Thursday, January 30, 2014

There was a British TV show  in the late '70s called Robin's Nest, and I watched it every now and then, but it was pretty pathetic.  My only interest was a quilt on the bed, and I had to be ever vigilant to catch a glimpse of it.  It had blue and brown blocks on a shirting background, with soft pink sashing, and I loved what I could see of it.  I thought it was made of Monkey Wrench blocks, so I drew up a pattern and filed it away for later.

When I did get round to starting it I had two small children, and knew that if I sewed it by hand it would take forever, so I gritted my teeth and vowed that I'd master this machine piecing thing once and for all.  This was waaay before rotary cutters and rulers.  I used the same templates that I would for hand piecing, and sewed the pieces together on the drawn line.  It worked, but I wasn't having any fun with it, and after 11 blocks it all went into the cupboard.

Later the blocks came out to be used as a practice piece for Quilt-As-You-Go, but that wasn't very successful either.  I can't even find the three blocks I put together with that method, I may have thrown them away.  Then a few years ago I flung the remaining 8 blocks and the sashing fabric at Mereth and said dismissively, "You can do something with those if you like, or cut them up, I don't care!"
A month ago I was searching for the pink fabric I'd used for the setting triangles in the Cactus Basket quilt, and Mereth said 'That's round at my place.' What??!!  Indeed it was, with the Monkey Wrench blocks that I'd totally forgotten about.  Mereth was a good sport and gave me back the fabric, and then I was a total Indian Giver and took back the blocks as well.  They bring back memories, and our little separation has made me think kindly of them again.

When I look at the original blocks I remember how badly I wanted to make quilts that looked like the antiques I loved, and how frustrated I was with the lack of fabrics, the lack of time to do handwork, the complete absence of all the tools that make doing a good job so easy.

I sewed these together  on my Bernina 817, and the tension wasn't set very well, so some of the seams look gathered,
and I used a really thick cotton thread for some reason.  It's enormous compared to the Rasant I use now.  That can't have helped, all that bulk in the seams.  Small wonder I didn't enjoy the process, but I didn't know any better back then.  Didn't know how to press things properly either.
 I struggled to do a good job then, it seemed I was hampered by so many things, but I kept on trying; until I got discouraged and gave up.  When I saw those blocks again I thought I owed it to my younger self to see them through to a finished quilt.
I don't have enough of the original pink fabric, of course, so I need to find something for a border....

I've not been happy without my Singer 538, and recently my new ironing board cover melted all over my very best iron and I couldn't iron a thing without it sticking and burning; talk about irritating.  It made me remember when all my machine patchwork was accompanied by that intense frustration, that fury that things just wouldn't go right.  Now I can cut my pieces the perfect size with superbly accurate acrylic rulers and the indispensable rotary cutter; I have my Beloved to sew the pieces together perfectly, and I have a new proper ironing board cover and a clean iron.  It's all so easy when you have the proper equipment.  The old saying is that a bad workman blames his tools for a bad job; I reckon a good workman should give his tools credit for a job well done.


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

It's so nice being given a gift that shows the giver knows what you really love.  I was lucky enough to get two presents like that recently.  One was from my DD, who was trawling through an antique shop with me when we were at Moonta.  I turned around to see her heading towards me carrying a little piece of orange plastic.

 'Here you go Mum,' she said as she presented it to me,  'I've already paid for it'.  I fell about in raptures and thanked her repeatedly and clutched my little melamine spatula happily.  All my family knows that I love these spatulas above all other cooking gadgets, and I've declared repeatedly that if my last one breaks, I'll never cook again.  They date from the late '70s, and I've worn out two, and lost one; I look for them in every second hand shop I visit, and I've been lucky enough to find another two, and Seonaid's present makes three.  This one has never been used, and it will wait in the drawer until my other two get ratty.  I have no idea why they aren't made any more, they are wonderful.

