Nothing to see here

Isn’t that what they say?

When there’s actually quite a lot to see, but they want you to move along? I, on the other hand, have literally had nothing to see for quite some time. But now I have things to show and tell.

Let’s start with… Baking. I have always been fascinated by cooking from the Southern states of the US. The names of the dishes are mysterious and wonderful, the combinations and flavours can be strange to UK and Australian palates, and many of the ingredients are not at all easily obtained here. But one thing I’ve always loved the sound of is ‘biscuits and sausage gravy’. For breakfast, mind you. Now obviously, these are American biscuits, which closely resemble our scones, rather than being the sweet, flat, crisp jobs we dunk in our tea or coffee. And sausage gravy? Not the rich, meaty brown liquid we make from our Sunday roasts, but a thick, pale, creamy sauce flavoured with crumbled ‘breakfast sausage’. This latter ingredient isn’t snags, or bangers (‘links’ to my US friends), it’s a large roll of seasoned sausage-meat cut into thick slices and fried, served with eggs, etc, for breakfast. I haven’t seen breakfast sausage anywhere in Australia*. You can take a pork snag or two and squeeze it out of its skin, mash it up and that will do the job, fried in a skillet and crumbled. After that, add flour, seasoning and milk, and stir till the whole thing thickens. It takes patience but is very tasty. Anyway, failing the sausage gravy, I made biscuits. I think they turned out rather well! Yummy eaten warm with butter. I would have added honey except, you know, diabetes… If you’re an expert biscuit baker, I’d love to know what you think of my amateur effort.

Gardening. As you’re probably well aware by now, we have a caravan (travel trailer). We keep it in the front yard on a not quite level piece of ground between two flower beds. Because of the curved, banana shape of the outer, raised bed, nearest our front boundary, it has been difficult to back the ‘van into her spot when we come home. So I have shortened and straightened it. Which involved heavily pruning some ornamental trees (ixora, hibiscus, variegated ficus, azalea, Bankok Rose and Snow on the Mountain), shifting what felt like several hundred edging bricks, hacking out soil, repositioning irrigation pipes and some power-weeding. Total time, 2 days of hard labour, but so worth it. I also enlisted the Husband and his angle grinder to remove the old and nasty mailbox which lives in that raised bed. It had finally rusted past the point of no return so that rain more or less guaranteed soggy mail, and will be turned into something more useful in its next incarnation. We also got rid of the ‘ornamental’ street number some aesthetically-challenged previous owner had crafted out of welded steel chain and tack welded to the supporting post… A new, functional, powder-coated steel mailbox improved matters no end, and I wrapped the now-disfigured post in a square of imitation buxus panel. It looks rather fetching…

And finally, Sewing. I have finally got back to the Twilight quilt, and the first two rows are sandwiched and quilted, although I’m not sure you can tell from this photo. I’m using a rather beautiful purple Rasant thread, which blends rather well, but also has a pretty shine. It’s made by Amann, and is  cotton spun on polyester core thread which is both strong and smooth-running. So far, so very good! I’m quilting a cross hatch a hand’s-width wide, which is enough to safely hold the layers together but also results in a very soft and drapey finish to the quilt. There has also been activity on my Hopscotch quilt blocks, but I’ll leave reporting on that until ScrapHappy Day.

Amazing what a long post I’ve written about nothing at all!

 

*If you’ve seen it, do tell me where, as it’s just the sort of thing the Husband would love…

Effort and reward

Yesterday, we got a Tardis pothole.

By this, I mean it looked small and innocuous but was e.n.o.r.m.o.u.s underneath. The visible hole was about the size of my head. The erosion underneath was the size of a big truck tyre. The cause was erosion from below, where water flow over time had eaten away the rocks and road base surrounding the two huge concrete pipes that form the span of the causeway bridge over the flood drain at the front of our property. Suffice to say that we needed quick-set concrete, chicken wire reinforcement, rocks and crushed concrete roadbase to fix it. There was grovelling on our stomachs in the dirt, and digging, and getting wet and muddy, and shovelling rocks, and yes, you guessed it, a sore back. It was urgent, though, as the causeway bridge is our only way in and out of the property. We’re due a big blow and very wet weather tonight and tomorrow thanks to the former Tropical Cyclone Owen weather system, so we couldn’t leave it or we might have lost the whole bridge from more erosion as the drain fills and flows faster. But we got it done this morning, and we’ve made a good job of it.

