Sunday, August 26, 2007

G is for Grafton

I have been away for a couple of days, but I'm back with another entry in my Encyclopedia. There will be more quilting related stuff soon, but I have been busy with other things lately, so there hasn't been much sewing. I'll work on the binding of my stack'n'wack tonight, so I should be done with that one within the next couple of days. I also have two others I'll share, so don't give up on me ;-)

G then. I was going to say G is for Ginger Bliss, Amy Butler's fabric line, but I have done that so many times already here, here and here that I won't bore you with that! A look at my bookshelves, which have been refilled today, provided a theme for this post, though. Anther alphabetic list was lined up - Sue Grafton's mysteries featuring female PI Kinsey Millhone. Ms Grafton knew what she was doing when she started a series with a book for each letter of the alphabet - get the reader hooked and they will come back for more, and if she keeps it up - 25 times more... She has hooked me, and I have them all, from A is for Alibi to S is for Silence.
So what is it about these books that I like? Well, in so many books in this genre, the Private Eye is a hard boiled character who has seen it all, and lets nothing surprise him. He has a liquor bottle in his desk drawer and he allows himself to be seduced by a pretty face and gets drawn into a case, solves the mystery and ends up back where he started. Kinsey Millhone is also a private eye who is having problems coping with life, but her lot improves ever so slightly through the series and there is some hope that she will end up in a better place. Grafton also shows that detective work isn't as glamorous as one could think, but that a lot of it involves going through public records and paperwork and that is to be expected from this kind of job. When her heroine finds herself in potentially dangerous situations she is terrified and not afraid to say so - she seem very human, a person one can identify with. That she manages to solve all the cases she takes on doesn't hurt either. The next book is due in December - I know what I want for Christmas !

Friday, August 24, 2007

F is for Flossie, Faye, Flora and Fernanda

It all started so innocently with Flora the Gardener. I found the pattern somewhere and liked her prim little face and felt watering can - such a practical feature, don't you think?
No sooner had she got her hat on, than she announced that she wanted a friend. A quilting friend. After a little think, Flossie the Quilter was born, complete with half finished quilt (what is a quilter without a UFO?) and paper tape measure from IKEA.
With a gardener and a quilter in the house there was reason to believe that there wouldn't be much housework done, so another friend with a broom was next. She, however, evolved into Fernanda the Witch, who was no more interested in sweeping than the rest of them, so to finish the quartet, Faye the Fairy with her magical wand designed to bless my rooms and make them dust free arrived. Sadly I have to report that there is some kind of malfunctioning where that wand is concerned. Matters will have to be looked into....

Sunday, August 19, 2007

E is for EFL

Or English as a Foreign Language.

One of the reasons I started this blog was to try to use my language skills, such as they are. Way back in 1981 I went to London and worked as a domestic slave (also known as an "au-pair") for a year, while attending Hammersmith and West London College studying EFL. It was a very interesting year in which I learned a lot, not least about myself.
I realized quite soon that my domestic skills weren't all one had hoped for - I failed to see the importance of dusting and hoovering every single day of the week, and this is unfortunately something I still haven't managed to get my head around... Still, the job was only my means of getting to stay for a year, and I knew what I was getting myself in for, so no worries there. Through attending college I gained lots of friends, some of which I still keep in touch with. Some were English and some from other countries - I didn't seem to lack destinations to travel to for years after that. In my class there were people from most European countries and some from Japan and Hong Kong as well. We all came from different backgrounds, but through a shared experience we became great friends.
In the blogosphere it is a bit like that too - people from all parts of the world and all different backgrounds meet to share parts of our lives, what we do and what we think about. Friendships are made and visits, real or virtual, are arranged. Simmy, for instance has just returned to England from a holiday in the US visiting blogfriends and their families and had a wonderful time, it seems. Lolly is taking us with her to visit Peru, and shared a story full of suspense of how she and her husband were separated and managed to find each other again during the recent earthquake - I was not the only one who smiled through tears when she came to that point of her story! We get to share Amanda's proud and happy rendition of her little daughter's first sentence, and after so many posts about Alicia's lovely dog Audrey, more than a thousand comments on the post announcing the dear doggy's death shows that craft bloggers are a compassionate lot. I'm happy to be a part of this community and feel that I get more insight into how the rest of the world lives, what people feel and think, only to discover that we are not so different after all.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

