Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Comings and goings

Just because I’ve not been around here much doesn’t mean my life has become completely bereft of fun. Quite the opposite, in fact! I will probably take a couple of posts to tell a few stories, but I might start with last week.

Last week I went to Sydney for my annual sojourn to the Sydney Quilt Show, and this is the fifth time I’ve entered. I love this quilt show. Heck, I love this quilt guild! I always have the best time catching up with my besties. I feel like I belong there - it’s kind of hard to describe, but everyone there is so open and warm. It almost makes me want to move closer to Sydney. Joking - I love Canberra too much. But coming up here for the week each year is always a great holiday and a break from the everyday, plus I will never complain about a week off work!

My quilt this year is called “365 Stars Around the Sun” and is made from 365 hexagon stars that I made from birthday to birthday. There are a lot of meaningful blocks - made to represent friends that passed away, moments with my family and friends, walks in nature - you name it. This all makes it an incredibly personal quilt and it has shot up the charts to be my number one. I can’t wait to hang it when it finally comes home.

The entire top was pieced by hand using the English Paper piecing technique. I machine quilted it with vertical lines 6/16th inches apart and hand quilted the centre blocks with Perle 8 thread.

A couple of weeks before I started quilting  the quilt, I was decluttering my dress fabric stash and rediscovered a cotton-linen fabric designed by Melody Miller, originally intended for a skirt. I absolutely love the fabric but it would have been a horrible skirt on me as its definitely not my colour. But it became a fabulous quilt backing!


Sadly I managed to acquire both a virus and a pretty painful condition in my hands and thumbs called DeQuervain’s Tenosynovitis just as I was about to start the quilting - so the straight lines were a struggle to do without hurting myself further. 

But I did it, and I've promised myself I wouldn’t do any hand stitching for a while, but not before I performed a happy dance when it was all finished. 

So Sydney last week was great. I spent some time volunteering at the show and also at The Applique Guild of Australia table in the guilds area. I didn't need to buy anything except pins,  new ergo scissors and a cutting ruler, but in the end I bought just one piece of fabric and a heck of a lot of coffee! The quilt show was incredible - you just can't believe the amount of talent on display until you actually go to one of the Sydney shows. 

My hoop sample has been on display at the quilt show entrance this week again so that’s always a thrill. I really should offer to make another one sometime soon.

On Wednesday night I attended Blak Box at Barangaroo with a friend. It was amazing.

And on Friday night I headed to the Sydney Opera House to head the Central Australian Aboriginal Women's Choir. Most amazing night of my life.

I’ll leave you with a photo from a rainy Tuesday when Rachael met me at my favourite slice of heaven, The Fabric Store in Surry Hills. What a couple of goofballs! Honestly though, she’s one of my favourite people in the world so it’s always a blast getting together. One day we will get the pink dumplings we ordered, and not the green ones, hey Rachael? ;)

Actually I’ll leave you with one more photo - of a spectacular sunset as seen from my back door a couple of weeks ago. 

Back sometime soon with stories on my trip to the Blue Mountains ... for quilting of course! 

Monday, February 26, 2018

Life: an update

Hello hello hello! I’ll admit I was a little recalcitrant on the blogging side of things last year but I’m not apologising.

So how's life for me?

Shop girl
Remember how I used to make project bags for knitters and crocheters for about 8 years and then I retired from bag making in November 2015?

Well I really missed the thrill of buying lovely new fabrics and crafting them into something both beautiful and useful. And I missed the interactions with customers and the thrill of an irregular shop update.


So I'm out of retirement. I’m back on Etsy for the interim because it wasn’t sustainable having a website and also paying to use Bigcartel. I’ve made a heap of bags already and completely sold out of some of them (there are still some in the shop right now) and I’ve also got some beautiful fabrics waiting for me to cut out and sew. I’m a bit excited!

Making clothes
We had three weeks away from work over summer and it was magnificent. My vegetable garden got some attention, we decluttered like no one's business, saw some great movies at the cinema, and I spent time in the sewing room.


