Sunday, 31 May 2015

Ta-da! (and some boring stuff)

I finished off my waistcoat and I am relieved to say that it fits fairly well. The operation of turning it into a garment was really weird as I had to pull the whole thing through the armholes after sewing some of the seams. Joining the side seams was even stranger and seemed to involve hand-sewing but I just did some tricky ironing and topstitched the sides shut. Mo covered some buttons for me using scraps from the project and I have ordered Norwegian cardigan clasps to close it at the top. As with all adventures into dressmaking, I might tackle this one again but change quite a few of the construction methods. 

Feeling rather inspired, I searched the internet for a dressmaking mannequin that is fatter than my Lady Valet. Her dials are difficult to turn and she is nowhere near as generously sized as I was led to believe;) 
I bid rather more than I had intended for a vintage, made-in-england size B Diana on Ebay but hopefully my new friend, “Daphne” and I will become firm friends. 

Feeling frustrated with having so many odds and ends to attend to, I realised that the only way to move on would be to deal with some really boring tasks. Hence, I have been mercilessly sorting through digital photos. Many of those related to the Quilted Yurts and they seemed to be scattered and duplicated all over my laptop in different locations. This led to organising gazillions of other photos, including files from before 2008. My Mac’s trashcan contained 27000 items! I was worried that my computer was going to have a nervous breakdown when it keep freezing as I moved dozens of items around its desktop. 
After sorting out my paperwork, I was reminded that my outgoings far exceed my quilt related income so it is just as well that I have kept up my annual Scottish teacher registration just in case.

Many other little tasks were crossed off my list such as booking Freya’s travels for her Tallship Race in the summer, dealing with “official” emails on behalf of the Parent Council and at least thinking about the peeling paint on the bathroom ceiling.

Another satisfying job that I got done was packing the Yurt into 2 boxes, making a note of their dimensions then struggling to suspend them from the luggage scales. I almost have all of the copies of the Yurt documents and photos ready to load onto a USB stick so I expect it won’t be much longer before I am ready to send everything off to Paducah.

I dealt with 2 more items from my unfinished quilts basket. A huge Indian bedspread was quilted with more wavy lines but it is almost impossible to see any quilting at all. There are not any beds large enough for such a quilt in my house so I may try to sell it. Next, I tried to quilt a very simple pantograph on an ugly Ebay quilt top but soon realised that it needed far more dense quilting to deal with its bulges and ripples. I ended up adding freehand loops in between all of the rows. At least it looked more “vintage” after a hot wash and tumble but I really don’t know where that one will end up - it looks like it should be taken camping;)

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Remind me... less can be more;)

After the vintage hexie quilt was sort-of squared up and bound I decided to quilt more simple wavy lines on the deer bargello quilt and give it to Nell’s Headmistress when she retires at the end of term. I love the simple texture of the soft waves - I have an Indian bedspread waiting to be quilted that might just get the same treatment. 

It was an oddly expectant week. Freya was waiting for the “execution” of the her Higher Maths exam which most of the 17 year olds in Scotland subsequently complained was grim. She revised hard for that exam and also had a tutor in recent weeks so my fingers are crossed that she managed to perform well enough to pass. I am waiting for the Bernina Q24 longarm machine to be delivered at any time so I tidied up my workshop and tried not to start any major, messy projects. 

I began a major reorganisation of my digital photos. I have no idea how many there are altogether but my Mac is storing 93GB worth of pictures! There were Yurt photos in dozens of different locations and also photos that had been transferred from my previous laptop. I still have a lot more sorting to do but hopefully it will be far easier to find them the next time I need to write an article or pattern.

I decided to have a crack at the waistcoat pattern that I bought from Cherrywood Fabrics in Paducah. I managed the patchwork aspect easily but as usual my “pattern dyslexia” challenged me. I almost wished that I had just quilted some fabric, then sewed it all together and finished it all off with a binding. The finished example at the show was stitched with a few simple, vertical lines but I don’t know whether they did that before or after assembly. 

Obviously, I let myself get carried away and spent almost 2 days stitching and couching onto my patchwork fabric before even cutting out my pattern pieces. I enjoyed using my Indian wood blocks from Colouricious to print the plain grey lining fabric with red, grey and black paint. 

