Sunday, 24 September 2017

On Having a Mind like a Stone Tumbler



As if I need any more machines or gadgets in my life, after asking for opinions about scanner/cutter machines on Facebook, I ended up buying one from Gillian Travis who thought it would be a great idea but never had time to experiment with it! I have already wasted several hours looking at what it can do on Youtube;) I think it has much potential for a variety of ideas that are trundling around in my head. In fact, I feel as if my mind is rather like one of those stone tumbling machines that churns around the clock until eventually something polished is produced some considerable time later. 



I am on the point of ordering fabric to start on something which is probably not the same something I thought I was going to work on a couple of weeks ago. I have been looking for something substantial to get my teeth into since finishing BzB but a long summer happened in between. Typically, now I have at least 3 projects that I want to work on… I have even cut out 2 blocks for the Elizabeth Hartmann Fancy Forest quilt but I am unsure as to whether I can cope with so many small pieces. I would probably be better off working on a far simpler background project for relaxation. 

Bumble bounced back from her operation to have mammary tumours removed. Far from moping around with a lampshade on for days, she ignored the comfy dog-bed that I prepared and jumped straight up onto the sofa as if her under-carriage had not just been cut open and patchworked back together. She was not totally impressed at having to wear a festival t-shirt out for a walk so the wound site would stay clean. 






Two customer quilts were completed this week using automated quilting. On the Christmas quilt I had to supervise closely so the appliquéd racoons did not get caught up with the quilting foot. The customer wanted allover snowflakes so I had to remove some buttons and bows before I started. The second quilt was a rush job for a student studying aeronautical engineering so clouds and planes seemed like a good idea. 


There are one or two things on my Perpetual To Do list that will be carried on into next week, such as attempting to make a video on couching yarns with a longarm machine and backing up my Mac, well over a year since I last bothered. I sincerely hope I get SOME purposeful sewing done by at least midweek!

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Ste Marie aux Mines 2017



I flew into Strasbourg on Tuesday afternoon, found a train into the city centre then decided the easiest option was to hail a taxi to take me to my budget hotel. It was clean and convenient, in the Jewish quarter on Rue de Bitche. I tramped into the old city centre, admired the impressive cathedral and enjoyed a mini carafe of Muscat, watching the world go by from a side-street cafe. I had supper al fresco in the rain at a restaurant with red checked tablecloths and decided to have escargots - I can’t say that the snails were really a delicacy but dunking my bread into their residual herby, garlicky butter was most satisfying. 



I intended to do some sightseeing the next morning, maybe visit the European Parliament but my feet were too sore so I was happy to sit around reading a book until Regina and Maria arrived to collect me and travel on to Ste Marie aux Mines by car. 

This part of Alsace is beautiful and obviously a cross between German and French styles. It had been a mining area but now is mostly populated by elderly people - sadly many of the houses and businesses were up for sale. There were plenty of pots of red geraniums to brighten things up and it was nice to see so many traditional small shops selling bread and local produce. 

Bernina Team GB and Germany took responsibility for setting up the Bernina Q24 longarm machine and the Q20 sit-down model while Team France organised the rest of the booth. After the set-up I travelled to stay with Bernina France on a gîte in Lièpvre. This was actually a large converted farmhouse with several additional cottages to let. We were surrounded by goats, deer, cats and a magnificent cart horse. It was certainly an immersive experience, surrounded by non-English speakers, apart from Christine Escanes www.creativetextilemastery.com whom is cleverly trilingual in English, French and Spanish. My school French was extremely rusty but I did pick some up and understood more as the week went on. It was fun to do some self-catering, the only downside being that we tended to eat late and stay up drinking wine even later;)



The show was busy despite the unseasonably cold, wet weather and we attempted to communicate with all sorts of nationalities - French, Belgian, Dutch, German, Hungarian, Polish, Spanish, Portuguese, Israeli, Korean - in German, English or my dodgy French. There was much mis-use of grammar and plenty of sign language. I mostly asked the visitors, “Vous aimerez à essayer la machine?” and I had a crib sheet for needle, up, down, stitches, free-hand etc. All would be fine until they launched into rapid French with  further questions and I would have to hand over to a French speaker.

