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Overly Quiet!

Its been a while since I made an entry. I know when I started blogging I promised that I would write a work in progress entry on the Wednesday of each week and a thoughts/ mind dump on the weekend. Well, my work in progress until recently has been painfully slow and my mind has not been running at capacity for a while.

Regular readers will know that I suffer from a deteriorating back condition. Well its been getting worse recently. I’m now living in a brace and its taken some getting used to. Its also taken its toll on my well being, particularly my mental well being. Chronic pain is very difficult to live with and thankfully having quilting does make a difference, but even with that I have been struggling with feelings of low self-worth and descending slowly but surely into a rather deep black pit.

I’m now hauling myself out of it with help from friends and my partner, but its been a struggle. Quilting which is something that I normally am desperate to do has not been giving me the joy and pleasure it normally does.

While I looked back a few weeks ago and recognised that three months ago my cardiologist had revised his prognosis of my heart condition and gave me years longer to quilt, it didn’t renew my vigour in quilting. In fact I was enjoying very little. It took a friend to observe that I was depressed, not just blue but more than that and recognising that I made an effort to do something about it. I’m never one to not take the bull by the horns and I did this time.

I’m now feeling much more myself, I have a higher dose of happy pills and after a week I can feel the difference. Life is not so bleak. Quilting is giving me joy again. A lot of that can be traced back to yesterday and to Friday.

I gave a talk to a local group of quilters, the Golden Girls on Saturday afternoon. They were a delight to share my quilts with. They responded to the show and tell with lots of questions and were clearly thrilled with what they saw.

On Friday there was another show and tell at Mill Rose Cottage. All those that attended classes throughout the year were invited to attend and to show what they had done.

I was delighted to be there and to see what all the groups had done over the last 12 months. There was a huge range of work, stuffed toys, modern quilts, three dimensional quilts – it was massively impressive.

I was delighted to see that my BOM squad produced a terrific selection of traditional quilts and I was able to share some the product of the last 12 months.

I didn’t think that I had been that productive over the last year but when I gathered together quilts to take I realised that I had been much more productive than I thought. There were the two most recent red and white quilts which while weren’t yet quilted they were finished.

There was the carnation quilt which I’ve called the Belle of St Louis

there were quilts that I finished and had submitted for publication including Malmaison.

And of course there was General Jac. It took me a long time to complete but he is now bound and hung on my studio wall. There were audible gasps as a revealed it at the Mill Rose show and tell, and again bigger gasps at the Golden Girls talk.

It is a terrific quilt. I am delighted with it. It evolved while it was being made but I think that has made it a better quilt. The quilting took much longer than I expected but it was worth it. Currently it is my favourite quilt. But there again, the last quilt you make is your favourite and I would say that in most cases is the best quilt you have made. All those years of work culminate in producing it. All the classes you have taken, all the lessons you personally have learnt have led to produce a quilt you can say is as good as you can make. General Jac is certainly that for me at the moment.

I have no doubt that I will make quilts in the future that will surpass General Jac for my love of quilting has been renewed but right now I look at him on the wall and remember the struggles, the frustrations, the disappointments but also the surprises, the delights and the relief of completing it.

Its a bit like life really, its not all roses, but there are times when it is so good it doesnt feel real, and there are times when it is bleak and bad. The bad times make the good times even better and that is where I’m getting to now.

Work in Progress Wednesday

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I am close to finishing General Jac! I know its momentous news! Well it is for me!

At the last update on my progress on the quilt I showed you the design I was going to use, Pebbles and Swirls. It was very effective but although I thought it grew quickly it took a surprisingly long time to finish the four blocks.

I like to use very fine threads for quilting and my most used is Superior Thread’s Bottom Line. It isn’t my favourite though, my favourite is Superior Thread’s Kimono Silk but quilting a whole quilt with silk is rather extravagant. Having said that it is the most beautiful thread to use. I never have any birds nests or skipped stitches when I use it.

Bottom line is sometimes a little problematical but once you sort out the tension, needle and speed it is a treat to quilt with. Interestingly I have to reset tensions and try different needles with each quilt to get the right settings. I can’t explain why but when I teach I always show how to change tension, how to recognise what the right tension looks like and how different needles make a difference when the thread is breaking so they too can make changes when they quilt to get the best results they can.

This time I didn’t have a Bottom Line thread that matched the backing of the quilt so I experimented with Wonderfil in the bobbin and Bottom Line on the top. Well I think I’ve found the perfect match.

