Category Archives: Quilt shows

Ste Marie aux Mines 2017

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I flew into Strasbourg on Tuesday afternoon, found a train into the city centre then decided the easiest option was to hail a taxi to take me to my budget hotel. It was clean and convenient, in the Jewish quarter on Rue de Bitche. I tramped into the old city centre, admired the impressive cathedral and enjoyed a mini carafe of Muscat, watching the world go by from a side-street cafe. I had supper al fresco in the rain at a restaurant with red checked tablecloths and decided to have escargots – I can’t say that the snails were really a delicacy but dunking my bread into their residual herby, garlicky butter was most satisfying.

I intended to do some sightseeing the next morning, maybe visit the European Parliament but my feet were too sore so I was happy to sit around reading a book until Regina and Maria arrived to collect me and travel on to Ste Marie aux Mines by car.

This part of Alsace is beautiful and obviously a cross between German and French styles. It had been a mining area but now is mostly populated by elderly people – sadly many of the houses and businesses were up for sale. There were plenty of pots of red geraniums to brighten things up and it was nice to see so many traditional small shops selling bread and local produce.

Bernina Team GB and Germany took responsibility for setting up the Bernina Q24 longarm machine and the Q20 sit-down model while Team France organised the rest of the booth. After the set-up I travelled to stay with Bernina France on a gîte in Lièpvre. This was actually a large converted farmhouse with several additional cottages to let. We were surrounded by goats, deer, cats and a magnificent cart horse. It was certainly an immersive experience, surrounded by non-English speakers, apart from Christine Escanes www.creativetextilemastery.com whom is cleverly trilingual in English, French and Spanish. My school French was extremely rusty but I did pick some up and understood more as the week went on. It was fun to do some self-catering, the only downside being that we tended to eat late and stay up drinking wine even later;)

The show was busy despite the unseasonably cold, wet weather and we attempted to communicate with all sorts of nationalities – French, Belgian, Dutch, German, Hungarian, Polish, Spanish, Portuguese, Israeli, Korean – in German, English or my dodgy French. There was much mis-use of grammar and plenty of sign language. I mostly asked the visitors, “Vous aimerez à essayer la machine?” and I had a crib sheet for needle, up, down, stitches, free-hand etc. All would be fine until they launched into rapid French with  further questions and I would have to hand over to a French speaker.

There was a terrific selection of traders, many of whom were in market place tents but I only bought small pieces of cork, pleather and natty bag fasteners for some unplanned project or other.

I did attempt to catch the shuttle bus one day to visit some outlying exhibitions but it did not appear during heavy rain so I gave up. However, I did visit Number 3 which had superb collections by Ian Berry, Luke Haynes, Miriam Pet-Jacobs and Nancy Crow’s Dairy Barn. I was particularly struck by Ian Berry’s incredible artwork www.ianberry.org – an amalgam of photo-realism and denim. In fact, he was staying at the same gîte so we invited him to dinner and had really interesting conversations about art, textiles and the angst of artists.

On the last night, after the frenzy of packing up, I went to stay in the same family run hotel as Regina and Maria in Tannenkirch, since they were running me back to the airport in the morning. It was at an altitude of 500m in countryside where I am sure there are probably still wolves. We had a lovely quiet last evening, enjoying local wine and Alsace specialities in a little restaurant in the village.

The Val d”Argent area was attractive, the people were friendly, the food and drink was fantastic, the exhibitions were high calibre, and there were quilt/textile superstars to spot, so I would definitely visit the show again, either as a quilt tourist or exhibitor!

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Beelzebub’s Long Story

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This was a quilt that had an usually long making process. It all began about 10 years ago when I attended a class on drafting a traditional Durham whole cloth with a well known British quilter from the north of England, Lilian Hedley. She provided some drawings of motifs from antique Durham quilts and showed the students how to draw large feathers using old English pennies onto baking paper. Lilian explained that Durham wholecloths were usually drawn onto cotton sateen fabric then hand quilted very simply with a cross-hatch background. I never intended my design to be quilted in this way as I am a longarm quilter and I wanted to use a non-traditional fabric, maybe even gold lamé.

In the end, I folded up the paper design and put it away in a box because I could not decide what to do with it. I thought about it every now and then but I was distracted by making other projects such as a Quilted Yurt, a Smart Car Cover, a series of Viking inspired wholecloths on metallic fabric and a Coracle. I kept thinking about the Durham wholecloth design and mentioned it on my blog several times over the years. It actually made me feel guilty that it was a long-abandoned project and I named it “Beezlebub” because it seemed like a demon of a quilt.

 

Eventually, I chose to use basic, wide calico that I dyed pink in the washing machine and I started tracing the wholecloth design using a Frixion pen and a light box. This was tricky since the baking paper had become brittle and fragile with age. Having now seen beautiful machine quilted feathers at quilt shows my Durham style feathers seemed rather big and ugly. My plan was to start with the very traditional wholecloth design then work out how to make it unconventional. I kept thinking that it could all go horribly wrong.

 

At some point I decided that my wholecloth design could become an anti-establishment wholecloth by giving it a pieced back which may end up being the front. There was no piecing plan – it was just a random selection of blocks in a colour palette from the Scottish landscape. Most of the colours I selected were harmoniously heathery but once those began to run short I simply used what I had managed to dye; not to mention an anarchic use of fine silk and heavy, rough linen.

The pieced BzB quilt ended up at almost 2.5m square and I felt like Dr. Frankenstein, spending several weeks creating a monster with its own agenda. It was a long way off what I had originally intended but I found it to be an interesting process.  I learned to enjoy freestyle curved piecing and appreciate that some forward planning may have been useful.

For a time I considered renaming the quilt, “Highland Fling”, thinking I could say that ceilidh dances and the Scottish landscape had been my influences all along as there was a combination of the constraints of traditional blocks and the wild abandon of how it all went together.

I still had not decided whether to continue with my original plan of quilting a very traditional wholecloth design onto a very unsymmetrical pieced quilt with no obvious centre. I had always intended to make the background of the wholecloth far more interesting than the main design but I was constantly arguing with myself on whether this quilt may need require far more contemporary quilting to pull it all together. Yet again I decided to put the quilt away until I had made up my mind. Quite simply, I found BzB intimidating and I was too scared to start something that had taken me so long.

I was coming up close to the deadlines for entering quilt shows earlier this year (2017) so I pulled out the long abandoned BzB anti-establishment wholecloth project. I stared at it for a long time, jotting down a few notes on how it might be tackled. Its biggest problem seemed to be the vast amount of negative space which should traditionally be filled with ½” diagonal lines. I thought about it for ages then made some extra templates and decided to fill up that space since a) I am not making a modern quilt and b) I am not making a traditional quilt and c) because I felt like it!

 

I was expecting to have 3 custom quilts to do in May but their makers did not finish them so I had no choice other than to load the rather large “BzB” onto the Q24 frame and make an attempt to get it done in time for FOQ. I decided that if I committed to enter it into the show then I would just have to get it done;)

  

I was irritated to discover that I had not saved a whole pack of wool wadding and that the under layer of black wadding was not wide enough. Yet again, I questioned why I had made BzB so big. I phoned several 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 wadding that come in packs is always impossibly creased.

