Easy-Peasy Japanesey

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I spent most of Monday travelling back from Germany to find that it was much colder back in Scotland. I unpacked a lovely selection of threads, small longer rulers and white chocolate biscuits.

I don’t know how many layers I had to wear on Tuesday in my Arctic workshop to quilt a striking grey tree quilt. It was a very simple quilt with a few blocks around a large central panel but it looked really classy when finished. 

I made a flock of mini hens using a pattern that Regina gave me from a German gardening magazine. They were very easy – the longest part of the process was stuffing them. The tiny foot on my Singer Featherweight was ideal for stitching the opening shut. Some of the hens were lucky and got bells for feet. Some will be given away but I think I will keep a few in my workshop. Maybe I also need some blue ones? It would be fun to make a hen using leftover scraps from every finished quilt.

Funnily enough, I had a customer quilt this week with chicken fabrics so I got the Bernina Qmatic to quilt it with hexagons that looked like a chicken wire fence.

I have finished the antique quilt repairs by stitching new patches over the worn ones in the outer border. It took 16 ½ hours to fix 10 blocks and some of the border so I hope its owner will be pleased with the results.

I bought a couple of Japanese Tatami strip bag kits from Regina and had intended to give them to my Mother and Sister for Christmas. However, the instructions were in Japanese but with good diagrams. I decided that it would be better if I made the bags myself then gave them away. The first one was straightforward except that it was not easy to pull up a gathering thread with such stiff fabric. The backpack was more challenging as I could not quite work out what the diagrams were suggesting. There was a bit of guesswork and the fabrics were not really suitable for ripping out mistakes. In the end I got it sussed and was pleased with my attempts. 

  

Nell and I had a rummage in the charity shop over the weekend – she got some clothes to up-cycle while I found a set of Nigella Lawson mixing bowls and a small silk carpet that I might use to make a Mary Poppins bag. I will need to order a tubular frame and no doubt follow some challenging instructions but they are very expensive to buy ready made so I might as well have a go. 

I made myself catch up with paperwork before I get stuck into Christmas preparations. I absolutely hate doing it but I have to be prepared to get my tax return done by the end of January and that is one job that it is not worth doing at the last minute;)

Rickrack Und Wurst

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I quite like it when I pack for a trip before the last minute, have time to decide if I have forgotten anything and can just get on with a couple of projects. 

  

I worked on the antique quilt, covering the worn patches with suitable new diamond templates. The old patches were rather oddly sized but the new patches were all regular so there were parts of the old fabrics showing underneath in places. I had the choice of making a new bespoke template for every single piece which would take rather more than the 6 hours already spent or figure out how to disguise the raggy edges. I made an executive decision to use vintage cotton rickrack around all of the repaired blocks. I did not have enough to put it around all of the old blocks as well but decided I liked the idea of the Japanese principle of Wabi-Sabi, “the acceptance of transience and imperfection… beauty that is imperfect, impermanent and incomplete”. Old textiles in Japan are repaired with visible, Boro stitching so the mend is obvious and not hidden. Attaching the rickrack on a heavy, old quilt took some time but I think it looks really good. I still have to sew new diamonds in the outer border but those ones are not part of a block so mismatched sizes should not be such a issue. 

I only went off on one mini tangent when I decided to see if my sewing machine could sew blanket stitch through a large mirror sequin. The plastic was thin so it worked beautifully. One of the ideas lying dormant in my head involves something to do with I median shisha mirrors so this could be an idea that I take forward. 

I flew to Nuremberg via Schipol early on Thursday morning. I had decided to dress festively in green trousers and a Christmas jumper and got some funny looks because it would seem that my outfit looked like I was dressed as an elf. When I arrived I discovered that half of the plan’s passengers had not received their luggage. It would delivered “later”… Regina phoned and explained the urgency because my suitcase contained all of my teaching materials. I could have improvised if necessary but luckily it turned up by taxi at 11pm.

  

Classes at Regina’s studio near Coburg are great because every student in my class gets to work all day on a longarm machine without sharing or having to wait their turn. My projects are never small so the whole of the first day was spent on cutting, printing and assembling a collection of kugels / baubles. The students enjoyed using the Scanncut so much that they ordered their own! 

  

The next day was spent deciding on the quilting and cracking on with some heavy stitching. The longarm machines purred away quietly in manual mode as the students, fuelled with coffee and cake, sewed for almost 10 hours. We enjoyed a wonderful selection of farm produced wurst (sausages), cheeses, bread and wine. 

We decided to put off Christmas market shopping in heavy rain first thing on Sunday morning so they continued quilting at a more relaxed pace while Regina and I exchanged ideas for mini projects. All of their projects looked fantastic and quite different to each other. 

  

Despite heavy rain in the afternoon we headed to the glass blowing village of Lauscha and blew our own kugels at the college. This was not nearly as easy as the experts made it look but my third attempt was good after a deflated kugel and another one where the top snapped off. I bought half a dozen student-blown kugels then we had a wander through the street, feeling sorry for the brass band and traders braving the rain. 

 

Photos were taken of the almost finished projects, we bid some farewells and ate our last lovely German supper. It was a great long weekend spent in good company. I will have to think of a new project for next time;)

Keeping Busy to Keep out the Cold

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It was a wet, cold, wintry week where I just kept busy on several little projects, with a trip to the Post Office and eating far too many chocolate buttons. I felt that I deserved them for refereeing between 2 teenagers, one who wants quiet to concentrate homework and the other who wants to play electric guitar loudly.

Using all of my quilt clips and a tiny amount of PVA glue I finished making all of the diamond templates for the antique quilt restoration. 

I wrote out the instructions for my snowglobe and kugel projects then had a bit of a panic because I could not find the document on my laptop later, having named it something unexpected. 

Mo let me have a selection of mixed-fibre upholstery samples to experiment with devoré paste at the textiles printing evening class. I guess the fabrics were far too robust as absolutely nothing happened. I will have to get my hands some cheap poly cotton to see if I can get an interesting burn-out using my Warli figure stencils. 

After an extensive and fruitless hunt for Nell’s badge making mirrors, I ordered some more as well as replacement yoyo makers, another mystery lost item. I can’t understand how I can lose things in my workshop which has to be well organised to contain everything that it does. 

We had no mail for 3 days then the Postie delivered backing fabric so I could quilt the two shirt quilts for my commission. I bound them at the weekend and figured out the final bill. It was actually shocking how the hours and costs of such simple quilts had mounted up. There was a time when I would have felt bad and reduced the bill to pay myself well below the minimum wage but a business cannot be run on sentiment. I still charged far less than a mechanic, plumber or web designer. 

There were also half a dozen mini-makes that have to remain secret for now as they will be presents. I had to make 2 prototypes first because I had forgotten how I made them before so my next job is to write clear instructions that will make life easier next time;)

Quilter and Roadie

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It’s a good job I don’t currently have any significant quilting projects of my own since it gave me time to catch up on mundane but essential tasks like buying chicken feed, getting my headlights fixed and dealing with software updates. My friend, Mo helped me out with a tricky and secret soft-furnishing commission, much to my relief since I would have made it far more complicated than it needed to be. 

It is great to get friends on board to help out and Catherine helped me to piece 2 customer quilts made from old shirts that would otherwise have taken me 22 hours to work on by myself. 

 

The textile printing class involved adding metallic foils to screenprints so I now have some silver Warli figures to add to my growing collection of patches. The last two sessions of the semester will allow the students to further explore the techniques covered so far so I will print and discharge more fabric that can be made into a Warli inspired quilt. 

