Just as we were put into Corona Virus Lockdown in the UK we were very lucky that the Scottie breeders decided that all of the puppies could go to their new homes a few days early so we were able to dash to Dundee and collect Nessie. We were dreading not being able to get her so were delighted but totally unprepared and did not manage to borrow a puppy play pen. She is absolutely fantastic except when she tries to chew cables and nip our ankles. Nessie seems to be very clever and we have already taught her to SIT with the aid of tasty treats. House training is going fairly well most of the time. The cats are not impressed and have not yet put her in her place and she thinks it would be fun to chase the hens. I am so glad that we have such a lovely distraction in this awful time.
Life is ticking along here and we are coping well out in the countryside as long as we still have internet to keep in touch with friends and family. Nella and I finished off the homemade presents for Freya’s birthday. I made her a pair of PJ trousers from a Swedish pattern. I struggled to locate the pattern pieces on the print-out and tried to follow the instructions in English online except that these were for children’s trousers therefore not quite the same. She has not yet tried them on so I don’t know whether they are actually wearable.
I finished the final customer quilts in my workshop which will now sit on a shelf awaiting collection in who knows how many weeks time. It has not been easy to work on my quilt with a puppy to supervise but there is now no pressure to get it finished. I honestly don’t think FOQ will even go ahead this year. I think it would be foolish to run an international quilt show until we are certain the Pandemic is over, besides which the NEC is being prepared as an emergency hospital facility. It is strange to think that there are no deadlines to meet. I need to get over the feeling that I should be writing a novel or preparing for non-existent classes. I should just plan to do some simple, fun projects and wind right down if possible. At the very least I should keep practising German and work on some impressive small Scottie Dog training.
On Monday Nella met with her English tutor in the morning then we visited the student show at Grays School of Art in the afternoon. However, the very next day the show was abruptly cancelled and shortly afterwards the Government announced that schools would close indefinitely and that all exams this year will be cancelled due to the world Coronavirus pandemic.
In a strange way the fact that Nella and I have been living quiet lives for the past 6 months meant that we were slightly less stunned than many people by the advice to stay at home and cut ourselves off from everyone as much as possible. My husband is now working from home, doing the grocery shopping – all activities and appointments have been suspended. Supermarket shelves have been emptying as fast as they can be restocked and the world news is bleak. We are incredibly fortunate to live in the countryside away from crowds and that we have the resources to keep ourselves occupied. Freya still has to finish her dissertation and her academic future is uncertain but she is also planning a vegetable garden.
I worked on a couple of customer quilts that I handed back to their owners at a safe distance and we are still hoping to collect Nessie, the Scottie Dog next weekend. As we prepare for a long period of isolation and uncertainty a puppy would provide a welcome distraction. We made cute matching quilts for Nessie and for her mum, Lady. I also made Nella an upcycled plant pot cover and a couple of prototype face-masks just in case. For the first time ever I can work on my quilt without any time pressure. I bet there will be some great quilts on display at future shows. I hope we can all weather out this global event and come out the other side with a different perspective.
Stay well, fellow quilters!
And in Other News (while the world deals with the Apocalpytic Coronavirus) – we are getting a puppy! Nella and I searched for a rescue dog locally and online but none of them were what we really wanted. I checked the Kennel Club website and found one litter of Scottie puppies in the whole of the UK, not that far from here in Dundee. We visited the breeders today and chose our little girl, “Nessie” who should be ready to move in with us at the end of this month. We are so excited and looking forward to a wonderful distraction during such troubled times.
I had a busy week working on 7 customer quilts from a Welsh quilter who visits her sister in Aberdeen twice a year. They were all super and ready for collection by Friday afternoon.
I set up my Doily exhibit at the end of session student show at Grays School of Art. I actually forgot to take the lamp as it was in our sitting room but we will take it along tomorrow and view all of the other students’ work.
There was not much time left to work on my Rainbow Warliors but even working on a little bit was some progress.