I have to admit that BzB was making me very nervous. It had been waiting for a long time  and had to be sewn upside down with the piecing on the back for me to be able to see the quilt markings. I had to get perfect stitch tension on both sides since I intended for it to be displayed as 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 was a bit anti-establishment so I would start with a 30wt neon pink cotton just because I had it on a huge spool.

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.

I really wished I had allowed myself a year to work on this large quilt, instead of a few weeks as there was so much that I wanted to do and I could not think how it would get done by the deadline.

Pretty much all I did for a full week was quilt with pink thread so it was a good job that some of it was variegated, just for the occasional surprise.

After a 10 second discussion with myself, I decided to quilt tiny spirals in the half-inch quilted piano keys because I knew I could not bear to leave them empty. 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 was so large. Even Bumble, my Scottie Dog, thought it was tedious and went outside to watch the grass grow.

It could be said that BzB had 5 main phases of construction – the designing/drawing/tracing the whole cloth pattern, piecing, quilting the main motifs, quilting the background and finally, after a very long 2 weeks – the colouring which was done with Derwent Intense pencils painted with aloe vera gel. I have to admit that this stage felt everlasting at times. I even got a blister on my finger by gripping the colouring pencils so tightly.

  

After the colouring was complete I began re-quilting all of the large motifs on BzB with wool thread to add definition. I only held my breath a few times and to my amazement, it went far better than expected. I ordered more 110 wool needles and I used every single one of them. Thick layers of batting, bulky seams and paint soon cause needles to go blunt.

The second round of quilting took another long time but I knew the way around the quilt this time. There were times when I became incredibly bored 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 rush to the end.

 

It was such a relief to get the quilt off the frame at last. Squaring it 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. I was amazed that the 2 opposite sides matched each other when I measured them. The outer edges were not too wavy and flattened down nicely after some serious dampening. I managed to get the quilt bound, labelled and packed up ready for FOQ in time for the school summer holidays, having worked non-stop for 6 weeks. It is impossible to say exactly how long BzB took but I would guess that it could have been well over 600 hours from start to finish!

  

On the day before FOQ opened I missed a call informing me that I was a winner so when I arrived at the show early on the day that it opened I was amazed and delighted to discover that it was the winner of the FOQ 2017 Contemporary Quilts category! It was the first time that I had even seen BzB hanging up and it was wonderful to receive congratulations from everyone. I had worked on this quilt for so long that I really was not sure if anyone else would like it. It was interesting that some people liked the pieced back even more than the coloured wholecloth front. BzB is a quilt that I am so happy to see finished after such a long time and many sleepless nights of wondering whether I should just abandon it because I could not decide what to do with it. Hopefully, this should encourage anyone with a long forgotten UFO that it might get finished one day.

 

Plenty of Posing at FOQ 2017

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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”

 “Shield Maiden”

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:)

What Have I Forgotten?

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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!

Just another typical Quilt Quine week!

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Phew, no wonder I didn’t manage to write a Sunday night blogpost after another hectic week, ending with a fun trip to the Knitting & Stitching Show in Edinburgh. Although I feel that my tyrannical To Do list never lessens, I managed to supervise 2 DIY quilts and complete a simple customer quilt, publish a schedule of Quilt Quine classes onto my Facebook business page, and make daily hashtag-pointless newsflashes starting the week doing a weather post in the snow.

I was asked if I plan to offer online quilting classes which is something I need to investigate but in the meantime I need to promote my Ebook, “Deviant Quilting” which has lots of video clips.

I caused chaos in our cluttered Music room by playing furniture Tetris, which moving a full sized rock drum kit and shifting the sizeable electric piano upstairs, negotiating a tight dog-leg staircase.

I allowed myself some fun by stitching intensely onto the Dijanne Cevaal linocut print, reminding myself that it was an exercise, rather than a show-off piece. I would like to do more “longarm drawing” pieces but I need to remember that even though I think I will just do a little bit of stitching for a few minutes, I can easily still be there after 2 hours!

I received a super box full of Haribos from Maria in Germany as a swap for a piece of gold pleather that she made into a super tote bag. I have had to hide them in a safe place so I can’t scoff them all at once.

  

After forcing myself to update my paperwork, I set off to meet Ellen and Kay with a side trip to IKEA. I should have considered that Saturday has to be one of the worst days to do this as the store was full of screaming kids who did not want to be there and other kids running around with mini trolleys. No wonder I was traumatised and left my phone in the ladies’ loo. I was extremely fortunate that I realised it was missing before I drove away and that a very kind citizen had handed it in.

Kay, Ellen and I enjoyed a catch-up over curry and alcohol then visited the K&S show on Sunday. I am pleased to say that it was busy, bigger than last year and that there were plenty of vendors. I was not impressed to pay £5 for parking in a field then being harangued at the door for opting out of a show guide for an additional £4! The K&S show does not have any competition entries and the exhibits were varied but I really think that there should be more of them than vendors to make the ticket price worthwhile. I bought a selection of heavier threads to experiment with on the Bernina Q24 and also yet another shift-dress pattern and fabric that will make me feel guilty unless I ditch all of my other projects and tackle it.

    

 

I was expecting to have 3 custom quilts to do in May but the makers have not quite finished them so I have no choice other than to load the rather large “BzB” (or whatever new name I decide) and make an attempt to get it done in time for FOQ. If I enter it into the show this week then I will just have to get it done;)

Quiltcon Savannah 2017

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My Quilt-Show-Travel-Friend, Ellen and I decided that we need to attend Quiltcon East in Savannah to really get to the crux of “The Modern Quilt Movement” since the definition on the MQG website is wide open to interpretation. (Modern quilts are primarily functional and inspired by modern design. Modern quilters work in different styles and define modern quilting in different ways, but several characteristics often appear which may help identify a modern quilt. These include, but are not limited to: the use of bold colors and prints, high contrast and graphic areas of solid color, improvisational piecing, minimalism, expansive negative space, and alternate grid work. “Modern traditionalism” or the updating of classic quilt designs is also often seen in modern quilting.)

After journeying for 24 hours we arrived at out apartment in the Historic District of Savannah to a pleasant temperature in the high 20’s C (or well above 70 in F). The convention centre was across the wide Savannah river and was accessed by a free ferry ride.

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Savannah, a coastal Georgia city, is separated from South Carolina by the Savannah River. It’s known for its manicured squares, horse-drawn carriages and ornate antebellum architecture. Its cobble-stoned historic district is filled with squares and parks like Forsyth Park, shaded by magnolia blossoms and oak trees covered with Spanish moss. The historic district’s architectural landmarks include the Gothic-Revival Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist.

The best in show quilts were displayed prominently just inside the show hall and were very impressive with plenty of lines, solid colours and improvisational piecing.