I decided to “risk” using Qmatic on a real quilt instead of a practice piece and I felt very pleased with myself when I managed to program in an edge-to-edge pattern and get everything to line up in the correct place, even fixing a broken thread. The Bernina Qmatic system is totally different to my more familiar APQS system and I am glad that I am working it out and becoming more confident since it has far more capabilities.

 

 

Fergus and his band, “Angry Man Carpark”, had a recording session here at the weekend so I used my time out in the workshop to make prototype templates for the antique quilt that I have been commissioned to restore. The original hand-appliqued diamonds vary considerably in size and it would be an endless task to make individual templates for every single patch. I have cut out freezer paper diamonds and ironed these onto starched fabric. These will be machine stitched down over the original pieces. 

I was the Chief Roadie for the band on Saturday night. The gear was loaded into the Landy and schlepped to Captain Tom’s Studios in Aberdeen. “Angry Man Carpark”, which styles itself as an Indie Rock band was supporting a series of heavy metal bands. Their set was cut short and some of the studio equipment malfunctioned but they rocked on anyway. I was relieved that the venue had areas outside the main performance room since I am not really into screaming grunge metal in the key of Drop C. Things got a bit rough later in the evening, someone even lost  tooth in the “mosh” and there was certainly a strong whiff of teen spirit. It was all very RocknRoll;)

I spend most of Sunday putting the music room back together to Bumble’s relief as the boys had pinned up blankets and sheepskin rugs from the sofa to deaden the sound and she had felt obliged to lie pathetically on the floor instead. She was not impressed by the hoovering that went along with the tidying process. When I eventually found my desk again I wrote out a fresh To Do list for next week and I can assure you there is not yet a line that mentions the dreaded “C” for winter festival word…

Variety is the Spice of a Quilter’s Life

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Variety really is the spice of a Quilter’s life and I have certainly done all sorts of things this week. I gave longarm tuition on Monday to a pupil who took to it like a duck to water and was soon whizzing away, quilting loops all over her quilt. 

It was great to have an able assistant to tackle the job of making 2 customer quilts from old shirts. We worked out a very simple layout, appliquéd some tartan hearts and prepared 126 x 8” blocks ready to stitch together next week. 

My computerised system quilted for me in the middle of the week but I could not leave it unsupervised in case it ran out of thread while back-tracking a dense design so I had to keep a close eye on it while completing the kantha stitching. It was a perfect size to make into a cushion. I debated whether to add piping or pompoms but let myself off lightly and just kept it simple. 

Pleased that my sewing machine seems able to stitch through sequins, I ordered a selection of large silver discs, some as big as 6” across. I am not entirely sure what I think I will make so maybe just a wee sample will amuse me for now. There is no way I can start a new major project before Christmas!

I made some posh tartan-lettered bunting as a leaving present for an old friend instead of contributing to a group cash kitty. That would have been the easy option but I thought a personal present was worth the effort.

My “expertise” was sought by a member of the school PTA – she wanted to know how to repurpose a vinyl banner for the school band to promote an event. I suggested that she might need help with such a large project then realised that I had inadvertently offered my services. All I had to do was offer advice on cleaning and using the blank reverse, suggest a layout for lettering and demonstrate how to apply textile paint using stencils.

I enjoyed the Printed Textiles evening class where we had a go at printing velvet with a paste that dissolves some of the pile fibres to make devoré. The rest of the time was spent working to a procion dye formula based on fabric weight which I found particularly useful because I have only ever used packaged dye or just guessed the quantities. I ordered a couple of Thermofax screens of my Warli figures to make printed fabric that can be used as a “filler” when I sew all of the class samples together to make a quilt for the final exhibition. I even printed onto organza which was not brilliant as it was so slippery – it would be better to simply layer organza over a print like I did with my Kugels. 

  

Beelzebub was at the IQA Houston show this week. There were some fabulous winners this year – they can be seen online at www.quilts.org

Fergus and Nell came for a wander around Aberdeen on Saturday then they came to see a film that I was excited about, “Thugs of Hindustan”. It was a 3 hour Bollywood action extravaganza with plenty of fights, explosions and dancing, with inspiration from “Pirates of the Caribbean” and  wicked baddies from the East India Company. I absolutely loved it but my kids told me it was one of the worst movies that I had ever made them go and see. I guess that means I will be watching it on my own when it comes out on DVD;)

Phew!

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Phew, what an incredible pace I kept up this week – I had two dedicated DIY quilters here over 3 days, using both longarm machines and 12 quilts were completed! We were so busy that I did not stop to take a single photo of their marvellous efforts. 

On the other two days it was my mission to master the basics of Qmatic, the Bernina Q24 automated system. I laid out 3 sets of instructions, watched corresponding Youtube videos, wondered why I just can’t comprehend written instructions, scrutinised Facebook Q24 group comments, made progress, and forgot how I got there then finally it just clicked. I am not claiming to be a Master of Qmatic yet but I now feel confident enough to experiment on a real quilt, rather than a practice piece. The stitch quality of Qmatic is excellent and the designs are great. My next learning curve will be to design some patterns and import them into the system. Then I really will be a clever clogs;)

In the Printed Textiles evening class we removed the colour from black fabric using a stinky paste. I stuck with my Warli figures as a motif so I can easily throw them all together as a quilt for the end of year exhibition. I am going to cheat and get some thermofax screen made so I can easily print more fabric quickly at home using screen printing inks and dyes. The Art School has plenty of amazing equipment and resources but I have more  individual working space and can do other things while I wait for the inks to dry. 

I do not have a quilt on the go because there are so many things that need to be done first but just to say I had done some sewing I added pompom trim and even bells onto an indigo dyed scarf. I think it could stand even more jingles and dangles if I have nothing better to do. 

Out of curiosity I had to find out if my sewing machine could stitch through sequins. I may just have a plan…

It took all weekend BUT I have finally finished drafting my website edits, found all of the corresponding pictures and uploaded everything into Dropbox. I hope the web designer can manage to do the job without too much hassle or expense. 

Since as my never-ending To Do list shrunk considerably by getting the long overdue website edits done, I decided to start a new one starting next week. I must have been a hamster in a previous life!

Pottering Around in the October Hols

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Holidays make for a very different week to normal. Nell and I went to see “A Star is Born”  at the cinema which we both enjoyed then we went to see Fergus’ band play for the second time in one weekend. It was a late and loud Sunday night as I tried to blend in with a student crowd, grateful that there was battered sofa at the back of the venue. 

I finished the DWR quilt after 20 hours of ruler work and freehand quilting and the customer was thrilled. 

Freya had Reading Week so she came home from Uni for a few days to celebrate Nell’s 15th birthday. The kids really get on well when they are all together – we made a birthday banner, carved pumpkins, cooked, made a vegan birthday cake, took Bumble for walks and went on little outings like rummaging in charity shops and buying unnecessary stationery items.

  

In my textile printing class I used a screen blocker and transfer dyes with silkscreens. I was not so keen on the more freeform results, preferring screen prints to be sharp and crisp. My attempts were no worse than anyone else’s and I am enjoying the opportunity to explore different techniques. I had probably hoped for a more technical course but there is only so much that can be covered in a 2-semester foundation class. I guess it is just as valuable to decide which methods to ignore as the ones which to explore further. 

