Block of the Whenever #4

Another very traditional block, the Ohio Star.  But unlike the other blocks I’ve made so far, which have just used two fabrics (plus the background), this time I’m adding a third fabric:

Technically you can make an Ohio Star with just two colours (or even one, if you kept the central square the same as the points), but I think it looks much better with three.

What you’ll need:

Print: one 3 1/2 inch square

Solid 1: one 4 1/4 inch square

Solid 2: two 4 1/4 inch squares

Background: four 3 1/2 inch squares and one 4 1/4 inch square

Pair one green* square with the pink* square, and the other with the large background square.

(*Obviously, you don’t have to use green and pink – I just can’t be bothered writing “solid 1” and “solid 2” every time.  If the fact that your colours are different than mine is too confusing for you, possibly quilting is not the craft for you…)

This is another way of making half-square triangles.  It only makes two at a time, which actually works out nicely for this block, and also doesn’t end up with bias edges on your block like the four-at-a-time method.

Draw a diagonal line across each pair (the line doesn’t show up very well in the photo, but I could see it pretty clearly in person), and stitch quarter of an inch either side of the line.

Cut along the drawn line and iron open, to get two half-square triangles of each colour combination.

Now take each green/pink HST, and pair with a green/background HST, with the diagonals running the same direction, and the green on opposite sides.

Draw a diagonal line in the opposite direction, and sew quarter of an inch on either side of the line.

Cut along the lines and iron open, and you’ll have four quarter-square triangles.

The quarter-square triangles should end up 3 1/2 inches square.  Trim off the dog ears, and lay out the block.

Sew together as a nine-patch, and you’ve got your Ohio Star.

A couple of my points didn’t line up perfectly (there’s a lot of fabric coming together in those corners), so I did consider unpicking that last seam and trying again, but it won’t really be noticeable once it’s part of a big quilt, so I decided to follow the most important quilting rule of all: “Finished is better than perfect”

The fridge magnet was a free gift thrown in with my last order from the Missouri Star** Quilt Company, and lives on the filing cabinet next to my cutting mat – it’s a useful reminder sometimes, when I feel the obsessive perfectionism gene I inherited from Granny trying to come out – luckily it’s nicely balanced by my inherent laziness :-)

(**There seems to be a star block named after every state in the USA (now there’s an idea for an overly-ambitious sampler quilt for someone!).  I’m sure a few more will end up in this quilt, though maybe not the Missouri Star – I think it might be a bit too complex to work well at this scale.  Maybe if I run out of simpler blocks…)

Block of the Whenever #3

Racing along here!  The third block is called a Dutch Pinwheel.  It has a lot of parts, but they’re all the same: half-square triangles. So the instructions are pretty short.

Now that I’m feeling a little more confident in my ability to sew a proper quarter-inch seam, I decided it was safe to start using some of my favourite fabrics from the layer cake.

I used the same four-at-a-time technique to make the half-square triangles as last time (mainly because the measurements fitted nicely into a 10-inch square). I think if I made this block again, I’d use a different method, because making them the four-at-a-time way means you end up with lots of bias edges, which makes it harder to sew all the parts together without anything stretching out of shape. These measurements are for that method, so if you use them, be warned it’s not the best approach.

You will need:

Print: four 4 1/2 inch squares

Solid: one 4 1/2 inch square

Background: three 4 1/2 inch squares

I won’t repeat the instructions on how to make the half-square triangles, seeing as I already did that yesterday, but you should end up with 16 of them, 12 with the background fabric on one side, and 4 with the solid.

Again, thanks to the edge being the hypotenuse of a isosceles right-angled triangle (sorry, the mathematician in me always comes out when I’m playing with shapes like this), there’s a fun √2 in the calculations, so the half-square triangles turn out a few millimetres bigger than needed. Trim them down to 2 3/4 inch squares, and lay out the block.

Sew each corner unit as a four patch, then sew those together into one big four-patch to get the finished block.

(Look! 9 1/2 inches again! It worked!!!)

Block of the Whenever #2

The second Block of the Whenever is a nice simple Churn Dash.  Nice and simple, but another block I’ve never tried before (possibly because of the whole “leap into the deep end before you try out the paddling pool” thing I’m so prone to…)

Because this block has a plain centre square, I picked out one of the fabrics with strong individual motifs so I could “fussy cut” one of the flowers to go in the centre.

For this block you’ll need:

Print: one 3 1/2 inch square
Solid: one 5 1/2 inch square, and four 2 inch by 3 1/2 inch rectangles
Background: one 5 1/2 inch square, and four 2 inch by 3 1/2 inch rectangles

The first step is to make half-square triangles. Everyone seems to have their own favourite method for doing this, each with its particular pros and cons. I haven’t settled on a favourite yet, so I think I’ll probably test out a few different methods over the course of this quilt, depending on how many I need to make.

The method I used for this one is another one of those slightly magic techniques that doesn’t quite make sense until you try it. First, place the two large squares right sides together, and sew all the way round, 1/4 inch from the edges.