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As we studied all of the quilts it was not always easy to work out why some of the entries were categorised as “Modern” quilts. Occasionally they seemed to address only one or two of the descriptors in the MQG statement. There were many that could have been influenced by the Gee’s Bend style, some that were traditional in all but colour and the majority were quilted with straight lines. I was particularly interested in the negative space category because that would be where I hoped to see some awesome quilting. I was surprised that some entries had taken the idea of negative space almost literally and had really gone for minimal quilting whereas others went to town showing off their motifs and fillers.

I enjoyed discussing the attributes of the Modern quilts with other visitors and I took lots of photos on my phone as my camera (and knickers!) were lost in transit. Sometimes you need to look at a photo of a quilt after the show to appreciate it fully because as with any large quilt show, visitors can be overloaded with visual information and stop looking properly.

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I was delighted by the visitors’ responses to my quilt, “Tartan Tattoo” which was in the Modern Traditionalism category. They enthused about the quilting and colours and many lovely people told me that they would vote for it as their Viewer’s Choice. The quilt angels were repeatedly asked to show off the back which is pale grey and every stitch is on show. I did an impromptu and very off the cuff video interview with Teri Lucas, a fellow Bernina ambassador and community editor at Generation Q Magazine.

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We interspersed our study of the quilts with forays around the vendor booths. Several fabric companies had big show-off areas but nothing to actually buy. There was plenty of fresh, modern fabric to choose from from shops and designers as well as plenty of solid ranges. Longarm machine companies were all well represented but I was unable to spend money on any gadgets or rulers that I do not already have;) I had to buy other things instead, including an Elizabeth Hartman “Forest Friends” pattern and fabric bundle, a couple of books/patterns that I fancied and another set of Double Wedding Ring templates to see which I like the best (in the manner of my extensive ultimate carrot cake recipe research). There were a few other bits and pieces and far less thread than I anticipated so it all fitted rather nicely into my suitcase, padded out with TT for its journey home.

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I would like to have attended some of the lectures but demand had been so high that the website crashed and everyone we wanted to listen was sold out.

Although I had taken along my new selfie-stick, I found myself too embarrassed to actually use it and I hate going up to folk and asking them to be in my photo. I met some younger quilters – Emily, Snaleeleena, Shruti and Jen – who gave me a spontaneous tutorial on Instagram while we waited to collect our quilts at the end of the show. Typing #quiltcon2017 into Instagram shows well over 9000 photos from the show, the visitors and what they got up to.

It was lovely to meet so many enthusiastic quilters including Ellen’s delightful Twilter (Facebook) friends. I also ran into British and German friends who were attending Quiltcon for the first time. The people of Savannah were so pleasant. Many of the waiting staff were students at the huge art SCAD Arts College. We also had a most memorable and informative trolley bus tour with Denise who reminded me of the sassy character, Minnie from “The Help”.

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It is a good thing that we walked so much around the easily navigable streets and squares because the food was incredible. I ordered delicious shrimp at every opportunity but I had less success with snow crab legs which were long, skinny and difficult to extract. Whenever we got hot and had achy feet we stopped for beer, margarita or ice cream!

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The town of Savannah was beautiful and historically very interesting. The architecture was amazing and since the 1950’s efforts have been made to ensure that new buildings are sympathetic to the colonial style. We wandered around the graveyard where soldiers had camped during the Civil War. The prolific Spanish moss hanging from the trees was atmospheric, which is more than I can say about the night-time ghost tour:P It was interesting to hear the story of Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts of America. (Juliette Gordon Low, 1860-1927, was the founder of Girl Scouts of the USA with help from Sir Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scouting Movement. Low and Baden-Powell both shared a love of travel and support of the Girl Guides. Juliette Low joined the Girl Guide movement, forming a group of Girl Guides in Scotland in 1911.

In 1912 she returned to the United States and established the first American Girl Guide troop in Savannah, Georgia that year. In 1915 the United States’ Girl Guides became known as the Girl Scouts, and Juliette Gordon Low was the first president. She stayed active until the time of her death.

Her birthday, October 31, is commemorated by the Girl Scouts as “Founder’s Day”.)

Although we did a lot of travelling in one our shortest trips to the USA, we really enjoyed the whole experience. I like the concept that Quiltcon moves around the USA – I think I would quite like to teach at a future Quiltcon, maybe I should aim for Nashville in 2019?

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RandR with TT and Friends

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After yet another hectic week working on customer quilts and being at school it was great to stay with Ellen overnight then meet Kay for brunch in IKEA near Edinburgh before visiting the Scottish Quilt Championships. Kay had several customer quilts in the show as well as a super new kaleidoscope quilt, “Brewster’s Reflections”. For some daft reason my camera battery was dead so I have posted Facebook photos of the quilts but I’m sure Kay will have some good ones on her blog www.borderlinequilter.blogspot

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Tartan Tattoo came 2nd in large wall quilts and was awarded a judge’s choice certificate by Susan Briscoe! It seemed to be a popular quilt with the visitors which is hardy surprising at a Scottish show;)

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I finally found a day in which to iron Vilene onto my piece of linen and the woad dyed shawl. Drawing out the shield maiden motif onto freezer paper and cutting it out neatly was tricky but it is now ready to attempt the reverse appliqué which I hope to do in a few spare hours before my first classroom observation in 20+ years. I am telling myself not to get in a pickle over the latest teacherish jargon and just carry on regardless. If it all goes pear-shaped I will just have to carve out a career as a quilt artist:P

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FOQ 2016

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It is a fair indication that if I go to bed without reading a couple of chapters then I am really tired! This year FOQ felt incredibly busy – there was an energy about the show, with more quilts than I have seen in a while, many of which were of an incredible standard. It took a good two days to set up the imposing Bernina stand which was bigger and grander than ever in order to accommodate 2 full sized Q24 longarm frames and 3 Q20 sit-down tables. Machines had arrived from London, Cardiff, Steckborn and New Orleans so there were many boxes to unpack amidst electricians, carpenters and a guy with a paint roller. In addition to UK chief technician, Alan and his willing helper, Chris, we had Aggy from Switzerland and Regina from Germany in the set-up team to make sure that everything was done perfectly.

I was timetabled to teach up to 10 x 40 minute slots of sit-down quilting each day to a pair of students. Most of those sessions were fully booked and I barely had a chance to look up and wave at passers-by. My teaching background came in handy as my pupils were of all ranges of ability, age, nationality and character and I had to put all of them at ease with free-motion quilting, ensure they had fun and maintain a jolly demeanour throughout. After a while I decided that I could easily apply for a job on a shopping channel and talk enthusiastically for hours about any kind of gadget until the producer switched off the cameras.

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Her Majesty’s quilt looked fantastic under the spotlights and it was great to hear more about the block makers and their inspiration. I was complimented on my quilting, particularly the border and binding so I was both relieved and delighted. My Mother came to visit for the day on Saturday so I was able to give her a brief tour of the show between my classes. She was impressed to see so many incredible quilts and enjoyed meeting all of my international friends.

