Sunday, September 21, 2014

Back to sewn

I have sewn my own clothes since I was 21. I've had a couple of years here and there where I haven't sewn a thing, but yeah. 23 years of sewing clothes. This makes me kind of proud that I've stuck with something so long.


And I still love it.


You'd think that in 23 years of dressmaking, I'd have learned a thing or two. But no - I still count myself as being at the beginner stage. That's not me being self-depracating - it's actually true. I occassionally think I would like to do a course in sewing, like my friends Amanda and Jen, but then I realise I really am more than happy bumbling along with the same old skills my mum taught me, and the same old patterns I've been using for years.

(Actually 23 years ago I was sewing with knits and altering my patterns to add sleeves, but somewhere along the way I lost my confidence in that. I've only just recently starting doing the knit and altering thing again, and I love it.)


On Thursday I left work early (4.30 pm is apparently early) to come home and just sew something that wasn't a bag or a quilt. I wanted something for me. (The fact I was cleaning out the spare room the week before and noticed my sizable stash may or may not have something to do with this drive.)


But in searching for my fool-proof skirt pattern, I noticed it was already pinned onto other fabric. So I marked the darts, unpinned it, put the pieces aside and used the pattern to cut a second skirt.  Win win.


Right now I'm at the finishing stage for both skirts. I have the hem pinned of a nifty little denim cordoroy number which will be very handy for a wee holiday we are taking soon to colder climes.


And the citrus skirt is waiting for waist facing top stitching, and a little hemming. It's a gorgeous stretch cotton sateen and I have fully lined it, so it's a heavy little beast. The jury is out on whether to hand sew the hem or machine it down. Given I've done a slipshod made-up skirt lining with the overlocker, I'm thinking it's not worth going to the extra effort of hand stitching.

Anyway, the point of this post (and there was a point, I think) was that I am sewing clothes again and I am loving it so much. I feel clever, and on top-of-the-world. Yeah, yeah. Pride comes before the fall. Bu I am taking my time, and crafting clothes that fit me properly, and there is no better feeling. It's all due to this amazing sewing community - both online and real life - I have become a part of. These wonderful people are the best sources of inspiration for me.

Maybe soon I will sew something that isn't Simplicity 9193 though. I'm feeling the urge.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

On being in the bag making business

I've been making project bags for a while now - since early 2008, which means I've been doing this for six years.

Buttontree Lane project sack

There have been times when I've done it to make a living. Times when I got so tired of it that I just gave it up for 18 months. Times where I just had to design new bags to stop me from getting bored at making the existing ones. I used to make needle cases too - cute ones with squirrels and birds and sheep appliqued on them. But I could never charge much for them because of what they were, and the time and materials outweighed the sale price so I stopped making them.

Buttontree Lane project sack

Back in May I did my annual pilgrimage to the Celebration of Wool Day at the Old Bus Depot Markets, sharing a stall with my friends Carrie and Leanna. As usual it was a great deal of hard work, but also fun. But as usually happens after a big market, I came home, sold the remaining bags (there were only four) and then decided to take a break from bag making for a month.

Which kind of turned into four months.

Buttontree Lane project sack

In June I injured my back and hip pretty badly, and as a result I did endless laps of physical therapy at the pool, day in and day out. Endless laps of physical therapy, where you are just concentrating on your muscles and what hurts, give you plenty of time to think about Stuff.  Like "will I ever get better?" and "should I continue painting my kitchen red?" and "dammit I'll probably never be able to paint anything every again if my back doesn't heal" and "where do I want my business to go?"

After about a week and 50 laps of water cycling, I'd decided I was going to let it all go. I'd much rather quilt and make clothes with my limited physical capacity. It made me pretty damn happy to think of letting it go, but that could have also been the muscles relaxants talking.

And yet here are some photos of bags being made. Today. These bags were being made today. And they are in my store now.  So what happened?

Well firstly I realised I had a lot of fabric in the sewing room which had been purchased specifically for making bags.  Whoops.

And secondly I realised I really missed making them. Heck - I LOVED making them. The pocket money they give me is an added bonus, but I know if I gave it up I would miss the magic that happens in the fabric store. The appeal of a certain fabric, the question as a quilter of "what would that fabric fit with in my stash" and then the risk of buying the fabric to make into a bag and the lining to match.

