Ten years on

Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of the day I arrived in Australia for good.

Screen shot 2014-07-30 at 4.18.32 PMIt’s a bit of a landmark, I feel. I first visited this beautiful country in 2001, and immediately fell in love with it. I went home and applied for a residence visa. The rest, as they say, is history.

I haven’t regretted the move for a single day. Not once. I am settled and contented here, it’s my home and I’ve never missed England and the life I had there. I miss people, of course, friends and family, but thanks to the miracle of Skype, I can still talk to them.

Life is good. I’m happy. I love and am loved. I don’t think there’s anything else I want or need – unless someone has a winning lottery ticket they’d like to hand over?

Have a great day.


We have lift-off

Today I delivered the first batch of gluten free cakes and biscuits.

I’ve been rather quiet in blogland over the past few days while I flung together a spreadsheet for all the recipes: ingredients listings, ingredient costs, recipe costs, sources, weights, consumables, etc. But it’s been worth it, as I now know exactly what it’s costing me to make them, rather than having a wild guess and ending up out of pocket. It includes all the stuff you don’t normally think about, like baking paper, oven time, spices, transport containers, paper doylies, stationery for invoices, etc.

Screen shot 2014-07-29 at 10.08.04 AMScreen shot 2014-07-29 at 10.08.36 AMScreen shot 2014-07-29 at 10.07.50 AMScreen shot 2014-07-29 at 10.08.25 AMFrom the top, then: crispy choc chip peanut butter cookies; chocolate almond fingers (aka bokkepootjes); gingerbread and date loaf; caramelised pear cake. The cake is absolutely gorgeous warmed up and served with a bit of cream. OK, a lot of cream… Excuse the container shots, I only realised once they were packed that I hadn’t photographed them, and I wanted to avoid too much handling.

There was a lot of ooing and aahing from the shop owner, lots of deep sniffs of the smell of freshly baked cookies and cakes, and pretty much a promise to re-order. I think it was the peanut butter cookies that did the trick… She’s also going to pass my name on to another woman who is fed up with scrubbing her kitchen down to make GF cakes for other people, and wants a GF supplier.

She also asked about savoury items, as people sometimes come in wanting something for lunch. So I’ll have to put together a list for that. Dear me… This could get quite interesting….

Cross your fingers for me!

AHQ#1: completed

Mission accomplished.

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Here is the Petty Officer’s quilt, ready to pack up and send out as soon his ship deploys and I have an address. Apart from the quilting hideousness, it’s been enjoyable and satisfying to produce something that’s needed and will give someone who does a hard job a bit of comfort and appreciation. I’ve enjoyed the fun bits, and am especially proud of that signal flag strip on the back.  I’d like to incorporate that into other Navy quilts, but another time it’ll either be larger, or printed on a strip of white fabric. Piecing those tiny squares was just too time consuming and fiddly (not to mention pretty wonky!).

A few detail shots… I have my next assignment. Only a laundry bag this time, but it’s going to be fun because of the requested design features.

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VW Beetle, with some hairpin bends to negotiate…

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Soccer ball, with ‘bounce’

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‘Ghost’ VW Kombi

Watch this space.

Something to celebrate

I am at war with my sewing machine, so it’s just as well something nice has happened.

First, the problem: my walking foot isn’t walking, so the top and bottom layers of the AHQ quilt I’m working on are moving through the machine at different rates. The result is lumps, puckers and bulges. It’s not huge, but it’s visible to me, and I’m not happy…

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Remember these?

The nice thing is fun! We recently visited a coffee shop we hadn’t been to for a while. It was under new management, and while the coffee was still great, they didn’t have any gluten free goodies for me to munch on. It seems the new owners haven’t been able to find a reliable source of completely safe GF cakes locally. So of course, I piped up. The upshot is that I’m delivering three different offerings to the coffee shop early next week: The almond bickies shown above, gingerbread, and caramelised pear cake.  Hopefully the owner will like them… If it all works out, I’ll offer the same service to the other independent coffee shops.

I’ve spent a couple of hours working up a spreadsheet to cost out the cakes and bickies, including consumables like baking parchment, and oven running costs.  Might as well be professional about it from the get go.

I’ll let you know how I get on.

AHQ#1: Finished the top

Here’s a progress report for my first ever AHQ output.

Screen shot 2014-07-23 at 1.40.37 PMNow I have to piece the back, including a panel that will hold the official AHQ label. That dark navy and white kangaroo print is too good to blow the whole lot in one go, so I’m going to use a section of it, and hoard the rest.

