Sunday, December 11, 2011

Fabulous Fabric - Finally

The long awaited parcel from the US arrived this week. Seldom have I been so pleased to receive a text message from my daughter while at work! It was the cause of much celebration and swept me into almost immediate activity. Luckily for me I had the next day off so I spent most of it in the sewing room.

First up I had to finish off the Frida Khalo blocks. Having made 20 I decided that it really did need to be a bit longer so another 5 were made. For a change I had the perfect amount of fabric to cut the feature blocks - it could not have been a single block larger. It was clearly my time for something to go my way.
Having completed that and taken a quick photo, they have now all been taken off the wall and will now wait until sometime in the new year. They still all need to have borders put onto them I think. Time will tell.

By way of comparison, one of my friends has used the same block for a quilt for her granddaughter. Marilyn's version is just about as different from mine as you can imagine - pale and soft with the most wonderful dogs and cats featuring in the blocks. It's hard to imagine it not being adored.

So with Frida tidied away I turned back to the medallion quilt and am delighted to have the top finished without too many further incidents. I did have a heart stopping moment when I thought I had cut the precious border fabric too short but I'm pleased to report it fitted perfectly, once I had removed an errant extra row of checkerboard which had somehow found its way onto one side. How I managed that I will never know - but as I said this quilt has certainly presented me with some challenges.

And I know they are far from over yet - I have one month to get this quilted before the big birthday. It's only 85 inches or 2.2meters square and there's only the small matter of Christmas and a beach holiday standing in between me and its completion....

Oh yes - ever quilt certainly has its challenges!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Fun with Frida Khalo

It's driving me to distraction waiting for the border fabric to arrive, especially as I can't track its movements. So in order to give myself something else to focus on, I've started on my Frida Khalo project. For once this is something purely for me - it's going to adorn the fold out bed in my sewing room when I need to transform it for guests. The best part of this is that I really don't need to be thinking about what someone else would like - I can just please myself!

The quilt really began with a book that my daughter gave me for my birthday this year - The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver. It's about a young man who lives in the household of Frida Khalo and Diego Rivera when Lev Trotsky arrives to live with them. No sooner was I into it than I kept coming across fabric with Frida on it - one thing led to another, as it does.
The fabric, called 'Frida's Garden' by Alexander Henry fabrics, is quite something, although it doesn't quite capture the famous mono-brow. It has a wild and verdant feel about it and has monkeys and parrots which featured in Khalo's self portraits. It's a large scale print so I decided it would well suit this very simple block, Venetian Dreams which was designed by Janet Houts. The unfinished block is 15 1/2 inches square so it certainly comes together quickly.
To compliment Frida I've been cutting into a couple of rather treasured bundles of fabrics - one of Guatemalan fabric that I bought from Priscilla Bianchi when she taught at the Symposium in Palmerston North in 2007, and the other a group of Indonesian ikat fabrics that I bought in 2009 when we held Symposium in Wellington. It's a marvellous thing how fabric matures while waiting to be used in just the right project! As I am sure you will know Frida Khalo usually dressed in tradition Mexican textiles and clothes, so I felt she would enjoy sharing space with other traditional fabrics.
There are also little amulets sprinkled across the fabric - depictions of traditional Mexican metal amulets in the shape of hands, burning hearts, eyes and arms. Sacred charms to ward off evil, these were also often incorporated into her paintings. I'm making sure these little amulets are shining through the quilt. It's led me to reading up more on Frida's art and life - such a fascinating, feisty woman.
I've made 12 blocks so far - another 8 and that will probably be enough. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Remembering Kate Sheppard with Gratitude

Today is voting day for the 2011 General Election here in New Zealand. We are voting on who we want to represent us in Parliament for the next 3 years and on whether we want to keep the voting system we currently have (MMP - Mixed Member Proportional representation) or change it to another system.

I walked dawn to our local school in beautiful sunshine, voted without having to wait in a line, smiled and said hello to others from my community who were doing likewise and walked home again, reflecting how easy it was and how lucky we are. How lucky that it is so simple and that it is such a peaceful experience to be able to have your say - unlike the experience for people in many countries around the world who expose themselves to violence and danger by expressing their opinion on who should run their country.

