Flitting About

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This week I had a guilty feeling like when I failed to hand in my homework at school. For ages I have been meaning to make samples for a class of mini Scottish themed projects which have to be sewn by hand, easy yet not naff. I could not get past the mental block that I am machine quilter who usually works on a large scale. I had a go at a tartan pin-cushion in the shape of a fish but heavy wool is not good for making small 3D items. I probably won’t take the tartan fish beyond the prototype stage;) Typically, I did not have the bits and bobs to hand that I needed, such as kilt pins but my friend, Mo, came up trumps and found me lots of lovely tweed scraps to experiment with. 

Since I want to be as economical as I can be with the tweed, I decided to paint some wadding offcuts and daubed on some runny fabric paint to look like a Scottish sky/landscape postcard. I plonked on some tweed pieces as standing stones then got carried away with thread and yarn. I went way over the top with the test piece, using the machine because I wanted to see if it would work. I had a “doh” moment, realising that the mini quilt should have been oriented landscape instead of portrait and it needs to be half the size but I now know it works in principle. And finally, I have other ideas taking shape for other mini-makes.

The school holidays are now beyond half way so I spent some time with my kids. We had a trip into town to buy Nell school Doc Martens and to drop Fergus off at an official band practice. All of us went to St Andrews to collect the keys to Freya’s new student flat, have a mooch around and see Mamma Mia 2. We made an epic trip to IKEA to buy a desk and nobody had meatballs because they are all Veggie/Vegan. Amazingly. I did not feel the need to purchase any fabric, not even linen. 

My “Did Not Hand In Homework” feeling was exacerbated by failing to pick buckets of cherries in order to make jam. In the end I realised that we already have a dozen jars of jam left from last year therefore it was an unnecessary chore. However, I did manage to spend most of a day catching up with loathsome paperwork so I felt I had achieved something. 

I have packed my gear for FOQ and don’t think I have forgotten anything crucial so I will have time on Monday morning to go and buy yet more groceries for the kids to eat on Day One or even potter about starting a new project.

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Tinkering and Cherry Picking

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I decided that my workshop is tidy enough for now which let me off the hook from The Big Cull so after completing 4 nice and easy customer quilts I was at a slightly loose end.

  

There are plenty of worthwhile things I could have done but I went off on a bit of an exploration into which method I liked the best for making a curved-top zippy pouch. I have to say I have still not found the perfect construction method that pleases me aesthetically and for ease of construction. I like quilted fabric better than interfaced fabric because the pouches have more oomf and stand up better. I can confirm that I sewed plenty of pieces upside down or back to front! The quest is still on, rather like my mission to perfect the world’s best carrot cake. 

  

Because we have had the best summer in years, the wild cherry crop is amazing and even more impressive is that the trees have not been stripped bare by greedy birds before I could even grab a tupperware box. I was actually surprised to discover that I have red cherries as well as black ones. I easily picked over a kilo without having to get a ladder and brewed up some cordial that I will add to drinks, rather than make cherry vodka. I might put on surgical gloves to squish out the stones and make jam. I have to say there is something childish and satisfying about shoving a handful of cherries into my mouth then spitting out the stones.

Still avoiding my non-urgent admin tasks, I played with some magic foam to make stamps using 3-D objects. Obviously, I did not look up any instructions so I am not sure if I heated up the foam sufficiently. I found it tricky to make impressions of buttons because I did not have time to push all of the buttons in before the foam cooled but if I heated up the next small area the previous button stamp would disappear. I was quite impressed by the stamp made by swirling a glue gun over a piece of parchment paper. This reminded me that I had promised myself time to explore simple lino cutting in the summer hols. I had better get on with this since FOQ is coming up soon! 

Unpacking and More Packing

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I wonder why unpacking from a trip takes so much longer than packing it all up in the first place? In my case I always seem to think that there needs to be some major reorganisation when I return things to their original place. Particularly when this involves rehoming my family farmhouse table which is 10 inches wider than a standard table. 

I am poised to have a major declutter in my workshop but am reluctant to get started because I will have to be ruthless. I can’t decide whether to hang onto the leftovers from past projects, including the paper templates for a Smart Car cover. 

