I arrived in Birmingham on Tuesday afternoon then started to help with the monumental task of setting up the longarm machines. Wednesday was the main prep day, particularly sorting out the Qmatic system, and we were finished by 7pm. Obviously, we were there to work but after a long day it was nice to eat out and catch up with quilty friends, even when some of them think it is amusing to pull that old stunt of pretending it is my birthday and getting the restaurant to sing “HB to You”. I temporarily lost my phone (it was in the bathroom) so I missed a call letting me know that I was a prizewinner!
In the morning I was absolutely delighted to discover that Beelzebub had WON the category for contemporary quilts. It was then moved from its double-sided hanging pole to the single sided winners’ wall so the Quilt Angels got plenty of arm exercise showing off the pieced back/front. I was overwhelmed by all of the admiration for BzB after all of the time and trouble it took on and off over a few years. There were a few who asked about its name – the simplest one is that it was a demon of a quilt!
The Bernina booth was buzzing with customers, visitors and demos by several of the international longarm ambassadors and experts: Aggy from Switzerland/Italy, Regina from Germany, Elly from Belgium and Merete from Norway. We even had British quilting superstars, Janice Gunner and Philippa Naylor, who won Best in Show with her exquisite miniature quilt. There are professional photos of all of the winners on www.thefestivalofquilts.co.uk
I jogged around all of the exhibits early each morning and ensured that I also stopped to look in all of the special galleries. It was inspiring to see a Nancy Crow and Students showcase. Another stunning gallery was a collection of amazingly tiny miniatures by Kumiko Frydl. I was excited to bump into quilting celebrities and take selfies with Luana Rubin, Victoria Findlay Wolf and Stuart Hilliard.
I put the GoPro to use making time lapses of the crowds, quilting action and I even attempted to capture every single quilt on a zoom around the entire show – a segway may have made that job easier.
KayBell: “Face Off”
I can hardly believe that FOQ is all over for another year. It was an action-packed week that flew by. There were times when my feet ached and I could not think straight but meeting all of the lovely quilters from all over the world made it all worthwhile:)
Just occasionally I am scarily efficient to the point where I am convinced that there is something major that has been overlooked. I worked on three large customer quilts with the help of Quiltpath, took the kids into Aberdeen, did a couple of mega grocery shops and checked things off on several lists. OK, so some items may just have said “worm cats” or “”buy stamps” but it still counts as a job done! I even made a new exhibition pass holder based on the one that Kay originally made for me.
I don’t have photographic evidence for any of this as I either forgot to take pictures or was too busy messing about with my GoPro camera. Because I got my act together and packed my gear for FOQ ahead of schedule, I had some spare time to “waste”. I finally got the GoPro to communicate with my phone and I am still not sure how that happened. I watched a guy on Youtube who gave an excellent tutorial for beginners so then I decided to have a go at making a Timpelapse.
The genie is certainly out of the bottle on that front – I made clips of me block printing some fabric then wondered what it would be like to record a car journey. I hope to fix it up on a tripod at FOQ and record a time-lapse of the Bernina Q24 being set up over several hours. High speed clips on social media seem to be very popular – maybe people will see those then want to watch something a little longer like a tutorial, something I have had in mind for ages.
Knowing that I will be assisting the Bernina Qmatic system set-up in Birmingham and that it will be coming home with me afterwards so I can get to know it inside and out, I nerdily decided that I needed to know how to convert an image into an SVG file. I am determined that I will become an expert in using and applying all of the capabilities of the software and I would like to design images for it. Somehow that led to me on a weird tangent of looking at tattoo artist thermal-imaging copiers but I think I have decided that basic screen printing is probably far more sensible (if I have any more spare time at some point in the future.)
Everything is ready to go for FOQ – I have packed a choice of quilts to hang at the Bernina stand and even a choice of outfits. I have bags of all sorts of thread, needles, rulers, and gadgets but I still think I might have forgotten something. Bumble is wondering when I will be putting her stuff into the Landy for my trip to Birmingham. I will have to sneak off on a really LONG trip to the supermarket so she does not realise I have gone off without her. I will try to take lots of photos at FOQ – of people as well as quilts!
After catching up on a whole heap of laundry including foosty sleeping bags, I had to tackle some long overdue paperwork. Even Bumble found this chore dull – I wondered where she had gone for a sulk then discovered she had gone into sleep mode under my desk, camouflaged on a black sheepskin rug.
