Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Piano Lessons

In the comments on my post about Suicide Tennis Tracey mentioned that she hadn't liked her piano lessons. Well we had to take those as well, and it wasn't a happy story either.

The piano arrived when we were about 9. Mum had recently been widowed, and this piano was a huge expense, even though it was aquired from an estate sale. Mum had wanted to learn to play piano since she was a small child, and now, we were going to live her dream. There was never ANY question of her learning at the ripe old age of 47; she wouldn't contemplate it.

So we were packed off each Tuesday lunchtime to a nearby Catholic high school for lessons with the nuns. To get to the music room we had to walk the whole length of the school, under the scrutiny of the enlightened young misses who attended that Christian community. May they rot in Hell.

It took only a few weeks for them to conspire to make our life a misery. All of them (around 120) would line the path to jeer and sneer and taunt and even spit at us. The only safety was the music room, and there we had to endure whichever nun was assigned to teach us the mysteries of music that week. We were perhaps not in the right frame of mind, knowing that we had to run the gauntlet on the way back, and that there would be no time to eat lunch that day, after we'd biked back to our own school. And like as not get into trouble for being late for the afternoon classes. Tuesdays were nightmare material. Music was so not worth it.

I suppose we were an easy target. There were two of us and we were absolutely identical. We were tiny, tiny children, always the smallest by far in our age group. And we followed Mum's advice of how to deal with the torment by putting our little noses in the air and marching on, side by side, regardless. It was hysterical to watch apparently. We endured that every Tuesday for two years. And no, Mum would not let us give up music lessons either. It would enrich us....

When we went to High School we went to the Convent for our lessons. No more evil tormentors, but a different class of nun. These were strange, elderly, embittered, lonely women, with nothing left of their vocation. They used a bamboo cane on unwary knuckles, scolded instead of praised, seethed with impatience and sourness. The door slammed on our retreating backs after the lesson, and Meredith and I would look at each other and feel that we were returning to the land of the living. And not another music lesson for 6 days and 23 hours!!

Because we were twins we had to play Duets. Nobody bothered to explain to us the concept of a Duet, so we discovered by accident that it sounded better if we synchronised our parts the way they were meant to be played. No more starting off at different times and hammering to the finish independently. Then we were enlisted to play at various church and school functions, and we were a great hit. We developed a Chopsticks routine that brought the house down, starting slowly, working through 8 variations with increasing speed and ending with a crashing, lightning fast climax. It was so popular we often had to play an encore. Bugger!

We had never heard of the concept of passive-aggressive behaviour, but we practiced it to a fine art. And eventually, after 6 years of fruitless endevour we made Mum throw her hands up in disgust and agree that we could stop the lessons. She was very strongwilled, our Mum, but she couldn't make us want what she had so desperately wanted. Sad state of affairs. If she had offered us riding lessons, or singing lessons, we could have done that with a glad heart. But they weren't her dream. Which we ruined for her.

I am glad to have some musical knowledge. Once when I was singing in the church choir a practice was going to have to be cancelled because the pianist hadn't showed up. I volunteered to play and the look on my DD's face was utterly priceless; 'How do YOU know how to play piano??!!' she demanded. There's a lot she doesn't know about her mother. But I still can't sit at a piano without a feeling of loathing.


Friday, January 26, 2007

It's Australia Day today. The photo is of a little badge that I take with me whenever I go overseas. It's nice to wear the Aussie flag and declare who you are., though I have been mistaken for everything from English to Canadian to NewZealander to Dutch. Hmmmm.... I do have a sort of Pommie accent because I'm a South Australian and we tork posher than the rest of Orstrailya.

We spent the day watching the cricket, Aussies versus the Poms. Honest to goodness, sometimes I just want to shake those English guys until they rattle. They invented the game of cricket for heaven's sakes, they at least could try a bit harder.

I finally managed to sew a paltry three blocks pf my new project together, made from scraps from my other projects. I just can't seem to get to the sewing machine, I have so many other things to do. My colour printer decided it wouldn't do yellow anymore, which left me with some very strange looking prints, so I had to go shopping for a new printer. Of course the new one takes up most of the desk, and the cartridges are nearly twice the price, and there's five of them instead of four... I wish my old printer would co-operate, it was so cheap and easy. Never mind, the new one makes very, very nice prints and I will print out a lot of family photos just because I got a block of 6"x4" photo paper with the printer.

