Monthly Archives: February 2011

My sewing machine hates me…


I have really fallen out with my domestic sewing machine this time. I don’t think our relationship will ever be the same. It just isn’t prepared to try hard enough these days so I have decided that after it has a good sort-out, it will be time to sell or trade in. It really did not want to sew the army canvas that I was using to construct a roof-rack bag for the Yurt. I tried using a great big needle but it still struggled so I ended up having to make a gigantic army-issue laptop bag with a daisy print binding to finish off the edges, since a double seam was out of the question. Then the so-called-top-of-the-range sewing machine balked at the industrial Velcro that I should have remembered it didn’t like when I sewed the Yurt roof panels. It continued to sulk when I wanted to satin stitch onto a quilted Yurt panel with metallic thread and it kept snagging up the bobbin until I became hoarse with shouting at it. All seemed well with attaching binding until I pressed the reverse button and suddenly that was all it could do – it got stuck going backwards! I got out my more basic but (actually) made in Sweden machine and it was more than happy to oblige. I have decided that I don’t use the posh (not actually made in Sweden) machine for any of the fancy embroidery that I thought I would when I first bought it and it is pointless keeping it unused in a box. I will have to get it serviced and fixed then decide whether I need to replace it with a different machine altogether; maybe I should even consider an industrial one.

I have been completing American Quilt Society forms to be considered as a teacher at Des Moines. I had to list exact quantities of fabrics and supplies, so it became a useful planning exercise. This prompted me to try out circles quilted with a twin needle on a domestic machine as an alternative to using the circle-making attachment on the longarm.

This week was busy with non-quilting happenings. On Monday I attended school as an observing teacher to see how teaching maths in primary school may have changed in the 10 years that I have been away. Of course, the concepts remain the same but the emphasis is on more active learning and the interactive computer screen has replaced the blackboard. I now have to wait for a formal interview and hope that drastic cutbacks in education have not closed the list of relief teachers in my area. It would be good to know that I could have a reliable income that would help fund my USA Yurt tour. Fenella was thrilled to start Brownie Guides and was adamant that she would need the uniform straight away. Fergus played Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars” on guitar for the school talent show and was delighted to be chosen as the winner. Freya had her first senior school prom and persuaded a friend to help operate the hair-curling gadget to make her look glamorous. I expect she was worried that I might burn her hair or make her put on too much glittery eye shadow. Blue Cat accidentally stayed out all night for the first time and was most disgruntled in the morning.

I ordered a couple of unusual items online; antler buttons from The Highlands and a pair of builder’s props from a tool merchant in The Midlands. Both of these are Yurt related. The buttons will look good on one of the new curved Yurt panels and the props are to hold the Yurt crown in place, rather than make someone balance on a ladder to wait with aching arms until all of the roof spars are lined up. The alternative to these would have been plasterer’s stilts but I thought these would have been quite tricky to master!

Highland Rake



The mid-term break was grey, wet and cold so I decided that the children could do with a dose of culture at Aberdeen Art Gallery. Although they were not excited at the prospect, they enjoyed the visit. I was bemused by some of the artist statements, wondering whether they are taught how to write enigmatically at art school. I was impressed by the range of the collections. There were several famous Impressionist and Pre-Raphaelite artists’ works as well as pieces by Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin. I was still fuming after a phone call with a representative of the Scottish Arts Council that had started encouragingly regarding artist travel grants. It ended quite quickly after I explained that my exhibition involves textiles and I was informed that this puts me in the “craft” category for which there is no current funding. I constantly find this distinction between Art and Craft infuriating. I appreciate skill and technique in any medium. I wonder what William Morris and his followers would have made of the separation of his key principles. I have been asked to write an article about the Yurt with regard to “Form & Structure” by C June Barnes for a chapter in a forthcoming book. I will try to write a suitable piece that is esoteric enough for the subject but that is not incomprehensible arty drivel. Before I am bombarded by emails from incensed artists, let me say that I daresay that most of them are perfectly sensible, creative people who do not usually wear smocks and berets while smoking French cigarettes. Admittedly, I did not meet anybody like that at the North East Open Studios AGM. I have decided to join NEOS this year and will open my studio for a week in September.

I worked away at drafting and typing projects for the Yurt book. I had to calculate the yardage for each project and check that I was giving the correct sizes for each unit. I will pass the notes on to some quilter friends to proof-read when I have sketched out some accompanying diagrams. I am still not completely satisfied with the precision of some of the joins in my Celtic Drunkard’s Path piece. I was lent a book on “Piecelique” by Sharon Schamber that offered another method of dealing with curves then discovered that there are several books on the subject on Amazon and I wondered why I had made myself figure it out by trial and error. My inaccuracies were probably caused by the loosely woven fabrics and in the end I decided that some antler buttons could be used to disguise them.

