Monthly Archives: May 2014

Cruising in Norway


By the end of Monday I was beginning to wonder if I had told each class the same pertinent information. Everyone managed to construct the cushion top in the lesson then they worked on the quilting and embroidery in the “Sit and Stitch” free time sessions. I was delighted at how good their “quilts” looked. They were all subtly different and the hand-dyed fabrics that Ani Catt had sent were just perfect for an Aurora Borealis inspired project. My pupils seemed to enjoy how this class was very laid back and that many of my words and explanations ended with an “-ish” suffix.


In the evening we moored up at a jetty in a deep fjord by the tiny village of Skjolden. We had a wander around and were amazed to see what looked like standing stones being used to hold up fences. The scenery was stunning – Norway is like a much bigger and older version of Scotland. There was still a lot of snow on the jagged mountains and the glaciers on their tops had begun to melt, producing impressive waterfalls. When Angela from Traplet tried to take some late afternoon photos on her iPad, she kept getting a subtle green or pink glow in the sky which I would like to think may have been a hint of the Northern Lights.


The next morning Judi, Angela and I decided to have a lazy start. After wandering around the enormous Windjammer Cafe without the faintest idea of what to chose for breakfast, we enjoyed spectacular views from the top deck of the picturesque village of Flam which looked like it could have been made from Lego.





The excursion to the funicular railway was full so we got last minute tickets on a bus trip to a mountain viewpoint. The hairpin bends were incredibly tight and the bus drove perilously close to the edge of a sheer drop several thousand feet below. The water in the 1700 metre deep fjord was crystal clear. It was easy to imagine a fleet of Viking longships gliding along on their way to a raid or battle. I made myself a salted herring rye-bread sandwich for lunch. I confess that this was not the most delicious snack I have ever had so a beer from the Viking brewery went down really well afterwards.



After a quilting quiz and another gourmet dinner, Stuart Hillard from the “Great British Sewing Bee” gave a very amusing talk in the evening all about his baptism of fire into the world of competitive dress-making on television. We joined the keen students in the sewing room for an hour or two then went back on deck to watch a glorious sunset. The sun turned into a glowing red ball before disappearing behind some granite rocks on the horizon. The sea was flat calm and shimmered with reflections of the pink sky. Even after sundown at almost 11pm, it was not fully dark.


Wednesday morning was a little damp and the first glimpse of a slightly tacky row of souvenir shops in Olden was not so inspiring. However, we booked a trip on a red “Hop-on-Hop-Off” bus with a local guide called Ott. As we left the main village behind, we discovered that we were in a beautiful glacial valley. The minerals in the melt water from the glacier turn the water in the lakes below a deep turquoise colour. Ott gave an interesting commentary about past and present Norwegian rural life, describing the way the farmers used to move seasonally to their summer-houses on the higher slopes with their goats. He also described how some farms and villages had been utterly destroyed by hurricanes, avalanches and even a 70 metre tsunami when a massive granite cliff broke off into the fjord below.


Pam Holland gave an inspiring talk about her life and quilting during the evening. She takes fantastic photographs on her textile related travels all over the world and I have never seen such an engrossing Powerpoint presentation that used page-turning images, text and music.

Another late evening sewing session followed Pam’s talk and I finished off the beading on my brown leather skin for the autumn totem. I found that I did not really have any “spare” time to waste on sorting photos or learning how to use EQ7 as I was really enjoying spending time giving a little guidance to any students who asked my opinion about their choice of stitches on the Northern Lights projects.





By the next morning we had arrived in the town of Alesund. I spent most of the day hopping on and off a red bus, stopping at interesting destinations. The audio commentary was informative and I learned that a severe fire had broken out in 1905, destroying most of the wooden buildings, whereafter much of the town was rebuilt in an Art-Nouveau style. From a high viewpoint even the cruise-ship looked tiny in the harbour. There was an outdoor museum that had an extensive collection of rebuilt or reconstructed wooden buildings from school houses to livestock huts. A jetty and a large boat shed housed a selection of old fishing boats and a pretty impressive, recently built longship that smelled of pitch. Back in the old town I visited a couple of quaint shops including one that sold traditional costumes and folk jewellery that many Norwegians wear on their National Day.


Most of the entertainment on offer on board such as a Queen Tribute Band and a casino was not really my “cup of tea” but that evening we all marvelled at a professional ice-skating show with skaters whirling around despite choppy sea conditions. Later, Jim West of “Sew Many Places” hosted an exciting game of Quilt Bingo and awarded one lucky quilter the top prize of a trip to Tuscany next spring. The view from the top deck was pretty misty but quite by chance we caught fleeting glimpses of a school of whales as the ship left the rocky coast behind. I wished I had not left my binoculars at home!