And I reflected on the remarkable achievement of Kate Sheppard, our most prominent suffragette who fought hard to gain the vote for women here in New Zealand - the first country in the world to extend the vote to women. A couple of weeks ago when Barak Obama was in Australia he mistakenly commented that Australia was the first country. Let's make no mistake about this - it was New Zealand and it happened in 1893. South Australia followed soon after in 1894 but it wasn't extended across Australia as a whole until 1902. These things are important when you are from the smaller country!

Kate Sheppard is on our $10 note and is thereby part of our daily lives.

Kate rests in Addington Cemetery in Christchurch, her headstone flanked by two Camellia trees, the flower of which was used as the symbol of the suffragettes. This photo was taken when I was in Christchurch over the New Year. Even at that time there were many damaged gravestones from the earlier earthquake in September last year. I know that there has been much more damage to headstones from the February quake - I hope that Kate's headstone is still standing proud. She was a remarkable woman. 

Others have written more eloquently than me on the importance of voting - Dana Fisher, The Quilted Librarian, wrote a great post last year urging us all to remember the sacrifices that many women have made in the past so that we can vote with such ease today. She also gave a link to a fascinating piece on the American suffragettes and their struggles, which I had no idea about until I read her blog.

If you are in New Zealand make sure you take this three yearly opportunity to get out and vote - and remember with gratitude Kate Sheppard and the other women who fought so hard to give us this right and to help make us world leaders.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

More Luscious Distressed Threads

Here's a few more shots of the great fabrics that found their way back to my sewing room from Distressed Threads - thought you'd like to see more.
 No surprise that it was the indigo that caught my eye first....
What I love most is the texture through the colour - flat dyed fabric doesn't really do it for me, but throw in some texture and it's irresistable.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Whistling While I Wait

Still no sign of my border fabric but not being one to sit around I've been out and stitching at a new event that was held in Wellington last weekend, Fabrications. Organised by Capital Quilters, it was a great day with all the local Guilds represented, quilts on display and lots of wonderful vendors who hauled there merchandise into Lower Hutt to tempt us all.

The merchants put in lots of work to bring their wonderful fabrics, books and threads to the event to tempt us so I really felt that it was the least I could do to lighten their load for their return journey - doesn't that make me sound selfless?

Fortunately no-one there had the border fabric I am waiting for so instead I was able to be seduced by silk -

this is part of a silk sari which I will use as a scarf and Sari Twist which is made from sari remnants. I couldn't go past the colour - it will look wonderful couched down on something....

And then there were the fabrics from Distressed Threads - these had been bought up from Christchurch especially for the event. I'm sure you all know that Christchurch has had a really tough year with the earthquakes and the constantly changing landscapes of their city, so I thought the least I could do was to buy some of their wonderful fabrics.
I was thinking how good these would go with Japanese kimono fabrics to create something quite different and before I knew it I'd pulled together this rather luscious collection to come home with me. 

Once I took them back to our Guild stand to show them off we decided that really the Christchurch people needed more of a hand from us so we bought a collection of 18 fabrics to use as raffle prizes at Guild over the next few months. We were exclaiming with delight as we made our selection, causing much hilarity with those watching us.

These are a few of my favourites just to whet your appetite 

But wait there's more - then I spotted a few squares which just called out Freida Khalo to me - this is a project that's on the waiting list. Something for our guest room rather than something to give away, just for variety..

I ran into a friend there - Clare Smith from Textiles on the Edge who told me that I need to post more often on the blog. She is right.... so this next picture is especially for her.....I spent Sunday afternoon sewing badges onto Scout blankets. My boys went to jamboree in January and both bought back an absurdly large number of badges which I have been steadily ignoring all year. However in the last week the boys started trying to stitch them on themselves by hand - after watching them for a couple of nights I caved in and did them all myself on the machine. 66 badges on one blanket and 103 on the other. 