Bottom Line is a fine thread and depending on who is describing it and by what scale you are using it is said to be either a 60 weight thread or a 100 weight thread (the higher the number the finer the thread). Wonderfil is even finer and winding a bobbin of Wonderfil will take quite a bit of time and quite a bit of thread! It will also last for almost an entire day of me quilting. I had no problems with the difference in weight and the Wonderfil seemed to disappear into the backing. I am thrilled with the result.

Quilting the blocks took until the weekend. I like to listen to music or a talking book when I quilt. I listen to all manner of music from Coldplay to Mozart and everything in between. As far as books are concerned recently I have had a passion for Anthony Trollope as read by Timothy West and have listened to the Barchester series and then went on to the Parliamentary series – some 150 hours plus of Victorian novels.

Sunday afternoon I had a friend over and she hand pieced while I machine quilted and she was there when I finally finished quilting the blocks. My iPod must have realised that it was a momentous moment as I was doing the last Pebbles and Swirls the finale of the 1812 overture came on. It was on shuffle so it was completely by coincidence but I finished the quilting to church bells, cannon fire and the London Philharmonic playing at FFF! We both giggled at the coincidence!

Blocks and Sashing completed - web

Since the weekend I have quilted all the sashing using a Sharon Schamber design called Sand Dollars which complement the blocks nicely.

Sashing design - web

I have marked out and started the borders with a rather complicated design and started quilting. The design I chose was to outline the appliqué and then echo it at a quarter inch. I then make the vine into a triple cable with feathers and then to finish it with one inch piano keys. Its lying beautifully flat and the design is very pleasing.

Border Design - web

So far I have only managed to do half of one border but with luck I should be binding it by the weekend. I have already selected the fabrics to bind it with!

Its been a long haul but the results are worth it.

Stand by for a follow up entry to show the finished quilt!

Public Speaking

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Last night I gave a talk to the Waverley Patchworkers in the SE of Melbourne which is a long way away from little old Buninyong in the Western district of country Victoria which is where I live. Luckily to get there, although it was a round trip of over 300kms, most of the travelling was on the freeway which is a good thing as I am notorious for getting lost!

I have given quite a few talks now. For someone who a few years ago did not enjoy public speaking this is quite an achievement. To say that I actually enjoy it makes it even more of an achievement. However, when you are talking about something you are passionate about it is natural to enjoy sharing the joy of making quilts with people that are as passionate at making quilts as you are.

The Waverley group are certainly very passionate about quilting. I was their guest speaker after the AGM and to hear of their successes thru 2014 was a humbling experience not least the success of their quilt show which ended up donating over $14,000 to a local charity. They also made and donated over 225 quilts last year which is outstanding.

Myself presenting at Waverley

Myself presenting at Waverley

I have two talks that I can do, the first and usually my most popular talk is my quilting journey which is far from orthodox!

I came to quilting by mistake as I was no longer able to garden and paint which were my main creative outlets. I was a reasonably successful artist and sold several of my canvases so I was so disappointed to have to give it up. I played with fabrics and watched Simply Quilts and believed I’d found a new outlet for my creativity. I am completely self taught I have broken almost all the rules and as I claimed last night I had so many infringements the quilting police finally stopped warning me!

The other talk I do is on my love of Baltimore style quilts of which I have made quite a number. My passion these days is to take one Baltimore style block and reproduce it several times in a quilt and bring out a secondary design which doesn’t often happen in appliqué quilts.

I always take quite a few quilts to display and have them available for interested members of the audience to come and have a closer look at my work at the end of my talk. (you can see the pile of quilts at the bottom of the photograph below).

Regency Stripes at Waverley

Regency Stripes at Waverley

Last night after the talk a very nice lady came up to me and took me aside and said that I was still an artist, I had merely changed media. I call myself a fabric artist mostly because quilter doesn’t adequately explain that I design, construct and quilt quilts but this lady made me stop and think and agree with her in that I am an artist and that quilting is an art form. Certainly the comments I received last night, and after other talks, show that people do love my quilts and think them beautiful but I now see them as works of art as well.

Last night was an eye opener in many ways for me for I was asked many questions after my talk. Then when the audience had an opportunity to view the quilts at close quarters, and handle them for I’m not precious about white gloves or look but don’t touch the quilts – it reminds me too much of the English “don’t walk on the grass!” attitude – I was amazed at the genuine interest both in myself and the quilts.

I also got to meet several of my Facebook friends including Linda Steele who is a very much accomplished fabric artist in her own right. When she said that my quilts were stunningly beautiful I was so taken aback.