The nine-patch quilt is one of the tops I took to Kaye's to quilt, and it's next on the binding list. I like how the quilting adds movement to the pattern, and I used a cotton batting so it will crinkle up nicely when I wash it. I have made a vow to make smaller quilts in future, 60" maximum. We'll see how I stick to that in the coming months. All I know is that I have a room full of really big quilts, and I don't need any more right now.


Monday, January 22, 2007

I have been hankering after some hand quilting lately, and wondering if perhaps I can set up my big quilting frame in one of the enclosed verandahs. I can really see the results of my months of downsizing, and there are three places where I could set up my 8' long frame and not be in anyone's way. Once the weather cools down somewhat (none of these places are in the A/C unfortunately) I may dust off all the timber pieces and see what can be done..

The top that I would quilt is this one, a scrap Bowtie that is about 6 years old. I enjoyed everything about this quilt. It was a breeze to mark the pieces as they were large and there were only two simple pieces. I could get the pieces out of a charm square so I had a lovely selection of material to choose from. All I needed was three fabrics that looked nice together, so easy to make decisions like that. I never let myself have a moment of grief about this quilt, which is different from some of the others I've worked on.

I love the way it turned out, and even though it's not quite big enough for our current bed I would like to use it as a folder at the bottom of the bed. I love the look of one quilt covering the bed, and others folded at the foot.

And incidentally, this is my hanger arrangement for the tops that are next in line for quilting. The rod is metal curtain rod that I cut into lengths wide enough to fit in my closet. Then I run a piece of woven tape through it, tie a loop in each end and hook them over a coat hanger. It's strong enough to hold the quilt top and the backing, and I get great satisfaction from looking at my row of neatly organised projects. They stay wrinkle free and accessible till I get round to quilting them.

I am loving the Australian Open coverage, can't get enough tennis. Which is very odd, considering that I hate, hate, hate playing the game. We were MADE to in our teens, and no amount of crying, complaining or sulking would change Mum's mind. It was a Healthy Outdoor Activity, it would teach us the value of competition, make us fit, give us Team Spirit, solve all our problems and bring World Peace.

To us it was a wicked wicked waste of Spring and Summer Saturday mornings. Instead of doing our favourite thing of biking around all the stables and farms to visit horses and friends we were stuck on an asphalt tennis court, in thin-soled sandshoes and towelling hats, with tiny outgrown dresses that showed our knickers when we ran. Sometimes the temperature on those courts was over 40 degreesCelcius, or 100 F. On one memorable occassion my shoes melted.

But we were surrounded by impossibly determined mothers and their odious children, all slave to the great god 'Sport'. They never called it a day, even when we were sunburnt and heat-stroked and dancing on the spot because of the heat coming off the ground.

Even more unfair was the 40 cent ball and court fee we had to hand over. Do you have any idea what two hot and thirsty teenage girls could have done with 40 cents in those days? It killed us to have to part with that.

I found it all slightly terrifying, and I can say without a shadow of a doubt that the only thing it ever taught me was not to do something you don't want to and don't have to.

Eventually we developed something we called Suicide Tennis. We just never even took a swing at anything, just plodded from side to side as the score mounted. Serving was a whack into the nets. Our opponents would be beside themselves with rage, screaming for their mothers to MAKE us play properly. But no-one could. On a good day we'd be over and done in an hour, and then be off to visit one of our favourite farms, or the abandoned brickworks where Meredith would sketch and I would write in my diary. Mum would be at home, thinking Good Healthy Thoughts about us, and we'd be completely happy again, except wishing we still had the 40 cents....

Eventually Mum gave in, and let us stop going, and attributed every fault of ours in later life to not having played Sports! Whatever. I'll take the Wimbledon coverage anyday over actually having to walk onto a court again.


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Erk, another day of computer work, but at least I am making progress. It's some small comfort. I am spending time in my sewing room, but no sewing is taking place. I make my pattern packs in the sewing room, so I labour away at my cutting table, folding paper and stuffing plastic bags, in plain sight of my sewing machine and all my material. It's a form of torture.