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Our final shore visit was to the oil city of Stavanger where I set off on an organised tour of an iron-age farm where we were met by a Viking lady farmer who led the party into a turf roofed long-house and explained all about how she could light fires using a flint and lye-soaked fungus. Apparently, it could take up to two years to spin enough sheep’s wool to make a new dress. If I had been a lady Viking I may have been rather frustrated at how long this process would take;) In the market square I bought Fenella a Nordic cardigan in itchy, warm wool but I did not find any amber or silver jewellery for myself. We waved goodbye to tiny people on the quayside and the ship sounded its almighty fog-horn in salute as it will be the last visit that Independence of the Seas makes to Norway.


On the final morning Judi and I could not miss a demonstration on “Towel Art”. The towel sculptures of animals were so bizarrely hilarious that we would enter our cabin and just double-up with helpless laughter. I thought that the penguin looked more like a Jedi and I still don’t know if it was a towelling seal or an aardvark that was sitting on our sofa wearing a pair of specs.

Enthusiastic quilters beavered away trying to finish off all four of their projects and we even inspired Angela, who had never even sewed on a button in her life to buy some fabric. She sat with Pfaff representative, Joy and quilted lines on her fabric then I guided her through the process of making one of my “Wee Bags”. She was delighted that she had made such a useful item and other quilters requested an extra mini class since they had almost run out of things to make. The wee bags are perfect for running up in around an hour so a few more were constructed before the machines all had to be packed away. There was a final, impressive “Show & Tell” where we got to see items that the quilters had brought from home or created in the classes. At the cocktail party Jim announced that he was planning a future cruise to France/Spain or Houston followed by the Caribbean. The students were all very complimentary about their tutors and I felt that we had made a new bunch of quilting friends. It was a busy week with incredible scenery, many laughs, far too much food and countless trips up and down in glass elevators. It really was an incredible experience.


On Sunday I disembarked early and decided to catch a train into central London, hoping to see the Viking Exhibition at the British Museum. As I struggled on the Tube with two suitcases, I remembered why I used to use a rucksack when travelling. Unfortunately, I was denied entry to the museum with my luggage. I tried several hotel concierges nearby but they refused to be paid to look after my bags for an hour. I could have taken it to the left luggage department at King’s Cross Station but I worried that I would be rushed for time so I miserably decided to stop trailing my stuff around and sat and sulked at an outdoor cafe in Bloomsbury, watching the world go by. An enormous croissant and coffee soon cheered me up as I caught up with a week’s worth of emails and contemplated returning to everyday life without “staff” and sequins.

(NB: I will try to add more photos after other folk on the trip send me copies…)


Ship Ahoy!


bronze  I spent most of this week finishing off the bronze spandex totem and quilting 9 circular “tree trunks” for the top ends of each column. It was handy to have Freya at home to help check and pack all of the Northern Lights kits for the cruise. Following her sage advice, I made up one of the kits from scratch to double-check the quantities were all sufficient for a 16” cushion.


I gradually crossed things off my packing list and the only thing that I did not include in the end was a pair of binoculars. Everything for the classes was organised into little poly-bags and made up the bulk of my luggage. My clothes were all squashed into my carry-on bag. Obviously, I felt it necessary to start making a zipped bag for my drawing tablet the day before I left but I was not concentrating so it finished up being too small. I decided to use it for cables/chargers  instead then proceeded to resize a pre-existing laptop sleeve to fit the tablet.


I had an early flight to London on Saturday morning followed by a bus trip to the port of Southampton. I had not expected The Independence of the Seas to look quite so much like an invading spaceship. I cannot describe how truly enormous it looked with 14 decks, elevators, an ice-rink, theatre, running track, pools, restaurants and even a High Street of shops.


The quilting tutors met the students for the first time before a formal dinner in one of the many dining-rooms. The group included ladies from USA, Canada, England, Cyprus, Scotland and Wales. They were not particularly impressed with the squashed Tunnock’s tea cakes in their goody bags. I forgot to explain that I had also included a sachet of Hungarian dye and found out later that some people opened their packets and tasted the contents, thinking that they might be a rehydrating solution in case of a stomach upset!

We had an early start for two classes on Sunday and it was super to have a maximum of 10 students in each class. I introduced my pupils to freehand rotary cutting and using slightly different techniques to achieve gently curved piecing. The emphasis was on taking a relaxed approach and declaring that there were no “mistakes, just deliberate design choices.


After spending most of the day busily sewing below decks in the classroom we emerged on deck to bright sunshine where other cruisers were sunbathing beside the pool or jogging laps around the ship to work up an appetite. Over dinner the students discussed what they had achieved that day and started to get to know each other a bit better. There were a few glitzy outfits – my gold lamé Doc Marten boots seemed appropriate enough;)


Production Line



While Freya slogged on with exam revision, I worked steadily on a production line sorting out 40 kits for the Norwegian Quilting Cruise. I need to make one from scratch early on Monday morning just to check that I have calculated the quantities of strips accurately. Then I need to find 40 of something typically Scottish to include in a goody bag when the quilters all meet on board the ship. I may have to buy a large tin of individually wrapped shortbreads or several packets of Tunnock’s caramel wafers. I can’t believe that I only have one week to go before I set off on my first cruise as a quilt tutor.

