Sunday, June 29, 2008


I seem to have sleeping sickness. Yes, it exists. It is called trypanosomiasis. (One of the few facts from A level geography that stuck!). You get it by swimming in lakes with dodgy organisms that go in through your skin. I think. Only I haven't been doing that, so, when I awoke from my three hour sofa nap ( which encompassed the TV concert we had been going to watch together) to find my husband looking at me with raised eyebrows I had to think of a quick story.

(In a questioning voice:) Little green men came down and took my essence, leaving my body behind and now I have returned but I am radioactive?

Him: Radiopassive more like.

Oh, you put one of his comments on the blog and now he is playing to the crowd!

I have no excuse for slothfulness. Its not even like I have not been getting exercise. My bike has been in the garage hidden behind piles of stuff for years which is daft becuase I really like cycling. Only I forgot the number of the combination lock and getting some bolt cuters was always on tommorrow's to do list. My honest- as- the-day- is-long brother in law came round yesterday, took one look and a claw hammer and, in three seconds flat had liberated my bike. Which left me decided that (a) I am not going to be heeding ny sisters plea not to tease Mark for originating from a high crime area for a while and (b) there was not much point to the lock in the first place.

I went for a ride and found myself turning left onto a cycle path and mingling with a cycle group coming arcross my way. I was inordinately pleased that even in my depleted state and on my first ride for years I beat them all to the end of the path. Ok, so, some of them were aged four, but still!

Not much productivity to show then except the block above which I made for a Birthday month swap I found hosted by kate on It was my second attempt. Look what I did with the frst one - how did I not notice that befroe I sewed it all together?!

The swap is that I make a block each month as requested by the other participants and post them off and in January I get lots of my choice blocks- African appliques. Can't wait! (Wake me up when it happens will you?)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Embellisher machine

Everynow and again Dennis will say something and, as soon as it is out of his mouth, one of us will say, 'That's a blog story moment'.

Tonight I was talking about the Pfaff embellisher machine I was playing with at the weekend, the purpose of which he is struggling to comprehend and the name of which was unfamiliar to him until Sunday. Later we were talking about what I would like for my birthday and how the fact I will be on holiday and the fact that his funds do not stretch to all the quilting equipment in the world will (quite rightly!) limit what I receive on the day. He asked, "How much would that faffing machine cost?"

(I should confirm that he wasn't at all meaning to be derogatory but I do suspect a Freudian slip!)

(For confused foreigners: From

  1. (British slang) To waste time on unproductive activity
Etymology: Dialect, 'blow in gusts'. )

Holiday handwork ideas

In less than a month I shall be departing for a trip to London (for work and the October Gallery's African art now exhibition), Berlin ( for the purpose of seeing Daniel Libeskind's work on the Jewish Museum and the yarn and fabric shop on Alexanderplatz ), Osnabruck (To see Daniel Libeskinds work on the Felix Nussabaum museum and the local quilt shop) and this cute houseboat for a week in Amsterdam (convenient base for many quilt shops!).

With three long train journeys, two flights and (I hope) some sitting still and quiet in pancake cafe's, together with the sitting in my so cute houseboat ( did you look already?!) I need some handwork that is more inspiring than sewing half square triangles togther, which is my current travel project. Do you have any good ideas for me? Can you post me some links to work you did by hand for inspiration? I pieced several of my early quilts by hand in days when I travelled much more for work. Now, except for Lonon trips, which I do by train not car, I just take the sewing machine to the hotel! I'd like something that cannot really be done as well by machine if possible

At the moment I am considering these African embroidery quilt kits but I will have to order soon and I am dithering after Solomon spent all my money!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Credit card puzzle

It seems that Someone has been on a spending spree with my credit card this weekend. There is no firm proof but our Much Loved and Much Blamed Bear, Solomon, is under suspicion. I mean, who else could it be?I cannot explain how he could reach the counters or even put the PIN in with such furry paws, but I can say that at least he has taste. I have confiscated the following goods ( which appear from the receipts to originate from Penrith on Saturday and an embroidery show at Trentham Gardens today).

Fortunately much of the booty coincided with the Supply list for a Studio Journals class I have signed up for, so I have decided not to involve the Fraud Squad as it is possible he was only trying to save me shopping time. The books on the other hand seem to be merely a gleeful shopping trip. His response under caution to that allegation was, "But they are out of print." I have bailed him while I read the books for evidence of his defence.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Project organising journal

My journal making class is still ongoing and this week I have been concentrating on making a journal specifically for organising my UFO's and Want to Do list. It starts with pages containing a tag for each work in progress.