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Before the show opened I had a gloomy feeling that my quilts did not stand up to some of amazing entries. “Touch the Pickle” obviously did not belong in the Contemporary category but I had deliberately put it there to cause more discussion than it would have in Quilted Creations where the audience expects the unusual. There were viewers who did not realise that it was a series of washable sanitary pads, some looked affronted but it got many people discussing the issue of how lack of sanitary provision affects the lives and education of girls and women in other countries. “Tartan Tattoo” seemed to have been hung too high so its centre was above eye-level and it did not look as good as it should under the NEC’s orange-tinted sodium lighting. “Pretty Hippy” really only went for an outing  as it was never intended to be a competition quilt.

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I scrutinised the quilts in the Fine Art Masters gallery to see what qualities they had that “Purdah” may have lacked. The entries were interesting – some simple, some weird and certainly “arty” but I felt that Purdah really could have fitted in there and nobody would have questioned its provenance. It was actually hanging on a white wall in an area of the Art Quilts without good lighting and the first time I walked by someone screwed their face up and simply said, “Why?” All I could think was that I had wasted months of my time creating something that had no appeal to the public. However, later on I was told that an amazing steward had started to give “guided tours” of Purdah that were pulling in crowds of people. Before long, the stewards were timetabling themselves 15 minute slots to take it in turns to reveal the hidden layers. When they were asked why it had not been displayed to show all of the layers separately, they explained that the POINT of “Purdah” was that the chador shawl was designed to make you consider what could be underneath. I was delighted that so many visitors the grasped what it was all about. They were able to interpret it in different ways, some thinking that what was hidden was about women’s oppression while others considered that the chador could be providing a type of protective liberation. This was exactly the kind of thinking that I had hoped to provoke. Some viewers were emotional as they told me about their responses and said that they had put “Purdah” forward for the Visitors’ Choice Award. I took a wee video on my phone of one steward and love hearing, “Oh, Wow!”

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On the whole, everyone was pleased with the selection of FOQ winners this year although there was some discussion about whether quilts using non-original patterns should be “allowed” to win prizes. The best in show was a fantastic cream whole cloth by longarm quilter, Sandy Chandler. As usual I found that judges’ comments on my quilts were incredibly varied despite supposedly having the same criteria applied. One judge noted that “Tartan Tattoo” had superb and skilful quilting but only scored that element as “good”. One of “Purdah’s” judges advised me to improve my piecing and scored it as “satisfactory” which just made me laugh. Because the scoresheets were so inconsistent and thanks to the wonderful reactions of visitors to the show, I have finally decided to stop worrying about how the judges see my quilts!

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Of course, in the evenings it was great to eat out with friends and unwind. The international ambassadors for Bernina came out for a Balti at my favourite authentic Indian restaurant house and enjoyed a selection of curries and poppadums. One evening I was given a lift back from the pub in the cargo section of a van which only had 3 cab seats and we just laughed about the silliest things. Kay is a great room-mate because I can be angst ridden one minute then excitedly coming up with obscure ideas on how to win that elusive Fine Art Masters the next. We stayed up far too late drinking wine or gin then woke up for tea and shortbread around 6am ready to start another day. Even though it is mentally and physically hard work to be on a booth at a major quilt show, we are always sad when it is all packed up and time to go home so she has already booked our room for next year!

All Geared Up

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I finished Freya’s 1930’s inspired quilt and added a pieced tartan binding so it should brighten up her student room. I expect her room will be very colourful after we have made a couple of laundry bags and cushions and she has garlanded it with fairy lights. We made a start on collecting household goods for her Off-to-Uni list, agreeing that it is a good job we have the Landy to shift all of her gear and a bicycle!

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Freya suggested that it would be a great idea to use the modern-vintage dress pattern that we bought 2 years ago to run up a party-frock with a large Amy Butler print. There were rather a lot of pieces and even though we had cut out the paper pattern ages ago, it took a whole day to match the large-scale pattern and cut out the fabric. This left one day to create a dress that would be ready by 6.30pm latest.

I know I am a bit Pattern Phobic but she is normally pretty good at working out instructions and we have to say that they were abysmal! There was a lot of information missing and pieces of fabric that were not actually required in the end as if they had just recycled the instructions from a different dress pattern. Some grayscale photos were the only clues we had on how to construct pleats. We did not do it correctly but they actually worked out OK. I changed the way the invisible zip went in and messed up turning the bodice magically through the shoulders. My workshop was as messy as it has ever been and it was very stressful keeping an eye on the time. I am in awe of the “Sewing Bee” contestants – I am surprised that nobody has dropped dead during filming;) In the end, with minutes to spare, I released the pleats, overlocked the hem and Freya wore it to the party with a safety pin tuck at the back and a belt to pull it in a touch. It was admired by her friends enough that we think we will finish the hem off properly and make a couple of darts in the back some day.

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I spent another half day in school discussing the timetable with the other part-time teacher, simultaneously rearranging the staff kitchen cupboards and rummaging for maths books. At least everything looks organised which we hope will provide a calm atmosphere when term starts.

Despite waking up at 4am because of a weird dream that FOQ was being held in confusing, voluminous tents and the quilt angels could not be bothered to hang “Touch the Pickle”, I think I have actually packed everything for my week away. Considering that I have been going to FOQ for 10 years now I should feel pretty laid back about my preparations. I have checked everything off my list, ensured that I have included teabags and Schweppes tonic, packed too many outfits but still can’t shake off the nagging feeling that I might have forgotten something. I daresay that once I have filled up with diesel, tuned into Radio 4 and headed south, I will look forward to spending a week away with quilters from around the world!

Not the End of the Road

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I spent almost an entire day completing entry forms for Festival of Quilts, UK. It made me think how useful it would be in future to measure a quilt as soon as it is finished and enter that information onto a spreadsheet. The biggest challenge was writing the blurb for each quilt in a mere 50 words and considering that I had written an essay on Purdah, this was not easy! Only 2 images are allowed for the Fine Art Masters entries – one of the main quilt and ONE showing a detail. This is impossible for a multi-layered piece like Purdah so I sent a photo of the quilts being pulled back. I honestly don’t know whether potential judges will be able to understand what a complex piece I have created just by reading a 50 word blurb and looking at 2 photos.

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Amazingly, “Tartan Tattoo” and a colour brochure from Paducah arrived back here only 4 days after being dispatched from Kentucky. The $20 show catalogue was packed full of colour photos of all of the entries, their sizes and makers. If FOQ entrants had to submit a good photo in plenty of time then I can’t see why we could not have a similar, high quality show guide in the UK for Europe’s premier quilt festival.

The rest of my week was filled with DIY quilters, teaching, making another cube bag using the excellent instructions by Hunters Design Studio and starting to sew the African pancake quilt together. It is not large enough to be a bed quilt but it can easily be extended later.

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Freya and her chums painted a huge banner for their last day as Banchory Academy pupils dressed up as festival goers, partying and having a BBQ in between late April snow showers. They celebrated the end of their school-days with some high-jinx followed by a ceilidh. After exams and summer travels most of them will be off to University to study all sorts of cool subjects.

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I was very pleasantly surprised when the Landy Man called to say that it had scraped through its annual MOT test. It does need a new prop shaft and more baler twine to hold the mudflats on but I had really wondered if my Defender was rattling towards the end of its road.

