Bitten by an Australian

I’ve always suspected being social is a dangerous thing.  I proved it on Tuesday night, when, waving to my neighbour as we always do when I happen to arrive home while she’s in her front yard, I thought I’d actually stop and say hello for a change.  As I was talking to her, I leant on the fence, and felt something pinch my arm.  I thought it was just that one of the palings had moved and pinched me, so I just shifted my position and thought nothing of it.

Half an hour later, I realised my arm was still hurting (yeah, I know, blame my genetic propensity to high pain tolerance – I’m really good at not noticing that something hurts), and had a look at the spot where I’d pinched it.  Which turned out to have a very obvious raised white lump, surrounded by a big red patch, and, when I looked closer, a definite puncture mark in the middle.

We don’t have a lot of poisonous bitey things in New Zealand, and of the ones we do have, two thirds have been (accidentally) imported from Australia.  There’s the native katipo spider, which is very rare and pretty much only found in sand dunes, the Australian redback spider (which is also rare in NZ, and anyway, I knew it wasn’t that, because I was still standing), and, the most likely culprit, the Australian whitetail spider.  Whitetails technically aren’t poisonous, because they can’t seriously harm humans, but their venom does cause a painful reaction in most people, and the photos Google showed me of whitetail bites matched my arm exactly.

The white lump shrank within a couple of hours (the photo below was taken later that night, when it had almost disappeared), but it stayed painful enough to be annoying (i.e. what a normal person would call “very painful”) for the rest of the night, and even now, three days later, it’s still a bit tender to touch (and incredibly itchy!), and the red mark is only just starting to fade.

I now feel totally justified for all the whitetails I have killed over the years whenever they’ve dared to make their way inside my house. And even more justified in avoiding gardening – there could be hundreds of the horrible little things lurking out there just waiting for the chance to bite me.


I’ve been going along to the weekly craft meetups reasonably regularly. I quickly got bored with my knitted dishcloth production line (it halted half way through my third attempt), so instead I pulled out a long-abandoned embroidery project (ok, I just looked back through old blog entries, and I bought it at a craft shop Sherlockfan took me to during a trip to Wellington in 2010!) as a nice easily-portable craft I could work on at the meetups. I’ve made pretty good progress (although some of the stitching is a bit rough – we rotate between several different venues for the meetups, and some of them don’t have the best lighting!):

Ironically, I was working on the spider at this week’s meetup…

Productivity

It’s been a busy but very productive weekend.  The first thing I achieved was yesterday morning, when I got a load of firewood delivered, and managed to get it stacked into the garage in record time.  That hadn’t been the plan, because I was supposed to be going to Mr Harvestbird’s birthday party, but when I rang the firewood company earlier in the week to place the order, they had a cancellation that meant they could deliver yesterday instead of me having to wait for weeks, so I said yes, thinking I could leave it to stack today.  But then the forecast was for rain all weekend, so I had to get it stacked inside straight away before it got too wet.  I was pretty impressed with myself that I managed to get the whole load stacked in just a couple of hours, even if it did mean I was a bit late for the party by the time I’d finished and had a shower.

The party was fun – as always is the case at the Harvestbirds’ parties, a real mixture of different types of people (accompanied by what seemed to be hordes of small children) , with pass the parcel and bubble machines (I want one!) for the children, playstation for the teens, and fancy cocktails for the adults.

This morning I scrubbed down the kitchen table so I could try table-basting my Jelly Roll Race quilt.  It worked really well, and was so much easier than trying to do it on the floor like I have with other quilts, because you’re not having to crawl all over the quilt, wrinkling it up as fast as you’re smoothing it out.  You don’t even need a massive table for it, because you work in sections, smoothing the layers out and securing them with clips before pinning them together, then you unclip it and move to the next section.  I even found a great tip (which of course I forgot to save the link to, so I can’t give credit for it) for making sure the various layers are centred on each other properly:  you tape a couple of skewers to the centre of the table before you start, then you can feel them through the fabric as you add each layer of fabric and batting, so that you can make sure all the centres end up in the same place.

Lots of photos of the process:

I didn’t start the actual quilting, because I wanted to continue working on the blocks for the Three Dudes quilt, but it’s all basted now and ready to go when I feel inspired to get back to some free-motion quilting.

Talking of the Three Dudes quilt, that’s what I spent the rest of the afternoon working on. I managed to get all the strip sets sewn together, and then cut the strips up into 10.5 inch lengths so that they’re square. That’s not the final block though – next step is to sew them back together (in a different way, of course!), and then cut them again, and then sew them again… and after all that they should come out looking really interesting. But that’s a job for another productive weekend.

