Home again (even if I never mentioned I was gone)

Yet again, a long gap between blog posts, mostly because life has been even busier than usual for the past couple of months. Work has been full of big pushes to meet deadlines, and outside of work has been full of social stuff and the usual degree of over-committing myself.

And I spent the weekend in Hobart.  At the BC-AUS Uncon.  Totally amazing weekend, which I will eventually post some videos about, but at the moment all of the raw footage is on my laptop, and my laptop has run out of batteries, and the charger is somewhere between here and Melbourne, because my luggage got lost when I changed flights.  (Well, technically it’s not lost, because AirNZ reckon they know exactly where it is, it’s just a matter of getting it put on a plane to Christchurch… eventually…)

I arrived home on Monday night – or actually, Tuesday morning, because we landed just after midnight, and then I had to hang around baggage claim waiting for my bag to appear, and then hanging around even longer while the lost luggage guy tried to find it on his computer, and then filling out all the paperwork, and then I still had to go through biosecurity and customs and get grilled for even longer than usual about the contents of my non-existent bag, so that they know what to search for when (if?) it does turn up… so it was after 2 am by the time I got home.  Luckily I’d booked annual leave for Tuesday as well…

Except I didn’t get much of a sleep in on Tuesday, because in a fit of enthusiasm a few weeks ago I’d booked to do a class on rag rug making run by an Australian artist who is trying to revive the craft as an art-form.

Despite being tired, it was a really fun class, and (even though, as usual, I was over-ambitious with the size of project I took on) I made a fair bit of progress on a rug:

That’s not the final texture – once I’ve finished hooking in the strips of fabric they need to be trimmed back to make it more carpet-like (although in theory, you can leave them untrimmed – it just gives the final carpet a different sort of texture.  I think with the design I have in mind it will work better trimmed, though).

So, yet another project to add to the works in progress pile…

And talking of works in progress, I did manage to finish one of the two quilts I’m working on for Harvestbird’s children.  This first one, for Harmony, I’m calling “Harmony’s Flying Foxes” (because somehow the flying geese blocks got renamed to flying fox blocks in the process of designing the layout).  I’m really pleased with how it turned out:

The other one, for Millie, is still sitting on my sewing machine half quilted.  Hopefully sometime over the next few weeks I’ll find time to finish it… though I’m going to another craft workshop this weekend, then I’m off to Wellington for a conference next week, and then, and then… yeah, life is busy.

If you haven’t seen it already, here’s part 2 of the video of making the quilts:

And here’s the other videos I’ve posted since my last blog post (which was over two months ago, I’ve just realised!):

A Word Festival trip to Kaikoura to go whale watching:

Lots of random stuff, half of which I think I wrote about in my last blog post:

Walking the Avon Ōtākaro River during the Walking Festival (there have been many festivals lately!):

Even more random stuff:

Update: I’ve just had a call from AirNZ to say my bag is in Christchurch, and they’ll drop it off to me this afternoon. So more videos to come soon!

It’s been a while

Usual excuses – too busy doing stuff to write about it (though I did make a few more videos, which may have contributed to the lack of blog posts – videos are fun to make, but incredibly time-consuming to edit, and by the time I’ve sat at the computer for long enough to do that, I don’t feel like blogging…)

I can’t remember everything I’ve been doing since I last posted, so a few highlights:

Last weekend I went with Pieta to a craft workshop run by Rekindle, where we learnt to weave baskets from cabbage tree leaves.  It was a lot of fun, and I was pretty pleased with how my basket turned out for a first try.

They’re holding the Rekindle workshops in the Arts Centre now, instead of out in Ferrymead, which makes them a lot easier to get to, so hopefully I’ll be able to do some more.

In other craft news, I haven’t given up on my Block of the Whenever quilt, but I did set it aside for a while so I could play with some other ideas.  Most notably, learning to do partial seams (while also videoing the process, which mainly taught me that my craft room is not big enough to be a studio!) to make a herringbone-patterned cushion (actually, the bit of that cushion I’m most proud of is the quilting – I tried to emulate Angela Walters‘s “improv quilting” technique, with lots of feathers and swirls, and it turned out incredibly well.