I met up with Ellen and Kay at the new Knitting and Stitching Show in Edinburgh. We were obviously too busy yacking to remember to take a group-shot-selfie. It was a lovely day out. There were a few really good exhibitions and plenty of interesting traders. The show felt spacious and there were even spare seats in the cafe area. I made a few unnecessary purchases including a multi pompom maker for Fenella, dress patterns that will be lucky to be taken out of the packet, and some fancy interfacing for all of the pouches that I seem to be manufacturing. I should hide my new purchases from myself until I have finished all outstanding customer quilts and ongoing projects…

An Honourable Mention!

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I was surprised to wake up on Monday morning and see that I had been sent an email from AQS congratulating me on receiving some sort of award at Paducah for “Tartan Tattoo”! I had to stay up late on Tuesday night and watch the awards ceremony live to find out what sort of rosette that might be. My name was announced as one of the Honourable Mentions chosen by the 3 judges: Ricky Tims, Karen Kay Buckley and Donna Wilder.

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LARGE WALL QUILTS: Longarm Machine Quilted sponsored by Nolting® Longarm Quilting Machines

1ST #625 JUDGEMENT OF OSIRIS, Georgia Spalding Pierce, Seattle, WA

2ND #624 ‘TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS, Linda Neal and Jackie Brown, McKinney, TX

3RD #636 A QUILTER’S GARDEN, Kristin Vierra, Lincoln, NE

HM #634 TARTAN TATTOO, Linzi Upton, Banchory, Aberdeenshire, United Kingdom 

Andrea Brokenshire kindly send me photos of TT hanging very nicely. It was well lit and the colours looked bold. I think it is a fairly understated quilt with no paint, sparkles or clever binding so I am really pleased that the judges decided it was worthy of the HM ribbon.

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I loved seeing all of the Quilters’ Facebook posts from spring-like Paducah and will certainly make a return visit there some time, hopefully when the Quilted Yurt is ready for display.

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I had a pretty busy week with DIY quilters, private tuition and a day in school but I was determined to have a go at making a cube shaped zippy bag. It is a fun shape but could do with being made of stiffer stuff so it holds its shape better. I learnt a new way of making neater box corners courtesy of Hunters Design Studio’s blog so I might have to buy some more long zips and play around with those. A fun workshop could be to use woodblock stamps to decorate the fabric then turn them into zippy bags. Obviously on a bit of a mission with zips, I watched a Youtube video on making a zip with lining, which I thought was quite impressive. When I have time I may have to invent a new version of my wee bag project.

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I roped Mo into helping me come up with a hanging system for the Purdah series. We were going to cut down an existing curtain pelmet but decided to go to B&Q and custom make one instead. Due to Health and Safety nonsense they would not cut the plank of wood so I could fit it into the VW Beetle. We bought a cheap saw and hacked a bit off in the carpark. I should have taken a photo for the comedy value of using a shopping trolley as a saw-horse in the rain. A tin of black spray paint made the net-curtain-rod-contraption look quite professional. Now that it has been strung up with a bunch of IKEA curtain clips, it will only need a couple of screws to hold it to a display batten, making it relatively easy to hang at a show (with the help of an annotated hanging digram).

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I spent some time at the weekend hashing around with Purdah’s artistic blurb. The FOQ entry form only allows 50 words of description so I will have to précis my essay considerably. The other tricky matter is that I can only submit 2 entry photos so I will have to think creatively how to send in a detailed picture that somehow shows off the hidden layers. I took the photos outside in good light but I am worried that the shawl looked a bit wrinkly. I just need to complete the entry form, post it then wait and see whether the FOQ FineArtMasters judges “get” it.

 

A Gin Worthy Week

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Sticking to my plan for a change, I completed the 4-patch version of the 1930’s block then immediately re-made it in feedback prints. Amazingly, it finished at 15.5” after squaring up both times! The trick was to make sure to sew exactly ON the seam crossover to get the points looking good. I have even made a note of the correct sizes of squares to crosscut for the setting triangles. I asked for suggested names on Facebook – Susan Briscoe thought it could be “Grumpy Gertie” as a homage to a feral goose that was dispatched by vandals and Ellen wondered if “Bloody Mabel” would like to be memorialised in patchwork.

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I secretly enjoyed sewing large sequins onto organza. It was a slow task to avoid getting tangled up but it gave me a chance to sit and listen to plays on Radio 4, knowing that I was scheduled to be in a classroom for 3 days.

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I let my classes loose with woodblock printing on paper and fabric which they enjoyed and they started wonky hand-stitching their pieces which can be made into mats or book covers.

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Two magazines arrived this week which had great reviews for “Deviant Quilting” – it was featured in The Quilter and Today’s Quilter so hopefully that may lead to a few sales.

My other vintage typewriter was sold on Ebay. I did not make a profit on the original purchase but at least I got rid of it without taking it to the dump. According to the postal address, it will end up as a film prop at Pinewood Studios.

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Freya had a good week… she received another Uni offer, enjoyed showing off her portfolio at her school’s Advanced Higher Art exhibition and went shopping for a VW Beetle with her Dad. I have already sourced ladybird fabric to make a pair of fun cushions but I’m not sure whether she will want to kit it out with outrageous rubber eyelashes. I have the chore of finding a competitive insurance quote for a young driver so we can collect it next weekend.

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I was thrilled to receive an email from AQS late on Thursday night informing me that “Tartan Tattoo” has been juried into the Paducah show in April. I just need to get it back from its travels in Holland in order to send it to Kentucky. I would dearly love to go to the  show, especially if the Quilted Yurt might be launched but I will have to make a LOT more Ebay sales to fund my trip…

I decided to treat myself to a rather nice bottle of gin on Friday to celebrate a pretty successful week;)

The Unexpected Consequences of a Facetious Thought

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The quilt show prize that I will probably die trying to win is the Fine Art Quilt Masters at Festival of Quilts, UK. I was baffled as I studied some of the successful entries this year. These pieces apparently transcend the craft of patchwork and quilting and seem to be more about the artistic concept. I determined that I will eventually get one of my creations juried into this elusive category. I started thinking about how to achieve this accolade in my typically cynical and facetious manner. The cogs started whirring in my mind as I wondered how to make use of one of the ugliest textiles that I own – a black wool shawl that I bought cheaply from the Oxfam tent at the Womad Festival in 2014 when the evening temperature dipped.

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I have always flippantly called this shawl a burqa just because it is so black. I decided to think about how to use this within the theme of Purdah, defined as “the practice in certain Muslim and Hindu societies of screening women from men or strangers, especially by means of a curtain.” This quilt is still at the ideas stage but I plan to create something that hinges on the notion of beauty that is hidden.

