Saturday 2 March 2024

Bon Voyage (to me)

 My last blog post before I head off to Hong Kong on Tuesday, on my way to New Zealand.  I plan to blog occasionally on the road if the technology cooperates.  Hopefully I have packed everything I will need, and fingers crossed my suitcase arrives with me. Wish me luck!

I've been working on the Lori Holt My Happy Place quilt although I'm not going to get it finished before I go.  But the design wall is filling up a lot more.

This is Week Eight

And this is the first half of Week Nine.

I've been making a bit of a push on my Latvian mitten and have crawled my way up past the thumb position (thumb stitches are indicated by the white horizontal line of waste yarn). I still don't really know what I'm doing with four colours in a row, but at least having only three colours in a row now seems easier by comparison. My tension continues to be pretty wobbly but I know that will improve when I wet block the finished mitten.

The kitchen in the Japanese dollshouse is not finished yet but I've put back the items I was accessorising. You can see I've simulated some tiny dishes on the two food trays with a sequin, a metal finding and some tiny hole punches that I cupped with an embossing tool.  The Japanese kettle was I think a present from my friend Anita.  The tiny spoon, oil pot, the two white jars, the little white dishes, and the baskets were purchased at the Tokyo dollshouse shop in 2019.  I have other accessories I want to make but it will have to wait for now.

I finished putting together the Japan travel journal, it feels good to have got that off my 'to do' list.  I also spent a few hours printing off colour photos from the slides I saved from my clear out a few weeks ago.  I had saved the relatively few  colour slides from the early 80s that included pictures of me.  I have an ancient scanner (it may well be older than my adult son) that will scan coloured slides but it took me about an hour to work out how to scan the first slide and then to convince my new Canon printer to print the whole photo at a reasonable resolution (and not cut half the image off etc.).  Once I had a process, the remaining dozen or so were fairly straightforward.    I have so much more decluttering to accomplish but it will have to wait until I'm going to be home for a period of consecutive weeks.

Saturday 24 February 2024

Recording memories

 I have spent a great deal of this week on the long-procrastinated-about job of creating a scrapbook for my trip to Japan almost a year ago. While I took over 4,000 photos, blogged some aspects, and kept a brief diary (I went here, I went there) as I travelled - there was no overall narrative of my itinerary.  What finally got me started was discovering the Japanese stationery company Notebook Therapy (thanks Youtube) and their wonderful sets of journals, stickers and stamps. So I reinvested some of my decluttering profits into a travel journal set. Since that arrived, I've been laboriously going through day by day, matching up my photos with my itinerary with my diary with my blog with my trip planning research, writing a narrative and choosing some photos to illustrate it, then printing out the pages at high quality on my inkjet printer, then cutting and pasting them into the travel journal, and finally adding some decoration with stickers, washi tape and stamps. In some ways, leaving it for so long has given me perspective and the ability to summarise. In other ways, I've had to look up a lot of places to remember why I chose to go there or what the history was, because it's so long ago now.  At least I'm doing it before the New Zealand memories push all the Japan memories out of my ageing brain. It has been incredibly time consuming but I've reached the final travel week. I think it's also taught me some lessons about how better to record the upcoming trip.

This week my longarm machine and I went to visit the Handiquilter dealership for a day - DH drove me as a belated Christmas present.  He went off to explore the local area while I had a day of basic training with a bunch of other new owners. My machine meantime was there to have a few issues resolved - it needed the timing adjusted and a couple of the handlebar buttons replaced.  While I don't think I received any huge revelations, there were several useful nuggets of information throughout the day so I took a lot of notes. I also took the opportunity to do some shopping without having to pay postage: picking up thread for the remaining projects in my quilting queue, a couple of straight rulers and a new pantograph.  Hopefully the machine is now all sorted out but I probably won't try it before I leave, there's not much point loading up a quilt onto the frame just to have it sit there for a couple of months.

So that day was an early start, and a few days later we had to get up even earlier at 5:45am to take the car in to the company that installed our tow hitch who are an hour's drive away. We are currently caught in the middle of a blaming war between the dealer we bought our secondhand car from (who claim that the ongoing issues we are experiencing with error messages on the car are caused by our post-purchase installation of a tow hitch), and the tow hitch installers who say they always get blamed for everything and that the tow hitch is working fine and shouldn't be causing any problems.  I had naively thought that with a new car, all the car issues we've experienced while caravanning were in the past.  The ball is currently back with the dealer and I hope I'm not going to have to take it to the ombudsman, especially when I'm going to be away.  Why can't things just work?????

