The Wild Beast of Chiconia, and other tales

The poor Husband is going to come back to a nasty surprise today…

His normally sunny-tempered consort is grim-faced, bloody-fingered (from the pins) and her hair is standing on end.  The overall effect is rather like an irritated bear. It’s not a good look. And the reason for all this joy? The ongoing battle with The Quilt that Fought Back.

Some of the quilting completed in the bottom half of the quilt.

Some of the quilting completed in the
bottom half of the quilt.

Having said that, I’m making reasonable progress. The bottom half of the centre section is done. Perspective lines are in, the little cakes and mugs are outlined. You will definitely not be seeing any close-up brag shots of my immaculate stitches. Because they’re not. Immaculate, that is.  But the overall effect is pretty OK. The chief irritation relates to my new sewing table extension, a clear perspex platform on legs, which slides onto the sewing surface of the sewing machine, in order to give you a larger flat area to work with. This is a marvellous idea in theory, but unfortunately, the manufacturer has slightly changed the shape of the machines since I bought mine, with the result that the table doesn’t quite fit. It’s loose and there’s a gap. And every time I turn or adjust the quilt under the needle, the edges or pins or loose threads catch the edge of the extension and shift it. Again and again and again. I’m delicately refraining from sharing my true thoughts, and I’m pretty sure the language would get this post taken down right smart (considering it’s supposed to be family-friendly). Anyway, I have constructed an elaborate network of sticky tape which is holding it still for now. But I am very definitely in Wild Beast Growly mode for the moment.

In other news (I feel it’s time to move on…), the baby lime tree seems to be recovering from the trauma of the move into larger quarters. The two citrus trees were given a dose of Epsom salts and a large drink of diluted worm tea at the beginning of the week, and it seems to be paying off. The lime, particularly, had clear evidence in the leaves of magnesium deficiency, hence the Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) treatment. It has new flowers, and none of the baby fruit has dropped off.

New flowers and baby fruit

New flowers and baby fruit

I’ll have to thin those out shortly as there are far too many for the tree to sustain, but citrus trees always produce too many and the majority fall off. I’m also watching a couple of the branches, where leaves have fallen off wholesale at some point, but which appear to have some tiny buds on them. If I can avoid pruning them off, it would be good.

Leaves on the dead stick!

Leaves on the dead stick!

The frangipani (dead stick) is in leaf. It has taken a while and I was wondering if it truly was a dead stick, but the tiny little dark red points continued to sprout out of the branch ends, and are now opening into beautiful pointed oval leaves. The parent tree has gorgeous flowers: pink, with a golden heart. I think it’ll be a while before this one flowers, but I know what to look forward to.

My hippeastrums have also flowered profusely; the earliest is now dead or dying, but there are some beautiful flowers still. My difficulty is getting a good shot without a tripod, and even if I had one, getting it to stand still on the uneven bark chip surface. Anyway, look at this gorgeous girl:

Aten't I gorgeous?

Aten’t I gorgeous?

That’s the news from Chiconia. The Beast is soothed by a little light gardening, laundry and photography. The quilt is progressing, the Husband is on his way home, and things are definitely improving in my world. Bloody hot outside, though.

We’re off on a road trip tomorrow. Mackay to Childers, Childers to Coffs Harbour, Coffs Harbour to Dorrigo, and home again after a couple of days. We’re visiting friends, window shopping for a house as an investment property, and on the way home, going to the Craft & Quilt Fair in Brisbane. For those of you feeling sorry for the Husband, you should know that we have a reciprocal arrangement. We go to events he wants to attend, we go to events I want to attend. So far this year we’ve gone to a big truck show in Brisbane, and the World Rally Championship in NSW. Now it’s my turn, with the Quilt Show, and in November we’re going to a classical music concert in Brisbane (Last Night of the Proms – I used to love the Promenade Concerts in London, miss that here…). The lappie is coming along, so I’ll still be posting and checking, but I don’t think that quilting or the garden will feature much over the next week or so.  More soon…

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Sunshine in a bottle

So, the mandarincello is ready.

After a week of steeping the de-pithed skins in vodka, most of the aromatic volatiles in the skins have migrated into the spirit, giving it a lovely sunny yellow colour and a strong aroma of mandarin.