I investigated how I could print my blog out in book form since it would be useful to flick back and pick out references to the Yurt for the book. If I had used Blogger from the beginning then it would be relatively easy to “slurp” the entire blog into a publishing website but my website based blog is not recognised. I spent a very long time figuring ways around this and even worked out how to export it all BUT still got stuck with an error code. As a distraction I also became an electric guitar online-buying geek, shopping around for a full sized guitar for Fergus, reading reviews and watching demo clips on YouTube!

Mo and I went on a jaunt to see Yurtman, Paul Spencer, at the edge of The Highlands near Balmoral. We drove along the very scenic South Deeside Road all the way. The sun was glimmering on the birch trees despite the leaden sky. He was working on 5 yurts in various stages of construction. He has a large yurt that he rents out as a weekend retreat. It has an outdoor shower with a twisted birch branch as a rustic door handle. He has agreed to be interviewed for my book when he is less busy. He let me have a length of sturdy green canvas to make a waterproof bag for the Yurt to travel on the Landy roofrack. We stopped in Ballater to look for antler buttons but none of the shops had any. We each ended up buying something trendy to wear in a boutique then were advised to try the charity shop for buttons. I didn’t get any buttons but ended up buying a 15 metre roll of hand printed linen that I could use for bedroom curtains. I’ll just have to redecorate the room to match the fabric!

Sorting Circles



I was determined to make significant progress on writing some projects to go in the Yurt book. I wrote instructions that I think are simple to follow but I am aware that anyone who makes a claim that their pattern is “easy” is either optimistic about the skill of the person tackling the project or is just lying. It will be imperative that someone else can understand what I am trying to explain. I have taken several photos of various stages but some publishers prefer diagrams. I realised that I could use Smartpen to sketch the pictures and an editor could find someone who can actually draw to present them properly. However, the trouble with having gadgets and software that are not used frequently is that the operator tends to forget how they work. I could do all sorts of things with EQ6 if I had enough patience to remind myself how it works. It took a whole evening for me to figure out how to upload a scribble and save it as a PDF. It would have been quicker to scan in a sketch but there is really no point in having a Smartpen and not using it. It struck me that when I attended the meeting for parents about the school intranet, I should have won a prize for Geekiest Parent since I was able to comment authoritatively on uploading and plug-ins.

The abilities of computer literate quilters can be staggering. My parents are touring around the USA and they emailed to tell me that they had visited a small quilt show in Tombstone, bought a raffle ticket and left their mobile phone behind. I posted a message onto a forum, a quilter elsewhere in Arizona contacted the guild in Tombstone, the phone was found and they called the number that was stored to my parents’ friends in California to ask how they could return it!

I decided that I would figure out the most accurate and easiest way of attaching bias tape to circles. Sally kindly posted a link to her method on Facebook and it worked really well. Not satisfied by that major achievement, I just had to crack the “Easy” method of sewing a closed bias loop around a circle. Several attempts ended up in the bin but I finally got good results and can now describe a blow by blow account of how to do it. I make sure that a piece of wadding goes underneath to add stability and to bulk out any fullness. The next challenge was to construct some Drunkard’s Path type blocks to reform into a simple Celtic design. I used a variety of methods of turning under the edges of circles. It just goes to show that if you are going to write a pattern that works properly, it has to be thoroughly tested. I had to work out circle sizes or curved templates that included the correct seam allowance and would fit exactly next to a 4-patch block. Since I am not a mathematician and because I never studied a proper course in patchwork, I find resizing can be a bit tricky. It may seem sensible to use a template from a book but I often want to adjust the size of the project. I will make the other half of my Celtic ring before I decide which method gives the best results. Maybe I will decide that I should just make the templates using EQ6 and piece the Drunkards Path pieces together with a curved piecing foot.

I made carrot cake #3 using Nigel Slater’s recipe. It was a good cake, although separately egg whites and yolks was a bit of a faff. I thought the texture was a touch dry if I am being really critical but the mascarpone and cream cheese icing was superb.