There was a terrific selection of traders, many of whom were in market place tents but I only bought small pieces of cork, pleather and natty bag fasteners for some unplanned project or other. 

I did attempt to catch the shuttle bus one day to visit some outlying exhibitions but it did not appear during heavy rain so I gave up. However, I did visit Number 3 which had superb collections by Ian Berry, Luke Haynes, Miriam Pet-Jacobs and Nancy Crow’s Dairy Barn. I was particularly struck by Ian Berry’s incredible artwork www.ianberry.org - an amalgam of photo-realism and denim. In fact, he was staying at the same gîte so we invited him to dinner and had really interesting conversations about art, textiles and the angst of artists. 



On the last night, after the frenzy of packing up, I went to stay in the same family run hotel as Regina and Maria in Tannenkirch, since they were running me back to the airport in the morning. It was at an altitude of 500m in countryside where I am sure there are probably still wolves. We had a lovely quiet last evening, enjoying local wine and Alsace specialities in a little restaurant in the village. 

The Val d”Argent area was attractive, the people were friendly, the food and drink was fantastic, the exhibitions were high calibre, and there were quilt/textile superstars to spot, so I would definitely visit the show again, either as a quilt tourist or exhibitor!




Monday, 11 September 2017

Sylvanian Families Invade My Workshop



It would seem that the habit of putting things off until the last minute could be a family trait. Freya has been meaning to sort and sell her major Sylvanian Family collection for quite some time, probably since she grew out of it around 6 years ago. In the last couple of days of her holiday, when she she should have been packing for her return to Uni, she decided to have a bit of a sort out as they were all jumbled up in boxes. They were all spread out on my workshop table, organised, groomed, tiny pieces relocated, photographed and sold off, apart from some favourites. This was a huge task as the collection was quite record-breaking. By Sunday afternoon she was ready to go so we piled her belongings into the Landy and drove her down to St Andrews to begin 2nd Year in a flat with friends.



Once the Sylvanians took over the workshop, I decided that I would just have to wait until they were all gone before I did any sewing. The only stitching I did all week was to attach binding to the student-sofa quilts. I ran a Landrover taxi/delivery service, amassing stuff for the new Uni term, gathering supplies for Fergus’ forthcoming silver Duke of Edinburgh expedition and stocking the freezer for my trip to Alsace. 

I got all sorts of major and minor jobs done, even printing 195 sheets of fiddle music that I have little hope of playing, having followed Fenella to the Senior section at the Banchory Strathspey and Reel Society. 



At least I jotted down some French phrases that may come in handy next week. I know lots of words but am not good at the verbs that make them into comprehensible sentences.  At least I can introduce my vlog with, “Voici les nouvelles de…” (Here is the news from) or instruct people to “entrainez vous les tourbillons!” (practise the swirls) 
I just have to work out how to get from the airport in Strasbourg to my hotel before being rescued by Regina in her car the following day.




Sunday, 3 September 2017

All Systems Go



Hopefully the reorganising bug that I caught seems to have subsided for now after I have rummaged in the depths of my pantry and even hoovered ancient cobwebs. The thing about my clear-outs is that it eventually makes way for more vintage finds and handy gadgets. I should really start my own junk shop… 

BzB arrived back from FOQ so Freya and I inspected BzB for loose thread and fluff before it got sent to MQX. We made a very tentative attempt to block it to remove a slight bulge in the middle bottom that I noticed at FOQ after it had been flipped to show off its backside a few times. Realistically, it is impossible to block a quilt that should not get wet in case its colours run so all we could do was measure, pin and dampen the binding. As a thank you for her patience, I made Freya a cushion from a woolly jumper that I had accidentally washed too hot. I had to empty 2 silly triangular feather cushions to make a sensible square inner-pad so it looked like I had been plucking chooks for the pot outside my workshop!