 

I have not done any quilting projects apart from a few more rows on the small Kantha piece because I am forcing myself to face up to the chore of editing my website which I have not done for 5 years. It started off as a daunting task but just doing a bit at a time chipped away at it. I have many photos to add and lots of text to alter. It made me realise just how many competition quilts I have made in 10 years (21 I think) in addition to Yurts, the Smart Car, Coracle, Henge, HM The Queen’s Quilt, customer quilts, workshops and personal projects. 

We dropped Freya off at Stonehaven Station then the Landy just died. Luckily the Landy Man was still at work, diagnosed that the 16 year old battery was dead, towed us to his garage and lent us a Banger. This allowed us to go to Aberdeen and see the fantastic film about Queen, “Bohemian Rhapsody”. The songs were still echoing in my head the next morning and Fergus tried to work out the piano chords. 

I spent Sunday tapping away on my computer keyboard but in order to feel like I had also done something “useful” I mucked out the hens and unblocked my workshop sink. 

I have 3 DIY quilting days next week, must try to complete the website edits and have  challenged myself to work my way through the Qmatic Training manual. That should keep me busy but I also need to think of something to SEW!

Getting Around To It

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My To Do List seems to be running on repeat these days – the same things keep being added each week, either because they are are too big to tackle or because I just don’t seem to want to deal with them. I have been busy with customer quilts, catching up after my trip to India. This week I tackled the enormous hexagon quilt and bound it with an extra wide binding. There was also a DIY quilter and I made a good start on a very nice Double Wedding Ring quilt. But next time I do one of those I may set myself the challenge of quilting something different in every pinched square so I don’t get bored. I find that I am having to make myself do an hour or two at a time otherwise it feels that I am not getting anywhere. It is not complicated, just time consuming. One client dropped off shirting to be made into 2 memory quilts and someone else dropped off a 1920’s quilt that needs mending. I have plenty of work to keep me so busy that I resent having to nip out to the Post Office.

  

I started an evening class on printed textiles and took along some intricate stencils that I had cut out of Warli type figures. I wished I had cut them out of acetate since paper ones can only be used a couple of times then disintegrate when the ink is hosed off the screen. The Warli figures turned out really well but did not lend themselves to making a 2-colour print since they are usually only printed with one colour. I did enjoy the class and seeing what the other participants had come up with but in a couple of hours it was only possible to pull off a couple of prints then faff about waiting for the screen to dry before making the next one. Prior to the next class I will cut more acetates and a pile of my own fabric. I am not sure that I have a theme in mind yet, just eager to explore the techniques.

Mysteriously, Fergus and his chum broke the glass in the summerhouse door which left lethal shards of glass hanging loose. I fixed it temporarily wearing gardening gloves and goggles with a judicious quantity of duct tape, a tarpaulin and staples. 

I have been on “Roadie” duty this weekend, taking Fergus to a couple of very loud gigs in a small cellar bar in Aberdeen. The up-and-coming bands were good, even better when earplugs were worn. 

I found myself enjoying the simple task of Kantha stitching a chevron print square that I was given in India. It is not complicated, no design decisions have to be made, thinking is not necessary and the stitches do not even have to be particularly neat. Eventually I will decide whether to complete something I have already started or go off on a new tangent – my money is on the latter;)

Business As Usual

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I was all set to start a mammoth customer quilt made entirely from hand pieced hexagons first thing on Monday morning, starting by removing all of the papers from the outer border. That job took over an hour then I measured up the top and quilt back just to check and found that the back was far too small. I did not even have enough back to cut strips off and make joins elsewhere so I had to order a 120” back and discovered that the only suitable fabric was basic calico from The Cotton Patch which is a bit drab. Stymied with that quilt, I began another one with differently sized top and side borders, some of which were 13” wide. The brief was to do a custom job but on a budget which was a challenge. Hopefully the customer will be pleased with the results which include a wide satin blanket-style binding. I’m just going to mention that I have realised that I don’t actually particularly like purple quilts. I am going to have to start wearing tinted glasses because I get quite a few of them:P

I spent 2 days giving one-to-one longarm tuition to a pupil who has visited me before and we had a great time, working on simple designs that could be made more fancy for custom work and trying out some tricky threads on the Q24. I really enjoy offering personal tuition which gives the pupil time to ask as many questions as they like and they have the opportunity of completing an entire quilt with sample designs. 

The “working” week ended with a DIY customer who worked on a super quilt – a bookshelf design featuring family photos and book titles. She was very independent which gave me time to wrestle with a tangled mess of yarn that had been sitting in an abandoned heap. I was on hand to assist with advancing the quilt, change bobbins and make cups of tea. 

I crossed off all sorts of admin tasks on my list and added many more but still have not got around to booking a haircut or trip to the optician. I expect Bumble will probably get her  winter hairdo well before I get around to booking mine. 

Nell and Fergus went off to stay with Freya in St Andrews for the weekend so I was able to spend a day making stencils for the evening class that I am starting on printed textiles. I have no idea whether I have done the right homework but I have a choice of paper cuts. I had a go at cutting Warli figures that I had seen painted on a wall at the Craft Museum in Delhi. They are like stick figures with triangular bodies, often dancing around in circle. I saw so many inspiring textiles and designs in India but I have no idea yet how I will work them into a quilt. I spent hours looking up various Indian folk art styles as I would like to make a quilt inspired by a painting that I did not buy because it was too expensive. What I really need to do is learn a mantra such as, “Keep it Small and Simple!”

  

One thing I did allow myself to do for fun was some really uneven Kantha stitching on a chevron print that was started in an introductory workshop in Jaipur. I find this type of hand sewing therapeutic since it does not have to be particularly neat and judging by the stitching on the reverse of my pink sari quilt, ends are just knotted with no fancy nonsense of sewing in ends. I am unlikely to become a hand sewing convert but I rather like the excuse of keeping my supplies in my Indian tiffin tin just in case I need to take it out with me.

My final job of the week was to transfer my little packets of Indian dye into jars. I wore surgical gloves because one of the packets had a puncture. I have no idea of the exact colours, strength or recipe to use so the results will be interesting and hopefully intense. 

Experiences, Palaces and Bazaars

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Monday morning started early with Yoga Mediation at 7.00am. The instructor told us to  Love Ourselves and relax every part of the body, including our ear lobes while we laid down on the floor. Mediation is really not in my psyche and I thought it was hilarious that she walked around the room with incredibly squeaky flip-flops, texting and posing for Instagram photos while everyone had their eyes closed. 

 

 

After breakfast a Henna artist expertly drew Mendhi paste designs on our arms and hands. I asked for a Lakshmi owl on the palm of my hand but I think she invented a new creature that was part monkey – to balance the chimera I had a fantastical peacock applied onto my left arm. 

Everyone spent the rest of the morning relaxing, hand-sewing and in my case, trying to write up a very long blog post about all of the sights and adventures.

It was Pam’s birthday and later that afternoon we boarded our little bus that had been garlanded with balloons and streamers by the driver and his assistant. Our mystery trip was a visit to an NGO orphanage for 25 girls, most of whom were affected by HIV. The matron gave us a tour then the beautifully behave children gave us a concert, showing off their dance routines – to a mix of Bollywood and Western pop music. They presented Pam with a flower garland, cake, home-made birthday card and sang “Happy Birthday” in English. Somehow, Pam persuaded me to perform a Scottish dance and from somewhere in the depths of my memory I did them a clumsy version of a Highland Fling. Afterwards we made friends with a few of the children who could understand some English. They attend a local school like “normal” children during the day and stay in the orphanage until they are 18, after which they are set up with jobs. There is still a stigma about HIV in India, often caused by prostitution, drug use and lack of medical care, so this can be difficult. The ladies in charge were called “Auntie” by the children and they seemed to have a positive, family-like relationship. I was told that my new friend, 10 year old Vashnavi, had lost both of her parents to HIV/Aids by the age of 3 but she is relatively fortunate since she has property to inherit when she becomes an adult. The matron was keen for us to share our encounter with the children on social media in order to raise awareness of the charity, The Aangan Care Home. www.nayasawera.org 

   

After our uplifting and humbling experience at the orphanage Govind invited us for snacks and drinks at his house where we met his family. His wife had been involved in a scooter accident and hurt her knee so his Mum had been busy in the kitchen preparing delicious pakoras. I think she probably had a wicked sense of humour and I wished I could invent an app for instant free-flowing translation. 