I decided to get all of my supplies ready for FOQ so I could work on a couple of customer quilts before I go or tackle a major clearout. First I had to finish off my teaching samples so I added some colour to the pink mini wholecloths. This allowed me a chance to see if the Intense pencils really are steam-proof after they have been set and dried with aloe vera gel. This was a necessary investigation because BzB looked travel weary at Quilt Odyssey with big creases right across its centre and since it has been juried into Houston, it will really need to hang flat there. 

I sewed some beads onto the Dreamcatcher sample and added one or two crystals to finish it off. When that was finally finished I made a list of the accessories and threads I would need at FOQ and bagged them all up. The challenge now will be to leave everything alone and not be tempted to use what I have put aside;)

My Go-Pro camera was dusted off and since I had almost forgotten how to use it so I challenged myself to figure out how to control it from my phone. That is handier than you might imagine because the camera can be set up on a tripod or pole to get wider shots. I am a great one for owning under-used gadgets so I am determined to use it more!

Costa del Norfolk

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Packing for a trip is always quick and easy, especially if taking the car to a family house. It left me plenty of time to drink what was left of the explosive ginger beer then rustle up 4 mini versions of BzB in case my FOQ pupils prefer to work on that rather than a Dreamcatcher. I used wood-block stamps to create most of the motifs, some fancy fabric paint and will add some Derwent Inktense pencils when I have 5 minutes to spare.

All 3 of my children came along for the 550 mile drive south in a noisy Landrover Defender. They counteracted this by playing “Bangin’Tunes” all of the way and I had some of them stuck in my head for most of the next day. I hope Bumble is as deaf as she sometimes pretends to be.

I felt a bit guilty that the kids were not getting an exotic holiday or going to a festival but they all decided to make the most of what we could find to do in Norfolk. It was actually a pretty packed week. We caught up with old friends in Suffolk and watched England get knocked out of the World Cup at their house. Obviously, we trawled through as many junk shops as we could find. I had to find a replacement coffee pot after I accidentally melted  the entire handle all over my camping gas stove. Fergus was keen for me to buy a 1970’s electric organ with many amazing special effects but I was not sure that it would actually fit in the back of the Landy. 

 

We visited Great Yarmouth (which I reckon can only be done every 5 years or so) and bought hideous sticks of rock, ate chips on the market and the kids gambled a pile of 2p coins in arcade machines. This was followed by sand-castle building, swimming in the sea and ice-cream cones.

We had a lovely wander around the alleys and back streets of Norwich and a super lunch at the Waffle House which was a pleasant blast from the past. The rest of our time was spent going to the pub, visiting an outdoor swimming pool and eating outside with Family in the almost tropical heat. Our short week was soon over, everyone had a good time – we made some new memories and even got a little bit of a suntan:)

Bubble Fun

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I always experience a mild sense of panic in the week before school holidays start, even though I only have one child still in school. I try to catch up on customer quilts and make sure FOQ preparations are well under way. I also had to fit in 3 days of supervised DIY quilters and school prize-giving.

Obviously I thought I had time to experiment with Ginger Beer, using glass spring top bottles. After just 48 hours it was lively – around half spurted out when I released the top which was not ideal inside the kitchen. I must make sure it all gets drunk quickly;) 

For my FOQ masterclasses I decided to print up six small quilts around the theme of a dream-catcher. I used thermofax screens, Indian wood blocks, circles of silver tissue lamé and various shades of blue fabric paint. Some of the motifs were later filled in with Pebeo suede effect paint to add texture and I will add dots of 3D paint later. I wondered whether I would be able to use a bubble-gun or party bubbles to drop delicate bubble shapes onto the quilts but the paint rendered the wands and bubble mix useless. I tried fountain pen ink instead which did allow me to blow bubbles but they simply burst in little blobs so I need to keep experimenting…

      