After reading then ignoring some of the instructions I finally had the outside and inside pieces all joined together along curves with 5/8” seam allowances. To accommodate my bust, I made the XL size as per the instruction leaflet but after a quick try-on while it was just pinned together, I was concerned that it might too baggy. I am hopeful that it will all fit more neatly after it is finished, otherwise I may have to buy a big padded bra. Putting the waistcoat together looks a bit of a palaver as the lining has to be “posted” through the inside-out outer part in some mysterious way. I must remember to use a generous stitch length in case I need to take it all apart. Perhaps I can adjust the side seams? I was annoyed that my tailor’s dummy was too skinny even when fully expanded so I may have to look into getting a more curvaceous mannequin!

Freya, whose gold prom dress sits neatly on the skinny tailor’s dummy, strutted her stuff on the catwalk at the village hall, looking fabulous in a vintage mustard yellow jumpsuit with a fur coat at a Red Cross Shop charity fashion event. The second-hand outfits modelled were all pretty fantastic and the audience enjoyed the novelty of drinking cocktails from china teacups;)

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Bunking Off

The tartan quilt top for the Bernina stand at FOQ is complete. I could not figure out why I seemed to have two spare sections but the mystery was solved when I tried to join the 3 main sections together and discovered that one side was too short because I had missed something out! It is a bit larger than I had planned because I had not included the side borders in my rough sketch. I am torn between wanting to do some variation of traditional Welsh whole cloth quilting or sticking to the tartan weave theme and only quilting with diagonal lines. I expect there will some sort of mash-up of those ideas when I get the new Bernina Q24 machine set up and ready to quilt.

I was pleased that “Bifrost Bridges” was awarded a Judge’s Merit ribbon at Malvern. At least it shows that the quilt is skilfully made even if if does not wow the judges with its design. It is the only suitable piece that I have available for FOQ this year and I will probably enter it but at this stage I don’t intend to enter it into any shows overseas since the shipping is too expensive for a quilt that does not appear to be a “contender”.

While I was waiting for the painfully slow internet to upload my quilting photos I decided to do a simple quilt from my basket. Although I have a couple of quilts that have been waiting their turn for ages, I chose the Paducah hexie quilt. It was extremely stretchy and seemed to have different numbers of hexagons or half hexagons on all 4 sides but it was big enough that it could afford to have a bit hacked off. I was just going to quilt soft, wavy horizontal lines but when I noticed that some of the piecing was coming adrift, I decided to turn the quilt once I reached the bottom and go back the other way as well. I am delighted with how good it looks with its curvy ¾” allover grid. It looks even better now that it has had a good wash so all I have left to do is trim it to a regular size then find it some binding.

I thoroughly enjoyed a 2 day workshop with Jamie Malden from Colouricious that was organised by the Aberdeen P&Q Group. We had plenty of space and light in a large workroom at Papeterie, a paper-craft shop at the paper mill near Dyce. I have not taken part in a workshop for ages and it was great fun just to play with Indian wood block stamps and stencils for two whole days. We produced several fabric samples using a combination of stamping, stencilling and mono-printing using Gelli plates. Jamie was enthusiastic and got us working at a great pace. I already had a few blocks and paints that I had bought at quilt shows but I had never experimented with them before. It was great to learn the techniques properly and to be told about the best paints to use. Printing with the wood blocks was simple and serendipity played a large part, making it a great craft that children would enjoy. I think it is fantastic that Colouricious  is able to provide work for 40 traditional Indian carpenters and their families because of its successful online shop and textile tours of India. I came away feeling inspired, with a few more paints and blocks that I can use on some of my leftover plain fabrics. I just need to decide what to make with my samples. It would be easy to get completely carried away and start creating dress fabric, T-shirts, scarves and lampshades. Perhaps I should start thinking about making some Christmas presents;)

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Taking Stock

Once the emails were answered and bills paid, it was high time to get back into the studio and do some quilting. This could not begin before I had a minor tidying session, making space for some new thread, giving the longarm machine a little TLC and setting the Bernina 710 up for piecing with the dual-feed 97 patchwork foot and single-stitch plate. 

I had two main projects on the go; one of which was stitching out quilting examples to send to Bernina and to use as “warts-and-all” photos in my Ebook. Usually, a quilter will try to match thread carefully to blend with the fabric but in this case I need a high contrast for photos so dark brown thread on white fabric showed up every wobble. I did not especially enjoy this task because it was a sample but I really needed the practice, feeling rusty as it seems to be a while since I did any tricky, custom quilting. I may consider adding paint and fancy stitches to the practice piece when I have time - it could be cut it up to make bags or wallets. 