Freya is home for her Uni Spring Break and her birthday which is lovely for us but she is feeling down that all of her final year celebrations and social events have been cancelled. She was meant to go on a girls’ trip to Orkney but that is now off. All classes, lectures, libraries and the Student Union has been suspended. We are certainly living through unprecedented times. We will have to hunker down, be sensible and make plenty of quilts.
It was actually a bit of a bonus to discover that my customers were not coming until next week which gave me a whole week to crack on with the Rainbow Warliors. I was fortunate that Nella was perfectly contented to get on with her knitting projects so every spare minute was spent deciding on designs then stitching them out. At the start of a new quilt it is always making the decisions that seem to take longer than the actual sewing. The majority is ruler-work and I was not sure whether to allow myself any freehand areas at all.
I have probably only just completed a third of this bigger than intended project and once I have customer quilts to work on my time on it will be limited. It seems to be going well and I daresay I will get quicker. I plan to go back at the end and stitch-in-the-ditch everything with silver thread to cover up any backtracking. So far there has only been one dodgy “full” block, which is not bad considering that there was no pressing and some of the piecing was done by eye;)
I took the plunge and intrepidly started stitching my huge Rainbow Warli quilt. I was actually concerned whether it would even roll onto the quilt frame with 2 layers of wadding and multiple giant plastic sequins. It was a good job that I did not go ahead with my original idea to use glass mirrors. I used Qmatic to stitch large ⅛” spirals in the large spiral blocks and placed a large stitched Warli figure on top of each one. I was not able to use Qmatic to stitch ⅛” concentric circles around all of my circles because it turned out that some of my circles were not totally round or completely central. Plan B was to stitch one circle around all of the blocks to stabilise things, do some big stitch basting in empty spaces then shift the quilt to my other quilt fame which is totally freehand. It seems to be turning out that the majority of the quilting will be ruler work, rather than freestyle but things may evolve as I go along.
I have officially finished all of my screen-printing projects for the Grays School of Art student show, although I may make a doily and macrame item just because I can. Out of curiosity I had a go at breakdown printing using a manutex dye paste. I now know that I may admire other people’s efforts at this kind of thing but I don’t think it is my style as I prefer crisp prints.
I worked on 2 straightforward customer quilts over the weekend because I have a few more quilts coming soon and I want to be able to work on my own quilt without too much of a backlog to worry about. I honestly don’t know why people say, “No hurry…” because I would rather work on them as soon as they arrive to keep on top of things;)
I spent more time than I should have filling in the gaps on the digitised Warli test piece just in case I decide to make something useful from it one day. Really I was just filling my time waiting for thread, needles and backing fabric to arrive for the main event. I placed an order and opted for more expensive first class post so was disappointed when the threads still had not arrived by the weekend.
At least I have now made plenty of crispy starched prairie-points with a few spares ready for the binding. Using the mock border section I hand-sewed on a couple of mini pompoms to see if they would sit flat enough.
Slightly at a loose end, I ran up 2 “Wee Braw Bags”. One was made from a vintage embroidered tray cloth and will be used to keep home-made bread fresh, having got a second hand, small bread-maker last weekend (because I ditched mine last year in one of my clearouts). The other bag was made to contain a rainbow set of pattern weights that I took a notion for, even though I have no dressmaking projects in the pipeline.
I have now loaded the Rainbow Warli quilt onto the quilt frame to at least get the bare bones done before I get any more customer quilts. There are 2 layers of wadding because I reckon there could well be some “pouffy” areas. I had a sudden panic that the giant plastic sequins might not roll up but I have not cracked any yet. My plan is to baste each area with big stitches then work on some more detailed quilting and because it is zipped onto the leaders it should be OK to take it off if I have to work on something else… theoretically;)
I took a notion to making a small quilted throw out of the screen-print dyed, large doily on linen with mitred corners. It took me a while to remember how mitred corners work and they are not the most co-operative when using velvet and stretchy linen. I did not actually have enough decent linen left so I had to rummage around and find some some offcuts. This small quilt was literally thrown together and backed with some flimsy Indian indigo printed cotton. I thought it would be fun to add a pompom border under the binding so I ordered some from Ebay – the size of the poms was good, although the quality was naffly acrylic but it looked OK;) The final (or not quite) item for my student exhibition was to print onto a ready made tote bag. The bag was not really big enough for the screen so the prints were not great. The answer was to sew on test prints and the best way to do this proved to be to unpick the bag which was what I should have done in the first place to get a nice, flat print surface.
