Monthly Archives: September 2011

Exploring Des Moines



After I battled my way through half of a giant waffle that I made myself at the hotel breakfast buffet, Norma collected me and we went off exploring again. I was beginning to get my bearings and recognise landmarks. We wandered around the Botanic Gardens where inventive gardeners had painted quilt blocks to hang amongst the foliage in honour of the forthcoming quilt show. Our next stop was a Target superstore so that I could buy some fairy lights for the inside of the Quilted Yurt. We found these in the impressive Christmas/Halloween department. My next assignment was to find a pair of Converse shoes for Freya and the reward for completing that mission was coffee and a muffin in Barnes & Noble. If I was a homeless intellectual I think I would try to live in there. I rashly purchased some attachments for my Kitchenaid mixer because they were on special offer but they are quite heavy – however, I brought some longarm machine parts into the USA so it should be a straight swap of weight in my luggage.

We visited the Historical Building in downtown Des Moines which was a terrific free museum that contained a variety of fascinating artefacts from Iowa and neighbouring Native American People. There was hardly anyone else there so we could browse and read the labels at our leisure. Our next stop was to the sculpture park where there is a significant collection of modernist works, some impressive and some just weird. We drove past the Governor’s Mansion and some other lovely old houses off Grand Avenue. It has been a privilege to be shown around by a Des Moines local. Norma even took me past the Iowa State Fairground because one of the buildings has been decorated with a frieze of ceramic quilt blocks. We drove around the beautiful man-made lake and she answered all of my questions tirelessly. She had brought with her the brand new copy of “American Quilter” magazine in which there was a good article about the Wisconsin Fiber Arts Museum – I was thrilled that the Yurt and I were mentioned! I returned to the hotel, planning on working on the Yurt Book draft but I ended up reading a novel accompanied by a refreshing G&T. I will definitely deal with the draft before I start reading anything new…

Off to Des Moines!

I have always had success with dyeing up until now but I was not pleased with the results when I decided to run a colour through my hair for my USA trip and it turned out much darker than the box had promised; I may have to wear my tartan hat in Des Moines! I am glad that I didn’t have any last minute projects to finish because the week whizzed by as I packed up the Yurt from NEOS, put away all of the quilts, went shopping for shortbread and tried to fit everything for my classes into two smallish cases. Tania asked if I had actually packed any clothes. I attended a proper interview for the Aberdeenshire supply teaching list that I had applied for in January, where I had to answer questions about the qualities of a good primary teacher and the latest curriculum developments. That night I had to admit defeat when I could not figure out any of Freya’s maths homework that involved finding angles by using algebra. I asked neighbours, Wikipedia, clever people on Facebook then ordered some textbooks from Amazon for the next time seemingly impossible homework has to be solved.
My trip to across the Atlantic went smoothly but I did not manage to tackle my overdue book draft on the plane as I was reading a good novel. Immigration was efficient and courteous at Chicago airport and I was amused to hear a man say, “How YOU doin’?” just like Joey from “Friends”. I arrived safely at my hotel in Des Moines 19 hours after leaving home. I caught up on some sleep but woke early and checked emails. My morning cup of tea was not great with powdered coffee creamer but the weather was beautiful and I was going to spend a day with a quilter so I was happy.
Norma H collected me and we started off our day of touring at the downtown Farmers Market. There was wonderful fresh market produce, including pumpkins, tom-A-toes and baked goods. The atmosphere was terrific as busy shoppers stopped to chat and browse.   We got my USA phone set up for local texts and had coffee in the Barnes & Noble bookstore. After that we headed to the trendy area, Valley Junction, which had great junk and craft shops. There was a super bead emporium and we had a delicious lunch at the friendly General Store cafe. Norma took me on a whistle-stop tour of a couple of quilt shops and Creekside Quilting really stood out. It was well stocked with a great selection of fabrics and patterns – the layout and lighting were excellent and the staff members were all friendly and helpful. I managed to buy a couple of things that were not on my essentials shopping list.
Late in the afternoon we drove out to Carroll to visit the APQS factory. We drove through farmland, past ripening corn & beans and spotted quite a lot of flat wildlife at the side of the road, including possums, skunk, coyote, and a fox. I had expected APQS to be a huge industrial unit but was amazed to discover that it really is a small Iowan firm where all of the components are made locally and each machine is indeed built by hand. It was fascinating to see machines in various stages of production and all of the parts all lined up on shelves. The entire staff will be at the show on Thursday so I will be able to ask all sorts of questions and try out all of the models so that I can be up to date with all of the latest developments.
Norma and I had a delicious supper at a fish restaurant back in Des Moines then I stopped to pick up essential groceries of milk for tea and tonic water for gin. She has very kindly offered to take me out to do more sightseeing today before the AQS show organisers arrive from Paducah this evening. It is a treat to have a local guide and quilters always have plenty to talk about wherever they are in the world!