That evening the tailors returned with my new, improved trousers. The flowery velvet pair has one pink leg and one that is mostly lime green. I have no idea what I will wear with such flamboyant flares back in Scotland!

Our trip was accelerating to an end so on Tuesday we packed in a full morning of sightseeing. I was not sure what to expect at the Royal Observatory, but I was amazed. The Jantar Mantar monument in Jaipur, Rajasthan is a collection of nineteen architectural astronomical instruments built by the Rajput king Sawai Jai Singh II, and completed in 1734. It features the world’s largest stone sundial, which is pretty accurate by the way, and it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The architecture was angular and looked incredibly modern – each sign of the zodiac had a viewing station and flights of steps enabled both astronomers and astrologers the ideal platform for studying the stars. I had no idea that astrology was so important in Indian culture. Our guide had explained during one of his many entertaining stories that if an astrologer came up with a mismatch during an arranged marriage proposal then everything would be called off. 

   

Despite the intense heat of the day our next stop was the nearby Royal City Palace complex, a vast collection of beautiful buildings, courtyards, gardens and museums, one of which contains a wide variety of textiles such as the royal formal costumes, sanganeri block prints, embroidered shawls, Kashmiri pashminas, silk saris and also the voluminous outfits worn by Sawai Madhosingh I, a large chap who was 1.2 metres wide and weighed 250 kilograms but nevertheless, had 108 wives.

   

In the Diwan-I-Khas or the “Hall of Private Audience”, a marble-floored chamber, are two huge sterling silver vessels called Gangajelies / Ganges-water urns, each standing 1.6 metres tall, with capacity of 4000 litres and weighing 340 kilograms. They were made from 14,000 melted silver coins and hold the Guinness World Record as the world’s largest sterling silver vessels. These enormous pots were specially made for Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh II, who was a highly pious Hindu, to carry the water of the Ganges to drink on his trip to England in 1901. He did not want to commit religious sin by consuming the English water, or indeed contract cholera from the polluted River Thames. Several magnificent Bohemian crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling in an opulently decorated room with a Pashmina carpet so huge that it had to be folded to fit within the space.

 

The courtyard leading to the Chandra Mahal, was the most imposing of the palace buildings, where four small gates are elaborately adorned with motifs and carvings representing the four seasons and Hindu gods.

  

Escaping the heat we stopped for lunch at the very grand Samode Haveli, an oasis of richly decorated rooms and gardens. It was incredible that such a place, now a tenth of its original size was situated within the bustling city.

  

My fellow tourists decided that they would return to the hotel to snooze or swim but I persuaded Kathy from California to accompany me on an adventure to the bazaar. We were dropped off on the street and wandered into the narrow alleys in search of bargains. We did not exactly know where we were headed, it was a maze of tiny shops, some only 4 feet square. It was overwhelming and not easy to find the small items of haberdashery such as thread, mirrors and pompom trim which were on my shopping list. I did buy a couple of rolls of brocade ribbon that may come in handy one day. 

   

Taking our lives into our hands we managed to cross the street on at least 3 occasions. You just have to start walking, holding your arms out to slow down the relentless beeping scooters and tuktuks. I stopped at a shop that sold metal cookware and negotiated the purchase of a small tiffin tin, spice box, sev cutter and a heavy cooking wok but passed on a milk churn which I did not really “need”. We wandered up a secret alley of tailors and finally found a shop selling shot cottons which I had been looking for all through my trip but was now running short on funds and luggage space. Crossing the street again we found a shop that sold indigo prints and clothes. We hailed a tuktuk and made a chaotic 30 minute journey back to the hotel with purchases stuffed into a flour sack. 

Sadly, that evening was our farewell group dinner. Pam and Govind thanked us for being such a friendly, fun group of travellers and hoped we would be inspired by our trip and remain friends on social media. 

On Wednesday day morning I made an abortive attempt at packing. I wished I had not bought a large quilt since I was finding it tricky to pack up my metalware and fabric purchases. A brave few ventured back to the bazaar for a last rake around. Amazingly, I managed to relocate the tailors’ alley where more shot cotton was purchases and the indigo shopkeeper remembered me and asked where Kathy was that morning. 

   

We enjoyed a last lassi yogurt drink in a terracotta cup from a street vendor and I bought 2 large bags of henna, thinking that it would be interesting to try block printing with it. As we were loading up the bus with our luggage I realised that I would need an extra suitcase as I would not be able to fit all of my last minute purchases into my hand luggage. We flew from Jaipur to Delhi and from the air could see what a huge city it is. Most of the lights seen from above were from traffic. There were large dark spaces where it was either parkland or areas without electricity. Incredibly, the population of that one city equals the entire population of Scotland. At Dehli we said farewell to our American friends and the Antipodean contingent and myself stayed overnight at a posh hotel 10 minutes from Indira Ghandi International airport. It was a pity that I only had 6 hours to enjoy such luxury before flying out in the morning. Yet again, I was struck that foreign visitors have access to unlimited water for showers, swimming pools and air-conditioning while so many people live hand to mouth on the streets. 

 

It was a bit of a faff getting into the airport without a printed boarding pass but eventually I found myself wandering the airport shops, trying to blow the last of my rupees on a tin of masala chai and trinkets which were far more expensive than those “knack-knicks” dangled in from of us by street hawkers. During the crowded 9 hour flight to London I dozed and half watched 3 Bollywood movies. Even the comedies made reference to corruption and illiteracy. I had planned to sort out my photos on the flight but there was not really enough room in Economy to do that comfortably.

Aberdeen was wet and chilly when I arrived in the evening. Nella, Fergus and Bumble were pleased to see me and I loved the “Welcome Home “ banner that Nell had made with her friends, complete with cut-out paper monkeys, elephants and a Taj Mahal. 

On Friday I sorted through my exploded suitcases which took a considerable time. I was pleased with my fabric purchases but wished I had bought more little things. I cooked up a feast of pakoras and vegetable curries, just making up the recipes as I went along. The steel cooking pan worked a treat over my camping gas stove and I can’t wait to have a go at making sev / bombay mix.

All weekend I tried to finish writing up my blog and upload photos of which there are more than 1000. It was difficult to keep up with the blog while in India because we did so much and I was glad that I had at least scribbled down rough notes to remind myself what we did each day. I think I did not really want to finish writing my India blog because that would mean that my wonderful trip had come to an end. I loved every minute of my experience and hope I can return to explore the richness of India in future. 

In the meantime, I have unavoidably started a new To Do list, starting with some customer quilting in an attempt to boost my dwindling bank account so I can fund further adventures!

