Monday, August 31, 2009

Festival of Quilts - part four

Dennis asked me when I got home whether the shopping was a big part of the fun of Festival ... and of course it is! I did once go to a quilt show and spent nothing, at a time when family circumstances meant that was a prudent thing to do and I had a perfectly happy time. And there is certainly enough to see at Festival to enjoy without shopping. But, if it is possible to shop........!
I binged a bit (ahem) on books and a membership of the Surface Design Association got be a free copy of their magazine to add to the one I bought. The pamphlets without spine titles I am not responsible for. For my wedding anniversary Dennis ordered me the twelve remaining Double Trouble Jan Beany and Jean Littlejohn books missing for my collection for me to pick up at Festival. The ones with spines but no title are from Magie Grey's company D4daisy and I managed to buy them before Festival even opened as she was selling them as we waited for her lecture at 10am on Thursday!

I don't live near a LQS so I tend to save up and collect supplies at Festival and other shows. The control freak in me requires me to binge within a budget ( a pretty generous one I admit), and so it was that I actually had to put one book back. Having decided that fabric was more important than lunch in order to keep shopping, I rang Dennis on Sunday lunchtime to check his flight back to Birmingham from N Ireland was on time and he said, "Are you still taking me out to dinner on the way home?" Ah-hum. Forgot about that! Of course with 12 books in my bag from him there was no way the answer could be no. As it happened when we got there the restaurant was shut and we ended up with takeaway at home, but I probably had enough books anyway!!
Batiks were not on the wish list but at £4 per meter I could not leave these.
There was some utilitarian shopping - ho-hum bobbins and needles and cutter blades and some coil pot cording I bought because Lesley did and I knew I'd want it as soon as I saw her finished baskets. Threads you can never have enough of.I have an idea for a City and Guilds piece which may involve metal as a theme so I went on a little collecting spree - wires, shim, wireform sample packs pliers etc Art stuff, some also metallic.

I can never walk past Oliver Twists and I don't see why anyone should be expected to. So I feel no need to justify these, but by way of explanation, they are intended for the metal C&G idea.

Lesley and I bought an identical stack of these fabrics which we think look rather elegant. We kept finding stuff and adding a meter of each others finds and were rather surprised when the total only came to £19 for the pile. God Save the Shuttle and all the cheap fabric which sails in her. Lesley also bought black which really adds to the theme. (I demurred having a whole bolt of black at home!)

And of course, it is the law of England that when you walk past Magie Relphs African Fabric stall you have to drop £70 or so....

Now to find time to play with it all!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Festival of Quilts - part three

After the Masterclass, the show itself. I had heard that there were many fewer quilts than last year, due to the rule changes, but as ever I filled four days quilte happily. I did some one hour lectures, the best by far being Jenny Bowker's lecture on the tent makers of Cairo. My favourite professional galleries were that Jenny and that of Liz Hewitt who did pieces made with Malian mud cloth. Sadly photography was not allowed on her stall and whilst I bought the catalogue ( only £3) the photos are not as detailed as those I would have taken myself. But there is a small photo of her stuff and Jenny's here.
Meeting people is always part of Festival. Di Thompson found time for coffee with me and Lesley and I were able to spend a great evening with Erica Spinks ( left) and Deborah Segart ( right) of Down Under Quilts.

Then I also got to meet Laura ( left) who is doing the Colours Of Africa Challenge which I encourage you all to partcipate in. ( I am working on mine as I type. Well not exactly as I type but today...!)

Sadly I found her paint company Trapsuutjies after I had spent up ( see next post!) but I may be tempted mail order sometime. Her stuff is all made in South Africa which, with my reverse apartheid atitude to shopping is a great advantage and she has some great stamps.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Festival of Quilts - part two

After the packing, the masterclass with Sandra Meech. This was held for two days before the show started and was entitled Connecting Art to Stitch which is also the title of her new book. ( Of course I bought a copy but I have not had chance to open it yet.) Everyone sent raving comments (just raving - not raving mad that is!) when I said I had bagged tickets so I had high hopes.

I have to say I was a little disapointed. Not with Sandra herself - she is a lovely person and an great enabler and encourager as a teacher. But I felt the class was high on art content and low on the connection aspect.