NEOS 2011 – Phew!!



I joined North East Open Studios way back in the spring and really did not know what to expect. I lined myself up with some projects to keep me busy during what I thought would be a quiet week with possibly a handful of visitors dropping in from time to time. I dug out some of my 1940’s quilt tops, expecting to finish a couple of them. The Yurt frame was set up in the garden in case of good weather; I cleared the camping gear out of the garden yurt, filled up its log basket and put a sign up on the gate.

 I was completely overwhelmed by the number and enthusiasm of my visitors for the following 7 days. I reckon that 20-30 people called in every day and some called in for second visits to bring their friends. There were people who had looked me up in the NEOS catalogue, folk who had seen the Patchwork Smart Car parked outside the sweetie shop in Banchory, artisans who had the sense to book themselves a day out to see other studios, tourists who had seen the studio trail advertised and then people who came because they had heard from others that my place was worth a visit. There was even a bit of traffic chaos as several visitors arrived at the same time as the guitar teacher and a fully laden tractor & trailer.

There were locals who were curious to see what I do, people on touring holidays and even a visitor from Australia who was staying with family in the area. The weather was decidedly unreliable and I only managed to display the Quilted Yurt’s covers once but the sun shone on the gold lame and looked fantastic. During the rest of the wet and windy week, I showed visitors into the cosy garden yurt where some of the panels were hung on the inside. The workshop/studio was festooned with bunting and a collection of bed quilts, show quilts and antique quilts, all of which I encouraged people to handle.

Many signed up for classes which I now need to put on the calendar and Mo came up for a day to run a needle felting demo on making felt animals. Yurtman called in and discussed frame modifications, the Art Department from the local Academy enthused about potential projects, and textile artists & quilters were all gratifyingly complimentary. I talked non-stop about the quilts, my inspiration, forthcoming projects and travels and why on earth I decided to make a quilted yurt in the first place. It was actually a good rehearsal for my forthcoming visit to the AQS Des Moines Show as an exhibitor/teacher.

I sold a few postcards, took a commission and ran up a few quilted Iphone cases in between visitors. One of the 1940’s quilts had a mere 12 inches of quilting completed in one corner. Somehow the children got fed on dwindling rations after the studio closed at 6pm each evening and I wondered how artists would manage to do any creating if they had to run a shop on a regular basis. On Monday morning as I type this, I have a long list of things to tidy and sort out before I allow myself to think about packing for my USA trip. This week I also happen to have the supply teaching interview that I have been waiting for since January – I guess it keeps my options open…!