I sorted out gear for Nell and Fergus to take on their school expeditions either side of my trip then grasped the nettle of the Unbooked Family Holiday. I fixed up my “Day at River Cottage” then found a thatched cottage to rent near Axminster in Dorset and was greatly satisfied to be able to tick something off one of my perpetual Lists.

To relieve the exam boredom I took Freya to Aberdeen to buy something to wear. We were both disappointed at the uninspiring outfits with a naffly 80’s ethnic theme. We had a look at dress patterns but they were all so dated. She wants to have a go at making something based on an existing frock but I would rather follow a pattern as a dressmaking novice. I found some shapeless garments that I liked online at Merchant & Mills but could not decide whether they would just look like sacks on me. The next dilemma was what fabric to use – it is far too expensive to buy dress fabric then not love the results. I probably want to use patterned linen or some shot cotton. If I could get over my fear of simple tailoring I could probably rustle up all sorts of things.

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Despite admiring my freehand quilting on gold spandex, I have not yet managed to persuade Freya that it would make an amazing bodice on a one-of-a-kind prom dress. I think the gold totem will be my absolute favourite and I have now decided to just do one in gold so the autumn totem will be made from the same bronze spandex as the Coracle.


I quilted hundreds of quarter-inch lines onto the linen quilts that will become the background totems for the leather skins. Then I will need to quilt 9 circular tops before worrying about attaching them onto each totem with piped bindings. I still have not decided what will happen at the bottom of each one. Working on 9 pieces instead of last year’s 3 seems more stressful. I certainly won’t be hand sewing them shut like the last lot… (famous last words!)


Kitted Out



I cut out two quilts for a customer using Kaffe Fasset shot cottons so she has two patchwork projects to work on in kit form. Some of the colours appear more “shot” than others and they are really tempting. There is also a new range of heathery shades of shot cottons from Oakshott which I would like to get my hands on after the totems are finished.

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I had to get the Dutch quilt out of my system so I quilted and bound it all in one day. I got the quilt-computer to stitch out Amsterdam canal houses but it is difficult to make out the tight linear design. I had hoped to add a tulip border but I am not expert enough at the software to get it all to fit so I used a traditional pumpkin seed pattern instead. I could have freehand-quilted the Dutch quilt far more quickly but I wanted an excuse to practise using the computer since my customers all seem to prefer my more organic looking quilting.

My week was a little broken up by being Freya’s taxi service during exams. This gave me an excuse to turn down supply teaching to concentrate on the totems and assemble kit  lists for forthcoming school residential trips.

I cut into a large foam sheet using an electric bread knife and tried to roll it into a neat cylinder for one of my totems. I tried a few different ways of rolling and sticking but the result was not a lump free, smooth, round column. I prevaricated for a while, thinking how I could wrap it in wadding before deciding to order proper sponge cylinders. I have spent months perfecting the quilts that will be displayed on the totems so I want a perfectly smooth finish rather than a wonky, amateur effort. I now need to get rid of 4 large sheets of foam and a couple of cans of industrial spray glue.

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I started the copper tissu-lamé quilt for one of the autumn totems, quilting it with circles, filling these with vaguely Celtic inspired doodles then quilting the background with swirly plumes. It is not an easy fabric to quilt as it is almost like tissue paper and very fragile. The gold totems might be the usual white backed lame or gold stretch spandex. Maybe there should be one of each fabric since the spring and summer totems will both be gold.


I used leftover pieces from the curved strip totems to join onto dyed linen for the totems onto which I will display the beaded skins. These will all be quilted in vertical lines, exactly like the winter totems that I made last year. I sent a message to a talented dyer in USA and asked if she would create me a large dyed piece of fabric to look like grey granite. I decided to make a circular floor quilt on which to stand the 9 totems. I have not yet decided whether this will be pebble quilted or more formally quilted with concentric circles like “Dunes Duet”.

EQ7 for Mac arrived and a Facebook friend suggested that I should use a graphics tablet to design quilt blocks more easily. It occurred to me that this may also be a useful way to draw diagrams for my Ebook if only I can find a simple drawing program that I like. The new tablet arrived but the Mac did not recognise it. This led to a fruitless few hours trying to figure out why my USB ports were not working and a useless session with an Apple Care assistant who concluded that I would need to take my beloved Mac into an Apple shop as it obviously had a serious fault. Feeling fairly despondent, I downloaded a tablet driver from the Wacom website and solved the problem. It does not explain why my flash-drives are not opening properly but it prompted me to do a major backup and I miraculously remembered my installation password after just 3 tries. All I have to do now is master the new kit and caboodle and do some serious designing…