Displacement activity

As some of you know, these last two weeks I have been spending more time than I’d like with my friends in the medical imaging departments at our two local hospitals.

It has’t been a happy time… I’ve been having severe back pain, without any discernible cause or initial event. Here’s the thing. When breast cancer spreads, its most common destination is bone. Two weeks ago I had a CA125 tumour marker blood test and a pelvic ultrasound. Nothing there. Last week I had a CT scan and a nuclear medicine bone scan. I saw the oncologist again on Thursday to get all the results. For bad news, it’s actually pretty good! No metastatic cancer. But…

My back pain is intractable, responding to neither the slow release oxycodone analgesia I normally take for the arthritis, nor a hefty top-up dose of Endone, or benzodiazepine muscle relaxants. But I now have some neuropathic analgesia which, o joy, is actually working. And I’m wearing a back brace.

SpineWhat you’re seeing here is my L4 and L5 vertebrae, which are “incorrectly aligned due to degenerative spondylosis, with mild scoliosis of the lumbar region with convexity to the left”.  And you know what?  It’s not nice. The space for the spinal cord is getting a bit pinched (see that top arrow?), and the vertebrae are beginning to rub on each other (bottom arrow). I’m having an MRI on Friday to see the close detail, so they can see if there’s any herniation of the disk, anything pressing on the nerves, and hopefully put together a plan for conservative, physiotherapy treatment rather than surgery.

So of course, during all the waiting, I responded as I always do, with displacement activities. (That was a joke, in case you missed it. Not very funny, but the best I can manage with displaced vertebrae :-/ ) I finished the dress. I’m cranking out Time for Teal blocks as fast as I can, I cut out another top to sew when the paper piecing is driving my crazy, I have embroidery to catch up with for tomorrow, and several more hatbox blocks to make. Much of this can be done sitting. Standing’s the hardest, lying down with pillows under my knees is wonderful, but you can’t get anything much done that way, and the doc wants me to stay active.

I like having something pretty to think about. It takes me longer than before, and I have to move more gently and picking things up off the floor is a major exercise, but I can still make, create, imagine, design, draw, sew, embroider and write.

All things considered, it could be a lot worse. Life is still sweet.

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Foot²Freestyle: April Roundup

Holy Cow!  We’re all ready ahead of schedule!

Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 7.32.54 pmI’m not sure if it’s a record, but what a lovely way to finish up our penultimate month. Nanette has chosen such a beautiful colour palette, and I’m really quite envious of some of the blocks she’s been sent. I do hope we get to see whatever she chooses to make from them in due course. Head over to the F²F gallery page to see the full range except for Nanette’s own blocks, which I hope we’ll get to see soon. I think Lynn may be next to submit a photo of a finished quilt, she’s just posted about assembling her blocks by QAYG, and from the look of it, she’s going to smash it!  Close behind is Sue, who’s posting about potential layouts for her rainbow blocks.

And next month – and finally! – it’s my turn. Hopefully most of you will find my colour choices simple and straightforward, without too much need for interpretation: Mid grey, black and lime green. Background: white or pale grey. 

I have received three parcels already, which I have faithfully left unopened to maintain the surprise, but come Saturday, I’ll be tearing into them excitedly. If you have taken photos and I’ve confirmed receipt of your parcel, do send them through on Friday night (Saturday morning my time), otherwise I can easily take the photos myself and put them up. It has been fun keeping the blocks a surprise for everyone as much as possible, but as I’m the gallery administrator, it’s going to be virtually impossible, so please don’t worry about holding back the photos once you’ve sent out your blocks, I’ll still be delighted with what I receive :-). And you can bet I’ll be assembling my blocks as soon as I possibly can!

As many of you are already aware, F²F is moving to a new home, a purpose-built blog to house the gallery, list the members, explain what it’s all about and show colour inspirations. Once all the May blocks are in and the first session is complete, we’ll start the next round of F²F in June, and the gallery will then move over there. I’ll still report here, but if you want to stay on top of what’s happening in F²F², bookmark or follow the site.