Coffee and Chips

Thanks to Kay for sending me a photo of the Yurt at Perth…!
Mo and I had a whole two days of “raking” together when we took the Quilted Yurt to the QGBI Regional Day in Perth, Scotland. Before we even left Banchory we managed to rummage through the Red Cross shop where I acquired a Tyrolean jacket, dropped the patchwork Smart Car cover off at the sweetie shop, “Continental Cream” where it will be displayed on a car during NEOS week, chose some sweets for the journey, then we bought some bespoke gin & tonic for our weekend trip from the Deeside Drinks Emporium. I had been busy all week making ipad covers, crazy notebooks and cutting up kits for bunting & Christmas table runners so I felt entitled to a couple of treats…
We thought Perth was pretty cool – I have to admit that I have only ever passed through Perth on previous conferences. There were quite a few interesting and trendy shops selling jewellery, beads, felt hats and yarns, alongside an old-fashioned general store and a traditional ironmonger. There is now a well-stocked craft & quilt shop quirkily named, “The Peacock and the Tortoise”. We arrived in the late afternoon so did not get much time to shop but we called in to a great coffee bean and loose tea shop – “The Bean Stop”. It was a treat to sample the house coffee and enjoy all of the aromas of freshly blended teas. After a lengthy discussion on the merits of coffee making equipment Mo left with an “aeropress” and I bought packages of Cuban coffee and Russian Caravan tea with a hint of smoky lapsang souchon. We had an early supper at a French bistro then headed to the venue of the lecture, Glenearn Community Campus. The staff there were very obliging and helped to unload the rafters from the Landy roof-rack so that everything was in the right place so that a fast assembly could be attempted ONE hour. The organising committee had managed to round up some young men to help get the crown up and we even had time to spare so that all of the covers went on too – it makes such a difference to have a team of strong helpers! Mo and I felt that we were lacking in salt after all of that strenuous lifting so we stopped off for a bag of chips on our way back to the hotel. There was some hilarity as we could not operate the sofa bed mechanism until we had thirstily slurped a large gin each.
It was nice not to be in a hurry in the morning and we were glad that we were able to brew proper full bodied coffee with the new press. John from the coffee bean shop called in to admire the Yurt and he gave us a great collection of printed coffee sacks from around the world. They are fascinating, smell great and I am sure we will think of a good project for them. My talk seemed to go down well as I told the story behind the Quilted Yurt with some pig chasing tales thrown in for good measure. I was worried that I had only been talking for about 20 minutes but I managed to ramble on for over an hour without anyone falling asleep. The quilters were fascinated by the scale of the project and by all of the different panels. Someone asked Mo how she could cope with a friend like me but of course, she replied, “We are just the same!”
Jan Hassard from Bristol gave a trunkshow in the afternoon and she showed a super collection of historical quilts as well as some of her own. Her old, treasured quilts reminded me to get on with quilting a couple of scruffy feedsacks that I bought from Ebay ages ago. As usual it was great to catch up with other quilters from around Scotland and meet some new ones too. Kay and Another Lady VERY kindly stayed on and helped to disassemble and pack up the Yurt at the end of the day. The janitor, politically correctly named “a mighty man”, held onto the crown in the much quicker dismantling process. Lashing the ropes on is always the most onerous task but I must be sure that everything is well secured.  Mo sold enough of my postcards to pay for our obligatory fish supper with mushy peas in Stonehaven and I lazily decided not to unpack the Landy until Sunday morning!




My main task for the week was to produce the handouts and patterns for my forthcoming USA trip. I had to run up a string of bunting to check the fabric quantities, figure out how to draw a simple circular design using compasses, sew a notebook cover to ensure that the instructions worked and read through all of the other patterns to see if they made sense. I got Tania to proof read them and she thought they seemed straightforward. The photocopy shop ran off pages of pictures and text for me and I laminated the patterns so that they look like recipe cards. There are no diagrams since I can’t figure out how to draw them neatly but the patterns that I have chosen are very simple so it should be easy to follow by referring to the photo. The Silent Movie Star pattern is 6 pages long as it is set out like a step by step photo-story! I have a nasty feeling that my parcel will weigh far more than 2kg so I expect that I will have to pack some of it in my suitcase. I have to leave room for some Quilt Quine “door prizes” – American quilt teachers all seem to offer tombola prizes to members of the class chosen at random. I might take tea bags and digestives to offer to my students at Elevenses instead of coffee.

I have to admit that I became rather bored sitting in front of the computer and I kept going off on online tangents, wondering whether to get a coffee pod machine for the workshop and I also ordered myself some new everyday green Doc Martens. I was very disappointed to find that the foreign manufacturers of this iconic British shoe have altered the fit so that my normal size was too big. I even went to a shoe shop in Aberdeen to try a smaller size but found that they were too tight. This means that I will have to carry on wearing my favourite green patent ones even though they are now looking very scruffy.  At the back of my mind I have always wanted to make a quilt that somehow involves Docs…

As a reward for completing my Des Moines paperwork, I pieced a very simple strippy quilt with a few flying geese that should be “absolutely the last ever yurt panel” and I intend to quilt it like 5 Bar Gate. I completed a small African wall hanging and started a mini project using the offcuts from the easy flying geese. I have now jotted down some ideas for new sewing projects. I hate not having something new lined up ready to sew. I am turning over a few ideas for potential show quilts as I haven’t seriously done one for quite a while. There may be a rather different wholecloth and possibly a spinoff of Silent Movie Star that could make good use of the exciting collection of Australian fabrics. I have a few other things to fit in first such as taking the Yurt to Perth, North East Open Studio week, a big USA trip and a book draft – but at least I have a plan or two in mind so that I am not at a loose end after all that!