Sunday, 23 December 2012



I allowed myself a whole day to work on Be'elzebub and eventually completed one block that pleased me. I had forgotten how to join freehand cut curves so that took a little while to figure out. I added some fancy stitches and trim and was rather pleased with the effect. The finished blocks are likely to be curveaceously joined to another section. I ordered a lot of cotton rickrack from a shop in North Carolina that should dye nicely and I was thrilled that the cotton sateen that I dyed still retained its shine after being boil-washed. I started to piece a batch of half-square triangles that may become wonky blocks or maybe quarter squares but they are now buried under Christmas wrapping paper. 

I have not yet managed to put firm dates into my quilting diary so I have a lot of emailing  and quilt teacher applications to do after the holidays are over. I was surprised when I realised that the IQA Chicago Festival in June does not run any classes so if I really want to attend that show I will have to investigate doing some other tuition in the area that could help to pay for my air-fare and accommodation.

It felt like a long week with school concerts and parties. My class was very excitable and really not in work mode but they enjoyed making festive bread and hand shaken butter. It barely seemed to become light as it rained almost non-stop all week. Roads were flooded and my children's school carol service was cancelled. That was a shame since Fenella reported that Fergus sang a super solo in "Walking in the Air" that he had omitted to mention. 

Freya and Sam put on their Christmas jumpers and had fun decorating a gingerbread house with caramel windows and a curly-wurly fence. I don't suppose it will taste as good as it looks but that is probably not the point. The same goes for the gigantic gingerbread people that were blinged with every type of icing and sugar confection available to cake decorators.

More Christmas decorations were added to our family room and Bluecat seemed to enjoy knocking over the Nativity scene with a swish of her tail every time she walked past it. I expect she is looking forward to stealing cream and smoked salmon.

Fenella and I enjoyed the razzmatazz of the Strictly Come Dancing Final and could not decide which of the dancers deserved to win as they were all so good.

It felt as though the parcel wrapping and food shopping would never end. I wasted a lot of time calling Amazon and the useless courier company, Yodel, tracking down a package that had taken over 3 weeks to arrive. Needless to say, I now have two packages the same and one lot will have to be returned, hopefully avoiding the aforementioned offending delivery company. 

All that remains is to do last, last minute shopping, have a cooking frenzy, rearrange the summerhouse furniture and do the ironing. I think I will start by pouring a small sherry...

Sunday, 16 December 2012


It took me a little while to round up photos and quotes from the Yurt stunt quilters and send them to Lynn Krawczck who is working on a series of articles on collaborative quilting projects for Quilting Arts Magazine. The pictures had to be very high resolution which not many of mine were and then they were too big to send by email so they had to go to a "dropbox". I had a panic when I accidentally deleted all of my answers an interview. Fortunately, I eventually discovered that the Macbook could restore something that I had written earlier before I mucked it all up.

It was bitterly cold this week and I bought two vintage Norwegian wool cardigans from Ebay for myself and Freya. I wore one as a student when I had an unheated flat but I must have foolishly passed it on to someone else. After spending all day wearing my wool tea-cosy hat and several bulky layers in my chilly workshop, I decided that only thick wool cardis would do and temperatures have not really dipped down as far as they could go just yet. 

When I finally got around to doing some piecing I was not altogether satisfied by how things were going. My unco-operative fabrics were not all lining up nicely so I decided that I would incorporate lots of tiny rickrack and ribbon to disguise the dodgy seams. A box full of my favourite dyes arrived from Hungary and I discovered that white poly rickrack simply will not absorb dye - I could not believe it when it came out completely unaffected. However, the linen and cotton sateen looks wonderful so I look forward to some more fabric dyeing when I can get my hands on a sufficient quantity of white cotton rickrack. The B'elzebub project is far more colourful than I had planned, although I use "planned" in a very loose way. It is really more an idea that will evolve, depending on how things turn out. I think the russet version that I may make as a less chaotic alternative may just use one basic block type...

I was in school for two days this week and most of the time was taken up with the Christmas Show and trying to keep the children calm in between times. They are a little excitable at this time of year! 

The weekend flew by as I tried to fit in cookie making and the annual family squabble about the Christmas tree. They chose a monster tree then argued about whether tinsel would be allowed. Since it was dark when they hung just about every bauble we own I have no idea whether it looks good in daylight. My cookies looked very unprofessional - the TV chefs always manage to pipe the icing so beautifully but mine definitely looked rustic. That posh edible glitter is a waste of time. It came in a silly pot like eyeshadow and didn't even have holes in the top for sprinkling. Once the cookies were wrapped up in cellophane with a ribbon they looked fine and anyway, they tasted great!

Monday, 10 December 2012

Winter is Here - Brr!!!


I had an impromptu and exciting visit from local willow weaver, Helen Jackson, who called in to discuss the design of my Coracle Project. We had both done some research on the construction of a simple Spey Currach, a very small, round fishing boat that would have been used by Ancient Celts. This is the structure that I want to cover in quilted chamois skins with bronze spandex on the reverse. We braved the icy wind and rain to see if I had any suitable long willow wands in the garden that could be woven in to the coracle then we sketched out rough ideas. It will be life sized but not intended for sea travel as I don't want to cover it in tar - instead, it can be hung on a wall for display. I want to sew on amber beads and shells and treat it more like some sort of a ceremonial Viking vessel. The concept is still evolving at this stage. Meanwhile I quilted a small owl fabric quilt for a customer to get bound and wrapped in good time for Christmas. I received my latest Welsh quilt from Ebay, soaked it in distilled vinegar and gave it a gentle wash. Although I like the idea of subtle, neutral throws, I love these huge, bright retro tapestries that don't match any decor and there simply is NO warmer blanket; essential when the temperatures plummet.