See you over there!

The Sisterhood of the Travelling Sketchbook

My friend Anne, a talented and generous artists, has come up with a fun idea. Have a read and see if you’d like to join in. So far there are seven of us participating, but the more the merrier, and the more varied the input the more interesting and creative the outcome will be.
Sew, draw, paint, write, photograph, cook, collage…. make some kind of creative contribution and make this Travelling Sketchbook totally amazing!

If you’d like to see who’s participating, there’s a later post from Anne here.

Anne Lawson

Oh I do love a good idea, and this is one of the best! A travelling sketchbook!

Let me go back to the beginning….

A while ago I was inspired to make sketchbooks from odd bits and pieces of paper that I had drawn on, practised watercolour washes on, started paintings on and so on. I offered them to blogging friends and sent about half a dozen around the world. One was to Kate in Northern Queensland. (You can read more about the original idea here.)

Earlier this year Kate and I had a chance to meet up in Melbourne. When she got home she sent me back the sketchbook with delightful additions. This was one, and you can see all the pages in my post from earlier in the week.

IMG_4251

Though the comments in that post Kate came up with the brilliant idea of having a travelling…

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Cosmatesque # 4: the next ring

The central circle is now appliquéd onto its light background ring, ready for the next stage.

Outer ring segment

Lower left quarter coloursOuter ring piecesThis is the beginning of the second, outer ring. It feels as if it’s going to take forever… A small exaggeration, but there’s a lot of very small bits there. The large triangles alternate dark umber and slate, the small triangles alternate charcoal and golden amber, separated by a zigzag of limestone. Fiddly in the extreme, especially the zigzag, which has to be made up of two pieces. I considered making large limestone triangles and then appliquéing everything else to them, but it wasn’t successful; the fabric was too floppy to get nice straight lines, so I’ve persisted with the EPP method, which has the virtue of producing completely consistent shapes so long as you’re meticulous in how you sew the bits together.

There was some useful learning from the first circle:

•  When making the triangles, fold down and stitch the edge which will be on the outside last. This means that all the excess will be pointing away from the outside edge.
•  Press everything away from what will be the inner and outer edges.
•  Trim seam allowances down as much as possible before joining the shapes, especially on corners
•  Don’t stress if things don’t line up exactly. You can always unpick a bit of basting and ease out some of the seam allowance to make things line up.
•  Do not press pieces basted with polyester thread too hot. You will melt the thread onto the fabric. Don’t ask how I know this, it’s a sore subject 😦

Sore enough, in fact, that it has meant I had to replace my iron. It has seen a lot of action, spent hundreds of long, long hours switched on, and was now regularly overheating, leaking boiling hot water onto my feet, tripping the household power socket fuse (entailing tedious trips down two flights of stairs and outside to the power board) and showing clear signs of corrosion on the charging pins (it was a cordless version, and had to be returned to the stand to reheat after every use). However, since I bought it on special offer about three years ago when it was on sale at one third of the normal price, I had bought two. Out with the old, in with the new. I must admit it feels a bit safer now, and I’m not missing the smell of burning insulation or the scalded feet….

In a recent post, Esther over at ipatchandquilt used a fantastic craquelure print on a block she was making for one of the F2F members.  I saw it and immediately knew it would be perfect for this project, so she’s very kindly sending me half a metre when it’s my turn to receive my F2F blocks in May.  I’m just waiting to hear if there’s anything I can make or do for her in return…

Once this big ring is done, that’s the end of the most fiddly EPP part of this piece. There are other rings, but they’re much simpler.  Soon, I’ll be able to move on to FPP, and progress will be much faster.

But first, back to lots and lots of tiny stitches!

 

Time for Teal part 3

More squishies arrived in the post!