First decision: How many pages to allow for UFO's?! Well I had 16 pages of green card and that seemed plenty. I am pleased to say that I am not actually using all of them at the moment but I thought it sensible to prepare for those starting frenzies that strike from time to time.

Each tag has a removable piece of paper listing the project and on the back will be a pocket. The pocket will contain first a check list of steps to be taken but also ( when I get in the swing of things, notes from other sections.

So, there is a pocket for snippets of paper reminding me of those ideas you get for themes and series ( 'scarecrow quilts' was the latest one)

and another for research ideas (e.g. japanese suits of armour as design inspiration... guess who went to a London museum recently?)As you can see I am not so good with those letter stamps yet!

There is a section so I can check off as I work though the sections of DVDs and technique books I have bought, one for the Birthday Block swap I just joined and a section for exhibition themes and deadlines, each with colour coded pages.
Then, a section where I can list, on slips attatched by brads, the techniques or products I want to try out, noted with the location of articles or internet instructions that relate, and then a similarsection ( in different colours) for ideas I have for quilts. The brads mean they are easy to reprioritise and to add to the journal when I take one out.

My ideas is that, say I want to make new quilt, I can look through and select a combination of things I want to learn. E.g. a reverse appliqued quilt based on scarecrows using angelina fibres and quilted using a technique on a Patty Thomson DVD. I can gather all those slips and lists and put them together behind the new project tag.

Of course, none of this actually gets the quilts done - it is what is known as Displacement Activity but it has made my organization favouring brain much happier than when I had a random scatter of lists, some in old notebooks and some still in deep dark recesses of my brain. And it made the creative part of me happy to make it.

The cover still needs work. Tomorrow I go shopping for a really good embellishment closure

Monday, June 16, 2008

Yarn storage

I bought two packets of yarns at Malvern for couching. They came neatly wrapped around card. Of course as soon as you take them out of the packet you get long ( at least 10 feet) long strands which threaten to tangle into a birds nest. I have the same problem with embroidery silks. I do not know if people who use these things on a more regular basis than I have a proper way of storing part used skeins, but it is a mystery to me.

Until last night. I was tiding up when I spotted a plastic dryer thing that hooks over a radiator for airing clothes. Aha!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Busy Bee weekend

Most weekends my Mum rings and asks me what I am doing. When I reply,'Quilting', she says, 'Oh, what a suprise!' So why does she ask?! Anyway this weekend was no different. Here is what I did.

I took an ugly piece of fabric I had previously made by wiping up dye and, umm, painted it again to make it not a lot less ugly. I need to be reading some how-to instructions. I am not a natural with paint this is clear.

I quilted the whole 71 x 71 batik log cabin quilt - you can just about see the freeform feather design on this photo. I thought I'd chosen thread that would really stand out but not so really, even thought it was 30 weight.

Then I made the covers for another journal. The twigs get tied on when I put in the pages but I haven't made those yet on account of being very sluggish today, on account of being a dirty stop out in Manchester last night. The leaf is made out of those free samples of leather Marks and Spencer put out in their furniture department. This fabric was supposed to be the outside but I accidentally fused it to the wrong side ( The top cover has a hinge thing and if I turned it round the trees would be upside down. ) I am too old to be a dirty stop out!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Weird links and bottle tops

Ever experience a strange series of events that later all turn out to be connected?

A while ago I cut a fantastic photograph of a cloth like structure made out of bottle tops from a magazine and pasted it into my journal. Last week I flicked through a book called Anganza Afrika - African Art Now. I didn't look too much because it was clear I might buy it at some point in the future, but I noticed a series of works made from weapons, including a tree of life that really caught my eye, not least because I am researching Trees of Life for a City and Guilds project.

Today I went to the British Museum walked down a staircase and stopped in awe at this piece, made by a Ghanaian artist from metal bottle neck covers. (The photo above is a close up.)In the next room was this piece. Both reference kente cloth strips. I noted that the artist was El Anatsui.
Then, smack bang in the third room of the African gallery was this - the very tree from the book!
It turns out there is a Christian Aid project in Maputo which allows villagers to swap weapons for agriculturally related metal goods ( from hoes to tractors) and then the weapons are made into art.

On my return home I googled El Anatsui. His website has a few pictures on, all of which I love. But there wasn't much so I looked at the next search result. It was a reference to him exhibiting at a gallery I had not heard of in Bloomsbury - right near the British Museum, right where I was today and I missed it! Bah!