Next, cut along each diagonal.

Iron the pieces open, and you’ll have four half-square triangles!

They come out just a millimetre or two larger than 3 1/2 inches square (because square roots), so you’ll need to trim them down to the correct size (and cut off the dog ears while you’re at it).

Next, the dash part of the Churn Dash. Pair the solid and background rectangles together, and sew along the long edge. When opened out, they should also measure 3 1/2 inches square.

And that’s all the components made. Again, there’s two possible ways to lay the block out:

Probably if I was just making this as a single block, I’d have chosen the second option, but I want to keep the background fabric actually as the background consistently across all the blocks (well, for now, anyway – I might change my mind once I’ve got more of them done and can see the overall effect).

Sew the pieces together as a nine-patch, and block two is complete:

And I can proudly say that this one turned out 9 1/2 inches square on my first try!  There’s something to be said for this whole being slow and accurate thing…

Let’s try that again

Not to keep you in suspense any longer, I made that block again, this time being a lot more careful about my quarter inch seams.  And it worked!

It’s still a tiny bit smaller than it should be (I actually think my sewing machine is slightly out of alignment, because the needle doesn’t come down exactly central in the foot, but I’m not sure how to adjust it), but it’s close enough to 9 1/2 inches to be usable.

The difference between the two blocks doesn’t look like much, but it’ll make a huge difference to the final quilt.

An important lesson in accuracy!

Block of the Whenever #1

A while back, on one of my “the shipping is flat rate, so I might as well add a few more things to my cart” shopping sprees from Missouri Star, I found a layer cake of Kaffe Fassett fabrics on special.  Kaffee Fassett is one of those fabric designers that you learn the name of very quickly if you follow any quilting channels or blogs, because everyone seems to be in love with his intensely colourful designs.  So as it was on special, I thought it was time I investigated the possibilities of this magic fabric.

I didn’t have any particular project in mind for it, so it may have ended up waiting in my stash for months until inspiration struck, except that the other day I was in Lincraft buying another spool of the blue thread so I can finish quilting the Birds in Flight quilt (which I will get round to finishing soon, I promise), and discovered they had a new range of cheap fat quarters in super-bright solid colours.  Which, I realised, would go perfectly with the colours in my Kaffee Fasset layer cake.  And that was enough for inspiration to strike on exactly what sort of quilt I wanted to make with it. So I bought a handful, plus some dark navy to use as a background colour, and came home and scribbled a few sketches, and a lot more calculations, in my little quilting notebook (which is actually just an old maths exercise book), and a design was born for a sampler-style quilt.

And along with that, an idea for a series of blog posts was born.  Everyone does those “Block of the Month” or “Block of the Week” quilts, with accompanying blog/YouTube posts for each block (I’ve even seen one that’s Block of the Day!), but there’s no way I could ever be that dedicated – my creativity comes in fits and bursts, not on schedule once a week.  So instead, this is a Block of the Whenever quilt.  I’m going to try and make a blog post for each block, but I’m making no promises about their regularity.  If I get inspired, you might get a run of several posts all at once, or if I’m too busy with other stuff, there might be long gaps between blocks.  But if all goes according to plan, the entire quilt will be documented as I go.

I also don’t promise these will be full-on tutorials.  How much detail I go into will depend greatly on how many photos I remember to take of the process as I go, and how inspired I feel to write it up afterwards.  And anyway, I’m intending that most of the blocks will be traditional block patterns that you can find a million tutorials for all over the internet.  But as I’ve had to do the maths to convert patterns for various sizes of blocks to fit the size I want (which is a 9 inch finished square*), I’ll try and at least share the measurements and enough basic instructions that someone who understands the principles of how blocks go together could reproduce them (and actually, mostly my aim here is just to produce a library of blocks for myself, so I can make them again in other quilts – that’s the traditional purpose of a sampler, after all).

[* In theory.  Except, spoiler alert, my quarter inch seams in my first block turned out to not be quarter inch, so my first block turned out too small.  I promise you the maths is correct though, it’s just that I need to learn how to use my quarter inch foot properly…]

Also, most of these blocks and techniques I’ve found repeated in multiple places around the internet, so I’m not going to give sources, because I’ve got no idea where they originally came from (so many quilt blocks come from long traditions of being passed from person to person, with no attribution).  But if there’s any that do seem to be someone’s original pattern, I’ll of course give credit.

Right, with the disclaimers out of the way, here’s the first Block of the Whenever: a Flying Dutchman (which I’ve also seen called a Double Pinwheel, or a Dutchman’s Puzzle).

The first step (and hardest part) was choosing the fabrics.  I didn’t want to start off with my favourites, just in case I messed the flying geese up (it’s the first time I’ve made them using this technique) and wasted the fabric, but it’s the first block of the quilt, so I wanted it to be a nice combination.  I think this one works, though:

And then the really brave part: cutting into the fabric for the first time.