Much to Freya’s chagrin, I determined that “we” would conquer the setup of Bernina Qmatic - she was just there for moral support while I figured out what to connect. It was hugely exciting to switch it all on for the first time and see if it worked. Fortunately, it was all systems go with lots to learn. It is quite different to the APQS Quilt Path. It is like switching between Windows and Mac - both equally powerful but different to operate. The Art and Stitch software looks challenging but it will enable me to have a go at proper digitising. I will have to schedule learning time for the new system and software. I spent an entire day just testing out the basic features and stitched out a few designs.




As a reward for all of Freya’s help this week I decided to use the large Qmatic sample from FOQ to make a couple of throws for her student flat. It was simply a quilt sandwich with lots of example stitch-outs so I added wavy cross-hatching to fill up the gaps. There was a spare piece that I cut off and Bumble seems to have decided that she would like to use it while she is in the workshop, mostly sleeping, because she does not find quilting the least bit interesting.

The only actual sewing I did all week was some mundane mending! I was all set to work on some ideas for future quilts, knowing that I had efficiently filed a document on my laptop. However, despite a lengthy search I discovered that it had completely disappeared. I was lucky that at least some of the ideas were in scribble form in my notebook. As usual, I am not short of ideas but I need to decide which ones might actually work;) 

Meanwhile I have a packed week ahead to get ready for my trip to France, sending Freya back to Uni, and organising the other 2 kids during my absence. 




Sunday, 27 August 2017

Beelzebub's Long Story







This was a quilt that had an usually long making process. It all began about 10 years ago when I attended a class on drafting a traditional Durham whole cloth with a well known British quilter from the north of England, Lilian Hedley. She provided some drawings of motifs from antique Durham quilts and showed the students how to draw large feathers using old English pennies onto baking paper. Lilian explained that Durham wholecloths were usually drawn onto cotton sateen fabric then hand quilted very simply with a cross-hatch background. I never intended my design to be quilted in this way as I am a longarm quilter and I wanted to use a non-traditional fabric, maybe even gold lamé. 

In the end, I folded up the paper design and put it away in a box because I could not decide what to do with it. I thought about it every now and then but I was distracted by making other projects such as a Quilted Yurt, a Smart Car Cover, a series of Viking inspired wholecloths on metallic fabric and a Coracle. I kept thinking about the Durham wholecloth design and mentioned it on my blog several times over the years. It actually made me feel guilty that it was a long-abandoned project and I named it “Beezlebub” because it seemed like a demon of a quilt.






Eventually, I chose to use basic, wide calico that I dyed pink in the washing machine and I started tracing the wholecloth design using a Frixion pen and a light box. This was tricky since the baking paper had become brittle and fragile with age. Having now seen beautiful machine quilted feathers at quilt shows my Durham style feathers seemed rather big and ugly. My plan was to start with the very traditional wholecloth design then work out how to make it unconventional. I kept thinking that it could all go horribly wrong. 

At some point I decided that my wholecloth design could become an anti-establishment wholecloth by giving it a pieced back which may end up being the front. There was no piecing plan - it was just a random selection of blocks in a colour palette from the Scottish landscape. Most of the colours I selected were harmoniously heathery but once those began to run short I simply used what I had managed to dye; not to mention an anarchic use of fine silk and heavy, rough linen.

The pieced BzB quilt ended up at almost 2.5m square and I felt like Dr. Frankenstein, spending several weeks creating a monster with its own agenda. It was a long way off what I had originally intended but I found it to be an interesting process.  I learned to enjoy freestyle curved piecing and appreciate that some forward planning may have been useful. 

For a time I considered renaming the quilt, “Highland Fling”, thinking I could say that ceilidh dances and the Scottish landscape had been my influences all along as there was a combination of the constraints of traditional blocks and the wild abandon of how it all went together.