We had a huge list of art products to bring with us - not a problem but we spent much time 'seeing what they did'. I did get some value from this - I found out how she ( and I assume others like Jan Beany) make the white marks over paints and dyes I see in their books - a product I had never seen called Papermate Chinamarkers - will have to seek some of those out. I also found out why I could not get any different effect between my water colours and the koh-i-Noor dye set I had bought on recommendation.... I had not bought the dye set but the Koh-I-Noor watercolours in error! Sandra sold me the dye set and I love them. They are the white pallet below.

We painted with transfer dyes - which was new to me but I really disliked my paintings - childish and splodgy - but then as you can see, that is what we were encouraged to do. I also learned that you can draw on polyester or polycotton fabric and transfer the dyes - neat trick but I did not like my end result. Sandras' example of course looked fabulous.

I had a hard time with the drawing with a twig on papers set out on the floor exercise. We then coloured over the lines with oil pastel and scraped back. Big unattracive mess ensued in my view. However, I had another Eureka moment - have you ever read how people do collage with 'magazine papers'? I always wonderd how they managed to collect just the right colours of magazine pictures in the right quanity. Well, duh, no. You can paint the magazine pages with the dyes or watercolours. Works great. As does painting black and white photocopies with the dyes. Never knew that either, Both options of course will easily extend my available art supplies when I travel without sufficient weight allowance for specialist material.

We also did a fun thing where we made a collage of someone elses face and gifted it to them. No real connection to stitch but good for getting into collage if thats what you wanted. Here is Wendy and my version of her. We also transferred some painted heat transfer papers onto fabric.

We did the art stuff for a day and a half and then Husqvarna gave us machines to play on with free motion and we could also handstich - having been told to bring some threads and fabrics. There was no real tution in the connection to stitch though. It was just - this is what art materials do. This is how to get into onto fabric. Now you can stitch on it and I thought there was a gap in the course between the latter two. It also said in the decsription that we would work to a personal theme and to bring existing sketchbooks but that never came into it - save that I suppose we all did different things which were bound to develop into our own areas of interest anyway. But the sketchbooks we brought were never used.

I decided with my stitch time to see if I could improve one sample I had done which I did not really like much. It had been an African totem type drawing in black ink with transfer dyes over it. Bright and childish and not really intergrating with fabric. I threadpainted with the machine a bit and added a little straight hand stitch. I then tried to tone down the transfer dyes with oil pastels and metallic crayons and in the end ironed some darker transfer dyes over the whole thing, then added some fabric collage...... it is still definately a sample but it is a whole lot better than I started with.

Also, as I was alone that evening I got to sketchbook ( is that a verb?!) in the hotel and I found that the pages I did were suddenly a lot freer with use of coloured pages and cut outs etc than I have ever done before. They would be a whole lot better if they were part of a themed book - the theme of this sketchbook really being to try different ways of doing pages - but I did feel that there was some kind of breakthrough going on.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Festival of Quilts - part one

It was great. So great it deserves several posts. But first the packing for Festival. Girl packing: Seven pairs of shoes for six days hidden by neatly rolled clothes.

Man Packing: Four books, a washbag and a big pack of coffee chucked in any which way. 'I don't think this case is going to be big enough for my clothes.'

Girl amended man packing.

Somebody is going to have to learn something before we travel for three months, that's all I am saying!

Before Festival I got an email from Australia from Lisa Walton asking if she could mail 'a quilt' to me and could I forward it on to the show. Of course. So a few days later I come home late from work and the package is there. I investigate it's contents at once and when Dennis comes in to the lounge with a tray of chilli and rice for my tea I have it draped over the sofa and am standing there going, "Oh My God, she didn't tell me it was that quilt!"

"Why. whats special about it?"
"It's Bushfire Sunset. It wins prizes. It's worth ten thousand dollars."
He steps back with the chilli,"Get it out of our house. Soon."

So I did. And it won second prize. Which of course was less to do with Lisa and Nic Bridges work and all to do with the way I pinned the paper labels to the back of the quilt.

I will blog more about festival but not now because along with a pile of shopping I seem to have brought back a full head cold. Yuk!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Its healthcare, newlyeducated person!

Well thank you so much all of you who bothered to leave such lengthy comments on my query about the US health care debate. I do feel I understand a lot better now. but of course with understanding comes that desire to comment. Not on the US system per se - as all I know about that is what you told me yourselves. But on our system, as I understand it has been dragged into the debate.