I quilted one of the quilts as the teaching sample, using a variety of threads, couching, freehand and ruler work, stitch-regulated and manual, making a note of the tension settings and speed for my pupils. My first attempt at the dream-catcher centre did not look good with thick, sparkly yarn so it took a while to pick it all out and redo it using a denim yarn. I did the background quilting with a twin needle so that pretty much covers most techniques! I could have added more stitching but it would never have been completed  this week and it has to be vaguely achievable for a half-day class. Of course, I remembered that the photo that I had originally submitted to FOQ for my class spec was of a mini version of Beezlezebub so I will also have to dye and print 4 pink mini quilts just in case my pupils would prefer to work on that version;)

 

Lack of Photographic Evidence

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According to my camera roll I did not do much this week because I forgot to take photos. However, I finished a customer quilt, taught a bag making class and had a DIY quilt customer.

I tidied up the Domestic slideshow captions then packed it all up ready to go in a giant box acquired from the local flower shop. The quilt, which is actually a projector screen, was rolled then the micro-projector, cables, tripod and set-up instructions were safely packaged and the box has been sealed. The other 2 quilts, Iconoclast and Denim Wordsearch will be checked and folded nearer the time, trying to avoid too many creases.

I ran up some samples for my FOQ classes which involved some badly behaved tissue lamé, printing and vintage doilies dyed a marvellous shade of blue. I hope to quilt one of them this week so I can hand sew on some extras while I am visiting Family in Norfolk.

The Deckchair stripes quilt was completed with the dense Waterdrops circles pattern but I need to buy some striped or spotty fabric to make the binding. 

There was also quite a bit of time spent doing internet research on textile printing which prompted me to order some PFD white fabric. I actually got a very good deal because I was told that it was marked which I don’t mind since it will be dyed and printed anyway so now I have to store 24 metres of it. Sometime over the summer I will need to I have a jolly good sort-out in my workshop as it seems to be getting a little short of space;)

The Answer to Everything is Usually 42

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Faced with a long list of admin tasks I did everything I could to avoid them, dabbling and experimenting before finally facing them head-on at the weekend. 

I completed a simple customer quilt, hosted 2 DIY quilters and threw a crappy piece of practice quilting into the washing machine with some blue dye. It was a piece that I had used with students learning long-arming so some was stitched with doodling and some was computerised therefore not evenly quilted. I added some more quilting in the empty parts and decided that after it was dyed and printed randomly it would make a useful piece for chopping up and using for my wee bag class.

Freya persuaded me to go with her to the Grays School of Art degree show in Aberdeen. It was great fun with such diverse work from squirty foam and cement blocks to concepts, fashion and even what looked like a concrete quilt. 

I managed to scrape together enough strips to make 42 striped blocks for the Deckchair Stripes quilt but could not rustle up any backing fabric – I have no wide backing left, no sheets to dye, nothing suitable for piecing on the back so I have ordered an old fashioned candy striped bed sheet.

  

Still avoiding my paperwork, I tested the Bernina couching inserts for Foot 72. They were really successful and because they now have much smaller holes than Foot 43 I can use far more yarns. I just gave a selection of yarns a quick test but next I need to come up with an actual project. I have been thinking of what to prepare for my FOQ Masterclasses and what I hope to offer in Germany in November so I have been looking into doing more work with organza and special effect paints, incorporating fancy yarns and threads.

  

Instead of knuckling down to that I decided that Bumble would like a quilt made from charm squares so I went right back to basics, completing an easy-peasy quilt in less than a day start to finish. It was a lot of fun to do that, with no thinking required!

Iconoclast is DONE!

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Apart from a day with a DIY quilter, a customer quilt, teaching a free motion quilting class and a day spent on longarm tuition this week, Iconoclast  actually got finished! 

I sponge painted the reverse with gold fabric paint so the navy fabric looks like lapis-lazuli and checked for loose threads and basting stitches that I may have missed on the last inspection. 

It took some time to attach all of the oddly shaped amber beads using impossible-to-see invisible thread. 

I took photos of it hanging outside on a quilt stand and it hangs reasonably straight but it will get blocked and checked for fluff again before I finally package it up ready for FOQ. I am going to fold it on the bias to see if that minimises creasing but for now it is rolled up in a sheet under the quilt frame because I don’t have space for it to just hang around. 