Because I had spent weeks working on BzB, I had a few customer quilts to tackle before I got caught up in preparations for Festival of Quilts. Luckily they were all modesty sized so I managed to complete FOUR in the few days I had left in a short week. I successfully dealt with a couple of short backings, wavy borders and one or two burst seams.
I have two more large quilts to do before I can plan my FOQ demos and pack my bags, all still in the throes of the kids’ summer holidays, sleepovers and dietary requirements ranging from pescatarian and veggie to borderline vegan (don’t ask)!
Our second week in Norfolk was spent happily not doing anything in particular, apart from spending time with friends and family whom we generally only see once a year. We had a trip to Norwich which is almost completely pedestrianised in the centre and has a decidedly continental air, compared to Aberdeen. The kids bought some old vinyl records and even cassettes since the Landy has a very basic radio. They actually enjoyed rummaging in vintage shops this year!
Bumble got to know the neighbourhood dogs on her daily walk which is a novelty because we don’t meet anybody at home. The girls were fascinated by how passing dog owners chat to each other about their doggy friends.
We picked some delicious, jammy raspberries to make a summer pudding as a side order for Christmas pudding… My Dad had been in hospital over Christmas, following a serious car accident so the 19-pound turkey that he ordered was deposited into the freezer. The kids made paper hats from newspaper, hung some festive bunting and played a Christmas tunes playlist. My Mother, Sister, Freya and I prepared all the usual Christmas trimmings, including brussels sprouts. It was really good fun to have a turkey dinner in July without everything else going on that Christmas usually involves. Maybe we should make it a new family tradition.
Our last lazy day in Norfolk was spent loading up the camping gear and lashing 3 Persian carpets from my folks’ attic, wrapped in a tarpaulin onto the Landy’s roof rack. The kids were not enthused by the prospect of a long drive home but at least we had the “new” compilation tapes from 1988 to play in the Landy on the way home.
There was only one day at home to do some laundry and find summer clothes and camping gear to add to the wellies already in the car before setting out on the epic 500+ mile journey to Norfolk in the Landy. Bumble sat on Fergus’ lap the whole way and was not in the least phased by such a long trip with only a couple of brief stops.
I acquired 3 extra teenagers in addition to my own and we loaded up oodles of gear, fairy-lights, instant noodles and a fair supply of booze. I intrepidly towed my folks’ 20-odd foot caravan down some narrow country lanes and arrived at Henham Park without any hassles.
The 3 older kids had volunteered to be fire-watchers in return for free tickets so we did not see that much of them except for when we met up to see certain bands or decide what exotic street food stall to sample.
We had fun living like gypsies for a few days – the showers were a long way off, I could not work out how to make the caravan water pump function and there was no electricity. Camping gas for fried eggs, freshly brewed coffee and candles for ambient lighting were perfectly sufficient.
The weather was fair, not too hot or wet; we walked miles, saw an eclectic mix of bands, met up with old friends from Suffolk, and pretended to be hippies for the weekend. Mumford & Sons were tremendous on Saturday night and we saw some terrific emerging talent.
I managed to get everyone back in one piece, apart from a few blisters and sunburn. Thank goodness for Doc Martens when we stupidly dropped the caravan on Freya’s foot while attempting to hitch it up ineptly.
Bumble was pleased to see us despite having a very nice time with my sister’s little boys. Everyone reluctantly showered off the festival dirt and glitter and agreed that they had had a great time and would love to do it all again next year!
I did not actually look at a map before getting off for somewhere in the North West Highlands so I was a little surprised by how far north it was. We took the scenic route to Inverness, followed a “normal” 2-lane road to Ullapool then a single track road with free-range sheep and passing places for more than 20 miles. Despite the wet weather, the scenery was breathtaking. The craggy mountains were obviously extinct volcanoes and there were many mini lochs on the way.
The super cottage that we rented from friends in Achiltibuie had stunning views over a sea-loch, the Summer Isles and the Isle of Lewis. We could walk down a track to a stony beach and spot seals bobbing about near the shore.