D is for Decorating

I had another word lined up for today, but it suddenly dawned on me that the letter D fitted in perfectly with what I'm actually doing. There has been very little crafting to show and tell about lately, and here you see the reason for that. I have been spending a lot of time climbing that stepladder and wielding a paintbrush lately.
When space is at a premium (isn't that a posh way of saying that I live in a tiny flat? ) it isn't all that easy to do what they do on those decorating shows, that I incidently love watching, where they remove everything before they start - It must be so much easier to have an empty shell of a room to decorate! Instead I have been doing my living room wall by wall - moving furniture out of the way, painting, waiting for the paint to dry and moving everything back, before tackling another wall.
The area I have been dreading the most, and which is why it has taken me ages to actually start this project, is the one I'm doing today - look at those empty shelves! It took me all morning just to empty them, and as a result the rest of the room looks something like this: I have tons of books. I'm sure of it. My back tells me this is so. I did some serious purging of my collection last summer in preparation for this task, but I still have plenty of reading matter! Which brings me to what today's post was really going to be about. I thought it was too obvious to use B for Books, as so many have done that already, so I thought I'd share some of my favourite writers along the way instead. So today's post is really:

D is for Dewar, Isla.
I love her books, and have in fact just ordered a few more from Amazon. This one is sitting in one of those piles on my floor though, and is really great. Isla Dewar's books are set in Scotland, and she writes about everyday life and people in a way that really makes you care. Her heroines often find themselves in difficult situations, but manage to rise above them in a way which gives hope, yet seems realistic. She doesn't beautify the dilemmas they face, whether it's the loss of a child, giving up one's job to start a new life in the countryside or coping with a mentally ill parent. In spite of all the potentially problematic situations she writes about, the stories are told with a lot of humour of the laughing aloud kind. Great stuff! And with the beginning of the post in mind: you didn't think I chose this particular book at random, did you? ;-)

Friday, August 17, 2007

C is for Cross-stitch

I can't remember when I made my first cross-stitched picture. It's something I seem to have been doing for ever. Come to think of it, I have no idea how it ever entered my mind that this was something I would try either. My mother used to make tapestries where the picture was painted on the canvas and my grandmother embroidered fancy stitches on tablecloths, but I can't remember ever seeing any of them doing counted cross-stitch. I'm a more thorough and fastidious type, however, so the more "scientific" approach of following a pattern of blocks and converting it into a picture that would end up just the way you had planned, appealed to me, I suppose. The bigger the picture and the greater the challenge, the better!
This one titled "London 1616" is quite large, about 15 x 20" and stitched on evenweave. I started this when I was about 14 and it took me a few years, but I did finish it!

I have come to appreciate the quick fix of stitching a smaller image however, and once I realized that they didn't all have to be pretty teddies and fancy flowers, but that you could actually add some humour, there was nothing stopping me!

I love these "Listen Honey... " designs and have several of the charts. In fact I have oodles of charts of all sorts that I'll probably never get around to stitching, and that is just as well, I suppose, because where would I hang the ****things?

I always have something on the go, and right now I'm in a "Witchy" state of mind I think, working on this design. The one above is one I did a year or so ago, from Lizzie*Kate .

I once read an interview with a cross-stitch designer whose five year old daughter told everybody that her mother "made pictures from little kisses". There must be something to be said for that ;-)

I've just realized that I ought to take new photos of these old things, they are way too blurry. Sorry about that!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

B is for Bath

I thought I might use this meme as an opportunity to show some of the stuff I've made before I started this Blog - my "Quilting History" so to speak. It is supposed to be all about Me anyway, isn't it, and quilting is an important part of my life!