You need:

  • Print: one 5 3/4 inch square
  • Solid: one 5 3/4 inch square
  • Background: eight 3 1/8 inch squares

This flying geese method is one of those quilting techniques that seems totally impossible.  You look at that combination of pieces, and there’s no way it adds up to eight flying geese.  And that impression continues all the way through until you iron open the final unit, and somehow it’s worked.  It still seems totally magic, even after I worked through the maths of it while I was working out the measurements.  Here’s the unlikely steps:

Mark a diagonal line across each of the background squares, and place two on diagonally opposite corners of each of the bigger blocks.

Sew quarter of an inch away from each side of the marked line.

Cut along the marked lines.

Iron open. So far, nothing like flying geese. More like weird fox faces.

Take the remaining four background squares, and line one up on the nose of each fox.

Again, sew on either side of the marked lines.

Cut along the marked line.

Iron open, and magically, you’ve got flying geese!

The units should each measure 5 inches by 2 3/4 inches. Mine didn’t. That’s because I was running the edge of my quarter-inch foot along the inside of the chalk line I’d marked, instead of the outside, and those few millimetres’ difference, added up over multiple seams, were enough to make the final units about an eighth of an inch too small.  Which means I really should scrap this block and try again.  But I decided as I’d got this far, I might as well carry on, just to see what the final block looked like.

Trim off the dog-ears, and lay out the block.  There’s two possible layouts, depending on which fabric you want to make most prominent.

I went with the print block on the inside, because the orange dominated the block too much when it was on the inside.

Sew the flying geese into pairs.

Then sew the pairs together as a four-patch for the final block.

In theory, it should measure 9 1/2 inches square (which would be 9 inches finished, because you lose quarter of an inch off each side when you sew it to another block). Mine is only just over 9 inches, so I can’t even pretend to myself that I’ll be able to hide the difference in the seam allowances in the final quilt.  It’s just wrong. But it’s such a pretty block!

So now I need to decide do I want to try and make another identical block with the correct seam allowances (I do have another piece of that same fabric in the layer cake, and I’m only planning on having 30 blocks in the quilt in total, and there’s 42 pieces in the layer cake, so in theory I can afford to waste a few), or do I try and adjust all the measurements for the rest of the blocks so they all end up this size (which would make the final quilt quite a bit smaller than I intended, and also mean the measurements I gave you for this block would make it bigger than all the rest of the blocks, if you were following along at home)?  I think the most sensible answer is to make it again, isn’t it?  It would give me a chance to practice getting those seam allowances right before I move onto the next block, too.

Yep, I’m going to have to make it again.  But not tonight.

A lot to catch up on

A belated Merry Christmas (or celebration of your choice) to everyone – sorry I didn’t post sooner, but it’s been a busy (and very social) week.

With the university being closed from the 22nd, which effectively made the 21st the deadline for all those PBRF-eligible projects, the last week of work was a lot more frantic than I’m used to the normally-lazy last week being.  But despite a few last-minute hitches (one of which kept us working until nearly 4pm on the last day, when most people had sloped off around lunchtime), and the fact that everyone else was in pre-holiday mode, so we all kept getting distracted by invitations to morning teas, and people just dropping in for a chat, we somehow managed to get all the projects finished and live just in time.

The one I’m most proud of (and not just because I’m listed as an editor in the official citation listing :-) ) is the Canterbury Roll Digital Edition.  We’ve been working on it for well over a year, and it’s taken up a huge amount of my time, as well as that of others of my team, plus various students we’ve had working in the Lab as interns or research assistants.  I’d hate to think how many person hours in total have gone into it, but I think the end product is worth it.

The Canterbury Roll is a 15th century manuscript held by the university, which gives a genealogy of the Kings of England, starting with Noah (yep, that Noah – they took their genealogy very seriously in the 15th century!) and ending with Edward IV.  It’s an amazing document, but it’s on 5 metres of rolled up parchment, and is kept locked away in the library’s rare books room, so it isn’t exactly easy to view.  Which is why we, in conjunction with the History Department, and a few other collaborators at other universities, decided to digitise it.  So now anyone can go online and view a high-quality digital facsimile, which will really open it up for people to study.

And because it’s digital, we were able to add all sorts of other features – like you can click on any part of the Roll and you’ll see a transcription of the Latin text, plus a translation into English, plus you can see which of the four (or possibly five – there’s a bit of academic debate there) scribes who contributed to the Roll wrote which bit, and turn on notes which show you where the scribes made errors.  The interface that does all this was built by the Lab, and I think we did a pretty good job :-)

Plus it’s just been a really fun (and interesting!) project to work on, and taught me so much.  On the technical side I had to learn a new programming language, but as well as that I picked up quite a bit of Latin and medieval history along the way, just by osmosis from being so immersed in it all the time :-)

Once we finally managed to leave the Lab on Thursday night, we all (plus the Directors and a few other staff who’d been involved with the Lab over the year) went over to the Staff Club for a few drinks.  There was an end of year barbecue going on, so lots of staff had their families there, and it was a lovely evening so we all sat out on the lawn and enjoyed being able to relax for a bit, and watch Santa presiding over a lolly scramble for the kids.