Be'elzebub is also slowly unfolding organically. I am constructing large chunks of blocks that I hope will all fit together randomly when I have enough. The blocks that I like best are the rounded ones so I am thinking about making another bracken coloured version just using those blocks. If I make two earthy "non-wholecloths" then I can choose the one that appeals the most for the traditional-ish design and the other can be more modern and simple, like two companion quilts that are very similar in some ways but also very different to each other. 

The rest of my week was disrupted by snow. Durris School was cancelled on one of the days but the school where I was meant to be teaching remained open. On this occasion I stayed at home and achieved very little but I have been told that if this situation arises again then I should take my kids to school with me. They are not impressed with this idea as they had fun playing in the snow but if the winter is as bad as predicted then that is what will have to happen since the country roads that lead to their school can be icily treacherous, even for 4-wheel-drive vehicles. 

End of term activities are really gathering pace now. There will be a flurry of concerts, carol services, parties, secret santa gifts to find, cookies to make, presents to buy & wrap, tests to revise for, and colds to avoid. And in between all this, Fergus's birthday, some Christmas baking, school, and MAYBE even a little bit of sewing?

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Furniture Fixation


On Monday I drove down to Livingston and met Ellen for a very nice supper where she reminded me to try and get some of my quilt trips and shows for next year booked into the calendar, trying to avoid any last minute panics;) My Satnav Lady kept telling me that I had reached my destination for North Barn Quilters despite leading the Landy into impossibly tight cul-de-sacs. The room was crowded and my last trunkshow of the year went down well. Yet again, I was humbled by how complimentary other quilters are when I empty out three suitcases that contain a selection of the pieces that I have created over the last 6 years. I did not leave until after 9.30pm but the roads were dry and deserted so with Jools Holland on the radio, I made it home in 3 hours, preferring to get back late so that I could  be busy in the workshop for as long as possible the next day. 

I got the tedious paperwork out of the way then became very frustrated with my 3.5" Drunkard's Path blocks. I wanted to use the Curvemaster foot that had sewn the Apple Core blocks so beautifully but despite using the Elna, a Brother and the Featherweight, they just would not go together nicely at all. I even made some more Apple Cores, just to see if I was using the foot correctly. I think the curve was just too tight and too short for that method to work well. In the end I ate some chocolate, complained to my cyber friends on Facebook and Leonore in Wisconsin volunteered to piece a few DP blocks by hand as she actually enjoys doing that sort of project. I happily shoved the cut blocks and a tin of shortbread into a package and was able to get on with piecing a few more blocks for B'elzebub. I have decided that it has already evolved from my original concept so I may even have to enigmatically rename it, "Chimera". Some of my new blocks joined together very successfully but others were a tiny bit off. I guess that is why some wonderful American show quilts are created by a partnership, one of whom is an expert piecer. I am loathe to discard the off pieces so will probably try make use of them. I still have not decided whether there will be plain areas in the quilt or whether the whole thing will be pieced like the  "Mad Muddle" Yurt panel that is in the USA collection.

I am still gathering materials and ideas for another 3D project. I bought 9 chamois skins from a local tannery and have been corresponding with a basket weaver for a fairly off-the-wall idea. I really ought to have a go at sketching some of my plans onto paper instead of carrying them all around in my forgetful head.

Our local Posties have been told that they are not allowed to leave packages in safe places any more due to the increase in doorstep thefts - not that any have actually taken place near here. An unexpected consequence of this was that I had to pass the charity furniture shop that annoys me on my way to the parcel depot. This junk shop is stocked with donated furniture and items that it collects from the local dump and then charges more than is strictly necessary. I came across two bentwood chairs that were like Ercol pieces but they were £25 each so I walked away and left them there. After mulling it over, I regretted that decision so I texted my great friend, Tania from school and asked her to see if they were still there the next day. She really is a super friend because they were waiting for me outside my workshop when I got home. They are really nice chairs and have been put in the summerhouse for now because I do not really have a place to put them. I just can't seem to help buying old chairs and tables are yet another larger weakness. Maybe I should replace the ugly but functional office chairs in my workshop with my junkshop finds. When we moved to this farmhouse we had hardly any furniture and the rooms were almost empty but now we have filled them all to capacity and beyond since now there is also a yurt, summerhouse and workshop! Added to which, all of the old chairs are covered with rugs, quilts and cushions. I can see that there may soon have to be a ruthless clearout to make way for interesting new junk and irresistible vintage textiles... 

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Christmas Shopping: socks & tarpaulin

I spent almost two full days cutting fabric for "B'elzebub" and also a few simple fence border blocks for the wonky house quilt to do on Thursday evenings but I still have not sewn a stitch. The new quilt does not really have a plan as such - it will be a bit like a combination of yurt panels until it grows big enough. The wholecloth design that I drew out ages ago is for a very large quilt. The fabrics look rather inviting and I also ordered a batch of silk-mix fabric that I can dye. The modest sized package really did not look like it should have cost £200!

I was a bit disappointed but not altogether surprised that "The Ostrych" was rejected from a show that I entered it into on grounds of size and of being in several parts. However, the organiser of another large USA show has expressed an interest in it so perhaps it will go to America in the spring. I really must pluck up the courage to quilt "Oz Bewitched" or else it won't be going anywhere next year either. The trouble is that I keep being tempted to start more exciting projects. Mo gave me a fabulous white goat hide that would normally have been used as a coffin liner. Sometimes you don't need to know where stuff has come from...

I crammed a lot into my week as I was teaching for 3 days. My new class enjoyed making bread with fresh yeast and they really like my electric pencil sharpener. We had to put on a special assembly for the whole school and parents with very little time to rehearse and it went quite well. I am really enjoying knowing where everything is kept and leaving my coffee mug in the staffroom.