And then the cutting. The sewing on of the label.

And then when the edges are sewn together and I box out the bottom, and stand it up by itself and I suddenly realise that this fabric makes a bloody amazing bag.

Buttontree Lane project sack

And I want to keep them all.

But instead I will sell them because I know they make a lot of people really happy. I've sold thousands over the last six years and I will keep on selling them until people stop loving them, or I stop loving making them.

Hi. I'm Michelle. And I make bags.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Scratching the itch

Since the Canberra Quilters' Exhibition a couple of weeks ago, I haven't been that inclined to get in the sewing room. For one, it was messy and my show purchases were scattered everywhere and I just couldn't be bothered getting enthused about that.

Secondly, I lost my sewing machine glasses. Yes, I'm one of those very special people who requires three different strengths of glasses for long-sightedness - weakest for the computer screen, second weakest for the sewing machine, and strongest for hand sewing. I recently got a stronger prescription for hand sewing, which meant all the other glasses got bumped to the next category of close work. I still hadn't filled my script, but I took my strongest pair to the quilt show to do a class, and I haven't seen them since. I have called everyone. I'm convinced they are still at my house, but where they are exactly is a mystery. I have the case - but no glasses.

No doubt they will turn up the moment I bring my new $400 glasses home from the optometrist in a fortnight.

IMGTriangle series #1 - Rabbit's Folly_0209

So I've been a bit blind this week, but struggling by on my weakest set of glasses. I've done a little on my grandmother's flower garden, but tonight I just wanted to do something that didn't involve looking at anything too closely. My eyes are tired. Heck. I'm just tired.

Triangle series #1 - Rabbit's Folly

I bought the printed Japanese cotton/linens at the quilt show from Studio Mio. I was attracted to not only their prints and how cheeky they were, but also to the depth of colour, and the textures. And I was also very much inspired by the gorgeous clamshell quilt my friend Sam made for the exhibition - it is linen and double gauze and is just so lovely and textured and I fell in love with it immediately. I actually laid out the fat quarters I had bought in the days after the show, but realised I needed some solids. I remembered that Echino did a solids range in cotton/linen, and that's where Kelani came in. I bought all six colours they had and they arrived today.

Triangle series #1 - Rabbit's Folly

I've only cut three of each fabric so far to make it cot-sized, but I like where it is headed so far.

Triangle series #1 - Rabbit's Folly

(I actually have no idea where it is headed but I'm so bone tired right now it doesn't matter.)

Triangle series #1 - Rabbit's Folly

I played around a little with the stars I could see. They might not stay.

Sometimes with quilting there is an itch you just need to scratch.

Thursday, August 21, 2014


On Sunday morning at 4 am precisely, I woke with a jolt and realised I was having a serious anxiety attack.

So I got out of bed, turned on the central heating and pottered in my sewing room. I listened to local ABC until 5.30 am when Macca came on (can't stand Macca) and then switched over to Radio National where the spiritual program was on, and they had on these amazing yogic musicians called Edo and Jo.

(I didn't know there was such a thing as a yogic musician until then.)

I was listening to their music and their stories and it was so beautiful and ethereal and I got to thinking about whether quilting is my equivalent of yogic music.

Grandmother's Flower garden - WIP

I should add that quilting was the reason for the anxiety, but not for the reasons you might think. Last year's show was extremely hard for me, for a number of reasons completely unrelated to my quilts, but mostly to do the the fact I was president, and therefore a Responsible Person who was Concerned About Other People and How They Felt. I got way more stressed than I should have, to the point where I was actually quite unwell. This was compounded by the fact I was genuinely concerned about losing my job when journalists started calling me at work. So yeah - the 2013 exhibition is one I would much rather forget.

But it all seemed to come back to me at 4.00 am on a Sunday morning the week before the 2014 exhibition started. I don't know why. Perhaps it was because this year we got some really positive media coverage and my subconscious started dredging shit up.

So back to the quilting. Hold on tight. This story meanders.