I made a list of things that I need to catch up on, giving myself strict instructions to get them done at the weekend but I didn’t fancy any of them so I decided to make a very basic “just because” quilt. Nothing challenging, no fancy piecing, just a kind of rail fence.

It turns out that my stash is running low on decent sized pieces of fabric. I ran what I had through the Accuquilt strip cutter then had a rummage, found some white cotton sheeting and dyed a few more lengths. It is amazing how much fabric a quilt requires, especially when some of the strips are only 1” wide. I just wanted to sew something mindless and not-perfect that was not for a competition, class or purpose. It is certainly a relaxing process but needless to say, the “real” jobs are still waiting…

Iconoclast is STILL a WIP!

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I really could not pretend that it was still May so I had to get on with some actual work in the form of basting a large customer quilt and supervising 6 DIY quilts. This did not leave much time to continue working on Iconoclast which I had hoped would be finished by now. 

I made a label and hanging sleeve and tacked them to the quilt using an extra large straight stitch in bright orange thread. This proved to be far more stable than using pins so nothing could slip out of place and end up wonky. 

Eventually I decided to check for stray threads and fluff and deal with that. I have a useless fluff removing sticky roller. When I roll it over the quilt the head falls off and it is tricky to remove the fluffy layer of sticky paper to get to a clean piece. I settled on the idea of vacuuming it with a small brush head instead. This is when it dawned on me that there was an issue with the wool wadding. The quilt was covered in woolly fibres, some of which it had picked up on the way, but many more were poking out of the good quality blue dyed top. I know I had the wadding the right way up so this is really annoying. I had issues with EQS wadding a few years back but I put that down to being a bad batch after being told by the company that they had not had any issues when they tested it. It is difficult to get hold of rolls of wool wadding in the UK so I did not have much choice. I hoovered away for 2 hours, picking out fuzzy fibres. This will need to be done again before it is packed up for a show. I did wonder whether a solution might be to spray the whole thing with cheap hairspray!

  

Another time consuming finishing touch is sewing on chips of amber in the empty diamonds with invisible thread. I could be tempted to add amber beads elsewhere except that even I don’t have that much patience. A big job that I want to do when I next have a full free day will be to sponge the entire navy reverse with gold fabric paint so it looks like lapis lazuli and also just because;)

Finishing Faults

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The Russian quilt was finally released from the quilt frame on Monday and pinned out damp and flat to dry on a fortuitously hot day. This flagged up the first flaw. The chalk grid that had started so accurately clearly went a bit wonky in the end since one of the sides measured a tad longer than the other 3. Hopefully the quilt is so big that it will not be too obvious when it hangs. I entered it for FOQ and so had to make a decision on its title, ICONOCLAST, a pun on Russian Icons and a dictionary definition – “a person who attacks cherished beliefs, traditional institutions, etc., as being based on error or superstition”.

I did not have a full week to continue finishing the quilt since I had to collect Freya from Uni for the summer with a mountain of stuff, including a canoe and a bike. Fortunately members of the canoe club were roped in to lash it to the Landy roof. 

I taught in a school for the first time in ages, filling the morning with artwork and “supervising” during their sports day afternoon. They were a very nice bunch of kids so it was not really a chore.

I sewed the flanges and wide binding for Iconoclast and applied them fairly neatly, a miracle considering the size and weight of the quilt. I did not enjoy sewing the 32 feet of binding onto the back by hand and had to re-do one corner because I was having issues with bulk, especially since I had used 2 layers of wadding.

There was an additional remedial action that had to be taken because the stain removal  process had caused some of the blue and green dyes to leak into the orange bias strips around the DWR. The solution was to mix fabric paints to and take a tiny brush to cover up the bleed. Applying two coats took almost an entire day, sigh!

