In the Studio

And all over a sudden, almost overnight, I went from escaping here for the air-conditioning, to escaping here for the sunshine. From cursing its hot beams radiating through our thin tin roof, to welcoming them through the northern window that fills most of the wall next to my sewing machine.

Perhaps it was the change in the weather, or the finishing up and shipping off three more quilts for Free Spirit. Or maybe even the big fuss over on Instagram about the impending changes to my feed, but I woke this morning with the desire to write. To think about words and the state of things, without limiting it to the space before the ... or how to caption a picture so that you don't just flick away.

English Paper Piecing has become more than just a summer fling. And something about my Free Spirit Quilts becoming my 'day job' has made me feel completely justified in working on more than one EPP quilt at a time. Afterall, it's my relaxing-in-the-evening sewing. I'm allowed to follow my whims, right? And even before this Pinwheel Posy quilt is all stitched up, I have another in mind that's ready to explode out of me if I don't hurry up and give it form. And hey, it's the weekend. Maybe I'll just succumb.

A completely new and exciting adventure for me is Scraps In Tubs. I know. Not new or exciting really, but all the happy feelings come mostly from me actually diving in and doing it. About a month ago, my mum came and helped me sort through my monster of a scrap stash. It was like a virus, making its way into all corners of the house (mostly with the help of our oh-so-helpful two year old.) My mother never passed on her organising genes to me, so I asked her to give them to me in a weekend, and we had a lovely time together wrapping yardage around comic book boards, and reorganising my scraps into these spider-proof, toddler-proof tubs. We threw out anything ridiculously un-useful, and then added my fat quarters and big scraps in the mix too. Now I only have two places for fabric storage, rather than five or six. Oh, it's so good!

I've been slowly going through the boxes and putting all kinds of favourites and not-so-favourites alike through the 2.5" square die with my Accuquilt, for the aforementioned next-in-line hexie quilt. If only I could hand-stitch as quickly as I can cut 2.5" squares!

The big tidy up revealed a longish forgotten scrap project, which this week has been brought out into the sunshine to hopefully be all sewn up. It's made completely with the scrap triangles from a second mountain campfire quilt I've sewn up and was also put on the 'waiting pile.' Fin wanted to be in the photo, but didn't want to be in the photo. She turns two today. And she lives most of her life this way, wanting to join in, and wanting to be in control. I'm like that too so I understand. And liking her despite the infuriating bits helps me like myself more.

I started this blog 5 years ago next month! Back in the very epicenter of baby-rearing chaos. It feels a little strange, a little too good to be true that today we say goodbye to the baby days. All those hundreds of times that I wrote, and said, and prayed, "This too shall pass", and it actually did! Who would have thought?

Some mothers are absolutely, wonderfully themselves with little ones underfoot. But me, I'm enjoying me right here in my Autumn sunshine and my tubs with lids.

Tent City Quilt

Elizabeth Lilian Neilson Mitchell lived in Melbourne, Australia at the turn of the 20th Century with her husband and eight children in a small two bedroom cottage. Her husband worked for a fabric manufacturer and would bring hope small samples for Elizabeth to stitch.

Maybe it was the twinge of jealousy at a constant supply of new fabric samples. Perhaps the memory of our two bedroom cottage last year that forced negotiation and creativity to live there peacefully and comfortably. Or maybe it was just the fresh peaches and cream and the occasional blues in her quilt made in 1900, that felt so modern and inviting. Whatever the reason, this quilt, featured in Annette Gero's Fabric of Society, a delicious book of Australian historic quilts, sung to me, calling for a reproduction.

This quilt reminded me how much I love throwing scraps of fabric at my machine and seeing what it becomes. I started with my Wild and Free triangle scraps from my Mountain Campfire quilt, some Petal and Plume scraps by Bari J, added the paler Wanderer prints by April Rhodes and the entire line of Skopellos by Katarina Roccella. I cut rectangles 4" x 6", and then in half diagonally, and then sewed them back together at random. The half square triangles are 4.5" and 3". I sewed the rectangles together in long rows and then cut them to around 80", purposefully offsetting the points.

I was tempted to lay this one out on my design wall and put more thought into colour layout, but I decided against it, and I'm so glad I did. Since putting up my design wall this year, investing in a grid book, and then recently, EQ7, many of my quilts have been heavily planned, consuming more time and thought in the process. If I wanted this one to look scrappy, I needed to trust it to the scrappy way. And what a relaxing, smooth way that is. It's amazing how easy it is to keep stepping back to the machine in the little moments when the decisions have already been made, when all that is required for layout is to keep on stitching. The three quilts I'm working on currently are all big decision quilts. Lots of stopping and starting. Lots of staring and thinking. And they'll be worth it in the end, I'm sure. But there was a special kind of joy in this one. It's good to remember the choice to go simple isn't a compromise.