I spent a lazy week chilling out with my 3 kids and Bumble with no pressure to go anywhere or do anything in particular. We dabbled about on the beach, took a drive into town when it rained all day, had fish and chips, and a chilly boat trip to a small island which had a cafe in a shed. I took some paperwork which I ignored and a notebook which remained unopened. We read books, watched a couple of films and listened to music. Bumble enjoyed herself on the beach and was very happy to travel in the Landy as long as she could drink water out of a tin mug and get some dog snacks from my rucksack.
It did not quite rain all week, which was just as well after the Landy’s windscreen wipers conked out. I only had to wear shorts once (with a wool cardigan), spent most of the week wearing wellies yet still ended up with a sun/wind tanned face.
Everyone had a great time in the wilds with very little to do. There was actually more bickering during the one day at home when we had to do laundry and repack for our epic trip to England!
It took a few hours to sew the reverse of BzB’s binding by hand as I had to make sure that the stitches did not show at all. I decided to make a top sleeve in the end so if quilt judges don’t think the back is up to scratch then it will have to come off at a later stage. I added a subtle label to the pieced side and blocked it to straighten out the edges. It was not measured scientifically so I hope its weight will make it hang well enough.
I remembered that Shield Maiden is also going to FOQ – it did not seem to have been blocked before and also required a label. After getting both of the quilts ready to pack I had that weird feeling that I experience after finishing every major project. It is a combination of not being able to believe it is complete and also wondering what I should be doing to fill my time. I even considered preparing some piecing to take on holiday but thankfully I decided that several bottles of wine and some good books would do just as well.
I loaded the kids, booze, festival trolley, bucket BBQ, and Bumble into the Landy late on Saturday morning and we set off on our road-trip to a cottage near Ullapool in North West Scotland. We took the scenic route, the last part of which was on single-track roads with sheep roaming freely. The cottage has magnificent views over Broom (sea) Loch and the Summer Isles. The weather forecast for the week is poor but we packed plenty of sensible clothing although Fergus may been seen wearing a floral raincoat because he decided against taking his own waterproof.
We spent Sunday pottering around on the rocky shore, glimpsing seals in the waves. Bumble was exhausted after scrambling gamely over the rocks. Surprisingly, nobody else wanted to sample limpets boiled in seawater and I have to report that my curiosity is now satisfied. Without any parsley, garlic or butter to hand, they are gross! We have no major plans for our week apart from some exploring, fish and chips, and contentedly watching rain stream down the windows. If the sun comes out it will be a bonus but not essential for us to enjoy a fun holiday.
I loaded up a brand new, shiny bobbin case with wool thread and went to Radio Silence for the first couple of hours re-quilting all of the large motifs on BzB. I only held my breath a few times and to my amazement, it went far better than expected. Early on I decided to order ten more 110 wool needles to add to the three I already had and I used every single one of them. Let’s just say that thick layers of batting, seams involving linen and paint soon dull needles. The quilting took a long time but I knew the way around the quilt this time. There were times when I was bored to tears with the monotony but after I passed halfway in the middle of the week I was encouraged to get it finished. I had to remind myself not to get over excited for the last few feathers as it was so tempting to romp to the end.
It was such a relief to get the quilt off the frame at last. I did a quick tidy of stray threads and will do a thorough check later. The back looks good but I still don’t know whether the judges will pick me up on the little knots that have built up here and there. I love the look of the wool thread so I think I am OK with a few little blips.
BzB is a monstrously heavy quilt and takes some man-handling. Squaring up took me a few hours – I could not just measure out from the feather border all around as it turned out that I obviously had not drawn it squarely in the first place. There was some creative fudging so I was amazed that the 2 opposite sides matched each other when I measured them. The outer edges are not too wavy and should flatten down after some serious dampening.
I decided to go for a top hanging sleeve even if the quilt does not get shown double-sided but I am not sure if it will look as neat as I would like yet. Mind you, when it is hanging up over 90” from the floor, it will be difficult to scrutinise. I attached the shot cotton binding by machine on the front and will try to get most of the finger-puncturing hand finishing done during the week so I might not have to take it away on holiday! There is a fair bit of titivating still to do – checking to see if that the painted bits need touching up, deciding whether to add a few sparkly crystals, re-colouring the spirals inside the flat-iron shapes that look like a cartoon character has been knocked unconscious, reattaching the label that I sewed on wonkily, and finally – BLOCKING!