This is a quilt I made some years back featuring my cousin's twin boys - sweet little things they were way back then - they are big tough guys now, starting school next week- enough to make this old "auntie" feel very old, I can tell you!

I had lots of fun with this little quilt. I started out with a photo of the boys in the tub but I wanted to do more with it than just creating a fabric frame and including it in a quiltblock or something, the way I've seen it done (and often with great success) by others. I converted the photo to a line-drawing and printed it on paper first. I extended some lines and drew an old-fashioned bath tub of sorts -a compact version I suppose you can say ;-) and then I added whatever I thought the bathroom should have - tongue-and-groove panelling, a picture on the wall, a puddle on the floor, towels, shower curtain etc. I used my drawing as a pattern for the pieces and appliqued them on to the muslin background, adding the photo transfer last. After layering with batting and backing I quilted the panelling and added details like the shower and taps with copper thread, the surface of the water with holographic thread and as a final touch two little ducky buttons.

I had originally thought I'd present the quilt to the boys' parents when I finished it, but I can't bear to part with it, so I have told them that they'll just have to come here whenever they want to see it. That's one way of keeping in touch with one's family, I suppose ;-)

A is for art supplies

OK - I decided to play this game too. Started by Bella Dia on August 1st, but I figure people haven't come so far that it is too late to join in.
I came across a photo of pencils in all sorts of colours in Flickr and felt a tingle right there and then - oh, I want some! Let's face it - art supplies: I can't resist them!
I buy all sorts of things to have "just in case" - I really neeeeded those Derwent colouring pencils some years back, and of course I needed all 72 colours at once... That I can't really draw very well is beside the point: having those pencils might just give me more reason to draw, and then I wil become better at it, right?
And that pretty paper? I might make some cards if I have them and that should save me some money in the long run... Yarn, embroidery floss, ribbons, paint - you name it - stocking up is so much fun I can't help it! And of course, fabric - that goes under the heading of art supplies too, doesn't it? And while you can mix paint to create the colours you need, that's not an option with fabric, so I really need some in each and every colour to have a complete palette to work from... That's my excuse anyway, and I have a stash to prove it!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Experimental spirit

Last summer my sister made a raspberry liqueur that by Christmas was so lovely you would almost swallow your tongue to get every bit of that summery berry taste. I'm not really that into liqueurs, but because of the tartness of the raspberries this wasn't too sweet, so this summer I thought I'd have a go. The recipe is quite simple: fill a jar with raspberries until it is completely full. Add sugar until it is completely full- the sugar runs down between the berries so the jar isn't completely full after all. I used a kilo of berries (just over two pounds), and half a kilo of sugar.
Add spirit. I used vodka because that doesn't have a distinct taste of it's own, and chose the prettiest bottle I could find - that's how much I know about vodka... Again, fill the jar.
Close the lid firmly - this canning jar has a rubber seal to make it completely tight - and shake gently to dissolve the sugar. The idea now is to keep turning the jar about once a week until Christmas, letting all the berry juice add flavour to the vodka/sugar mix and produce a ruby red liqueur. Apparently the berries lose their colour during the process. The contents of the jar has to be filtered, of course, to separate the berries from the liqueur.
After filling my jar I had vodka left and started looking around for something else to experiment with. I watched Nigella (on TV, not in real life...) searching her pantry the other day and she pointed to a bottle of lemon liqueur she had brought home from Italy. Hm, I wondered - could I get good results witht he same method using lemons...?
Nothing ventured, nothing gained, so I decided to have a go. I used a smaller jar, this being an experiment and all... filled it with slices of lemon, sugar and the remaining third of the vodka. We'll see. I might have ruined some perfectly good vodka, but as I rarely touch the stuff (I prefer a good whisky), I would just have had it sitting in my cupboard for ever, so never mind. Now the deed is done and the big question is: will I be able to wait until Christmas to sample these...