Books and cats and quilts (what else is there?)

Alkaline-kiwi was in Christchurch this weekend, so we had a Bookcrossing meetup this morning.  It was great to catch up with her – plus, of course, the injection of new books into the meetup group is always appreciated :-)  As so often happens, I came home with as many books as I’d gone with, so my to-be-read pile has grown quite a bit.

I picked up:


The other thing that keep growing is my list of quilt projects I want to try. I really must stop watching YouTube videos – I keep getting inspired and adding more ideas to my list.  At least it means I never get bored – I seem to always have several quilts on the go, plus more lined up to start when I want to try something new (which is always – I’m definitely easily distracted by every shiny new thing that comes along…)

Which is all preamble to lead into the the fact that I started another quilt this afternoon.  The other jelly roll was calling to me, so after much deliberation I decided to try a “Three Dudes” quilt, similar to this one (although I’ve altered the pattern a bit).

I spent most of the afternoon just working out the details of the pattern, and then grouping the strips into sets so that the different colours and patterns would be nicely distributed through the quilt (the version in the photo below went through several more changes before I got to the final one), and cutting strips of white fabric to add to them to make up strip sets.

I only got half way through sewing the 10 strip sets I’ll need for the quilt. Once they’re done, they need to be cut up and then sewn back together again a couple of times to make the final blocks, so there’s probably another weekend or two’s work to finish the complete quilt top. Assuming I don’t get distracted by some other project in the meantime… :-)


Gratuitous cat photo of Parsnips sulking on the windowsill because I kept moving her off the sunny spot on my cutting mat on the totally unreasonable grounds that I wanted to cut fabric, not the cat. I also won’t let her jump up on my ironing board, because I’m scared one day she’ll jump up there while the iron is on. I am such a horrible person!

A quick photo before it rains again

I finished off the binding on Monday night, but pretty much every evening this week that I’ve been home before dark it’s been too wet to hang the quilt on the line so I could photograph it (and I really wanted to take the photo outside in natural light). It’s supposed to rain again this morning, but while it’s daylight and the rain is still holding off, I dashed out for a quick photo.

I’m pretty pleased with how this quilt turned out, considering it was just supposed to be a practice run at making a really big quilt (it’s big enough to use on my queen-size bed (which I actually did on Monday night, when we had a sudden cold snap, and I couldn’t be bothered swapping out my summer-weight duvet for the winter one, so I just threw the just-finished quilt over the top for a bit of extra warmth), though, because it’s square, not quite long enough to go over the pillows).  The quilting isn’t perfect (and there’s quite a few wrinkles on the back, because of my struggles to find somewhere to lay it out flat to baste it – I’ve since found instructions for a better way to baste big quilts using a table, so I might try that next time), but the overall effect is pretty good, so I’m happy enough with it (and even happier that the things I learnt will mean I do a better job next time, which was the whole point of making a practice quilt).

What I’m most proud of is the border.  The main design of the quilt came out of some experimenting I was doing with snowballing pinwheels.  The block that emerged was (to me) reminiscent of a flower, so I decided to make a “Flower Garden” quilt, with a field of flowers on a green background.  As I was making the blocks, I decided the off-cuts from the snowballing were too interesting to throw away, so I played round with them and came up with the zig-zaggy triangles border pattern, which is my favourite part of the whole quilt (though I also quite like the negative space between the flowers – I might have to experiment with that a bit more in another quilt…)

So there you have it: my first ever designed-it-entirely-myself-totally-from-scratch quilt.  And my first finished big quilt.

Redecorating

You might have noticed that things look a little bit different around here.  I’m still not completely happy with it – the background is just a random copyright-free one I downloaded, and the header image could still do with a bit of work, but for something thrown together over a couple of lunch hours, I reckon it’s ok.  (I just realised, I really should have taken a screenshot of the old design, for posterity, but too late now.)

I toyed with many different names for my blog re-branding, but in the end “The Cattery” sounded like the most likely place for a FutureCat to hang out in, so that’s what stuck.  It’s a terrible name in terms of Googlability, but I’ve never worried about that in the past, so why start now? :-)

So, welcome to The Cattery.  The name may have changed, but it’ll still be the same random collection of posts about crafts, cats, books, travel, and life stuff.