I finished appliquing the Week Seven block for the Lori Holt My Happy Place Quilt.  The design wall is slowly filling up.

I also finished the little magazine kit cross stitch bird that I started in Malta.  It was designed as a bookmark but I turned it into a houseplant decoration instead.

And I did a few hours work on my Japanese dollshouse kitchen, mainly placing the ceramic accessories I bought in 2019 from the Tokyo dollshouse shop, and creating some food platters. Some of my 1:12 fimo fruit and veg that I made 10 years ago now don't look too out of scale for the 1:20 accessories.

DH also very kindly painted up the four metal charms I bought in Tokyo last year, using some painting references I found  online for him. So I have two demon masks and two samurai helmets that look really authentic, to go on display in the dollshouse.  He's a really good painter, very useful.

Saturday 17 February 2024

Short week

 It's only a few days since we got back from Malta, so not much to report.  I have spent several hours working on week seven of the Lori Holt My Happy Place Quilt which is a large 20" applique block with several components to prepare using the turn-through method.  This is a picture of it all glue-basted down, and currently I am hand stitching the applique.  Very cheerful.

I took a little magazine cross stitch kit to stitch a little bird with me to Malta, where I started it. So I've also worked on that a bit since getting back.  And I've done some more rows on the Latvian mitten.

I've booked a week to Iceland in late summer so I've been doing some research and prebooking for that.

And that's it for this week.  Lots of laundry after the trip and just life stuff, like our kitchen tap has started leaking so we've had to get the plumber in.  There's always something with an old house.

Tuesday 13 February 2024

A week in Malta

 We just got back from a winter sun break in Malta, my first visit there. It wasn't entirely sunny- it was warmer than the UK at 16-20C in the daytime but quite chilly at night, and always fairly breezy because it's an island.  But we had a good week and liked Malta a lot better than our previous winter destination of Cyprus.  People were friendlier and it just felt safer and better kept/cleaner, and there is history everywhere you look so really interesting.  The walled fortifications are just stunning. And the world class megalithic temples made us wonder why Stonehenge is so famous. We were staying in Valletta and the views in every direction made us feel like we were walking through a Canaletto painting.

I couldn't find any craft or fabric shops but I was on the lookout for Maltese lace and found one lace store open in Valletta.  In the window were some disappointingly coarse and even crude modern examples in shiny synthetic thread, and I saw a few more of this type in a tourist tat shop in Mdina (another walled city).  The Mdina shopkeeper said only old ladies make the lace now, no young people, and she said I would have to go to the sister island of Gozo to see anyone making it.  But I went into the Valletta shop another day and found he had some vintage pieces which were of much better quality. When I showed my interest, he got out a bunch of vintage pieces from under the counter which he said he had from his grandfather, who kept the shop before him.  I ended up purchasing a little mat from c. 1960s and admired several others.

The mat I purchased

We saw some antique lace in museums and also an example of the upright bolster pillow that was used.

By coincidence not design, we were in Valletta during the Carnival weekend which was a lot of fun. Total chaos - there was a parade route but the parade and floats was completely mixed up with the audience and performers in the narrow streets, turning it all into a huge street party that spilled into multiple streets with lots of the audience also dressed up.  And the carnival costumes weren't just DIY attempts - these were hugely elaborate themed creations encrusted with trims and embellishments and even electric lights.  The floats were a miracle of engineering - at first glance they are huge gaudy mobile platforms being towed along the streets by tractors, all lit up and blaring earsplitting music.  But when they got to a more open space, they would park up and unfold like a child's Transformer toy in every direction, with arms coming out and towers going up, and everything moving and rotating, with the added excitement of dry ice jets and confetti cannons.

It was also a good opportunity to test out some of the clothing I plan to take on my longer New Zealand trip, and to expose some flaws such as not having all the right charging cables with me. As usual I am obsessing over what to take with me, I went through this all last year with Japan. I think I have a bit of a anxiety issue about not having the right kit, I am definitely not a laidback traveller.  If I ever wrote a travel book, it would have to be called 'The Apprehensive Traveller'. Anyway, Malta was great and we may return another year because there is still lots to see.