I asked a Bernina UK colleague, Tracey Pereira, if she could help me out with digitising some Warli figures and spirals. She very kindly e-mailed over some DXF files but when I first stitched them out there were multiple stops and starts. She re-sent them as Illustrator files and I converted them into the Bernina format in the ArtnStitch program. This took me a while to figure out but all of the initial frustration was worth it as they all stitched out beautifully. I used a piece of hand-dyed yellow fabric that I did not especially like as I did not mind messing about on it but the test patterns looked great so I wished I had actually used a colour that I liked as I will probably make the quilted piece into something useful eventually.
Finally, I got around to attaching the sparkly Warli border squares to the quilt top but it turned out that the quilt was not 80” square as I had calculated/imagined. It was more like 85” ish. I had to make a few more squares and fit them to the border by surreptitiously shaving ¼” off the odd square until it worked. The resulting quilt top is LARGE. No surprises there then – it just means that there will be a LOT of quilting to do!
My latest obsession is learning German… I have visited a few times to teach longarm quilting for my friend, Regina Klaus and I know lots of random vocabulary but absolutely no genders or grammar so I cannot have a conversation. I managed a find a tutor who would come to the house and teach Nella and me using the BBC “Talk German” course. We have been most attentive pupils, quite swotty in fact – doing lots of practice and revision in between lessons. In addition, I have become addicted to the Duolingo phone app and have been battling it out online for the top of the league spot with a Russian student. Nella and I do Duolingo at every meal or snack time now and this week alone we have clocked up over 1800 points – at least it is not gambling! We are both keen to put in a lot of effort and try to become more confident with attempting another language.
When I was not conjugating German verbs I managed to complete 3 customer quilts, finished off the footstool and made a fabric basket from printed doily fabric to contain my business cards.
Nella has made her area in the workshop her own by decorating with paper leaves, fairy lights and pompoms. She now enjoys reading or crafting in her space which allows me to get on with some of my projects. I cut out 80-odd border squares from plain coloured fabric and all of the pieces for the fancy prairie points that I want to include under the binding. The T-shirt heat press machine came in handy for ironing a whole lot of small pieces in one go. I used the digital cutting machine to cut out 90 x 2 ½” tall Warli figures from glitter vinyl so I should be able to get the borders onto the Rainbow Warli Quilt soon. My next challenge will be how to quilt it?!
It is amazing what you can achieve in a week where you don’t have to be anywhere in a hurry. I dug out a pop-up design wall, pinned up the Warli blocks and labelled them once I had decided on a random arrangement. The tricky thing was to add side strips in order to get the blocks to fit together since each varied slightly in height and width. After considerable fiddling and fudging I had a quilt top measuring (more or less) 79” square. Yes, it IS another large quilt, especially since I have decided that it will probably be a quilt rather than a canopy AND it will have an additional outer border of squares and fancy prairie points.
I decided to crack on and start putting together my screen-printed pieces ready for the end of semester student show at Grays. I was originally going to chicken out and ask Mo to tackle the upholstery for me but it struck me that I should have a go myself if it is to be a showcase of my own work. I stripped the Ercol chair covers down and used the pieces as templates. I re-used the piping cord and the back cushion but the seat cushion was disintegrating into toxic dust so she found me some replacement foam in her shed. There was nothing too tricky to tackle and I even managed to paint and re-cover the popper straps that hold the cushions onto the chair. The original chair did not have zips in its cushions so I just made it exactly the same and sewed up the openings for cushion pads by hand. The chair is really just a prop to show off the screen-printing and the thin indigo screen-printed fabric is not at all practical for upholstery so if I decide to sit on it I will probably cover it with a sheepskin rug.