I never want to see another scout badge looking for a blanket ever again. See what you made me do Clare!!!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Every Quilt Has Its Challenges

Those were the sage words of my daughter when she had a look at the progress of my medallion quilt. I had come up with the block design for the next border and having made enough to go down one side of the quilt I had reluctantly concluded that they were too heavy and too large and would result in the quilt becoming far too big.... don't you hate it when that happens!
So I unpicked them, saving the central blocks for the back, and made another checker border that we both agreed looked much better - my daughter was unable to restrain herself from reminding me that this was what she had suggested in the first place.... she was right, she had.... seemed fair enough in retrospect.
So then I decided that the quilt really could be finished off with a border of my feature fabric..... only to discover I didn't have enough to cut borders without joins, which the fabric certainly didn't lend itself to.
Of course at this point you won't be at all surprised to learn that the shop I bought the fabric from has sold out of it.... so after an online search over the weekend I am now waiting eagerly at the letterbox for more fabric to arrive from the US....

I rest my case - every quilt has its challenges.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Making a Medallion - Border by Border

It's not just the eco-dying that has been keeping me occupied this week - it's also my applique attempt which is gradually being transformed into a medallion quilt. I had to make an emergency trip to my local quilt store this afternoon for more cream fabric and thread and it was pointed out to me by one of my stitching buddies who works there that I had been most remiss in not updating progress on this quilt - so here it is, to bring a smile to your face Marilyn.

Fortunately the friend who will be getting this quilt is not a textile person so doesn't read my blog with any regularity, apart from when she knows I am stitching something for her daughters. However, if you are reading, and can work out who you are, you should just stop now! Consider yourself warned.

So here is the progress to date - I started with a green border and moved onto a chequer-board.
Then came a border of a beautiful floral designed by Anna Griffin that is the basis of the colour choices for the quilt. My daughter picked it out as she was convinced that it was just the thing that would be loved by the intended recipient. It will end in a wider border of this feature fabric, quite a traditional English medallion quilt which I hope will be perfect, even if the applique isn't quite.

The most recent addition over the last two days are the 32 friendship stars. My friend and I have only been friends for 28 years, but I was prepared to extend her the benefit of the doubt for the sake of the design. At this point I think we will be able to hang in there for four more years....sounds suspiciously like a Presidential campaign slogan!
And now I am drawing breath and trying to decide what next. I think it will probably be another cream border so that the stars look like they are floating on the surface of the quilt. I'm hoping that's what it will look like anyway and not like a big bandage.

It's been great to have a week out of the office, with far more opportunity that normal for stitching. At this rate the January deadline won't be too much a stretch - although I probably shouldn't speak too soon!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Tea and Eucalyptus

My first venture into eco dyeing has rapidly led to my second - I fear this could rapidly become habit forming.  
This time it was a second go for my eucalyptus leaves and to liven things up I popped in a few tea bags. 
The results were really impressive and were enhanced by the dye migration from the coloured silk which was left stitched onto the sleeve lining on this kimono silk.
It should probably come as no surprise that the undyed piece is currently bubbling away.
I'm almost certain that it will bear little relation to its pre-dyed companion sleeve. Time will tell.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The First Big Reveal

Time to reveal my dyeing results - it was all a big experiment and one we all enjoyed. Even my boys were fascinated by just what I was doing and what the results were going to be. The wool I used to tie the bunble truned from a bright blue to a olive green - very effective. I'm sure I should have used significantly less that I did - next time...
I thought the silk looked wonderful up against the back wall - the peeling paint looking just as distressed as the variable colours across the silk.
Now that the silk has dried I'm chain stitching around the ghostly figures of the gum leaves. It's a very relaxing thing to do, outlining the odd partial shapes. The ghost leaves intrigue me, particularly as they came from the local cemetry - like whispers of the past.

Not quite sure where it is taking me yet - time will tell but I have a few ideas bubbling away. In the meantime I'm planning the next boil up to see what else I can conjure up out of next to nothing. Lots of fun - many thanks to India Flint for the ideas, inspiration and information in her two beautiful books. They are a feast to the eyes and imagination.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Less thinking, More doing

I decided that this was the weekend that I would finally stop all the good intentions, stop the thinking and actually get started on the applique quilt.
And I am pleased to say that I have succeeded - it appears that I can actually do machine applique, even if I have have spent months convincing myself that it would be beyond me.