Screen shot 2014-07-23 at 1.41.08 PMHere are some of the personalising details. The embroidered patches are just bought and stuck on, but I’m quite proud of the abstracted VW vintage Kombi appliqué. The VW badge on the front, however, was just too big an ask, so I did that in fine tip permanent marker… Hope it survives the Navy laundry!

I’m not too unhappy with the way it looks. It’s actually quite hard to make something for someone you don’t know at all, a young man whose tastes you’re not sure about, with quite scanty information about colour and interests. I suppose I’m spoiled normally by being able to discuss with future quilt owners what they like and want… It’s been a balance between producing something they’ll like and want to use and something I want to make!

Screen shot 2014-07-23 at 1.41.16 PMScreen shot 2014-07-23 at 1.41.23 PMScreen shot 2014-07-23 at 1.41.30 PMRight now, I haven’t really considered it much yet, but the quilting’s going to be just enough to hold the layers together, nothing fancy, and for durability it will be machine quilting. The binding will be blue.

Now then, that little puzzle from the end of my last AHQ post.  They’re maritime signal flags, and this is what they mean:

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…And on with the next thing

This will be an Aussie Heroes Quilts production.

Screen shot 2014-07-20 at 3.44.32 PMThis was the initial fabric selection and an assortment of iron-on patches to fit the brief. I’m particularly loving the dark navy blue fabric with white kangaroo silhouettes which is going to be the backing.

Subsequently I decided not to use many of the scraps I thought about using, since some of them are, well, floral/girly. I want to get it right for my first one! This quilt is going to a Petty Officer Master Technician in the Navy, and I have to get it on its way by 25 August at the latest.

Screen shot 2014-07-22 at 7.51.34 PMI have a plan, and this is what it looks like. The nice thing about all the AHQ quilts is that they’re smallish, and therefore faster to make than my usual double to queen size. There’s a standard size we have to stick to, to ensure it doesn’t weigh too much, that it fits the bunks, and that it can be stowed away in kit easily and quickly. So I can crack on fast, make the quilt fit the recipient, and once it’s away, start the next one. Thousands of quilts and laundry bags have gone out, but so many thousands more are needed, and each one goes to a grateful and appreciative home…

Screen shot 2014-07-22 at 7.51.49 PMHere’s progress to date. The chequered patches went together like a dream, everything lined up without trouble – it must be a good omen! To contrast with the crisp blue and white blocks, I’m going for greyish, muted  solids and co-ordinating large scale simple botanic prints meandering from side to side. The ‘extras’ that reflect the recipient’s interests are going to be added in the solid colour squares, here and there on the quilt top. There’s also a co-ordinating block for the back which will contain the AHQ label.

Screen shot 2014-07-22 at 7.52.02 PMHere are the embellishments. The drawing is going to be the appliqué patch, which will be fairly tricky. I’m still working out how to do it, but it’s going to be good if I can pull it off. OK, little quiz: what is the significance of the coloured strip at the top of this picture?  The clue lies in this quilt’s final destination. Answers in the comments box. No prizes except kudos, though!

Back to the sewing machine.

Blog Hop time

A while ago, the lovely Sharon at Modflowers asked if I’d like to join a Blog Hop.

After an initial moment of panic – I just don’t join things – I had another think and what I thunk was that it was a Good Idea. So, here goes: Welcome to Chiconia. Stay a while and look around. I hope you enjoy your visit.

Thank you very much to Sharon of Modflowers for thinking of me and nominating me. She has the most gorgeous blog devoted to vintage fabrics and the creations she makes from them. She’s also a highly entertaining writer, and best of all, she posts almost every single day so there’s always something lovely to look at and read. Go and have a look round, you won’t regret it:


Now, I’m supposed to answer some questions, so here goes.

1) What are you working on at the moment?

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The start of Steampunk

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Wedding Sampler progress so far

If you follow my blog at all, you’ll know that I show and tell on a very regular basis and in a great deal of possibly too much detail! But for the newbies: I’m working on a pretty machine-pieced quilt called Amistad, which means Friendship in Spanish, because it’s a collaboration between me and a friend who made it possible by giving me fabric. Also in the pipeline is an English Paper Piecing quilt called Steampunk based on a design by Evelyn Zuber called Mother Earth. When I saw the design, it made me think of gears and cogs in some sort of elaborate high-Gothic Victorian arrangement, hence the name. It’s going well, but there’s a long way to go yet. I also have a piece of counted cross stitch embroidery on the go, a wedding sampler which should have been finished for my first anniversary half a year ago… Numerous other projects at the planning stage, and somewhere in there I’ve got to get another baby quilt done for a friend who gives birth in about 3 weeks. No pressure, then…

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Tender young baby vegies!