I now know I’m doing something right and actually doing what I should be doing. I am so lucky to be able to do so but I am also so lucky to have found what I should be doing and that is being a fabric artist who works with fabric not paint to make works of art and goes forth and inspires others to do the same by sharing my quilts by talking to other quilters.

For someone who didn’t like public speaking, I love it now and hope I have the opportunity to do more of it in the future who knows, maybe even overseas!

 

Work in Progress Thursday

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I’m baffled. I’m confused. I’m almost stunned. General Jac is taking so long to make.

It’s only a four block quilt. Granted it’s a slightly complicated four block quilt but it is only a four block quilt with a vine border, a simple vine border in essentially two colours and a bit of fancy satin stitch. The fancy satin stitch is only on the rose centres, true there are a few of them but not that many.

General Jac has taken two months to get this far. This week I stabilised the entire quilt, outlined all the appliqué on the quilt top but not the borders and echoed all the appliqué except the borders. I have decided on the design of the quilting in the blocks (after some extensive research! Meaning I spent a day getting lost in Pinterest!), perfecting the design and then almost finishing a complete block.

Experimental quilting designs for General Jac

Experimental quilting designs for General Jac

 

Final quilting design for quilting blocks of General Jac

Final quilting design for quilting blocks of General Jac

That is ridiculously slow work for me. At my most productive I was producing a complicated appliqué quilt in two or three weeks … including the quilting and hand binding. What is the hold up, why am I working at one third the speed I normally work at?

I was so baffled by this I checked back at what happened two months ago.

At the beginning of August I had a check up with my cardiologist. I’ve been seeing him since my series of heart attacks in 2009, the first one brought on by the record breaking heat wave in February 2009.

On the Monday after Black Saturday I went to work and my office was still 45 degrees, opening windows made precious little difference and I had spent the weekend completely heat exhausted and distressed at the dreadful bush fires that claimed nearly 200 lives.

At 3.30 on that Monday with the office still ridiculously hot and it not much cooler outside I suffered a major heart attack and was rushed to hospital. Not something that you expect to happen at 48 except that in hindsight it was probably partially genetic in that my father had a series of heart attacks at 50. You don’t think of those things when you are lying on the floor bathed in sweat and an elephant standing on your chest or that’s what it felt like.

In the follow up consultation with the cardiologist he said that it was a serious situation and that anytime in the next five years I could expect to have a catastrophic heart attack on the right hand side to match the one I’d had on the left hand side of my heart. Being on the right it was much more serious as that is the side that pumps the blood to the rest of the body. Compromising the heart on that side would probably be debilitating if not fatal.

Since starting quilting I have felt the need to get all the designs of my quilts out of my head and made up. Some times just designing them on paper was enough but most of the time I had to make them up in fabric and quilt them too. My head was full of designs that I felt I was compelled to make. I worked like a machine. Quilts raced off my sewing machine at an astonishing rate. The proof of this hangs in my store room of the studio even now.

In early August my cardiologist some five and half years after my first heart attack and after three angiograms and five stents finally admitted that I had successfully managed to avoid heart by pass surgery and that he couldn’t see any reason why at current conditions we wouldn’t be having regular consultations and follow ups in 30 years time.

I nearly fell off my chair. It was a very emotional moment for me.

For the previous five and a bit years I’d been expecting every day to possibly be my last. When you are driven as I am that meant that I had to finish everything I meant to finish and in my quilting passion that meant that I had to finish the quilt series that I was working on. I was bursting with ideas and plans and they literally burned to get out.

On hearing that there wasn’t the time restriction that there was, or what I had been lead to believe there was, I could now take my time with quilt making.

I could savour the design process and take time to make changes. I could spend the time making choices about fabrics and threads. I also could listen to what my body was telling me, if I was sore and tired, I could lie down and take a nap.

I rediscovered reading. I was a veracious reader a few years ago and we have bookcases in almost every room, now its electronic and I read on a Kindle. But I have returned to reading and loving it. I will take only two days to read a 250 page book – thankfully electronic books are so much cheaper than paper books or I’d not be able to buy fabric! But I spend as much time reading as I do quilting, that’s why its taken me so long to finish General Jac.

Every quilt was possibly my last, General Jac for the first time in five years is not going to be or doesn’t feel like it will be my last quilt. That’s why I’ve taken so long to make it.

I have to say it’s a lovely feeling being able to take time to do something you love doing. The pressure is off and I can enjoy making the decisions, if I make a mistake I don’t have to continue regardless, I have the time to unpick it.

I’m sorry if my progress is slow and my entries on my WIP blog show so little growth but I’m getting there and I’m enjoying the getting there.