Exotic Marigold Style

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On Monday we had a long bus ride to Jaipur in Rajasthan and on the way we saw a lot of bright, marigold coloured saris. Even the women working in the fields wore saris and colourful scarves. There were ladies in traditional outfits perched precariously side-saddle on scooters, usually sitting behind men, only some of whom wore helmets. There were plenty of cows wandering or sleeping on the highway. As we got nearer to the Pink City of Jaipur, we could see jagged, rocky hills. Rajasthan is an area larger than the UK, known for mining of minerals and textiles. We stopped at a countryside palace undergoing extensive restoration for a lunch of mixed dahls and rotis, sitting outside under a wide verandah. 

As we entered the outer limits of the city we saw many makeshift shelters inhabited by Bangladeshi refugees but our guide, Govind told us that Jaipur is a mainly wealthy city which has an unbelievable number of school, colleges and universities. We settled into another plush, international hotel with a magnificent outdoor pool with squirting elephant statues. My 7th storey room overlooked a builders’ shanty settlement which highlighted the contrast of wealth and poverty in India.

Pam gave an introductory presentation on the techniques of kantha quilting where old saris are cut up and repurposed into quilts, several layers thick and sewn together with large running stitches. 

Noticing that there was a beautiful full moon, I decided to see if I could get onto the rooftop to take a photo. The lift did not go any higher than our floor but I found the staircase. Unfortunately, the door to the roof was padlocked and the door back to the staircase had shut behind me. I had to go all the way down to the ground floor using the back stairs, getting closer to Indian pop music and shouting in Hindi until I surprised the kitchen staff by arriving unannounced in the staff area. I travelled back up to the lobby with food trolleys in the service elevator. An elderly man wearing a tribal outfit invited me to see a traditional puppet show. It was a short show, rather bizarre where he played the tabla drums, sang a folk song and then ran over to make the marionettes perform. A Maharani puppet did suggestive dance moves, a baddie somersaulted and removed his head, a king was attacked by a snake and an elephant cavorted. It was weird but entertaining. 

On Tuesday we had our first visit to the manufacturing area for a short kantha workshop with local ladies who spoke no English. They showed us how to make lines of running stitches using a needle at least 2 inches long. This was followed by a visit to a showroom full of antique kantha quilts. I spent more than I planned to on a glitzy pink quilt made from highly embroidered pieces salvaged from saris and kurtha tunics as well as an older quilt in indigo and pink which I wanted to be made into a tailored jacket. 

The final excursion of the day was to visit a handmade paper factory. Waste cotton trimmings from T-shirt factories is finely cut then pulped and dyed, sieved through fine screens and pressed using antiquated presses. The shop sold wrapping paper and small sketchbooks, perfect for gifts. I asked the owner what dyes they used and he kindly gave me half a dozen small packets of powder dye to take away.

We had an evening workshop session with Pam auditioning scraps of kantha onto a plain background to produce a small art quilt but did not get much further than selecting some colours that worked well together and laying them out roughly. I had a cooling dip in the pool then enjoyed a simple supper of samosas and masala chai tea at a small, trendy teahouse next door to the hotel. It had some quirky translations in its menu, including instructions to clients, from asking them not to be too over enthusiastic at kitty parties and requesting that paper serviettes should be used judiciously.

On Wednesday our little bus drove us through Old Jaipur, The Pink City. All of the buildings were painted a pink-terracotta colour when the Prince Regent visited during Queen Victoria’s reign. The small shops, raised above street level and sheltered from the sun with a covered walkway all looked attractive and stocked with all manner of wares. We passed two impressive military forts commanding strategic positions on the surrounding hills to the Amber Fort, the original fortified city of the region. An impressive, impenetrable wall surrounded the entire city, even going up and down the hills. 

We had the most incredible experience of riding sideways on a mattress on top of an elephant! I could not imagine travelling a long distance using this mode of transport since it was a fairly bumpy, swaying journey, rather like being in a small boat on choppy water. It looked more comfortable to be the turbaned driver who perched on the elephant’s neck. Holding onto a short piece of rope with one hand I tried to take photos and hold onto my camera with the other hand. The view across the valley and of the landscaped gardens are stunning and the colours were crisp and bright in the clear sunlight. 

  

At the top we were guided around the magnificent courtyards, accommodation for concubines and studied the different patterns in the carvings and jail screens. I had used Google images for inspiration on my “Purdah” quilt but it was wonderful to experience the actual place. The Maharajah could watch dancing girls twinkling in the 6 million mirrors used to decorate the Sheesh Mahal (Mirror Palace.) The decorative influence for the Amber Fort complex is a blend of Persian and Mughal  styles. Beautiful ladies swept the courtyards and knot gardens, keen to be given a few rupees in exchange for tourists taking their picture. 

 

 

All of the coloured decorations were painted on using pigments ground up with precious stones and gum arabic. The sealant used was the white flesh of a coconut to add shine. There were so many photo opportunities – angles, views, even green parrots and pigeons nesting in nooks of the old walls. We travelled back down the hill in Indian jeeps, hotly pursued by persistent hawkers, desperate for us to buy embroidered bags, trinket boxes and sandalwood elephants. 

A gem factory was our next destination. Outside workmen were hand grinding precious stones which were then finished and set upstairs in a secure laboratory-like facility, watched closely by 76 CCTV cameras. The workers had to remove their uniforms at the end of the day and hand them in to be washed by machine so any gold or gem dust could be collected by specially adapted filtration systems. The showroom was very classy and the jewellery was priced well beyond my budget – there were not guide prices or tickets to give an indication of cost even for the cheaper silver jewellery. 

 

We had a buffet lunch at the glamorously titled “Glitz Hotel” which was where I took a photo of a decorated water delivery truck. Across the street a female builder’s labourer was balancing a large basin of a sandy cement mix on her head. The male builder had the less arduous job of scooping the mix into her basin with a shovel while she did all of the hard work dressed in her sari. 

The next stop was a carpet and textile warehouse. We watched weavers tie up to 900 knots per square inch on old looms using intricate patterns and at least 20 colours. The carpets were carefully brushed and trimmed by hand when finished and if the client required an antique look they could be washed with henna in the water. Finally, each carpet was blasted with a flaming blow-torch to remove any last bits of fluff. Each carpet could take months to be made by one weaver using camel hair, cashmere or silk. Because of this they were justifiably expensive. I had hoped to find a Mary Poppins carpet- bag but they had no idea what I was looking for, even after I showed them a picture on Google Images. The fabric on sale was beautifully displayed in an immaculate showroom. Suiting and ticking was displayed on shelves and would not have looked out of place in Saville Row, London. The fabric was therefore priced accordingly so a small group of bargain hunters went to look for less pricey fabric elsewhere. I bought a couple of Gudrun Sjoden style tunics and was measured up for a simple to in a typical Indian orange block print. The tailors were working at the back of the shop. I was expertly measured and they promised to have the item made within an hour and delivered to the hotel later in the evening.

 

The bus wove its way back to the hotel in rush hour traffic. We saw feral dogs sleeping in municipal plant pots and school children being taken home by Tuk-Tuk with their satchels and backpacks hanging off the back. The sights and sounds of just one day in Jaipur were simply amazing. 

 

The dinner was buffet style in the hotel and I chose Indian veggie curries. Obviously, I felt that I had to try a “Live Chat” which was a wordplay on watching the chef assemble some chaat artfully – lentil dumplings with some sauce and toppings, a little like how a pizza might be assembled. My simple orange tunic was delivered to the hotel and was fitted and finished beautifully.

