Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Downgraded to Dial-up

I'm sorry to say that I have lost my Broadband connection - quite suddenly, our router has become 'corrupt' according to the diagnosis of the Indian call centre HelpDesk after 40 minutes of line tests and attempted resets. I'm posting this via dial-up and it has taken me almost 20 minutes to get into Blogger. So I don't think I am going to be able to make any new posts for a while.

The big news (so big that I haven't actually told dh yet) is that I have ordered the Freestyle quilting frame that I mentioned in my last post. I decided to go for the six-foot poles (which will accept a five foot quilt and will therefore let me quilt a single/twin quilt) even though that is going to make the frame about 10 inches wider than my table surface. I've chatted on the phone to the people who are making it, and it sounds like it might be alright although I may find I have vibration and need to rest the frame on some padding like thick felt. Apparently it is easy to check whether the frame is supported ok - if you slide the carriage to the extreme left or right, and the whole frame doesn't cantilever up and cartwheel over under the weight of your sewing machine, then you are good to go. I think I am going to want someone to help me when I check that! I will have to get into the habit of making my queen-size quilts in two halves or a middle-with-borders-added-afterwards, because I am not going to get my usual 85-95" wide quilt on this frame.

Hopefully next time I post I will be back on broadband!

Saturday, 19 May 2007

My two readers, and Malvern Quilt Show

Well, apparently my blog boasts only two readers, Swooze and Kathy, so thank you both of you for your comments about possible background fabrics for my Lone Star. I've left it hanging up for a few days, and it was the faded blue solid fabric which started to stand out to me. So I have ordered 3.5 yards of Kona Dresden Blue which looks (from the online pic at least) like it might be a pretty similar blue to the one in the quilt, which hopefully will be the right background choice. I agree with Kathy that the star would benefit from being disassembled and having the main points jumbled up a bit more to mix the strong fabrics amongst the softer ones. I'm not sure if I want to do that or not, it is going to be hard enough to patch in the replacement background since the star is obviously not obeying any right angles or accurate diamonds - I was planning to replace one bit of pink background at a time and use it as a pattern for the replacement, to try and keep the whole thing more or less flat.



I've just come back from a day trip to the Malvern quilt show, held at the Three Counties showground near Great Malvern - this is a 3 hour train journey with one change from my house, I had to get the 7:23 am train and eventually arrived at the show after a taxi ride about 10:45 a.m. after a fairly easy journey. I had a good day at the show - I lurked around my two quilts to see what people were saying. This bookcase quilt was entered in the Group section and was very popular, lots of people were exclaiming over it and pointing out things they liked about it, which was very ego-stroking as I loitered nearby trying not to look like a mad stalker. I also had a basket wall hanging (four baskets of flowers from an E. Burns book) entered, but it didn't attract as much interest even though I really like it. I came away with about 10 metres of fabric, two Japanese books of bags/small items, two rulers (a 60 degree ruler and the Marti Michell Log Cabin ruler), a Clover yo-yo maker, a bag pattern, and some more machine needles. I also saw a really cool tabletop frame called the Freestyle, similar to the Handiquilter but being manufactured in the UK, which was very tempting. My Janome has a deeper than normal throat so would be good on a frame. The Freestyle comes apart for storage, and comes with various widths of rod, but the widest I could put on my table would not be as wide as the doubles/queen sizes I normally make, so I would have to quilt in two halves, or in parts. I am not a huge fan of all-over quilting - I thought some of the otherwise quite nice pieced quilts at the show today were more or less ruined by completely irrelevant all-over quilting - but I know you can also use frames for part of the quilting process and then perhaps fill in more custom details off the frame. It might help to whittle down my growing top collection, I will have to measure my table and have a think about this.

Tomorrow I am off gallivanting again, I am going on a short road trip to a dollshouse store in a garden centre with a tea room in the morning and with luck will have lunch there as well (so not cooking at home!)

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Need background advice



Having finished my String Star quilt today (pic when it has dried fully), I turned my attention to my next project, which is to finish off a vintage scrappy Lone Star that I purchased in Paducah from an antiques dealer. It is currently set in a hideous pale pink background, which likely used to be a sheet and has strange seams and stains in it, which I felt did nothing for the Lone Star. The Lone Star itself has a slight volcano thing going on in the middle but otherwise is reasonably constructed, but the maker obviously had a few shifts in their scrap bag during the making process and consequently the diamonds of the star are fighting a bit with each other. This makes it very hard to decide what background colour the replacement background should be, and I would appreciate any advice you would care to leave me.