A big change from the feeling that I had to get there or else …

Work in Progress Wednesday

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Well this is a long over due report on my progress on General Jac. If you follow me on Facebook you will have had some of the progress made in my almost daily blogs there but I know not everyone does have or wants to have Facebook.

The last report on here I was redesigning the cornerstones and had fused one. Well I am delighted to say that I liked the initial design and went with it and made all four cornerstones and then sewed them and the borders on to the quilt top.

I then had to finish off all the bias stems and appliqué all the buds and missing roses so while it looked like it was done there was still quite a bit to do.

Quilt top of General Jacqueminot completed

Quilt top of General Jacqueminot completed

I finally finished the top bias and appliqué last Wednesday and then on the Thursday I made the quilt back.

I like making the quilt backs interesting. There are times when a wide back is the right way to go, particularly if it’s competition quilt where the quilting can be scrutinised or it is to be photographed for a magazine. My favourite wide backing is cotton sateen, which is extremely difficult to get in Australia, but I have a contact in the states and I get it shipped. There is not a wide range of colours and I normally just have black and irory.

Back of Suwannee - used sateen wide back so could be easily photographed for magazine

Back of Suwannee – used sateen wide back so could be easily photographed for magazine

I do however have several methods of making pieced backs for quilts. I have used fat quarters in a block and then sashed and bordered them, I have used three fat quarters in a row and then put strips either side of them, which made a particularly interesting quilt back.

Back of Tropical Garden using three fat quarters

Back of Tropical Garden using three fat quarters

The most frequent method I use however is to make a 1.2m square of a fabric that coordinates with the background fabric in the quilt top. I then border it with a fabric that I used in the top and then border that with a plain Kona Solid or something similar that coordinates with the 1.2m square.

Using this method of backing is considerably cheaper than sewing two lengths of fabric together and also you don’t have the wastage as two selvage to selvage strips is often much wider than the quilt you are backing.

This was the method I decided to do for General Jac. It turned out very successfully.

Back of General Jac

Back of General Jac

I hope that I was going have a chance to baste it before the weekend although I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to start quilting it until mid this week. I was booked to have a two day workshop in my studio and that meant that I had to do some serious cleaning up and preparations for the class. I wasn’t going to be able to sew until Wednesday, today, as I was predicting, correctly as it turned out, that my back would be sore and I would be rather tired!

Last night we finally basted the quilt. Rather than use my newer method of using the studio tables which means that I can baste relatively easily and there is minimal bending for my back and no kneeling or bad bending for my back I got Marcus’s help and we basted it on the floor using the tiles to square the entire quilt up as the backing needed to line up with the borders on the quilt top.

Marcus has been a wonder at basting and has basted the vast majority of my quilts. He quickly employed a most unique method that I named Maharajah basting where he sits cross legged in the middle of the quilt and bastes happily with the safety pins after we’ve spray basted it.

Marcus Maharajah Basting

Marcus Maharajah Basting

So that’s where I’m up to with General Jac. I have worked out that the border is going to be a triple cable probably with feathers, which will be fun – I love feathers. The blocks once they have been echoed will not need much quilting at all but what there needs to be will be from the pebble family of quilting backgrounds. As for the sashing, there is quite a bit of room for quilting and as yet I’m not sure what I plan to do – when I get to it, I will know what I have to do. It always does come to me like the quilt tells me what it needs, either something that coordinates with what I’ve done already or something that contrasts. We will see what happens soon enough.

Preparations for a two day workshop

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I love spending time in my studio. Its purpose built (lucky me!) and is a wonderful creative space. Its full of light, table that is the right height for cutting, ironing station that will take a full selvage to selvage piece of fabric, two massive tables that I work on and will separate so that I can baste on without grovelling about the floor and breaking my back.

Floor Basting

Floor Basting

Marcus, my partner, used to be my baster for me. Throughout the house the floor is brick tiles and it was easy to square the backing on the floor and stick it down with masking tape before layering the batting and quilt on top. Now I have the tables he no longer sits cross legged like a maharajah in the middle of the quilt pin basting it. I think he misses it.

Table Basting

Table Basting

When I worked on the dining table he felt much more involved in what I was doing, he would come home from work and immediately he was immersed in my work, often he would come home and find blocks pinned to the curtains as I didn’t have a design wall. Or he’d get home and there would be fabric draped over the chairs in groups of different colours as I decided what I was going to use for the next quilt. The floor always had threads and clippings on them and if not collected up quickly would spread throughout the house with the help of our two schnauzers.