Several of my evenings were taken up with a Parent Council meeting, meeting at Freya's school about the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme and an evening spent at the relaunched Aberdeen Patchwork & Quilting Group. This was actually a very sociable event with several super mini demos and a wonderful selection of homebakes. Somehow, the new committee had even managed to muster a good turnout so things seem to be looking up for my local group.

I am determined not to be sucked into last minute panic buying mode this year so I forced myself to make a start on Christmas shopping in Aberdeen. I did surprisingly well and found lots of gifts in TK Maxx, mostly because I started there and had not yet got bored. I found all sorts of things including the ubiquitous socks, soap and my last purchase of the day was a large blue tarpaulin, not technically a Christmas present for anyone - just a treat for my garden Yurt to stop the rain soaking into the aging soggy, mossy canvas. I hope to complete the shopping online or find a few things in Banchory. Ideally, I would make all of my presents but I know that just won't happen. Maybe I could at least make some bunting and a batch of dog biscuits and that may just inspire me to make some more handy zipped bags. I am relieved that I did not commit myself to doing any Christmas craft fairs. I went to two small local sales at the weekend but the sellers reported that trade was painfully slow. Either people are doing all of their shopping online or everyone is busy making their own gifts.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Going to School in PJ's

I remember once having a vivid nightmare as a child in which I had to go to school in my pyjamas. This week I started my new temporary teaching job and on Day 2 I found myself teaching in PJ's in aid of the Children in Need charity. I think it will be rather nice to know all of the children's names and what I will be teaching in advance. I will teach in school 2 days in one week and three the following week. The other teacher and I will leave each notes, email and meet up sometimes to discuss progress. This will go on until February 2013, by which time I should know what quilting commitments I have. 

My children had two days off school for teacher in-service training so I did not spend much time in my workshop. I wrote some Houston thank you postcards, caught up with emails and did some proper cooking. 

I managed to complete two simple customer quilts. On one of them I tried out a simple feathery template that I had chosen for DIY quilters to use and I was really pleased with how it turned out. It was not exciting to do but I should think that most novice quilters would be thrilled with it. I intend not to do any more customer quilts before Christmas as I will be busy enough and want to spend all of my workshop time working on patterns or my new projects. 

I did some initial research for one of my top-secret-for-now projects - I will only hint that it may involve trees and some Scottish folklore...

On Friday after school I drove down to Edinburgh to stay with a lovely hostess so that I could give a talk on Quilts & Travels to Thistle Quilters. They were enthusiastic, most welcoming and very impressed at the three cases full of quilts from the past 6 years. I had taken along the Scottish yurt panels, a selection of bed quilts and a few small projects. I was quite surprised at how much stuff there was myself, especially considering that some other yurt panels are in Wisconsin, other quilts are away at shows, some are in cupboards or on beds and yet more have been given away!

I felt obliged to make a detour to IKEA on the way home where I picked up a couple of Christmas presents, meatballs with lingon-berries, and impulsively bought a white leather swivel chair from the bargain department. 

On Sunday I ruthlessly tidied out my thread drawers as they would not close after I tried to fit in the new reels from Houston. I was tempted to carry on and sort out the hidden horrors   of trimmings and paints in other drawers but that would have taken a very long time. Instead, I intend to cut some of my new fabric to make a small start on "B'elzebub". Mind you, if I order some black wadding then I might be tempted to quilt on a piece of Scottish deer hide.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

IQA Houston 2012

I started my trip from Crathes to Houston at 4am in the dark and everything ran smoothly. I was worried that the superstorm that was due to hit the eastern seaboard would impact upon my transatlantic flight but we flew around it and it was only mildly bumpy. The plane even arrived more than an hour ahead of schedule. There were several other quilters from the UK and further afield on the flight and it was easy to arrange a shuttle bus into the downtown hotel area.  

The Magnolia Hotel is a "boutique" hotel, not part of a major chain and so far I am very impressed, apart from there typically being no kettle or milk for morning tea, of course;) I had a plate of nachos with jalapenos and olives in the bar then watched dramatic weather reports as “Frankenstorm” unfolded causing severe flooding, fires and snow in the North Eastern states. 

I took a taxi ride to the Galleria Shopping Mall which was absolutely huge. I wandered around aimlessly for a few hours, becoming confused that there were two separate Macy's department stores. I got the bored beautician at the beauty counter to tart me up a bit for the Winners' Circle event in the evening. I decided that two slurps of Starbucks pumpkin spiced latte were more than adequate as it was incredibly sweet. I headed back to the hotel mid afternoon and met up with Ellen who has been touring around the States solo like one half of Thelma and Louise. 

After a stiff gin and getting changed into a new posh frock we set off to the prize giving ceremony. The audience of 1000 was more than I had expected and my category was near the end so I found myself getting a little nervous and glad to chat to another rookie entrant from New Zealand, Melissa who won second place for her pictorial quilt of a blacksmith. The winning quilts were gradually revealed from behind black curtains and they were absolutely stunning. The Best in Show by Sherry Reynolds was simply awesome. The winning quilts were also shown on large screens around the room. It gradually began to sink in that I had joined a small elite group of quilters who have won prizes at Houston. Odin's Trilogy was awarded third place in Merit Machine Quilting at the most prestigious quilt show in the world. 
Following the prize giving it was great to meet up and have supper with Norma Klimpke and Louella Doss from the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fiber Arts. 

On Wednesday morning we had a leisurely start before heading to the vast convention centre. There was a formal luncheon with speeches and amazingly,  the Quilted Yurt was mentioned by IQA Founder, Karey Bresenhan, in her opening speech.

It was a hot afternoon so we sat in the park with a beer before attending the preview night. It was amazing how many quilters attended an early look at the quilts and began their shopping. I was introduced to some very Important People and ogled some big stars of the quilt world. Frankly, I felt exhausted after such a lot of excitement so we did not stay late, deciding to return in the morning with a plan to look at quilts and look at vendor booths in a logical order. I wonder how long those good intentions will last?