The quilts that came home with me are these: a machine quilted version of a French vanne, all done with a walking foot so even a beginner can do it. It's a nice workshop that I teach, involving using a striped fabric to do the border with easy mitred corners, and then simple, simple quilting to finish off. This photo is taken on my deck, where I let the quilt hang for a day or two after spraying it with water to get rid of the crease marks from being folded up for so long. I like my quilts stored flat on a bed, with minimal folding.

Then there's this one, which I have posted before; it's the mate to my son's quilt, and I think I will have to make him use this one and give the other a rest. Every night of the year he sleeps wrapped in it, I seriously think he will wear it out.

And a woven sort of pattern that I copied from an old quilt I saw on Ebay about 6 years ago. Lots of quilting in that one, using a pattern from my Simply Sashes pack. I have the urge to do this in random scraps, which was why I was about to start looking for it. It's not like my luck to find it BEFORE I started looking.....

New blogger doesn't handle photos any better does it? Why ask for the formatting when they end up all over the place anyway? Hmphh.. I have made them smaller to make them behave a bit better, but if you click on them you can see more detail.

And lastly a photo of Bob, looking serene. He's a different kitty than the one who showed up nearly starved to death 2 years ago. He's still slightly neurotic, but he has his eating disorder under control (he used to eat whenever he was anxious) and is much more laid back now. He is my favourite cat out of the bunch, a real gentleman, but with a playful streak too. I wish I'd known him as a kitten.


Saturday, January 13, 2007

On saturday we went to the shopping centre to do our fortnightly shop, and as usual had a cup of coffee at the food court first. DH always has a cappucino, whereas I like plain back coffee with skim milk on the side. Simple, surely.

I cannot begin to describe the difficulties I have encountered over the years with my simple request. Plain black coffee, cold skim milk on the side. Coffee nazis at their machines have refused to serve it to me, have torn their hair out because they don't know what to call it on those cash registers that have a button for each menu item. I have been told that 'Management don't allow us to give out Milk!' One weevil sneered 'Just the way you have it at home I suppose...' Well yes, actually. It's my coffee, I am paying nearly $3.50 for it and I want it the way I want it!

This morning DH came back, after a very lengthy wait, with a cappucino and what looked suspiciously like a latte. It was. I would never drink that much milk, cold or hot, so I took it back. I explained to the serving lass that my husband had asked for 'Plain black coffee, cold skim milk on the side' and got this instead. 'That's a latte' she offered brightly. 'It's not what I wanted' Utter consternation on her part; I was given an expresso and a large takeaway cup full of milk. Still not right. She whisked away out the back to ask someone with more coffee seniority. Bedlam! No-one could get their heads around it. I said very carefully to the whole assembly of them 'Give me a long black, leave enough room for me to put some milk in please'. Ohhhhh! A long black!

You have to talk the coffee language to be understood apparently......

I quite like going shopping and stocking up the cupboards so that DS can't complain 'There's Nothing To Eat.....'. ($280 later and there's still Nothing To Eat? I don't think so!) But as we have 4 cats we have to spend a while in the pet aisle, loading up with tinned food. There are ridiculous conversations about whether they prefer pate to casserole, and was the lobster and crab mousse popular last time? It's not like we buy expensive catfood, but even processed abbatoir refuse and fish scrapings are labelled like human food. I don't know why we bother, because they seem to exist on dry food anyway. And what they can filch off the benchtops as we prepare the evening meal. 'Max, that's a Carrot....'

I'm working on website stuff and catalogue stuff and tax stuff and all of it is nasty. But the only way out is through, so I keep plodding away. I went to the local patchwork shop last week, to talk about class schedules etc, and discovered I had left four quilts there 18 months ago. Several things struck me about this. I had no memory of leaving them there. I had not been back for 18 months. They were not labelled, and the shop had sold in the meantime, and if I didn't know the new owner and she showed me the quilts then I may never have known where they ended up. I had been about to search for one of them in my house, and it would have driven me mad not being able to find it, and I could never have guessed where it was. Indeed, one I had written off as lost already, after weeks of turning the house upside down searching every place it could be.