Two lovely geometric blocks came from Claire in France, and I know blocks of all sorts are on the way from other generous donors. This quilt is going to be totally stunning!

T4T collage 3And I’ve been busy myself: two Dresden Plates, one large and one small (my own simple designs), and a really beautiful pattern designed by Cath at Wombat Quilts called ‘Adventure Star’ – it’s free to download so if you fancy giving it a try, head over there. It’s just a little tricky, mainly because of the small pieces meeting in the centre, but it’s not at all hard – good preparation is the key.

Next on the menu for me is a whole bunch of cups, saucers, teapots and an amazing gateau on a cake stand designed by Esther. She’s been a complete superstar and has totally got on board with this project, and if you go over and click on her Craftsy shop, you’ll soon be able to find a whole bunch of tea-time related paper piecing patterns: cups, teapots, coffee pots, cupcakes, mugs, teaspoons, cake slices, and the gateau I’ll be making. Not all her patterns are free, but some are, and I believe she’s planning to offer free patterns if the user will donate a block for this or a future Ovarian Cancer auction quilt. She’s a wonderful ally in this very important cause, and I’m eternally grateful to her.

There are other patterns I’ll be using too, and I’ll give the designer’s name and link when I show them. I think it’s important to do this, because if the designer is generous enough to make free patterns available to people, their kindness should be acknowledged.

If you’d like to get involved and contribute a block, there’s still time. I will very shortly have enough cup, saucer, cake and teapot blocks, but will still need about 10 more Dresden Plates, both large and small (large being 10 or 11 inches across on the 12.5 inch background and small being 6-9 inches across on the 12.5 inch background), and I still need at least 15 more border blocks of generic design – anything so long as it is 12.5 inches square unfinished, and predominantly teal on a cream, white or light tan/beige background. I’m fully prepared and have the time to do them all myself, but if you’d like to help, your contribution will be most welcome and will be acknowledged on the quilt label on the back. And if your block doesn’t make it into this year’s quilt, don’t worry, I’ll be making one each year for Ovarian Cancer Australia until I physically can’t do it any more.

Right, I think it’s time for cake… by which, of course, I mean the gateau block, not the edible stuff, sadly!

A short interlude for dessert: Coconut pannacotta

Occasionally, and this may come as a surprise to some of you, I do things unrelated to sewing…

Here’s one of them. For those not already in the know, I am a coeliac and a year ago discovered I’m also lactose intolerant. This makes desserts tricky. A person can only eat so much fruit salad whilst watching everyone else tuck into sticky date pudding, ice cream, death by chocolate, etc. So when I recently had a wedding anniversary dinner with the Husband at the lovely resort where we got married, I managed to wangle the recipe for my dessert from the chef by playing for sympathy and some shameless flattery. I have made a few tweaks to adjust the spice balance a little, and I’ve dressed it up differently, but it’s still luscious! Creamy, mild, delicate and exotic. A proper grown up dessert and such a nice change from bloody fruit salad.

Coconut pannacotta ingredients

This is your one picture. For the rest, It’s a white liquid being stirred with a few unattractive lumpy bits in it, then poured into white ramekins. Nothing I can do will make that look interesting… I could have shown squeezing the gelatine but that needs two hands, and besides, it looks a bit, well, gross…

Coconut pannacotta

1 x 400ml (14 oz) can of coconut cream, well shaken
250ml (8 oz) thick cream (I use treated lactose-free, but it doesn’t have to be)
3 ½ sheets of leaf gelatine, soaked in cold water till soft (about 3 mins)
1 tablespoon castor sugar or coconut sugar, which I prefer
1 shredded kaffir lime leaf OR thinly peeled zest of 1 small lime
2 lightly bruised cardamom pods
½ cinnamon quill
½ star anise pod
½ teaspoon vanilla extract (not essence, or paste, which will colour the dessert and make it look unattractively grey)