There’s also been some D&D (both in the form of returning to Gwilk’s game, as well as being invited to join another game (made up of pretty much the same people as Gwilk’s game, but with different characters, which could be challenging), as well as going to another Dungeons and Comedians show the other night), and board games, and meeting all sorts of new and interesting people, and going to talks and dinners and even to watch a band (who weren’t that great, but the people I was with were fun, so that made it worth going).  And generally being excessively social (well, excessively social for me, anyway :-) ).  Oh, and being incredibly busy at work and learning all sorts of new skills that take me well outside my comfort zone, but that’s preferable to being bored!

I really must remember to post more frequently, so I don’t forget half the stuff I’ve done before I get a chance to write about it…

You’re not going to believe this…

…but I’ve actually finished the Birds in Flight quilt!  I made the binding for it last weekend, and then took advantage of the fact that I have a cold and it was raining yesterday to spend the day doing as little as possible other than sitting watching videos while hand-stitching the binding down (yes, I’m a glutton for punishment, but it looks so much better when it’s hand sewn compared to just top-stitching it).

And here’s the result (with bonus Parsnips in the background – I didn’t notice her there while I was taking the photos):

Other than the fact that I really should have added an extra strip of background fabric around the edges so that the birds aren’t so close to the binding, I’m really happy with how it turned out. I had a few doubts about my choice to use a scrappy binding while I was sewing it on, but now that I see it as a whole I like it again. And I’m really pleased with how the quilting looks, especially the contrast between the background and the birds.


(The duck is definitely my favourite bird on the quilt – I’m not normally a fan of orange, but something about the way the different fabrics combined just works here)

I love the way the quilting around the birds makes them show up on the back, too:

And talking of the back, here’s the full effect of the rainbow stripe (which, yes, is a bit askew. It wasn’t supposed to be, and I thought I’d lined everything up correctly when I basted the quilt, but obviously not…)

Other than the slight slant, the back turned out exactly as I’d hoped. In fact, I think I almost like it more than the front.

Just as I was finishing taking the photos, the sun finally came out, so here’s a couple of shots to show off how bright those colours look:

Not bad for three year’s and two month’s work (I checked, and I started it in January 2015).

And finally, just for the pretty, an artistic-type shot of the back:

Super social

Most important thing:  I finished the Lego quilt last weekend, and Lytteltonwitch delivered it to her friend, who apparently loved it.  I was pretty pleased with the finished product too:

The invisible thread, even though it was a bit of a pain to work with, worked out really well, giving texture to the blocks without standing out too much, which is what I wanted. And I really liked how the quilting in the border turned out.

It’s backed with some amazing Buzzy Bee fabric that Lytteltonwitch found, which goes really well with the colours and theme of the quilt. And I gave it a scrappy binding made from the left-overs of the block fabrics.

So, my first commissioned quilt successfully accomplished. Apparently my payment is going to be in the form of dinner at the Noodle Markets tomorrow night – seems like a fair trade to me :-)


I meant to post the pictures of the finished quilt sooner, but I’ve been incredibly busy – mostly at work, where we’re very close to launching another big project (I can tell you about it next week :-) ), which we’ve been working on for the last year or so, and which has been taking up the majority of my time for the last month (to the extent that I ended up working on Waitangi Day, just to meet a critical deadline).  I’ve been busy socially, too:  I’ve already been out three nights this week, plus I’m out tonight and tomorrow night as well – this must be some sort of record for me!

Tuesday night was Toastmasters, and I decided that would be my last meeting.  The club president had said something in his closing remarks a couple of weeks ago encouraging us to reflect on our aims for the year, and I realised I don’t actually have any Toastmasters-related aims.  I joined the club with the aims of improving my confidence, and to not be so nervous when I had to give presentations at work, and I have definitely achieved both of those things – I’ve spoken at conferences, and run meetings, and all sorts of things I couldn’t have imagined doing a few years ago.  And I’m not really interested in the competitive side of Toastmasters, or in learning to become a motivational speaker or anything like that – I’m good enough at public speaking for the kinds of public speaking I need to do, so I don’t feel greatly inspired to learn more.  Which means the only reason I was still going along to Toastmasters is for the social side, and I haven’t even been getting as much of that out of the club lately – a few of the people I used to get on with really well have left, and while new people have come along to replace them, it hasn’t really been the same (plus, as in any club, there’s one or two people who are annoying, and without the buffer of lots of people I do like, it’s harder to tolerate them).  Anyway, as this week is proving, I’m not exactly short of social activities!  So, as Tuesday was scheduled to be a short meeting followed by drinks, I decided to make that my last meeting, so I could go out with everyone for a drink afterwards and say goodbye.