I am on the lookout for jumbo suitcases to ship the Yurt coverings to Paducah, although it may be cheaper to buy new holdalls considering what charity shops sell junk for in my area. I made some progress editing the long-unfinished descriptions of the Yurt panels. When my original book about the Yurt got sidelined I never got around to finishing off some of the “chapters” and I certainly did not write patterns for every panel. I would love to come up with a children’s story based around the Yurt but I can’t just scribble it down in a couple of days. Life is just too busy to shut myself up in an ivory tower to work on ALL of the things that I would like to create!

I puzzled over my sketchy drawings of the Tartan quilt and confused myself over its dimensions. One of the diagrams showed a border but the other one did not so that would account for the difference. I made 3 blocks then could not figure out why they were not all the same size. After a bit of a panic where I almost cut one of the blocks down to a smaller size, I realised that the middle row is actually narrower. Although I love shot cottons, I was reminded how tricky they can be as the loosely woven fabrics fray and warp easily. The blocks are even bigger than I imagined so the quilt top should be completed relatively quickly. I just need to decide on some simple (Ha-Ha!) but interesting quilting. After quilting up my photo samples, I was beginning to feel that my quilting might be in danger of getting stuck in a rut. I guess I need to spend less time thinking and more time drawing, sigh…

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Nashvegas and the Windy City

On Monday morning we were amazed that we could fill the hire-car up with petrol for $25! We drove a little way out to Gruhn’s Vintage Guitars where we marvelled at the pricey instruments. Since I could not afford upwards of $2000 for a resonator guitar, I chose the kids a selection of picks, stickers, gadgets and T-shirts instead. 

We decided that the best way to tour Nashville was by trolley bus. The guide told us a bit about some of the city’s famous musicians and landmarks. We slightly regretted that we had not done the tour shortly after arrival so we had a better idea of where everything was. I now wish we had decided to visit Music Hall of Fame but we simply ran out of time. The trolley bus dropped us off at the Marathon Motor Works which was meant to be a collection of artisan boutiques and a junk store but we thought it was just a little naff. 

Back on the trolley tour, our guide pointed out Taylor Swift’s 2-storey condo and Reba McIntyre’s personal recording studio with private helipad. We passed studios that had recorded artists including Elvis, Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash. 

We spent a little time in the tattoo shop, admiring the artwork and being a little surprised that a young couple favoured matching beer mug tattoos as their Nashville trip souvenir, rather than inked cowboy boots or a guitar.  

We joined Ellen at the HardRock Cafe for delicious cocktails before heading to Rippy’s Ribs for the worst, most artificial margarita ever in a plastic cup. The food was pretty good and we had a great view overlooking “Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge”, a purple building that has hosted many rising stars over the years. 

We had a last wander around Nashville then returned the car to the airport unscathed. Kay had a dramatic accident on the escalator with 2 suitcases and a backpack - it was one of those dreadful slow motion moments where you can’t believe what you are seeing. She toppled over backwards on the moving stairs until someone at the bottom had the sense to hit the emergency stop button. She reassured a policeman that she was fine, despite receiving a scraped arm and a bashed finger. We really should have taken an elevator to the next floor but for some reason just did not think it was necessary. That was a lesson learned the hard way!

We jumped into a shuttle bus at Chicago airport and listened in on the conversation between two passengers behind us. One was a no-nonsense woman from Alabama who had reluctantly left her two corgis at home to attend a conference. She quickly made her strong Republican views very clear and then we found out that she was a judge who made the decisions on whether people should be eligible for social security benefits. She declared that almost all cases were wholly undeserving then she went on to give two examples of ex soldiers with PDST who were clearly shirkers who could easily work for a living. I was astounded that she was so indiscreet inside a public vehicle. I wondered what a scoop it could have been if I was an undercover journalist…

The Acme Hotel on Ohio Street turned out to be very hip and it was ideally located a block away from Michigan Avenue. We ate at Pizzeria Uno, where they claim to have invented the Chicago deep pie pizza in 1943. The old fashioned restaurant was packed and the food was delicious. We even took leftover pizza back with us in a box in case we fancied eating it for breakfast. 