I reckon you could say that so far BzB has had 5 main phases so far – the piecing, designing/drawing/tracing the whole cloth pattern, quilting the main motifs, quilting the background and finally, after a very long 2 weeks – the colouring/painting. I have to admit that this stage felt everlasting at times. I even got a blister on my pencil-gripping finger callous. I listened to repeats of repeats on the radio but I am now very up date with current affairs.
I ordered a battery operated pencil sharpener which is even more satisfying to use than my school-teacher hand crank one and I find that one pretty entertaining.
The next stage is to quilt around the main motifs again with wool thread which will be SCARY! I have even agreed with myself to do less stitching than I had originally considered but even so, it will probably take around 10 days if all goes well.
Bumble has been someone to talk to in my self-imposed exile, just making herself comfy on the floor nearby. Or even, making herself comfy on humans who happen to be lying on the floor, always keeping a weather eye out for grumpy, nose-out-of-joint cats;)
I can’t remember a quilt project being quite as all consuming as Beelzebub since the Yurt or The Smart Car. If anything, this quilt is even more intense as there is a tight deadline to get it finished in time for FOQ, taking into account the school holidays, and I want it to be over and beyond a basic bastardisation of a whole cloth quilt. If I had more time I would probably even add even more extras such as beads.
My days have involved at least 9 hours scribbling away with Derwent Intense pencils, carefully adding aloe-vera gel without splurging any onto the quilt background and using the smallest possible paintbrushes to add metallic paint highlights. I have not been anywhere or seen anyone except for a mad dash to the grocery shop for essentials or walking the dogs in the persistent rain. My emails remain unanswered and a pile of unopened post is stacking up on my desk.
The General Election largely passed me by, apart from the incessant analysis on Radio 4. I am now convinced that one of the characters from farming soap, The Archers, will either die or run away at the Isle of Wight Festival just to spice the listeners’ lives up a bit. I think that most of the British Public will feel strike poses like Bumble if we are faced with yet another election in the near future…
If I manage to put in the same amount of time in the coming week I may just finish the colouring to allow a maximum of two weeks for the second quilting on the large motifs. That is actually beginning to worry me – do I honestly think I can stitch right on top of the previous stitching with wool thread, around the coloured or painted sections with absolutely nowhere to hide?
It would be nice to think that the next project I do may be slightly easier or at least smaller;)
There almost was no blogpost this evening as I have been totally absorbed with adding colour to Beelzebub with Derwent Intense pencils and a gel to blend them in. I feel that I have bitten off far more than I can chew as just doing the bottom row of feathers took 3 days and I am not entirely happy with how they look in real life. I reckon coloring the entire quilt could take 2 weeks and I still have to requilt and add longarm embroidery to the large motifs. It really will be down to the wire with this quilt to get it done by the end of the school year! This is possibly one of my most stressful projects to date. At least I am up to date with current affairs by listening to Radio 4 for hours on end…
Pretty much all I have done this week is quilt with pink thread so it is a good job it is variegated, just for the occasional surprise. After a 10 second discussion with myself, I decided to quilt tiny spirals in the half inch piano keys because I knew I could not bear to leave them naked. Then I started on the marathon task of stitching small spirals and swirls in the background which was back-breaking because I like to have my nose as far over the quilt as I as I can and I don’t have a hydraulic lift on the Q24 table. Frankly, it was quite boring at times and progress seemed to be slow because it is a pretty large quilt at 94” square. Even Bumble, thought it was tedious went outside to watch the grass grow.
To alleviate the tedium, I did laundry and opened one of the bottles of Furze Fizz which was so lively that the spring top did a fair imitation of a champagne cork at the Grand Prix. Despite losing a lot of effervescence before getting any actual fizz into a glass, I was able to do a tasting and decided that it was delicious and would probably go rather well with gin.
We had a 3-day heatwave with temperatures up into the mid-twenties celsius. If anyone ever leaves me a holiday house in the tropics in their will, I will sell it and buy a hunting lodge in Finland. The heat makes me grumpy and gives me a headache and when it is so hot that I have to have my workshop door open, I should just give up and find somewhere to hang a hammock.