Our Thursday excursion was to a slum to visit tribal, Rajasthani puppet makers. The slum dwellings were small and rickety but clean inside. Fortunately it was dry in the narrow lanes, only just wide enough for 2 people to pass. There were wobbly slabs and some raw sewage but it was not at all grim. Ladies in gorgeous saris peeped out of doorways and seemed surprised that we wanted to take photos. The puppet makers constructed huge procession puppets and also small marionettes with wooden heads just like those I had seen in the puppet show. The clothing for the puppets was made from scrap cloth from deities in temples. A pair of puppets cost 400 rupees and two people could make up to 20 figures in a day but there is no guarantee that they will sell all of their stock to tourists via hawkers. 

 

 

We were invited to a Khambhatya patchwork class later in the morning and learnt the technique of couching rough cotton strands like string over pieces that had been salvaged from worn-out tribal tunics. The women used huge needles to couch down the cords, having stuck the random patches down to a muslin cloth using a stinky glue made from milk. This was followed by a trunk-show / buying session of more quilts, shawls and embroideries. There was even an antique elephant blanket! Kay had asked me to buy her a kantha quilt like mine so I bought her a very similar version and arranged to have it shipped direct. Next time we share a hotel room at FOQ we can have matching beds.

                                                                                                                                  

The afternoon was spent at a more relaxed fabric emporium with lots of block print fabric. This was the place where everyone in the group wanted to have items of clothing custom made. I bought some wacky floral cotton velvet for trousers and dungarees. This took some explaining until it was established that they might be described as “mechanical trousers”. Masala tea and wine was served at the end of the shopping and the previously tidy shop looked like the fabric had exploded. Everyone was exhausted. I wandered back out to the street where street kids gathered round to stare at the spectacle of the Westerners turning up in their neighbourhood. The bus driver shooed them away when they became too cheeky asking for snacks, “Challo, challo!” I was fascinated by kids riding around on bikes that were too big, small stalls selling snacks and berries and dogs sleeping on the street. 

My supper was a couple of samosas at the tea house and when I returned a tailor delivered jackets that had been made from the antique kantha quilts which were very well fitted and almost reversible. 

  

I was very excited to spend Friday finding out about block printing. The wood block carver had a small shop right on the street where he carved out the designs onto hardwood using small chisels. On the way we just happened upon a woman tie-dyeing sari lengths sitting crossed legged outside her house. She had tied pieces of cotton thread around red cloth then would overdye the whole piece with intense black dye. I bought a dozen blocks from the wood-carver and could easily have bought more. 

 

We made a fascinating side visit to a Jain temple where photographs were prohibited. The temple often hosts naked monks but none were present for our visit. There were many marble statues in shrines to the 24 preachers of Jainism, the most famous of whom was Mahaveer, a Buddha like deity. He prescribed non-violence and decreed strict rules of how to lead a pious life. 

The visit to the block printing “factory” was just too short for me to find out all that I wanted to know. I observed how to fold a piece of newspaper to a make a mask for a mitred corner and noted the method for applying the paint. The runny paint was in buckets on the floor then tipped into deep trays on trolleys. There was a metal grill-rack in each of the trays then a pile of cotton cloth that was saturated with the paint. The printer assisting my end of the table did not seem to be an expert so my corners ended up a mess. I was not keen on the dark purple paint that was assigned to us so I was bit disappointed in my project but I certainly learned a lot from the experience.

That evening we had a real treat as Govind had suggested that we go to see a Bollywood Movie. He bought tickets for the opening night of “Needle and Thread, Mad in India”. The cinema was undergoing extensive renovations but remained open despite holes in the ceiling and precarious looking bamboo scaffolding. At the opening premiere there were no crowds of cinema-goers, just half a dozen locals and us. There did not seem to be a staircase so we had to use an ancient lift to get up to the posh section. Our balcony seats were definitely vintage and just before the programme started a guy sprayed the row behind with a huge bottle of what may have been insecticide or air-freshener. After the Hindi adverts for men’s briefs and washing powder that could remove curry we had to stand for the national anthem. A trailer for a forthcoming film, what appeared to be a Hindi version of Pirates of the Caribbean, “Thugs of Hindustan”, looked highly entertaining – there was plenty of action, dancing, slow-motion, comedy and glitzy sword-wielding girls. 

The storyline of film was a little difficult to follow in the first half but Govind explained the gist and we passed it along the row. Based on a true story, a poor couple in a village struggle to improve their life and overcome obstacles and family arguments, eventually starting a successful fashion business using artisan crafts-people. 

There were a couple of fights, tears, a little slow-mo, many troubles, funny moments but ultimately a happy ending. Customers could order samosas for a snack during the interval and for the second half Govind arranged for English subtitles and a reduction in the volume. Even the projectionist enjoyed the film as he poked his head of out his little window to watch. It was a terrific evening’s entertainment – Govind asked if we could borrow the poster to take a group photo and I was delighted to be given it afterwards as a souvenir. I took a bottle of Schweppes back to my room from the cinema fridge but was sorely disappointed to discover after a large mouthful of G&T that it was just ordinary bottled water. I did not want to waste good gin so drank it anyway.

   

Saturday was an an exciting day as we visited markets in Old Jaipur. The first stop was the Milk Market where churns of milk are delivered by scooter or bicycle. Buyers dipped their hand into the pails to taste and test the consistency of the cream. The milk is boiled before it is drunk or made into yogurt and paneer cheese. We wandered through the flower market and saw heaps of marigold and roses bundled up in old saris. The aromas and colours were intense. Women carried heavy loads on their heads through the market as porters for wholesalers. The selection of fresh vegetables was amazing – there were mountains of okra, bitter gourds, chillis, onions and fresh ginger. Monkeys in the trees overhead boldly attempted to snatch bananas from the stall holders. We visited a busy Hindu temple where colourful crowds of devotees chanted and sang. 

 

We caught electric tuktuks to the bazaar and visited a small spice shop where peppercorns and cumin seeds were piled up on the counter. I asked if he had Nag Champa incense sticks for sale and he gave everyone free packets that looked like it had been in stock for years. I was thrilled when everyone passed theirs onto me so I ended up with a dozen boxes.  The busy side streets were raised above street level and we had to remove our shoes before entering each open fronted shop where the merchant would sit cross legged on a white cotton mattress. 

The lacquer bangles were too small for me so the maker heated them up over a small charcoal burner then passed them over wooden forms to enlarge them. He kept his spare stock of bangles in the roof of the shop so shimmied up a shelf to look for more colours. 

 

We had a great time in a “Matching Shop” which is where plain cotton fabrics that co-ordinate with saris can be purchased. This fabric was priced at 80-180 rupees per metre. I bought a bright selection of 2 metre pieces with no particular quilt in mind. The seller did not need a cutting table – he just used his enormous brass shears sitting on the floor in his modest shop. 

My next stop was a shop that sold powder paint for Holi festivals where I bought 100g of every colour of fabric dye. I carried on shopping while he wrapped up my purchases in newspaper and caught me up for payment later. 

We stopped for fresh lassi in a terracotta tumbler and a chilli pakora from a street vendor then visited a shop selling fancy braids, quickly running out of rupees. I am hoping that the very cheap white cotton that I bought will soften or wrinkle after a hot wash and I can add a trim of bright pink pompoms. After all of that frenetic bargaining we had the afternoon free for swimming and uploading photos before taking an in-depth design class with Pam. She explained how to enhance our photos so they can be used as prompts and design features in quilting. 

On Sunday we drove to a rural settlement called Bagru, a village specialising in indigo dyeing. There was the main village of brick houses and a quilted tent settlement for nomadic itinerant workers. Life there must be hard during the 3 month monsoon season. Ragged but beautiful children dressed in traditional outfits carried pots of water on their heads. 