The first colour I tried was this butter-yellow, which I though might bring out the 'provence' colours of the Lone Star. Instead, the bright clear yellow just makes the Lone Star look dirty (which it likely is a bit) as a lot of the fabrics have a vintage tea-colour tinge to them.



Then I tried a darker blue, which I though might throw the star fabrics into more prominence, but again the clear blue colour brings out the dirty acid tinge of the Lone star, plus I think the blue rather overwhelms the star.



So then I thought I should try a paler colour and pinned on this pale blue gingham, as there is a lot of checked fabric in the star itself. But the white in this gingham just makes the star look dirtier than ever and the background doesn't do anything for it.



Then I tried an ecru printed fabric, thinking the beige tone might suit better with the vintage tint of the Lone Star, but again this doesn't do anything for the star. Part of the problem is that there are so many colours and values fighting in the star.

By now I am getting fed up with pinning and unpinning fabric, and even the original wishy-washy pink is starting to look better. Help please! Leave me a comment with your suggestions or opinions.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

Miss Lydia Pickett - night stand and totes

My monthly Miss Lydia Pickett kit arrived a few days ago, from the monthly club that Judith of 'In Some Small Way' is running. I am doing the kits in 1/24th scale, and the kit this month was the storage baskets (totes as they are called in the kit) and the night stand.

I found the totes quite straightforward to assemble, they use the notch system similar to the drawers on the other kits to align the pieces. I painted them inside and along the top edges with acrylic paint, and sealed the art work before cutting it out and gluing it on. The instructions recommend gluing one piece at a time, and trimming any excess, and I found this easy to do by laying the tote down against the cutting mat and running a sharp blade along the edge of the tote itself to trim off slivers of paper. To get a neat finish around the handle, the kit recommends gluing on the end piece, then slicing a horizontal cut, and rolling a toothpick around the opening for a neat finish. For this to work, you need to have glue on that area of the paper (otherwise I usually apply the glue to the wood) and again, I found I could lay the tote down to make the cut, angling my knife from the inside of the tote to cut across the handle opening. By the way, I realised that these totes could also be used in 1/12th scale, where they are about desk-tidy size, so I might order an extra kit.

The night stand also went together quite easily, the techniques needed are quite familiar now that I have assembled the bed and dresser. The only problem area is once again the drawer, it is sized to fit almost exactly when bare wood, so the merest whisper of paint around the drawer area, or behind it on the drawer stops, prevents it from closing properly. I ended up having to sand off all the paint on all four sides, so if it were opened it is pretty ugly, but otherwise it wouldn't shut. The little mirror is the little extra with this kit, and went together fine.

I was very brave today and turned on my sewing machine for the first time since its return. I have wound two bobbins and done some walking foot machine quilting, and so far (touch many forests of wood) it is fine. I haven't been running it at speed and I haven't tried the thread cutter yet because I am using invisible thread, so I am not 100% sure about it yet, but so far so good.

Saturday, 12 May 2007

Stashbuster topic of the week

The Stashbuster topic of the week was "Do you prefer to work from patterns & follow them to the letter or do you prefer to get ideas from patterns & then just \"go with the flow\"? Most of my quilting career I have made copies of other people's designs, but I have to say that the last few years I have been feeling that this type of copying is less creative than when I try to make up something entirely or mostly from scratch. And it is the quilts where I have contributed the most originality that I feel most proud of, somehow they just feel 'better' than the quilts where I have just copied someone else's ideas.

In general, I would say I get my inspiration from the designs of others, either from actual patterns or from photographs I've seen in books and magazines. I am capable of reproducing simple quilts from photographs without a pattern, but I do rely heavily on a visual reference for choosing the fabric values and 'feel' of the quilt, less heavily for the actual colours. I don't feel I am very artistic or imaginative at coming up with original ideas, but once I have a starting point I am pretty comfortable doing minor tinkering or using my own techniques to achieve the same result.

