Thursday, April 27, 2006

Where in the world...

Only one more sleep until we set off on our home exchange adventure to England and France. Shame about the long haul plane journey to get there. As a child, when we used to go a family holidays (to much more modest destinations), we would often play "I'm an Ant" to pass the time. The game involves one person selecting a location somewhere in the world and everyone else trying to guess it through an elimination process of questions that must be answered with yes or no. An extra degree of difficulty was usually added with the very young members of the family answering the questions somewhat randomly. Anyway, I won't make you play "I'm an Ant". Our broad timetable is:

29 - 1 May: London
1 - 17 May: Axat, France
17-19 May: Edinburgh
19:31 May: Yorkshire Dales
31 -2 June: Kent
2-5 June: London

I will endeavour to update the blog from time to time but do not expect to be able to include photos until early June. I've added some weather links to my blog side bar if you are interested in seeing whether the European spring is treating us kindly. A toute a l'heure...

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Digital Photography for Textile Artists

Quilts can be pesky things to photograph well but your chances of getting good photos will be enhanced if you read and heed the thoughtful guidelines of Holly Knott and Andy Laird which are posted on Holly's website at: I'm sure that many of us will find this a useful resource.

Who needs a gym?

when your local council provides your very own stairmaster:

Actually, there are many sets of steep stairs around Copacabana connecting those from the "dress circle" to the beach. This particular stairmaster has 58 steps conveniently spaced a stretched stride apart with a wicked incline from about step 32. It seems like no matter how many times I bound up the stairmaster each week, I am still panting and breathless at the top. It's great aerobic exercise.

Oh, in case you're wondering, I don't live on the dress circle (more like tucked behind the cheap seats where someone could still come along and spoil the
showview) but have incorporated the stairmaster into my daily constitutional so that I can feel virtuous now and then. But enough of the halo polishing, back to my "to do" list.

Monday, April 24, 2006

A Quiet Weekend - Well Kind Of

Twas a quiet weekend - at least all quiet on the sewing and packing front. Back in Guild Exhibition Secretary land, it was a flurry of activity as we have allocated quilt numbers for this year's record 377 (count them!) entries and I am now able to generate a bunch of different spread sheets, letters, catalogue lists, reminder e-mails etc etc. Oh and update some html folders for the guild's website and liaise with our new photographer. This show business is an ENORMOUS logistical undertaking. I'm not looking for violins, but next time you go to a guild show, spare a thought for all those volunteers behind the scene. Off to the city today to do lots of printing on the guild's nice new laser printer and to prepare a handover folder for my guild colleagues to refer to while I am gallivanting around France and England. I leave you with a picture of this year's raffle quilt Daisy Meadow:

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Quilting in French

I am indebted to Francoise from Belgium for coming out of lurkdom to introduce herself, her new blog space AND for letting me know:
"To quilt" translates into "matelasser". But for the craft, we say "quilt' or "patchwork". And "quilter" for the verb. "Quilteuse" for the (usually old) lady who does it.
Francoise also writes that the quilting scene is fairly traditional in Belgium "apart from a few renegades". Watch out for those quilting revolutionaries!

Some reasons to celebrate

Yesterday was our two year anniversary of taking up full time residence here at Casa da Praia (Portguese for beach house) at the "other" Copacabana and our five year wedding anniversary. To mark these two occasions, and to prepare for exploring the Pyrenees and the Yorkshire Dales, David and I decided to take our new hiking boots on a test run in the nearby Bouddi National Park. The boots performed well in all test conditions - including sloshing through mangrove swamps at one point. The only problem was that some pesky mosquitoes thought they would come along for the ride so we strode quickly rather than meandering. And stopping to take photos would surely have meant death by the blood sucking bugs so here is a photo of a beautiful angophora tree that I had taken on an earlier hike:

Another reason to celebrate is that our new water tank, that has been languishing for weeks as a monument to optimism, has some water in it at last. Not much, but enough to know that all the new guttering and spouting connected to the great expanse of our ski jump house roof is working. Maybe we will return home from holiday to a full tank - that would please David as he doesn't like rain much.