I woke ridiculously early on the opening day of the show and was bowled over by lovely comments on Facebook from all sorts of quilters, including some of my idols. We walked downtown the eight blocks to the George R Brown Convention Center and it was above 80 degrees F before 10am. The snaking lines going into the show moved fairly quickly as the biggest quilt show in the world opened its doors for the first day. Ellen and I decided to work very systematically through the floor-plan of the exhibition. The good thing about this was that we kept each other from wandering off, getting side-tracked and stopping periodically for coffee. We were very disciplined, marking down booths that we wanted to revisit for possible purchases after browsing the every single vendor. It was great to check in at the Quilted Yurt every so often to answer questions and have a sit down. It is always wonderful to hear people's comments and explain what possessed me to undertake such a project. I also received many compliments about Odin's Trilogy that looked spectacularly shiny under the show lights. We went for a mimosa champagne cocktail in the park around 5pm and enjoyed relaxing in the late afternoon sun before attending the "Quiltapalooza" social event with raffles and silly contests. It felt great to get back to the hotel later in the evening, put our aching feet up and enjoy a large gin & tonic to plan our route around the exhibits on Day Two.

Miraculously, Ellen and I stuck to our plan of methodically going up and down every single aisle of quilts and vendors without deviations to ensure that we saw absolutely everything without becoming diverted. We have never been so disciplined or focussed at a quilt show before but it paid dividends in that we marked off everything that we wanted to return to later on the floor plan. We decided that we would not even buy anything until we had seen the whole show. I can't believe we had the willpower not to go off on any detours. 

I chatted to the people on the Craftsy booth about their online classes and even plucked up the courage to tell Alex Anderson that I found her book about teaching kids to quilt invaluable when I was a novice piecer. She asked how old I was when I learned to quilt and was slightly surprised to hear that I had bought it as an adult as its format was so simple and easy to understand. I saw a few famous faces wandering around the show but most teachers were busy in classrooms or lectures. I still find it exciting to see the celebrities who have authored books or made fabulous show quilts. Many people commented on my name badge that had the prize winning ribbons attached and asked which pieces I had in the show. 

I spent time at the Yurt with Norma and Louella from the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fiber Arts and continued to explain to astonished visitors why someone would undertake such a large project. Several people asked if there was book about the Yurt and it made me more determined to pull all of the almost finished chunks and chapters together and finally get it published. From time to time I wandered over to see Odin's Trilogy and explain to show visitors what fabrics and techniques I used. IQA really does a fantastic job of displaying the quilts. They are well spaced out, brightly lit and all exhibits have a large notice about each quilt and its maker. 

In the evening we took a taxi out to Goode's Texas BBQ and enjoyed a delicious supper of ribs and beans on canteen trays seated along rough hewn benches. There were bison and deer heads on the walls so it felt like an old style cowboy eatery. Next door was a huge glittery armadillo statue with Texas long horns. I wonder how fun it would be to quilt one of those?!

Saturday was a busy day at the show but our shopping plan meant that we did not take long to pick up what we wanted and did not seem to make any impulse buys. We had plenty of time to look around the exhibits again and do guided tours of the Yurt. The Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fiber Arts may decide to take the Yurt down to one of the other IQA festivals next June since it is only about two hours south from Cedarburg. All sorts of people came to see the Yurt and all were very impressed, especially when I proudly told them that this was the second, smaller version. I kept being asked about "The Book" and availability of patterns so I really need to do something about that finally. A Turkish lady asked if I had considered making a Dolmen tent, a fabric vendor was so blown away that she became quite emotional, small children gleefully ran in and out, someone suggested adding a hot-tub and one visitor was concerned about the use of animal horns over the door until I reassured her that they were plastic and I had bought them at Michael's Craft Store. 

We had a lovely meal in the evening at Ibiza Restaurant, sitting outside on the terrace enjoying the balmy air which would be unheard of in Scotland, even in summer.
Sunday was a little quieter at the show and just after midday Norma and Louella left for the airport. They had manned the Yurt since Quilt Market began, telling visitors all about their fantastic quilt museum in Wisconsin. I visited the Fairfield batting booth to see a quilting demonstration by Caryl Bryer Fallert and was formally introduced. I was thrilled when she came over to the Yurt later on and complimented my work. As a member of the Board at the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, she expressed an interest in having the Yurt there as an exhibition. I am truly honoured that my idols from the quilt world have complimented both the Yurt and Odin's Trilogy - I was told that my quilting is "exquisite". I could not be more delighted by such praise and I will use this massive confidence boost to work on some exciting new ideas, hopefully putting the supply teaching on the back burner unless I need to earn some money for a quilt adventure, of course.

I enjoyed a Mexican style supper and wicked frozen margarita at Peppa Jack's then could not keep my eyes open when I returned to the hotel. Typically I woke up around 4am which at least gave me time to read and pack although I did not buy much fabric apart from a lovely selection of plains that I cannot get in the UK.

I spent the morning mooching around Downtown Houston and discovered a couple of places that I will remember for a future trip: there is a super deli and cafe called Phonecia two blocks from the convention centre and there was an interesting, reasonably priced selection of clothes in Dress Barn. I found a small jeweller in the Houston Center and the two very pleasant assistants helped me to pick out a Pandora style charm bracelet to commemorate my prize at IQA Houston. I chose a silver quilt, lone star and silver state of Texas to go alongside a couple of other beads. I wanted something special to remember my first award at such a prestigious international show that will spur me on when I have moments of doubt in my talent. 