Elizabeth's children slept in tents in the backyard, hence the name Tent City. I laughed out loud when I read that, thinking of how child services would never allow it today. So much of my brain goes in to wondering if my children are happy, growing, going to turn out OK. Did we make the right decision to homeschool? Do I pay them enough attention? Will they inherit my love of colour, or my complete indifference to cooking and housework and gardening? I wonder if Elizabeth ever wondered the same things, kissing her children goodnight under the stars. Did it occur to mothers in the 1900s?

Having this quilt turn out so beautifully has reminded and reassured me that in the end I don't have have a whole lot of control over the decisions they'll make in the future or the people they'll want to be, all I can do is keep throwing in the right colours, and be so, so thankful for this big old house in the country, and pray the scrappy way works its magic.

Accuquilt Go Review

A few years ago, every second blog I read was given an Accuquilt Baby to review, with mixed reception. At the time I was mostly making pinafores and if I was quilting, it was mostly simple squares, strips or triangles, and though I loved the thought of giving one a try, I could never justify the expense, not just of the machine itself, but the cutting dies that go with it.
The following year I got really serious about using my scraps from those pinnies, and I started to doubt my earlier assumption about those costs. It takes a lot of time to cut 2.5" squares from random-sized shapes! Maybe it would help me use up those scraps more efficiently. I let the idea sit for a year or so.
Then for my birthday last August, Tim walked into my local quilt shop, without my knowledge, and bought me an Accuquilt Go fabric cutter. I'm sure you can imagine how excited I was, touched not only by the gift but by the thought and action also. The package came with a 'Value Die' (a mix of co-ordinating squares and triangles), and Tim also bought be a hexagon die to start with.

Since then several people have asked me my opinion about this neat, (not so) little gadget, including some in the comments under my last post. It got me thinking that every quilt I'm working on at the moment has been cut using the Accuquilt, and that every idea I have is influenced in form and size, by what dies have I have to make it easier. So I thought I would share here how I use my fabric cutter and how it's affected my making. 

The Accuquilt actually works without any motor, electricity, batteries or computer. The dies are shaped blades, hidden in foam mats. When you place the fabric over the blades, and cover the fabric with a cutting mat, the 'sandwhich' is rolled though the Accuquilt with the help of a handle. The rollers push the cutting mat down onto the blades, cutting through several layers of fabric at a time.
The first quilt I finished that was cut with the Accuquilt was my Rising Balloons quilt, made with the large Drunkards Path Die, which my mum gave to me that same birthday. This was my first attempt cutting and sewing curves in quilts (though, I'd sewn plenty of sleeves in my time and it's not all that different). It took me about half an hour to iron all the fat quarters and cut a 9" strip from each. Then it took about 45 minutes to roll those strips through the Accuquilt, 6 at a time. Those cut blocks gave me a quilt 180cm (70") squared. A 9 inch strip gave me about half an inch each side of wastage, and a 3" strip at the end, which I then rolled through on the Value Die to get the pieces for the unfinished quilt above. I've since used the Drunkards path die for this quilt, and let a friend use it at a sewing retreat last year.

The next die I bought was the 3" finished half square triangle die, which cuts four triangles, 6 layers at a time. I used it for my Nine Patch Dash quilt, the Flying Geese Quilt above. I then used some Christmas money to buy the 6" quarter square triangle die and the isoceles triangle die. The first goes with the 3" triangles to make flying geese, the base of my Mountain Campfire block. The latter, I'm using for a quick kaleidescope quilt in solids, and the 3" triangles make the corners. I love that I can build my collection as the budget allows, and plan new quilts that use more than one die together. This has actually been the key to my use of the Accuquilt. I thought it would be to eat through my scraps faster (and this is still my hope!), but mostly it's stretched my designs and helped to me try new things. I love that it's not only easy to cut quickly, but it's also easy to do it the kids around or helping, as there's no exposed blades; or with visitors, because it's not noisy; or in the evening because it's portable and doesn't need to engage my brain.

While reading reviews last year, a lot of people commented on things like waste and fabric getting caught in the joins between blades. For me, the waste has been minimal compared to the time saved. I simply measure the width of the shape with my ruler and add a half inch allowance so that I have a quarter inch overhang on each side. I haven't bought the larger (5" or 8") square dies because I did think that would be a waste not justified by any time saved. I have, however, invested in the 2.5" squares die which cuts over 50 squares at a time!
I have experienced fabric threads getting caught, or not cutting properly on the join, which can be frustrating, but I've found if I have scissors handy, it doesn't take much to get into the groove of snipping those bits as I lift the fabric off the die.