Friday, April 21, 2006

I'd Rather Be Quilting

But the time has come to tackle my "to do" list - it keeps getting longer and there are only a few more sleeps until we go on holiday. An unexpected (and unwelcome!) item appearing on this list was having to migrate my website to a new web hosting service. So that consumed a great deal of time yesterday. The good news is that the site seems to be up and happily running with the new host so my technical skills have risen to the occasion. Thanks to everyone who visited my website at and reported that they could see the reference to my blog in the middle of the page. This means you can see my site on the new server.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

So Close & Yet So Far

So here is the quilted masterpiece sans binding. Hmmph - while I can live with the overall effect, the quilting does not bear up to close inspection. I have learnt that quilting STRAIGHT and PARALLEL lines over long distances is actually a very tricky thing to do. I tried not to obsess about it in the hope that an illusion of regularity would emerge but some lines of quilting were unpicked and there are holes in the quilt top accordingly :-(

I reinforced the top edge with timtex plus some template plastic in a couple of strategic spots so it had better not flop over. Next time, I would probably leave the template plastic out or choose a different quilting design. The template plastic immediately blunted every needle that came near it and also created unyielding edges that got caught up on the machine, dragging the quilt. Grr!

I was proposing to simply zig zag/overlock the edges (see lower right corner) but cannot create a neat enough finish for my liking so I may revert to a binding. Just have to find my notes from a binding workshop that I did last year before I try to tackle all those inward corners...

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Encounter with King Neptune

While swimming around the rocks this morning, I got to follow an enormous blue groper for several minutes. See the Australian Museum website HERE for images of this magnificent creature. And we also have a new SMBE (smallest mouthbit ever) record - so small that my digital camera can't cope with a closeup of this shell. Otherwise it has been a day of quilting the hot cross blocks quilt. I'm not thrilled with the quality of my workmanship - quilting through template plastic (used to reinforce some of the jagged edges) played havoc with the sewing machine needles. I'll post pictures when I have finished burying my thread tails.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

New Zealand Quilter

When Annie Smith described me as a "New Zealand Quilter" on her podcasting website, Annie's Quilting Stash, it provoked a brief identity crisis on both a personal and artistic level. I grew up in Warkworth, a small town on the main highway about an hour's drive north of Auckland. At least, it used to take an hour - these days an extended motorway system cuts the drive down to 45 minutes unless you get bogged down with traffic. But I digress...

I have many family and friends who live in New Zealand and I try to get back there at least once a year. I even manage to vote in most New Zealand elections. However, I moved to Australia in 1989, carry a kiwi and an Aussie passport and have lived almost half of my life outside of New Zealand. Increasingly, I regard Copacabana as my turanga wae wae (Maori for "place of standing") and my sense of belonging in New Zealand is more diminished.

Against this background, I'm not sure I can claim to be a "New Zealand Quilter". I hasten to add that I regard the appellation as quite a compliment. As Anne Scott, editor of New Zealand Quilter - my FAVOURITE quilting magazine, remarks in her most recent editorial: "Our quilts are distinctive because they speak of our country - in colour, design and pattern" and what wonderful quilts they are. When a Mary Metcalf quilt graced the cover of the latest issue of Quilters Companion magazine, I immediately recognised it as a New Zealand design even though it was ostensibly "made with the Australian landscape and colour palette in mind".

Quite where my quilts belong in the spectrum of Antipodean design, I don't know. But one thing is certain, my favourite colour is GREEN. I leave you with this photo of "lime hills" taken by my guild committee buddy (Pamela) who recently made her first trip to New Zealand and was astonished by the colour of the landscape.

Shapes in Nature

After yesterday's long post, you will be relieved to know that I am reverting to my usual blog style of fewer words and more (but not excessive) pictures. Here is the "M&A" ("mouthbits" and abalone) part of David's shell collection:

"Mouthbits" is a technical term that we apply to the hard parts used by shell creatures to seal up the entrance to their shells. Here is a close up:

I am particularly proud of spotting the SMBE (smallest mouthbit ever) in the top left corner which is the size of a small fingernail and was well camouflaged on the golden sands of Copacabana. Now, for some reason, this has got me thinking about cinnamon scrolls but there's no time for baking today. However, if you like the sound of sticky date pudding with a difference, check out my family's recipe blog - Our Family Favourites.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Home Exchange - FAQs

From the end of April until early June, my blog posts will be less frequent as I will be travelling in England and France as part of a home exchange. A lot of people are curious about home exchanges so I thought I would dedicate this post to addressing some frequently asked questions:

How does it work? In many ways, home exchange is akin to an elaborate dating game as you search for a compatible counterparty; make contact; build up trust and seal the deal. There are a multitude of websites that offer home exchange facilitation services. While the specific formats vary, they provide a forum for you to post details about yourself, your home and where and when you want to travel. Others can read it and, if they are interested, they will make contact.