It was Antoine’s last day (he’d hoped to be able to stay on longer (and we’d hoped he’d be able to too!), but the budget didn’t stretch to offering him full time work for next year, which he needed to extend his visa past March, so he decided to spend his last few months in the country travelling around instead), so as a farewell present we gave him a book about New Zealand’s great walks, some of which he’s planning on doing before he leaves.  He’s definitely going to be missed, and not just for his programming skills – in the 6 months or so that he and Samuel having been working for the Lab, the three of us have formed a really good team, and it’s going to be tough to have to build that again with a new person.

I was glad to have Friday off (we always get Christmas Eve, or the Friday before if it falls on a weekend, as a University Holiday), so that I could run around madly doing all the last minute jobs I hadn’t had time to get done earlier in the week – cleaning the house, stocking up on groceries, and buying extra plates so I’d have enough for Saturday’s party (I’d invited I think 14 people, so if everyone turned up, the plate situation was going to get tight).

As it turned out, a few people pulled out at the last minute (one of the hazards of having so many extreme introverts in my friends group – running out of metaphorical spoons is reasonably common, especially in the super-social pre-Christmas season) so it wasn’t too excessively large a group that turned up on Saturday.

I’d split the party into two parts, and decreed the afternoon kid-friendly, and the evening for adults only.  That way I could invite the mini-Harvestbirds, so they wouldn’t feel left out, but also have time for proper board games, uninterrupted by children, later in the evening.  It all worked out fantastically well – Lytteltonwitch and the Harvestbirds came for the afternoon, and we played Pictionary and nibbled on snacks until about 6, when the mini-Harvestbirds helped me to make pizzas (I’d made a few batches of pizza dough in the morning (during which I managed to burn out the motor in my food processor, producing big clouds of black smoke, so the food processor and the first batch of dough ended up in the bin, and I kneaded the rest by hand), and asked everyone to bring along some pizza toppings to go on them).  The elder mini-Harvestbird got bored with helping pretty quickly, but the younger one enthusiastically assisted me right to the end, and we got quite a good production line going, with me rolling out the bases and spreading the sauce, and her putting the rest of the toppings and cheese on – we had it nicely timed so that as soon as one pizza came out of the oven the next was ready to go in, and there was a steady stream of pizzas going through to the lounge (the rest of the guests had arrived while we were cooking, so there were plenty of willing recipients for each new pizza).  The pizzas were declared a great success, and I even managed to get a couple of slices myself from the last one out of the oven (I think we cooked 10 pizzas in total – pretty good going for a kitchen staff of two, one of which was a 5 year old!!)

After dinner, the Harvestbirds went home, and the rest of us played board games until the small hours of the morning.  A great party all round, although I was totally exhausted by the end!

The next day (Christmas Eve) I’d planned to have a restful day, with the exception of making a cake to take to Dana’s place on Christmas Day (she’d invited me to have lunch with her, her partner, and her mother).  I wanted to get some fresh fruit to go on it, so my plan was to go to the supermarket nice and early, before it got too busy, and (as motivation to get an early start) have a nice breakfast at a cafe on the way.  The plan was slightly foiled when I slept in (something about the very late night the night before), but I set out for my favourite cafe, which is half-way to the supermarket, only to find it boarded up, and a notice saying the cafe was closed until the broken windows could be repaired (it looked like a car had driven into it – probably someone overshooting from the angle-parking carparks in front).  All was not lost though, as there’s another cafe (not quite as good) just along the road from the supermarket.  Except that one was also closed – no damage this time, they’d just closed for the holidays.  I ended up walking all the way to Church Corner before I found somewhere to have breakfast, by which time it was more like morning tea time, and by the time I actually got to the supermarket, it was totally crowded.  So much for my relaxing start to the day…

I got home, and was just sitting down for a few minutes before starting the cake, when I got a phone call from my former ESOL student, asking if she could come and visit.  I haven’t seen her in about a year, so it was lovely to catch up with her (and meet her granddaughter, who is starting school in the new year!  Time has definitely flown – I thought it was just a couple of years since I finished tutoring her, but I went to her son’s wedding that year, and now he has a nearly 5 year old!).  It was quite a long visit though, as we each caught up with the other’s news, so by the time she left I had to rush to get the cake made.

It turned out pretty well though, especially once I added the fruit in the morning:

I had a nice lazy start on Christmas morning, then caught a bus over to Dana’s place.  Dana was, as always, spectacularly dressed in a totally Christmassy outfit – here she is doing her best impersonation of a Christmas tree:

We had a lovely lunch of mici (little Romanian sausages – very tasty!), devilled eggs, and German salad (Dana is Romanian, and her partner is German, so it was quite an international meal, especially when you add in the French Chocolate Cake I’d brought!) – it looks like quite a small meal when you look at it on the table, but we were all totally full by the end!

After lunch we opened presents. I’d managed somehow to find enough time over the last couple of weeks to finish off a Christmas mini-quilt for Dana, which she loved:

(Obligatory photo of the back, to show off the quilting. I was experimenting with using different colours of thread in the different areas of the quilt, which I think turned out quite well.)