My plan to couch on metallic braid did not go smoothly and I unpicked a few successful first attempts. I realised that I would need to stitch around all of the orange bias in order for it to sit flat since it had not actually been quilted. It was very tricky to keep the fine gold braid absolutely in line with the orange strip and I am not entirely happy with it. It looks great from a distance but anyone inspecting it with a magnifying glass might be critical. I may have to add yet more gold stitching to make it look really tidy and I have now reached the point where I cannot wait to be finished, although frustratingly it is now June and I have to crack on with some actual work…

Ask Me what I do NOT know about Chalk!

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There should be a prize for quilting Stamina – I put in some long days at the quilt frame, sometimes 9+ hours and finally reached the point where I could unload and turn the quilt to tackle the remaining 2 borders on the horizontal. 

For some relief from quilting I made some binding/flange samples, the idea being that the edge looks a bit like military ribbons. The skinny ones looked very smart and I will save that method for a future quilt bu I decided that ¼” flanges suit this quilt best with a wide ½” binding. 

  

I finally completed the quilting after a lengthy 159 hours on the frame. The next challenge was removing all of my very boldly applied chalk marks. I had used Sewline, tailor’s chalk wheels, koh-i-noor chalk, General chalk pencils, school chalk, scrubbed lines out, reapplied them and generally scribbled liberally with chalk all over the quilt. I read up on chalk removal and the first suggestion was to wipe gently with dilute spirit vinegar. This did not prove effective so I diluted some Ace stain remover and started scrubbing the entire 8 foot square quilt with a soft toothbrush, thinking how tedious it must be to be an archaeologist. 

I kept the quilt on the frame in case I might have to do some stitching repairs but I think the tiny stitching has withstood the abuse. Amazingly, when dry it appears that the chalk disappears into the quilt except that I am feeling paranoid about ghost lines. I have collected an arsenal of other stain removers just in case I find any stubborn spots of chalk later. There is still a lot of work to do before it is finally finished then I will have to make a decision about the quilt’s name so I can make it a label and enter a show.

I was both astonished and delighted to hear that “Domestic” has been juried into the elusive Fine Art Quilt Masters at Festival of Quilts this year. Especially when I consider which of my previous attempts – Celtic Totems, Purdah, Shield Maiden did not make it. I must have got the arty blurb right for a change because I feel that this competition is as much about the concept as the actual quilt. Ridiculous as it may seem, I feel that this endorsement of my work finally allows me to call myself a “proper” Quilt Artist.

Coffee, Quilt, Sleep, Repeat…

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I have rediscovered my stove top coffee pot which makes coffee like rocket fuel, just what I have needed to kickstart every day that starts and ends with the Russian DWR quilt. Two days were slightly different. I had a DIY quilt customer in which gave me someone to talk to and I spent another day delivering a large canoe to St. Andrews for Freya that also involved collecting firewood for an end of term beach bonfire. 

I have now clocked up 123 hours on the Russian quilt! (I wish I had timed the piecing as well) It was exciting when the wadding left the floor and even better when the central area was completed. I rarely have to think about the quilting pathways now, except when I forget and end up unpicking ridiculously small stitches. 

  

Nell has gone off to Amsterdam on a school trip this week so there will be no school pickups or after school activities so I should really be able to power on if my aching wrist can keep going. 

  

Of course, completing the quilting will not be the end of the job, some of which will have to be done using a domestic machine. I am not looking forward to man-handling such a large quilt when I add gold trim and tackle the binding for which I have some simple but ambitious plans – but that will be at least another week away! It’s a good job I have taken up a new hobby in lino cutting for some light relief;)

It All Adds Up

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People often ask at quilt shows how long it has taken to complete the quilting so I have been keeping tabs on the Russian DWR, averaging 7 hours per day. Let’s just say that progress is slow – even the chalk marking takes forever. I would like to think that I am getting quicker now that I know what I am doing.

To my horror, I discovered that the underneath tension was not brilliant on the tiny ruler work and I will have to come up with a cunning plan to disguise it. Lowering the bobbin tension, increasing the top tension, checking carefully for microscopic fluff and changing to a gold needle designed for stitching through sticky stuff improved matters.