Fergus reconfigured or messed up the internet this week, attempting to speed up our broadband, despite being advised not to touch it… it is now worse than before and I discovered a stash of unsent emails several days later, some of which were thread orders. I am now panicking that I will not be able to get enough wool thread to start requilting and embroidering the large motifs on BzB later in the week. I may even challenge Aurifil and Madeira to see who can get thread to me faster and I will use whichever one gets here first. I have made a back-up plan in case the thread does not arrive. I have yet to complete the background quilting, prepare the binding, make a label, a double-sided sleeve and consider adding colour using watercolour pencils or paints because the quilt has to be FINISHED before the school hols start at the end of June!
I confess that I may have spent more time experimenting with thread than preparing for 4 days in the classroom but everything worked out well and I enjoyed teaching an enthusiastic bunch of kids. The older members of their class were away on a residential trip so it gave me carte blanche to do fun stuff with them like make slime, introduce them to algorithms, Scottish monsters, make rocky road and fidget spinners using cardboard and 1p coins. It was nice to be met in the playground each morning and get reports on how their slime experiments were going but I was shattered after 4 days – goodness knows how teachers manage to keep going for 5 days, week after week!
I had 2 exhibition rejections this week. Unsurprisingly, “Shield Maiden” was not juried into Fine Art Masters at FOQ but it looks like I am in good company as several well known British art quilters also had their pieces turned down. I have decided to keep plugging away at that competition because I will take great pleasure spending that elusive £5000 prize one day. Touch the Pickle was not one of the 59 final pieces selected from 500 entries to go on tour in the USA but it will be in the Threads of Resistance online gallery. I keep telling myself that “You have to be in it to win it” but it does irk that you have to pay more than regular show entry fees to enter these competitions and there is no refund if you don’t make the grade. Sometimes I feel like it is almost like buying a raffle ticket – you win some, lose some.
I attended a fun Saturday workshop at Grays School of Art on screen printing to see if I would like to study textile printing in more depth. The art school had great facilities and the tutor was lovely but I already knew how to do what was covered in the class. To be honest, I would rather teach than be a student but since I do not have an Art or Textiles degree, that just won’t happen.
After the class I drove down to St Andrews to collect Freya, her friend and all of their worldly belongings for the summer break. I honestly could not believe how much stuff they had and was not convinced that even half of it would fit in the Landy. It took 2 hours to stow it, lash it onto the roof, stuff every crevice, and even then the girls were squashed into their seats with their feet on boxes and bags on their laps. All the extra gear made the Landy extra sound-proof so the journey home was quite pleasant (for the driver)!
The incentive for unloading the Landy on Sunday morning was that we had to pick up our new family member. Bumble the Scottie has come to live with us and she has made herself at home. She just likes to hang with whoever is around, does not bother cats (who are not best pleased so far), can manage to jump on the sofa but can’t be bothered to go upstairs and will even watch students play monopoly or strum guitars. After the summer when everyone goes back to school and uni, I expect she will even watch me quilt. I actually feel a bit like Doctor Who because she is exactly the same shape as his robot dog companion, K-9!
I am hoping to get most of the background quilting done on BzB this week as I have got the cotton thread for that but I still don’t have all of the Aurifil lana that I need to re-quilt the large motifs. A couple of quilting friends were on a mission to track it down at Malvern so in the end I should have enough. However, I will also be taxiing students around, chatting to my new hairy friend and gingerly testing the Furze Fizz;)
I overcame my fear, plucked up some courage and began the outline quilting on BzB. I went VERY slowly in manual mode because that it simply the smoothest way to quilt around a drawn line. However, I must warn everyone – never, ever drop your bobbin case, even onto a carpet… I always try to be very careful not to do just that but sometimes it just bounces out of my hand and I am not quick enough to catch it which is what happened recently. Even though the bobbin case looks fine, it somehow got buggered up. I kept having to fiddle with the bobbin tension and eventually had to crank the top tension all the way up to 9. I don’t know how many times I rethreaded just to be sure but there are areas on the back of the quilt where the bobbin thread was not bedding in properly as the tension was not quite right.
I ordered a new bobbin case and decided to forge ahead anyway. Most of the back is OK – I wondered whether I could hide the dodgy sections by applying paint but I have since decided that I will quilt it all again using a thicker wool thread, even though it already took at least 30 hours and was pretty much all I did all week! I can’t do any more until the new bobbin case and threads arrive and I am teaching all of next week. I really wish I had allowed myself a year to work on this quilt, instead of a month as there is so much that I want to do and I can’t think how it will get done by my deadline on a quilt that is 94” square!