Dana had actually given me a gift at the party on Saturday, so gave me a Christmas card so I didn’t feel left out on Christmas Day, which was very sweet of her :-) The gift she’d given me was very cool – two new ornaments for my tree; a gold leopard and a unicorn sloth hugging a rainbow. I never knew I needed a rainbow unicorn sloth in my life, but he is such a perfect addition to my tree!

After stuffing ourselves some more with dessert, we tried out a game Mum had sent me, which involved taking turns playing tunes on a kazoo and then everyone attempting to guess what the tune was. It was hilariously funny (especially because Dana’s mother never quite got the hang of actually getting her kazoo to do anything other than make raspberry noises), and quickly descended into giggly chaos, as we abandoned all pretence of keeping score or following the rules and just played silly tunes.

Afterwards, we played a more sedate game of Ticket to Ride, while snacking on yet more chocolate, so it was about 7 pm by the time I left. It was a lovely evening (after a stinking hot day), so I decided to walk home – it took about an hour, but was a really nice walk after all that food. I met a lot of other people out walking along the way – I think everyone had the same idea to take advantage of the slightly cooler evening!

My original plan for Boxing Day was to go into total hibernation, having been way too social over the preceding few days, but seeing as I needed to replace my dead food processor, I decided to brave the Boxing Day sales, and went to Riccarton Mall. I managed to find a decent one for 50% off, so it was a successful expedition, but struggling through the crowds in the mall (especially carrying the large and heavy food processor box!) was not fun. By the time I got home I never wanted to see another person, so I’m afraid I wasn’t in the most social mood when Lytteltonwitch dropped round that afternoon. She’d come bearing fabric though, for a quilt she’s asked me to make for a friend of hers who’s having a baby (does this count as my first commission?), so I forgave her for interrupting my solitude :-) (and after all, I was the one who’d emailed her with a list of fabric requirements that morning, just in case she wanted to take advantage of Spotlight’s sale, so I couldn’t really complain when she did exactly what I’d suggested).

With a new quilt to work on, I of course immediately abandoned all the half-finished quilts piled up on my desk, and spent yesterday and today happily sewing. It’s quite a simple design, so by this afternoon I had a finished quilt top.

Most of the pieces cut out (I told you it was a simple design).

Laying out the blocks.

A couple of slightly more complicated blocks to add as a finishing touch.

The finished quilt top. Can you tell what it is yet? :-)

Lytteltonwitch’s friend is seriously into Lego, so she asked me to design something with a Lego theme.  I’m really pleased with how it turned out – I think it’s really effective for such a simple design.

I don’t want the quilting to detract from the solid colours of the blocks, so I’m planning to quilt it with invisible thread, which means the quilting part will have to wait until that arrives from the shop in the North Island I’ve ordered it from. The baby isn’t due until February, though, so I’ve got a bit of time.

So, that’s how I’ve spent the last week or so.  How was your Christmas?

Wisdom is overrated anyway

A week or so ago, I had a toothache.  On a Friday afternoon, of course, because things like toothaches never happen on a day when it’s easy to get a dentist’s appointment.  But I somehow managed to at least get in to see my normal dentist’s assistant.  Who, after a bit of poking and prodding, told me that not only did I have a cavity, as I expected, but that it was in one of my wisdom teeth, and therefore wasn’t going to be a quick filling-and-you’re-done sort of job.  And that there wasn’t really anything he could do on the spot (other than give me a prescription for antibiotics I can get filled if it starts hurting enough that I think it might be infected) but that I’d need to see the real dentist* to discuss what to do about it.

Luckily, the pain eased off again (it’s definitely still there, but it’s just a dull ache that I can pretty much ignore most of the time, and so far have only had to take pain killers for once – did I ever mention my high pain tolerance?), because it was a week before I could get an appointment for the consultation with the proper dentist, and, because I’m going to be away at a conference, I won’t be able to get the actual work done until the end of the month.

And yes, the bad news is I have to get that wisdom tooth out.  And he strongly advised I get the other two** out at the same time.

The good news is, it isn’t going to be quite as expensive as I’d been dreading (it’s always scary when the first thing a dentist asks is “Do you have insurance?”***).  Thankfully, the whole thing, including a couple of minor fillings that hadn’t been bothering me, but which I decided he might as well take care of at the same time, should come in under $1000.  So not cheap, but it could be a lot worse.

And the other good news is that, unlike the last tooth I had out, which was just under local anaesthetic, I’ll be properly sedated this time round.  So hopefully that means I won’t even notice the horrible graunching noises of tooth against bone which are almost worst than the actual pain part.

Still not looking forward to it, though.

*Not that the assistant isn’t a real dentist – according to his card, he has a BDS, and he must be a proper dentist if he can issue prescriptions – but the other dentist, who I think runs the practice, is the one who does all the complicated stuff.

**I had one out many years ago when I lived in London.  The others hadn’t come up yet at that time, so I didn’t bother getting them out at the same time.  In hindsight, I really should have while I was covered by the NHS!