The flights back to Aberdeen were uneventful apart from the fidgetty lady with sharp elbows and a bag full of samosas who sat next to me on the transatlantic route. The entire journey, door to door, only took around 15 hours. The weather at home was cool and grey - a far cry from hot and humid Houston. I was in no hurry to unpack as that meant that my amazing quilt trip was definitely over. It will probably take a day or so to come back down to earth, make new lists, note down contacts and maybe even work on a project. The phone rang almost immediately offering me some supply teaching but I have decided that I now need to refocus on my quilting career and try to push the school teaching back to a minimum. However, first of all, I need to brew a strong jug of coffee and finish off the last of my shiny M&M candies...

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Tattie Hols 2012

I feel slightly guilty about combining two weeks of holiday into one blog post but the “tattie holidays” have been pretty busy. Scottish schools traditionally have a two week mid-term break in October which originated when children would be expected to help gather in the potato or “tattie” harvest. 

I travelled to Norfolk by train with my 3 children with fanciful ideas about typing or researching during the journey but trains are so crowded these days and there is not much space to move, store luggage or swing a cat. I was pleased that I remembered to take a flask of my own coffee since the buffet car was out of order. A young passenger asked her mother what century Fenella thought she was in as she was reading, rather than playing on an electronic gadget. The inside joke was that she was actually reading a book on a Kindle! It is quite educational travelling alongside other members of the population ;)

The weather in Norfolk was unusually wet but it was not particularly cold. Freya enjoyed cycling into the village to fetch a few groceries in a bike basket and we spent time with my family. My sister taught Fenella how to crochet and Fergus managed to survive for several days without the dreaded X-box. We had a fun day out in the rain at “Bewilderwood”, an adventure park of tree-houses, zip-wires and imaginary forest creatures. We did a lot of cooking, eating and experimented with the medieval looking contraption that I bought in Norwich for peeling apples.

When we returned to Scotland I had to rearrange Fenella’s bedroom for a sleepover, wrap presents and make a huge quadruple layer chocolate marble cake topped with rocky road icing. It was suddenly Thursday afternoon in the second week of the holidays by the time all of that was over and I still had to collect new business cards, finish off the house blocks and complete the third silver Viking helmet that I decided to take with me to the Quilt Festival, Houston in case anyone wants to buy it. I was also delighted to receive a complimentary copy of Machine Quilting Unlimited as an article about Scottish yurt panel, Willowbay Herb, featured on p78.

I bought travel gin in pouches instead of a heavy glass bottle and packed for my trip at last. I am struggling to get rid of a stinking cold and also keeping a close eye on USA weather warnings for “Frankenstorm”, which I hope will not adversely affect my transatlantic flight on Monday. Thankfully, the unseasonably early snow that settled here on Friday has now turned to rain. Perhaps I should make a a long quilty shopping list to keep me busy...

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Highs & Lows

I made it just in time for my talk at Aberdeen North Embroidery Guild by the skin of my teeth as my sat-nav lady had a bit of a meltdown in the dark and could not take me somewhere perfectly straightforward less than 15 miles away from home. The ladies seemed to enjoy some of the quilts that I have produced in the last 6 years.

I attended an interview for a teaching job that I really believed I would get since I had already been teaching at the school regularly. Despite telling myself that I would be philosophical if a better suited teacher got the job, I was really fed up when told that I lacked “experience”. I was given sound advice on how I could improve my CV for future applications. After stewing about it all for a couple of days, I decided that perhaps the tarot cards were trying to tell me that school teaching is not my destiny after all. I had seriously considered putting my quilting business back onto the back burner and earning money the “easy” way by returning to the teaching profession but I now believe that I just don’t fit the mould required to be a permanent member of teaching staff. If I am honest, I like to plan things my own way without filling in reams of paperwork and I hate being told what to do. I spent a supply day in an infant class the next day where the children up to age 7 were all learning through play activities and I decided that I was actually rather bored. I even had time to jot down one or two new ideas for quilting projects.

When I returned home there was an offer to go and teach quilting in Texas next October if I feel like it so I ordered a celebratory new pair of green Dr Martens, poured myself a large gin and decided to feel relieved that I am still a free agent to travel to international quilt shows without having to consider school holidays. 

On Friday Mo, Tania and I spent a long overdue day together. We started by dunking Cadbury’s Crunchies into very strong coffee, then went to see the new upholstery workshop in an old farm steading that Mo will share with Yurtman, a Canoe Builder and a Felt Maker. She is excited by the creative possibilities that could evolve from such a combination of artisans. We helped shift some rolls of fabric and shelves then treated ourselves to a late lunch at the Finzean Farm Shop. The heavy rain throughout the day caused the River Feugh to burst its banks but my trusty Landrover waded manfully through the deep puddles on the road. There was even a small waterfall gushing through the dry-stone dyke in my garden that caused a moat to form around the yurt and lap at the door. I will need to light the stove and mop up - after another winter I will probably need to commission a new roof canvas.

At the weekend I finally finished quilting the rejected then resurrected Viking helmet that I did on some inferior quality silver lame. Some of the shiny surface has worn off so I think I will give it a squirt of silver spray paint. This will also hide the fact that I changed thread colours halfway through. As this is now Silver Helmet Number 3 I think I will probably put it up for sale. I added more strips to the 25 house cushion/quilt blocks and prepared the back of a small customer quilt so I felt that I actually achieved something in my workshop this weekend, despite the pungent smell of spirit vinegar that I had used to remove some stains on a vintage wool blanket. 

It is a good job that my Macbook has virtual “sticky-note” reminders - it is only two weeks until I fly to Houston and I have lots to do before I pack my suitcase!!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Full Week leads to Empty Cupboards

I had three full teaching days this week covering all sorts of lessons from Vikings to autumn leaf prints so I decided to stick closely to my to-do-list. This included ironing and putting up another guitar bracket in the summerhouse before allowing myself time to make bias binding. In the end I chickened out of binding around all of Freya's  giant hexagons. The sharp corners proved to be very fiddly and I decided that I would not allow myself the time or patience to faff around with it properly. The 3 Christmas quilts for my children are finally complete so maybe now I can think about a couple more Norse pieces?