Someone asked me this week if I thought an Accuquilt was essential. And I don't think I would ever naturally answer yes to $300+ question like that. I don't like the idea that anything gadgety or expensive is essential. I like the idea that quilting started with needle and thread and the good parts of a worn out shirt or blanket. But looking back on my making the last six months, I think I'd find it hard to go back! I am curious to see if, as I develop my ideas into patterns, by Go Cutter gets abandoned under my desk so I can make them accessible to everyone. I think though, I'll always now have a mix of quick quilts, new designs, and slow experiments on the go at any one time. And I'm sure my Accuquilt will feature in most of them. Time will tell!
Feel free to ask any other questions! I'll answer them here or via email.

Slow Quilt

I did not come to quilting via the traditional block. I came to it with a bunch of squares, next to my machine, all sewn together randomly with as little up and down to the iron as possible. I still like to make a quilt that way. But in the last year, I've come to appreciate the quilt block. Not just the look of them. I've always loved how they looked. Now I am learning to like the making also.

I cannot say enough how much I am enjoying this new line by Maureen Cracknell. Wild and Free is a sweet mix of basics, low volume and stand out prints. I pulled together a bundle of about 15 prints because this Luminous Field welcomes so many other colours to the mix. But eventually I settled on this limited palette, including only Sarah Jane's Glow Friends as an extra, and leaving the Folk Plaid for the backing.

When I was a teenager, we lived on 100 acres, about 4 hours north of Sydney. Before we lived there, it was a weekender, a horse riding retreat owned by a couple who divorced and sold the property in the settlement. When we moved, in the middle of winter, there was no electricity, no house, just a bunch of sheds, two caravans, 16 horses, an old Land Rover, and the most amazing view of the mountains. Every night, we heated our dinner over the campfire, then heated our water for washing up and showers. Then we sat around the fire to keep warm before bed. I felt like I had the most wonderful family in the whole world! These prints remind me of those peaceful and adventurous days (though I'm sure they were challenging for my mum!) before electricity and TV re-entered our life.

I'm cutting this quilt, mostly with my Accuquilt, in small sections. I haven't done the maths to tell me if I'll have enough fabric to make a queen size quilt. I don't really have the head for that kind of thing, so I'm making it block by block, laying it out on my design wall as I go, so I can match up the Sun Tracks, and the Woven Path fabrics. They are such perfect prints to play with in this way! And the repeat is big enough that each on-point square looks slightly different.

I've had the funny experience over the last few weeks of grieving finishing a quilt too early. Whenever I've gone into my studio and thought about what I've felt like making, I've settled on my Flying Geese quilt. And then I remember that I finished it just after Christmas so I could give it to my brother and sister-in-law! So I'm taking this one in slowly. I haven't settled on a quick chain peicing method yet. I'm still doing one block at a time. Then I put it on the board. Then I stare at it for a while. Then I grab a cup of tea. And then in the in-between times, I'm working on a faster quilt, one that doesn't need a bird's eye view, and that I'm not so emotionally attached to. Because I don't want to rush this. I want it to stay with me as part of my memories moving back to the country. I want it to evoke those feelings of quiet and adventure, of taking chances and fresh starts.

Linking up to Wip Wednesday and Fabric Tuesday.

Use Your Words Quilt.

I have my first finish for 2015! And I usually try to avoid clothesline photos, but when your new clothesline is old wobbly fencing wire woven through old timber planks, next to an old rusty bath tub and blue shipping container, it's worth a try, right? Add to that a husband away for the week, and a break in the rain, and it's practically fate!
This was my already cut, post Christmas haze quilt. No thinking. Just plug in and play. So while I fed fabric through my machine, I let it's therapeutic hum take my mind around all the events of the last few months, and various things that lead to me being here today.

When I was about 15, I wrote a music essay for school. I remember putting a lot of thought into how I would frame the arguement and bring it all together. My teacher handed it back with high praise. She told me she thought I should pursue journalism as a career. It meant a lot to me and I thought about it seriously. I chose all my subjects the following year that involved a lot of writing so I could improve. And then at the end of the year, I applied for a week long work experience with the local News station.
After a week talking to people about their pets, listening to the police radio chatter in hope of some disaster and doing a story about a school musical, I was utterly discouraged. What was the point?
I finished school the following year, tired of writing and completely bewildered as to how I could use it in a 'real' job and I went to Poland instead and became a missionary in an old Polish castle.

It wasn't until recently, when I was considering my name change, and thinking about what I love most about this part of my life, that it was the writing that stood out to me as a really important process of my making. I enjoy quilting most when I'm doing it to say something. Not necessarily preachy things or teachy things. I just like telling my story and having your share yours.
I chose these texty prints because I thought the Drunkards Path blocks in circles might look like thought bubbles. They don't. But I still like how graphic it is. And almost 3-dimensional. Unisex. Grown up. All those parts were pulled off like I hoped!

And here I am, 20 years later, enjoying the fulfillment of those encouraging words way back then, and in such a different way than I could have ever imagined. Proof that if you use your words kindly, you never know the long lasting fruit that can grow ever so slowly inside someone's heart.  

Linking up with Finish it up Friday