Wednesday was a much more fun outing.  Jacq invited me to go to a recording of a podcast (The Nerd Degree) which their partner is sometimes in the cast for (though not for this episode).  It’s a brilliantly funny podcast, and even better in person (it was fun putting faces to the voices I’d been listening to online, plus you get to see all the facial expressions and other visual stuff that doesn’t translate to audio).  It’s recorded in a small studio in Ferrymead that’s just big enough to have a small audience (I think there were maybe 20 people there), so we were encouraged to make as much noise as possible with our applause so that it would seem like a bigger audience.  There was no problem with not making enough noise when it came to laughing – everyone was killing themselves with laughter!  They’ve got a small bar at the venue, plus you can order pizza to be delivered from Winne Bagoes, so we shared a couple of pizzas for dinner during the interval.  A great night all round (though very hard to wake up in time for work the next morning!)

Then last night I went round to Dana’s place to watch anime with her and her friends.  We’ve been watching a series called Inuyasha, and I can never remember the names of the characters, so I started calling them things like “Dog boy” (a lot of the characters are demons, so they look half human and half animal), “High school girl”, “Little fox boy” and so on.  Dana picked up on this, and now she sends me messages asking if I want to come round and watch Dog Boy with them :-)  It’s technically a children’s series, but it’s very entertaining, especially because we’re watching it in Japanese (with subtitles, of course!), so you get all those over-the-top anime voices.

I was actually double-booked for tonight, socially, because I’d invited Dan and his partner round for dinner, and then the Gwilks invited me over for a games evening.  But it turned out that Dan had to cancel, so it all worked out nicely, and now I’m going round to the Gwilks’ this evening (actually, I should really go and get myself some dinner, or I’ll be late – might have to finish this post off in another post tomorrow…)

Building blocks

I still haven’t got round to buying more of the blue thread I’m using for the Birds in Flight quilt, so in the meantime I’ve been working on the Lego quilt.  This time I’m quilting it much more loosely (to keep the quilt nice and soft, seeing as it’s intended for a baby), so it’s been going much faster.  There’s only a bit of the border area left to go:

I’ve been using a monofilament thread to quilt it, which has been… challenging (especially because I only just noticed the bit on that page where they recommend not using it in the bobbin… which I have been… oh well, it seemed to work ok anyway).  It sews great once you get going, but the thread is so fine and almost invisible (which is the whole point) that anything that requires cutting the thread and restarting (which means having to tie off the loose threads and threading them into a hand-sewing needle to bury them inside the quilt so they won’t work loose) is very hard work – just seeing the thread well enough to be able to tie a knot in it is hard enough, but threading a needle was almost impossible!  I did a lot of back-tracking over previously sewn lines to get to new areas of the quilt just so I could avoid ever breaking the thread!

The invisible quilting does look nice though, especially on a quilt like this where whatever thread colour I’d chosen would have stood out too much.  But I don’t think I’ll be using it on a regular basis – it’s just too difficult.

As you can probably see in the wee sample in the photo above, I used the different “bricks” of the Lego to experiment with different quilting patterns (inspired by Angela Walters’s Shape by Shape book, which is a seriously useful resource – although I don’t think I actually ended up using any of her patterns exactly as she has them in the book, they’re a great leaping-off point).  I’d originally planned to just pick a single design and use it in all the blocks, but I couldn’t find one I liked enough to repeat that many times, so I decided to use a few different ones.  In the end I think I managed to have no two exactly alike across the entire quilt (though some of the variations are pretty minor).  There’s a few bricks that didn’t turn out quite as well as I’d like, and one or two places I might have been tempted to unpick and redo if that wouldn’t have been so hard with the monofilament.  I suppose that’s one way to learn not to be such a perfectionist – make it too hard to unpick mistakes!  Hopefully none of the mistakes are too obvious – I keep telling myself that nobody knows what pattern I was aiming for, so they won’t know that I got it wrong :-)

Slow progress

Four spools of thread gone on the Birds in Flight quilt (and they’re 500m spools, so that means there’s 2 km of quilting in this quilt already!), and still a few areas haven’t been quilted.  I thought four spools would be total overkill, but I ended up quilting pretty densely, which uses up a lot of thread (and takes forever – next quilt I’m doing with a really loose quilting design!).  So I’ve run out of thread, and finishing off the quilting on it will have to wait until I can go and buy some more of that colour thread.