Grandmother's Flower garden - WIP

I was talking to my favourite stroopwafel purveyor the previous morning at the farmers' market (he's Dutch, she's a quilter so of course I adore them both) and we talked about quilting and the quilt show and how expensive fabric is here in Australia. And I said "ah - but a psychologist costs $165 for 45 minutes (because I know this after what happened last year) and you can buy a lot of fabric for $165 even at $25 a metre" and we all nodded and my husband laughed and said it was so true. And then as I walked away I said jokingly "if only the Medicare rebate covered quilting fabric. The mental health system would be in a much better state. You could include quilting in your Mental Health Plan". And it was like a lightbulb went off in my head.

Quilting has been my friend. A sanity saver. I need to quilt. I love to quilt. Quilting is the only time I'm truly happy being alone. I meditate, relax, enjoy.

Just breathe.

Take a chill pill.

Grandmother's Flower garden - WIP

This week I've been home alone while the other half is visiting family, and I've had extra room on the sofa to spread out. Don't hurry back honey - I'm getting heaps done and besides, there's no room for you to sit. Although I miss your cups of tea, and you cleaning up the kitchen after I've made a mess.


This morning I helped out with the opening of the exhibition. It is a spectacular exhibition and my friends are exhibiting with me, and it makes me super happy that some super fine friends are hanging with my rainbows (that's Jenny Bowker's and Gemma Jackson's spectacular (and award winning!) quilts to the right of the photo). I ran into some old friends and they inspired me with their stories of old quilts and I'm going back every day to see the quilts, catch up with friends and also check out the trade hall. I've already bought some pretty special quilt books which I can't wait to crack open and check out. And my anxiety is mostly gone. I'm back to my happy self and I feel I can sleep for more than 4 hours tonight.

Quilting. It's therapy. Don't let anyone else tell you otherwise.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Rainbows and unicorns

In the not-so-distant past when I was still on Instagram, I spied a special little roll of fabrics that Polka Dot Tea Fabrics were selling in their Etsy store. They recommended that it be bought with some black chambray and never having used chambray in quilting before, I thought why the heck not?

Don't mess with my rainbow (or with my unicorn)

There were 18 rainbow colours in the roll. What else was I supposed to do but make a rainbow quilt?

Don't mess with my rainbow (or with my unicorn)

Bron and I took these photos up at Mt Stromlo last weekend before we dropped our quilts in for the Canberra Quilters exhibition. There didn't appear to be much of a wind when we headed up to the Walking on the Moon sculpture, and yet there was. It was so frustrating while we waited for the gusts to die down, but Bron got to work on her core muscles again so it was all good.

The wind! So fierce!

I quilted concentric 1/4 circles on this quilt. I knew I wanted to do that the moment I started putting the blocks together, but it didn't work the first time. So I unpicked, unbasted, got new batting, rebasted, marked a centre 1/4 circle, and started again. The lines are 20 mm apart and I used my walking foot and the guide. The Bernina walking foot guide is a total pain in the arse - it is far too long and gets in the way of the quilt you are trying to feed through the throat space. In another life I might buy a spare set of guides and then take to the extra length with a hacksaw.

Don't mess with my rainbow (or with my unicorn)

The thread I used for quilting was a 40 wt, rather than my usual 50 wt. I wanted the stitching to sit on top of the quilt a bit, to add another texture layer. I think I achieved that.

I got a little whiskering with the quilting lines, but not enough that I don't want to put this on the bed. It certainly won't win any prizes though, but I honestly don't care - I absolutely love it.

Don't mess with my rainbow (or with my unicorn)

These photos happened because we were defeated by the wind.

Don't mess with my rainbow (or with my unicorn)

Don't mess with my rainbow (or with my unicorn)

I wanted to show the back because I think it is pretty cool. I used four different Candy Dot fabrics for the back, and used the excess for the sleeve and the label. I was going to write directly on the back of the quilt with my pigma pen, but the quilt police (MY HUSBAND OMG WHAT JUST HAPPENED THERE?) said I "should go to the effort of a proper stitched-on label" (those were the exact words he used too. He scares me sometimes).

Don't mess with my rainbow (or with my unicorn)

So yeah. I love this quilt. A lot. It's just so ... happy. While I was making it I was thinking about rainbows and unicorns and how sometimes people seem determined to a) not believe in rainbows and unicorns and/or b) kill your rainbows and unicorns with their misery and negativity. I work really hard to be happy and to lead a full life. I don't need negative nellies. No one does.

