There’s Always Carrot Cake

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It was my birthday this week, definitely different to last year’s. The world news about the Coronavirus Pandemic remains grim. In the UK the plan is to vaccinate the elderly and clinically vulnerable before the rest of the population but the latest hoo-ha is that in order to reach as many people as possible, the boosters will not be administered within the recommended time so the fear is that people will still get infected and that the virus could mutate. Honestly, this is like a real-life Apocalypse TV drama! I should stop reading the news except that it was refreshing to see a new leadership sworn into the USA. 

Fergus used a recipe that I found for a Passion Carrot cake which I thought looked close to the John Lewis cafe cake that I would always order years ago on shopping trips for school uniform in Norwich. The recipe includes crushed pineapple for extra moisture. It came up very close to the cake that I remembered but the cream cheese icing is not quite right – I like it quite tart. With a little tweaking it might be written (in my best handwriting) into my spotty-notebook of classic recipes!


I only managed to get 2 customer quilts done this week. I seem to be working very slowly and it is rather cold in my workshop. I had hoped to work on my FOQ class project but have still not got much beyond the planning stage. The trouble with a saturation of social media in the quilting/textiles world is that I just can’t see classes offered by me being any more attractive than all of the many others on offer. I need to get over this and remember how excited I used to get when I had the opportunity to take classes with my quilting heroes in person.

 

Nella had a challenging week – having tried very hard to manage her reduced meal plan in order to earn a pass home for a night, the medics increased it without warning so that she immediately started refusing food again. I phoned to rail against this short sighted decision and was relieved when it was cut back slightly. They do not understand why she will continue to refuse hot puddings and custard after lunch and thought it was weird that as a family we eat very few desserts. The next day, her weight was typed onto a report that she saw even though I had specified that it was critical that she should not be told. Obviously, this freaked her out and I felt obliged to point out the incompetency of sending out an unchecked report. Although, some of the nursing staff work incredibly hard, I find that further up the chain of command, any criticisms or suggestions are met defensively and that drives me mad. Despite these setbacks, she did get a pass over the weekend to remind herself how peaceful and comfortable home-life can be. She did not manage to eat everything and every bite was a struggle but she proved to herself that she can eat here and must continue trying so she can earn longer passes home in the future.

Butter Definitely Would Not Melt

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It was a freezing cold week here and our central heating was on the blink. This meant that my workshop heaters got commandeered for the house so the workshop was probably colder than the temperature outside! 

I quilted Nella’s floral quilt with a traditional orange peel design and the computer was doing such a great job that I went off to get a hot Ribena. When I returned the foot had shattered, the belts of the automated system released themselves and stitched a solid, dense horizontal line of stitches. These were impossible to pick out and I considered hiding them with rickrack or lace but Nella declared it was not a problem so I just left it. I sewed the binding on by machine and tarted it up a bit by using the blanket stitch in a variegated thread. Nella and Freya have both decided that this very old-fashioned, simple quilt is one of their favourites out of all of my many creations. 

My other job for the week was to complete 3 more memory cushions using pieces of a man’s T-shirt’s and fleece jackets as requested by his widow. The T-shirt material was very stretchy and there were only a few fabrics to choose from in a similar colour range so it was quite a challenge. Fortunately, quilting stabilised everything and the customer was delighted.

One particularly cold afternoon, despite having various tasks to do, I found myself rather bored and started looking at second-hand pianos online for Freya in Glasgow. It is easy to acquire an old piano – free to a good home, but then you have to figure out how to transport it and heft it up 4 storeys, after which it will need to be tuned in a student flat, not known for ambient temperatures. A couple of hours later, I had read many reviews for digital pianos, similar to the one we have at home so I decided to buy one and get it delivered to Glasgow as an early birthday present for Freya. I figured that she might as well make use of one in the depths of winter during lockdown while she has very little else to do rather than wait until Spring.

Nella has realised that she hates being in hospital – she can’t bear the screaming and emergency alarms. Although she still does not want to let go of Anorexia, she has been prepared to eat and try to earn an overnight pass home. She has admitted that once home she might not be able to eat and could be readmitted but for now it is at least a shift in her thoughts so we will just have to see what happens.

The other day I left Nessie alone while I went into the shower and when I came downstairs I found her innocently sitting on the back of the sofa not bothering the cats. It was incredible that both cats let her sit there with them as she relishes in tormenting them. After breakfast she was back to normal, chasing them until they took refuge on the window sill,  upon which she does not dare cross.