Hopefully it’ll be worth it once it’s finished though. It’s hard to get a real idea of what it’s going to be like when it’s all piled up on the machine and you can’t see the full effect, but I think it’s going to look really cool.


Talking of four, there was a wee earthquake last night in the small hours – only a 4.0, but it’s a sign of how long it’s been since we’ve had any decent aftershocks that it actually woke me up fully enough that it took me a while to get back to sleep.  I remember the days when I wouldn’t wake up for anything less than a 5.0 (and no thank you, I really don’t want those days to be back again!!)


Cicada season has begun, which means that (a) sitting out in the garden can get quite deafening, and (b) Parsnips keeps catching them and bringing them inside.  Being woken by a cicada loudly protesting at being pestered by a cat is almost as disturbing as being woken by an earthquake.  They also have a tendency to escape from her and end up in hard to reach places like behind the fridge.  I can report that fridges have absolutely no muffling effect on the sound of a cicada.

My finger is famous

Damp day again – I think January swapped its weather with December, so instead of the heatwave we’d normally be getting now, we’re getting rain and general “are you sure it’s summer?” weather. Oh well, at least it’s damped down the fire risk (literally), and I’m sure the farmers are happy.  It would be nice if we could find a happy medium between “stinking hot” and “cold and miserable” though…


Went back to work on Monday, and had hardly finished clearing my emails when a colleague dropped into the office to tell me that a TV news crew would be visiting the university to look at the Canterbury Roll (because we’ve got a scientific team visiting from the UK to do image analysis on it), and they might want to interview me about the digital edition.  Which meant I had to quickly dash home and get changed, because every day is casual Friday in the Lab over the summer, when we don’t have any students in, so I was wearing my usual jeans and a t-shirt, and thought I should probably try and be a bit more professional looking if I was going to be representing the Lab on TV.

I made it back to campus just in time to meet the UK team and help set up the room they’ve been working in so that it would look suitably “sciencey” for the cameras (and ever so subtly make sure that the banners advertising the various departments involved would be seen in the background :-) ).  When the reporter and camera operator arrived, we were all introduced, and it was pretty obvious that the reporter was only interested in the Game of Thrones angle that most of the newspapers have picked up on (the connection is pretty tenuous – the Roll was written during the War of the Roses, and Game of Thrones is loosely based on the War of the Roses – but of course the media love talking about it.  The Daily Mail even somehow twisted it into meaning that our Roll directly inspired Game of Thrones (and that’s not the biggest thing they got wrong in that article…)), and had absolutely no interest in the digital edition.  But I still had to hang around just in case, so I spent the next couple of hours standing around and occasionally being an extra body the camera person could instruct to point at things on the Roll while he was filming.  It meant I did end up in the background of a lot of the shots they used in the news item (not on purpose, I swear – it just seemed like wherever in the room I stood, the camera would end up pointed in my direction!) and my finger featured prominently in the teaser they used for the segment, but I didn’t get to actually talk about the important part of the story from the Lab’s point of view, how the digital edition is opening up a previously hidden document to the entire world, and using technology that’s never before been applied to historical documents.

Oh well, it was interesting watching the camera operator work, anyway – as well as the normal big news camera, he was using a little Go-Pro for some of the shots, especially the panning shots along the length of the Roll.  And it was really interesting chatting to the scientists about what they’re doing, and seeing some of their preliminary results – they’re basically photographing the Roll using different wavelengths of light (from UV to infrared), and using the colour profiles that gives them to identify what materials the pigments were made from.  Some of the colours also turn out to be transparent at certain wavelengths, so they can see what’s underneath (which is really important for our Roll, where there are all sorts of erasures and additions by later scribes, depending on whether they supported the Lancastrians or the Yorkists).