Don't mess with my rainbow (or with my unicorn)

The working name for this quilt was "Don't f- with my rainbow" but I decided to keep it clean because yeah. Presbyterian.

Don't mess with my rainbow (or with my unicorn)

So please allow me to introduce you to the family- and exhibition-friendly name of this quilt "Don't mess with my rainbow (or with my unicorn)". *quilt takes a bow*.

Pattern: My own design, using the traditional half-square triangle block
Piecing: courtesy of Rasant thread and a BlocLoc ruler
Fabric: 18 different Michael Miller Colour Couture solids, sold in a 5 inch roll; and black chambray. Backed in Candy Dots.
Quilting: Machine quilted, echo style, using Aurifil Mako 40/2 thread in grey (2605)
Batting: 100% cotton
Started: June 2014
Finished: August 2014 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Empty hands

One of the problems with working so hard for so long on quilts that are then just finished, is that you suddenly find yourself with empty hands. And for someone who is always sewing something, that feeling is a little bit weird. And I get really twitchy.

Sure I have heaps of projects I could start, or continue (and let's not talk about the amount of dress fabric stash I have waiting to be sewn!) but this time I've decided to concentrate on just one or two quilt projects at a time. Outstanding projects.  L O N G outstanding projects! In fact this year for the Canberra Quilters' UFO pledge, I pledged five quilts to be finished by the end of the year.

Of that list how many have I finished so far?


Grandmother's Flower Garden UFO

I started solving the empty hands problem by pulling the Grandmother's Flower Garden out of the UFO pile. Rita from Red Pepper Quilts started it, then she gave it to me (in what may be the best trade ever) and now I get to finish it. I really want this to be a large wall hanging in the spare room, hanging opposite the beautiful painting that Cathy gave me.

Grandmother's Flower Garden

I've been making lots of extra blocks, and side filler blocks to make this quilt a little longer and square it out on the sides. Give me a few weeks and I reckon the top could be done. My main problem here is knowing when to stop. The design wall does come in handy when working this out, so at least I know I have a finite number of blocks to make.


And the second project is something I can do when I don't feel like hand sewing. It's a quilt made from Oakshott cottons. I think I finished it almost two years ago, and now my husband would love to have it quilted and hanging in the study.

Oakshott Squares

All I have to do here is mark out the quilting design, make the backing, baste it and get quilting. Should be a doddle. You know, except for that basting thing.

Lee is back from her summer vacation (ah summer - how I miss thee!) and so I'm back on the WIP train at Freshly Pieced.
WIP Wednesday at Freshly Pieced

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Across the Universe - the official photoshoot

Over the last week I have worked really hard to get the last of the quilting done on my second quilt for the Canberra Quilters' Exhibition.


By Tuesday night very late I was done, and then I spent the next couple of nights binding, adding a sleeve and a label.


And I'm pleased to say that it's all done! Both quilts were handed in early this afternoon and I'm really looking forward to seeing them exhibited at the show in two weeks along with the quilts of my friends.

Before we handed our quilts in today, my trusty photographic assistant Bron came with me to Mt Stromlo Observatory to take photos of both my Across the Universe quilt (which I had never photographed before! Probably because I wasn't blogging when I finished it), and my second exhibition quilt.


If you don't know Mt Stromlo, it's an astronomy and astrophysics research facility in Canberra's west. It was pretty much destroyed during the 2003 Canberra Bushfires, but the Australian National University is slowly building it back up (although without research telescopes), and they've also kept some of the ruins there. This telescope was built almost 100 years ago. It's just a shell now, and it's incredibly sad to be reminded of the devastation of that terrible day. However it also reminds you that some amazing skies have been seen through the telescope over the years, and also that from destruction can come new life.


Photographing "Across the Universe" with it's zooming planets inside the old telescope was kind of perfect.

Bron performed incredible Pilates moves to hold up this quilt. At only 151cm in length, it is far shorter than both Bron and hairbun and we also seem to have acquired an aversion to shoes showing at the bottom of our quilts since we started to do our on-location quilt fashion photography! Talk about best photographic assistant ever.


