Monthly Archives: July 2010

Vive La France!


 1.30am and 10 miles down the road on the way to the airport is not a great time to realise that one of your children has developed travel sickness. After such an early start we arrived in Languedoc at midday. You know when you have arrived in the South of France when you can smell mimosa and the chirps of cicadas or crickets. It was nice to be staying in the same area as we did last October because we knew the way to the house, picking up “le stinky cheese”, juicily ripe peaches and some wine on the way.

The first two days and nights were very hot and I spent most of my time in the shade, even drafting out a couple of patterns for the Yurt Book before settling down with delicious rose wine around 4 o’clock. We drove up to a farmhouse that allowed “Degustation” and sampled some Malpere wines that were grown and bottled on the premises. It seemed a pity to have to spit out the delicious wine after a tiny sip…

During the week we went for a wander around the Cite Medievale and had lunch on the square. It was much busier than it had been in October and still not yet the height of the tourist season. We bought some soap from Marseille (in Carcassonne) but never saw any genuine Provencal fabric – I need to go nearer to Avignon for that apparently.

We visited the dinosaur museum at Esperaza which also housed a museum about hat making but the children complained that it was boring. That was the day we also drove through dramatic gorges while Fenella was slightly sick  with  concussion after falling out of bed, hitting her head on a tiled floor; finding places to pull off the twisty road was not easy. She perked up in the afternoon after some Coca-Cola at a quaint cafe and we wondered if a creperie-studio would be successful in Scotland. We hung around in Quillan, dodging thunderstorms, waiting for the evening market but it looked like a jewellery stall and someone selling frites was about the sum of it so we just headed home for pasta and wine instead.

After visiting the “Coffre Geant a Caprespine”, a cathedral like cave full of amazing stalactites, we drove across country to Castelnaudary. We were hoping for a hearty and authentic lunch of white beans, sausage and duck at the home of cassoulet, but all of the cafes had finished serving lunch. We were rather disappointed with the down-at-heel town where it seemed that the legendary dish was only available in tins. Cassoulet from this area actually seems to be a bit bland; I always thought it contained rich tomatoes, lots of garlic and herbs but it is far simpler here and only has a handful of ingredients.

The Saturday Market in Carcassonne made up for the lack of flavours the day before. We were encouraged to taste saucisse sec and goats cheese. The fresh salads and vegetables looked incredible. We bought some ridiculously crusty bread, a plait of purple garlic and some strong salami. It was great fun drinking espresso at an outside cafe, watching everyone stocking up on fresh produce for le weekend.

We set off for a picnic at Lac Cavayere on our last day with promises of a pedallo ride and ice-cream. The children were not impressed with their lunch of bread so chewy that it makes your jaws ache and were even less pleased when we were informed that the lake was closed for all activities. My French is pretty lacking but I think it may have had something to do with algae in the water. We couldn’t even buy ice cream on the way back to the house because even more shutters were closed than usual. It seems like everyone in France is permanently sleeping or away en vacances. The only thing left to do on a Sunday afternoon was read another book and finish off another bottle of light rose wine – it’s such shame we have to leave tomorrow..!


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It’s not Christmas in July!


 On the days that I could get Yurt helpers it was wet and windy so it still hasn’t been to the Castle for its photo-shoot. There MUST be some sunny days coming in the holidays when my friends are around! Instead, I managed to finish all sorts of projects, despite being invaded by children in my workshop. They had a great time making rag dolls, making cups of tea, leaving biscuit crumbs and scraps all over the floor. I managed to put up with it until there was an “incident” – while I was in the kitchen a sewing machine mysteriously fell off a table as if by poltergeist activity. There was a dent and I have not dared switch it on to see if it still works…

There has been a Christmas quilt on my sofa since December and I had actually stopped noticing it. I finally got around to finishing off a jelly roll quilt called “Jelly Jazz” from Monkey Buttons. It was my Thursday Night no-brainer and I even followed the pattern without any deviation, apart from attaching the inner borders. I should have taken them off to reapply in the correct order but decided to fudge the odd joins instead and plonked some spare crochet rosettes over the boo-boos. After 5 hours of heavy shelling, I bound it and duly replaced the Christmas quilt. I came across brilliant instructions for joining the ends of binding so that the start/end is impossible to find. I made the binding the way that I like to make it and it looks very neat. I may even write a mini chapter on binding “My Way” which is really a cobbled together combination of other people’s ways that work for me. At the moment I like to sew it on the back then machine sew it down from the front which is utilitarian but it is not quite as neat as hand-sewing for a show entry. I think there is room for further improvement.