The NHS is funded by national insurance which to all intents and purposes is another name for income tax. This means that you get treated irrespective of income. Everyone is entitled to the same. This ideal - with which I can have no argument in principle - does not work perfectly.

It was set up in the post war years when the available treatments were a lot less in number and a lot less costly. Plastic surgery was experimental, transplants did not exist. This was in the Pre-AIDS, pre IVF days. I venture to suggest that the general populace were also a lot more grateful and a lot less of the view that if something exists they are 'entitled to it' irrespective of cost. So, now the system is struggling to fund every new and very expensive treatment which drug companies patent. Unless we all want to pay more into the system we have to accept that there will be some judgement calls on what can be afforded. This is particularly difficult when there is a drug which will extend life for a very short period but will not cure and it of great cost in that short period compared to another treatment which could, for the same cost, give benefit to many more people.

The NHS is now dealing with a larger population who are living longer. There are waiting times. There have been relatively few, but nonetheless horrendous examples of ill treatment of elderly people and of negligence cases. But every system which is staffed by people will suffer from misjudgments and bad attitudes.

Over all it is a great system. No one need worry in this country that if they get cancer, have a stroke or slice their finger with a rotary cutter ( guess who!) that they will get no treatment at all. It is free at the point of use, which can cause annoyance when it is misused by those who have never paid taxes into the system. But I for one would rather have to carry the drunken unemployed yobs who require A&E care at 3am on a weekend than see decent folk go without healthcare they need. I do think that we have to accept that some treatments are beyond our collective capacity to afford at current taxation rates.

That said, I also have private health insurance. Dennis and I have both had surgeries on the NHS and privately. I would make the following observations:

1. The surgical care is no different.
The surgeons work for both systems and their skills are no different on a Tuesday in the NHS to a Wednesday in BUPA hospital. However, you get a much longer consultation pre operation in the private system.

2. In our experience the nursing care was far better in BUPA.
However, I believe that to have been a matter of which individuals you got and of their attitude rather than of qualification levels. I do think that the working environment for nurses in the BUPA hospital is calmer and more pleasant. I think they are treated better by their patients and so their attitude is much nicer and more caring. In the NHS the night staff ignored the surgeons pre-op instructions for Dennis. They yelled to each other down the ward in the middle of the night. He was perfectly cared for in the BUPA hospital.

3. The private system allows for convenience.
When I needed to see a consultant I was told I would have to turn up at a day clinic. All patients are called at the same time and you sit and wait. It was considerably cheaper for me to pay ( this was before we took out insurance) to see the consultant in a private hospital close to my home at 6pm in the evening than it was for me to take that day off work. This despite the fact that the consulation time allowed was much longer. X rays were taken instantly in the room next door and looked at at once.
When my sister in law needed an MRI - she was in Northern Ireland - the waiting lists were so long that at one point they were considering sending her to Scotland. I had mine done four miles from home on a day of my choosing. That said my sister in law did in fact have it done in Ireland after her treating surgeon intervened.

4. The private system is quicker.
There is no doubt about this - Dennis got appointments within days not weeks or months as in the NHS. Again, this is cost effective for me. If I have a condition which means I cannot work, my income protection insurance only kicks in after 6 months. (Although I could pay more and have a shorter period of course). I might wait that time on the NHS. With BUPA I can minimise the costs of unpaid time off work which is cost effective. Even when Dennis was working this benefits the state. By us paying to go private we minimised the sick pay the state had to pay him. There is no flexibility in the NHS. Once, he needed a blood test. He asked could he be seen first in the day because then the school would not need ( at tax payers expense) to pay for a sub while he sat the day in hospital. He was told in no uncertain terms that he would not get 'privilege'. So the state paid for him to sit there while retired people went in front of him.

5. The private system is nicer.
Nothing whatsoever to do with health care or how quickly I recover. But I did not enjoy recovering from an operation in a communal ward,open to a corridor when I could hear every word of every vistor's conversation and they mine. Give me a private room anytime and I will pay for it. It is not essential at all to health care that room service is available for visitors and that there is a choice of menu for patients. But is makes being ill that little less stressful. It did not kill me that the NHS bed I was put into to recover from my day operation was marked 'for paediatric ward use only' and had holes in the blankets, But if its all the same I'd rather pay and have a nicer surroundings.