Put everything except the soaking gelatine into a small heavy saucepan and bring very slowly to a simmer, stirring till the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat. Scoop the now rather slimy lump of soft gelatine out of the bowl of water and squeeze gently in both hands to remove as much water as possible without squidging bits of gelatine out between your fingers. Put into the pan of hot coconut mixture, and stir well until fully dissolved. Set aside again for 20-30 minutes to allow the aromatics to infuse into the mixture. Don’t leave it much longer than this or the gelatine will start to set. (You should be aware that leaf gelatine is an animal product, so if you’re a vegetarian, you’ll have to experiment with a vegetarian alternative such as agar agar, which will give a slightly grainier and softer set.)

Transfer the contents of the pan into a jug. Using a fine sieve, pour the mixture into small ramekins, or if you’re going to go all posh, oiled dariole moulds. There’s just over 600ml or 20 oz of mixture, so you can fill 4-6 small ramekins, and the dessert is very rich, so you don’t want to make the portions too large. Put in the fridge to set for 2-3 hours. If you’re going to turn them out, run a knife very gently around the top edge of the mould, plunge the base of the mould into hot water for a second or two then turn out. I’d tend to serve in the ramekins, less chance of disaster…

Serve with a coulis or purée of something tart, like passionfruit, raspberry, etc. It’s rich and needs the contrast. A sprinkle of toasted coconut flakes or a couple of crushed macadamias on the top is nice too. I made it first with kaffir lime leaves, and found the flavour too strong, it made me think of Thai curry too much. I like it better with lime zest. I also used less sugar than in the original recipe and also prefer this as it lets the aromatics speak out more, especially using coconut sugar which seems to enhance the flavour. If you don’t want to use dairy at all, put an extra can of coconut cream in the fridge overnight, open carefully and spoon the thick ‘head’ of coconut cream from off the the coconut water underneath and use this instead of dairy cream. And if you don’t have any problem with dairy and don’t like coconut that much, do the whole thing instead with pure thick cream! Actually, that would be tasty with a bit of strong coffee instead of the lime zest.  Well, you see how versatile this thing is!

I’m currently working on a citrus version of this, without any fat. But it will not, of course, like so many commercial alternatives, be dull, boring, filled with chemicals and over-sweetened as a a result. Just a little bit less naughty. So you can eat it more often, duh!

See how hard I’ve been working on your behalf to test and perfect this recipe?  All those experiments and tastings…. Oh, the suffering and hardship… Go on now, give it a try. You’ll thank me.

 

Time for Teal part 2

There have been too many distractions and too many new projects inserting themselves between me and my Time for Teal (T4T) quilt. It’s time to buckle down and get to work.

T4T collage 1Here are the beautiful contributions I’ve received so far: 4 pineapple blocks from Viv, a fabulous coffee pot and vase block made by Jenny from a paper piecing design by Esther (have a look at her Etsy shop, there are some wonderful designs there!) a really beautiful star from Gun, and a dresden plate and a teacup stack from Ali. Several others have offered more contributions, and I’ll post those as they arrive.

T4T collage 2Time for Teal conceptThe plan is now coming clear in my head. In the centre will be 9 blocks, each featuring a teatime-related image, whether it’s a pot, cups, cakes, or whatever. Round the outside of that will be a border of dresden plates, alternating large and small ones. Round the outside of that will be non-pictorial blocks to form the ‘tablecloth border’ – Viv’s four pineapples, for example, will go one in each corner. I have a plan for some wonky star blocks, a heart or two, perhaps a postage stamp block or two (no surprise there, then), etc. At bottom centre I’ll put my Teal Ribbon block, and the rest will be whatever works, or comes in, whether it’s pinwheels, 9-patches, diagonal stripes, HST designs, or whatever.

Now that there’s a plan, it’ll be much easier to keep up momentum. And I’ve put together quite a collection of fabrics: teals light and dark, near-teals, blends and graphics.