And keep a log book of where they go to. I have quilts in shops all over Australia, and a couple in America as well. I need to track them down and keep tabs on them in future. Doesn't this go without saying? I should take a little more care of the things I put so much work into.

One of my favourite sayings; the price of beautiful things is loving care.


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

15 years ago Meredith and I each purchased a copy of the book, The American Quilt Story, by Susan Jenkins and Linda Seward. It's a lovely book with many lovely antique quilts, but this one took Meredith's fancy. She talked constantly about making one like it, and I had to agree that it was gorgeous. It was made by Mary Hathaway Alden, and it was one of a pair. Meredith thought it would be great to match new fabrics to the photo, and recreate the exact same quilt. This was in the days before reproduction fabrics, so there was an element of challenge involved, to hunt down that many antique-looking pieces.

11 years ago Meredith had some devestating news. Her second son Robert, 11 at the time, was diagnosed with diabetes. Rob had to be taken to the Adelaide Children's Hospital to stabilse his condition. It was the start of many hospital visits. I felt so useless, being so far away, and unable at that time to leave my own family to go and help. I knew Meredith needed something to occupy her mind and her hands, and I came up with the idea of kitting up the hexagon quilt for her, so she could make a start on her quilt in the hospital, and then hunt down the rest of the fabrics over the coming months.

I cut out enough hexagons for about 7 of the rosettes, and strips of any fabric that I though she could use in the others, and sent it off to her. Then I began my own quilt, so that we were making a current day pair of quilts too.

I worked on this every year at Wimbledon time, sitting up late into the night with my stacks of pieces, industriously basting the material to the paper hexagons, then whip-stitching them together; all very English. It was a lot of fun, and I worked on it for more than four years, until it was finally pieced. Towards the end, when I had trouble finding anything at all that I could use to approximate the old fabrics, I had to use whatever I could. This was before the Stash came into existence!

It was so monstrously big! I hadn't worked out the final measurement when using a 1" hexagon, and the final measurements are 98" x 86". I was slightly appalled at the size, and thought it had grown to be a monstrosity, too big to fit any bed we owned; it was christened the Red Elephant.

Do Americans have White Elephants? It's an English thing; a White Elephant was anything that was more trouble than it was worth, or no use to the owner. White Elephant stalls at Fairs sell donated junk and household objects that no-one wants any more. It's any object that is out of place or not wanted or unsuitable. And my quilt was definitely unsuitable. But Red...I found an elephant print and made this rosette, and then came across this material for the backing. Perfect.For some mad reason I decided to hand quilt this baby, and it took more years than I care to remember, seeing as I can only handquilt in winter, and we get about 2 months of the year that even remotely resembles winter. It seemed never ending. The original was tied in every hexagon, and that must have taken a long time too.

In time we bought a bigger bed, with one of those very thick mattresses, and a large quilt became a necessity. Instead of this quilt being an embarrassment, it's the only one I've finished that actually fits the new bed. It has lived there ever since I took the final stitches in the binding 2 years ago, and every day when I make the bed I run my hand over the rosettes and smile at the memories.


Sunday, January 07, 2007

The star block pictured is one I sketched from an antique quilt I saw at Paducah. The quilt had only 9 blocks, and they were about 18" square, a little too large for my taste. So I drafted up the block in AutoCad Lite, and then resized it several times to see what I liked best. 14" seems about right, but the measurements for the triangles then became totally obscure.

There are three different sized triangles in each star point, and there is just no easy way to rotary cut them and get accurate measurements. The rulers just don't have that degree of accuracy. So I decided I'd better hand piece this, because I can make the templates easily no matter what size they are.

Here's what I do...

Print out the block. I've marked the different templates I need to make. EQ and other quilting programs will do this for you if the block is in the software library. If I can't cut out all the templates I need from the one print I make two or three.

I use a glue stick to stick the printout to my template material, and the little Olfa touch knife and steel ruler to cut the templates out. The touchknife is super-sharp, fits into the hand nicely so it's easy for anyone to use, even if you have hand problems, and is really easy to control.