I made a simple sugar syrup with half a cup of castor (superfine) sugar and half a cup of water, heated gently till the sugar was fully dissolved, and then cooled. I strained the spirit back into the bottle it came in, and then poured out about a quarter cup of the mandarincello to make space for the syrup. At this point, it’s still quite harsh-tasting, with a bitter back-note. Some might like it this way, but I prefer a little more fruity sweetness. So I added a tablespoon of the cooled syrup, shook the bottle gently and then tasted. Not bad, but not quite enough. Another tablespoon, and it was nearly there. So I added a final half tablespoon, and it was spot on. Yum! It both tastes and smells like fresh mandarins.

With the remaining syrup, I added the quarter cup of spirit, to give a mandarin-flavoured syrup with a small amount of alcohol in it. I’ll use this warmed, to pour over a cake, or add lots of soda water and ice for a refreshing drink with only a hint of naughtiness.

Look, give this a try. It’s not rocket science. If you have an excess of lemons, oranges or mandarins, use the skins to make yourself a bottle of sunshine, and in the case of oranges and mandarins, roast the fruit in the oven with a little sugar or honey and water to end up with delicious warm fruit to put on your cereal, yoghurt or icecream. If you don’t grow your own, I’d suggest using organic, non-waxed fruit to avoid adding wax or pesticides to your bottle.

Now, where’s my mandarin cake recipe…?

ScrapHappy July

It’s the day my friend Gun in Sweden and I host ScrapHappy, a day for showing something made from scraps.

This month, we’re welcoming more new members to the ScrapHappy group. Last month, Jon joined us with a scrappy electronics project, and now, Joanne, Johanna and Dawn – who is bringing us some jewellery she’s made from scrap silver from other projects. I’m loving that the scope and range of scrappiness is growing beyond the fabric/ yarn format!

This month is our ScrapHappyversary. The first ever ScrapHappy post went up in July 2015, and since then, there has been a scrappy post from Gun and myself on the 15th of every month come rain or shine, with more and more people joining us as time went on. Go scraps!

Here’s my offering this month. You may recall that when I was making the original $11 Rainbow scrappy quilt I had a number of much paler blocks, pastel shades that didn’t work with the strong brights I ended up using. I’ve pulled the paler red, blue, pink, teal and green blocks out of the cupboard, and added pale yellow, grey, beige/brown and lilac to join them. You guessed it. There’s another rainbow quilt on the way…

That’s a dapple of sunlight making the pale patch on the design wall, not a really strange effect of the colours I used!

At this stage, I’m not at all sure I’ll have enough of the pale scraps to complete a pastel rainbow quilt the same size as the other one. I have a whole range of colour ideas for the sashing, but whether I can find any of them in a shade I like and a price I can afford (I have a nasty habit of falling in love with expensive shot colours…) is the question. For now, I’m thinking a cool grey instead of dark blue, and scrappy joining strips as before, but I’ll wait till the quilt decides and lets me know. Or how about a very low value, small scale print that unifies all the colours? That might look a bit busy, but it could work… If I don’t make more blocks, this version might also end up with much wider sashing to compensate for the lack of another row in each direction, or I could set them on point, then I just have to do triangular setting blocks? Tell me what you think 🙂

ScrapHappy is open to anyone using up scraps of anything – no new materials. It can be a quilt block, pincushion, bag or hat, socks or a sculpture. Anything made of scraps is eligible. If your scrap collection is out of control and you’d like to turn them into something beautiful or useful instead of leaving them to collect dust in the cupboard, why not join us on the 15th of each month? Either email me at the address on my Contact Me page, or leave a comment below. You can also contact Gun via her blog to join. We welcome new members. You don’t have to worry about making a long term commitment or even join in every month, just let either of us know a day or so in advance if you’re new and you’ll have something to show, so we can add your link. Regular contributors will receive an email reminder three days before the event.

Here are the links for everyone who joins ScrapHappy from time to time (they may not post every time, but their blogs are still worth looking at).

Kate (me!)Gun, TittiHeléneEvaSue, Nanette, Lynn, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy, Debbierose, Tracy, Jill, Claire, JanKaren,
Moira, SandraLindaChrisNancy, Alys, Kerry, Claire, Jean, Johanna,
Joanne, Jon, Hayley and Dawn

See you again, same time next month!

The paint job

It’s done, finally.

For such a small amount of paint, it was an amazing amount of work. You look at one wall and think “yeah, couple of hours’ll see it right”. Wrong. You sand, and fill, and sand again. You mask, and undercoat and prime. You cut in (oh, that one’s endless!), and then, finally, you get to paint. And then you remove the masking tape and the dust sheets and clean up and put everything back. Now you’re done. Thing is, it was a wall with the loo, vanity, mirror, power points and bath with shower over. You have to cut in around all that stuff, some of which requires grovelling on the floor, lying on your side trying to squeeze yourself between the wall and the pedestal of the loo so you can reach the wall at the back and work around the waste pipe.