Apart from the sewing, I garden, which is a big creative outlet for me. I live in the tropics of Australia, so my ‘pretty’ gardens are lush and cool, with lots of big impact planting. My food garden is very small, and has just started producing, which is hugely exciting. Mostly the growing is done in the winter, which is spring-temperate, rather than the summer which is boiling hot, wet and very humid. So in the middle of the Australian winter, I’m growing tomatoes, zucchini, capsicums, salads, beans, Chinese greens, spinach, strawberries and rhubarb.

I cook too – gluten free, because I’m coeliac, although it features a lot less on the blog when I’m in the middle of a quilt project!

2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?

Isfahan, complete with scrappy binding

Isfahan, for my father

The finished quilt. I'm really pleased with it

The Tree of Life, for my brother

Mainly, I think, because I mostly don’t follow patterns and other people’s designs. I don’t have one ‘style’ that I always follow. True, Steampunk is a pattern, but I’m deviating so wildly from the original in colour and final embellishment that it will be a very different animal. Other quilts have been completely original, others still use techniques I’ve learned from other people but given my own twist. I don’t much go for complicated or traditional blocks or designs.

And I’m not a purist. I’m quite happy to combine multiple techniques in one quilt: machine and hand piecing, machine and hand quilting, raw edge and needleturn applique, tied and buttoned quilts, etc. I find occasionally a quilt concept springs fully formed from my brain and demands to be made. If I can’t start it right away, I draw it out in full and make copious notes. It then nags me until I make it!  It can be quite difficult when I’m in the middle of another project..

3) Why do you create what you do?

Three 'flying quilts' for my nephew's triplet baby daughters. Left is Komeet (Comet), centre is Vlucht (Flight) and right is Wervelwind (Whirlwind)

Baby quilts for my triplet great-nieces

Because I must. I have to create, and sewing is my chosen medium. I love the combination of beauty and usefulness that quilts represent, even if some of them end up not on a bed but on the wall. I make the odd garment too, mainly because I can’t find what I want in the shops, but I find the process a lot less inspiring!

4) How does your creative process work?

The highly technical and detailed design drawing. But I know what it means, and that's all that matters

Planning the Magpies quilt

As I said above, sometimes the idea arrives fully formed, and then it’s just a question of working out how to execute it – sometimes it’s a real technical challenge. Other times I see a shape or a pattern that makes me want to see how it would work in fabric. Sometimes I see the work of others and think that I don’t like it in those fabrics, but would love it in other colours or designs. I’m a very orderly worker. I draw the design up in miniature on graph paper. I work out how many pieces of what colours will be needed and work out fabric allowances. If templates are needed I make those. If necessary I scale the design up to make full size templates for applique. I cut all the fabric out, and lay it out on my design wall, which is double quilt size. After that, I live with it for a day, looking at it, thinking, squinting at the pieces to see if anything’s jumping out too much or not enough. Finally, I start sewing, from the top down, pressing as I go to make sure all the seams nest together tidily. My least favourite part is sandwiching the quilt top, batting and backing together, and I just LOVE binding, because it means the quilt is nearly done.

OK, that’s quite enough about me. The next thing I have to do is introduce some other bloggers who are well worth visiting. Rather than nominate another quilter, I’ve chosen two bloggers who are creative in other areas:

Jan of The Snail of Happiness is an ecologist and permaculturalist living in Wales who writes entertainingly about the joys and hazards of living a sustainable life surrounded by productive gardens, chickens, dogs, Mr Snail of Happiness and a bevy of blogging admirers. She knits and crochets beautifully using British yarns, and has produced the most astonishing creation from a collaborative project involving contributors from all over the world – take a look at her Masterpiece:


Kirsten at Pink Rose Bakery (also in the UK) is a talented creator of sophisticated and luscious gluten free delights, both sweet and savoury.  I never fail to read one of her recipes without drooling a little, and she writes from a very amusing and individual perspective. She too produces beautiful crochet – it just doesn’t feature among the recipes!


Finally, I’d like to point all the quilters and appreciators of things carefully and beautifully hand crafted at a post from IntoCraft where they feature the most astonishing ‘quilts’. See if you can guess what’s so amazing about these beauties before you start reading. And it’s all man-made…


Do go and check them out. You won’t be sorry.