We did the sensible thing on Wednesday and took an open-top bus tour of the city. It was a good job that we had jackets as it was pretty breezy on the top deck. We almost had to duck as we passed under some very low bridges and girders. The Chicago architecture was amazing - there were all sorts of styles and ages of buildings. The tour took us down to Lake Michigan, past the sports stadia, many museums and Navy Pier. We only had time to RUN around the Art Institute which houses one of the largest French Impressionist collections in the world. 

We all agreed that Chicago has a very cool vibe and wished that we had arranged to stay  and explore for a couple of days longer. The Cloud Gate sculpture, otherwise known as The Bean was incredible. It is a huge polished-mirror edifice in which you can take strange photos of the skyline and the tourists. A large Dick Blick art shop was nearby so we felt obliged to see what arty items we could add to our suitcases. 

We took a very circuitous route around several blocks before supper, ending up almost where had started. “Eataly” is an enormous, chic Italian deli with several cafes and fresh produce counters inside. If we had stayed one night more I would have headed to “The Goat Tavern” which is apparently famous for its cheeseburgers and the infamous curse that a previous patron had placed upon The Chicago Cubs baseball team. 

On our final morning in Chicago we waited for the shops to open so we could browse quickly in a 7-storey Macy’s and other high-end stores. It seemed that the shop assistants had been recruited according to their high level of campness;) A nice chap with stubble,  painted eyebrows and lipstick assisted me in the cosmetics department. 

We arrived at the airport in good time but despite having checked-in online, we had to join a ridiculously long queue for the bag drop. Are Lingus made no announcements or explanations and we stood in that line for almost 3 hours. Their computerised booking system had failed which meant that all of the boarding passes would need to be hand-written. They seemed to be incredibly inefficient. When we were really bored we started timing how long it took to deal with each customer. It could take anywhere between 7 to 17 minutes to sort each one out. At the security gate we were told to return to the booking desk since we did not have the correct boarding passes but after giving some stern Paddington stares, we were allowed to proceed. The passengers were loaded on board where we continued to wait ages before take-off. To add insult to injury, the captain informed us that cabin crew would start serving drinks but only water and fruit juice was free of charge. There were  loud mutters that British Airways would not treat its travellers so scornfully. 

There was further chaos at Dublin as Aer Lingus attempted to rearrange flights for everybody who had missed their connections. The journey home by train went smoothly although it was a struggle to stay awake. It was nice to be home and tell the kids about my adventures but I must admit that I missed my afternoon cocktail, my travel buddies and not having to do any chores. I gave myself the weekend to unpack, sort photos and update the blog but next week I need to make new lists to get back to real life, pay bills and meet deadlines…

Paducah 2015

The trip began after I only just caught the Stirling train to meet up with Ellen and Kay. We set out early on Monday morning to get the flight for Dublin but were rerouted via London. It was a long 8 hour flight squashed between a rather large woman and a man who had taken his own food. I was happy not to interact with my fellow passengers and just watch movies. So much for my grand intentions to make quilt sketches...
We arrived at the Chicago hotel at the equivalent of 3 am then excitedly ordered a pizza from room service.
 Wide awake at 4.30am USA time, I made cups of tea before heading back to the airport to fly into Nashville. Ellen bravely drove the automatic car onto the 5 lane interstate and battled with honking trucks. We made a slight detour and had to ask for directions at a seedy loan shark joint but the guy was very helpful and printed us off a map. There was a brief thunder storm with impressive lightning as we drove into Paducah 2 hours later and found the beautiful Queen Anne style house that we would be staying in.

We dashed straight to the awards ceremony after going to the wrong venue first, just missing a downpour. It was great to see the show quilts on sneak preview night before it became crowded. There were many stunning quilts and some more everyday ones but all admirable in their own right. Kay was thrilled to have had two of her quilts juried into the show, "Flower of Scotland" and "The Horse". She met many friends and fans over the next few days. Our British accents were much admired and we picked up as many local phrases as we could to use in conversation later. I loved "Robber's Roost by Joanne Baeth, Oregon. Some of my favourites were not prize winners.  As a quilter, I felt both overwhelmed by the skill on display but I also felt that I could create equally valid work.

It was lovely to meet online friends and friends whom we had met at other shows.
Despite having had a long day, I still woke at 5am to make cups of tea, keen to get to downtown Paducah! I enjoyed a Jesse James breakfast at the Gold Rush Cafe despite the copious, weak coffee and then enjoyed rummaging in one of the amazing junk emporiums where Kay and I bought 1930's quilt tops for $40. This turned out to be a great bargain as there were similar flimsies for sale in town ranging from $150-$500!