 

   

Men worked waist deep in large stone tanks, blue with dye, rinsing the dye from the resist dyed indigo. The women carried heavy bundles of wet cloth then stretched them out on the dusty ground to dry in the sun. Washed plain cotton and silk was hoisted onto high drying racks, just as it would have been done for centuries. There was a loud, squeaky machine that rolled 100-200m of cloth through a dye bath. Printers mixed up a paste of black river mud, gum arabic, lime and flour containing weevils and used wood blocks which would resist further over-dyeing. Sawdust was sprinkled over the resist paste  before drying in the sun and curing for a whole day. Hundreds of wood blocks were stacked on shelves and in heaps on the floor. Further on a man wearing thick rubber gloves sat over a 19ft deep well full of indigo dye and dipped the lengths of fabric into it.  As it was hauled out of the well the sun developed the green of the indigo to a deep blue. The process was repeated several times, depending on the intensity of hue desired. All of the workers’ clothes and hands were stained blue. We had hard decisions to make in the shop, choosing indigo dyed scarves and some yardage of the hand-dyed and printed cloth.

 

I climbed the steps of a ruined temple thinking that I had spotted feral pigs at the top but was surprised to find a group of men sleeping in the shade. Pigs snoozed in the streets and trotted over the drying cloth. Apparently they are not as fat these days since people are installing flush toilets. Interestingly, pork is actually eaten by the lowest caste, Dalit people,  which explained why we saw piglets in the tent village. A potter invited us into his yard to see his kiln and the pots he made in various sizes from tiny yogurt pots to large water carriers. 

On the return journey I tried to photograph the decorated juggernaut trucks, hand painted with helpful safety advice and Om drawings for good luck. Some trucks even had taillights painted on as a substitute for actual working lights. 

Back at the hotel, we met the tailors who had not completed garments satisfactorily because they had outsourced extra workers. My simple trousers could have fitted Ganesh, the elephant god with a Gangsta-style crotch. It was amusing to see that they marked where adjustments needed to be using an office stapler, sometimes even accidentally stapling the garment to the customer’s undies. 

The evening entertainment was a visit to a Rajput family home where we were welcomed with marigold necklaces and neon green sherbet drinks. In their garden courtyard there were demonstrations on how to make pakoras and jeera aloo (spiced fried potatoes) at an outdoor cooking station, followed by a delicious thalia selection on a metal tray. The young, enterprising couple, Royal and Nidhi, run an upmarket guesthouse, offer cooking classes and will be featured on a popular Indian TV food channel. They were assisted by 2 male Nokars (servants) who had been with the family for years – they served the food, played with the little girl called Angel and joined in with the Bollywood-style dancing. Later in the evening they waved us off, reminding us to give them great reviews on Trip Advisor. 

 

Not Exactly Slumming It

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With less than 48 hours to go until my Big Trip, I decided to fit in a small customer quilt which was not as straightforward as it could have been since I had to make its back bigger by using scraps.

I tried to think what Veggie kids would cook while I was away and got them supplies. Since Freya was home to get her broken front teeth fixed (kayak accident!), she supervised my packing and we whittled everything down to a minimum. She and Bumble drove me to the airport and I flew to London in stormy conditions. There was a 5 hour wait which was good from the point of being in plenty of time but I was not in the market for a designer handbag so I wandered a bit and read a book.

The Delhi flight was full – I watched a couple of films, had a mini doze and glimpsed rugged mountains at dawn flying over Afghanistan. We landed early in the morning and immediately felt a humid heat as we left the plane.

 

I was responsible for getting myself to the hotel so I found a pre-paid taxi stand and was ushered outside to my driver. He skilfully wove in and out of manic traffic. If there were 2 or 3 marked lanes there would be at least 5 actual lines of traffic. The vehicles all jostled for position, squeezing motorbikes, tuk-tuks and bicycles, honking constantly even if there was nowhere to move. Every car was scarred with dents but amazingly the traffic kept flowing all the way into the city. I noticed that Delhi was very green with trees and lush vegetation on every street. I was grateful that my taxi had air-con since the outside temperature was 36 celsius. The Taj Mahal hotel was very grand with a luxurious colonial style foyer. The doormen and staff were all very smart , polite and helpful. After checking in I met 3 Antipodean ladies who had arrived the day before and we got to know each other over a leisurely lunch. It was lovely to unwind after a long journey and I was glad I had taken a swimming costume so I could have a refreshing dip in the outdoor pool. The Americans in the tour group arrived later in the afternoon. We all met at dinner, just 11 of us plus tour leader, Pam Holland and Govind, our very knowledgeable guide. They seemed pleased with the tweed pouches that I had and I was delighted to have made a space in my suitcase.

On our first morning we were presented with marigold necklaces and were driven to India Gate, a war memorial based on the Arc de Triumph, dedicated to Indian soldiers who fought in WW1. We had our first taste of persistent hawkers selling bangles and gifts. Many of them were children under the age of 10. There were also pitiful beggars living under tarpaulins. Our guide advised us to give them snacks and toiletries rather than cash. 

The first adventure was a bicycle rickshaw ride through the market in Old Delhi dodging scooters and hand wagons laden with huge bundles. Monkeys clambered on the overhanging electric cables and our eyes goggled at glimpses of trimmings in small shop fronts. Our skinny driver must have been immensely strong to drive two Western ladies along the rough streets, weaving in and out of marketeers and vehicles.

We had a fascinating trip to a Sikh temple where we had to wear shawls and remove our shoes. We were able to look around the kitchens where vast pots of dahl were being made for the thousands of people who can have a free meal every day. There was even a roti rolling machine to provide all of the flatbreads for the crowds. The diners sat in rows in a large hall and were served a sustaining meal on metal canteen trays. 

  

Our guide arranged for a currency dealer to come to the bus on a scooter. It made me think of the shady characters in the novel, “Shantaram”…

The final trip of the day was to a Craft museum where there was an extensive collection of antique shawls, wall-paintings, pottery and metal work. I rather fancied an artisan oil painting of a wacky pink panther but I declined at £150.00 after bartering the original price down. The hotel was hosting a very fancy engagement party and all of the guests were photographed as they descended the grand staircase like celebrities. 

My high strength mosquito repellent was useless at keeping insects away as I had quite a few bites but it was obviously rather a strong solvent as it dissolved the gold leather on my sandals. 

Our bus took a toll road Agra without too many crazy drivers. As we approached the city we saw many more beggars, cows wandering along the road and goats being transported by motorbike. 

 

In the late afternoon we visited the Taj Mahal which really is an impressive sight. It is a mausoleum made from white marble flanked by 2 red sandstone gate houses. The white marble was inlaid with black marble calligraphy as well as semi precious stones such as cornelian and malachite. There were thousands of people visiting and it was joyous to see so many ladies wearing traditional series instead of Western clothing. Many of them wanted to take selfies with us just as much as we wanted to take photos of them. One of the elderly gardeners showed us where to stand to take photos of the central line of the Taj Mahal. It’s a bit weird optically because its towers lean outward slightly but from a distance this makes them appear perfectly straight. 

 

 

I went for an evening dip in the rooftop pool with a view of the Taj Mahal trying to ignore the thumping dance music that the DJ was aiming at the non-existent trendy, young crowd. On the streets below the luxury hotel could be seen people working and living in very poor conditions, reminding me that India has extremes of wealth and poverty. I felt grateful that I had opted to join an organised tour rather than attempting to travel solo without an expert guide. 