When I do follow a pattern, I rarely follow it to the letter, and this would be partly because I think I know an easier way to do it ('think' being the operative word here, doesn't always turn out to be true), or because I've made a mistake and have to undertake some creative bodging to get to the end result.



I think I come closest to being artistic when I have to make something from a given starting point, for example, the blocks from a Round Robin. For example, I coordinated an Internet Round Robin many years ago and I asked for appliqued house blocks. I received a variety of blocks from the participants, in many different sizes, on different backgrounds. It took me a while but one day I took the plunge, got out the seam ripper, and liberated those houses from their backgrounds and reassembled them into a landscape, adding in bits of landscape, trees etc. to fill in gaps, to produce my quilt "The Neighbourhood".




Another Round Robin, which was the usual borders-around-a-centre process, needed some major surgery to replace or resize a couple of the contributions, and then sat around for years because I didn't know what to do with it. The chance gift of a number of Anvil blocks from someone else's unsucessful Block robin (they were different sizes so she didn't want them) gave me the inspiration to finish off this quilt which I called Almost Amish.





I sometimes take my inspiration from the fabric, like this lap quilt top made from Civil War fabrics. I didn't know what I was going to do with these blocks I'd made until a friend gave me the vertical sashing fabric (which she thought was too ugly and she didn't know what to do with it - when she saw this top, she wished she'd kept it).




But having to make up a design entirely from scratch is still majorily out of my comfort zone and I don't feel these quilts are generally very successful. I ran a mystery medallion quilt project with my group last year, we started with a centre block and then I set rules as to the dimensions and theme of each border, but people could use their own fabrics and do whatever they wanted. Of course, this meant that I also had to make a medallion quilt, and apart from deciding to use my blue & white fabric collection, I felt very much at a loss particularly as the quilt grew and grew. I'm still not very happy with the result, which has a 'Blue & White China' theme, and it isn't quilted yet.



Friday, 11 May 2007

Second April applique block completed

This is the second of my two April applique blocks in my self-imposed block of the month plan to make 25 17-inch blocks from the book 'Grandmother's Last Quilt'. All the blocks are variations on botanical themes, and when I was making the templates for this one, I was thinking it was roses and rosebuds, or maybe acorns. But as I was stitching it, I was thinking of my trip to New Orleans several years ago and got to wondering if perhaps this pattern is actually cotton bolls in bud and in bloom? I have now completed eight blocks, which was enough to lay out side by side to begin to get an idea of what the quilt might look like (there will be no sashing).





I am really liking it so far, these fabrics were bought at Paducah in 2000 and a friend helped me pick out several vintage double pinks and acid greens, which I think is really going to unify the quilt even though all the blocks will be different.

I had a surprise yesterday when my sewing machine suddenly turned up at the door. Its poor box is looking so battered now that it has been away four times. Most recently it went to the Janome factory, and there was a tick-list in the box showing all the things they tested, and it had a hand-written note saying that they have adjusted the thread cutter cam and the needle threader. I hope very much that it is now cured but to tell the truth I am afraid to use it. I got it out of the box today, and I have pinned up the String Star quilt ready for quilting, but I can't quite bring myself to turn it on and try it, in case I hear that dreaded knocking noise again (or the 'kerchunk kerchunk kerchunk' as Swooze has christened it). I've been procrastinating and doing jobs around the house, and a tension sample for my next knitting project (in Rowan Biggy Print wool that I got half price). I know I have to do this thing, but I am working up to it. I think it is going to take me a long time to trust again.

Monday, 7 May 2007

One more convention pic



This is the picture from the remaining workshop of the five that I did over the weekend with the Stay At Home Miniaturists Online Convention - a 1/12th scale arrangement of laser-cut paper flowers (which had to be built up petal by petal onto wire stems which took absolutely forever - I will not be going into the paper florist business anytime soon). I put this together this morning while I am also gradually cleaning up the debris from two full days of crafting. I've got enough flowers to do a second similar arrangement as well, just waiting for another vase to arrive.