The next mission was to view all of the quilts and vendors upstairs at the show and in The Pavilion. It was really busy and after a while I glazed over as everything seemed to blur together in a massive quilt overload. It was time to wander back into town for a refreshing craft beer, mosey around town then walk back to our house. Later we walked back into town for a pleasant supper at The Italian Grill wishing that we had been wearing a pedometer to see how far we had tramped. Despite wearing my comfy Docs, my feet were aching.
The next morning we breakfasted at another local diner before heading out to Hancocks. 
It was packed with bargain hunters but the bolts were arranged by manufacturer rather than theme or colour. Kay chose some very nice batiks and flannels but I was so overwhelmed by choice that I only purchased one jelly roll of solids and a box of pins. A quick trip to the liquor store allowed us to restock on wine, sniggering at Kinky mixers and Knob Creek Whiskey. After a dash around Hobby Craft looking for notions, the next stop was the Rotary Club to view antique hexagon quilts and pick up a little something from Cherrywood Fabrics.
After a reviving ginger lemonade and Elvis cookie we visited the National a quilt Museum. It is a purpose built museum with temperature controlled archives. A selection of American Quilt Society prize winning quilts was on display in spacious, well lit galleries. SAQA's "Food for Thought" exhibition was in one wing; old and modern 9-patch quilts were in the other wing.
I had an impromptu meeting with representatives from the AQS Museum, tourist board and the Mayor to discuss my offer of donating the Scottish Yurt to the City of Paducah. They were incredibly enthusiastic and spoke about how they could use the Yurt for a variety of festivals and educational projects. It was refreshing to meet such visionary people who are happy to commission their own wooden frame and pay for me to ship the coverings. We briefly discussed the possibility of publishing some sort of book and patterns to recreate the panels. I am delighted to have found such an appreciative foundation at last that will curate and celebrate the Quilted Yurt. It really is amazing where that project has led me...
 After a deserved glass of wine we headed back into town, meeting a couple of re-enactment Confederate soldiers. The lower ranked soldier advised me where to look for Moonshine. He told us in broad Kentuckian that he was "packin' a drum cos his friend couldn't carry it for himself". We enjoyed an excellent supper with live music at JP's and by the time we walked all the way home we were so exhausted we could barely move. We decide  that it was because we are so unaccustomed to pounding pavements.

There was so much to fit into our last day that I felt obliged to wake up at 5 am again.
We encountered a Mrs. Overall at the Gold Rush who sloshed coffee and gravy all over herself and unwary customers. It was our last opportunity to catch up with folk from APQS and other online friends, before buying thread and other last minute purchases.
We drove to Nashville, rather wishing that we had a Satnav to direct us. We were met by "Indian Elvis"  at the front desk of the hotel the headed into downtown Nashville, flashing with neon signs. There was loud live music everywhere, cowboy boot shops and plenty of hen/stag parties.

My gold boots matched the shiny satin decor at our more basic hotel. Before even reading a whole chapter of my book, I fell asleep.
On Saturday morning we has a slower start, watching marathon runners from our hotel window. I thought it would be quiet downstairs so I nipped down to fetch some breakfast in my PJ's and boots. I had not expected to enter a crowded elevator, walk past some cowboys then negotiate a buffet full of fully dressed people. I felt like trailer trash!
The town was already heaving with people at 10am live bands competed with each other to be the loudest. We wandered around for a while, stopped for a reviving beer then took in the Tennessee State Museum which taught us much about the American Civil War. There were even a few vintage quilts and a reproduction settler's cabin. It became hotter and hotter so we felt that it was necessary to stop and drink cocktails and people-watch at the Hard Rock Cafe for a couple of hours.
 Eventually, we managed to haul ourselves to our feet and make it to an elegant, old building that housed a Spaghetti Factory restaurant. Because we enjoyed such a huge supper, we felt able to walk back to the hotel on Music Circle. Our feet were absolutely throbbing by bedtime!
On Sunday we headed to Franklin, a small town outside Nashville. There was a tremendous crafts and music festival in the Main Street. We all managed to buy some handcrafted souvenirs and enjoyed a generous slice of pecan pie in Merridee's coffee shop.

We had to stop and check out the Joann's fabric store on the way back to Nashville;) Yet again, we felt that a couple of glasses of wine at the hotel was well deserved.