Clearly this is one of my real obstacles to creating - over thinking things instead of just getting on and doing it.

So while I was at it I also got cracking and put together my first ever bundle of dyeing - its sitting in the pot cooling down as I type. Eucalyptus leaves gathered from Karori Cemetery and rolled onto some kimono silk that I have had patiently waiting for just this purpose.
Can't wait to get it unwrapped tomorrow and see what has happened now that I have finally got through the thinking stage and onto the doing. 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Needle Still In Hand

I'm pleased to report that slow but steady progress is being made on the stitching front at my house - it's not world shattering but from where I stand it's better than nothing.

I have finished the bonnet and it will soon be heading off to Australia to join the Roses from the Heart project. The bonnets have been used in a variety of installations and some have even travelled to the regions that the women were originally deported from for commemorative services. If you are interested in how they are used, and I know Stitchbird was asking, you can find out more here. There are currently activities going on in Ireland with bonnets being taken there to remember the women who were departed from there to Tasmania.

You can't see too much of the rather nice cloth the bonnet is perched above (on a lamp - for some strange reason I couldn't find a ready volunteer to model the bonnet) so here's a better shot. The cloth is one of my more recent acquisitions and my first green cloth. I couldn't resist the cottages.

And today I started some experimentation for a new quilt. One of my dearest friends is having a milestone birthday early next year - I have never made her a quilt so now is the time. Part of the reason I never have is that deep down I know she would like something traditional, with applique - not my usual thing at all. I have humm-ed, haa-ed and generally prevaricated but finally been convinced by stitching friends that I can do this. So today I made a start - a bit of practice to perfect my machine applique and preferred stitching method before I get onto the real piece. Stay tuned - this will be a true test of friendship!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Preparing for Spring... with Yarn Bombing

There is a wonderful sculpture on the Wellington Waterfront, Solace in the Wind, by English artist Max Patte. We have been known to have the odd breeze around here, from time to time, and this sculpture leans into it, right at the water's edge just near Te Papa.

Someone has clearly taken pity on him and got him fully kitted out in anticipation of spring, which is after all just around the corner. Just brilliant!I hope he's left in his garments for some time...

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Picking up my needle again

I've been in a bit of a stitcher's slump of late - busy with work and research projects, too cold to venture up to the sewing room - there are always lots of excuses. However last week I discovered that I could still remember how to thread my needle (what a relief!) and got started on a bonnet.... not quite my usual thing. There is of course a back story....

For some years now there has been a major project underway in Tasmania, Australia to remember the women who were departed there as convicts from the late 18th to mid 19th century. During that time over 75,000 convicts were deported, mainly from England, with 25,266 of them women. A recent article in Quilt Mania reminded me of the project and got me digging around in some of our family history.

Christina Henri has been researching the lives of women convicts since 2003 and in 2007 launched an ambitious project, the Roses from the Heart Memorial. She is aiming to have 25,000 bonnets made for the project and is within 5,000 of reaching her target.

The pattern supplied for the project is an 1860 cloth bonnet which was worn by convict women while they were working as assigned servants. It was chosen as a symbol to connect descendants with their convict ancestors and to commemorate the life and contribution of each of those women to the new land they found themselves in. Each bonnet is embroidered with the name of a convict, the ship they were transported on and the year they arrived in Tasmania. Descendants can make one for their ancestor or a name can be chosen from the remaining list of convict women.

My husband, and of course our children, are descended from two people who were transported to Tasmania so the bonnet I am making is to remember one of these people. Elizabeth Allen, from Warwickshire, was only 19 years old when she was tried and sentenced to deportation and a term of 10 years for stealing a scarf. By today's standards it seems an unimaginably harsh sentence for a relatively minor offence.

She arrived in Hobart on the Margaret in July 1843, after spending 164 days at sea. Elizabeth was described on the ship's list of convicts as a "Class One Needlewoman" with a fair complexion, light brown hair and hazel eyes. She was initially sentenced to the notorious Cascades Female Factory, which is now a historic site.