I have to say, though, that I’m pleased with the result. Here are the befores and afters so you can see for yourself the difference it has made.

I didn’t spill anything, or drop paint on surfaces where it couldn’t easily be removed, or fall off the stepladder or side of the bath. I cut in nicely, masked the dark brown metal of the mirror frame properly so there are no stray bits on the glass, and the tiles have gone from an unpleasing liver brown to a more pleasing sand-colour to match the walls. The drippy bits have blended in nicely with the textured tile surface too 😉

I’ve got plans for the floor. I have a jelly roll of aqua/white/ coral print strips with which I’m going to make a mat for the floor, in the style of those oval braided rag rugs you see. Only mine won’t be braided. I have a pattern booklet for it (shock horror, I don’t do patterns normally), which I saw in my LQS, and thought it looked just the thing for the bathroom floor. If it works well, I’ll post about it and tell you what the pattern is. If it doesn’t, I’ll let it die an anonymous and silent death and pretend it never happened!

Time to get on with mending more of the Husband’s work pants, which are suffering from excessive rear ventilation…

 

When life gives you mandarins…

… make mandarincello 🙂

This is not normally something I’d have considered, but I was doing a bit of gentle fruit-one-upmanship on FaceTime with my brother in the UK, who has a substantial temperate fruit and nut orchard, but no tropical fruit. As well as eating them fresh and freezing juice and pulp, we were debating what best to do with the beautiful fruit on my Ponkan mandarin tree. He suggested the mandarin equivalent of limoncello. Bingo! A double reward, the fruit and the skins!

I went to our local bottle-o (off-licence or liquor store for non-Aussies) and asked for the cheapest, nastiest bottle of vodka they had. (Classically, it should be grappa, but that sort of thing is hard to find in rural north Queensland unless you make your own.) After he’d cracked up a little, the bloke behind the counter wanted to know why. Explanations followed, and I could see he was thinking about doing it himself. Spread the joy….

Anyway, one 750cl bottle of vodka later I selected 5 of the largest, most brilliant orange fruit and peeled them carefully. I took a small, sharp knife and scraped as much of the white pith from the back of the peels without pressing too hard as I didn’t want to lose any of the essential oil. The skins went into a large (possibly too large!) spring-top jar, and the vodka went on top. Into a cool, dark place for at least a week.

I couldn’t resist taking a peek yesterday. Look! The vodka is changing colour already as the essential oils in the skin migrate into the spirit. After a week, the colour will be a brilliant orange and the flavour will be intense, but possibly somewhat bitter. I’ll make a simple sugar syrup with white sugar (I don’t want to use brown as it’ll affect the lovely colour) and add as much as the flavour demands. I don’t want sweet, I just want the edge taken off any bitterness to mellow the flavour. And then into a smaller container with a screw top for storage. Possibly the original cheap and nasty bottle, which is quite a pleasing shape.

And in case you were wondering what I did with the fruit originally enclosed by those peels, I roasted them in the oven with a little water and a sprinkling of sugar. They have softened into a delicious tart and tangy sludge which goes beautifully with Greek yoghurt.

I’ll keep you posted on the progress.

SAL 65: No stitch, no time…

Not quite how the proverb goes, but very expressive of the situation around here.

Not a progress shot…

I’d planned to get a bit of stitching done over the past few days, but virtually everything I touched this week took about three times longer than expected, and some-thing had to give. Sadly, it was my embroidery 😦

Having said that, everyone else in the Stitch Along will have some-thing lovely to show you, so nip over there and take a look.  Here are the links:

AvisClaireGunCaroleLucyAnn, JessSueConstanze,
DebbieroseChristina, KathyMargaretCindyHelenSteph,
LindaMary Margaret, HeidiJackieSunnyHayley, Tony,
Megan, Timothy and a warm welcome back for Catherine

I’ll be back on 29th July, hopefully with some actual progress to show!

Harvest

This year, it’s the turn of our mandarin tree to go bonkers.

Ponkan Mandarin fruit (Citrus reticulata)

It’s not a surprise, really, it’s a variety that’s well known for fruiting in alternate years. Last year, it was the mangoes that cropped spectacularly, but so far they’re showing no sign of flowering. The mandarin tree is smallish and tucked away in the corner, and I hadn’t even noticed flowers on it. A few months ago, I saw a load of dark green marble-sized fruit on it, and briefly thought “woo hoo!” and then promptly forgot about them again, till just a few weeks ago, when the now much larger fruit started to change colour. Usually, we wait till they start to fall of their own accord or the lorikeets start decimating them before we pick the fruit, but so far, there have been only two windfalls and no bird or fruitbat activity, so we decided to get out there and do battle with the green ants for them.