Mereth came to visit one day bearing another present; we love church imagery, I have several pictures of Madonnas, and Mereth loves Russian icons.  I've always wanted a plaster statue, but they are very rare, so I was delighted when Mereth found me this wall plaque of Mary.
 She's just beautiful, about 14" high, and I will find a place on the wall for her where I can admire her every day.
 That whole Immaculate Heart imagery does nothing for me, I just love the serenity of her face and the blue of her robe, and look at that lovely braid detail around the neck of her robe.  She's a little work of art, not an object of worship, and that's as it should be, seeing I'm not Catholic.

We're in the grip of another heatwave, the bushfire has been burning for 14 days and has destroyed our favourite forest area where we walked the dogs beneath 80' tall trees.  It's all gone now, and the fire isn't finished yet.  The whole area is praying for a miracle to stop this destruction.

I'm surviving the heat nicely, with several fans  going nonstop.  Last night it was lovely and cool, so I stayed up late with the doors open to the cool night air, hoping to bring down the temperature inside the hall.  I watched Bonnie on QuiltCam, and sewed steadily on the blocks for my UFO.  That's it on the design wall in the background.
Progress on the Irish Chain blocks continues, but they've taken a back seat to these simple blocks.  I'm almost done with them, so this quilt will leap into being, after nearly 25 years languishing in the cupboard.


Monday, January 27, 2014

Remember when I broke my beloved 538?  I have managed to get by with substitute machines, but it just wasn't the same.  It required just that little bit more concentration to get a good result, and often times my blocks weren't as accurate as I like.  I missed my old friend.

It took a while, but I tracked down a service manual that showed the procedure for replacing the feed drive, and I ordered the parts I needed.

Then I waited until I felt brave enough to pull my Precious apart.  It's a bit scary removing all the covers and moving the power plug from it's fitting, and then taking out the two drive shafts that the gears are located on.  I was all set to take photos, but my hands were so filthy I didn't want to touch the camera, so you'll have to take my word for it.  I have new feed drive gears, and new hook gears.

It was messy, and a bit puzzling at times, and it took me hours because I was so cautious and careful.  But finally, it was all back in one piece.  I turned it over by hand several times, to check that nothing was going to collide with anything else, and then it was time to be brave and plug her in.  I always use Shocksafe boards with my old machines, just in case there is something dodgy in the wiring, but I was still apprehensive.  And nothing happened!  No power at all!  I was a bit devastated.  Then I realised I hadn't turned the power board on.  Duh!  Once I did that, it was all systems go.  I slowly sewed a test seam, and wonder of wonders, I had stitches, and perfect ones at that.
 My Beloved is back in action.....
Now I just have to clean up the tools and the mess,
and then I can get back to sewing on UFOs.


Saturday, January 25, 2014

This Wertheim machine was on Ebay, a steal at $10, and seeing I was in Adelaide anyway I decided to add it to the collection.

 It has a belt that will fit several other of my machines that are without belts, so I can take that with me when I go to buy replacements, and in the meantime I can sew on this.  I haven't tested how to get a quarter inch seam  yet, but it would be fine for crumb piecing or paper-piecing.  These old girls with the sideways bobbin case, and the sideways needle, sew a wonderful seam with beautiful tension and even stitches.
I love the beautiful blue and cream paint, what a lovely finish.
I managed to finish the Celtic Soltice, or my version of it anyway. 

It needs to have 2" mid green borders all around, but Mereth is donating the fabric for that and hasn't brought it round yet.  I'm calling this done, and it will only take half an hour to add those final borders.  Mereth even found a nice backing fabric in her stash, so that's all ready to go.  We've added a few metres to the stash already this year, so she's glad to be able to claim all the fabric in this as used.

My visit to Tricia's resulted in quite a few new shirtings, and some more batiks.
 I can't buy batiks online, the pictures don't do justice to the fabrics and the colours are all wrong so I don't know what I'm really getting.  When I see a wall of batiks in real life it's a pleasure to pull out favourites and choose a few to bring home.
Now that the design wall is clear again I'm sewing more Triple Irish Chain blocks, and making some progress at last.  I have all the pieces just sitting there waiting, so it won't take long to get this to a decent size.  It's such a nice pattern to sew, and I love the red, white and blue colour scheme.  It hasn't made a dent in the stash though.
 After I've made a decent number of these blocks I'm going to pull out another ancient UFO and start working on that.  This year I'd like to work on the new projects side by side with the UFOs, and whittle that list down to manageable proportions.