 

On Sunday our main expedition was to the Red Fort, an enormous military fortification built in the 17th Century by Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan. There were many intricate Persian style carvings and it was originally decorated extensively with white marble and precious stones. The British Army used it as a garrison during Queen Victoria’s reign. Pam (Holland) was really helpful in suggesting ways to improve our photography and how to compose more artful pictures. 

  

Later we had a private viewing at a museum specialising in the Zardosi embroidery of master craftsman, Sheikh Shams Uddin. We were shown how he built up a 3D structure into his pictures using thick white cotton thread underneath then stitched to vibrant colours with silk threads. His pieces took years to complete and were encrusted with precious stones. This makes the little bit of glitz that I add to quilts with gold lame and paint look understated! The museum also housed a very nice jewellery shop where it would have been possible to spend a lot of money. I bought a simple pair of turquoise and silver earrings that did not break the bank. The next stop was a shop that made inlaid marble like we had seen at the Taj Mahal. Apprentices demonstrated how they cut and polished tiny pieces of semi precious stones that they set into indentations that they made with a small, pointy tool, all done by hand. I could have shipped home a magnificent marble dining table if I had felt inclined. 

After lunch and a leisurely swim we took a hair-raising evening rickshaw ride into the bazaar to see if we could find sewing supplies. This market was really scruffy, past slum housing and we had to battle our way through holiday crowds all honking their horns. We saw several trucks with loud speakers and plaster deities, all covered in coloured powder paint.

 

I was excited to see market stalls with huge piles of my favourite snack, Bombay Mix. The market stalls were tiny and mainly sold one type of thing like incense or cheap metal bracelets for wholesalers. The alleys were narrow and the path uneven so we had to walk single file yet motorbikes still zoomed through – it was not a straightforward shopping experience. It was easier for Pam and Govind to buy a batch of fabrics and embroidery hoops for everyone rather than figure out what we wanted and bartering for everything.

 

I enjoyed another excellent evening meal, sticking to delicious Veggie curry options. I was being careful to avoid any salad, meat, ice cream, rice, ice or fruit, hoping to avoid the dreaded “Delhi-Belly” that some of the other ladies had suffered. I don’t want to miss a single moment of such an exciting trip. Next stop – Jaipur in Rajasthan…

 

Snowflakes and Sunhats

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I spent the entire week quilting snowflakes and flurries on both of my samples for classes in Germany. Both of them were intensely quilted which took ages but it was fun. I can’t believe that I thought pupils could work on both of the projects over 2 days. They will have to make a choice or do a lot of homework after the class! I avoided using metallic thread in the areas where there was Bondaweb and organza and opted for metallic-look poly threads instead. The Schmetz “gold stick” needles were great there instead. There was plenty of scope for embellishment and I really wanted to incorporate a string of pompoms but in the end I was restrained and just used a little rickrack and a few antique glass buttons. 

 

 

I am so relieved these small quilts are finished because customer quilts are coming in now and I am going away on a BIG TRIP for a couple of weeks until the beginning of October.  I have been busy printing documents and sorting travel accessories for a textile tour in India with Pam Holland!!! My Folks very generously sent me 50th birthday funds and a trip like this has been on my bucket list forever. I can’t believe it is finally happening. I have read the books, had the vaccinations, found my sunhat, and apart from charging up all of my gadgets and doing some grocery shopping for the kids I’m almost ready to go…

Quilts, Kugels and Pompoms

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Without a doubt – staying at home, not seeing anyone, sticking to a plan, really gets things done! I got 2 customer quilts and a cushion done before using the sometimes co-operative ScanCut machine to cut out shapes for my German class samples. The floor in my workshop was soon covered in bits of bondaweb, organza scraps and bits of wool. 

  

 

Metallic lamé on bondaweb is not an easy thing to cut as it does not seem to stick properly in small spots so some of the lettering got mashed up. Eventually, I cut out larger, separate letters but managed to mis-spell Frohe Weihnachten several times even though I had it written out correctly. I peeled the wrong ones off with tweezers and had to glue them back down. 

 

I have two small, German Christmas projects ready to quilt – one of strings of kugels with fairy lights and a snow globe of Coburg Castle. Hopefully, I will get them both done during the week as long as I don’t get too sidetracked.

A side project that I had going was to make a dozen tweed pouches to give to fellow travellers on an upcoming trip. I made them up in kit form so I could do all the zips at once. Each one was finished with a pompom but I cannot guarantee how robust they might be after a few zip pulls. 

Out of curiosity I made a properly squared off box pouch which did look nice but I was not keen on the exposed seams (not wanting to deal with the lining and outer part separately). I downloaded a LazyGirl pattern for a Bendy Bag and spent several hours following the instructions religiously, apart from using the recommended materials. I wanted mine to be made with quilted fabric but it really was too thick for finishing the exposed seams neatly – the overlocker was not up for the job. I want to modify how the zip finishes so obviously I felt the need to make a new prototype from double thickness tartan that does not involve a lining and a different way of attaching the zip. This is still a Work in Progress…

 

Apart from all of this impressive productivity, I also managed to hem a pair of jeans, complete a pointless online training course to remain eligible for supply teaching, make a key fob, and visit the Masters Degree show at Gray’s School of Art which showcased work that was refreshing, impressive and even bizarre. I am looking forward to starting my evening class on textile printing in October to add yet more ideas to my list of experimental  projects. If only I was as enthusiastic about paperwork;)

Christmas is Coming (in September)

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I will be teaching a festive class in Germany at the beginning of December so I need to get the class samples made as soon as possible, even though it is still late summer. I had an idea of what I wanted to make and spent a day figuring out if the cutting and printing would work. 

It would be handy if the Scanncut could do the majority of any tricky cutting and resizing which means experimenting with different types of fabric and I can tell you that not all “Bondaweb” type products are the same. I learned how to scan in text and save it all as one piece, rather than its component letters so all of the experimenting was useful. However, I had to order lots more gold and silver printing ink, metallic lamés, Misty fuse and crystal organza which meant that I would have to wait for it all to arrive in the post since none of it could be bought locally.

 

In the meantime, I still have not decided on simple hand-sewing projects for a potential batch of American visitors to Scotland next Spring. I wanted to make a few more mini things, mostly in tweed, so I have a choice of projects. I had been given a basket full of lavender so I decided to make a simple tweed heart, stuffed with wool and lavender. Tweed is tricky to work with since a generous seam allowance is necessary, yet mini projects are actually meant to be petite;)

A quilting friend, who knows that the construction of wee bags fascinates me, showed me a tweed wash-bag lined in oilcloth that appeared to have no internal seams and a very neatly finished zip. That led to a whole investigating and making session until I had worked it out. I was not sure if I liked the squashy style first of all but the insides do look very nice. Tweed is rather thick but not impossible to work with on the little bags and now that I have a dozen more zips I will just keep making them until I have made up my mind. 

I did actually do SOME work and completed a computerised customer quilt. It was not one of those patterns where I could potter and do something else because I had to know exactly which direction the pattern was going in if there was a thread break, otherwise it might go off in the wrong direction after I fixed it. Because I was supervising closely, the thread did not break and the pattern worked out beautifully.

 

Family-wise, Fergus started an HND music course in Aberdeen this week and so far seems to even enjoy it, which is amazing for a child who hated school. Freya spent her week trying to get rid of stuff so she does not have to take it back to Uni but the Landy is still fully loaded for her return this weekend. She bought a Swiss cheese plant which definitely grows every day! I daresay she can put fairy lights on it at Christmas time;)