Edited to add: The clever Discoverylover found a cached version of my old blog design and screenshotted it for me. So you can now do a proper before-and-after comparison:

1 hour and 49 minutes

Didn’t manage to get it done in the promised under an hour (it was actually closer to two), but I did get it done.

Most of that time was taken sewing the first very long seam (when you fold the super-long strip in half and sew down the entire length), and in untangling the knots it kept trying to tie itself into, but each subsequent seam got faster – both because they halve in length each time, and because the strips are getting wider so more manageable.

It’s definitely not a design for a control freak – once you start sewing you’ve got no control on where the different strips end up (though with a bit of calculation you could probably predict what would end up where, and plan the order of the strips accordingly), so sometimes you end up with the same or very similar fabrics next to each other, and there’s nothing you can do about it.  But that’s the point – it’s supposed to end up looking totally random.

There is some order in the chaos, though.  Because I used a jelly roll, all the strips were the same length, which meant my connecting triangles ended up in clusters.  I think if I made another one, I’d deliberately cut the strips different lengths, just to see what happened.

The red triangles don’t pop as much as I’d hoped, but that might just be the terrible lighting – it’s been a dark, rainy day today, so it was very dull when I took the photo. They’ll probably look different on a brighter day.

So now I’ve just got to quilt it…

Preparing to race

While I was working on my thesis last year, with no real free time to do anything properly crafty, I kept myself sane by channelling my creative urges into watching quilting tutorials on YouTube and keeping a notebook of all the ideas I wanted to try out one day.  And, when that wasn’t enough, by buying fabric, as a kind of promise to myself that I really would get to the end of my thesis, and be able to make all the things.

Mostly the fabric I bought was from the on-line retailer equivalent of remnant bins: “grab bags” of assorted off-cuts – a great way to build a stash of fabric, but with no pretence of being a curated collection.  Which is cool, because quilting comes from a tradition of using scraps, and I love the way disparate scraps can come together to make something beautiful.  And it’s fun having a random collection of fabric and picking and choosing from it until you get a set of fabrics that work well together.

Most of the tutorials I watched online, though, have a different approach to fabric – they mostly rely heavily on pre-cuts – a set of fabric pieces cut from a single designer’s line of fabrics, so that every piece is guaranteed to go with every other piece.  Pre-cuts come in a few different sizes which represent commonly-used pieces used in making quilt blocks – there’s jelly rolls, which are 2.5 inch wide strips, layer cakes, which are 10 inch squares, and charm packs, which are 5 inch squares.  Normally you get one or two pieces of each fabric design from the line in each pre-cut set.

Pre-cuts do make for beautiful quilts, but they’re also expensive.  Much more expensive than just buying scraps.  But a couple of months ago, I stumbled across a fabric shop in Australia that was having a clearance sale, and had reduced some of their pre-cuts cheap enough (even allowing for the shipping to NZ) that I decided it was worth buying a few, just so I could try out some of the ideas I’d seen.  Of course, being a clearance sale, the selection wasn’t great, but I managed to find two jelly rolls and three layer cakes that looked like they might have potential.

They’ve been sitting in my fabric stash since then, and I’ve been itching to play with them.  Today the temptation got too much, so I decided to use one of the jelly rolls to make a “jelly roll race” quilt.  It’s a quilt design that’s all over the internet, because it supposedly lets you sew a whole quilt top in under an hour (although really, it takes most people a couple of hours in total, because there’s a bit of prep work involved before you get to the actual “race” bit).

I decided to go a little bit fancier than the standard jelly roll race, which normally just involves sewing all the strips end to end, and then sewing the resulting giant strip together until it turns into a quilt.  I thought the fabrics in my jelly roll were a bit too dull, so I decided I wanted to brighten them up by adding pops of bright red throughout the quilt.  That meant my prep work ended up taking a few hours, because I decided I wanted red triangles – little squares would have been faster, but I thought triangles would look more dynamic (which seems fitting for a race quilt :-) ).

I didn’t get as far as the actual race part today, but I did get my giant strip all prepped, complete with red triangles, so tomorrow I’ll be able to see if it really does go together in under an hour.  At the moment it just looks like a giant tangle of fabric, but hopefully by this time tomorrow I’ll have a quilt top to show you.

So yesterday was kind of exciting

Just an ordinary day at work, until I checked my emails, and saw one from the Postgraduate Office which made me squeak with joy: “Congratulations! The examination of your Master’s thesis has now been completed and you have been awarded a grade of <<A+ grade>> for your thesis.”

Yep, I passed!  And passed spectacularly well!