On a more serious note when ward rounds were done in the NHS ward I was required to leave to give the patients privacy - because the only thing that separates you from the next bed whilst the doctor is examining you is a curtain. So families are not present when these consultations take place. (It admittedly might be different with an operation that was more serious). Not so in the BUPA hospital. In BUPA I could visit at anytime which was very helpful when Dennis was in inpatient and I had work commitments some distance from home.

6. Private patients subsidise the NHS over and above their national insurance payments.
Lets say I need surgery that costs £3000 on the NHS. I will get that for free at the point of use. I will either have overpaid or underpaid for it depending on how much tax I have paid by the time I die! But to go privately it costs much more - say £7,500. I have to pay for that either in cash or via my private insurance. However, I do not then get my £3000 worth from the NHS. I do think that sum should be transferred to BUPA (less admin costs) to defray the private costs. But you cannot 'top up' in that way. So the NHS gets an additional bonus saving.

7. I still get benefit from the NHS because although you can see a private GP here few do. We use NHS GP's and the insurance then kicks in from the time you are referred to the appropriate consultant. Plus the NHS trains the surgeons who then operate part time at BUPA hospitals. So there is no problem in my view of paying for both systems because I do benefit from both but also people who have a low income also need me to chip into provide for the health care of others. That seems to me like a basic human thing to do for your fellow citizens.

8. I suspect that - for reasons which I do not understand but probably relate to profit - US insurance will be more costly than here. For me for a system which kicks in at the point of referral to to a consultant and which has a deductible of £500 per year ( I had a choice of what to set that at) it costs me £ 36.35 per month. That's US $60.28 per month for unlimited treatment. The same plan for Dennis costs £71 as he is older and had some pre-existing conditions when we took it out. Whether that is affordable or not depends of course on what you earn and what you decide to prioritise in your budget. We made a conscious decision not to buy a SKY TV sport package at £35.50 per month but to have health insurance at £36.35 for example. Or if you want a comparison on buying power terms my plan costs 3.63 metres of full price quilting cotton a month. I don't think, for the benefits you get that can be objectively termed expensive. My taxes on another hand I do consider high at 41% at the top level. (That's tax and NI combined). I do think that if we want the NHS to spend more the cost has to come at the basic rate of tax (currently 20%) so almost everyone will contribute not at the top rate where the few are carrying the many. That may well mean families have less discretionary income but essentials should come first.

So, my conclusions. I would tinker with the NHS but I would not want my country without it. I do not want my sister, my parents, my friends, my neighbours, my clients to be worried that they may have cancer but not be able to afford treatment. Would I give up my private insurance? It would be one of the very last payments to go if I was in financial trouble. But that is not because I need it for treatment. I need it for speed which does make financial sense for me. And I need it because I choose to be ill in an environment closer to a hotel or the standards of my own home than a waiting room - a probably snobbish attitude which I, not all tax payers should pay for.

So ,anyway that is my view. I think that might be that topic dealt with!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Recommendations sought

This is a picture of a bird. I think it might be a guinea fowl but I am only basing that on the fact that it looks like the applique birds in the Quilt Africa book. That's about as near to ornithology as I get. Anyway this bird and a gaggle (go on then, email me about the correct collective noun for applique birds) of faster ones were running around the local lavender farm when, on my playcation, we called into see if their tatty cafe was any less tatty. It was not. We did not stay.

Whatever this bird is, it has nothing to do with this post. Save of course for the bit of the post which is about the fact that the bird is nothing to do with the post. But better not to go there.

This post is about the fact that I have reached the end of the Internet. Those of you who use Google Reader will understand. It ought to be a great relief as, when I had 334 unread posts on Google reader I did feel a bit overwhelmed. However, I confess that I have been weeding down my list, taking out those blogs of which I had tired a little. It felt good to have a little spring clean. Nothing personal about the writers but some blogs which were promising had deteriorated into topics that held less interest for me.

But now I have that white screen, blank save for the stark notice that I have no friends left, I mean, that I have read all my blogs. So, do me a favour will you? Because I have time and inclination to read some good blogs but no time or inclination to trawl through every link on your side bars, (Yup, I'm lazy- so sue me for it.) I'd like it if you recommended one or two of your very favourite blogs that you think I might like. Well written, informational blogs low on baby and pet content. Not even just quilting blogs. Just really good ones. Maybe someone reads a bird watching blog....

