Monthly Archives: June 2014

What happens after you finish making a Henge?


9 totems

With a successful and mostly dry School Sports Day out of the way, I managed to sew shut the final seam on the last totem then fiddle about with eyelets and corset strings. It felt strange to decide that such a long running project was finished. I keep looking at it and wavering between feeling proud of my efforts while wondering if anyone else at a Festival of Quilts will appreciate my creation. Maybe they will find it too simplistic and not arty enough but I don’t care if anyone thinks it is just weird.

fertliser bag

Having got The Henge finished I was anxious to work out how it would actually get to FOQ. I soon discovered that if I mentioned the words, “textile art”, couriers would not touch it. Next I was told that it would have to travel in custom-made boxes and could cost between £200-£400! I decided to be more cunning and asked a more basic transport haulier if they could shift “cushions” that were bubble wrapped and shoved into a giant fertiliser bag. They agreed to stick it on a pallet, shrink-wrap it in clingfilm and get it there without a fuss, far more economically.

Frustratingly, I discovered that my Windows Live email account had been hacked and then shut down. Luckily, no data appears to have gone astray so after changing passwords on all of my devices, I eventually got everything restored.


I taught my last half day of the term then loaded up an overdue customer quilt. I decided to “let” the computerised system do this one as it was so big and the customer wanted something simple. I swore at the computer a few times because it seemed to ignore what I was trying to tell it to do but in the end it quilted a modern version of pumpkin seeds really well. When I was sure that it was not going to muck-up, I was able to sort through some of the photos for my E-book. I even had a cup of tea with a visiting American quilter while it sewed away in the background. I still don’t actually LIKE the computerised system and much prefer to freehand just about everything but I acknowledge that not all quilts require fancy or dense stitching. It was rather boring supervising while the machine did its own thing but I have a large customer quilt coming up next that needs a lot of freehand taming.

Mo, Nell and I went on a bit of a jaunt on Saturday and ended up “raking” at a car-boot sale, a vintage-style craft fair and a lovely tea-shop. We came home with all sorts of treasures including blue and white napkins and retro saucepans.


I took Nell up to the Portsoy Boat Festival on Sunday and insisted that she have a go at paddling a coracle in the sheltered harbour. I showed photos of my coracle to the Coracle Society experts who pointed out that I should have fitted my cover over the top edges of the wicker frame. I tried to explain that it was purely decorative and I wanted to show off the wicker and beading but they were more interested in practicalities. One cocky teenager discovered how unstable coracles really are and he was tipped out into the harbour. There was a great atmosphere with craft stalls, food stalls, buskers and antique sailing boats all over the fishing village and we agreed that it could be fun to stay for the whole weekend to see more live music and take part in coracle racing. I was even moderately tempted to join the Coracle Society and consider making another coracle…




The Devil in the Detail



It is amazing what I can get done in an almost uninterrupted week in the workshop. I even have achy arms, sore hands and punctured fingers to prove it. I thought I would never complete the irregular grey pebbles and had to force myself to sew a whole bobbin at a time non-stop and not allow myself any breaks until at least four bobbins were emptied. I used chalk and string to mark out a circle then trimmed and bound it as soon as it came off the frame. I still have a lot of thread tails to tidy up but it is more or less done and ready to stand the totems on.

stonesquare   stonecircle

Yurtman sent the plywood circular bases which added an inch of height to each totem so I used my electric carving knife to trim down all of the columns. I had to wrestle the foam columns into their tight covers by squashing them into banana shapes, discovering that the only way to get them to fit was to put slippery plastic bin-bags onto the ends.


Hand-sewing them shut neatly proved to be a major challenge and I unpicked several attempts before managing to do an invisible ladder stitch as tidily as Mo had demonstrated. I should probably have attempted to tear the plastic bags out because one or two of them are not yet sitting as flat on top as I would like.

After checking that my hand punch was cutting holes in scrap leather nicely and deciding that they were not, I ordered a more industrial press punch for 5mm eyelets. This is much easier to use and does not make my hands hurt after just 2 or 3 holes have been made. I discovered that the latest beaded skins must be a fair bit smaller than the white Imbolc one because I was woefully short of cord for lacing up the backs on the largest columns.

I have reached the point now where the project is almost complete but I am looking hyper-critically at the quality of the finish. Some of the binding on the awkwardly shaped skins looks a little loose so I am wondering how to fix it without cutting it all off and starting again. The cheap gold lamé is a nightmare because some of the quilted stitching has burst and wadding is poking through in places. I hope that adding a little gold paint will solve that problem but at the back of my mind is the thought that I should make an entirely new gold totem!

I did emerge from the workshop occasionally to enjoy snatches of midsummer sun and do battle with the idiots at the Planning Department over their crass objections to the School’s application to build a small parking bay because the site-diagram did not have red pen around the outside. This saga has been going on for nearly 9 years and the Parent Council won’t let me resign until I cut the ribbon on the parking spaces.

Freya and I celebrated the Solstice with friends at the top of Scotly Hill. There was a bonfire, jamming guitars, midges and a typically damp, glowering sky. I took a photo as the light faded and used an app on the Ipad to create a watercolour scene. There are just two weeks left to the end of term so the pressure is on to attend to the final details of the Totem Henge and get them wrapped up ready to send to FOQ!