This was my first online convention so I wasn't sure what to expect. There was a private chatroom open for the weekend for mass events such as everyone opening their goodie bags (which had arrived in the post) on Saturday morning. Everyone who wanted to take part had to make 25 items earlier in the year and send them off (I made 25 little faux-patchwork pillows) to the coordinator, who mixed them up and sent you back a bag of 25 assorted goodies from other people. The workshops were also conducted in a private chatroom which doubled up as the full-colour photo illustrated instructions which were displayed below the chat window. You purchased and ordered the kit ahead of time which arrived in the post, and did some pre-work to get ready for the workshop. Then on the day you attended at the specified time to see the instructions and the teacher was in the chatroom to answer any questions the participants might have. There is a dedicated Yahoo website where we could post photographs of our completed items to share with the others, and of our swap items and goodie bag hauls. There were apparently over 40 people signed up, but only about 10-12 of them participated actively which is a shame because it could be such a great opportunity for interactive fun. The organiser puts this down to the majority of participants being British and not wanting to join in actively like Americans might, but I know this isn't true on other chats/groups so perhaps it is just the members of this particular club.

I've discovered that I can buy yarn on line, as well as fabric, so have sent off for some more Rowan Big Wool which was on sale 20% off and a pattern for a jacket-cardigan which I hope I can wear to work if it turns out. I've put together my son's string star quilt and am just carefully enveloping it (sewing it RST to the backing, adding wadding, then turning through a gap to the right side) to avoid a bound edge so that the quilt stays soft and drapeable. I don't often use the envelope method as I find it not nearly as flat and professional a result as a normally sandwiched quilt, but for a single-size done carefully I think you can get away with it if you are not planning on quilting too closely, because there are always some fullness issues no matter how carefully you layer it. I watched a woman in my club completely destroy two quilts by just slapping them on the backing and sewing round them, no clamping or pinning or anything, and of course it was a complete disaster when she tried to quilt them, huge pleats and puckers on the back, and she ended up having to completely unpick both of them and start over. You may be wondering why I didn't step in at the beginning, but I have shown 'correct' methods on several occasions but most of my members are older than me and some of them just will do things their own way, so I minimise my own aggravation by looking the other way a lot of the time. I personally do not choose to use nylon sheeting as backing, or the world's cheapest polyester 3-inch thick batting, but if they are happy then more power to them I say. Anyway, I had better get on with restoring the craft room back to its normal function as a kitchen before dh starts grumbling.

Sunday, 6 May 2007

Online Convention Weekend

well, this will be a short post because I am totally exhausted after two full days, and five full workshops, during the online miniatures convention run by the Stay-At-Home Miniatures Club. We started at 10:30 am on Saturday to open our goodie bags and swaps, and then I did two workshops on Saturday and three on Sunday. Here are pics of the finished, or semi-finished articles from four of the workshops, haven't finished my flower arrangement yet which was the fifth workshop. These are all in 1/12th scale.








It was really nice to just make things for two days, but the concentration is surprisingly exhausting, not to mention sitting in one place for so many hours. I was a bit disappointed with the chatting, they were a pretty quiet bunch and could certainly learn something from the #Quiltchatters, but the workshops were well organised. I pulled my computer out of its cabinet and set up a craft table right next to it, so I could chat and work at the same time (and now have glue stains all over the keyboard, lol). The family were warned that they had to look after themselves, which they did with varying degrees of success (I think the novelty wore off on Sunday) and we had takeaway for supper! Great weekend.


Friday, 4 May 2007

The cost of serendipity

In a classic example of "less haste, more speed", I have just spent about an hour and a half on a major, nay, epic bodging session trying to get the middle of my string star quilt to line up. You may recall that one block of the string quilt I started on Saturday wasn't quite lining up. Today I finished the rest of the string blocks for the border, so went back to sort the middle out. I had made a spare block from similar strips and planned to swap it into the middle and remove the offending block. This is all entirely my own fault because on Saturday I was just trusting to serendipity and was slapping down different width strips without any measuring whatsoever. I thought the middle would come out close enough, which it did apart from this one block. Well, the spare block did not 'fit' properly into the gap, so I ripped out an adjoining block, and with increasing frustration tried to get ANY of the three blocks to fit back into the gaps. Cue much re-sewing and more ripping out and in the end even basting from the right side to match seams and eventually got the middle all lined up. Of course by now, the outside edges of the four blocks were nowhere near being square and required trimming to bodge them back into the star surround. The upshot is a block which you are now only ever going to see pictured from an extreme distance because, although the strips are lining up, they are doing so in something more closely resembling a trapezoid and one seam is actually kinked. There you go. Luckily my son, who has expressed an interest in having this quilt, will not care, and hopefully some of the issues will quilt out so I will be able to look at it on his bed without wincing. Here's a pic of the loose border blocks laid out on my bed (not sewn together yet). And it did use up quite a lot of scraps but I still have a medium-size bag of strips left over.