With green ants in the tree (and boy, are they IN the tree!), there’s a technique for picking the fruit without getting bitten a lot. You take a bucket half filled with water, a pair of long handled loppers and a grabby thing (you know what I mean, the doohickey you use for getting things down off high shelves). You grab the fruit with the grabber, cut it off with the loppers and dump it straight in the bucket of water, which drowns any ants silly enough to have come along for the ride. It sounds elaborate, but is a much more pleasurable experience than having the vicious little buggers run off the fruit, up your sleeve and then bite you hard on parts you can’t get at easily. Repeat till the bucket is full of fruit and water. Once in the kitchen, you remove any leaves and stalks, and then toss the water with the ants outside so the insect-eating birds can have a feed.

The fruits are huge for mandarins (my hands are not particularly small), the skins are very loose and easy to peel, and while there are usually half a dozen pips in each one, the flavour and juiciness is so fresh, intense and wonderful that you really don’t care! I’ve been busily looking up recipes for mandarin gelato, I’ll be making my mandarin syrup cake (minus the apricots) the Husband’ll be taking a couple of these to work in his lunchbox each day for a while, and I may freeze some juice and purée for winter consumption.

And that’s only the first crop. We have at least six more to go 🙂

A snowball’s chance…

I’d thought about doing some sewing today.

Well, there was about as much chance of that as the proverbial snowball in hell. It’s the bathroom, you see. About a year ago, we replaced the cistern on the loo, which was old, huge, cracked, leaky and frankly, grim. New cisterns are smaller, neater and generally more unobtrusive. But this leaves large holes in the wall where the original screws held the old cistern on (as well as evidence of several tries to hang the thing on the part of the previous owners), and an unattractive (to put it mildly) patch of garish turquoise paint in an otherwise pleasing expanse of pale sand coloured wall. Finally, I’d had enough of looking at it, although to be fair, I looked at it a lot less than the Husband, if you take my meaning…

The artificial light doesn’t sufficiently capture how very, very turquoise that patch of wall really is. Mind you, my pale sand doesn’t look too flash, either!

My sister and her husband are coming to stay for a few days in 10 days’ time. This provided the spur. I filled and sanded the holes. Then I saw the ceiling was getting a bit flaky and mildewy. Then I saw the tiles over the vanity needed re-grouting, and they were, as another relic of the previous owners, deeply nasty in colour, so a spot of tile paint on them wouldn’t hurt. Then I thought I might as well paint that whole wall. Oh, and why not the ceiling while I was at it? The inside of the bathroom door and the door of the linen cupboard could use a coat of paint too. Well, you get the idea. What was originally going to be a little bit of a touch-up has turned into a major exercise. It’s going to look good, but there’s a fair old bit of work.

Why anyone would voluntarily put up tiles like this is a mystery to me. Sorry if you have these and adore them, but brown fake water splatters… really?

This morning, I scrubbed and de-mildewed the ceiling, got all the flaky ceiling paint off, and washed down the walls. A bit purple-faced from all that overhead activity and goat-like frisking up and down stepladders, I was having a small breather when the Dowager called, sounding like she wanted some company. The Husband wanted to go into town for all sorts of caravan-related errands, so I gratefully reluctantly downed tools and we took her out for lunch followed by the errands. Three hours later, we got home and I had to accept that bathroom redecorating activity had ended for the day. It’s the Husband’s own fault that he will be abluting in a bare, echoing cell tonight instead of a cosy bathroom.

He tempted me, and I fell…..

Dolphins ahoy!

Yes, OK, that was a bit hearty and nautical, but I couldn’t resist.

You’ll recall the lovely dolphin fabric my sister sent me, along with the two florals. I said I was going to make a summer dressing gown from it, and I’ve been as good as my word. Here it is, hanging flat on the design wall, where you can see the detail a bit better. In case you’re interested in how I did it, here are words and pictures. It’s quite a long post, sorry about that, but if you don’t use a pattern but wing it, you need to do a bit of explaining. Fortunately, it was a fairly easy make.

I did finally dig out the overlocker, which has been sitting in a box since we moved house {mumble mumble} years ago. After an initial clunky-grindy start, I have it cleaned, oiled, threaded, tension balanced and running again. So I almost completely constructed the robe using it. Only the hanging- and belt-loops, the pockets, hem and bindings were done on the sewing machine. I’d forgotten how fast overlockers/sergers are, and that you really, really don’t want to make any mistakes if you have the knives fitted. I didn’t, luckily, as I had only just enough fabric.