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Either Mereth or I miscalculated the number of blocks we'd made, as there were only 42, instead of 49.  I'm not going to bother making another 7 blocks, so I just put these together as they were.

 I'd made 2 of the chevron blocks like Bonnie's, before I decided to do them the other way, so they went into the corners for a bit of symmetry.  I'm not going to fuss if it's not like Bonnie's, and I prefer rectangular quilts anyway.  Borders are next....

I ran away to Adelaide today, to pick up a couple of machines I won on Ebay.  I haven't repaired my 538 yet, and I wanted a replacement. I know I have countless machines here, but I still like to add to them every now and then.  
This is a 675 slant shank,  it sews beautifully, and the ordinary foot sews a perfect quarter inch seam.  I will try and fit it in my Singer sewing table tomorrow; the 631 I'm sewing on now is nice, but it can't be set into a table.  Any excuse to buy another machine.  I think this one was made around 1966, and that red detailing is very smart.  It came in blue as well, and I'd love one of those.  Honestly, every time I visit my friend Elaine, and see her fabulous collection of machines, I want to rush out and buy another dozen or so.  She inspires me to madness.

I'll show you the other machine tomorrow, right now I need to go sleep; after 6 hours in the car I'm all worn out. 


Saturday, January 18, 2014

It feels like we've been through a battle here, and it's finally over.  The last five days have been pretty terrible, temperatures ranging from 104 to 114° during the day, not much relief at night time.  It was horrible having to be out on the bike delivering mail, but luckily we got it done each day before the temperature went above 102°.  Who wants to be outside when it's that hot?  It's madness.

 I was all prepared to sit it out in the air-conditioned shed, but the a/c decided it wouldn't work in that sort of heat.  Sigh....  So Dolly and I just sweltered through it as best we could.  I had all the fans going, and kept a wet tea-towel draped over her; I could deal with the heat a lot better than she could.  I read five books, but the Ipad got so hot I was a bit concerned that it would shut down.  In the end I had it balanced on a frozen gel pack to try and make it run cooler.  At least paperbacks aren't likely to spontaneously combust as you read them!  And I was sick of reading, but there was nothing else to do.

And then there was a power blackout to make life even more miserable.  And a huge bushfire about 40k away, that cast a pall of smoke over the town.  It hasn't been a nice time just lately. 

But what a relief to have a cool change, a little bit of rain, and the energy to want to do something.  So far this morning I've tackled the laundry and taken the dogs for a walk in the cool of morning, and now I'm waiting for the rain to stop so I can get out in the garden and see what survived.  I had three layers of shadecloth over the most vulnerable plants, and I think most of them are OK.  The next week is supposed to be cool, and I'll be very appreciative of that.

I'm so glad most of my dahlias are OK; I might just be addicted to them now, seeing as they are so beautiful, and they don't mind our ridiculous temperatures.

I did manage a bit of sewing done before the heatwave; all the mystery blocks are up on the design wall, waiting to be sewn together.  It was interesting going through the links for the Celtic Solstice and seeing what other people had done with the pattern.  I really liked this version, by Sharon Mallow Woerz, and so did Mereth, so that's how we're putting ours together. 
I absolutely love the border, I will definitely use that on another quilt.

I will be keeping track of the fabric in/out this year, so this is a nice start in the Used column; Bonnie's yardage calculations are 11 yards, but only half came from my stash, so Mereth and I can each claim 5.5 yards.  I think that's a very generous estimate, but I cut my lot from scraps and all the leftovers went into the strip drawers, so I'm counting it all as used.  I made a dent in the cheddars, and that's a good thing.

I've still got to do my post about what I want to achieve in 2014, it's mostly written, I just need to refine it a bit.   But not now, now I'm going to go and SEW something!!