Saturday 3 February 2024

A lack of memories

 More downsizing this week: going through various photo albums mostly of old holidays - including several hundred colour slides from trips in 1982 and 1985.  Obviously it was difficult to see the slides clearly without a projector - I put them on my light table so I could make out the subject of most of them, and I have a little magnifier to look at individual slides.  I pulled out the few slides and photos that depict me or a family member. But the vast majority of the photos were of scenery, architecture, antiquities etc.  which I don't even remember seeing, apart from a vague 'I was there' memory. At least I have learned over the years to take more pictures with people in them, particularly myself.  There were also photos of roommates, chance-met travelling companions of a few days etc, and I don't remember hardly any of them either.  In the end, I threw almost everything out.  It seems a bit pointless to save photos of, say, what the Acropolis looked like in 1985. If I want a picture of the Acropolis, I can look on the internet. It was a bit depressing though - not just the waste of money and time, and dragging all these photos/slides around from house to house over the years - but also the fact that I can't remember much of what I saw 40 years ago.  Makes you wonder what is the point of travel, but I know it shaped me as a person and ultimately resulted in me emigrating to the UK. Anyhow, the photo cupboard is a lot emptier now.

I finished the quilting on the Red House quilt.  It mostly went fairly well - there were a few errors in rolling on which resulted in the occasional overlap, but these aren't too noticeable.  This is a photo on a double bed but really it's a queen size quilt (but I couldn't be bothered to tidy my own room). I chose a modern pantograph of stylised feathers in a fairly close texture so as to quilt down all the seams from windows and doors.

I've been working on week six of the Lori Holt My Happy Place quilt, which includes three pieced blocks and this appliqued block featuring an actual cross stitch design. Luckily I had a dot grid fabric to use as the  embroidery background (since I haven't bought her specified fabric).

I've been knitting a bit on the Latvian mitten that I started a while ago, and have done a bit on the Little Houses cross stitch.  

Just a month until my New Zealand trip now, so as part of my preparations I have kitted up some craft projects to take along: a small cross stitch design, the sumo design sashiko I bought in Japan, and an embroidered panel for a French quilted zippered pouch kit.  I may not have room to take all three.

DS and his girlfriend have decided it's time to stop renting and buy their first house. After viewing only a handful, they have gone ahead and offered on one.  We did tell them that there will be a lot more selection on the market in the spring, but I think they just want to get it over with and get settled.  They are both busy professionals, and their tastes are quite different than ours anyway, so fair enough. Also there was some pressure from the other in-laws to get on the housing ladder sooner rather than later. So now they are furiously adulting as the buying process picks up steam. I hope it all turns out for them.  Mortgage rate trends into the future are anyone's guess. And I think they will have a lot to learn about being responsible for keeping up a home, but I guess we all went through that ourselves and we survived.  As someone who used to hide the dirty dishes in the oven in my twenties, up until that time I put the oven onto preheat, thereby transforming the lid of my food processor into modern art, I remember the learning curve. In my defense, I was living alone in a rented small flat.

Sunday 28 January 2024

Another retreat

 I was back at the three-day hotel retreat again this weekend, with DH kindly driving me over there Friday morning then picking me up today.  I took my new-to-me Janome Gem machine which I bought at the last retreat, and it performed really well - I powered my way through piecing all three quilts that I had kitted up after Christmas.

Nine Chequered Dresden Plates from the Missouri Star tutorial on Youtube. This is from one of a pair of bargain Moda jelly rolls.  You are supposed to be able to make nine plates from one roll, but I ended up one wedge short somehow, so I'm going to have to break into the second roll.    Not loving the colours but they are ok and it's good to use the roll up.

I pieced all the blocks for a stashbusting 'envelope' quilt (just a few shown here) that was in an American magazine I bought while I was in Paducah. I bought the blue fabric in Paducah, and then had fun pulling a variety of envelope fabrics from my stash.

I assembled the Tilda pinwheels quilt - tablecloth size.  Love these soft colours.