The back was one rectangle, cut on the fold. The length was how long I wanted it, the width was half the bust measurement plus a couple of inches. The two fronts were the same length, but I didn’t have enough width of fabric to make them the full width I wanted, so I had to piece together a front edge strip from the dolphin and blue batik.

I did have a long narrow strip left at the bottom from the full fabric width which was just enough to make a long sash. I also had to use the blue batik for the sleeves, and having decided to do that, I decided to insert a band of aqua batik at the top of the sleeve, edge the sleeves with a dolphin fabric turned-up cuff, and make pockets for the front of the robe in the same blue batik with matching aqua binding on the top edge.

I measured 2 inches down from the top edge of the back, and 1/4 of my neck circumference along the shoulder to shape the neck. A dinner plate was a handy size for giving a smooth curve. For the fronts, I added the pieced sections to give extra width to the fronts. It’s important to have enough width, or the robe won’t wrap around enough for full coverage. You also need to make sure the crossover comes high enough; I don’t think the world is ready for the sight of me with a plunging neckline! For this, it was a question of pinning on the extra, putting the garment on and seeing where I wanted it to cross, then cutting the diagonal accordingly.

For the sleeves, I just ran the measuring tape down my arm to where I wanted the sleeve to stop. From this, I subtracted 2 inches for the aqua strip, and another 2 inches for the cuff. I measured how deep I wanted the armhole from the top of my shoulder, doubled this, and cut a rectangle the right size for each sleeve in the dark blue batik. To these, I stitched the aqua band and the cuff whilst still flat.

Then I sewed and pressed the shoulder seams. Laying the whole thing out flat, right side up, I marked the centre of the sleeve rectangles, and aligned these with the shoulder seams. I pinned the sleeve edge to the garment edge, right sides together, and sewed and pressed it flat, repeating this on the other side.

After that, I made the belt and hanging loops, using leftover aqua batik strip. I folded this in half lengthways and pressed. Opening it out, I pressed first one, then the other long edge towards the middle crease, and then pressed the whole thing flat. I top-stitched two lines, one next to the open edge and one next to the fold, and cut from this two belt loops and a hanging loop.

I then turned the garment right sides together, pinned the belt loops into the side seams, and stitched and pressed all the way from the cuffs down to the hem on both sides.

For the pockets, I cut two long rectangles in the blue batik, folded them in half across the short axis, right sides together, and stitched up the sides, leaving the top open. I turned this through, pushed out the corners and pressed it flat. I then bound the top edges with the last of the aqua strip, and top-stitched the pockets in place on the front, after testing to see where I wanted them.

I then bound the raw edge of the opening, using the pink batik strips, using the same process as for binding a quilt.

I made a sash from the long strip left over from cutting the back and fronts. You can either sew it right sides together, turn and press, or you can turn under the edges, top-stitch and press. I loathe turning long thin strips, so I went with the latter method. A bit lazy, but hey, whose robe is this anyway?

Finally, I turned up and hemmed the bottom edge. Done!

It took me a day to do it, interspersed with other jobs. Mostly it was working out how to make the best use of the fabric I had, without any waste. For a large garment like this, there wasn’t enough to do everything in the same fabric, but I like the mixture. It’s also not a sophisticated garment, requiring careful fitting, but it is comfortable and soft, so fits the dressing gown bill perfectly.

And there we have it, a nice lightweight summer dressing gown, in all my favourite colours 🙂

F²F³: FootSquare Freestyle June roundup

It’s time for a round up of the first month of this third series of F²F.

June is Lynn’s month, and all blocks are away safely – she’s even received most of them already, which is good going, considering some were coming from Australia and the US to France! I hope we can maintain this standard throughout the entire 9 months of the series, although I suspect things may slip a bit around Christmas. Lynn had a lovely colour palette to start us all off: shades of grey, beige and vintage rose.

If you want to see the finished blocks, go to the F²F 2018 gallery here, and if you want to check out the colour palettes, go to the Members/ Colours page here. F²F reference is now maintained on a separate blog due to its image-heavy nature, and the home page is here, if you want to bookmark it or follow it. The galleries are a useful library of colour and block designs, and the previous session is also stored there.

July is Sue’s month, and she has chosen a classic palette of blue and white, from pale through to indigo. I’ve started her blocks already, and I’m having a whole lot of fun!

See you same time next month.