***To explain for the foreigners, although we have free(ish) public health care in New Zealand, that doesn’t apply to dental work.  Some people do opt to take out health insurance (mainly because it allows them to skip the waiting lists in the public system), but in theory you shouldn’t have to… until you get a huge dental bill and then start regretting your choices.

And now, to counteract thoughts of pain, three happy things:

  1. Lytteltonwitch and I have booked our flights to Paris for next year’s Bookcrossing Convention!  It’s suddenly all very exciting and real.  We haven’t booked much else yet (just accommodation in Paris and Bordeaux – we’re still working out the rest of the itinerary), but I’m spending way too much time poring over maps of France (and northern Spain), and practising my very rusty French (and only slightly less rusty Spanish), when I should be doing other things. Who cares, though – nous allons en France!
  2. New World were doing their “Little Gardens” promotion again last month, and I finally got round to starting off the three plants I got (I seemed to have bought very few groceries while the promotion was on, probably because I was away quite a bit). We had a bit of a heat wave last week, so they all burst into enthusiastic life very quickly, but have slowed down a bit now that the weather has returned to normal Christchurch spring-ness. I’m not convinced about the feasibility of growing either cucumbers or watermelons in a pot, especially not in this climate, but it’ll be fun seeing how far they get. And the thyme should at least grow ok, once the weather warms up again.
  3. The rapid approach of Christmas has given me the perfect excuse to break out a new project. Or technically, many smaller projects. I, as usual, have got way too ambitious with my plans for “quick” wee presents, but I’m having lots of fun making them (it may also have been a good excuse to buy a couple of Christmas-y charm packs that were on special at one of my favourite fabric shops…).And so, the production line begins:

    (and experimenting with all the possible colour combinations…)

    I did actually finish one of them off completely, because I wanted to include one in the parcel I send off for the Bookcrossing Ornament Exchange, and I’m running out of time to send it. I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out – I was playing some more with contrasting quilting textures, and using the patterns of the pieces to guide the quilting. I don’t think I’ll do the rounded corners on the rest of them though – they were way too fiddly to do the binding on.

    The quilting looks really good on the back, too (and for once, I actually remembered *before* I did the binding to add a label, and some little loops in case the recipient wants to hang it up instead of use it as a mat).

The big reveal

The mystery quilt has been handed over to its recipient, so now I can show it off here:

Given the subject matter, no prizes for guessing who it went to – Lytteltonwitch of course. When I saw the fabric (everything inside the inner purple border is a single panel of fabric) I knew I had to turn it into a quilt for her.  The big challenge was to finish it in time for Halloween, especially as I was running short of weekends in October (next weekend is the NZ/Aus Bookcrossing convention, and this weekend I was supposed to be spending most of on a couple of long walks as part of the Walking Festival, but the weather has reverted to winter again with heavy rain all weekend, so the walks got cancelled and I was left with a free weekend, which is really the only reason I managed to finish the quilt off yesterday).

The patchwork itself isn’t particularly complicated (the border is made of Courthouse Steps, with Log Cabins on the corners, which are both pretty simple blocks), but it’s the first time I’ve really done multiple borders (I don’t count the added-at-the-last-minute borders on the Flower Garden quilt, because I was very much making them up as I went along – this time I actually planned the borders in advance and worked out all the measurements so everything would fit).  In the process, I learnt that my quarter-inch foot doesn’t actually sew an exact quarter inch, although I don’t think it’s the foot at fault – I actually think my machine is slightly out of alignment.  It’s only out by about a millimetre, which isn’t a huge issue most of the time, but when you add all the millimetres in all those Courthouse Steps up, it was out by about an inch in the total length.  Which meant I had to trim the blocks next to the corners quite a bit to make them fit properly, so some of the “steps” are very narrow compared to those around them.  Luckily though it’s not really noticeable unless you know what you’re looking for, so it doesn’t spoil the quilt overall.  I’ll just have to keep the not-quarter-inch thing in mind next time I’m doing a quilt where the measurements are so crucial.

As I mentioned, I’m really proud of the quilting on this one, because I didn’t use an overall design, but quilted different sections differently so that certain parts would stand out more.  Most importantly, I stitched an outline around the skeleton, then (other than a few internal lines to keep the batting stable) left the skeleton itself unquilted, with dense quilting in the background (spiderwebs, of course :-) ), which makes the bones really stick out. It’s a bit hard to see in the photos, but in person it looks quite 3D.

I did something similar with the borders, using dense and sparse quilting to increase the contrast between the dark and light steps.  I also changed the thread colour between sections, again to keep the contrast nice and clear.

You can get a better idea of how I did the quilting by looking at the back of the quilt:

The difference to the final product between doing elaborate quilting like this and just doing an overall design is subtle, but I really like how it came out.  And, as always, I learnt a lot in the process.  Every quilt I make expands my repertoire of skills a little bit more.