I finished the quilt kits by Saturday teatime, so Saturday evening I started in on a hexagon box kit that I was given on the box course at the previous retreat in October.  For the lid, I used the goldwork embroidery that I did on the taster course through the Royal School of Needlework last winter.  I had actually given the embroidery kit away to a friend who does goldwork, once it got to the stage of a kazillion french knots, because I wasn't very interested in it.  However, she worked on it over Christmas and enjoyed stitching all the french knots for me, and then presented it back to me because she has no use for it either.  It's like a boomerang.  I didn't know what I was going to do with it, until I was panic-project-packing before the retreat and found the hexagon box kit.  The end result looks okay I think. I used some cherry blossom fabric for the outside and some Japanese fabric on the inside.  Maybe I can give it back to my friend :)

I finished the box Sunday morning so then cut out some pieces for a felt sewing caddy kit before packing up my stuff.  My portable ironing table that I made a few months ago worked well, it's slightly wobbly but provides valuable additional real estate, freeing up room on my table.

And there was some shopping - there was a popup fabric shop on Friday with an eclectic selection. I picked up some global map home dec fabric, a Liberty-lookalike cotton, some useful green and a few fat quarters that were only 50p each.

Before I went off to the retreat, I was working on week five of the Lori Holt My Happy Place quilt - the scissors block and the fat quarters block, both hand appliqued.

And I got the binding onto the Sewing Panel quilt.  This photo is at a weird angle - the bottom is completely level and not dipping the way it looks in the photo. I quilted the wallhanging with a heart panto on the frame.

The Red Houses quilt is almost finished quilting, I think two or maybe three passes and I'll be done. Once it's off the frame, I might have another go at trying to level the frame better

Off to bed early, I'm exhausted by all the retreat creativity!

Saturday 20 January 2024

New things become old things

 I am trying something new this weekend, joining a ticketed online two-day retreat hosted by the Quilter's Guild of the UK. I think it's the first one they've done.  Tickets were £40 which seemed like a lot, especially when no programme details had yet been released when tickets went on sale. But I took a punt and it has actually been a good first day.  Unlike other retreats I've taken part in, this one was back- to-back speakers all day with only short coffee breaks, and an hour for lunch and supper. So no sewing time as such, and no making workshops today - it looks like there is a short make tomorrow.  Most of the talks were interesting and the organisers managed to keep people's inevitable Zoom issues to a relative minimum, and there has been good timekeeping. It just felt a bit relentless not having many breaks.

The first talk was about modern quilts that reimagine traditional themes. As part of that talk, the speaker recounted some of the history of the modern quilt movement. I have to confess that minimalist modern quilts are rather the antithesis of the scrappy, busy traditional quilts that I like. I realised today that somewhere in the back of my mind, I still considered the modern quilting movement as a new-fangled fad for people new to quilting who needed easy big patterns that they didn't need to buy many fabrics to make- spawning the regrettable byproduct of the current trend for incredibly dense quilting to fill up all the big empty spaces.  As the speaker made clear, the movement has actually been around for about 25 years now - which just makes me feel old. How did the year 2000 get to be 25 years ago?  Obviously: math - but in my brain it just doesn't seem 25 years have passed.

Stuart Hillard (a well known UK quilter) gave a very comprehensive talk on making scrappy quilts and using your scraps - nothing particularly original but a good summary of all the learning from people like Bonnie Hunter and others. I felt very much on the same page when he described his views on quilts that repeat the same identical block multiple times: often of low interest - and if everything about a quilt is contained within one of its blocks, then why would you make more than one block? I would far rather make a quilt where every block is different, I have really struggled in the past with quilts that are just X number of identical blocks and tend to avoid them now.

One of the speakers today, can't remember which one, touched on the mental health aspects of making quilts.  I think it's easy for women, including me, to feel like we're spending too much time and/or money on our hobbies instead of doing something 'worthwhile' or something that's expected of us like housework. One participant told us for comparison that her husband spends a lot of time on his hobby of playing and watching cricket, which no-one ever questions. But as quilters, we get asked so many questions like 'haven't you got enough quilts yet?', 'what do you do with them all?', 'how much fabric????', or my pet peeve ' oh, you should sell those / those are good enough to sell!!' as if it's only worthwhile having a hobby if you can monetise it. And there is a culture of guilt around 'neglecting' the family/household duties by spending time in the sewing room, or women recounting stories of sneaking fabric and craft supplies into the house like they were illicit drugs.  I have made things all my life and have dabbled in multiple hobbies. Making things has always  helped me cope with stress and improved my mental health in so many ways, and it's important for me to remember that.  It's not all about the end product.