I've finished my Rowan Big Wool cushion cover, and it is so huggable and soft that you can't help stroking it. My son immediately wanted to have it to sleep with on his bed, but as I am trying to delay its eventual fate of becoming completely covered in cat hair and he always sleeps with one of the cats in his bed, I declined this honour.










This is the project that we started at Wednesday night's dollshouse club and I finished it yesterday. It is a 'night at the opera' table, we put the table kit together and it came with some printies of opera programmes and invitations to cut out and of a fan, and some press out gloves and an opera glass. Also the fabric for an evening bag (at foot of table). I added the silk shawl, and dressed a few things up with jewellery findings. This is 1/12th scale. I've put this table into my big five-storey Victorian-Edwardian-Regency house (it has a split personality) on the landing.
I usually put QNN (Quilters' News Network) going on the laptop while I am sewing, but today it didn't want to play so I googled for some podcasts instead and found a new-to-me knitting podcast called "Britknitscast" . I listened to a few episodes and quite liked it, a nice mix of news, what's on the needles, and no ranting about pet peeves which seems to feature in some of the other knitting podcasts I've tried. Made me want to go out and buy yarn though... :)

Thursday, 3 May 2007

This and That

I can't believe it's already Thursday, the week just seems to have flown by. I've been working steadily on various things, but no finishes apart from making a display box for some of my teeny- weeny room scenes. Some time ago on one of my rare trips to Ikea (rare because my husband refuses to take me there very often because he says we go there for 'x' and come away with a car load of other stuff) I spotted cheap wooden shadow boxes with glass fronts in the picture section. I bought three, one for me and one for my two dollshousing friends, and issued them a challenge that we all had to come up with something to use that box. Well this was months ago and of course I didn't get round to it for ages, but inspiration finally struck when I was trying to think how to display my tiny little 144th scale room boxes in a way that would keep them safe and keep the dust off of them. To begin with, the box looked something like this (only deeper and with a glass front).

I found some scrap wood in the shed and cut three pieces to create a u-shaped base underneath the box, faced the plywood edges of the box with some moulding, and covered the outside with some plastic brick material I had left over (bought it in the post-xmas sales at a gift shop that sold those light-up miniature xmas villages - I think it is meant to be 'path'). Inside I made a simple shelf, and covered the shelf and the base with some velour upholstery to look like carpet. Now I just need to come up with a fabulous name for my dollshouse shop window.




What else have I been doing? Well, I've sewn a few more blocks for the border of the scrap quilt - I need 24 and have completed 15. I've had a conversation with Repair Guy who has thrown in the towel and on Tuesday the machine was collected and shipped back to the Janome factory to see what they make of it. I've started my second April hand-applique block which has loads of pieces and is going to take a while. I've almost finished my Rowan Big Wool cushion cover - which is so long now that I am starting to feel like I am knitting Old Father Time's white beard or something, but I still have about 10 inches to go. I'm learning how to lace knit because I got bored with the mosaic knitting chapter in my 'Learn-To-Knit Afghan Book' and have skipped ahead to the lace section. But mainly I have spent several hours doing the pre-work for an on-line miniaturists' convention that I am doing this weekend through the 'Stay At Home Miniaturists Club'. I'm not a member but they have this open convention once a year and I thought it sounded pretty cool. We've swapped tote bag favours so I have an envelope of goodies that I can't open until Saturday morning, we've done individual swaps and I sent off a little embroidered sampler to my swap partner and have her mysterious envelope to open on Saturday, and I am taking five on-line workshops: A French dresser with plates and bowls on it, a Victorian chair where a maid has left behind her cleaning supplies, a gorgeous bouquet of flowers, an arrangement of lavender toiletries, and a suitcase set. I've told my husband and son that the computer's end of the kitchen is closed for the weekend - they are allowed to access the fridge, cooker and sink but aren't allowed to talk to me :)..... they think I'm joking...

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