Needless to say, Lytteltonwitch was very happy with her gift :-)

Oh, and the skeleton glows in the dark…

I went last night with Lytteltonwitch to see the film adaptation of Margaret Mahy’s The Changeover.  I’m not sure what I thought of the movie as a whole, because it was filmed in post-earthquake Christchurch, so (just like the first time I saw the Lord of the Rings movies), seeing so many familiar places on the big screen distracted me from the actual film (I think the same was true for most people in the audience – I kept hearing whispered comments from around the theatre of “Hey, that’s…”).  I’ll probably have to see it again to judge it properly.  But a few (spoiler-free) initial thoughts:

  • Timothy Spall was really good.  A bit too good, really – he made the local actors look slightly amateurish.
  • Setting it in Christchurch (or, at least, filming it in Christchurch – I don’t think they actually say in the film that it’s Christchurch, but they mention the city being destroyed by earthquakes, so there’s not really any other western city it can be) was, I think, a good choice – the empty residential red zone provides a suitably eerie backdrop to the story.  I wonder though how audiences outside of Christchurch (and particularly, outside NZ) will respond – what’s become normal to us (an antique shop in a shipping container, half-demolished buildings left abandoned, streets with the outlines of gardens but no houses, and in particular, parts of the city being so incredibly normal when everything around them is damaged) be so weird as to be incomprehensible to outsiders?  How will outsiders read things like cordon fences and flooded streets, which have so much extra meaning to Christchurch people?
  • I haven’t read the book (yeah, I know, but it’s one of her later books, so I missed out on reading it as a kid, and she wrote so many I haven’t caught up with all of them as an adult), so I don’t know if it’s meant to be this way, or if something was lost in translation from book to film, but there were a few moments where I got really confused about what was going on – it felt like there were plot points that had been skipped over or something.
  • (Just to harp on about the landscape a bit more…)  As films always do, they took a lot of  artistic licence with the geography of the city – there’s scenes where characters walk from what looks like Bexley to the CBD in a few minutes (it’s about 10 km in reality), and buildings that are far apart (in time as well as space – in one scene a couple of the characters are on a balcony looking across the city.  Right below them is a building under construction – except I know that when that building was at that stage of construction, the building they’re supposed to be in (which they definitely weren’t in, because it was earthquake-damaged so would be too dangerous, and it’s on the other side of town anyway) had already been demolished…).  None of this detracts from the film though (unless you know Christchurch well, of course, when it’s a bit distracting – again, I heard a few whispered comments in the audience of “How did they get there so fast?”).  It mostly just amused me, seeing how they’d warped the city to fit the needs of the plot or atmosphere (or just logistics – there’s one scene that shows an ambulance travelling along Hagley Avenue towards Christchurch Hospital, but when it arrives, it’s at Princess Margaret (an old, mostly abandoned, hospital on the edge of town) – obviously they couldn’t film at the real hospital because it would be too disruptive).

So yeah, I need to see it again (and probably read the book) to really decide whether or not I liked it.  If any of you (especially the foreigners) get to see it, I’ll be really interested to hear your thoughts.

There’s pretty pictures at the end

Number one thing: I want to know whose decision it was to schedule the election for the same weekend that daylight savings starts?  Have they no sympathy for those of us who stay up half the night to watch the results, and then get an hour less to sleep in the morning?  This is nothing but cruelty.  If I make it through the day without falling asleep at my desk, I’ll be amazed.  (And I don’t even drink coffee, so I can’t go for the traditional solution :-( )

So yeah, the election.  Not quite the result anyone could have wished for (well, maybe with the exception of Winston Peters, who must be loving being back in such a position of power, having the whole country once again waiting for him to decide which coalition he’ll join). I got invited to the Greens’ Ilam gathering to watch the results on Saturday night (because I’d been a scrutineer for them again) – it was a pretty subdued evening, of course, but interesting discussing the results with people who know a bit more about the behind the scenes stuff.

(For those of you not in NZ, the short(ish) version of the election results is that neither major party won enough votes to form a government either on its own or with its obvious coalition partners, but NZ First, one of the minor parties, has just enough seats to push either side over the line.  But NZ First’s leader, Winston Peters, is a bit of a volatile character, so is as likely to make the decision based on who he feels has personally insulted him as on such unimportant things as policies or ideology. And last time he was in this position, in 1996, he took great pleasure in stringing everyone along for weeks while the two major parties grovelled to him.  Which means we’re probably in for more of the same this time round, while the country waits impatiently to find out who the government will be.)

Last week was a busy one. Lots of political stuff, of course, but plenty of other things as well. I took Monday morning off to be a support person at a mediation hearing for a friend who has been battling ACC (she asked me because she knew I’d been to mediation meetings when I was involved in the union, although they were quite different, being through the employment court, and with a lot more lawyers involved). I can’t go into any details about the hearing itself, because it is of course all confidential, but it was an interesting process. My role was mostly just to take notes and ask for clarification occasionally (the details of the case were very complex, and even the mediator was getting confused at times!), but my friend said she really appreciated having me there, because I could stay clear-headed and make sense of what the ACC person was saying, which she was feeling too stressed to do on her own.