I made a total of three skirts and four Springfield tops, all much needed in my closet since my big closet curation late last year. Admittedly two of the tops were already cut up and/or half sewn and discovered during the decluttering. But they are now finished. And I used the Upton sleeve to do a sleeve hack on the Springfield and it totally changed the look of the top. I have a new favourite top for work now!


I finished of my 365 stars project on the eve of my birthday (September 2017) but after that I rarely touched a needle. I needed the break. I worked a little on the Ice Cream Soda BOM, and finished off the last 30 blocks for the Stepping Stones Quilt. Over the last month though I have been working on getting at least one quilt ready for the Sydney Quilt Show in June. It's slow work, this piecing-by-hand business, but gosh it's fun and a bit of a lark especially when I get together with friends to stitch.


I joined The Applique Guild of Australia a couple of years ago however they are mostly based in Victoria so it's usually an online thing for me until I catch up with a few of the members at the Sydney Quilt Show each year. I realised we needed a Canberra chapter (also known as "coffee and cake and stitching"), and we had our first meeting towards the end of last year. Our next meeting is this weekend and I'm hoping to make it a monthly affair. If you're interested in joining us, drop me an email and I'll send you the details. There is an expectation that you'll be a member of the guild at some stage, but honestly it's a great guild and there is also the opportunity to attend something like this every couple of years.

It's not summer without finding Michelle camped at the local outdoor pool early in the morning. This year I joined the Lap Legends challenge, mainly to keep myself accountable. But I had to swim 77.7 km to be eligible for prizes at the end of season BBQ and I never thought I would be able to do that in 4 months. Just keeping myself honest was a prize in itself.


Well bugger me if I haven't done 88 km since the end of October! It turned out that I really needed to swim before heading to work each day to maintain my sanity (seriously, it works. By the time I get to work I've swum 30 laps of a 50 metre pool, talked to really lovely people about the weather! The light! The clear water!, had a shower and slowly driven to work. I have no more cares! And I'm more productive). My arms and shoulders are really sore and I'm having to do a ridiculous amount of stretching before swimming to prevent injury, but I've never been stronger or fitter. The challenge now is how to keep that up once the pool closes in a couple of weeks.

So that's it from me for now. Just the usual quilting, sewing, swimming routine around here, chucked in with work and life. It's pretty sweet!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

My sewing philosophy

A year or so ago I read a marvelous blog post by Meg McElwee from Sew Liberated titled "a philosophy of sewing". At the time I read it I had absolutely no inclination to sew clothes and couldn't see myself sewing any time in the future. I had a fabric stash that was stressing me out because it hadn't been sewn up yet and the amount of space it was taking up could have been used for other things. My pattern hoarding was getting ridiculous - PDFs printed out and never taped together.

Basically my sewjo had run off into the bush somewhere and didn't want to be found anytime soon. I was devoid of inspiration and energy to sew clothes. I didn't even want to go into my sewing room.

On reading Meg's post I started thinking about what sewing meant to me, and how I could get sewing to fit back in with my life again. I mean, I LOVED sewing my own clothes. And not just because I hate going to the shops. My clothes fit better and look better and no one else is wearing them. Why wouldn't I sew for myself?

I remember telling a few friends about the blog post, and how much it had affected my thinking. But it took a year to finally write my own sewing philosophy. I had to work out a few things first, and a couple of things happened which totally changed my outlook on clothes sewing.

The first was minimalism. I've been trying to minimise our stuff and lives for the last few years, but I still have a long way to go. Does this thing bring value to my life? Is it easily replaced? Is the memory better than the actual object? Is this stuff stressing me out? All these questions get asked daily here, and not just by me. I'll be honest - I hadn't yet used it in the sewing part of my life, and I needed to.


The other thing that happened was Stasia's Style School. Again, it was a newsletter from Meg that alerted me to the existence of such a thing. I enrolled in Style School 9 in September, and IT CHANGED MY LIFE. For the previous year, for a variety of reasons, I had lacked sparkle and was just trying to hide myself away and it was hurting me! It was allowing other people to take advantage of my lack of confidence. And it was hurting the people around me! I realised I had to start showing up and by showing up, I mean SHOW UP. Every day during the course we did an exercise. I found my smile again half way through week one. WEEK ONE! I got my confidence back by week three. I rediscovered the importance of colour, fit and accessories; about congruency and finding out how you want yourself to be seen by others. It took me five weeks, but I discovered my power words and I now use them every single day.