With some trepidation I screen-printed the giant doily onto a plasticky fake linen roller blind using opaque white ink. I would only have one shot at not smudging or flooding the print and to my relief it worked perfectly.
I had run out of linen (having made a few too many mistakes) to make a lampshade and re-cover a shabby foot-stool so I had to settle for heavy calico instead. The lampshade kit that I had bought drowned the small, cheap table lamp that I had bought for the purpose so I painted an IKEA pine standard lamp. I was impressed by how easy that project was!
The footstool was more fiddly as my side panel measurements were wrong and I had allowed extra fabric for the top since it was padded. My solution was to staple the top piece on and hand sew the sides onto that – pompom trim will finish that off nicely;) Now that my main exhibition pieces are done I might think of some smaller accessories. Should I make a chicken-shaped doorstop?!
I felt like I spent my entire week rushing to fit in meals and appointments, getting unnecessarily stressed by trivia. Despite that, I fitted in 3 simple customer quilts and celebrated my birthday. Even though I was not in India as planned, my girls made it special with lovely cards and gifts. The next day we drove Freya down to St Andrews to begin her final semester of 4th year. It is incredible how quickly her time at Uni has gone.
It was a relief that Saturday was a day that I did not have to be anywhere and since it was dry I decided that the Ercol rocking chair would be sanded down for the last time. I did not have any wood oil or wax polish handy so I rubbed it over with the stuff that is meant for re-treating wax jackets and it looks fine. It is not a professional job by any means but it looks serviceable and will have cushions on it which will hide the tiny areas of dark stain that I could not completely remove. I have to decide whether it has white or navy screen-printed cushions – my preference is for blue but Mo, the upholstery expert disagrees;) I have bought a cheapo-nasty roller blind and a basic lamp because I plan to make a mini room set of screen-printed fabrics to display at the end of year Grays student show.
Bit by bit, I constructed all 20 Rainbow Warli blocks but they are not all exactly the same size. My large table is not big enough to lay them all out so I need a still, dry day to lay them on the grass to decide what order they should go in. I intend to fill the gaps with skinny pieced strips until it all more or less fits together, which will be a bit of a jigsaw. Why I can’t work to an exact size is beyond me…
We have had a week of unusually settled, dry, January weather so I put the Ercol rocking chair outside to try and strip off the rest of the dark wood stain. It was a much more complicated job than I had anticipated with so many fiddly struts and the only thing that really worked was sanding it all off. I used an electric Mouse sander and tried out a lookalike Dremel which was useless. Purists would have done the job by hand to avoid scratching the wood but that would have taken months. I applied a dry paste of Barkeepers Friend which contains oxalic acid to lighten the wood and it is almost there apart from a LOT more sanding still to do to get rid of the roughness, after which I should attempt to add some wax using wirewool.
Since I did not have any customer quilts to keep me busy I got into a routine of joining pieces of the Rainbow Warli quilt together in sections of very approximately 20” square, plus or minus a couple of inches. I have not ironed any of the sections, just relying on finger pressing to get the seams to match up. I will not actually be able to press anything on the right side of the quilt because of the giant sequins, silver lamé, glitter vinyl and screenprint foil. Progress seems to be going steadily and I have sewn 10 out of 16 sections. I daresay it will be challenging to get all of the slightly different sections to fit together and keep it all looking a bit haphazard but it is really nice to work on such a brightly coloured project in the middle of winter.