Mo gave me a simple children’s sofa throw to run up out of leftover curtain material which I put together fairly quickly. I used to do those all the time and sell a few at craft fairs but it is difficult to sell them for what they are worth in fabrics and time.

I trimmed, painted and bound another unfinished Yurt panel so now there are only 3 of the original ones left to quilt and one to finish painting. The Yurt panel backs were much admired so I ordered 40 metres of white glazed chintz for dyeing to cut up strips or squares to sell in packs at Festival of Quilts to see if my dyed fabrics would be worthwhile sideline. I was a bit disappointed with the results. The glaze must have resisted the dye because they are half as bright as I would have expected and there is very little sheen left after such a hot wash. I actually put soap powder in with one batch by mistake but it did smell nice. I have now done the sensible thing in retrospect and ordered a selection of white fabrics to see which ones dye the most successfully. I want to produce a fabric that is different to all of the others that are available so maybe I need to use linen or silk instead of basic cotton. I could easily produce quilt backs but I need to determine whether it is worth doing first. This collection may have to be titled “Beach Collection” as they have a washed out, bleached appearance – rather nice, just not planned.

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Quilts and Stuff


 I received my first copy of an Artists’ journal this week after joining an organisation in order to get cheap public liability insurance. I could not make head nor tail of any of it. It must be because I never studied art that I cannot decide whether the artists are really intellectual or very pretentious. The concept of a roll of tin foil hanging from the ceiling is incomprehensible, as is the plastic sheeting draped over some scaffolding. The language used to describe the installations is very elaborate and it would seem that expressing the ideas is equally important to the visual art itself. My Yurt Book will be far more basic as I am finding myself increasingly inarticulate. I will struggle to write more than a few lines on circles before I lose interest. I must make more effort to watch documentaries on BBC4 so that I can improve my vocabulary. I keep hearing myself starting a perfectly erudite sentence but ending it with “… and Stuff!”

I completed a very basic quilt in a day this week by following the advice of my business gurus (Ferret & Tracy) to keep it simple. I was dying to tart it up but it looked perfectly acceptable, despite being an uninspiring colour combination. I was meant to do a second customer quilt in one day but it ended up taking 2 very long days. The background stitching was rather small as I tried to keep everything in proportion and had done a tiny filler around the beautiful machine appliqué. If I could get over my feather phobia I would cover the ground on a quilt far more rapidly. I should probably be locked in my workshop until I have cracked it otherwise I will just keep finding more avoidance tactics.

I was drafting a Quilt Quine advert for QGBI Region 16’s magazine when I received a phone call from a quilt group asking if I would consider doing talks and workshops. I said, “Yes! What would you like me to talk about?” This means that I really must now write a list of workshops and lectures, make samples, decide on the cost, work out kits and add a bookings calendar to my website. I’d better start by writing out a new To-Do list.

Tania and I took the children to see Eclipse at the cinema on Friday. It was true to the novel and quite exciting but I didn’t think that any of the vampires had any sex appeal. I was impressed that the evil vampire, Victoria, was wearing Doc Martens. We thought that the wolf pack boys were rather easy on the eye although the actor playing Jacob is only 18 and was previously in a kids’ film called “Shark Boy & Lava Girl” so Freya informs me that I’m far too old to fancy him.

I hope to get lots done in the week ahead – at least the list in my notebook keeps reminding me that there is plenty to do. I would like to finish a couple of Yurt projects off by attaching binding or adding a touch of paint. I need to order some more dye and fabric to make some more backs and decide whether to sell some jelly rolls or FQ’s of dyed fabrics at FOQ. If the weather stays dry and I can find a couple of friends with nothing better to do then I should be taking the Yurt to Crathes Castle for a photo-shoot. I decided to opt for the most local castle as it is scenic, convenient and does not involve clambering over bracken on uneven ground. I still might take it to a stone circle … or maybe just take some of the panels, which would be far easier to transport.