The final week was a closet curation exercise and oh boy did it get cleaned out. It took me 10 hours to do the hanging closet, the shelves and my tallboy dresser. I went through the laundry basket, the ironing basket and the spare room. I'm just waiting for holders for my accessories and I'll be all set!

This was before I had minimised my closet a couple of months before.

Closet curation

And this was after I minimised (by doing the 30 day minimalism game).

Closet curation

And this was after Stasia told me what I really should be doing.

Closet curation

In a nutshell, I got rid of a LOT of clothes. I started to see clothes that could be worn across all seasons (not all my clothes mind you - sometimes I like that 6 month break from linen skirts!). I saw what no longer fit me or flattered me and I got rid of it. I now only hang the woven stuff - all the knit stuff and cardigans is folded on the shelves. Nothing is stored away except travel stuff and winter cycling stuff (top left shelf).  I've never felt calmer getting dressed in the morning.

But the best thing that happened was it eventually helped form the final version of my sewing philosophy. I have a clear idea of what I want to wear and what I need to sew, but also how I go about doing that with no stress whatsoever. So here is my philosophy of sewing. It's not for anyone else but me. It's certainly not a judgement on others and how they sew.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

1. My sewing will be thoughtful and it will be slow.

2. I will make clothes that I love to wear, that suit my body shape and personality, and make me happy.

3. I don't make things to be worn once or twice, or for only one season. The aim is to wear my clothes for years. 

4. My home made wardrobe is about quality, not quantity.

5. I will sew when I feel like it, even if it's for just 5 minutes.

6. I will aim to go into my sewing room every day, even if it is just to look at it.

7. I won't sew to deadlines. 

8. I will always investigate the stash I have before I buy new fabric.

9. I will sort through my stash and sell or give away what I can no longer use. The aim for my stash size is a maximum of 20 pieces of fabric (not including linings).

10. If I buy new fabric, it must be sewn up in the next couple of weeks, and before anything else.

11. I will only cut one item out at a time. And I will only sew that one item at a time.

12. I will be thoughtful with my pattern purchases

13. I don't need to make very single item I wear. 

14. I will mend and alter clothes when I can, and when they are worth keeping..

15. I deserve the time I spend sewing. I need it.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

So far this philosophy has worked pretty well for me. I have cut out and sewn just one thing at a time. I go into my sewing room every day without fail. I stop sewing when I feel like it. I definitely haven't sewn to deadline and I take my sweet time. And the stash is getting scrutinised quite thoroughly during this holiday. I'm finally excited about sewing again! And about inserting more pieces in my wardrobe that suit me and make me happy.

Hand stitched hem

Do you have a sewing philosophy? Has sewing stressed you out without you even realising it at the time?

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Christmas Skirt 2017

My love of Christmas has been forever, but my habitual making of Christmas skirts or frocks commenced in 2010.

This was the year I realised Christmas at my in-laws needed some brightening up, so I ordered this Echino birdie fabric especially from Etsy and made a skirt. Winner.

Christmas Skirt

In 2011 we'd just returned from New York so I made this dress with fabric I purchased at Mood.

Christmas Frock

In 2012 it was another Bendigo Christmas so I went with the bird theme again, this time with fabric from IKEA.

McCalls 3507 - Christmas Skirt 2012

In 2014 I spent it in Canberra alone, so I had Merry Kaftanmas with the fabulous Bimble and Pimble.

Merry Kaftanmas - Simoplicity 2929

2015 saw me being lazy and taking up an existing old me-made dress by 7 inches so I'd be more comfortable at our friend's place for lunch. I'm calling that a Christmas Winning Dress.