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Old quilt

I mentioned the other day that I had made a quilt for my uncle years ago, and that it ended up on the wall instead of in his armchair. I just scanned some old photos of it, not the best quality, but I thought I'd show and tell anyway.

My uncle is one of those people who hoards everything "just in case". He is an electrician (semi-retired, but he'll probably never stop tinkering with those wires...) and has always been repairing things for other people. Ever since he bought his first used car he has always been repairing cars as well and gathering spare parts to use for future repairs. He lives in a flat in town with little spare room, so it's the little house in the country, where my gran grew up, which has to hold all these objects he holds on to. Or rather the old smithy/outhouse/barn next to it.

My uncle loves the place, and when I was planning the quilt for him I knew I wanted to incorporate it. I also wanted to comment on his hoarding instinct, so I made the smithy with an extra layer of batting and walls that curved outwards. There are car parts, a washing machine, tires and I don't know what spilling out of the doors. I made the garden in a riot of green floral fabric - my gran used to plant flowers, trees and bushes everywhere (it used to be a nightmare to cut the grass - you'd alway worry about being yelled at for cutting down a sapling or something...).
I was thinking about adding some kind trailing vine or something like that, but ended up adding trailing electrical extension cords and some of the tools of his trade: a screwdriver, a pair of pliers and a torchlight instead. Fishing has always been a favourite hobby of his, so I also added a border with appliqued fish (cod, haddock and salmon drawn from photos in one of my mother's cookery books), making this a very personal quilt.
My uncle loved the quilt from the moment he set eyes on it - exclaiming that it couldn't have been made for anyone else but him, and he burst out laughing when he noticed the bulging walls of the smithy - my little joke at his expense. The quilt has pride of place on the wall of the living room in the little white house it portrays and he always shows it proudly to anyone who visits, commenting on every detail. He still phones from time to time exclaiming about little details he has noticed, telling me how he loves it. You have to love a guy like that!
This is one of the quilts I feel most proud of having made as well - I loved the whole process of coming up with ideas of elements to incorporate in it. This all came back to me when I was working on the Grandmother's garden quilt last week, I really need to spend more time developing my own quilt ideas, it is so much fun!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Mumbo Gumbo

Finally finished! The Mumbo Gumbo quilt has left the building! I have been working on this on and off, since January and as I said before, I've had misgivings about the thing and been close to chucking it out a few times. It wasn't until I decided that this would be a great quilt for my 79 year old uncle to snuggle under next winter that I really picked up some steam- once I had a goal and a deadline - his birthday last Friday - I got busy. This girl works best under pressure! As I mentioned I struggled a bit with getting it basted to the polar fleece - more than I ever have with a quilt before, partly because the fleece seemed to have a bit of give to it, and partly because of the size. It measures 63 x 84" - room for a lot of snuggling there! Once I had managed to get it basted, the quilting went like a breeze - I just stiched in the ditch between blocks and stitched wavy lines diagonally through the blocks and that was it. Because of the size, and because it has been raining like mad here lately I haven't been able to take it outside for a photo session, I can't show the entire quilt, but you get the general idea.
Keeping to the scrappy theme, I also added a scrappy binding. I alway cut my binding strips 2 1/4" and the leftovers from each quilt are put in a jar. I pulled out all the dark green pieces from the jar and joined them, adding a piece of hot pink and one of lime green to make the length I needed. We had a belated birthday celebration for my uncle today. He has been through a lot lately; struggling to recover from hip and knee surgery, plus daily visits and a lot of worry about my aunt who was in a nursing home. Sadly she died a forthnight ago, and there has been a lot to deal with. It was really good to be able to give him something to show I care and he was moved to tears. My aunt was a seamstress so he really knows how much work goes into a thing like that. I made him a quilt years ago and he appreciated it so much that it ended up on the wall, so he got strict instructions about this one - it is meant to be used!