Monthly Archives: March 2013

Cakes and Inks


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I turned down several supply teaching requests in order to catch up before the Easter Holidays. It took me several hours to sort through some overdue paperwork and I still have not managed to put all of my business on an electronic spreadsheet. 

 The antique bedspread was duly completed and bound. It is a good job that its purpose is just to be decorative as it is very heavy and the string-like crewel embroidery feels really scratchy. 

I painted metallic bronze paint onto the deerskin Norse birds – it was very difficult to highlight the tiny details on such dark leather. I even managed to sew all of the remaining gems and beads onto the white goatskin quilt. Attaching the binding neatly and consistently was challenging as I had decided to keep it fairly dead-goat-shaped. I am planning to punch eyelets down each side and lace it like a corset onto the patchwork totem. 


 It is with some alarm that I noticed that April has arrived so quickly as I have several unfinished projects that I really need to get done by May in order to enter FOQ. I pieced some very skinny strips that I plan to insert into the purely pieced third totem. If I run out of time I will simply have to enter one rather than 3 pieces. At least I am not intending to sew any more gems onto the other two!

 I used the excuse of Freya’s birthday to make two rather tasty cakes this week. There was the Starbucks style spiced pumpkin loaf that I made using the tin of canned pumpkin that I received from my children for Christmas and a deliciously moist cherry & almond cake. Neither of them lasted beyond the first day and then it was the Easter weekend with lots of chocolate eggs so I really have not made any attempt to follow a low-fat diet this week;)

 Durris Primary School put on a great version of “Joseph” this week. Fergus looked as though he might be sick or faint with nerves but to my relief, he sang an amazingly good solo. It is a pity that I can’t persuade him to join a choir as he is a good singer. He has started improvising a bit more with his electric guitar and we were treated to some Jimi Hendrix riffs one day after school. 

 We still had snow this week so I attempted snow-dyeing once more. I sprinkled several packets of my Hungarian dye onto a piece of bamboo silk and splotched some purple fountain pen ink on as a special effect. The ink was obviously not waterproof and the snow or dye was definitely not the right sort as by the time it had come out of the machine after a hot wash, the piece emerged as a uniform but very satisfactory gunmetal grey/violet.  


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I found myself being sucked into another geeky obsession – fountain pens and ink. It was not until I went online to order some brown ink that I discovered a whole world of Youtube demos, forums and websites dedicated to old-fashioned pens, special writing paper and far more ink companies than I ever imagined. There is an American company called Noodler’s that sells an amazing selection of colours. French manufacturer, Herbin, sells scented ink and then there are all of the wonderfully shaped glass bottles. My old pen was so unco-operative that while I bought Freya an ink pen for her birthday, I bought myself one too and I have been relishing the act of writing. I felt as though I would like some Latin homework or an English essay to use up all of my lovely ink!


Volcanoes, Moquette and Invisible Mice


moquettesprd   stripjoined

I had a busy and varied week. I was booked to teach in school on 4 days and give two talks/demos but wintry weather threw in a couple of diversions to this plan. I gave a talk to a local WRI which seemed to go down well. I was expected to judge the competitions for “best hyacinth bulb” and “vegetarian supper for one”. I was the lucky recipient of two raffle prizes, comprising a set of ladies’ embroidered hankies and a rubber ball on a keyring that would hold spare carrier bags for emergency shopping. It is a good job that I found my evening so entertaining since they were not actually joking when they said that my Speaker’s Fee would be the delicious Refreshments. I was a little surprised: at least, the meringues were delicious.

We have been trying hard not to hurt Bluecat’s feelings by laughing at her clumsy attempts to catch the invisible mice that live deep inside the walls of our old farmhouse. She has a habit of not paying attention and frequently falls straight off the end of the windowsill. The other day she tried out a proper cat stunt of taking a running jump from kitchen stool to table but the stool slipped and she went flying off in a very uncool move which she was unable to make look deliberate. She glared grumpily and stalked off for a sulk in her shopping basket.

I had an enjoyable week in school with a Primary 6 class that was half its usual size since all of the P7’s were away on a residential trip. Without the aid of any special training courses, we had fun building volcanic islands out of snow which erupted with a mixture of vinegar, bicarb and food colouring. The class carried out research on 3 tropical islands and   found out all sorts of fascinating facts about komodo dragons, vanilla, tomato frogs and maps. We all learned how to sing two songs in sign language as we had a very talented signing expert who supports a profoundly deaf child.