And then after that, there was quilting another row of blocks on Go Teal it on the Mountain. I’m really loving how the quilting looks on all those beautiful mountain blocks. Once I’ve sandwiched the front, batting and backing together, I just put my 60° triangular ruler onto the block, apex at the centre top, and draw a single line bottom left to centre top and down again to bottom right. I quilt that in, and then all subsequent lines are done by running the edge of the walking foot 3/8 inch from the previous line. No measuring, no marking. Quick and easy.

And our reward for all this effort?

Steak for dinner, and these babies. Not my most elegant baking result, but the taste is what matters, wouldn’t you agree?

I’m going to get a lot of satisfaction driving over our bridge in future, knowing it’s full of rocks and concrete we put there ourselves, and is nice and solid 🙂

ST&D: Lush!

I have four more blocks quilted.

I confess, I was a bit nervous about this one. I wasn’t sure how the Aida fabric would quilt up, compared with the softer quilting cotton fabrics. I was terrified of mucking it up, so I made a sample using the same fabric and quilted that. It seemed to be OK. There were a few small tracking marks where the new walking foot’s feed dogs had gripped onto the surface, but I though the result was pretty good. So I took a deep breath and got going.

It’s lovely. The firmer fabric hasn’t stopped the texture forming, and there’s a gorgeous soft ripple which catches the light beautifully. It’s a really nice contrast with the slightly nubbly texture of the background and stitching. I’m so pleased with it!

Thanks, Margaret, your beautiful embroidery is a real asset to the quilt 🙂

The road to hell…

… is paved with good intentions, they say.

I had excellent intentions at the beginning of this month. I would sew lots, work in the garden, cook lots, get my tax done and of course, post lots. I’ve managed the cooking and the tax. Not deeply impressive, but fate intervened in the shape of another trip south which ate up three days, the big toe which had surgery 6 month ago flaring up extremely messily and painfully, and my 93 year old father, who lives in Spain, needing surgery for skin cancer.

Pa is a notoriously impatient, irritable and still very dogmatic person. Age has not mellowed him a bit, and he still has all his marbles. So he was not a co-operative patient before, during or after the procedure. He was supposed to wear a sling to keep his arm still. Oh dear me no, that didn’t happen. He has resisted expert care until the point where, feeling dreadful, he summoned my sister to drive for 8 solid hours from France to Spain, to come and pick him up. She got there to find the situation was a storm in a teacup. Meanwhile, my brother and I were imagining the worst. It has been a little stressful…

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 10.19.21 amToday I said enough was enough. I headed upstairs to my sewing room and spent half an hour preparing for some solid sewing time tomorrow. I get restive and glum if I can’t do my creative stuff, and that on top of the painful toe and the worry about Pa, has made me rather blue. Another round of toe surgery is at 11.00am tomorrow, and after that I plan to put my feet up and stitch like it’s going out of fashion 🙂

And get waited on hand and toe by the Husband of Chiconia, who has the day off!

Got it covered…

I haven’t been anywhere near a sewing machine for the last two days. 

Nothing against sewing, just the rest of life intruding, good times to be had and a baking order to be got out for this morning. But one thing I wanted to prioritise is this:

Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 2.18.35 pmHaving indulged in a spot of techno-worship, I don’t want my lovely new lappie to start looking tired and dinged up too soon. And we’re going on a road trip on Tuesday on the motorbike, so I needed a compact yet protective cover.

Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 2.19.38 pm Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 2.19.16 pm Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 2.18.55 pm Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 2.20.00 pmWell obviously, it had to be quilted. And I wasn’t going to give myself a hard time with a zip if I didn’t have to, so it’s got a nice button flap.