While tossing these weighty ideas around I looked up taboos in Indian society and discovered the shocking truth that one of the greatest and most shameful secrets involves the subject of menstruation. It may be a slightly uncomfortable and embarrassing subject  to discuss in the UK but in parts of rural India it is a forbidden topic. I read a BBC News article about an entrepreneur called Arunachalam Muruganantham. (Read more of his amazing story at the end of this blogpost…)

In the 21st century are still many taboos around menstruation in India. Women can’t visit temples or public places, they’re not allowed to cook or touch the water supply – essentially they are considered untouchable. Muruganantham found that it was hard even to broach the subject in such a conservative society. “To speak to rural women, we need permission from the husband or father,” he says. “We can only talk to them through a blanket.”

There are also myths and fears surrounding the use of sanitary pads – that women who use them will go blind, for example, or will never get married.

The next article that I read online was written by Diksha Madhok for the Quartz India WordPress blog in which she explores the superstitions surrounding menstruation. The one that I found the oddest was that menstruating women should not touch jars of pickles which they would cause to become contaminated.  A funny and provocative youtube video sponsored by the sanitary napkin brand, Whisper, encourages girls to go ahead and “Touch the Pickle!” http://youtu.be/PhHLAHqrGvk

(Read Diksha Madhok’s article after the Arunachalam Muruganantham story…)

Eventually I came across a website which sold washable menstrual pads and hand-sewing kits for girls to make their own. I ordered samples which arrived in the mystery stitched parcel and I decided to make a “quilt” of menstrual pads to help raise awareness about this sensitive subject. First I had to research and accumulate materials! The samples were made from 6 layers of cotton flannel with a waterproof bottom layer but I decided that I wanted to donate the pads a women’s group in India after the unusual quilt has been exhibited.

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I ordered fabrics from a washable nappy making company and made several prototypes. My pads would all feature Indian striped cotton and tartan flannel as the outer layers with a sandwich of plastic laminated knit, a super absorbent fleece and antibacterial hemp. One of the pads would be made using a pickle print fabric. I decided against sewing on metal poppers and discovered Kams plastic no-sew snaps. The outer fabrics were liable to fray easily and it was not always easy to keep the top edges rounded after I had inserted the shaped absorbent pad into their casings and completed the top-stitching. I worked on this project for several weeks and I worried that the finished pads were not all “perfect” in appearance but I know that they are all very carefully made, fit for purpose and may some day even help to keep a group of girls in education!

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BBC NEWS – “In 1998 Arunachalam Muruganantham was newly married and his world revolved around his wife, Shanthi, and his widowed mother. One day he saw Shanthi was hiding something from him. He was shocked to discover what it was – rags, “nasty cloths” which she used during menstruation.

“I will be honest,” says Muruganantham. “I would not even use it to clean my scooter.” When he asked her why she didn’t use sanitary pads, she pointed out that if she bought them for the women in the family, she wouldn’t be able to afford to buy milk or run the household.

Wanting to impress his young wife, Muruganantham went into town to buy her a sanitary pad. It was handed to him hurriedly, as if it were contraband. He weighed it in his hand and wondered why 10g (less than 0.5oz) of cotton, which at the time cost 10 paise (£0.001), should sell for 4 rupees (£0.04) – 40 times the price. He decided he could make them cheaper himself.

He fashioned a sanitary pad out of cotton and gave it to Shanthi, demanding immediate feedback. She said he’d have to wait for some time – only then did he realise that periods were monthly. “I can’t wait a month for each feedback, it’ll take two decades!” He needed more volunteers.

When Muruganantham looked into it further, he discovered that hardly any women in the surrounding villages used sanitary pads – fewer than one in 10. His findings were echoed by a 2011 survey by AC Nielsen, commissioned by the Indian government, which found that only 12% of women across India use sanitary pads.

Muruganantham says that in rural areas, the take-up is far less than that. He was shocked to learn that women don’t just use old rags, but other unhygienic substances such as sand, sawdust, leaves and even ash.

Women who do use cloths are often too embarrassed to dry them in the sun, which means they don’t get disinfected. Approximately 70% of all reproductive diseases in India are caused by poor menstrual hygiene – it can also affect maternal mortality.

Finding volunteers to test his products was no mean feat. His sisters refused, so he had the idea of approaching female students at his local medical college. “But how can a workshop worker approach a medical college girl?” Muruganantham says. “Not even college boys can go near these girls!”

He managed to convince 20 students to try out his pads – but it still didn’t quite work out. On the day he came to collect their feedback sheets he caught three of the girls industriously filling them all in. These results obviously could not be relied on. It was then that he decided to test the products on himself. “I became the man who wore a sanitary pad,” he says.

He created a “uterus” from a football bladder by punching a couple of holes in it, and filling it with goat’s blood. A former classmate, a butcher, would ring his bicycle bell outside the house whenever he was going to kill a goat. Muruganantham would collect the blood and mix in an additive he got from another friend at a blood bank to prevent it clotting too quickly – but it didn’t stop the smell.

He walked, cycled and ran with the football bladder under his traditional clothes, constantly pumping blood out to test his sanitary pad’s absorption rates. Everyone thought he’d gone mad.

He used to wash his bloodied clothes at a public well and the whole village concluded he had a sexual disease. Friends crossed the road to avoid him. “I had become a pervert,” he says. At the same time, his wife got fed up – and left. “So you see God’s sense of humour,” he says “I’d started the research for my wife and after 18 months she left me!”

Then he had another brainwave – he would study used sanitary pads: surely this would reveal everything. This idea posed an even greater risk in such a superstitious community. “Even if I ask for a hair from a lady, she would suspect I am doing some black magic on her to mesmerise her,” he says.

He supplied his group of medical students with sanitary pads and collected them afterwards. He laid his haul out in the back yard to study, only for his mother to stumble across the grisly scene one afternoon. It was the final straw. She cried, put her sari on the ground, put her belongings into it, and left. “It was a problem for me,” he says. “I had to cook my own food.”

Worse was to come. The villagers became convinced he was possessed by evil spirits, and were about to chain him upside down to a tree to be “healed” by the local soothsayer. He only narrowly avoided this treatment by agreeing to leave the village. It was a terrible price to pay. “My wife gone, my mum gone, ostracised by my village” he says. “I was left all alone in life.”

Still, he carried on. The biggest mystery was what successful sanitary pads were made of. He had sent some off for laboratory analysis and reports came back that it was cotton, but his own cotton creations did not work. It was something he could only ask the multinational companies who produced sanitary products – but how? “It’s like knocking on the door of Coke and saying, ‘Can I ask you how your cola is manufactured?’”

Muruganantham wrote to the big manufacturing companies with the help of a college professor, whom he repaid by doing domestic work – he didn’t speak much English at the time. He also spent almost 7,000 rupees (£70) on telephone calls – money he didn’t have. “When I got through, they asked me what kind of plant I had,” he says. “I didn’t really understand what they meant.”

In the end, he said he was a textile mill owner in Coimbatore who was thinking of moving into the business, and requested some samples. A few weeks later, mysterious hard boards appeared in the mail – cellulose, from the bark of a tree. It had taken two years and three months to discover what sanitary pads are made of, but there was a snag – the machine required to break this material down and turn it into pads cost many thousands of dollars. He would have to design his own.