There were of course a lot of politicians visiting campus last week. I didn’t have time to go and listen to all of them speak, but I did get to hear Metiria Turei talk at an event organised by the Māori Students’ Association. She was really inspiring, and seemed pretty genuine for a politician – a pity that the whole benefit fraud scandal has destroyed her political career. She spoke really openly about the scandal and her choice to go public, and said she doesn’t regret it, because it at least opened up a discussion about how we look after the most vulnerable people in our society. I can’t condemn her for her choices (either the fraud itself or in going public), but I also can’t help wishing it hadn’t damaged the Greens so badly.

On Friday I went to an apolitical (but also very political – maybe just not party political) presentation from Gen Zero about the Zero Carbon Act (NZers, if you haven’t signed the petition already, why not?). Another really inspiring talk, and great to see Gen Zero taking change into their own hands, rather than waiting on the government to get round to it (which could be a long time, depending on which way the coalition discussions go…). It was great to have a chance to catch up with Rosalee, too – she’s been doing amazing things by the sound of it, touring the Zero Carbon Act around the country.

But I did get to do some fun stuff during the week as well – I finally made it back to the craft group meetup on Thursday night (for various reasons I’ve missed the last few weeks), and then on Friday night I went round to Dana’s place to watch an anime series with her and a few other friends. I haven’t watched a lot of anime, so it took me a couple of episodes to get used to the narrative style, but once I did it was quite entertaining. We only got about a quarter of the way through the series, so I think we’ll be continuing the viewing next week.

Then on Saturday I managed to squeeze in a Bookcrossing meetup between scrutineering and going to the Greens’ event in the evening, and then I spent yesterday afternoon at the Len Lye exhibition at the Art Gallery with Harvestbird and her children. The miniest-Harvestbird had been to see the exhibition with her class, so she was very proud to be able to show us around, and tell us how the sculptures moved.

So yeah, a pretty busy week! No wonder I didn’t have time to post anything before now.

Finally, to update last weekend’s happy things:

The flowering cherry is fully in bloom, and looking amazing (ignore the state of the lawn – it rained all week, and once the sun finally came out for long enough to start drying it out, mini-Gwilk was away for the weekend so couldn’t do any mowing for me):

The apple blossom is starting to come out too:

I found the perfect frame for Yetzirah’s painting (it’s made out of recycled fence posts, which seemed apt), and hung it next to one of her very early efforts. The difference between the two is amazing when you see them like that – I hope you’re feeling suitably proud of how far you’ve progressed, Yetzirah!

And I managed to squeeze in a little sewing time, so my secret project quilt is starting to come together. You’ll have to wait until the big reveal to see the whole thing, but in the meantime, a sneak peak at a couple of the component blocks (yes, of course some cat fabric snuck in there, what else did you expect!):

And we’re back!

DD was down for a couple of weeks, and it’s amazing how much the urge to blog strikes when you don’t have a platform!  Of course, now that it’s back, I can’t remember any of the stuff I wanted to write about, so I’ll have to content myself with pretty pictures of crafty things I got up to over the past couple of weekends.

First of all, I finished the banner of birds for the back of my Birds in Flight quilt!

Now I just need to add the rest of the backing, and then figure out how I’m going to quilt it…

In the meantime, I ignored all the other half-finished projects piled in the corner, and started something new. This one was a pretty quick project – I managed to sew the (lap-sized) top over the space of a couple of days.

The technique is called “disappearing nine-patch”. It starts with a “layer cake” of 10-inch squares (this is not strictly true, it could actually be made out of any fabrics, but the layer cake was one of the ones I’d bought on sale and wanted an excuse to use, and it happened to have exactly the right proportion of light to dark fabrics).

The fabrics sorted (approximately) by colour (to try and keep the distribution reasonably even) and cut into 5-inch squares:

And then arranged into sets of 9, alternating dark and light:

And sewn into nine-patches:

So far, so boring. But then, you cut the nine-patch into quarters, and get much more interesting blocks as a result:

Which can be put together in all sorts of interesting ways, but the one that most inspired me was matching the small corner squares to give the illusion of a third large square hiding behind each pair of bigger squares:

This was as far as I got the first weekend. It sat on my design wall for the rest of the week, and every time I went into the study I’d tweak the blocks a bit more, trying to move them around so the colours were well distributed, and there weren’t too many identical fabrics in close proximity. Finally last weekend I got it to a point I was reasonably happy with, and finished sewing the top together:

I’m quite pleased with how it’s looking. The fabric line is called “Holly Wishes”, so presumably it’s intended to be Christmassy, but it feels more like autumn to me (in person, it’s a little bit less yellow than in the photo – I took that late in the afternoon on a grey and rainy day, so it’s half artificial light). It was a really quick fun technique too – I might have to experiment with doing it again with other fabrics (I’ll add it to my very long list of quilt ideas I’m going to try one day…)

Of course, now I have to quilt it… or just add it to that growing pile of half-finished projects…