Now I’m in the studio the house is now a home and not a workspace and home. I shut the studio door and walk 10 m and I’m home. That’s a commute most people would die for. Work now stays at work and home is what it should be, a place to relax.

The floor in the studio is bamboo and easily swept and is relatively lint free, the stashes are kept in the store room and the repro stash is kept under the cutting table. My darling dogs don’t visit often, they don’t like the bamboo floor – its too slippery and they slide about all over the place. They are getting old and I guess the slipping hurts their hips and joints. I miss them sitting on my feet and generally getting in the way, but the studio is also my class room and not everyone likes dogs or where dogs have been so they have been kept out of the studio.

I have rearranged it several times and the last reorganisation I think is the best. It has given me a much more versatile space.

Original Set up

Original Set up

Latest Set Up

Latest Set Up

Its given me room to separate the tables and accommodate more visitors and students in the studio than before. Previously I thought that I could manage maybe four but now I believe that seven could be easily accommodated.

Set up for 6 person workshop

Set up for 6 person workshop

This is so exciting. I thought I was going to be limited to small groups but seven is a good size group. We have several bed and breakfast places in Buninyong and Ballarat has several hotels that would make a two day workshop a definite possibility.

Actually I have a five person two day workshop already booked and they are coming next weekend. I have to say that I am so excited. Its my first one and I have no idea how it will go, except that I have taught them before earlier this year so I know that we all get along famously. Any slight hiccup and we’ll be sure to laugh it off.

The class is an Introduction to Machine Applique – not only am I teaching in my studio for the first time I’m teaching Confederate Rose to most of the group too. A double wammy of firsts.

Confederate Rose

Confederate Rose

Its going to be a great weekend what ever happens and you can be sure that I will share with you next week a late entry with news of how it went.

 

 

(If you are interested in a one or two day workshop here in my studio on Mt Buninyong the list of classes I run and the schedule of fees is found on my website: http://www.neilchisholmdesigns.com/tuition. I can be contacted by emailing me at nrc.mch@bigpond.net.au or neil@neilchisholmdesigns.com)

 

 

Quilters make the best friends

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I missed out on blogging last week. Mid week I had made such poor progress with my quilt that I couldn’t bring myself to admit how little I had done! My Sunday entry sort of just fizzed. I’d had a bad week with pain and I had taken pain killers, muscle relaxants and bourbon to make everything feel better and more normal, but I didn’t have a thought in my head to string together for an entry! Sorry to those that were waiting for words of wisdom and quilting tips.

Sunday afternoon we had our regular last Sunday of the Month quilt group gathering but most of the group were busy with family commitments – at one stage it was me and one other and then half way thru the afternoon a second member joined us. We started discussing quilting but clearly quilting wasn’t in our hearts this time and we talked anything but quilting, shared experiences, proved to each other that we weren’t freaks or lunatics despite our hoarding tendencies of fabric. It was a most bonding of sessions.

I love my quilt group – each and every one of them will call a spade a shovel. So if some information or suggestion is proffered, you know that it is from the heart and that it is meant as a suggestion for your growth not as a dig or a slap down. I could not be more blessed with my closest quilting friends and as our group continues to meet I realise that they are my bestest friends and better than family.

Our group is called Daughters of the Valiant South due to our love of reproduction civil war fabrics and the quilt designs of the middle of the 19th Century. For women of the south friendship between them became more important than blood (think of Steel Magnolias!) and after this weekend meeting I realise that I was inspired when I named the group.

I am in search of a small friendship quilting group in the southern states that will form a loose association with our group. Nothing too serious, the occasional block swap, exchange of information and the normal quilting fun. I have made several requests but nothing has happened. Maybe they don’t take us seriously. Maybe we are too serious! Maybe they can’t believe that an Australian group can be that interested in the American Civil War. A photo of me at the moment might make them change their mind – I look more like Colonel Sanders than the side of a chicken bucket!

That is not an accident, I am often asked to give talks to groups and I am considering using my collection of civil war era quilts to tell a story. I could dress up as a southern gentlemen or southern soldier and tell the story of the war from the southern perspective. Its always the winners that write the history but there is a big story that the southerners have to tell which is often missed out on and I have a selection of quilts that would help tell that story. Just an idea and might mean that I need to make a frock coat and some other costumes to tell the story. It certainly would be different from the normal trunk show.

That is a work in progress. As is General Jac.

This last week I managed to fuse and stitch most of the borders and now working on the cornerstones. I have redesigned them and the quilt now has some serious differences from the original antique quilt I was inspired by.