2021 Not so Great So Far

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It has been very cold here this week with ice, snow showers, melting ice re-freezing! It has made walking or driving down our track treacherous. Freya has returned to Glasgow as she does not want to be paying rent on a flat that she is not living in. We both enjoyed each other’s company for 3 weeks over Christmas but she has her Masters degree and life as a grown-up to get on with. Nessie will just have get used to a more boring life with me again. At least she is getting used to going in the car and can come with me when I visit Nella. 

The News during the second week of the year has been gloomy. The Capitol building in he USA was stormed by protesters who did not accept the results of the presidential election. The rest of the world observed what appeared to be a breakdown of democracy. Depolarising the nation will be a huge challenge for the new regime.

Covid deaths in the UK have now reached 80 000 with infections still rising. Schools have closed at least until mid February and we are back into lockdown. Nella has been in hospital with anorexia for 4 months and shows no signs of improvement. I had to write another letter of suggestions to try and move her treatment plan forward. 

All in all, so far 2021 is not going terribly well…

   

I immersed myself in piecing Nella’s new quilt, trying not to muddle up the patches in the long, diagonal rows. I ordered a floral duvet cover from La Redoute to use as the backing and decided to keep things traditional with an orange peel-ish quilting design. 

In the week ahead I will ease myself back into customer quilting and deal with some admin that I have been postponing. I need to get back to my self-taught German lessons. I should also come up with a new quilting project to turn to when real life gets too much!

2021 is Underway

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We are now 3 days into 2021 and still at the height of a global pandemic, Nella is still not making any progress and I have not been struck by any exciting, creative ideas. The World has high hopes for this new year but I could have said the same in January 2020 before Covid took over all of our lives. When the big picture is too gloomy and overwhelming it is a good idea to be glad about the more everyday stuff.

Freya revealed her clever, secret surprise Christmas present to me which was a brazier made from a defunct washing machine drum. At night the fire shines through the holes and the BBQ grill / lid can sit on top if I want to cook baked potatoes. I have always wanted a street brazier, like protestors or strikers. I can now make placards and stage my own sit-in protests any time I like. 

We have had some wintry showers and bright sun so Freya and I have taken advantage of this to take Nessie on walks in our beautiful, local area. We went to Clune Wood in Durris where my kids all did Forest School years ago and visited the standing stones, not meeting anyone along the way. 

I am not ready to start customer quilts yet but I wanted to work on a mindless sewing project so I started a new quilt for Nella’s hospital room using the Rose & Hubble prints that I ordered from Doughtys. She wanted something traditional that the girls in “Little Women” might have had so I opted for 4-patches and squares on point. It is actually really nice to work on something easy and it is turning out even prettier than I had thought. The most complicated step will be not muddling up the pieces as they get joined together in diagonal rows!

Christmas 2020 is Done!

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Christmas 2020 has been a different experience for everyone around the world who writes letters to Santa. Nella was not here in the build up to Christmas so Freya and I did quite a lot of advance preparation so we would not need to spend much time in the kitchen when she was home. We made sure to watch a few trashy films with happy endings and reindeers. Nessie “wrote” her Christmas letter and we posted it to the North Pole via the fire. 

I left home early while it was still dark and snowing on Christmas Eve to collect Nella and we were back in time for morning coffee. I had hoped that she would attempt to eat some of the home cooked food I had made for her but as there were no nurses waiting to administer nasal-gastric feeds she did not eat or drink anything, apart from water, for 3 days. 

 

Despite the difficulties around food, she had a lovely family Christmas. Even Fergus emerged from his shed at a sensible time of day. Everyone enjoyed their presents – Nessie got most of what she had asked for, Nella got a sock knitting machine and Freya made me an outdoor brazier from a repurposed washing machine drum! We watched TV, did a quiz, read books and simply enjoyed being together.

Nella was sad to return to the hospital on Boxing Day evening and genuinely does not see why she needs to be there so the focus for next year has to be to figure out how to get her to engage with recovery. 

I plan on doing very little for the next week, apart from visiting Nella, lighting fires and deciding on which traditional quilt to make for Nella using Rose & Hubble prints (her request). Nessie is disappointed that she has run out of tasty parcels to unwrap and we have to finish re-watching “War and Peace”:)

Christmas Countdown

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It feels like I have had a hectic week but probably not by pre-Covid standards. There is nobody at school here anymore and of course, there have been no concerts, parties, Christmas craft fairs, trips to the cinema or in-person shopping. Just about all of my purchases were done online and I have now got everything wrapped. In order to put any parcels under the tree I will have to protect them within sturdy apple crates so Nessie does not attempt to unwrap them. 