I still had not decided whether to continue with my original plan of quilting a very traditional wholecloth design onto a very unsymmetrical pieced quilt with no obvious centre. I had always intended to make the background of the wholecloth far more interesting than the main design but I was constantly arguing with myself on whether this quilt may need require far more contemporary quilting to pull it all together. Yet again I decided to put the quilt away until I had made up my mind. Quite simply, I found BzB intimidating and I was too scared to start something that had taken me so long. 

I was coming up close to the deadlines for entering quilt shows earlier this year (2017) so I pulled out the long abandoned BzB anti-establishment wholecloth project. I stared at it for a long time, jotting down a few notes on how it might be tackled. Its biggest problem seemed to be the vast amount of negative space which should traditionally be filled with ½” diagonal lines. I thought about it for ages then made some extra templates and decided to fill up that space since a) I am not making a modern quilt and b) I am not making a traditional quilt and c) because I felt like it!

I was expecting to have 3 custom quilts to do in May but their makers did not finish them so I had no choice other than to load the rather large “BzB” onto the Q24 frame and make an attempt to get it done in time for FOQ. I decided that if I committed to enter it into the show then I would just have to get it done;)

I was irritated to discover that I had not saved a whole pack of wool wadding and that the under layer of black wadding was not wide enough. Yet again, I questioned why I had made BzB so big. I phoned several UK quilt shops but none were able to guarantee next day delivery or even had what I wanted in stock. There was only one solution which was to join all of the leftover bits of wadding together. The huge pieces that I reconstructed were then generously spritzed with water and laid out to relax because the wool wadding that come in packs is always impossibly creased.

I have to admit that BzB was making me very nervous. It had been waiting for a long time  and had to be sewn upside down with the piecing on the back for me to be able to see the quilt markings. I had to get perfect stitch tension on both sides since I intended for it to be displayed as a double-sided quilt. I tried out different threads, including a wool blend which looked great on the top but was not so nice on the back because the colour was not right. I was faced with the choice of ordering some more thread, sight-unseen online or making do with something else. In the end I decided that since BzB was a bit anti-establishment so I would start with a 30wt neon pink cotton just because I had it on a huge spool.







I overcame my fear, plucked up some courage and began the outline quilting on BzB. I went VERY slowly in manual mode because that it simply the smoothest way to quilt around a drawn line. 

I really wished I had allowed myself a year to work on this large quilt, instead of a few weeks as there was so much that I wanted to do and I could not think how it would get done by the deadline.

Pretty much all I did for a full week was quilt with pink thread so it was a good job that some of it was variegated, just for the occasional surprise.

After a 10 second discussion with myself, I decided to quilt tiny spirals in the half-inch quilted piano keys because I knew I could not bear to leave them empty. Then I started on the marathon task of stitching small spirals and swirls in the background which was back-breaking because I like to have my nose as far over the quilt as I as I can and I don’t have a hydraulic lift on the Q24 table. Frankly, it was quite boring at times and progress seemed to be slow because it was so large. Even Bumble, my Scottie Dog, thought it was tedious and went outside to watch the grass grow.

It could be said that BzB had 5 main phases of construction - the designing/drawing/tracing the whole cloth pattern, piecing, quilting the main motifs, quilting the background and finally, after a very long 2 weeks - the colouring which was done with Derwent Intense pencils painted with aloe vera gel. I have to admit that this stage felt everlasting at times. I even got a blister on my finger by gripping the colouring pencils so tightly.

After the colouring was complete I began re-quilting all of the large motifs on BzB with wool thread to add definition. I only held my breath a few times and to my amazement, it went far better than expected. I ordered more 110 wool needles and I used every single one of them. Thick layers of batting, bulky seams and paint soon cause needles to go blunt. 

The second round of quilting took another long time but I knew the way around the quilt this time. There were times when I became incredibly bored with the monotony but after I passed halfway in the middle of the week I was encouraged to get it finished. I had to remind myself not to get over excited for the last few feathers as it was so tempting to rush to the end.