Keeping a Ferret


I worked hard to get Jenni’s Dresden Plate fans covered in small shells to tuck in all of the appliqué neatly. I cancelled putting the Yurt up in the forest for its outdoor photos because the weather forecast was awful but in the end Wednesday was glorious, just to remind me to look out of the window in future instead of searching the Met office on the ipad. Yurtman thinks he may be able to persuade a groundsman at one of the castles near where he lives to let us put the Yurt up somewhere scenic. It happens to be in the area where The Queen has her summer holidays…

The Loch Lomond Quilt Show ladies, Ruth and Patricia came to interview me for their forthcoming book on contemporary Scottish Quilters. We chatted for 3 hours about my quilting life, experience and inspiration. I expect I burbled on and will have said something controversial or daft. Luckily, Ruth left her tape recording pen at home (a clever gadget called a Pen Scribe that will upload spoken word and handwritten notes onto a computer) so maybe she won’t have remembered all of my inane comments. I actually had great fun talking to them and it really started to make me think about my ideas and techniques. I have to submit a project for the book by the end of July so may write out instructions for a Yurt panel.

I had a flurry of washing bedding and sorting out spare beds ready for the weekend. On Friday morning I collected Janette from the airport, whizzed around Tesco, made coffee, then Tracy arrived and later Kay. We chatted away about quilting like we had known each other for ages even though we mostly communicate via email. I collected Ferret from the station early on Saturday morning as she had travelled up by sleeper train and we had plenty of time for breakfast before we were joined by Sue & Jenni and classes could officially start. The main class of the day concerned Feathers, some of which were informal. There was much doodling, discussion, demos and some hands on with my Millennium. There was non-stop sharing of information and experience.

Ferret had brought a few of her fabulous quilts that featured feathers, including the leather pieces. We discussed ideas for quilting a variety of quilt tops and did a Yurt panel show & tell session. Supper was local produce at the Woodend Barn and Mo joined us later. We had fun marching the salt and pepper pots up and down the table demonstrating some Ceilidh dances. Ferret was excited at the prospect of sleeping in the garden Yurt after the heatwave in London and the South of England. We had actually lit the stove during the day to make sure it was all warm and dry and the weather had been great so it was really cosy.

On Sunday Tracy presented a comprehensive lesson on rulers and templates, attributing all of her excellent longarm teachers at MQX. We made use of the white-boards to draw out stars by sectioning off squares and circles. I had to demo the use of rulers even though I don’t particularly have the patience for them and I managed not to be too cack-handed. We went on to show off the Quiltazoid and a few other useful gadgets and even discussed machine maintenance, threads and tension. By the time we came to talk about bindings I was becoming a bit vague and the other experts declared their methods easier than mine. However, I have tried the other ways and my way works for me so I’m sticking to it! I daresay we actually tried to cover too much general information. We could have worked in more detail in some areas so I will review what was taught and fine tune it for another time. I think we all learned something valuable from each other. Janette was very informative on the subject of small business taxes and book keeping. Ferret even rattled off a simple Yurt panel during the evening at maximum speed using her signature curls filler. She and Tracy gave me a jolly good talking to over the weekend about spending far too long on customer quilts and not charging enough. They were encouraging me to become more efficient so that I could make a bit more money to put back IN the bank. I did lie in bed and worry about having to quilt larger patterns. It is a bit like someone telling you to make your handwriting much, much bigger.

The whole weekend went very smoothly. It was relaxed and fun but a lot of teaching went on too. Everyone had a comfy bed and managed to operate the cranky old shower. It was agreed that being on site for the evening was much better as it meant that discussions and machine practice were unlimited. I had 2 bottles of very nice gin to sample – one from Shetland and Ferret brought me a bottle of Hendricks. We had large bars of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, good strong coffee, a spacious studio and plenty to do. Ferret and Tracy found some pleasing fabrics in Meg’s Attic and Milton Studio on Monday morning. She was delighted to buy a box of Edinburgh Rock to take home in Banchory’s old fashioned sweetie shop and I thought I would sample some boiled sweets called “Horehound” – a rather interesting flavour, like cough medicine. I am glad that everyone made it home safely and already have had favourable feedback so that I need to start planning a January event now so that people can look out for cheap flights or trains. All of the journeys were uneventful, the weather was very pleasant and I think a good time was had by all – Phew!