Four-and-a-half years later, he succeeded in creating a low-cost method for the production of sanitary towels. The process involves four simple steps. First, a machine similar to a kitchen grinder breaks down the hard cellulose into fluffy material, which is packed into rectangular cakes with another machine.

The cakes are then wrapped in non-woven cloth and disinfected in an ultraviolet treatment unit. The whole process can be learned in an hour.

Muruganantham’s goal was to create user-friendly technology. The mission was not just to increase the use of sanitary pads, but also to create jobs for rural women – women like his mother. Following her husband’s death in a road accident, Muruganantham’s mother had had to sell everything she owned and get a job as a farm labourer, but earning $1 a day wasn’t enough to support four children. That’s why, at the age of 14, Muruganantham had left school to find work.

The machines are kept deliberately simple and skeletal so that they can be maintained by the women themselves. “It looks like the Wright brothers’ first flight,” he says. The first model was mostly made of wood, and when he showed it to the Indian Institute of Technology, IIT, in Madras, scientists were sceptical – how was this man going to compete against multinationals?

But Muruganantham had confidence. As the son of a handloom worker, he had seen his father survive with a simple wooden handloom, despite 446 fully mechanised mills in the city. That gave him the courage to take on the big companies with his small machine made of wood – besides, his aim was not really to compete. “We are creating a new market, we are paving the way for them,” he says.

Unbeknown to him, the IIT entered his machine in a competition for a national innovation award. Out of 943 entries, it came first. He was given the award by the then President of India, Pratibha Patil – quite an achievement for a school dropout. Suddenly he was in the limelight.

“It was instant glory, media flashing in my face, everything” he says. “The irony is, after five-and-a-half years I get a call on my mobile – the voice huskily says: Remember me?”

It was his wife, Shanthi. She was not entirely surprised by her husband’s success. “Every time he comes to know something new, he wants to know everything about it,” she says. “And then he wants to do something about it that nobody else has done before.”

However, this kind of ambition was not easy to live with. Not only was she shocked by his interest in such a matter, but it took up all of his time and money – at the time, they hardly had enough money to eat properly. And her troubles were compounded by gossip.

“The hardest thing was when the villagers started talking and treating us really badly,” she says. “There were rumours that he was having affairs with other women, and that was why he was doing such things.” She decided to go back home to live with her mother.

After Shanthi, eventually Muruganantham’s own mother and the rest of the villagers – who had all condemned, criticised and ostracised him – came round too.

It took Muruganantham 18 months to build 250 machines, which he took out to the poorest and most underdeveloped states in Northern India – the so-called BIMARU or “sick” states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh. Here, women often have to walk for miles to fetch water, something they can’t do when they are menstruating – so families suffer.

“My inner conscience said if I can crack it in Bihar, a very tough nut to crack, I can make it anywhere,” says Muruganantham.

But slowly, village by village, there was cautious acceptance and over time the machines spread to 1,300 villages in 23 states.

In each case, it’s the women who produce the sanitary pads who sell them directly to the customer. Shops are usually run by men, which can put women off. And when customers get them from women they know, they can also acquire important information on how to use them. Purchasers may not even need any money – many women barter for onions and potatoes.

While getting the message out to new areas of the country is still difficult, Muruganantham is sceptical about the effectiveness of TV advertising. “You always have a girl in white jeans, jumping over a wall,” he says. “They never talk about hygiene.”

Most of Muruganantham’s clients are NGOs and women’s self-help groups. A manual machine costs around 75,000 Indian rupees (£723) – a semi-automated machine costs more. Each machine converts 3,000 women to pad usage, and provides employment for 10. They can produce 200-250 pads a day which sell for an average of about 2.5 rupees (£0.025) each.

Women choose their own brand-name for their range of sanitary pads, so there is no over-arching brand – it is “by the women, for the women, and to the women”.

Muruganantham also works with schools – 23% of girls drop out of education once they start menstruating. Now school girls make their own pads. “Why wait till they are women? Why not empower girls?”

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The Indian government recently announced it would distribute subsidised sanitary products to poorer women. It was a blow for Muruganantham that it did not choose to work with him, but he now has his eyes on the wider world. “My aim was to create one million jobs for poor women – but why not 10 million jobs worldwide?” he asks. He is expanding to 106 countries across the globe, including Kenya, Nigeria, Mauritius, the Philippines, and Bangladesh.

“Our success is entirely down to word-of-mouth publicity,” he says. “Because this is a problem all developing nations face.”

Muruganantham now lives with his family in a modest apartment. He owns a jeep, “a rugged car that will take me to hillsides, jungles, forest”, but has no desire to accumulate possessions. “I have accumulated no money but I accumulate a lot of happiness,” he says. “If you get rich, you have an apartment with an extra bedroom – and then you die.”

He prefers to spend his time talking to university and college students. He’s an engaging and funny speaker, despite his idiosyncratic English. He says he is not working brain to brain but heart to heart.

“Luckily I’m not educated,” he tells students. “If you act like an illiterate man, your learning will never stop… Being uneducated, you have no fear of the future.”

His wife Shanthi agrees with him on this point. “If he had completed his education, he would be like any other guy, who works for someone else, who gets a daily wage,” she says. “But because he did not complete school, he had the courage to come out to start a business of his own. Now he’s employing other people.”

Shanthi and Muruganantham are now a tight unit. “My wife, the business – it is not a separate thing, it is mixed up with our life,” he says.

When a girl reaches puberty in their village, there is a ceremony – traditionally it meant that they were ready to marry. Shanthi always brings a sanitary pad as a gift and explains how to use it.

“Initially I used to be very shy when talking to people about it,” she says. “But after all this time, people have started to open up. Now they come and talk to me, they ask questions and they also get sanitary napkins to try them. They have all changed a lot in the village.”

Muruganantham says she does a wonderful job.

He was once asked whether receiving the award from the Indian president was the happiest moment of his life. He said no – his proudest moment came after he installed a machine in a remote village in Uttarakhand, in the foothills of the Himalayas, where for many generations nobody had earned enough to allow children to go to school.

A year later, he received a call from a woman in the village to say that her daughter had started school. “Where Nehru failed,” he says, “one machine succeeded.”

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DIKSHA MADHOK – “In his first Independence Day speech, prime minister Narendra Modi discomfited the country when he stressed on the pain and diseases many Indian women are vulnerable to because they do not have access to toilets and have to control their urges till after dark. Hardly any other prime minister has discussed sanitation for women so frankly and openly.

While that is bad enough, attitudes about another normal female bodily function—menstruation—are even more rooted in superstition. The extent of ignorance regarding menstruation has been documented in a recent study by sanitary napkin maker Whisper and market researcher IPSOS. The survey was conducted among more than 1,100 respondents from across India.

The results show that the stranglehold of custom and superstition is not easing even in urban areas.

A majority of women believe that they should not touch a pickle jar during their periods. They also don’t water plants, enter temples, cook food or sleep in the same bed as their husbands. Most of these taboos are rooted in the belief that a menstruating woman is impure and can contaminate anything she touches. It is important to note that most of the people interviewed were not from villages, but urban Indian cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore and Hyderabad.