I developed 4 screens at my evening class, including transferring one of my original designs onto my own screen instead of one that belongs to the art school. One screen had not developed clearly, possibly due to an extra thick area of emulsion so it will have to be redone but I was pleased with the test prints. I took the huge screen home to print white ink onto indigo fabric but I did not remember to borrow a huge squeegee so I ordered my own. The first print was perfect but I did not leave enough space to print the next one so ended up with an annoying overlap. It is not easy to wash large screens at home so I took it outside and hosed it off with cold water, soaking myself in the process. I had enough indigo fabric to attempt 2 more prints – I flooded part of the first one and missed a bit one the second one. Screenprinting with such a huge screen and thick, opaque ink really can be a hit and miss affair!
I am trying to think of simple makes that I could sell using my doily prints so I made a prototype elasticated bowl cover. It is actually rather smart and could almost pass as a beret;)
I took full advantage of Freya’s last week at home and worked on as many projects as possible. In addition, Nella had a session with an English tutor, started some psychotherapy and we both concentrated hard in our second session with a German teacher.
I printed a dye paste onto 2 pieces of lovely Irish linen at the screen-print class but had mixed results. One of the prints was really patchy, which was disappointing but I will attempt to print additional doilies on top to make it more like a fabric. The other one was crisper but there were flooded areas at the edges. So far, the heavy muslin/calico has produced the best print. It is my intention to make new covers for an Ercol rocking chair that needs to be stripped back from a ratty dark brown. The prints are bigger than the cushions need to be so I can get away with some smudges but it is frustrating to “ruin” an expensive piece of fabric.
There are not many weeks left of the course so I have to get a move on to draw and develop any new designs and get pieces made for the student exhibition. I had hoped to make a ceramic lamp base imprinted with doily designs but I will just buy a plain base and make a doily print shade. IF there is time left I also hope to cover a footstool in indigo fabric printed with white doilies but it will need to be quilted as it is very thin… Oh, and I want to print a roller blind too;)
Freya and I tried using paint stripper to take off the chair’s dark brown stain and lacquer but it did not do much. It needs some serious sand-papering, for which I will need some dry weather.
I made a start on the Rainbow Warlis at last. It is a tricky quilt to lay out because I did not make a plan of course, just a load of blocks in different sizes. I want it to go together spontaneously as there are too many bits to set out in an organised way. I think I am going to make 16 blocks around 20” square so I have shared out the bits into piles to work on smaller sections at a time, hoping that it will all miraculously fit together in the end with the aid of some filler strips and a lot of fiddling around!
We had a quiet New Year without parties, fireworks or fuss, which suited me fine. I took advantage of having Freya home to keep Nella company while I got on with a couple of small projects. I spent a whole afternoon reorganising the IKEA drawers under my quilt machine. There was so much haberdashery stuffed into them that some of them would not shut because things had fallen down the back and caused a jam. I came across a few things that had got lost in plain sight and wondered why I had so many packets of laminating pouches.
I had a go at dyeing some plain cotton poplin fabric to see if I could get close to some of the vibrant Indian Rubia fabrics that I am using for my Rainbow Warli quilt. I did not have the right colours in Hungarian dyes to use my preferred method of dyeing in the washing machine so I made up large quantities of soda ash and salt solution and attempted cold Procion dyeing in plastic bags. It was difficult to gauge the intensity of the dye, even when dipping in pieces of paper towel to see what was developing. I left the pieces soaking for 24 hours but much of the colour washed out. The results were not awful but they were not nearly as strongly dyed as I had hoped.
I tried again with a couple of the colours in a large pan of very hot water and the hues definitely fixed better but were still not the right shades so I caved and ordered a selection of plain dyed Rose & Hubble plains from Doughtys. The one colour that I really could not source or dye was a shade of pinky peach that I call “Jaipur pink”. I ordered some from an ebay seller in India, hopeful that it will match my original fabric.