As an aside, I will attempt just about anything with a needle and thread, but I'm hopeless with glue or paper or craft knives. Last weekend I was helping DH put rubber channel around the edges of the fairing on his bike, and narrowly avoided superglue-ing myself to the fairing as well. I did glue two fingers together briefly, which kept me busy all night trying to get rid of the residue. (Get some solvent next time!) I guess that would be the equivalent of putting butter on cat's paws to keep them occupied; my kids always loved picking bits of craft glue off themselves.

Stick the print to the chosen template material. My favourite is icecream lid plastic. If it was see-through it would be perfect. It's soft enough to cut easily, durable enough to trace around, cheap and it keeps the family happy too. They were in heaven when I discovered an 8 litre container with a lid large enough for even an outsize template.

I always place the steel ruler outside the shape I'm cutting, so that I can see the outline of the whole shape and I don't get confused about what line I'm meant to be cutting. The first cut is just a whisper-cut, to make sure I'm in the right place; with almost no pressure it's easier not to shift anything by mistake. The next couple of cuts go deeper, following the first cut, until with almost no effort the cutter goes all the way through. This is a much better way to cut than one deep stroke, which is usually wrong right from the start.

I work my way around the shape until the template piece is free of the rest of the plastic. Then I label it straight away, including on the back with a R for reverse. If the grainline is important I will mark that on the piece as well.

I never cut out adjacent shapes on my print; I always go to a new area that has the whole shape isolated.

I store my templates in zippered plastic bags that go into a ring binder, and put a printout of the block in with them so I know exactly what they are. I may never use them again, but they are there for someone else to borrow, or I may use an element of the block in some other project. It never hurts to be a little organised about these things.

Once I have the templates made I trace around them on the chosen fabric, leaving 1/2" in between the shapes. I judge this by eye, it doesn't have to be accurate, just so long as there is an adequate amount for a seam allowance. If I'm cutting dozens of one shape I often cut a strip wide enough to accommodate the shape and work with that rather than manhandle fabric yardage for extended periods. It also helps to keep the edges of my fabric neat, which is something I fret about; I hate my stash to look nibbled.....

And then I sew the pieces together with a backstitch, because I prefer it to running stitch. It may be slower, but I get a more even tension on the seam, and I think it's stronger in the long run; never had a seam come apart on me yet, after 34 years of quilting.


Thursday, January 04, 2007

Here is my Eastern Star that I hand-pieced many years ago. The sashing is a dark, dark red and black print, and all the stars are scrappy and fairly unplanned. Looking at the piccie of Tallulah's on Meredith's blog I see I could have varied the background material too, but it was easier to keep it all the same creamy white.

I started this in about 1996 I think, or maybe even 92. I know it was my Olympic sewing for many a year. I love watching tennis and football (Rugby and Rugby League) and cricket and the Olympics while I sew, and many projects were started specifically for sporting events. Some I just sew on until they are finished, others I work on only while that event is going; the Olympics and Wimbledon especially. It takes a while to finish them, but it means that each time the event comes around I don't have to do a mad scramble to find a project to work on.

I like the variety of different looks possible with this one block, just by arranging the light and dark values differently. The scrappiness was fun too, and the small size of the pattern pieces used up a lot of tiny precious scraps that weren't suitable for much else.

The hand-piecing is very soothing after a difficult day, and noiseless so I don't keep anyone up late at night. It's very satisfying to look over the pieced blocks before I pack up for the night, and feel that something has been achieved.

I will go into details in another post about how Meredith and I prepare our templates and patches. I've had a few private emails asking, and figure it would be a good blog entry.

I am going to have to have a mammoth binding session soon, as I have added another 6 quilts to the pile. I will have to be disciplined and do one a day. Most of the quilts are smallish, so I could just get stuck in and see results fairly quickly. I like how this tile pattern quilt turned out, with a panto called Jacobean on it. This piecing pattern is a traditional Morroccan tile pattern, and I Need to make another one in soft and pretty fabrics. This one is entirely from the scrap drawer and the fabrics are a bit cheesy. I love how the pieced back looks, I'm inspired to keep on stockpiling those 10" squares.

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