Windblown rosetree quilt

 

Gen Jac with corner - web

I must admit that I don’t normally change designs so much during construction but I didn’t feel that the borders were right when I sketched them initially. Even when I polled my Facebook friends and asked for their advice they too couldn’t come to a consensus which left me even more confused but still convinced that the original was too plain.

 Gen Jac corner - web

The resulting borders and cornerstones are more colourful and now compliment the quilt. It is more modern in feel but that’s not a problem. I always quilt in a modern manner which brings the quilt up to date.

I’ve started thinking about the quilting already and have decided that I will make the border a triple chain but not entirely sure how whether I use a feathered chain and then use a dense background to show it off or the feathered chain will be in a slightly contrasting colour which is not my usual method of quilting. We will see when I get there.

The main body of the quilt won’t need much quilting as it is filled with leaves. Once I echo the appliqué there won’t be much room for any quilting other than a small back ground.

I had a visitor on Wednesday. Noelene from my Block of the Month group at Ballan came and did some trimming of her blocks.

Noelene

When we laid it all out on the studio tables we were thrilled with the way it looked. Its taken a little over a year for Noelene to get this far but it looks spectacular.

Noelene's BOMSONY DSC

Its amazing to see how different it looks in an alternative colour way.

International Sewing and Quilting Month

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Today a Facebook friend put up a cartoon of an antique sewing machine and underneath it had the inscription: Sewing mends the soul.

It really does but it does more than that and I wrote in a comment:

Sewing mends the soul,
It also patches a broken heart,
Occupies an anxious mind,
Is good therapy for those in pain,
Gives joy to the unhappy by creating something unique
Provides happiness and expresses love to the receiver of a handmade gift
Sewing does this and so much more.

I sew every day. I sew on a machine by day and by hand by night. It’s like breathing to me.

I was brought up in a house where needle and thread was always about. Mum was an expert embroiderer and made works of art from skeins of silk and yards of linen. After an evening of stitching she’d take the linen out of the hoop and there would be a perfectly executed flower, butterfly or bird. It was her way of relaxing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

She couldn’t be just sitting in front of the TV and just watch it, she had to be doing something. I am just like her in that respect. I can’t just sit and watch TV. I can embroider but its more embellishing than real embroidery but I can do tapestry and have made a couple of tapestries including one that is nearly three metres long.

My maternal grandmother didn’t embroider, she knitted. Again, she couldn’t be idle in the evenings, she needed to keep busy and so she knitted. I had several jumpers she made but one really was my favourite, a yellow cardigan. I wore it and wore it, it became threadbear and was patched but was no longer good enough to be seen in. When I was sick it was the one thing I so wanted to wear and when I became too big to wear it, it became my hot water bottle cover when I was ill.

Dad died in 2001 and it was a massive transition for Mum. She even stopped embroidering. By a chance meeting she fell into a group of friends from some time back who were patchworkers. Slowly she re-established the friendships and came along to the meetings they had and she took up patchwork. They became her support, her best friends and patchwork became really important to her.

Two years after Dad died from cancer, Mum died from cancer too. Mum’s patchworking friends were there with her from the diagnosis to her final days. Sewing in a different form, from embroidery to patchwork, had helped her maybe not to heal but to accept.

That was eleven years ago.

I’ve been quilting seven years. I ache to be able to tell her that I too have discovered quilting, how fun it is, how wonderful it is to share the joy with friends, the thrill of creating something from cut pieces of fabric. She probably would laugh at my shameful attempts at embroidery on my quilts but she would then pick up her needle and silks and show me how to do it properly. All my embroidery skills are just learnt from watching her stitch, never having an actual lesson from her, from anyone, even from YouTube.

Someone said when they heard that Mum was a quilter but never knew that I was too said that when we meet up again boy is she going to have something to say!

I don’t think she will, she’ll understand that stitching is in my blood. Its something we did. Not that long ago it was something everyone did, stitches held families together, it provided employment, it was sometimes the only opportunity for women to show their creativity, men lived by tailoring and it was all hand made.

I can’t imagine now not quilting. Its part of me. I spend most of my day in the studio doing something towards the quilt I’m making and it truly does feed my soul. Actually I’m beginning to think that it goes even deeper, I think it might actually be in our DNA, it certainly is in mine!

Work in Progress – someday!

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I’ve been a bit slack in getting my blog entries up on the day that I originally said that I would do so. Initially I said that I would make a general entry about quilting, life, the universe and everything on Sundays and a Work in Progress entry on Wednesdays. My intentions started well and then things went a touch awry!