Anyway, I was busy in the sewing room through all the talks.  I sewed the binding onto the Autumnal placemats and finished them by machine. Let's hope I remember their existence when next autumn rolls around.

I sewed the binding onto the Sewing panel wallhanging and prepped it for hand finishing.  I shortened the sleeves on two tops that I will take to New Zealand. I sewed an additional pocket into my travelling knapsack to corral my wallet and phone inside the big front pocket. And I prepped some new templates for the My Happy Place Quilt week four.

This week, on the My Happy Place Quilt, I finished the hand applique for Weeks One and Two. However, when I went to trim down the blocks to the final measurements, I realised that my eyeballing of the template shapes had been too generous and my applique shapes are all too big.  I should have done a sense check against the final block size but I didn't, I was too eager to get to the 'good part' of the hand applique. I may have to re-do some blocks but I'll leave them for now.  I've made a note in my diary for when I go to Festival of Quilts this summer, to purposefully fabric shop to try to fill out some of the colour gaps in my stash.  There are usually some show discounts and also bulk sellers like Doughty's with lower prices.

I moved on to Week Three which is the sewing machine block that forms the centrepiece of the quilt.  There were a lot of pieces to cut out and, once assembled, it's enormous!  I'm holding a pair of scissors in the second picture for scale.  I re-did the templates for the Week 3 pincushion so it's more the size it's meant to be.  I was interested to see Lori Holt using wooden clappers in her videos to weight down pressed seams until they cooled, resulting in very flat seams. I've ordered a generic clapper to try it for myself. I'm experimenting with using Glide 60 polyester filament thread for my piecing, as recommended by other quilters at the hotel retreat I sometimes go to.  It's thinner than my usual cotton threads which results in less bulky seams, but I don't know if I feel comfortable with it.  One of the speakers today was a Wonderfil representative, talking us through issues with troublesome threads, and she said she doesn't like using Bottom Line because it is too strong. Because it's a monofilament, it's stronger than the fabric and other threads and she thinks it can cut through with time. This immediately made me think of DS's quilt that I had to repair last year because all the quilting was falling out.  I have always quilted my frame quilts with King Tut on top and Bottom Line on the bottom, and I think the Bottom Line basically severed the King Tut cotton due to excessive wear and use. It makes me scared for all the other quilts I've done using the same combination, but then most of mine only get used or displayed for a few weeks a year and rarely need washing.  The speaker likes Wonderfil Decobob which she said is not a  monofilament, it's spun from chopped up staples instead, so more like a cotton thread.  I'm a bit worried the Glide 60 will be too strong like Bottom Line.

I've got the Red Houses quilt on the long-arm frame and have done several rows of the panto.  Every row feels like eternity but I've timed myself and it's only about 20 minutes if everything goes well. It's going to be a long slog to stitch out the fairly dense panto on this queen size quilt.  I'm having a few issues with the machine that I've been liaising with the dealer about. It appears my timing needs resetting and my handlebars possibly need replacing as a couple of buttons are erratic in function. DH is going to drive me to the dealer to deliver the machine and enable me to take a workshop there, and also do some shopping for threads and rulers. I also need to do more work on levelling my frame.  The installer did his best on our wonky Victorian floorboards but there are some definite humps still which throw out my steering - I think I need to install some shims under a few wheels.

I've done no dollshousing this week as it's been too cold, but I did spray the little tables for the Japanese house black last weekend, and gave them a coat of gloss varnish.  I've made a typical stack on a cupboard in the kitchen, another stack in the hearth room, and held back a couple to put food onto later.

I've managed to finish the RST block of my longterm Little Houses alphabet cross stitch sampler.  Two more blocks to go.  The whole project on its frame had a protracted time-out of almost two years in the corner of the living room because my evenings were spent embroidering the blocks for the Australian Vintage Needlework BOM - now awaiting quilting.  It would be nice to get the sampler finished and out of the living room - although I certainly have other larger cross-stitch kits waiting for their turn on the frame.

Hope you are staying warm and had a crafty week!