And for the accessories (charging cable, dongle, etc), I’ve made a matching drawstring pouch from the leftovers (the set was made from two fat quarters, a bit of spare red binding and a bit of leftover batting; almost every scrap of fabric was used). I tried something a bit more detailed for the quilting as it didn’t need to be drapey-soft, just padded. I like the result. Best of all, I didn’t need to mark it up, I just joined the dots, literally! And no, I’m not going to point out the mistake. You can look for it if you’re sad enough, but it’s on the back, which I have carefully not shot! I actually don’t mind it, it doesn’t show and I’m not in the mood to unpick it…

We’ll be on the road for 8 hours tomorrow, riding up to Cairns in Far North Queensland on the bike (Miss Scarlett, a red Honda ST1300, in the remote event that anyone’s interested…), so I’ll probably be a funny shape by the end of the day, and I certainly won’t be posting! Weather permitting though, I should be able to get some good photos from our rides over the next few days, so I expect some sort of post will materialise while we’re away.

The road to hell…

… is paved, they say, with good intentions.

You’ve had the Good. Now it’s time for the Bad and the Ugly. In addition to all the swanking about stuff I’d achieved and my publicly-acknowledged UFOs, there’s a second, secret, rogue’s gallery of projects I’d intended to start, but which never got off the ground, or no further than some very tentative initial work.

My Recycle quilt, made from denim, twill and flannel from the Husband’s castoffs. The ultimate recycling project, most of which is still sitting in a large and inconvenient pile on the floor. The Ugliest of all, because the mess is biggest.

Pannier liner bags for Miss Scarlett, our Big Bike. Another pile, but a bit tidier.

Cylindrical fabric boxes with a hole in the top, for knitting or crochet yarn, intended as gifts. Yup, you guessed it. A pile, but a small one.

Posh Nightie, hideously, screamingly expensive Sea Island cotton fabric from Barbados, to make myself the world’s softest, most comfortable nightdress. Still in a box on the shelf.

Dressmaking: two dresses, a pair of pants, a shirt or two. More fabric and patterns sitting about.

Fluffy Thing. I was supposed to finish Woolly Thing and then start knitting that. Yup. No.

And we’re not even mentioning fabrics bought for no particular purpose, yarn ditto, a lap quilt for a sister that I haven’t even looked at, quilts promised long ago to nieces, my One Day Double Wedding Ring quilt.

There’s a line from a poem by Robert Browning, which says “Man’s reach should exceed his grasp”. Boy, have I have done the double-handed grasp without a hope of reaching my goal… I think it’s time to turn that around, stop buying on impulse and start consolidating a bit…

Watch this space.

And a special thank you to Kirsten, who told me how to do a collage of photos, thereby saving you all from visual hideousness. 🙂

Broken Bottles #11: Breaking glass

I’ve started quilting. And it did not begin well…

Screen shot 2014-05-23 at 6.00.29 PM

I know I like big stitch quilting, but this is ridiculous

I foolishly thought I’d mark the straight lines with masking tape. That would have been OK if the lines didn’t intersect. For anyone out there thinking of marking with masking tape: Do it only where lines do not cross or intersect. If you build up the layers of tape and stitch through them, you will spend many painful, pointless and frustrating hours snipping and picking with tweezers, pulling out stitching and having to redo it. On the other hand, if the lines don’t intersect, it’s a very good way of stitching along a straight line. I thought that masking tape would pull out of stitching like in paper piecing. Not. Not even close. A valuable lesson learned: Do not layer the masking tape.

Screen shot 2014-05-23 at 5.59.33 PM

You can see the starburst /shatter beginning to appear

Next bit of fun. My trusty and recently-serviced Janome had a large hissy fit. I have unpicked metres of dodgy stitching. My patience has been sorely tried. But after much bad language and rethreading the machine and reseating the bobbin three times, it finally decided to stitch properly.

Now we’re getting somewhere. I have all the main radiating lines done and the quilt is stabilised. I’ve started the cross lines and the additional radiating lines. I’m happy with how it looks. There’s a fair bit still to do: I have about a third of it done, and may well add more lines here and there if I feel there are saggy areas that need more quilting. The back looks particularly nice; the quilting really brings out the sheen of the shot cotton.

