolling back and forth to work on filler and stitch-in-the-ditch and I was eternally grateful for my powered fabric-advance motor.

I helped Freya work on her gold dress-bodice over the weekend, trying to get the fit right and attaching lurex binding around the raw edges. The dress is being tackled like a quilt instead of adding a conventional dress-making lining. I thought it would be a good idea to sew down the bulky seams inside by hand so they would sit flat but the final fit showed that there was tiny bit of extra space in the bust. I decided that it would be easier to buy bulkier underwear than unpick all of that out for an alteration. Another lesson learned was that putting a zip into the quilted bodice only meant that every time the dress had to be tried on it was in danger of bursting at the seams so a zip that extends into the tricky skirt fabric will have to be used after all. However, the only foot that can cope with the crinkly fabric is the teflon one so I have no idea how we will get the zip on by machine. 

On Sunday evening we went to an independent cinema in Aberdeen to see the “Imitation Game” about Alan Turing, the mathematician at Bletchley Park in WW2. The film was really good but shocking how his life and career after the war were ruined by revelations that he was a homosexual: he was not granted a posthumous royal-pardon until 2013. We drove home just after the official switch-on of the city’s Christmas lights. I am not  at all impressed by how quickly Christmas is approaching this year..!