I was meant to teach a workshop on Wednesday so I turned down a day of teaching in school. In the end, the workshop was also cancelled due to snow so I gained a day in my workshop, albeit unpaid. I expect that it was due to having bonus time that I made two disastrous attempts at bias binding. The first time round I did not have enough of a particular fabric and the next time I cut a perfectly good piece of fabric into too many triangles for some bizarre reason. I ditched the “clever” method in the end and simply cut off 45 degree strips and sewed them together.

I had been cold in bed the night before so instead of going to look for an extra quilt I thought I might like to make a new one. I spent some time browsing at fabric online before telling myself that I could use up leftover Aboriginal prints. I tried out a new-to-me simple method of making half square triangles and decided that the next time I am bored I will  simply piece odds and ends until I have a bed quilt sized project. Obviously, I already have unquilted projects that I could quite easily turn into a new quilt for my bed but I had a passing fancy to start something new.

I managed to sew a few more gemstones onto the white leather piece and I joined sections of the freestyle pieced curvy strips together. All I need now is the extra large foam bolster that I will turn into the first Celtic totem post.

The other project that I have been working on is an ancient bedcover that Mo asked me to quilt for a client. It is made from some sort of cotton fabric that is very fragile and crewel work that seems to be made from moquette or jute. I am simply stippling the background down onto calico, wool wadding and backing but it did not take long for me to realise that most of the embroidery was no longer firmly attached. I am quilting slowly right over all of it and it is rather like quilting a carpet. It is really amazing what my APQS longarm machine can cope with – silk, spandex, leather, carpetty stuff… This project has not been fun so I confess that I have been stopping frequently to look up fountain pens, beads, ex London Underground moquette cushions, and sealing wax on Ebay.


Old Skool


leatherqstones  wavy

It is one thing to be told by cool dudes in New York that one’s gold Doc Martens are “Old Skool” but quite another not to be short-listed for a job because of “failing to meet the specified criteria”. I should explain that I was confounded and demoralised that I was not offered an interview for a part-time job in a school where I have done a lot of teaching. I decided to phone the Headteacher and ask for feedback and was informed that I was not deemed suitable since I have not attended any recent training courses and there was no “evidence” on my application form that I would be able to implement the latest curriculum developments. I pointed out that supply teachers do not have access to most training courses and that I have spent the last two years relief teaching at short notice covering all age groups and subjects. I called the education department to enquire how I could gain access to the latest training opportunities and they were staggered that I had not been offered an interview based upon those objections. This made me feel slightly better but I have seriously wondered why I should continue supply teaching at all, being paid less than a probationer and made to feel that my years of skill and experience are irrelevant.

It has been hard to accept that the career that I always thought I could pick up and continue is not welcoming me back with open arms. It would appear that instead of simply being able to “walk the walk”, I should also be able to quote the latest educational jargon on paper. Frankly, I would rather spend my leisure time and money learning how to make lampwork beads, Japanese or Classical Studies. Perhaps this was an affirmation that I should devote all of my energy to quilting after all. I need never worry about taking time off during term-time to travel to a quilt show!


I regretted the decision to choose a second sensible pair of reading glasses that would go with any outfit. I should have chosen the crazy lime green ones after all. I have finally had to admit that I need specs for reading small print and threading needles. I picked out a pair that I would be able to perch on the end of my nose and I intend to make them a fancy beaded string.

I worked on a customer quilt this week – 16 simple but cleverly pieced large blocks made a complex looking lattice. My quilt machine did not answer back and no-one demanded to see my qualifications. I have decided to upgrade my 6 year old APQS Millennium to the latest and smoothest model which should enable me to work on more customer quilts. I have also ordered a hydraulic lift system for my table so that I can adjust the height and stand there quilting for even longer each day.

latticeq   newmilli

On a whim I decided to fill up an old fountain pen and write a few notes. It took me right back to my school days and I really enjoyed the practice of WRITING in ink! I decided to order a nostalgic glass bottle of brown ink and savour the act of writing, rather than scribbling notes illegibly in biro or typing using a keyboard.