Thursday, January 09, 2014

It's been busy here the last week or so; Mereth's number2 son and family visited from New South Wales, which was wonderful as we got to see the grandchildren.  Mereth is Nanna, and I'm OtherNanna, which is so cute.  Not all kids have identical grandmothers, but Logan isn't particularly fazed that there's two of us, and he never gets us mixed up.

Last weekend we went to a nearby beach town called Wallaroo, and stayed in a gorgeous rental house near the beach.  There were 9 of us, and the place was so huge that we just rattled around in it.  Unfortunately the weather was pretty vile for summer, cold and far too windy.  So we stayed inside and played card games, and ate delicious meals.  It's lovely to have so many loved ones under one roof, no-one had to leave early and drive home, which is what normally happens.  We must try and make this a yearly occurrence.

Now all the Christmas and New Year engagements are over and done with, all the visiting family have departed, and it's back to normal daily life.  It's been such a whirl of socialising, for more than two weeks, so things will seem very quiet. But a bit of solitude is necessary for planning and making goals for 2014, which is what Mereth and I want to do over the new few days.

Firstly, short term goals;

  • Take down the Christmas decorations
  • Get a new ironing board cover
  • Clean out the fridge and get rid of any lingering holiday food.  Our Mum kept a jar of fruit mince for more than 20 years, on the grounds that she would use it 'someday'.  It lived in our fridge the whole time I was growing up.  Don't want to find anything like that in my fridge.
Yesterday we went to Jamestown to get some fabric for a customer quilt, and I may have succumbed to a few pieces of fabric.  Good thing I'm not dedicated to No-Buy, because I couldn't even last 10 days into 2014.
 I need to get serious about the batik stash, or it will be another year or two before I can make an actual quilt, so I bought a few more FQs. I'm not very adventurous, I need to go to my favourite Adelaide shop, Tricia's, and run amok in her batik section.
 And some last-of-the-bolt sale fabric needed to come home with me. The caramel Thimbleberries fabric is really old, and I just used the last piece in my stash, so I was glad to find this on the sale table.
I love ombre fabrics, and this one will make a stunning small border on some quilt.
 The pink, grey and black quilt is brewing, these fabrics will add nicely to the mix; not that modern spot, that's going in a cheerful modern quilt.

Right, now I've had a break from the sewing machine,  and I've had a bit of fabric indulgence, time for me to get busy on the first quilts of 2014.


Wednesday, January 01, 2014

I had high hopes of finishing one last UFO yesterday, before 2013 vanished forever.  But I allowed myself to be sidetracked, and I didn't achieve anything, besides choosing a project to work on, rejecting just about every fabric in the stash, and making a huge mess of my sewing room.

 To be fair, I did get something done; this little quilt top is about 20 years old, maybe more.  I hand-pieced it from my most precious fabrics, enjoying the little blocks.  It was called a Cactus Basket in the magazine where I saw it first.   It was missing two of the setting triangles, and the corner triangles; I knew I had the two setting triangles somewhere, and amazingly I found them almost straight away.  I find it hard to believe that I let those two triangles float around in various containers and boxes for 20 years and never saw fit to actually sew them into the quilt.  What was I thinking?  It took about 20 minutes to sew them into place.

Today I went round to Mereth's place and raided her stash for the right shade of dark pink.  Then I spent hours being very meticulous while I added the four borders.  This is only 60"square, it might end up being a baby quilt, or a wallhanging.  It's just nice to have it finished at last.  It was nice being in the AC, sewing in comfort instead of sweltering in the heat outside. 

I want to update my spreadsheet of current projects and print it out, then colour code the projects in order of importance.  I have no idea how many there are, but it has to be a LOT.  I seem to have started an awful lot of things last year, and even though I've done a good job finishing many of them, I know that the total number of UFOs hasn't dwindled.  So I'd like to start 2014 with a definite plan, knowing what to work on and in what order, and then maybe I'll feel a little more in control.

If only there weren't a dozen new  quilts waiting in the wings, trial blocks made, a first selection of fabrics chosen, cutting diagrams ready.  It takes all my willpower not to abandon the current quilts and dive into the new ones. 

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