Freya is home for a few weeks so we have been busy cooking, dog walking and watching Christmas movies. She made a super wreath all using foliage from the garden. 

I have made preparations for Nella coming home over Christmas so there will be minimal cooking to do while she is here. I have got stuff prepared for her in the freezer which I hope she will eat but there is every possibility that she will refuse it all. A strict lockdown in Scotland has been announced from Boxing Day so we will have to wait and see whether that will curtail my visits to her. 

I feel like I still have a lot to do, although my list says otherwise and I even got my paperwork up to date. Somehow, I don’t think actual Christmas will be very relaxing this year but I dare say many people would also say the same. I think I probably just need to watch more TV and make a good effort at polishing off my bottle of sherry;)

My Christmas Grotto

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I had a busy week finishing up customer quilts before I decide that I am “on holiday” for the Christmas season. First I finished the patchwork stocking for Fergus’ girlfriend. It is a slightly odd shape but I decided that it had to have a practical amount of space in the foot part to stuff in gifts. 

I had 4 customer quilts to do using the computerised quilt machine and while they were running I used a ruler to finish a log cabin quilt in the ditch that a customer had started and struggled with on her domestic machine. 

Fergus celebrated his 19th birthday at home with a large, sticky chocolate cake that had a landslide due to the outrageous amount of butter-icing in between the layers. 

After slogging away at learning German on Duolingo for 10 months I have completed every single exercise. I am definitely nowhere near fluent and could not hold a sensible conversation but I could definitely understand a menu and navigate train station announcements. I have now downloaded an app called Babbel which seems more driven by conversation so I intend to keep practising.

I wrote a letter to Nella’s treatment team trying to get them to understand that she will not make any progress on the meal plan that she has been given. The quality of the hospital food is poor and they keep challenging her with fear foods that she will not attempt. As, usual, their reply to me seemed defensive and they do not intend to make any changes since they are the so-called experts. I will be writing another letter this week to complain that I had to ring the doorbell on my last minute for 20 minutes and that Nella was late for my visit by 45 minutes which she found very upsetting. Considering that parents recently received an email informing them that the unit was not short staffed, I was disappointed that no-one could be bothered to answer the door or pick up the phone!

This week I intend to deal with Christmas cards, wrapping, make space in the freezer and will probably decide to sew up some last minute gifts. There have been no Christmas festivities here this year, I have not had anyone to watch festive TV with and it seems to have been raining every day forever. I need to conjure up some seasonal cheer – maybe a bottle of sherry would help;)

Rather Chilly

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It has been a woolly scarf and vintage Norwegian cardigan week, totally the wrong weather for Nessie to have a close shave. I took her to the dog groomer for a festive bath and trim but she came back almost bald. She was so cold and miserable that she had to wear a jumper! The Christmas elf jumper is cute but not warm and Bumble’s old fleeces are too big so I made her put on her pink dog onesie. We actually had wet snow overnight on Thursday which melted quickly. I was relieved because I would rather not have snow until Freya comes home for Christmas and even then, preferably not on the days when I need to visit Nella in Dundee. 

 

I took on a commission that I was not particularly enthused about – making patchwork cushions for a widow out of her husband’s polo shirts and fleece jackets. The fabrics were not easy to deal with as they were so stretchy but I managed to get two out of six cushions completed. She will get those 2 cushions before Christmas and the others afterwards as I have several other quilts to fit in before I finish for the holidays. 

I wanted to make Fergus’ girlfriend a patchwork Christmas stocking from my scrap stash. I have made 2 L-shaped quilted pieces that I have to cut into stocking outlines. I have found all sorts of things to trim it with including bells, pom-poms and prairie points. My own children may be jealous as theirs are nothing as elaborate but they are attached to them out of nostalgia.

 

Chicken Quilt – Check!

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While the Q24 quilted 2 large customer quilts, I completed the blue and white chicken quilt, adding a lot of random blue and white squares as sashing and borders. It was pleasantly mindless but took a surprisingly long time. I dyed a cotton sheet blue for the backing and selected an all over hexagon quilt pattern that looks like chicken wire. It is now on one of my house sofas next to the Cornish-ware dresser but I have no doubt that it will stay pristine for long if cats and Scottie dogs sit on it. That does not bother me – it can be washed!

I visited Nella on a still, bright Saturday and we took a drive out to Broughty Ferry where she was allowed a short walk. The water was flat calm, it was not that cold and people were actually swimming in the sea. I drove home over the Cairn O’Mount road and stopped to take photos as the weather was so unusually perfect. 