I am delighted to have sold the Smart Car cover to the Uptown Arts Center in Blanco, Texas. They actually have a Smart Car and really wanted it on time for their show next week. I packed it all up but had to visit three post offices before it finally started its journey to the USA. The small P.O. couldn't process it because their scales only go up to 10kg, the medium sized P.O. is run by a truculent woman and on this occasion she would not accept any more parcels for the day because she was closing early. The assistant at the High Street branch was very helpful and filled in all of the customs forms without any fuss at all.

After school on Wednesday I drove for 2 hours to Cupar in Fife to do a talk & trunkshow with a selection of yurt panels and show quilts. They were a most appreciative audience and were surprised by my casual approach to using whatever materials I like and letting everyone touch my quilts. I decided to drive back that night and had a clear run home by 11pm  with a good Radio 4 reception. 

I was out again on Thursday evening at a long and heated meeting at Banchory Academy where the Parent Council met with the Director of Education to demand that 16+ age pupils should continue to be examined in 8 subjects rather than 6 as dictated by the latest decree from Aberdeenshire Council. This debate has been rumbling on with the rules of engagement constantly shifting for 3 years; the parents are not prepared to back down and the Head Teacher is caught in the crossfire. An agreement will have to be reached by the end of November with a considerable number of parents threatening to remove their children to private schools. It was an interesting, political meeting and astonishing that very little about these sweeping educational reforms has been reported in the media.

At the weekend I finally managed to produce a two-sided A4 flyer about the Quilted Yurt, USA. I managed to put it together in Pages on the Macbook which was actually easier than I had expected. I would like to print it in colour, although it will obviously be cheaper to produce black & white copies as long as the pictures look clear enough. 

I had hoped to spend most of Sunday finishing off the wonky house blocks but I started clearing out the kitchen cupboards instead. I was fed up with plastic boxes without their correctly fitting lids and birthday candles that had melted down to stumps. I was ruthless, disposing of a huge jar full of ginless sloes and some vintage Christmas mincemeat. I hope this does not lead me to embark upon a full scale pre-Festive-Season clearout, otherwise I will not get any sewing done at all!

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Christmas is Coming!

I made the most of time in the workshop to work on my 3 children's Christmas quilts. I impressed myself by making bias binding and kept the curved edges on the apple core quilt and the wedge shapes on the tumbler quilt. I added a fancy embroidery stitch all the way around the binding which really made it look festive. I used a simple template of ripples on Fergus's tumbler quilt but I could not resist filling in every other row with ribbon candy loops. I had intended to use the new feather template on Freya's giant hexagon quilt so that I could show how it looked to folk who may like to use them on DIY quilts but there were too many iffy inset seams that I wanted to stitch down firmly so it got swirled all over instead. The wool wadding and dyed flannelette sheeting on the back should make these quilts really cosy.

It was definitely a productive week here as I sewed wide borders around all of the house blocks so that they can later be cut wonkily and I worked steadily on a 36 page brochure on the USA Yurt that I would like to publish in time for Houston. It will be a stand-in until the real book is completed and it made me work on all sorts of sections that were previously half finished. The only sticking point will be finding a printer in the USA that can make a booklet cheaply enough so that I can sell them for a sensible amount. I spent some time trying to upload my PDF onto one or two online publishers but it was not as straightforward as I hoped and yet again I found myself switching between the new Macbook and the cranky old PC.

After much deliberation, I applied for one of the primary school teaching jobs. One minute I felt pleased by my decision then the next I felt sheer panic. Mo did a tarot card reading over coffee on Wednesday morning which was uncannily apt: it suggested that I should not worry about making a career change as everything would just work out how it was meant to be. Obviously, I don't intend to plan my life around a light-hearted tarot reading but it was a relief to be "told" to just relax and see what pans out.

My latest quest is to invent a recipe for crunchy, cheesy, seeded crackers. I have become fond of gourmet crispbreads that are delicious but expensive. My first attempt looked like overdone pitta-bread, tasting rather like dog biscuits so for my next batch I may just use a recipe that I have for canine treats and see if that works out better. If that fails then I will have to accept that the shop ones are perfect as they are and simply get on with the mass-production of bias binding to keep myself busy.


Sunday, 23 September 2012


With rather a lot of time on my hands in between visitors to my studio for NEOS, I kept thinking about Hamlet, Prince of Denmark questioning his place in the Universe. In the dull moments I debated with myself about the pressure of a small business having to make money versus the desire to simply indulge my creativity.  The silk Copper Capercaillie Norse wholecloth was overlooked by the judges at the Scottish Quilt Championships and if it was not for the much needed confidence boost from the forthcoming Houston award, I would be seriously considering selling everything in my studio. 

I am wrestling with the decision on whether to apply for a permanent part time teaching job or even a temporary full time teaching job. Obviously the part time one sounds better on paper but it is "forever" and I may not be able to persuade the Boss to let me go on the odd quilt trip. I would also have to share the classroom and children with another teacher. The temporary full time one would give me my own teaching space and a chance to see if I can balance a teaching job with quilting. The financial pressure would be eased but studio time would be limited. However, I definitely produce better work under pressure and I certainly could not become bored or distracted. Perhaps that is the only way to ever get "The Book" done!

I found North East Open Studios quieter this year but I convinced myself that I could not concentrate on serious projects or writing because visitors would turn up at odd times throughout the day. Maybe they all called in on the 2 days out of 9 that I had to close because I was in school? My family called in on a golf holiday to Scotland on the busiest day of all but it was great to spend some time with them in between tours of my studio. 