What service did you use?
At various times, our property has been listed on:

We also supplemented the listings with our own personal website. Coincidentally or otherwise, in the end, both of our exchanges came through Homelink with the other side initiating contact.

How long did it take to organise? Despite having an attractive home, in a great location, and a fair amount of flexibility - it took almost a year and hundreds of e-mails to secure our first home exchange arrangements. My impression is that there are many more Antipodeans looking to travel to France, Spain and Italy than vice versa. Furthermore, most French like to take their vacations in August which is not an optimum time to take an Aussie beach holiday. Nevertheless, for a consummate travel planner like me (I think I was a travel agent in a previous life), the quest was part of the fun. Travel research is so much easier with the internet and my knowledge of European geography has improved enormously.

Where are you going? We will be spending 2+ weeks in Axat, in the eastern French Pyrenees - think Tour de France hill country. Our other exchange is for 10 days to an apartment in a converted mill in the Yorkshire Dales. Our plan is to do some hiking in both locations but as a car exchange is part of the deal, we will be able to do lots of exploring too. Maybe even stumble over a quilt shop here and there.

Do you ever meet the other side? Yes we will get to meet everybody involved in our home exchanges but it doesn't always work like this. We are doing a NSX (non-simultaneous exchange). We had an English couple and a Danish couple (at different times) staying in our home while we were visiting family in America at Christmas. They got to enjoy summer at the beach and we will get to travel in the spring (which is looking ominously COLD and WET at the moment!).

We actually got to meet the Danes (who reside in France) in January but they are kindly doing the airport transfer gig so we will get to hear more about their adventures in New Zealand and Australia. Apparently Ida enjoys quilting and handcrafts so hopefully we will be able to talk about this too although she speaks little English and French and my Danish is non-existant.

The English couple are also kindly meeting us and will navigate us from Leeds to the Dales - hopefully with many pub recommendations for David who is partial to an English ale.

Will you do it again? based on experience to date - definitely. The budgetary advantages seem to more than compensate for the logistical challenges but I'll keep you posted!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Early Memories

One of my earliest memories is of a family excursion one Easter. The trip involved staying with friends at their empty lot ("section" in kiwi parlance) near a surf beach in New Zealand. My parents, baby brother and I spent the night snuggled up in our kaypok sleeping bags in the back of the family station wagon. Like all sensible 2-3 year olds, I was very concerned that the Easter Bunny would not know where to find us. I should not have worried because I awoke to find chocolates eggs placed along the dashboard of the car. I don't have children myself, but never under-estimate the impact of early childhood experiences and adventures. And I woke up this morning to chocolate eggs on my pillow so the Easter Bunny still knows where to find me.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Audition Time

Do you ever finish a quilt top; really like it and fear spoiling it with inappropriate quilting? I've used cot quilts as a medium for building confidence in my machine quilting skills but still suffer from mild pre-quilting nerves. For my latest quilt, I thought I'd try out some ideas on some spares blocks which you will see laying on the quilt top in the photo below. I've decided to proceed with vertical and horizontal lines as shown on the left but, of course, executing even lines on a larger quilt has its own technical challenges especially when my cross blocks are slightly wonky!

While I am at it, here's the backing:

I like backings that bear some relationship (eg colour, theme, texture or shape) to the quilt top, so was very happy when I found the right palette in this floral print.

Friday, April 14, 2006

My Jacques Cousteau Moment

I made my hot cross bun dough first thing this morning (Tip: robes with flappy sleeves are not optimum attire for kneading) and then went for a walk and a swim as we waited for the dough to rise. The water is positively lake-like today - such a contrast to the wild surf last weekend. Ideal conditions for swimming around the rocks at the northern end of the beach where we were surrounded by hundreds, maybe THOUSANDS, of mado. Mado are small black and white striped plankton-eating fish with vibrant yellow tails. I don't have a photo of my own but there is one on the Australian Museum website HERE and another image HERE.

My Martha Stewart Moment

Here are some of my hot cross splotch buns that I took over to our wonderful neighbours, Len & Marge (a couple in their late-70s who shame us with their energy and verve - not to mention their thriving garden):

And I came home with some freshly baked "vegetable bean puffs":

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Colour Play

While shopping for some velcro today, I spotted some "Scribblers 40 Professional Colored Pencils" on sale so popped a couple of sets into my shopping basket. When I opened up the first set, they looked like this:

Tsk, tsk - the colours are all mixed up, this won't do at all! Soon after, order was restored:

At a quick glance, I reckon I have only 36 or 37 different colours and they are not exactly Derwent quality. But for $2.70 a set, it's churlish to complain.