Beanz and Walnut Whips



There are some days when the perfect supper is beans on toast followed by walnut whips from M&S. I survived 3 days with Primary One but admit that I found it really hard work. They wore me out squabbling over pencils, hand-puppets and lego. I kept them as busy as possible and heaved a sigh of relief when the bell rang on Friday.

When I checked my calendar for the coming week, I was delighted to see that there were no teaching days scheduled so I will work hard to get the Totem Henge nearer to completion. I have all of the bits and pieces ready to punch eyelets and lace up the leather skins and a weird collection of antler toggles to dangle from the cords.

granite pebbles

I quilted random concentric circles onto the large piece of grey tie-dyed fabric then started the endless chore of filling in all of the background with unevenly sized pebbles to make it look a bit like granite. I am worried that I may run out of matching pre-wound bobbin thread. I have been quilting these in non-stitch-regulated mode as fast as I dare and a bobbin only lasts for about one square foot.


The floor quilt is not meant to be a large feature of the henge, just a base for it to sit on but I would still like to add some machine embroidery around some of the circles to add some definition although the Elna which does the dotty stitch that I like is not sounding too healthy and probably needs a new bobbin assembly. I have a pile of slate-grey bias strips waiting to be turned into over 300 inches of binding for the circular quilt so now I feel that the push  towards the  finish has finally begun. Then I need to ask the local florist to save me some tall boxes and get quotes from couriers to get my large project to FOQ…

Quilted Tree Trunks





I asked soft-furnishings-guru, Mo for a reminder on how to tackle piped binding which she sews most expertly upside down using a zip foot. I then ignored her sage advice and worked out my own way using my original Husqvarna which has a nifty grooved piping foot. I was satisfied that I had attached the piping and finished off the ends really neatly but it took me a couple more days to pluck up the courage to tackle sewing these “log ends” onto the “trunks” of the totems. I decided that I would write instructions on how to do this so that a fitted bolster cushion can go into my Book but even with careful measuring, there seemed to be a weird, slight variation in fit on every other one. They are starting to take shape at last but it is rather a wrestle getting the bolster-quilts to fit onto the horrible, synthetic foam!

trunkendstacking autstripe



I commissioned Yurtman to cut me a set of plywood circles to fit into the bottom end of each totem to give them some weight and stability. I won’t be able to hand-sew the 9 totems shut until he has got around to doing that small job in amongst completing orders for half a dozen yurts. I  will have to use my electric carving knife to cut bits off the  columns once the bases go in as I have made them the exact height of the foam in case I decide to scrap the weighted bottoms if Yurtman is too busy. At least I have bought all of the eyelets, cord and toggles to complete the leather quilts which will be laced onto the largest columns.

When I failed to find a king-sized cotton sheet to dye for the back of the grey tie-dyed fabric, I decided to make use of some curtain fabric that I have had for a while. After using 4 packs of fekete/charcoal Hungarian dye, the reverse of the linen shows no signs of having had poppies printed onto it. It was a bit of a chore ironing all of that crumpled fabric but it is now on the frame waiting for me to start quilting circles and pebbles all over it.


Frustratingly, I will only have a short time in my workshop to crack on with The Henge this week as I am teaching 5 year olds for 3 days in a row this week. Last week, after muddling along and inventing activities such as balancing salt-dough with a bucketful of plastic dinosaurs on defective scales and modelling beanstalks with real beans embedded in them, I had to treat myself to a bottle of Edinburgh Gin. I have decided that it is impossible for me to teach small children and also be teetotal…

Lost Words



After taking almost all of Monday writing up my blog about Norway, I was annoyed to discover that for over a year Blogger seemed to have lost all of my text! Luckily I had saved the writing on my laptop so I managed to reattach it all. I daresay that if anyone was just following me on Blogger, rather than WordPress, they would have lost interest in a blog without any commentary months ago.

I decided to complete the quilting and embroidery on my Northern Lights cushion class “flimsy” and make another unquilted sample so the students can see the exact same before and after project that they would have in their packs. I can’t say quite why but it ended up being a rectangular cushion instead of a square one. Luckily, the local soft-furnishings shop was able to accommodate my irregularly sized cushion.


Instead of dutifully attending to paperwork and planning, I finished painting and embroidering the rings on the tops of all 9 totems. I really want to add the piping and start constructing the henge. I also need to get tackle the floor quilt pretty soon!


I taught 5 year olds for two days in an open plan classroom and found that I was quite hoarse by the end of the day. I found it very difficult reading a story while the other class was being noisy on the other side of the room. It is not easy to keep the attention of P1 pupils without distractions. I survived both days despite one pupil wetting their knickers, another having a tantrum about Lego and another who just refused to do anything at all. They were not convinced by my version of Jack from the Beanstalk, refusing to believe that he might have had dreadlocks and liked to annoy his mother by playing on his Xbox all day. My attempt at “Active Maths” involved weighing and sorting different types of dried beans then spending around 15 minutes picking them all up off the floor. At least my wall-collage of the Giant with a patchwork tartan shirt looked impressive…

bubblz  LAhens

I was in and out of my workshop at the weekend, trying to enjoy the summery weather in between sections of two customer quilts. I tried to keep them simple with giant bubbles and big feathers. Freya went to two parties, having finally made it to the end of 5 weeks of exams. Mo, Tania, Fenella and I enjoyed a superb, balmy evening of Fiddlers in Finzean Hall and we decided that we would love to spend a long-overdue weekend away in Shetland, tracking down folk-singers in small pubs, instead of enjoying a more cosmopolitan break in Edinburgh;)