It's healthcare, stupid

I was contemplating posting a little something about the US health care debate. Then I read on ArtBiz blog here that emailing people with my health care views was a big no-no. She has a point about the abuse of mailing lists and not abusing people who signed up to read about art with unsolicited personal views.

But I am deciding that this does not apply to me because:

1. If you are still reading me after all this time, I assume you signed up to read whatever garbage spills out of my brain with the hope that fabrics will feature frequently but not constantly. They usually do and here are some to soften the blow of the middle of this post. This is what I dyed on my playcation.

2. I have no personal view. I have a deep, deep void of understanding.

This is because all my information on Obama's proposed reforms come from newsbite shots of people abusing senators which I only half watched because I was blogging at the time anyway. And this article in the Times today which US readers might find interesting. So maybe someone wants to fill me in on what the debate actually is. Because from here it looks like this:
(a) the US has a purely insurance based system
(b )this works so well that artists have to set up sites like Hearts for Anna to get treatment for a woman with breast cancer and other bloggers I have read have lost jobs and been without any health care at all which has understandably been a worry for them.
(c) the proposal is for a system that provides care for all
(d) people don't want it.
Dennis is a politically educated person. US politics included. I have just asked him. He says he doesn't have any comprehension either. Please, someone inform us in neutral terms what the problem is!

Meanwhile I am not going to worry about it. I am going to play with some of my birthday presents.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Grumpy OLD woman?

During my playcation ( about which more in a later post) I turned 39. I didn't think 39 was old but today we saw two neighbourhood Policemen. One was still of the age where he hardly picked up his feet and still breathed through his mouth. His colleague still had acne. I know its a cliche but, really! And then there is the grumpiness. Or maybe its justified. Let me run the two scenarios that are really bugging me past you, for your opinions

You will be aware that I have been dissatisfied in the past with a City and Guilds provider which I tend not to name. Well to heck with that. I paid School of Stitched Textiles over £20 to get a certificate saying I had passed the course. After a few weeks I noticed that it had not arrived. I emailed and politely asked them to send it to me, pointing out that they may have overlooked it because, if you remember, I did not exist on their records and therefore my receipt of payment was on the sign up sheet for the diploma course, to which I am not signed up.

Their response: They never post certificates out. I have to drive 28 miles to pick it up in person. But in September when classes start again. On a Sunday. Or if I want it before September I can go midweek ( when of course I am at work). I did enquire why it could not be sent registered post if they were worried about it getting lost. No response to that comment. This is a school who has learners all over the world. How do Australians get their certificate? By post maybe?

I was tempted to point out that this is my certificate and technically they are indulging in the tort ( civil offence) of conversion... but I think I'd rather just tell you the story than try to make them think logically.

Then there is the organisers of Festival of Quilts. I bought tickets for me and a companion for the dancing event. They charge £23 for a buffet and some dancing. Not cheap but it is in the Hilton who do tend to charge on the high side. And it a good night. I also know that cash flow is vital for a business and I believe in supporting businesses who provide what I want. So we booked in advance when tickets come out and paid then.

This week I get an email. If I book now I can get two tickets for the price of one. This did annoy me somewhat. I emailed pointing out that I felt it was very unfair to offer free tickets to latecomers, having had the benefit of our cash for sometime and that it did not encourage early booking.

They emailed stating that they paid the Hilton a set figure for the event based on minimum numbers which they had not achieved. They were therefore likely to make a loss on the event. they were trying to incentivise people to come along. They compared it to buying an item on sale in a shop and finding it on sale later. "That is the nature of a sale."

I don't think that is a logical comparison as, had I bought a jumper I would have been wearing it for the period between purchase and the subsequent sale and therefore benefited from the higher price. Here they have benefited from cash flow but I have not had any benefit at all. As they advertise the numbers of tickets left on their website it is not even as if I had the benefit of booking and knowing I was safe to get a ticket as there was clearly no risk I would not. A better analysis would be an airline where the model is, the prices are cheaper if you book earlier.

They are of course entirely within their rights to offer a promotion like this. But, to my mind promotions like this treat customers with contempt and are entirely counter productive if they wish to encourage customer loyalty, good will and early booking. Or even booking at all next year. Do you agree? Or am I just getting old and grumpy?