I can't remember what I wore last year, but it was really hot so probably shorts and a Springfield top ;)

2017 sees us spending another Christmas in Canberra without family. Recently I did a total closet cleanout (which is a whole other blog post) so I'm now very short of casual summer skirts and need to make more. I found this Japanese linen/cotton fabric at my local fabric store last weekend and thought it might be perfect for a Christmas Day celebration. And it was. The linen top was made a couple of years ago. The photo shows both skirt and top very crushed after a wonderful lunch and some sofa-lounging watching trashy Christmas movies.

Christmas skirt 2017

 I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas Day no matter how you spent it or who you spent it with. We have a really lovely day at home with some splendid food and a lot of lounging in the back yard. I now have three weeks off work so I'm hoping to get some sewing in at some stage, as I have a stash to use up and some closet gaps to fill!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Lucy Boston went to the circus, and then she went to Sydney

Hey hey chickadees! How's everything going? Stuff is pretty cool here. Went to Fiji, went to Sydney - you know, just a typical year!

For four years now I have entered the Sydney Quilt Show, and it's always a blast. I have made the BEST quilting friends thanks to the Sydney show. For me it's worth the effort and expense of taking time off work and staying in Sydney for at least 5 days so I can firstly have a little holiday and me-time, and secondly so I have the time to catch up with everyone at the show! This year was a little different - my lovely mum decided to fly down from Cairns and stay for a few days, which was just wonderful! She'd never been to a big quilt show before, and she also got to meet my friends (and she loved every single one of them).

Lucy Boston Went to the Circus

This year I decided to finally finish my Patchwork of the Crosses quilt and enter it. This pattern is a little different to the typical Lucy Boston version however - instead of one inch pieces, it used 1 1/2 inch pieces, and the blocks are also appliqued onto a background, not joined. I bought the pattern from the designer Cherry Pie Designs, at the last ever Darling Harbour show before they demolished the convention centre, and showed it at the first ever exhibition at the new Darling Harbour convention centre.

Lucy Boston Went to the Circus

I was fairly pleased with how Lucy came together as a top. The striped border was thanks to my stubborness at being obnoxious about my fabric choices, my husband's insistence that a red and white circus stripe would be perfect, and the latest Tula Pink tent stripes hitting the quilt store at the exact same time. I honestly thought, on getting home, that I'd made a mistake getting red and cream, and not red and white, but it kinda turned out perfect! (Perfectly obnoxious, that is!)

Lucy Boston Went to the Circus

The quilting was when things went pear shaped. I started quilting a diagonal line from the top corner to the middle, turning 90 degrees towards the other corner. And then I repeated it every 3/8 inch. This started going a bit awry towards the middle of the section, but I persevered. By the time I got back from Fiji in early June, I finished off that first section and was faced with a massive bulge at the middle of the side border. So I spent two days unpicking it all - one quarter of the quilt, just gone. The bias blocks and the fact I hadn't cut out the fabric at the back of the applique had done me in, creating puckers and bulges, and if it hadn't been for mum coming all that way to see me and my quilt I would have withdrawn it from the show.

I ended up quilting horizontal straight lines 3/8 inch apart, and it turned out a lot better than I expected! It's not at all perfect, but I don't do perfect, and I was just happy it was done and not too much of an embarrassment to be hanging at Australia's biggest quilt show.


And then this happened.

Lucy Boston Went to the Circus

I will admit I did get a phone call from QuiltNSW the day before I left for Sydney. And I will admit I was really shocked at getting that phone call, especially given my category - Pieced Quilts, Amateur, predominantly machine quilted - seemed to have a really large number of entries (33) in it. Perhaps I'd won the meat tray*. Or they'd just made a massive mistake and had called the wrong Michelle.

Lucy Boston Went to the Circus

It was pretty sweet having mum there with me when they called my name out at the awards ceremony on day 1. She was so excited, as was I. I think I was just in shock that this had happened for the second year in a row, but the difference was that last year I knew my quilt was awesome. This year I was happy just to have entered it!

Lucy Boston Went to the Circus

So yeah, there she is. Lucy Boston who went to the circus one day, and to Sydney the next, and earned a pink and red ribbon for her efforts.