Tomorrow is Good Friday and, in keeping with a family tradition, I will be making hot cross buns. Each year, we scratch around to find the recipe for our "real" hot cross buns so I decided to set up a blog of my family's favourite recipes. You can link to the hot cross bun recipe HERE
. Let me know how your batch turns out! (And apologies for the imperial measurements. My brother once wrote a metric version but I don't have it stored on my computer. Hence the brainwave to set up a family blog!)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

All Together Now

The hot cross blocks are all joined together now. I'm going with the rough, jagged edge (thanks to Alison and Betsy for their stiffening suggestions) but may trim the centre yellow top block back a little just the same. Now for the quilting. I'm thinking horizontal and vertical lines in different coloured threads to keep the linear theme happening but we'll see what happens when I get going...

Friends You Haven't Met

One of the things I love about quilting is the fellowship and friendship offered by the diverse quilting community. This is equally true of blogs that offer insights into the life of the blogwriter and make you feel like you've known them forever, even if you haven't met in person.

Through blogging and other e-mails, I have gotten to know Diane who is "list Mom" for the Artful Quilters Web Ring that I belong to. Given that Diane (benignly!) monitors 130+ quilting blogs, I was very chuffed that my blog came up in Diane's conversation with Annie Smith which you can hear on Annie's podcast Quilting Stash - Program # 44 (see HERE for the link). Remember you don't need an MP3 player to listen to a podcast, you can listen to it on your computer and tidy up your sewing room at the same time. At least that is what I am about to do.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Colourful history

As I browsed through Dijanne Cevaal's blog, Musings of a Textile Itinerant, the other day I was very excited to see that she is holding a two day workshop in Salleles d'Aude, Languedoc, France at the same time as David and I will be in the French Pyrenees for our home exchange. (Like me, Dijanne was once a lawyer, and her move into textiles has always been inspirational for me.)

For various reasons, not the least that it will be my 40th birthday and Amy and Paul (my sister and her husband who live in London) will be descending on Axat to help me celebrate, I won't be able to make the workshop. However, Dijanne has highlighted the region's woad dyeing history so I am going to try to explore this further. If you have any interest in the history of colour, then I highly recommend this book:

PS: I understand Victoria Finlay is about to launch another travel/history book called, depending on where you live, Jewels: A Secret History or Buried Treasure: Travels through the Jewel Box.

Monday, April 10, 2006

A Quilter's Guide to Blogging

Although I am relatively new to blogging, you will have guessed that I am a convert! Today I wrote a guide to blogging for The Template, our guild magazine. While our guild has over 1000 members, it seemed a shame not to share the article with a wider audience - so HERE it is (a very small 18.5KB pdf file). If you would like to copy or reproduce this article for your own guild magazine or website, I am very happy for you to do so. All I ask is that you acknowledge that I am the author of the article and that you include my blog details.

Spring Petals

If you are looking to make a quick and cheerful baby quilt, check out my Spring Petals quilt which features as a project in the current issue (Vol 14, No 5) of Australian Patchwork & Quilting. As you can see, I used a selection of hand-dyed fabrics but it would look good in other colour ways. This is one of my favourite quilts so I am a little concerned that it seems to be taking the long way home from the magazine publishers (they posted it by registered mail earlier in the month) but hopefully we will be reunited soon...

By the way, in the same issue of APQ, you will find an interesting article about my local quilting buddy Kay Haerland and the process she and her husband Bard used to design and make the wonderful landscape quilt - Forest in My Mind.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

No Swimming or Passeggiata Today

As some of you will recall, we have a house rule - "no breakfast unless you have been for a walk and/or a swim". Looks like this morning we won't be doing either. A deep low-pressure system in the far southern Tasman Sea combined with south-westerly winds is generating 3-7m swells along the coast especially at south-facing beaches like Copacabana. Apparently it's likely to be the biggest surf in more than 30 years. What's more, with high tide, the waves are lapping up much of the foreshore. So David and I will just have to sit around in the morning sun reading the Sunday papers instead. Oh, and this qualifies for a special dispensation, so we do get to eat breakfast.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Anne: Serger Extraordinaire