This Work in Progress Wednesday entry is being written on my Wednesday evening but might be posted on the Thursday. My intentions are good but my practice is not quite as good as I’d like.

Its been a very busy seven days. I’ve been to Werribee to give a talk …

Me at Wyndham Quilt In

Me at Wyndham Quilt In

…taught Zentangle Inspired Quilting yesterday at Mill Rose Cottage in Ballan …Mill Rose ZIQ

… and today I finally finished constructing the quilt top of General Jacqueminot.

 General Jac - top finished

I have successfully recovered from both the talk and the teaching and I’m now sure that the new brace for my back is responsible for the reduction in pain and my increased mobility. It’s a life changer. I still get tired, I still need to take rests regularly, I still need to lie on the sofa after lunch either reading or napping but overall I am massively improved. My back is a constant work in progress and will remain so for the rest of my life but any improvement is a welcome one.

Last week I was deciding on how the sashing was going to look and I’m pleased at how its turned out. Some of the friends I polled for suggestions said keep it really simple like the original and others thought that it would be better balanced if the sashing and borders were more detailed and matching the busy blocks.

I met both groups half way. I introduced a simple five petal rose in the sashing and the same rose will appear in the border but essentially the border will be as I originally designed it.

I am delighted with the way its turned out. The oak leaves have taken much longer to do and the ones in the sashing were smaller so needed to be stitched with a smaller stitch. Even with my magnifying glasses on it was a bit of a trial and there were even fewer straight lines and much more pivoiting! Whinge whinge! I have no idea why I’m whinging – I love my appliqué. Maybe too much of a good thing and you end up complaining just for the hell of it.

I did some fancy satin stitching in the rose centres which was the only variations. Other than that, the rose was satins stitched, the leaves button holed and the bias fern stitched. Its my usual combo which works really nicely.

Central Rose Gen Jac Gen Jac Block Rose gen jac sashing rose

As I am going to be cutting out the borders over the next week I should tell you I am trialling a method I found on YouTube for extending the life of the CutNScan cutting mats. I did a dummy run and I spent a long time getting the paper off the mat – I think the adhesive I used reacted with the adhesive left on the mat. Now I am following the instructions properly by removing all the previous adhesive with non-alcohol baby wipes it might be easier to peel off the paper after passing it thru the cutter. I shall keep you informed.

Isn’t it amazing what baby wipes can be used for. They apparently are the first thing you should reach for if you get red wine on clothes! Marcus was told by a actor friend that he uses them to remove make up, they certainly removed stubborn stains that had appeared on my studio tables.

So I’m now thinking about my next project. I need to do some writing which I am procrastinating about. I am not good at writing up my patterns I’d much rather play with fabric although I do enjoy writing my blog entries and my Facebook up dates but they are more mind dumps than accurate writing .

I was tidying up and came across some old sketches I’d made earlier in the year for quilts using the drunkards path block. I haven’t perfected curved piecing and certainly avoided it during the precision piecing challenge. Maybe that should be my next challenge.

What every my next challenge is, I wont be starting it for a couple of weeks and I’ll be sure to keep you in formed of what I plan to do and what progress I’m making even if its not very much!

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On Saturday I was engaged to be the speaker at Wyndham Patchworkers Quilt In.

Me at Wyndham Quilt In

Me at Wyndham Quilt In

I used to be terrified of public speaking. When I was at school each 6th Form pupil had to take turns in assembly at making the reading. Assembly was daily so it came round pretty frequently and luckily I managed to get out of it pretty often purely because my best mate didn’t mind doing it and would do it for me.

When I worked in Marketing I was asked at a couple of firms to stand up and give the marketing report to either the executive or in one case the entire firm of 30 odd people. There was no getting out of this but I hated it.

I wondered how I’d go with teaching but once I’d introduced myself, talking to people was no problem – they had come to see me and I was there to share my knowledge with them. I didn’t feel any nerves, just delight that I was able to pass on some information about how I do things and although the quilt police might not think it the done way, it worked for me and it would work for them too. More than anything else it was giving them permission to try their own solutions, not necessarily slavishly follow tradition or accepted ways of doing things – as the proverb says “there are many ways to skin a cat”! I say “poor cat”!

A couple of times I was called upon to talk to the quilting group I used to be a part of. 50 people is slightly different from talking to 6 or 8 but again I was comfortable doing it. If I goofed, I laughed it off with the group and moved on, no big deal. I was after all just sharing a technique, an idea or showing them a few quilts. It wasn’t terrifying in part due to the fact that I knew them and I knew that I wasn’t going to be skinned alive if I really messed up.