While I'm talking about the Sydney Quilt Show (which was awesome by the way - so much colour! 410 amazing quilts!), I'll tell you more about the hoop display that QuiltNSW erects near the front entrance of the show. Last year was the first year they'd done it and it was so successful and got people talking about the different techniques and styles on show. I was asked to submit a hoop quilt of my own for this year's show, so I replicated my Across the Universe quilt but on a much smaller scale.

Hoops display

And here are the some of the other hoops - pretty chuffed that one of the hoops that my quilting bestie Rachaeldaisy made was hanging close by mine. I'm imagining they never stopped talking, much like the two of us :)

Hoops display

Hoops display

I think this post is long enough now, so I won't share with you the other quilts at the show. Hopefully soon though!

I haven't entered the Canberra Quilters Exhibition this year, for a number of reasons, so Lucy is now safely hanging on our living room wall at home, above my nana's table, and behind the orange sofa. She seems pretty happy, and she has increased the happiness in that room ten-fold.

Lucy at home

*there's no meat tray, but there should be.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Putting the "slow" back into "slow lane"

My physiotherapist told me a couple of years ago to quit using flippers when swimming my laps. It was hurting my back and probably not doing my swimming ability much good either. For the first summer I swam without flippers I really missed them. I missed not being able to keep up with my faster friends in the medium lane, and I missed not having the power to overtake slower swimmers when I needed to. Also doing handstands in the pool with flippers on is pretty hilarious.


The following winter I realised I was OK without them. There was a lot less to take to the pool (just goggles and ear plugs and a towel!), and really, life in the slow lane could be pretty sweet. The people are chattier. There is a lot of "you go first. No, you!" and "isn't this weather magnificent?". But the best thing is that it takes me longer to do my 20 laps, so I get to stay in the pool longer. And I've given myself time to develop my breathing and my stroke technique and probably I'm not that much slower than I used to be with flippers.


This morning while doing the slowest backstroke ever known in the history of lap swimming, I was staring at the pool ceiling and I realised that my life, over the last couple of years, has moved to the slow lane as well. Probably 90% of my patchwork is done by hand - in fact I haven't been in my sewing room to do anything than iron for weeks. Rather than fix the irrigation system in the vegetable patch (it snapped off when a guy came to rebuild the beds) I have watered everything by hand the last two summers. I just prefer it. I spend most lunch hours alone at a coffee shop, either stitching or reading.


And I didn't even think of blogging for close to 5 months.

I no longer say "I'm too busy" - because being a main carer of someone you love is a privilege and shouldn't be confused with "busy-ness". I say "I'm exhausted" a bit too much but that's when I decide an early night is in order and go to bed.


Being in the slow lane is pretty sweet. All the other slow-lane life swimmers are pretty nice, mainly because I'm choosing to spend my time with nice people. By spending most of my sewing time on the couch in the living room, I get to have some pretty great conversations with my husband because that's also where he spends most of his time. Occasionally I'll dip under the lane ropes to get into the fast lane and use a sewing machine, but it's pretty brief. And I do the occasional crazy thing like drive to Sydney by myself to go to a quilt guild meeting, but it's so nice to come home again and be slow.


Anyway, hi. Nice to see you again.


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

300 stars to go

I've been diligently (mostly - a couple of times there has had to be a bit of a catch up!) making a star a day since September 27, and I've made 65 so far. 


I can't tell you how much fun I'm having with this project! Just the simple act of sitting down for 30 mins each day to make one simple star by hand is so calming, especially when worries come up.


I have a coffee at lunch at my favourite cafe and I make stars. I went home to Cairns recently and I made stars there too. I sit in waiting rooms and glue papers for the following week or make a star. I've made stars that other people have picked the fabrics for. I've made stars while I have breakfast.



I'm going to be making stars for another 300 days, and I'm not at all unhappy about that.


Sunday, November 13, 2016

How to applique your EPP without pins and stress - a tutorial

I was making a Project 48 block last night where the instruction was to applique the EPP to a background fabric. It's something I do quite often in my EPP projects, but I find when I explain the concept to people, they sometimes don't understand how I do it, or how easy it is. So on finishing this block, I thought I'd do a little photo tutorial to show you.

This technique works with either blocks, or entire quilts, or side strips. 