I have bottled up my Furze Fizz (gorse champagne) which was fizzing away and smelling quite floral. It is pretty cloudy but so is ginger beer and posh lemonade. I have applied proper health and safety techniques by putting the glass stoppered bottles in a sturdy cardboard box in the workshop loo with an upturned bucket on top. I will wear safety goggles and release the pressure after a week. If it is any good I may have to have a party as the Fizz will have to be consumed quickly;)
Monday was the deadline for entering a handful of quilt shows that I had known about for months but had still not got around to entering. As usual, I did not have all of the necessary information for every entry so had to faff around finding or retaking photos and look for the blurbs lurking somewhere on my computer. I have even entered the very unfinished BzB into The Open European Championships as they allow pictures of work in progress and when I get it done they can have an updated photo. None of this scrabbling around at the last minute was helped by our pitiful Wifi connection which was so bad that I even tried to upload files from my phone in the supermarket carpark where there was at least some of the slowest ever 3G.
Having committed BzB to an actual show, I realised that it was definitely time to load it onto the longarm frame. I was beyond irritated to discover that I had not saved a whole pack of wool wadding and that the black wadding was not wide enough. Yet again, I questioned why I had made BzB so big. I phoned around several well known UK quilt shops but none were able to guarantee next day delivery or even had what I wanted in stock. There was only one solution which was to join all of the leftover bits of wadding together. The huge pieces that I reconstructed were then generously spritzed with water and laid out to relax because the wool that come in packs is always impossibly creased.
I have to admit that BzB is making me very nervous. It has been a long time stewing and has to be sewn upside down for me to be able to see the quilt markings. The back is pieced and I have to get perfect tension on both sides since I intend for it to be a double-sided quilt. I tried out different threads, including a wool blend which looked great on the top but was not so nice on the back because the colour was not right. I was faced with the choice of ordering some more thread, sight-unseen online or making do with something else. In the end I decided that since BzB is a bit anti-establishment then I will use a 30wt neon pink cotton because I have it on a huge spool. It is my plan to get most of the outline quilting done next week but we all know my plans are very subject to change.
Fergus has time off school for exam revision but he has a not-uncommon approach to that which involves worrying that he has not done enough work before proceeding not to do any actual work. He wastes as much time as I do doing avoidance jobs like tidying computer cables but he has not got enough self-discipline to avoid spending hours watching irrelevant videos on Youtube. I jollied him along and tested him on Music theory and I even bough a DVD of “Romeo and Juliet” with nude scenes but he does not yet seem any more enthusiastic about Shakespeare.
I happened to catch a re-run of the “River Cottage” cookery programme the other night and was reminded how I have always wanted to make a gorse version of elderflower champagne. The bright yellow gorse this May is incredibly abundant so it did not take me long to pick a bucketful of flowers without getting too scratched in the process. The last time I attempted to make a lightly alcoholic, foraged fizz I added too much yeast with explosive results. This time I am attempting to stick to a recipe and after 48 hours it is beginning to smell like fermentation is happening.
After all of that activity, I told myself I could have a relaxing weekend except for making a simple dress. The pattern from The Maker’s Atelier looked straightforward enough not to bother making a tester “toile” so I took my measurements and made the size that looked like it matched up the best. The result was that I made a great dress that was several sizes too big. At least it was not too small, like the oilcloth top that I could get on but struggled to get off. I might try to make it again one day in a smaller size but maybe I will take the trouble to make a rough version to check the size first. Not put off by this experience, and because I had some “spare” time, I decided to run up an apron-dress in the skeleton toile-de-jouy that I bought for the job at FOQ last year. It was actually very easy after I sussed how to make the pockets but I seem to have made another bigger than necessary item of what I would not call clothing. I have seen several textile artists swanning around in such garments, rocking the look but I think mine looks more like a 1940’s utility overall. If I had made it in denim it might have been sensible but at least I now know that I can make another one should I feel inclined.
Not content with making two “frocks”, I forged ahead with a huge customer quilt so I would have no distractions about tackling BzB, apart from my relentless To-Do list and motivating a teenage boy to get stuck into some exam revision…