I never did really mess up and I now realise it was because I was sharing something that I am really passionate about. I might not have been totally articulate but they understood and I had gotten my message across and that was at the end of the day what was needed.

After some time of teaching I started to get a bit of a name for myself. A male quilter is not a common thing here in Australia. I was doing some good work, I had won three awards at the State Championships, Victorian Showcase, so I clearly was doing something right and I was asked to give a talk to other quilt groups. I was delighted to do so and I started sharing my quilts with other groups in the Western Victorian region.

Last year I went down to Geelong to do a talk and was caught by surprise. I had been contacted to give a talk and I assumed that I was going to give a talk to a local group. In effect it was a local group except it was the local guild that all the local groups were associated with and I was the guest speaker at the guild’s quilt in.

There were 170 there. This was a totally different kettle of fish! I had a microphone to be heard! My quilts had to be paraded to be seen by the assembled masses. 170 faces were hanging on my every work. If I goofed I probably would have been skinned alive!

I didn’t goof and during question time I realised that they had loved the quilts, they had loved the snippets of information I shared in how I made them and they wanted more. Question time went well over time!

It felt like a bit of a baptism of fire but I survived and had the biggest rush at the end of it. The whole thing was a bit of a blur but because I was sharing my passion and my passion showed the talk was a huge success.

I have been asked to speak at other quilt ins since and each time I get a wonderful feeling of having connected with such a wide variety of quilters. At quilt ins there is a host group and then there are those from other groups that attend and spend the day with like minded people quilting and chatting and stitching and dishing the dirt. Its a great way to spend a day.

The quilters that attend the quilt ins are of all levels of ability. I try and speak to them all. We were all at some stage the beginner that didn’t know how to mitre a corner or what thread to use in the bobbin. Some of us are keen to learn new techniques some don’t realise the techniques that they want to learn until they see a quilt that talks to them, others are more advanced and want to compare the quilts they make with the quilts that are being displayed and shared as part of the talk.

For the large part quilters are the most sharing of people I know. The willingly share information, give away “needles saying you have to try theses! They are the best”, swap stories and techniques, have photos at the ready to show their recent quilts and who they gave it to. You aren’t a stranger for long amongst quilters – there is always some common ground.

The Quilt In on Saturday was just like it. There were 150 expected and more turned up  but room was found for them and there was plenty of food to be shared. We chatted, stitched and ate.

After lunch I launched into my talk. I had taken a large selection of quilts and talked about my unorthodox journey in quilting and it seemed to hit a nerve with those gathered. They enjoyed the quilts being shared, they sympathised with my story and during question and answer time there were lots of questions on my techniques, what drove my passion and my working methods. I told them that I teach at local patchwork shops and from my studio and since I have been contacted by several who were there interested in classes. An opportunity for me to share my passion on a more intimate level.

I had the best time. I spent a long time chatting to the quilters as they came and looked and handled my quilts before we packed them up. I was delighted to spend the time with them sharing how I do things and giving them suggestions on their own techniques. I could probably say well come and do a class but that’s not how quilters work, we share freely. That’s why I love being a quilter.

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Discussing quilting and stabilising the quilt

Discussing quilting and stabilising the quilt

I shall share with you a very personal story. I was buying my very first sewing machine. I had inherited my mother’s 1960 machine which was on its last legs and I broke it making my first quilt. Even then I knew that I was going to be doing this patchwork thing for a while and I needed a new machine. I bought a $500 machine that did more than just the basic stitches but nothing too fancy. I was asked by the sales lady what I wanted it for. I replied that I had just started patch working. She turned to her friend and said “He’s one of us!” with a big smile.

Until that point in my life I had lived a life of exclusion, I was “one of them” but in buying that machine I was told I was one of them, the quilting family, and that I had joined the bigger association of quilters – they didn’t discriminate as to who joined that association you just had to have an interest in sewing and quilting.

I’m sure that was a pivotal point in my life – to be included the great family of quilters. Their characteristics of sharing and learning and befriending a new quilter and to never feel completely an outsider again was a huge thing.

I hope in my talks to quilt ins, to groups, when I’m teaching I am inclusive and sharing for that is very much they way I want to be and shall always want to be. I think quilting is now so in my blood that I shall die quilting! I shall die with the next project ready to start, patterns printed, fabrics selected and who or what comp its for already decided. But most of all who I want to share it with both the finished quilt and the journey of making it for that is what quilters do. And I am a quilter. And very proud of it.