(And I'll apologise now for the state of my hands and the macro shots. I've been gardening like a mad woman the last couple of weeks so my hands are a mess; and my little Canon camera has a mind of its own on the macro setting, giving me a horrible glamour filter each time. It's like a freaking Doris Day movie every time I look at the photos. Probably best given the state of my hands, but sorry about that.)

So this is your finished EPP block, unpressed but still gorgeous.

And here is the back of it.

Give the back a bit of a press with a hot steamy iron. Don't push back and forth. PRESS. You want to put a permanent crease in those outer shapes, especially.

If you've glue basted as I have, take a cuticle stick (one of the wooden ones you get in packs of 3 at Priceline) and gently use it to lift the fabric from the paper. It will kind of pop. 

If you have used a scant amount of glue, kept the glue away from the edge, and used a decent seam allowance, this will be easy. If you haven't, then you're doing EPP wrong. Sorry, but you are. I'll come by another time and show you how to EPP properly, I promise.

Use your cuticle stick to lift out the papers as you release them from the glue. 

Or if you have thread basted, just clip the threads and pop the papers out!

This is the back of the block after all the papers have been removed. Don't worry about the seam allowances that have lifted, because ...

... you'll get the chance to give them a bit of a press. Again, PRESS, don't move the iron back and forth. You want those seams to maintain integrity. If any of the seams move and go a bit skewiff, just use your fingers to re-position them and press them gently back into place (preferably without burning your fingers). Easy!

Grab your spray starch of choice. Mine is Crisp because I can get it easily at my IGA. Yours is probably something else a lot cooler and funkier. It doesn't really matter. 

Give the front a quick spray of the starch and press with a dry iron. Do the same with the back, pressing so you don't dislodge all the fine work you have done with your seam integrity :).

Your EPP block is now prepared for the next step!

Take your background fabric, and press it in quarters and open it back out so that you have registration lines for placing the EPP on top of it.

Position your EPP on top of the background. See how it is centred perfectly?

Roxanne basting glue is your new little friend. I use the one with the steel nozzle because it makes gluing minimal and accurate. Very important!

Fold your positioned EPP block gently forward at the half way line without moving it off the position you placed it in. Gently dab a little dot of glue inside the seam line, just on the corners will do it. This is where it pays to have a 3/8 inch seam allowance on your EPP. Trust me - you do NOT want this glue anywhere near where your needle will be because it when it is hard it is damn near impossible to get your needle through it and your will curse this technique forever and ever. 

When you have glue dots on all the corners, gently flip your block back to where it was originally. 

PRESS the glue dry with your iron (dry iron).

Now flip the bottom half back and dot with glue again. Don't forget to also add glue at the seam allowance near the centre line. Flip it back...

...and press. The glue should now have dried. 

This is how I double check it's all attached. Just kidding. But look! No pins required!

Find your best matching thread. I use Superior Egyptian cotton exclusively for all my applique because it's bloody lovely. And no one is even paying me to say that. I get it in the donuts in all the colours because I do so much applique in so many bright colours. But other people swear by Aurifil 50/2 cotton, or silk, or Superior bottom line. Use whatever you can afford and whatever suits the work you do.

As for needles I only ever use Clover Gold Applique No. 10. I tried the Hiroshima Tulip needles but they weren't as bendy for my style of applique (I swear by Tulips for EPP though). Again, use the needle that suits you the best.

Knot your thread and come in from the back. Start a little beneath the applique, and just catch a couple of threads at the seam fold.

I do a stitch every 2-4 mm.  Depends on the curves an intricacy. But this is an EPP block with straight edges - every 4-5 mm will do the trick.

The points are important. Make sure you take a stitch at each one to secure it. If you don't, your points can invert when you wash or iron the block again.

And here's what the back looks like.

Keep going until the whole block is appliqued. You can choose to cut the back out if you like, later. Just carefully trim 3/8 inch inside the stitching lines with sharp scissors, making sure you don't cut through the front part.

And there you have it! Told you it was easy!

Please ask any questions in the comments below and I will answer them there. Hopefully you'll find this tutorial helpful!