Screen shot 2014-05-23 at 5.59.45 PM

Still fabulous, and now more interesting because of the texture

Tomorrow I have to go and move more stones in the morning. But if I don’t completely ruin my back, I’ll get back onto the quilting in the afternoon. I think I may get it finished by the end of the weekend.

But now, it’s time for a cup of tea and a home made peanut butter and choc chip cookie.

Triple Trouble 10: flightlines

It has occurred to me that all three of these baby quilts are about flight, in some fashion.

So I’ve tried to make the quilting reflect movement and direction as much as possible, whilst still quilting minimally to keep the quilts as soft and drapey as possible.  I love the look of heavily quilted fabric, but I don’t think small quilts like this stay flexible enough if they have lots of quilting.  And I don’t want to send three beautifully pieced, quilted and bound planks to my three new great-nieces.  It’s not great quilting, but it’s done.

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Triple Trouble, blowing in the breeze

Wervelwind (Whirlwind)

Wervelwind (Whirlwind)

Wervelwind has swirly radiating lines.

Vlucht (Flight)

Vlucht (Flight)

Vlucht has v-shaped lines that echo the line of geese.

Komeet (Come)

Komeet (Comet)

Komeet has lines that radiate out from the star/comet head, along the line of the ‘tail’. It’s also the most densely quilted, but that’s a function of the pattern rather than by choice.

Two jobs left: cutting and attaching the binding; and labelling.  Both are enjoyable parts of the exercise for me – I can’t understand people who put off finishing a quilt because they hate binding, or can’t get round to attaching a label.

Sorry it’s been quieter than usual in Chiconia, but I had to get my head down and get these lovelies quilted before I go back to work tomorrow.  It’s not that I’m going to be flat out – that would be extremely unlikely – but it means I can’t sit down and give 3 or 4 solid hours of work to any project until later in the week. And I’ve had delightful sessions with the physiotherapist and the optometrist today, the former leaving me rather sore but more comfortable thanks to some extremely strange looking strapping on my knee, and the latter leaving me functionally blind for an hour or so thanks to drops used to dilate my pupils so they could take photos of the inside of my eyes….

I’m very much enjoying the fact that everyone is back from their Christmas break and my Reader has something new for me to read each morning.  Keep up the good work, you lot.

That’s it for today.  Have a great week.

It’s done, it’s finished!

Regular readers will not need me to tell them how relieved and happy I am.  Morning Tea at the Quilting Bee is finally finished!

Morning Tea at the Quilting Bee.  Machine and hand sewn, Dresden plates, English paper piecing, hexagons, hand sewn and machine applique, and the dreaded scalloped edge...

Morning Tea at the Quilting Bee.
Machine and hand sewn, Dresden plates,
English paper piecing, hexagons, hand sewn and
machine applique, and the dreaded scalloped edge…

It’s been a long pull.  I conceived the idea just after finishing chemotherapy, and part of the reason for its very extended piecing phase was that I just can’t sit down and do 4 hours solid at a sewing machine any longer.  There are still chemo side effects to contend with; poor memory and a lack of concentration due to ‘chemo brain’, which has forced me to unpick, fix and generally rethink a lot of work because I’ve made stupid mistakes; and residual pain in my scar and arm which makes sitting with arms out to the sewing machine at times too uncomfortable.  Of course, there have been good reasons not to work on it too: meeting my husband, a whirlwind courtship, moving north to Mackay and getting married.  All, I’m sure you’d agree, very good reasons not to sew for a while.

But now it’s done.  And I’m very happy, not only for myself, but also because I’ve been able to do something for the wonderful people at the CanDo Cancer Trust – http://www.candocancertrust.com.au – in Coffs Harbour.  The hanging is theirs to raffle, auction, whatever, to raise money so they can help more people like me.

I’ll be sending it off by courier in the next couple of days, but it’s going to hang behind my worktable for a little while longer so I can gloat a bit…  Meanwhile, the black and white Magpies quilt for my friend Tracey is beckoning…

Smug self gloating in front of completed wall hanging

Smug self gloating in front of
completed wall hanging

Off to investigate the contents of my fabric cupboard…

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…