 

It was nerve-wracking and exciting to finally get to do some free motion stitching on manual in the amber sections. Each large pinched square takes 35 minutes, which is considerably faster than the equivalent area of ruler work. I am not quite on target for reaching halfway by mid May and I have not taken into account the chalk removal, blocking, binding and addition of amber chips and any other extras that spring to mind. Facebook sent me reminders that I have previously panicked over Tartan Tattoo and BzB in previous Mays. At least the longer daylight hours make the days seem longer.

I reached the point where I had spent so long in the workshop that I was hitting repeats of radio programmes so I found a good audio book to keep me going. My deadline is preventing me from getting bored but it is a bit daunting every day working on the same quilt and not rolling it on very often!

I finally got my Landy back after 3 weeks at the garage. It needed a new cross member, exhaust, prop shaft bearing and floor. It was VERY expensive. I was devastated to find steam coming out of the radiator, with water and anti-freeze pouring out of a hose the very next day. Luckily, a new jubilee clip, costing £1.67 fixed that. I will have to get a lot of customer quilts done after the DWR to fill up my piggy bank.

Hopefully by this time next week the bottom end of the Russian DWR quilt will be in sight…

When Doubting Thomas Met Peter and Paul

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My “Russian” DWR quilt still does not have a name or even an abbreviation although in a way it has tenuous links to Peter the Great, the Peter and Paul fortress, and The Amber Room with an homage to the Robbing Peter to Pay Paul patchwork pattern. My current favourite might be “Iconoclast”, obviously subject to change.

  

I finally got it loaded and have spent a total 45 hours working on it so far, not even reaching a quarter of the way through yet. To be fair there was a lot of thinking time, redesigning and working out the most efficient quilting path. 

  

I don’t think I have ever done such a lot of intense ruler work where lines must match up exactly. I have had so many doubts about it – is it too big, will I get it finished in a sensible amount of time (hopefully a month), have I chosen the right thread, is my back-tracking accurate, is it fancy enough, how will I bind it, will it measure up against the insanely high quality of other show quilts???

All I know is that it is coming along slowly and I will just have to keep chipping away at the enormous task until it is finished. Then I will have the worry of removing all of the chalk marks from dark fabric!

Chalking it up to Inexperience

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I spent NO LESS than 3 days marking my DWR quilt with chalk I am not convinced will ever rub/wash off. It should have been simple to mark a 2 inch grid all over but when it came to adding in some more information, it was obvious that a couple of the diagonals were not where they should be. A job that started off so neatly looked like a child had been playing on the pavement with a box of IKEA chalk and a wet sponge. I just hope I can actually quilt what I have scribbled! Of course, the quilt is now far bigger than it was meant to be therefore I had to sew extensions onto the 90” wadding and order more backing fabric since I no longer had enough, sigh:(

A simple customer quilt and a DIY customer alleviated the boredom and I spent many hours scouring the internet for images for the Domestic slideshow, ensuring that I would not be infringing any copyright rules. I have some great pictures so far, enough to take photos in order to meet a competition deadline. 

My weekend was beyond frustrating technology-wise. Whoever used my decent camera last (and I’m sure that was not me) mislaid the charger so I had to take photos using my phone. The phone takes great photos but when they are uploaded to the computer the quality is seriously reduced. I cannot fathom this at all. I have changed the settings on my phone but when you zoom in to inspect the images on the computer they are not at all sharp. 

Obviously, taking the photos in the first place was not going to be easy. The background quilt is white (ish). I hung it on a quilt stand with a black cloth behind it but inside photos of the quilt were too dark and outside photos would not show the projected images, even in cloudy light. The other weird discovery is that when you try to take photos of digitally projected images they show up as strips of red, blue and green. Then it started to rain… 

  

In rooting around for my camera charger I realised that I own a digital projector, overhead projector and pocket projector. The only way I could get a realistic photo of the quilt plus slideshow was to print a slide onto an acetate sheet and use the old fashioned OHP. If the piece is accepted into the competition I want to use the pocket projector mounted on a tripod but it won’t yet recognise the photos that I copied onto the micro SD card that I have now accidentally trashed while attempting to reformat it – ARGHHH – Seriously, I could have been quilting for hours in all of that time!