I worked on an easy project to keep me occupied so I finally put together 25 little house blocks. I do not plan to purchase any more fabric for this so I am adding various strips out of my stash. I wonder whether I should make each one into a cushion instead of a quilt that someone is unlikely to buy? Mind you, that means quilting, piping, adding zips, backs and buying cushion pads. Perhaps I will consult Mo, the Cushion Guru...

I finished Fenella's Christmas apple core quilt so that visitors could see me quilting "live". So many people admired its curved edges that I talked myself into keeping them instead of slicing them off after quilting. I have now made about 20 yards of bias binding so I will pluck up the courage to have a go at that next week when I have my studio cleared and back to "normal".

Sunday, 16 September 2012

What a Thrill!!


My week was chugging along in a satisfactory manner - teaching locally and managing to spend all day on Tuesday writing articles and emails on the new Macbook without incident when I received the following amazing and thrilling message by email...

On behalf of Stevii Graves and the entire IQA Board of Directors, I would like to congratulate you! Your entry, Odin's Trilogy, has won an award in this year's Judged Show! It will be hanging in the Merit Quilting Machine category. Due to the efforts of our talented members, the 2012 IQA Judged Show promises to be beautiful! It's great to know that all the time and hard work you've put into your piece has been rewarded."

I am delighted, elated, stunned and absolutely thrilled!!! It's a good job that I had already booked a flight and made plans to visit Houston for the first time this year. It will be a really busy week fitting in extra events for prize winners, talking about the Quilted Yurt which will be in the special exhibition, "Tactile Architecture", viewing wonderful quilts, doing a little shopping and maybe even making a trip to NASA!

The email from Houston made me take The Ostrych series out of its shameful brown paper sack provided by FOQ and hang it all up in my studio. I had been a bit worried about the gold snakeskin snakeskin panel that went to Houston as I felt that the quilting did not show up as well as on the original plain lame but it obviously impressed the judging panel well enough.  This result means so much to me since I now feel like I have been validated as a bona fide quilter at the world's biggest and best quilt show.

My enthusiasm for quilting returned at last so I was keen to finish and attach the borders to Oz Bewitched. I even scribbled out some preliminary sketches for quilting designs that are influenced by Aboriginal art. I wished I had made the outer borders wider to show off the chrysanthemum fabric as I had been considering adding prairie points along the binding. 
I even enjoyed piecing a couple of the house blocks that live in a shoe box as an in-between project. 

North East Open Studios began at the weekend and got off to a sunny start so everyone wanted to know why The Quilt Quine had not bothered to put the Yurt up. I was able to hang quilts outside on the washing line and on a ladder but the next day the weather changed back to normal so everything had to be brought inside. I took the laptop out with me and made an effort to write a small blurb about all of the Yurt panels that will be displayed at Houston. I struggled to embellish my brief descriptions with arty-farty phrases so it looks like I may have to work on that skill. I really ought to make a note about my inspiration every time I have a bright idea just in case I ever have to explain myself. Visitors to the studio keep asking me how I first got into quilting and I flounder a bit saying it just sort of crept up on me - I will have to come up with something more exciting than that!

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Computer Rage

My excitement about my new MacBook soon turned to frustration as I could not seem to make a smooth transfer of data from my old laptop to the new one. It took a few phone calls to Apple Support until I found a technician who was able to explain the "migration assistant" procedure clearly. Having copied everything over, I realised that I was not familiar enough with the Mac to do some of my everyday tasks quickly and easily. On the day that I set aside for emails and writing I had both laptops and the ipad running on my kitchen table. The plan had been to reformat the old laptop and give it to one of the children but it may be while until I am confident enough to use I-work instead of Microsoft Office.

I created a Powerpoint step by step photo slideshow to demonstrate how to assemble the USA Yurt. I won't arrive in Houston until Quilt Festival but the special exhibits also appear at Quilt Market so a team will have to put it up without me.

I had a diverse week in school as usual, teaching sex education, hockey, RE and finally being presented with a new Primary One class with no warning on Friday morning. I deliberately avoided teaching infants when I was a full time teacher but I managed to muddle through the day with the help of a patient classroom assistant who knew the words for the "Welcome Song" and password for the electronic Smartboard.

I did eventually manage to piece the Oz Bewitched blocks together: some seams lined up beautifully whereas others are decidedly offset, which is a little puzzling, but this often happens when using gold lame so I am not going to be doing any unpicking. I have to contribute to an online article about Feedsack quilts and the Willowbay Herb yurt panel will make an appearance in "Machine Quilting Unlimited" so I decided to take a couple of new pictures as it was so sunny on Saturday morning. I confess that I did not take advantage of the glimpse of summer and sit in a deckchair with a book as I felt that I would rather try to make progress on the condensed Yurt brochure that I hope to produce for Houston. However, I discovered that I had not actually written as much as I thought I had since the last time I worked on it so I have got rather a lot to crack on with...! 

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Jill of All Trades

This week I taught in school every day and hardly touched fabric at all. Despite being so busy, I found that I was forced to focus, working concertedly and ticking items off lists. My teaching was varied and very off the cuff. It covered almost every age range and involved just about everything from adding 10 000 and Vikings to The Paralympics and World War II. One morning I was given 5 minutes notice that I would be the French specialist for the morning without the aid of dictionaries or any other teaching material. I decided to wing it, put on a French accent and say, "Bonjour La Classe!" authoritatively. After doing a bit of counting and revision of greetings we did comic strips of a French folk tale and I seemed to get away with it quite convincingly. I secretly enjoyed flitting in and out of all of the different classes but I have decided that the maximum that I want to spend in classrooms is more like two and a half days each week.

I eventually found half an hour to cut fabric for the remaining 2 borders on the Oz version of Bewitched and I even sewed a few seams in between answering calls about longarm machines and planning for next week's primary school sex education lessons. My reward at the end of such a busy week was to book my flights to Houston and share a glass or two of wine with Tania. 