So I clicked further onto the website and - Lo! - the exhibition has just been extended until the 2nd August... and guess who will be back in London, in a hotel on the edge of Bloomsbury, with another day free between lectures at the end of July? Yeah! Oh, and the exhibit is the launch for the book.

I'm thinking that maybe I need to go to Amazon and get that book right now!

In case you share my delight in his work you can find another picture and an artist's statement about how he makes what he considers cloth here


Is there anything better than coming home from a business trip to find that your mother ( who lives 90 miles away) has not only sent one of her famous chocolate cakes, but has made it half filled with cream and half ( my half) with buttercream so that Dennis and I need not fight?Thanks Mum!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Microwave dyeing

Remember my Ugly Wet Studio Corner? Well I am contemplating buying a microwave to sit atop the fridge for fabric dyeing. In this climate I have had to bundle up all my pieces of fabric wrap them to ensure no drips and hoick them all through the house and leave a heater on in the closed study all night to ensure that the fabric cures at the required temperature. ( And even then I am not getting very bright jewel like hues. Of course, I don't really know what I am doing having only had three attempts, but I do believe that it is possible to cure the fabric in the nicrowave to ensure that it quickly gets to the right tenperature. Or is this juts for non cotton fabrics?

Has any one else tried this and if so do you have any advice for me?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Yummy stuff

Last Saturday we called in at the John Rylands library in Manchester. I had walked past the library umpteen times, thinking it was a part of the University and not realising that this site of it ( on Deansgate, one of the main shopping streets) was open to the public. In fact, in the middle of the most modern part of Manchester, this is an ancient, stone cathedral like library. We didn't have time to do the whole audio tour or main exhibitions, and just took in the minature bookbinding exhibition housed in these cases , but we will be back. However, I did discover these in the shop.

Not fabrics - paper. Sold as gift wrap paper but ideal for decorative journal pages and at £1.50 for a large sheet, affordable. It (and other paper products like it) are available from Shared Earth.
It is from GET Paper in Nepal and the web site provides this information about it:

"Get Paper Industry is a hand made paper products cooperative, using waste material such as cotton rags, waste paper and agriculture waste. The production process is environmentally friendly, with the paper being dried in sun light and a waste water treatment plan to process waste water.

Their mission is to carry out traditional hand made paper crafts of Nepal in a commercial as well as environmentally sustainable manner and providing employment opportunity, mainly for women. 40% of Get Paper Industries profits is put back into social development issues of Nepal including girls education, AIDS awareness, tree plantation, and agriculture based income generating programmes."

Monday, June 09, 2008

Wet studio

Ok, that's a bit of a grand name but it has been the new falling-to-sleep dream since I completed the design of my 'dry' quilting studio. (You know the one in the 40ft, double height, converted barn with the arched floor to ceiling windows overlooking the stream and the minstrels gallery lined with books and bolts). Now, if I am to progress with techniques that involve paint and dye, I need a wet studio.

I am aways off that yet but on Sunday we cleared out our garage and I at least have a corner now. Ugly, but dedicated to making a mess! No before photos becuase frankly the public health people would be round - lets just say you couldn't walk into the garage before, and many, many spiders died in the service of my dyeing space.

Here it is.

On the left you can see the two parts of my portable design board propped up between freezer and spare fridge. The a card table with storage under for dyeing buckets. A dead cheap pasteboard table from B&Q covered with plastic and more ( empty as yet) storage boxes underneath. Then a clapped out bookcase holidng my meagre supply of dyes, paints brushes , spoons , stirrers etc. Finally an even more clapped out bureau. the drawers house my plastic cups, shibori resist tools ( sounds good - it means clothes pegs and elastic bands), more plastic sheets and painting clothes. The drop down top gives anpther surface to play on and houses my stamps. ( Garden furniture and tools etc are off photo to the left)

Saturday, June 07, 2008

How to fight a grommet and win

Having made one final journal from lesson one of Sue Bleiwiess's class, tonight I moved onto lesson two which involves the insertion of ringbinders through grommets.

I bought one of those sets of grommets with tools included and had a practice on a piece of Fast2 fuse. Pound Fast2fuse with metal tube thing and hammer ( well, OK, heel of shoe, because I don't have a hammer), push neck of grommet through resultant hole, pop little ring thing on top, use tool to hold them on, pound with heel of shoe. Done. easy.
Of course when I came to put them through a journal cover that consisted of (a) two layer fabric pocket (b) fabric lining (c) Pelmet Vilene (d) sew in vilene base of top (e) overlapped applique'd strips it was not so straightforward.