It was such a relief to get the quilt off the frame at last. Squaring it up took me a few hours - I could not just measure out from the feather border all around as it turned out that I obviously had not drawn it squarely in the first place. I was amazed that the 2 opposite sides matched each other when I measured them. The outer edges were not too wavy and flattened down nicely after some serious dampening. I managed to get the quilt bound, labelled and packed up ready for FOQ in time for the school summer holidays, having worked non-stop for 6 weeks. It is impossible to say exactly how long BzB took but I would guess that it could have been well over 600 hours from start to finish!




On the day before FOQ opened I missed a call informing me that I was a winner so when I arrived at the show early on the day that it opened I was amazed and delighted to discover that it was the winner of the FOQ 2017 Contemporary Quilts category! It was the first time that I had even seen BzB hanging up and it was wonderful to receive congratulations from everyone. I had worked on this quilt for so long that I really was not sure if anyone else would like it. It was interesting that some people liked the pieced back even more than the coloured wholecloth front. BzB is a quilt that I am so happy to see finished after such a long time and many sleepless nights of wondering whether I should just abandon it because I could not decide what to do with it. Hopefully, this should encourage anyone with a long forgotten UFO that it might get finished one day.







Spring Cleaning in Autumn



I don’t know why it always amazes me how much can be achieved with a good TO DO list.  All sorts of jobs got done including booking flights to Strasbourg for the show in Ste. Marie aux Mines and almost setting up the Bernina Qmatic system. There was a blip when I could not find the bracket for the PC monitor. A pair of glasses and my tripod were also missing but it took days for me to remember that they were all safely stashed in the suitcase full of quilts that I brought back from FOQ.

I wrote a lengthy blogpost for Bernina Germany on the story behind BzB which I will also publish in English. I had to trawl right back to the beginning of my blog for references to the project that never seemed to end. It looks like the original drawing was done in 2007 or even earlier and I kept having ideas or guiltily chickening out for the next 10 years!

Christine Porter kindly sent a couple of photos of TT from the World Quilt Show. It will continue on a USA tour with Manusco. BzB should have gone on display at the Knitting and Stitching show but I had to ask for it back to get it ready to go on to quilt shows in the USA. The competitive life of a quilt is usually 2 years within its completion so unfortunately I could not afford for it to be out of commission for 4 months.




I completed 3 customer/DIY quilts, even one with a too-short backing that I had foolishly not measured. I had to unload that one, cut strips off the side and sew these along the bottom, adding significantly to the time taken. 




All summer I have been haranguing my kids to get rid of toys and books that they have outgrown. They have sold a few things on Ebay and they have now sorted out bags for the Red Cross Shop or the dump. Freya has gleefully put aside her maths jotters for a ceremonial bonfire. Over the weekend I managed to get rid of a shelf unit, Lego, a cycle trailer and a puppet theatre. The house that we rattled around in 17 years ago is bursting with things that we no longer need. Now that the school year has begun, I am in the mood for a major purge, tackling cupboards, even ditching out-of-date food colouring and bags of citric acid that I must have bought for some long-forgotten reason. My next task is to sort out electronics, in particular the charging cables for gadgets we probably don’t have any more.



My workshop also felt claustrophobically full of “stuff” so I had one of my ruthless clear-outs in there, ditching a pile of wadding scraps. There is already a tall pile of offcuts that could be sewn together which will probably still be in that state in 6 months time. It was definitely time to offer a box of quilt magazines a new home and to sort out the pile of cardboard boxes that might come in handy. My shelves may not be stacked with matching boxes but things are considerably tidier which clears the way for some new creativity.






Sunday, 20 August 2017

Yet More Fizz!



It always takes a while to come back down to earth after the frenzy of FOQ but this year it seemed to take me ages to finish unpacking and catch up on admin. My kids had a Yurt Nite Party in the middle of all of this, followed by me being on bacon roll and mugs of strong tea duty the next morning. 