Not a lot of work got done for the rest of the day (not helped by a few of my colleagues taking me out for a long lunch, which may have included a wee glass of wine :-) ), and I’m still in can’t-stop-smiling mode this morning.

You may now call me Master :-)

Two for the price of one

Typical, you go for weeks without a blog post, and then two come along at once!  This one is because I spent the afternoon out at Tai Tapu with Lytteltonwitch, at a sculpture exhibition, and took very many photos, so I thought I’d better get them edited and posted before they get added to the long list of things I mean to do but never quite get round to.

The exhibition was really interesting.  It was held in a large country garden, and the sculptures ranged from huge monoliths dominating the lawn to tiny glass figures hidden among the trees.  Some of the pieces live in the garden permanently, but most were for sale, but with prices starting in the thousands, I was definitely just there to look, not to buy!

Here’s a few of the pieces that particularly caught my eye:


Llew Summers, Haven of Souls (2017)


Robyn Webster, Turning Point (2016)


Anna Korver, Impossible staircase (2016)


(This one wasn’t in the catalogue, so I’ve got no idea who created it, or what it’s called, but it amused me)


Matt Williams, Infinity (2016)


Ben Foster, Infinity (2014)


Jeff Thomson, Mahoe (2017)


Doug Neil, The Rocks (2013)


Annabel Menzies-Joyce and friends, The Fertility Goddess Grove (2013)


Neil Dawson, Vortex (2016)


Llew Summers, It’s A Topsy Turvy World (2010)


Bing Dawe, A Landscape with Too Many Holes, Waiting for St Francis – A Gateway (2015)

Scrappy bits

So much for my good intentions of regularly posting to my blog – that seems to have fallen by the wayside a bit!  Partly because I’ve been busy (last week I went to Toastmasters on Tuesday night, my craft group on Thursday night, and a union Rainbow Te Kahukura function on Friday night.  And this week there’s Toastmasters on Tuesday (which I’m meant to be giving a speech at – I’d better do some practising!), then a Women’s March Aotearoa kōrero on Wednesday, and I’m going to a movie with Lytteltonwitch on Friday (theoretically I should also be going to the craft group on Thursday, but four nights out in a row seems a bit excessive!).  I really need to slow down a bit, don’t I? :-) ), but mostly it’s because I wanted to report progress on my Flower Garden quilt, but it’s too hard to take a decent photo of it, so I’ve been putting it off until it’s finished, which means I’ve also been putting off blogging.

So instead, here’s a not decent photo of the quilt, all folded up and waiting for me to have a quiet evening or three to hand-stitch the binding down.

Which means yes, the quilting is finally finished! It took way longer than I expected – I’d underestimated just how much area a full size quilt has, and it’s not the sort of project you can work on for 10 minutes at a time – you really need to spend an hour or so (or I do, anyway) to get properly into the rhythm of the quilting. Which means you have to have lots of hour or so long chunks of time free, and see above for how that hasn’t really been happening. But anyway, I finished the quilting last weekend, then made the binding yesterday, so now I just have to do the hand-stitching bit (I could machine sew the binding down, but I struggle to keep it looking neat even on a small quilt, so I thought it’s probably safest to hand sew this one, rather than trying to struggle with sewing a super-accurate tiny hem on such a huge heavy quilt!)

While I was making the binding, I started playing with the little scraps I was cutting off the fabric, which led to more playing with the collection of tiny bits in my scrap basket (and adding in a few stray blocks I’d made while experimenting with some other ideas), which evolved into the beginnings of an idea I’ve had in the back of my mind for ages – a truly scrappy quilt, with no pattern, just randomly throwing together whatever scraps I had to hand, whether they go together or not.  A bit like what I did when I made my hot water bottle cover, but on a bigger scale, and with a bit of inspiration drawn from Deb Robertson’s exhibition of scrappy quilts (which I didn’t make time to go and see in person, and really wish I had!), and from this quilt (though mine is made up of *much* smaller pieces!).  By the end of the day yesterday I had several decent-sized blocks:

They’re all different sizes, and I haven’t squared them up properly, but the idea is that I’ll build them up until they’re the same height at least, then I can sew them together into a row, and continue the process until I’ve got a quilt.  It’s going to be ugly and scrappy, and completely uncoordinated, with hardly a straight line in sight, but hopefully the overall effect will be something cool (and if not, who cares – the only fabric it’s costing me is bits I would have thrown out otherwise, and it’ll still do its job of keeping someone warm).  And in the meantime, I’m having fun, and learning a lot.