After a busy week, including a full day teaching my "Making Waves" workshop yesterday, I can't say that I was hugely motivated to make the 90+ minute drive to Newcastle today for the Quilters' Guild "away" meeting hosted by the Novocastrian Quilters. However, the trip was well worth the effort especially to hear the guest speaker - Anne Van der Kley. Some of you may already know of Anne as she was at Houston in 2005 and at the Australasian Quilt Convention earlier this year. Me? I only knew that she created wondrous art works using her serger/overlocker but little prepared me for the delight of seeing these creations in real life. Here are just a few examples:

If, like me, you associate overlockers with the "knitwit" craze of the 1980s (my mother made me a great tracksuit and ski suits for our trip to the snow), then Anne's work is sure to turn these preconceptions upside down. I'm not rushing out to buy an overlocker but I do have a new appreciation of the potential of these machines.

Now We're Getting Somewhere...

So I put the blues and purples back in...I decided that I really did need the darker values to keep things interesting. Then I carefully managed to arrange the blocks to have a straight edge along the top of the quilt and was well on the way to squaring up the other sides. But then I thought it looked too contained. So I am thinking that I might go for some rough, stepped edges - nothing too exaggerated as it will present hanging problems. Maybe reverting to a squarer shape. Mmm...not that I will be making any more progress today as I am off to Newcastle for the Quilters' Guild "away" meeting. A quilter's life is a busy one.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

A breeze of serendipity?

It was unseasonably warm yesterday so I had all the windows in my studio wide open. Then I rushed off to my final French class only to arrive home to find my blocks had fallen all over the floor. I use blockbutler for my design wall. Generally it copes pretty well but it was no match for the evening breeze. I guess I could have recreated the layout from my earlier photographs but I thought I would try something different. First I separated the blocks into colour sets:

Then I decided to put the blues and purples to one side and concentrate on the analogous blush, oranges, yellows, mustard and greens. Because the blocks are irregular sizes, a certain number of set-in seams will be inevitable. Nevertheless, I aim to have some straight line axes (just what is the plural of axis?!) in the quilt:

And this is where I got to:

I don't like the pasty blush blocks so they will be the first to go...and maybe I will put the blues and purples back into the mix...

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Beyond Quilts

I firmly believe that, as quiltmakers, we should look beyond our own medium to appreciate the works of other artists. Nevertheless, I find myself drawn to works that have a quilt-like quality. For example, as I read the Sydney Morning Herald this morning, this photo accompanying this article about Aboriginal artist Bronwyn Bancroft instantly caught my attention:

Isn't the painting to the right amazing? The colour and scale reminds me of some of Carol Taylor's quilts - something to aspire to!

PS: For another example of a non-textile work with a quilt-like quality see Elle's
blogpost about glass artist Robert Weiner.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Puzzle Time

Much as I enjoyed Quilt Camp, I am very happy to be home again. Today was one of those warm autumn days and there were dolphins frolicking in the bay when we went out for our morning swim. Magic!

Between preparing for my forthcoming teaching workshops and doing quilt show admin stuff, I am trying to get a small portfolio of new quilts together for the "Improvisations" workshop that I am doing with Nancy Crow in July. Time is limited as David and I are heading off to Europe at the end of the month and the Sydney Quilt Show will eat up a big chunk of June.

Anyway, it seems to make sense to focus on piecing as this is the quilting medium that I enjoy most at present. As I get back into the rhythm of piecing, I've been making a batch of irregular sized blocks from some of my own hand dyed fabrics. Putting them together is rather a challenge. It's just as well that I have always enjoyed jigsaws.

Monday, April 03, 2006

More from Quilt Camp

Playing with fabric paints:

Sunday, April 02, 2006

A tired (but happy ) camper...

My weekend workshop at "Quilt Camp" with Gloria Loughman was great fun. I have always been very comfortable working with colour in my quilts but had absolutely no clue when it came to effective colour/value placement in landscapes. I had lots to learn and Gloria is a great teacher. Here is a work-in-progress shot of my modest (A3) landscape:

Part of the workshop involved hand painting skies, backgrounds and water. My fabric painting wrinkled up on the plastic surface but this seemed to work quite well for my "water". I've added a tree and some stitching since this photo was taken and will post another photo later.

Quite apart from the fun of catching up with my "Quilt Camp" buddies, I was especially fortunate to receive an Ott-lite True Colour Folding Craft Lamp which was donated to our class by SSS Pty Limited. Wow! so I am a tired, but happy, quilt camper.