Elizabeth met and married George White in 1845 and they received their ticket of leave in 1848. George, 18, was from Woolwich and was sentenced to deportation and a term of seven years for stealing a trunk from a coach in 1834. Women tended to received harsher sentenced for comparable offence to men - somehow their crime was judged to be worse, requiring greater moral comdemnation!

George White was transported on the George the Third ship which was wrecked in the mouth of the Derwent River as it arrived in Tasmania. Of the 220 convicts who sailed from England, only 81 made it to landfall alive, with many drowning within sight of land.
George and Elizabeth migrated with their five children from Tasmania to Dunedin, New Zealand, in the mid 1860s. They came to make a fresh start as free settlers, without the stigma of their convict origins which they found they were unable to shed in Australia. They are buried together in the North Dunedin cemetery - will will be visiting them when we travel south later in the year.

The embroidery I've done on the bonnet for Elizabeth isn't perfect. The rose is noticeably off centre (I have no idea how I managed this) but after much fussing and trying to make it look more balanced I decided to leave it as it is. Elizabeth wasn't perfect - none of us are - so I don't think she would have minded too much. Today there's no stigma in being descended from convicts, in fact it's quite the reverse in Australia. And that, it seems to me, is perhaps the greatest honour that can be done these women - to remember them, in all their imperfections, and still be proud of the lives they led.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

But wait.... there's more

This was the view across from our house this morning - we've never seen snow on these hills in 15 years. My brother in law, a genuine weather forecaster, tells us that what is remarkable about this is that we are now in day three of snow, and it looks like there is another two days still to come.... rest easy - I will spare you any more. However, I thought you might like to see more of the treasures I found in the South Island. These came from a tiny town called Murchison - it has a population of about 800 which is mainly focused on 'white water' tourism. Clearly there were plenty of stitchers there in the past.

I particularly like the cloth with lilac on it. There are two of these, so they were clearly by the same stitcher. And of course this is one of my handbags from Nelson - made in Huntly, NZ from deer. I thought it was irresistible and will have to guard it from my daughter who has already has eyes on it.

This was the other that begged to come back to Wellington. It was made in New York and the owner told me she had only recently bought it back from a buying trip in the US. She said she was approached several times while still in the US with people wanting to buy it straight off her arm. I've used it a few times already and adore it. I feel a new collection coming on...

My last treasure from Nelson was this lovely laundry bag. If only the family washing was so glamorous! I will have to improve my act to keep up with this.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Only Story in Town

There really is only one story in the whole of NZ at the moment - the worst polar storm in a decade. Here in wellington that's meant snow. It has caused big excitement in my house, which will no doubt sound odd to some.

However to put it in context - we haven't had snow in the Wellington hill suburbs since 1995 when my now 16 year old daughter was only 3 months old. At the time my husband was so excited that he wanted to get her up out of her cot to show her the snow. Ever the spoil-sport I woudn't let him! This time the children were all up and couldn't be held back - hard to tell but this is them sliding down the hills at the park next door on their boogie boards. It was almost the best thing ever to happen at home to them.And if that wasn't enough, today it snowed to sea level - right through the main streets of Wellington. It was quite surreal to sit on the 14th floor looking out the window at the snow coming down on Lambton Quay. Those who have lived in colder climes were finding the Wellingtonians very amusing. Tomorrow the schools may well be closed and I have already decided that I won't be going anywhere, except perhaps to my sewing room once I have got some work out of the way. My sewing room has not seen me for two months, except for me to deposit things in it. It's long overdue for a bit of activity - as is this blog....

We had a week away in the South Island over recent school holidays and stayed in a lovely cottage in Nelson that was built in 1860 - it had the perfect curtains for a holidaying quilter in the dinning room.I also found the most wonderful shop in Nelson, Eclectic Antiques, which had lots of textiles, vintage clothes and highly desirable jewellery. I threw caution to the wind and came home with a few treasures. Apparently I now have a "problem" with handbags to add to my well know "problem" with embroideries and textiles. I think diversification is a good thing - after all it would be dreadful to be too predictable.