(Don't worry - the other quilt we photographed required her to stretch her arms up way over her head and battle the stiff wind while holding a heavy quilt. Photos soon...)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Clams in the City

A couple of weeks ago I took some photographs of my friend Bron's amazing Finding Formation quilt for her blog. We had so much fun down by the lake that day taking photos, that we decided that all our finished quilt photos from now on should be on location.

Manhattan Clams

Enter Tocumwal Lane in Canberra's CBD.

Manhattan Clams

While we set up this photo, two policemen drove into the alley and came over to make sure we weren't tagging the fence or taking drugs or something.  Yeah - two ladies with quilts. We such trouble.

Manhattan Clams

This is my Manhattan Clams quilt. I started this quilt straight after the Canberra Quilters exhibition last year - I'd purchased a clamshell die from the Sizzix stand, and finally I knew how I could showcase my prized half yard collection of Jay McCarroll's line "Center City".  I loved this collection from the moment he started releasing teasers on the web. It is just so busy, and chaotic, exactly like the large American cities I love so much.

Manhattan Clams

I decided to intersperse it with some solids. The only solids I had on hand at the time were red, grey and maroon. The green was included much later - after a bit of time out, it went back up on the design wall and it really was missing something. So I added a little green here and there.  My clamshell versions of Madison Square Park, Central Park, Riverside Park and all those other little surprise parks you come across when traipsing across Manhattan.

The clamshells were appliquéd by hand. I did the first row of clamshells using papers, but appliquéing over paper hurt my arm so badly I changed the technique to using starch, Mylar and glue. I'm pretty proud of how I came up with the technique. One day I might share it here, but everyone then has to promise not to steal it, make it their own with their own photos, and then publish it in a magazine. Promise? (Yeah - that's happened. No I'm not at all bitter about it.)

Manhattan Clams

I knew from the moment I decided to make this quilt how long and wide I wanted it to be, and how I was going to quilt it. Of course sometimes I can be so stubborn that it's hard to sway from the dream when the reality is something isn't going to be feasible (like when clamshells start veering to the right), but other than the length (it's about 20 cm shorter than I wanted it to be) everything is exactly as it was in my head. Actually it's better than what was in my head. I LOVE this quilt.

Manhattan Clams

I matchstick quilted it. It took me 12 hours, eight bobbins and a one hour massage.I love the texture of it, how there is another dimension added on top of the clamshells. Like smog. Or smoke billowing from the bus headed down 42nd St. There is also something about doing really close, tight machine quilting on something that is completely sewn by hand that thrills me. It's like a flip of the middle finger to the stalest of quilting traditions.

Manhattan Clams

I struggled to find the perfect binding fabric in my stash. The plain grey totally dragged the quilt down. I didn't have enough red, green or maroon. And the Center City fabric was just so busy the binding would have looked like a hindrance rather than a petite frame to the quilt. I found this Kei fabric in the grey section of my stash - it's so fine it's almost like lawn, but the geometric design looks a little like chain link fencing, and I thought that was perfect.

Manhattan Clams

The backing fabric is a mix of newsprint and Sketch in black and white. I think the quilting makes the newsprint look crumpled ...

Manhattan Clams

... and I like how in the late afternoon sun, you can see the shapes of the clamshells through the back.

Manhattan Clams

I had some leftover clams, so I have used them for both the quilt label, and the mandatory address label for entry into the Canberra Quilters exhibition. (As an aside, I think appliquéing a label on something after matchstick quilting is too hard. Binding was bad enough. The label and sleeve is just ridiculous. Ridiculously ouch, that is.)

Manhattan Clams

This is my favourite photo of the afternoon. I used painters tape on all the graffiti murals as I didn't want to destroy anyone else's work with regular clear tape. And I placed the quilt right next to one of my favourite sayings "Look Up More" (we shall ignore the "pimp" tagged right above it). I think at this point on stepping back I actually went "wow". I love how this quilt turned out, and I think the amount of work that went into it was totally worth it.

Thanks to Bron for this photo.  Love it!

Pattern: My own design, based on the traditional clamshell shape
Techniques used: Needle turn applique using Superior Threads Egyptian Cotton
Fabric: Center City by Jay McCarroll, and various solids in my stash
Quilting: Machine quilted, matchstick style, using Aurifil Mako 50/2 thread in grey (2610)
Batting: 100% cotton
Started: August 2013
Finished: July 2014