I have decided to make 3 tree totems for the time being, possibly making 12 eventually. I finished piecing the wavy sections that will cover the foam column behind the white leather quilt. The next totem will just be covered in quilted silver spandex and the third will feature more wavy piecing. I knew that this project would fall into place eventually if I kept the ideas ticking over at the back of my mind…

Bead Dazzled



The trouble with browsing on Ebay is that it is easy to waste an awful lot of time doing “research” while finding the best sites for gems or beads. I also became extremely distracted looking at handmade glass lampwork beads on Etsy and I started to build up quite a collection of inexpensive and not-so-cheap beads for my Houston Chamilia/Trollbead bracelet. My excuse was that I was actually choosing beads to add to the Pandora bracelet that I have bought Freya for her birthday but virtual shopping for bead-charms was becoming my latest addiction. I told myself that this was perfectly justifiable since I have not been drinking wine in recent weeks as part of a mini health kick! Fenella has informed me that she would also like a bracelet like mine so it looks like I may have to spend a little more time searching for the best deals.

In addition to a day in the classroom, I helped a beginner quilter to apply binding to a cub-scout banner, sewed yet more gemstones onto the white leather goatskin, and I did some utility quilting on a gingerbread man patchwork throw for a customer.

I confounded the local pharmacist again with an unusual request for lanolin cream or neatsfoot oil which I wanted to use for rehydrating the battered old leather that Mo stripped from some ancient armchairs. I did not want to drive all the way over to the feed merchant and horse tack shop so I improvised with French olive-oil soap and rapeseed oil. I really want to maintain the very worn look of the old leather but I am concerned that it will all crack up if I try quilting it when it is so dry. I daresay I may have to quilt a test piece to see what happens.


I finished quilting the Norse birds onto the soft deerskin hide and posted a picture on Facebook. I was thrilled when one of my quilting heroes, Karen McTavish, commented that she thought it was “Glorious!” I have decided that it definitely will not become part of the tree/totem series as I have concluded that they should all feature circles that can be surrounded with gems or other interesting beads.

I worked on some skinny curved piecing over the weekend as I want the “totem” to look a little like birch bark but using the same colours as the gems. There was a time when I would never had dared to try such a radical aspect of patchwork but I figured out my own way of doing it and I am quite excited by what I have planned.


I balked at Mo’s suggestion of making  7 such pieces since that is a magical number but I am very tempted by the notion of making 12 – one for every month of the year. I have not even finished the first one yet and I can picture myself being consumed by a new major series. I am already trying to talk myself out of creating something new for the inaugural British Quilt & Stitch Village Show in Uttoxeter at the end of April. Surely I must have something already finished that could be suitable?



Not Seeing the Trees for the Wood

Trying out skinny curved piecing

Trying out skinny curved piecing

I was driving along looking at all of the different trees to see what sort of trunk would be best for displaying my leather quilts and wondering how to courier them to a show at a reasonable price. Suddenly I struck me that I was barking up the wrong tree – so to speak. I realised that what I really needed would be something like foam bolster cushions. Obviously, they could not simply be plain foam columns on which to display the quilts. I decided that they would be covered with striated undulating patchwork strips that would represent the effect of real bark. I am still not sure whether the curved strips will run horizontally or vertically but I did have a go at using very skinny strips so I know it can be done.

I had problem sourcing neutral and grey solid fabric to look like silver birch trees. It seems that the entire Modern Quilt Movement has bought all of it. I tried dyeing some cotton sateen but the colours were too strong. I found some suitable bits in my stash and ordered some Oakshott in pale green, light grey and a very rich pinky-red since that is the colour of some of the birch branches. It would now seem that I am intending to use strips that match the gemstones, rather than realistic tree bark colours.

gemstones on white leather

gemstones on white leather

Sewing the gemstones on has taken me rather a long time but they are so gorgeous that it has been really enjoyable. I may have discovered a new fascination for buying beads on Ebay and I am now waiting for a couple of small packages that are coming all the way from China.

I had quite a varied week: teaching in a small village school one day and visiting a longarmer the next day to talk about tension and timing. I was annoyed that I had to leave before her machine was all completely fixed to meet my children from school but she managed to get it all sorted out and running smoothly again.

I managed to get some admin done and then spent a while writing a 1000 word essay on myself as a profile to send into the FOQ catalogue. However, when I reread the email I saw that I should only have written 100 words so I will need to do a little bit of an edit on that piece.  I suppose I could do that while I make notes to decide whether it might be possible to turn the long overdue Yurt Book into an Ebook…

Norse birds on roedeer skin

Norse birds on roedeer skin

I started another leather quilt with Norse birds as the main motif but I am not yet convinced that it should form part of the tree series. I am wondering whether all of those should have celtic-style circles like the white goatskin – all surrounded by more gems and beads I expect!