I sewed up some skinny strip sets to chop up into sashing so I hope to start putting the Rainbow Warlis together soon…
For someone who cannot grasp crochet, I seem to be doing pretty well with macrame. I knotted together a hanging vase/large jar holder. I don’t really have a purpose for it, I just felt like having a go. I used the leftover strands to make a zig-zagged rope bowl to collect scraps beside my sewing machine. I’m not sure that I can think of many practical uses for macrame without turning my house into a retro hipster pad. The only thing putting me off making a hammock is that a rough guide to how much cord required for each project is that you need to reel off roughly 8 times the length of the finished item so presumably a 6 foot hammock would need 48 feet of cord for EACH strand! I should definitely set my sights on something smaller;)
Don’t get me wrong – I do actually enjoy the ritual of making braised cabbage and bread sauce plus other trimmings on Christmas Eve but I think I will try to get more ready made stuff next year so I can just eat mince-pies and watch films all day. The idea is meant to be that there are plenty of leftovers for the next few days but with a vegan roast instead of turkey and having to go traipsing to and from the garage because my fridge is not very big, I don’t tend to over cater.
Christmas itself was low key and minimal – we hardly even watched any telly. Despite the dreich weather we had a couple of short walks down by the river. I received some lovely gifts from my girls such as a felted Bumble (made by Mo) and an Indian cushion. I am glad to report that I was not given any chilli sauce, bath salts or toffees and I treated myself to a huge reel of macrame cord.
So far I have managed to make a couple of star decorations and 3 successful plant hangers. I have no idea how I can work out how to tie specific knots into a pattern yet I cannot conquer simple crochet.
I pulled out my Rainbow Warli quilt blocks to see if I can work out what to do next. I think I need to put it together spontaneously like the red, black and white version with filler strips where the blocks don’t match up perfectly in size. I examined some antique textile scraps that I got in Jaipur and decided that I will piece skinny strips to punctuate the larger blocks.
Since I may want to add borders using some sort of bunting/flaps I will not have enough of the original fabrics from the bazaar. I wasted time online looking for Rubia/Running-Cloth/plain fabrics but cannot find exactly what I am looking for in such vibrant colours and at a sensible price. There is one colour which I think of as Jaipur pink that I can’t see online so I will attempt to mix up some Hungarian dyes to see if I can make something close. I realised that I have no idea what strength and type the powder dye that bought in India actually is and the one that was labelled blue turned out purple!
One of the things that I intend to do before the New Year comes and goes is to have a mini-sort-out in my workshop. I just want to go through all of the drawers and boxes to see what I actually have before I think I have lost things and feel the need to repurchase duplicates;)
I always enjoy the time before Christmas far more than Christmas itself. It is probably because it is a busy time and I don’t cope well with nothing to do. It is great having Freya home as it means another person can keep Nella company. The girls helped me write Christmas cards which is a job I think takes ages but in fact is perfectly easy once you get started. They have made Christmas wreaths, built a bonfire and watched corny Christmas films. We had an outing to the cinema one evening to see “Last Christmas”, a typically British feel-good film with music by George Michael as the soundtrack. We have seen little of Fergus as he has been out partying with pals most nights – until the novelty of being 18 wears off or he runs out of funds.
I was desperate to make something but feel that cannot spread my Warli quilt blocks out until after Christmas so I made up a big batch of manutex paste to mix with procion dye. I did not have a measuring jug so I had to work out how many empty gin bottles worth of hot water were in 4 litres and because I could not be bothered to go and fetch the kitchen scales, I had to measure 24 dessert spoons of soda ash, having made a rough conversion of the tablespoon equivalent.
I really do need to get some basic dyeing equipment to save myself much time and overcomplicated sums. I soaked linen in a soda ash water bath, rescued just in time from being washed out in a downpour when I hung it outside to dry. I decided to test the process thoroughly and found that the dye ran a bit when rinsed in cold water so something needs to improve the fixing of the colour. Mind you, I don’t actually know what the efficacy of the dye is, having mixed together turquoise and black powders that I bought from the bazaar in Jaipur.
I was not joking last week about wanting to have a go at Macramé. I made a prototype shelf hanger using washing line and a clementine box. It was easier than learning crochet and quite addictive so I ordered myself a Christmas treat of a big reel of macrame cord and will go and get knotted!