I contacted the British Council to enquire about travel grants for artists exhibiting overseas but I was told that all future funding has been cut. I emailed Radio 4 “Woman’s Hour” to see if they would be interested in interviewing me as I could really do with finding sponsorship to help fund the Yurt tour. I sent a package of postcards off to Terri in Wisconsin to publicise the Yurt exhibition in the USA. I phoned Creative Exhibitions to see if I would be allowed to exhibit the Smart Car cover on an actual car at FOQ. The answer was that I may be allowed to enter it if I could obtain a car without a battery or petrol tank for Health & Safety reasons. The marketing department of Mercedes Smart in Birmingham is looking into my request since they could gain free advertising at Europe’s largest quilt festival. The latest thing that I have decided to investigate is publicising my blog to date. I don’t mean to sell any copies; it would just make it easier to flick through to pick out any suitable excerpts for the real book. I was fascinated to discover that I can see where my readers come from on the Blogger site. I was amazed to note that there are viewers worldwide. I think I will now go and frustrate myself with EQ6 for a couple of hours or perhaps I will go off at a tangent and look up some other international quilters’ blogs!

Flying Teuchter



I flew down to London this week to be at the APQS technical training course in Surrey. Despite being “Europe’s Oil Capital”, Aberdeen airport is accessed via twisty country roads and it is decidedly compact compared to Terminal 5. I have been through Heathrow before but I had not actually tried to meet anyone there. I did not even occur to me that there would be more than one way out. Luckily, Yvette managed to phone me and find me! On arrival at her house I was delighted to be offered a large gin and introduced to Boris (Johnson) the golden retriever. Yvette dropped me off at Chris’ studio for the class the next morning after ploughing through traffic hold-ups caused by school runs, commuters and roadworks. It was great to meet up with several APQS owners and to refresh my memory on machine servicing with experienced technician, Mark Caraher. After the class Yvette and I assisted him with major surgery on Ferret’s hard working machine, replacing many of its moving parts. I joked that it would now be bionic and that she might have to “bond” with it all over again.

I spent the next day discussing the stand that Yvette and I will run together at FOQ 2011, she demonstrated the capabilities of her Intelliquilter system and we paid a visit to her shop in Horsley High Street, Woking called “Needle & Thread”. It was encouraging to see several customers popping in for fabric, haberdashery and cards. There were a few simple quilts hanging up and I took a fancy to the Tanya Whelan collection and some other Fabric Freedom fat quarters. I decided that I will make Freya and Fenella a new bed quilt each using charm squares; maybe I will sneak a Featherweight into the car in the Easter holidays if I can wait that long before cutting it up. I think it is probably therapeutic to run up something easy now and again.

My flight home was delayed due to high winds in Scotland. In the end, the turbulence was not quite as bad as I expected but I was very relieved to arrive in Aberdeen. I had left the Landy at the airpark where they had warmed it up for my late arrival – it was like being met by a big, green, friendly dog with a waggy tail. I thoroughly enjoyed my trip down south but it felt great to be back home with bright stars overhead and virtually no other vehicles on the road. It looks like I have become a teuchter (Scots word for a country bumpkin).

I cut up fabric for a couple of so-called-simple Yurt panels involving circles. I wanted to run a wide bias binding around some 6″ circles. I got extremely frustrated with the bias binding machine and even tried making the bias without it simply using the iron. Both methods kept missing an edge or crumpling everything. I watched several YouTube clips on bias binding making. I had cut the binding from a large square as shown in the Fons & Porter book. I think that the width of my strips must have been variable and certainly some fabrics co-operated better than others. I even got the gadget to behave eventually. Once I had made the wide bias, I then had to work out the circumference of my circle, add a bit for the end join and pin it into position by matching up some pinpoints. Explanations in books never seem to cover all of my questions. Should I use the outer circumference or an average midpoint so everything got covered properly? Should I use a tape measure or do calculations involving pi? In the end I seemed to get it all fudged in and pinned down without using any stupid pinpoints. I decided that a trapunto layer of wool wadding would help to bulk out any misfitting.

I experimented with the dyeing method that I use for yurt backs. I wondered if the dye would work at lower temperatures so I don’t have to use the hot cycle of the washing machine which takes ages. I just filled a large bowl with hot water, salt and vinegar and let it soak in for a while. The colour was absorbed fine but it took so long to rinse that I’m not sure whether it all got “set” properly. I don’t really need to wash yurt panels; there was a lot more effort involved in doing the dyeing by hand. I could have done with a mangle to squeeze out the excess water. I will definitely dye the new roof sections in the washing machine.

I have finally made some rough notes for Yurt Book projects and I will have to decide whether to include this one. I have to work out whether to attempt badly drawn diagrams or take lots of photos. I expect that many of my ramblings will have to be edited out since most patchwork books have to conform to a set number of pages. Perhaps it would be better to write a (quilt) recipe book instead as they seem to be pretty thick. In the meantime, perhaps I could produce some patterns to sell as it could be some time before the book is finished.