 

I have had a few messages this week from friends asking how Nella is doing. Frustratingly, she is not making much progress. The hospital food she is presented with is grim and some members of staff seem to have been impatient with her. Some jobsworths at the hospital have decided that a Christmas tree is not hygienic so the festive season will be rather drab there. She is hoping to be granted some time at home during the holidays so we all just have to hope that can happen.

Poof – Another Week Gone!

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Here we are again – another week has gone by! I got a few customer quilts done, mostly small ones and one very large one. Just when it seems I have caught up, a few more come in which keep me occupied.

I have been putting my hen blocks together, sort of inspired by an 1980s checkered plate from Habitat. I could not figure out the maths required to get a certain number of squares to go onto two different sized blocks. Illogically and randomly I came up with squares cut out at 2.25”. After quite some time it dawned on me to trim some hen blocks and extend others so they all all ended up at roughly 12.5” square. Somehow, 7 of the 2.25” squares fitted along the 12.5” block edge. I don’t know about the accuracy of the maths for this, I just made it all fit;) Despite the plan to only use up blue and white fabrics from my stash, I had to buy more blue and white fabrics because I did not have enough. The local fabric shop told me they are having a difficult time getting hold of fabric and they have no black or white in stock. I bought some white-on-white, which I hate, and used the “wrong” side.

 

I upgraded my phone to get a better camera and faffed around transferring things over. It does take good pictures, particularly in low light but it is still hard to photograph a black dog. Mind you, you would probably be able to see her eyes if she got a haircut!

 

There is no improvement in Nella’s anorexia as she is still very much struggling to eat many of the foods on her meal plan. At this point I have no idea how much longer she will remain in hospital or even what will happen for Christmas if she is unable to eat anything at home. The biggest problem is that her illness has such a strong hold over her that she does not want to recover from it and so she has no motivation. I think a good start would be to get into the habit of regularly eating less scary foods and then build on that success but I am not a medical “expert” so my ideas are generally dismissed.

I have decided to have a go at making a reversible Wixsten Haori jacket but can’t make up my mind whether to quilt the outer layer and line it or whether to quilt all of the layers and leave it unlined with exposed seams. I am also debating whether to buy thin, cheap fabric from India or whether to spend more in the UK and then be scared to mess it up!

Give Yourself Permission

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It has taken a long time for me to realise that I can give myself permission to take time out on occasion. I doubt that I will ever give up my obsession with lists or even just jottings but since Nella has been in hospital, I realise that I don’t always have to be productive. Obviously, when she is eventually discharged our days will be rigidly timetabled according to scheduled meals and snacks. In the meantime, before that happens, I should appreciate that I am not obliged to fulfil a certain amount of tasks each day. I was brought up to be busy, which is no bad thing but as an adult, I have seldom allowed myself to read a book during the day or watch TV before 9pm. Recently, I have had my nose in a book for an entire evening or mindlessly watched YouTube. 

I must have passed on my Productivity Guilt gene to Nella because she laments not filling her time with meaningful activities and has to be reminded that she is in hospital and is not actually expected to do anything purposeful. It is also interesting to note that she is giving herself permission to eat some of her meals because she is in hospital – she feels that she would not yet allow herself that same freedom at home. 

I have not exactly been slacking as I have completed 5 quilts for a customer in Wales and cracked on with a small batch of charity quilts. A friend gave me a small, double-sided Christmas quilt with Scottie fabric to finish for Nella so I quilted and bound it for her to remind her of Nessie. Nella has decided that she might as well declare that the festive season has started so she is watching schmaltzy Christmas films and enjoying her 2020 Christmas PJs. 

 

I have almost pieced 9 blue and white hen blocks so I need to work out how to join them up. What I had not taken into account is that the two blocks are different sizes so anything other than simple sashing will involve maths.

I have had a few ideas rattling around in my head for another quilt that might involve shisha-style circles but I am not ready to start on that yet. I might have a crack at the Purdy Bird pattern first or even a kimono type of jacket. I am conscious that I have done very little freehand quilting for some time so I could definitely do with some practice. I just have to remind myself that this does not all have to happen this week and if I feel like downing tools to read a book then I can give myself permission to do just that;)

Counting My Chickens

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I suppose I could say that this has been a week of fits and starts where I feel that I have either been very busy or very indolent but I was actually more productive than I first thought. I have produced two alternative advent calendars which I have to keep secret from my girls and I ordered Fergus a Lego Starwars calendar from Ebay, the only place that does not already appear to have sold out. 

I rustled up the hedgehog cushion in time to take to Nella midweek, quilted a customer’s dragonfly quilt to look like ripples on a pond, sewed together 3 chicken blocks, each with 33 pieces, and started on my second box of customer quilts from Wales. 