I spent an afternoon with a Bernina Q24 owner, experimenting with tricky threads, giving  her advice on how to fiddle with tension and use all sorts of specialist machine needles for best results. 

Desperate to do some sewing, I quilted a wonky baby bunting quilt made from well-worn shirts and even performed a good deed by overlocking a pile of tatty chiffon scarves for the local dance school. 




I had further cause for celebration this week when I received emails letting me know that “Tartan Tattoo” has won Best of the UK quilts at the World Quilt Show www.quiltfest.com and that BzB has been juried into MQX!

On opening a chilled bottle of Furze Fizz, I discovered that it does not improve with age. It tasted eggy and not in a delicious eggnog way. Sadly, I decided to dispose of the remaining bottles but I may have been too hasty because I decided to slurp some of the escaping fizz from the last one and found that it was just as delicious as the first one. If I make it again the solution will be to have a party and consume it all within a month;)

Freya, Bumble and I went on an expedition to St Andrews to deliver some of Freya’s stuff to her new Uni flat because I did not want to repeat the mammoth task of cramming masses of  her and her friend’s belongings plus 2 bikes into the Landy.  The new flat is in a central location and will be cosy when the girls have settled in but it is shocking what student landlords can get away with in their standard of furnishings despite charging high rents. I emptied a choked hoover that had obviously never been emptied before and threw a bag of rubbish into the car to dispose of later. We may need a trip to IKEA to purchase a few home comforts.



I have a neatly written To-Do list ready for next week and the kids go back to school after their long summer break so maybe I stand a fair chance of getting 50% of that done and trying to get back into a routine…






Monday, 14 August 2017

Plenty of Posing at FOQ 2017





I arrived in Birmingham on Tuesday afternoon then started to help with the monumental task of setting up the longarm machines. Wednesday was the main prep day, particularly sorting out the Qmatic system, and we were finished by 7pm. Obviously, we were there to work but after a long day it was nice to eat out and catch up with quilty friends, even when some of them think it is amusing to pull that old stunt of pretending it is my birthday and getting the restaurant to sing “HB to You”. I temporarily lost my phone (it was in the bathroom) so I missed a call letting me know that I was a prizewinner!





In the morning I was absolutely delighted to discover that Beelzebub had WON the category for contemporary quilts. It was then moved from its double-sided hanging pole to the single sided winners’ wall so the Quilt Angels got plenty of arm exercise showing off the pieced back/front. I was overwhelmed by all of the admiration for BzB after all of the time and trouble it took on and off over a few years. There were a few who asked about its name  - the simplest one is that it was a demon of a quilt!



The Bernina booth was buzzing with customers, visitors and demos by several of the international longarm ambassadors and experts: Aggy from Switzerland/Italy, Regina from Germany, Elly from Belgium and Merete from Norway. We even had British quilting superstars, Janice Gunner and Philippa Naylor, who won Best in Show with her exquisite miniature quilt. There are professional photos of all of the winners on www.thefestivalofquilts.co.uk

I jogged around all of the exhibits early each morning and ensured that I also stopped to look in all of the special galleries. It was inspiring to see a Nancy Crow and Students showcase. Another stunning gallery was a collection of amazingly tiny miniatures by Kumiko Frydl. I was excited to bump into quilting celebrities and take selfies with Luana Rubin, Victoria Findlay Wolf and Stuart Hilliard. 






Kay's Quilt, "Face Off" (Singer sewing machine face plates)


"Shield Maiden"

I put the GoPro to use making time lapses of the crowds, quilting action and I even attempted to capture every single quilt on a zoom around the entire show - a segway may have made that job easier. 

I can hardly believe that FOQ is all over for another year. It was an action-packed week that flew by. There were times when my feet ached and I could not think straight but meeting all of the lovely quilters from all over the world made it all worthwhile:)