According to research firm Euromonitor, nearly 70% of Indian women, out of ignorance and poverty, use old rags instead of sanitary towels to stem their periods. Such unhygienic practices increase the risk of reproductive diseases in Indian women.

Seventy five percent women in India buy sanitary napkins wrapped in a brown bag or newspaper, because of the shame associated with menstruation. They also never ask a male member of the family to buy sanitary towels or tampons.

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Aditi Gupta is the founder of a website and comic book called menstrupedia.com, which aims to shatter the stigma associated with periods. She says she used old rags while growing up to stem periods because she was too embarrassed to ask a male shopkeeper for sanitary napkins. “I come from a very educated family, but we never questioned the shame or myths surrounding the female body,” says 29-year-old Gupta, whose one-year-old website on menstrual awareness gets nearly 100,000 visitors every month.

Women also fear social discrimination, both within and outside their homes. Nearly 50% of the respondents from South India do not share a bed with their spouse during periods. More than one-third of urban Indian parents treat their daughters as impure during periods.

One of the most popular myths surrounding periods is that a woman is impure during this time and her touch will spoil pickles. Many families still forbid girls from entering the kitchen while they are menstruating.

“Decades ago, village women used to bathe in ponds and during periods they were told to avoid communal bathing.” says Aditi, while explaining why women do not wash their hair while menstruating. “But now we live in modern, urban houses with private bathrooms.”

Along with this survey, sanitary napkin brand Whisper has also launched a campaign called Touch the Pickle.

The researchers also interviewed more than 200 men about periods, and the good news is that almost all of them want the secrecy and embarrassment to end. However, both men and women learn very little about periods while they are in school. In fact, more than half the women did not know much about menstrual cycle till they got their first periods.”

Back to School and My Workshop!

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FOQ seems like weeks ago but this week Luana Rubin posted a super picture on Facebook that was taken of Kay Bell, Luana, Me and Sarah Caldwell outside the NEC. This was quite an international line-up – Kay is English but lives in Scotland, Luana is American, I’m 50/50 English/Scots and live in Scotland and Sarah is a New-Zealander who lives in Switzerland!

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Although I had not technically taken any time out of my workshop over the summer, when the kids went back to school I went back into “work” mode. I don’t really know what happened to our summer. The weather was not great yet despite not doing much, it seemed to fly past. Freya began her final year at school and Fenella joined her siblings at The Academy. It will be the last year that all 3 of my children will attend the same school. Nell had a great first week, apart from getting sore feet in brand new Doc Martens and she made lots of new friends. Freya said that she felt the holidays had never happened and Fergus just wished that it was not a legal requirement to attend school.

I continued working on my Tartan Tattoo pattern so it can be uploaded onto Easy for sale as a downloadable PDF pattern. There are so many step-by-step diagrams that it is now an epic 20 pages long. I decided against shrinking it because I have always struggled to follow sparse instructions. Besides, since it will be sold in an electronic form, it is not actually necessary to print any of the pages;)

Catherine brought me a very hairy baby quilt that had been in a mild wash. I could not believe that a quilt had suffered such severe “bearding”. I researched remedies online and tried re-washing with lots of fabric softener then drying it with anti-static sheets. If anything, it became worse. It took me a while to realise that I had used a leftover piece of the rogue wool wadding from Sew-Simple. I will offer to remake the quilt because I feel so badly about the outcome. I was tempted to dump the rest of the roll but I may keep it and use it solely in a leather project that will never get washed. I looked into buying a roll of better quality wool wadding and discovered that it is like hen’s teeth in the UK. Matilda’s Own from Australia is no longer available and the cheapest alternative by Hobbs would cost £312. It might be more sensible to buy packs of wool wadding if I happen to want to use it for a show quilt. From now on, I will not even offer the option of wool to customers.

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I enjoyed working on a small African themed quilt, using a mixture of fillers and geometric quilting in some of the colourful blocks. Stitch-in-the-ditch through the continent was a bit nerve-racking as the seams were so bulky. The maker has left me with another fun quilt made from many fabric that she purchased in Nigeria.

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The other customer job this week was to make a piece of furnishing fabric into a quilted wall hanging. I decided not to make it too fussy so I chose a simple design that was like the feathery fabric on the reverse. The cotton duck fabric was quite hefty so it should hang nice and straight!

In addition to an old idea that is lurking in the background for some type of arty-farty quilt, I have a bit of an odd one currently rattling around. I confess that it started as a reactionary idea to some of the more obscure entries in the Fine Art Quilt Masters at FOQ. However, my idea is developing into something that could convey a powerful message if I can figure out how best to interpret it in textiles. The winning entries to date have been minimal and that is an approach that baffles me. As a quilter I want to stitch and embellish with abandon but to think like an artist I need to concentrate on the concept. Time will tell whether I take this forward but I can say that I have ordered something unusual from India as inspiration…

A Different FOQ for Quilt Quine in 2015

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FOQ felt completely different for me this year in many  ways. Instead of loading the Landy with gear and driving all the way down I flew in and “supervised” the Bernina guys putting the longarm frame together. I loved being part of the professional and friendly  Bernina team which included representatives from Switzerland and Scandinavia. It was great to have the chance to discuss techniques and projects that they have tried out on the Q24. I was thrilled that everyone loved the brand and that the new Bernina Longarms proved very popular with the visitors to the show. They were all so impressed with the quality of the stitches how I could easily swap feet to add couching or twin needle stitching.

The centrally located stand was incredibly busy and I did not have any time to wander off or stand idly chatting. I dashed around the show quilts first thing in the morning, not really giving the quilt galleries the time that they deserved.  Even my shopping was done in less than half an hour on Sunday afternoon;) I demonstrated and explained longarming non-stop to all sorts of quilters from all over the world.

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My Tartan Tattoo quilt looked good even if I say so myself – nobody spotted the disaster area or commented on the wobbly lines that only I know about. I wished that I had entered it into the competition after all so I definitely want to enter it elsewhere to see how it gets on. Michael Oakshott was impressed with the use of his fabrics which made me think that I ought to publish a pattern and offer it for sale.

Vivienne and I were privileged to sit with Luana Rubin at the Gala Dinner and we spoke about all sorts of topics including how Amazon gives authors such a poor deal. Luana and I realised that we have a mutual friend in Wisconsin and our conversation seemed to flow naturally without any heirs or graces from such a well known quilting personality.

I took very few photos at the show and since there are plenty of pictures of the winners online, I decided just to show a few unusual quilts on my blog that made me look twice as I passed them at a trot. I am always entertained by the 3D category and often baffled by the Fine Art Masters.

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Kay’s double-sided quilt looked splendid and is bound to win prizes in other places. (I am delighted that she shared the Visitors’ Choice award with Dutch piecer, Coriene for “Stonefields”.)

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I felt guilty about leaving the show just before it closed on Sunday in order to catch my flight home but I was not sorry about missing the melee of teardown and van jostling. At least one FOQ tradition was maintained – the annual trip to Shabar for a Balti with old friends! I am already looking forward to next year and I am determined to enter at least one new quilt…;)