A kantha dressing gown arrived from India that I planned to wear as an indoors coat but I have also worn it out in public because it makes me look “arty-farty”. 

I have “rewarded” myself for completing my daily tasks, including my obsessive Duolingo habit, by binge reading the latest Cormorant Strike novel, torn between making it last and by finding out Whoreallydunnit. 

Nessie could not care less about the results of the USA presidential election. The dramatic, close count seemed to take forever, from Tuesday right through into Saturday and I wondered how India, the largest democracy in the world managed to gather votes from a possible 900 million voters over six weeks in 2019, count them electronically and have the results ready within two hours. Now that is over, hopefully the dust will soon settle, the world will grind on and quilters will keep on quilting.

Sedentary Busy-ness

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I always feel that in order to feel fulfilled I physically have to have made something. I find it difficult to justify to myself time spent researching or reading which I have done a LOT this week. Much of it was about anorexia, of course but I also frivolously browsed specs for the new iPhone 12, considering whether to upgrade my phone for a better camera and a more convenient, smaller size. 

I bound and posted some customer quilts, one of which was a twin to my snowflake quilt. It looked great in the autumn sun. 

I used the “Winter Wonderland” pattern on a Christmas tree skirt panel for a shop owner and rustled up a couple of Halloween themed face masks. 

After spending so much time sitting in front of a screen I decided that I had to sew something, anything! I made a big Elizabeth Hartman hedgehog block using stash scraps but I think may have lost my edited instructions as I had to do some fudging. I will make him into a cushion for Nella’s hospital room. 

Since I cannot seem to gear myself up to a new challenge, I decided to work on a couple of unfinished background projects for now. Ages ago I cut out pieces for a blue and white chicken quilt and I started an African fabrics DWR just to practice the technique. In addition to some customer quilts, I will probably make some festive face masks. This should keep me “busy enough” for now.

An Alternative Birthday in 2020

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I have been quite busy with customer quilts which I assume means that Christmas is coming. I had a couple of really big ones including a denim one complete with pockets and rivets. The seams were bulky and I only hit one rivet, breaking a needle. It took a while to get the tension right which was a matter of finding a reliable Madeira thread and using a size 100 universal needle, surprisingly not a jeans needle. The finished quilt felt as hefty as a weighted blanket at 4.5kg! 

The other quilts were smaller so I used denser patterns. I also quilted a Snowflake quilt which was almost identical to mine. The pattern was called “Origami” from www.urbanelementz.com and I really like how it looks quite Nordic.  

 

It was Nella’s 17th birthday on Saturday so Freya and I arranged to have several visits with her throughout the day instead of the usual one hour slot. She was allowed to go for short drives in the car but not to get out. We were all worried that it would be a terribly sad day but in fact it was lovely, although unconventional to unwrap gifts in the car and have birthday candles without a cake. Here’s hoping that her birthday in 2021 will be more “normal”!

 

 

Keep the Quilts Coming

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The rate at which customer quilts are coming in proves that Christmas is looming! I am not doing any in-person tuition or DIY quilts but I am able to offer simple all-over quilting and binding if requested. This week I have managed to complete 4 quilts for a Welsh customer and have got a really big denim one ready to do for a new client. Nessie thinks she is being helpful by trying to attack any wadding that hangs down or by attempting to chew the zips while I try to attach the backing.

I finished the binding on the snowflake quilt with machine-sewn blanket stitch. It does not bother me that the stitching does not line up exactly on the back of the quilt because it is for a bed and just has to be robust. I could do with another new project to keep me happy. I really don’t “need” any more quilts but since when did that stop a quilter from starting something new?

 

I spent an afternoon cooking home-made soup and vegetarian cottage pie because Nella was given a 24 hour “pass” home to see how she would manage. She was very nervous to come home after nearly a month in hospital and she declared in advance that she would not eat here. She said it was not just a matter of sticking to that resolve, she just did not see why she should have to eat here without the threat of NG feeding if she did not finish meals. We had a nice visit, although she did not see friends and she was unable to go for any dog-walks. We simply spent time doing a puzzle, played scrabble and watched a film in front of the fire. Nella did not want to back to the hospital and really does not want to believe that she is too ill to be at home, refusing food. This aspect of anorexia is called “anosognosia”, yet another complicated word associated with Nella’s condition. Her initial 3-4 week admission looks likely to be extended for up to 6 months, or less if she makes significant progress. All I can do is keep doing research to see if I can come up with a more creative approach and keep believing that she will be able to recover eventually.