I intended to do some piecing at the weekend but I immersed myself in a side project, painting an old, brown varnished cupboard. There was a time when I would have sanded it all down and used eggshell paint but I decided to use chalky "Annie Sloan" paint that has been specially formulated to use straight onto any old wood without any preparation. I was amazed at how well it turned out and made my ugly Edwardian piece look elegantly French. I ran up simple grey gingham curtains to hide the children's art stuff inside the cupboard then got completely carried away and also painted the ancient hostess trolley that can be used if I ever decide to have a dinner party but in reality is where Blue Cat keeps a spare box of cat biscuits. 

Instead of sitting at my sewing machine on Sunday I found myself in Aberdeen again since the bus that Freya wanted to catch into the city failed to appear. We collected her new ukelele then I plucked up the courage to go into the Apple Store and I bought a Mac Book Pro! My Windows laptop has been driving me crazy so I am hopeful that once I have got all of the new commands sussed and moved over all of my documents and contacts, I will not keep mysteriously losing documents. I have a few articles to write and I plan to produce a simple Yurt brochure for Houston so my fingers should be kept busy clicking!

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Crazy New Term

I arrived back from FOQ late on Monday evening glad that I had sorted out school uniforms and stationery before I went away. School started the next day and I had to unpack and return the van. My workshop looked like it had been ransacked and I had to find space for the extra longarm machine boxes until they are sold or go to another exhibition. Meanwhile, three schools phoned requesting supply teaching commitments from me. I had hoped to have a few days to sort out my correspondence and workspace but I found myself unable to turn them down. I have to remind myself that these wages can go towards Houston or a new laptop since my red Dell is being so temperamental but I also need to keep plenty of time to work on my projects.


I taught at my own children's school for the first time and they eventually managed to ignore the fact that I was related to them after a while. I laughed when I could not identify the owners of a couple of unnamed sweaters and the younger children suggested that I should smell them to work out who they belonged to. I actually enjoyed teaching such pleasant and well mannered children. The day passed very quickly; they really seemed to enjoy my maths, art and PE lessons.


I had a DIY quilter here for several hours day to complete a wedding quilt using a tricky stencil board. In the end most of the correspondence got done but the blogging was neglected for the week until I caught up with myself again. I still have a term's worth of PE, RE and sex education lessons to plan. Luckily, the schools have given me some guidelines...


I took Freya into town on Saturday; we had fun browsing at ukeleles and went for a lovely lunch. She has promised that she will help me to put the summerhouse back together now that it has  all been freshly painted. I want to make curtains to go inside an old glass cupboard that has seen better days. Yet again, I wish that I could stop time or clone myself in order to get everything done that I want to do in as little time as possible so that I have plenty more time left for quilting!

Sunday, 19 August 2012

FW: Festival of Quilts UK 2012

I collected an enormous white van then spent the whole day pacing up and down worrying that all of the longarm machines & frames would arrive on time until I finally received a call from the international shippers to confirm that the German on loan from Claudia Pfeil would be delivered direct to Birmingham. In addition to a machine from Ireland, three from the USA and one of my own, the van was packed up with just about everything I could think of that may come in handy at the show. I went shopping for essentials such as chocolate, painkillers and a few bottles of wine.
There was a dramatic thunderstorm with pink lightning overnight so I did not get much sleep and I set off early on the first leg of the trip to collect Kay from the Scottish Borders. The van radio was pretty useless so we caught up on quilting gossip, latest book purchases, projects in progress and we discussed various quilt blogs.
Wednesday was set-up day where "The Team" met for the first time. As well as Kay, I had help from Ani and her sidekick, Lilian, who kept us in stitches with her irreverent comments about all and sundry. Mark Caraher flew in from the USA to represent APQS and help out with sales and technical queries. It was great to have someone so expert at assembling these machines quickly for a show as it took all day to get the stand ready. As we had the luxury of a large trade-stand, we hung an enormous stage backdrop that made it look like we were in a quilter's studio, as well as three blue and white bed quilts, bunting and garlands. The generous amount of floor space allowed us to demonstrate two Millenniums on a 12 ft table, a mid-range Lucey on a short table and two smaller Lennis on another 10ft table.
Over the next four days our impressive stand was much admired by existing longarmers, traders, quilting teachers, and beginners alike. We received many compliments about the information that we shared, the explanations of how things worked, the friendliness of our team and the work that was on display.
There was very little time to explore the quilt show except for a quick run around first thing in the morning. I had a very brief look at the show quilts and exhibits. Kay took many great photos and posted them on her blog, I managed to buy just what was on my brief shopping list except that no-one had any gold lame on sale!
It was a fun but hard working week: the team gelled really well, we ate far too much good food in the evenings where we discussed the day, flummoxed ourselves with taxes and dollar conversions and we nicknamed one member of our team,  "Algebra Ani".
The show ran really smoothly until the final afternoon where the NEC traffic supervisors held all of the vans in the queue for over two hours and we almost missed our deadline for getting the German machine picked up by Schenkers.
Kay and I had a long drive home on Monday as we made a detour to IKEA then sat in crawling traffic for almost two hours. When we stopped for a cup of tea we opened and read our quilts' judging comments and I really could not decide whether to feel indignant or embarrassed. My score was the lowest that I had ever received from FOQ judges. One said that the series "lacked cohesion" which I did not understand. I was not upset whether the judges did not like my choice of materials but I was concerned that by now I should be attaining "excellent" for skill at the very least. I admit that I sulked and worried for most of the remainder of my journey. That evening my Facebook friends were all very encouraging and generously boosted my morale but I still wonder whether my work reaches the standard required by QGBI trained judges. I guess The Ostrych needs to go to another show to be judged again; I can always sell the panels off to fund a quilt trip if unsuccessful.