For the assisitance of others in the class and the amusement of the rest of you, here is my tutorial on how to fight a grommet and win.

1. Forget the pounding out the hole thing. Start with punchng a hole with a bookmakers awl.
2. Waggle the awl around to make the hole as big as possible.
3. Punch another hole on the very edge of the existing one and repeat waggle.
4. Stick the closed blades of a small pair of embroidery scissors in the hole and waggle.
5. Open the blades a bit and waggle. Stick your tongue out if it helps.
6. Take the scissors out and snip at the hole until it is big enough to take the metal punch tube thing you were supposed to use in the first place.
7. Presumably the hole is now big enough to take the grommet. This actually not so because for some reason the grommet is bigger than the punch.
8. Mutter. Insert larger paper scissors. Waggle. Revert to sharp scissors. Snip and excise thread and bits of interfacing.
9. Push grommet through hole.
10. Take the ring thing that covers the grommet. Using the tools provided start to bang with the heel of the shoe. Ignore the instruction to tap seven to eight times. Bash the heck out of it about twenty five times.
11. Put the ring binders through the grommets. This will pull the ring back off.
12. I purchased an English brand so I now sat it down and told it that if it did not behave it was going to the Tower and it would be off with its head. Depending on where you are from you may wish to threaten it with Botany Bay or Guantanamo or whatever.
13. Repeat step 10 but with more vigour.
14. At the point when you hit your thumb do not utter any common swear word. It is neither ladylike or creative. Try 'Oh clucky, ducky, mucky, vladi- sucky- vlostok." Stamp around. take a deep breath and declare, 'I will win. I will win.'
15 Repeat step 13. I repeated step 14 as well but I'd say that was not absolutely necessary.
16. Grommet on, ringbinder in. Time for chocolate.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Book and paper links

I am having a (temporary I am sure) break from fabric to obsess over paper and books. Well, no, not really - I put fabric pages around each signature of paper pages in my latest journal today:

However, I have discovered a few things I thought you might like links to. In no particular order:
Pick and mix paper and car boxes from PaperMill shop - I visited the shop at the factory today wher I saw the paper being made and came away with 4 boxes and three sets of alphabet stamps ( sale - 99p each!)

Sheets of paper with seeds embedded so you can plant them after they have been used

Sheep poo paper

Blood on paper. Not as yucky as it sounds ( although I had a near miss with a bookmakers awl last night!) This is an exhibition of artist books at the V&A museum in London. Links give you a video, and pictures if you can't make it in person and this list of links to artist book pages.
Also interviews and ohter rescources- more than I have had time to explore!

A collection of minature book bindings which I get to go to at the John Rylands library in Manchester on Saturday. The catalogue from a previous exhibit of this collection retails for 475 on Amazon but is available online here.

A paper related bookshop from paper sellers - paper making, sketchbooks, travel, book arts etc.

Online classes in making studio journals and mixed media techniques for journals

Monday, June 02, 2008

Another journal

Started.Can't stop. (don't rally want to stop!)

Pages go in tomorrow.
Oh, and the handle has just fallen off the lounge door. You know where that leads, right? (If you don't, read back a few posts!) Onlythis time I am not panicking because ( a) I learned from my experience with the bathroom and have cellotaped over the lock to prevent another demolition job (b) I keep fabric on both sides of that door so it doesn't really matter which side I get stuck on!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Journal making

I have a new passion! I have been eagerly awaiting Sue Bleiweiss's Fabric Journal making class which officially starts tomorrow ( 2nd). I was delighted when she posted the first lesson early meaning that it was available on a weekend day rather than a (supposed) work day. ( I couldn't guarantee how much work would have got done tomorrow if the lesson had arrived into my email box early on!Given that I have been so jaded over the level of instructions I have been getting on my City and Guilds course I was a little apprehensive as to whether the lesson would be worth the cash. I can report that it most certainly is. Clear instructions that work with plenty of photos and at just £26 for 5 classes, good value indeed.
The only disaster was because I assumed that, for the purposes of ironing fusibles, baking paper ( greaseproof paper) would be the UK equivalent of parchment paper. Once I had fused the paper to my fabric I realised that it was clearly not. Ooops!
I have been limited in my papges embellishment becuase my paper stash consisted of three sheets and a packet of card squares... clearly that is now going to change pretty soon! Now if you will excuse me I have to go and web surf for paper shops and maybe make just one more.....