Then yesterday I got an even better chance to find out what the scientists are doing, because we had a day-long symposium to discuss the next phase of the Canterbury Roll project, so all the different teams that have been working on it presented the work they’ve done so far.  And this time the Lab’s work was well represented, because I talked about how the digital edition works, one of our directors explained its theoretical importance, and a couple of students who’ve been working with me on the next phase of the mark-up explained what they’ve been doing.  Presenting to a small academic audience isn’t quite as good exposure as being on the news, of course, but it’s more important that our academic colleagues know what we’re doing anyway.


Otherwise, this week has just been settling back into work.  I haven’t managed to finish the quilting on the Birds in Flight quilt yet, but seeing as the weather is so horrible, I might settle down with a podcast and get some sewing done this afternoon….

It’s a bit damp out there

Compared to how much my throat was hurting on Tuesday, I feel almost back to normal – antibiotics are truly magical things. My throat’s still a wee bit scratchy, but at least it doesn’t feel swollen any more, and it isn’t agony to swallow.  I haven’t even felt the need for any medicinal icecream today, which has got to be a good sign.

Actually, the not feeling like icecream thing might have more to do with the weather – it’s been bucketing down with rain all day, and generally pretty miserable.  Parsnips has not been impressed.  She keeps standing by the cat flap and crying whenever I walk past – I’ve never managed to convince her that I don’t actually have any control over the weather…


The view from the window. As always, the drain across the street has blocked and flooded half the road.  I’m really glad I didn’t have to catch a bus anywhere today!

Not having any great incentive to leave the house, I spent most of the day working on my quilt, and made a lot of progress.  It’s always hard to judge exactly how far there is to go while it’s still on the machine, but I reckon I’m about three quarters of the way.  If this weather keeps up, I may well get the quilting finished by the end of the weekend!

Slowly falling apart… with childhood illnesses?

Because bodies are evil, and know when you’re on holiday, mine has decided to get sick this week, with strep throat of all things.  I’ve never had it before, but was under the impression it’s something that only kids get.  But no, apparently adults can get it too, and I have it.

Luckily it’s not too bad – very sore, and I feel like I’ve got a lump stuck in my throat, but otherwise I’m not feeling unwell other than a little tired (which I’d just attributed to too many late nights recently).  I went and saw the doctor today, and she prescribed me some painkillers and antibiotics, and told me the best treatment was to rest and eat icecream (I reckon that’s the best advice I’ve ever had from a doctor!  Hmm, I wonder if I should keep eating the icecream even after the infection is gone, just as a preventative measure? I think that sounds like a good idea :-) )

Other than getting a sore throat, I’ve been having a very lazy couple of days, slowly working my way through quilting all those birds (I think I’m about a quarter of the way through it), and sitting in the garden with a book, trying not to forget to move into the shade so I don’t get even more sunburnt.  I did have a few visitors yesterday – Stepmother is in town visiting her daughter, so they came round in the morning to drop off a couple of tubs of cherries.  Stepsister also invited me to go and visit a friend of hers in the evening, who is selling off most of her fabric stash in an attempt to declutter.  In the end we didn’t go, because Stepsister wasn’t feeling well enough, but that was probably a good thing – I really don’t need any more fabric, do I?  (Trick question, of course I do!  But having the temptation removed was probably a good idea.)

Then in the afternoon, Ade popped round to steal some lemons off my tree.  It was good to catch up with her, because they’re moving up to Auckland in a few weeks, so I won’t see much more of her.

Right, I’m off to follow the doctor’s orders and have some icecream :-)

Back to the birds

Hey, remember this quilt?

Yep, that one I started ages ago (ok, I just checked, and the quilt-along started in January 2015, so pretty close to three years ago!), which I finished the top for, and then never got round to quilting, because semester started and I was too busy, and then Tartankiwi released three extra birds, which I wanted to incorporate into the back but couldn’t decide how, and then I thought I should probably get a bit better at free-motion quilting before I attempted it, and I couldn’t decide how I wanted to quilt it anyway, and then I was just totally intimidated by its size and by how long it had been sitting there waiting so I felt like when I did quilt it, it would have to be perfect, and then I kept getting distracted by shiny new projects (ok, so that’s been happening pretty much all the way through all the other stages as well), and finally yesterday I told myself it was time to bite the bullet and get it done.

So I spent the afternoon yesterday sewing the backing together, and ironing the top (because apparently if you leave a quilt top folded up in the bottom of your half-finished projects pile for a year or two, it gets a bit wrinkly – who knew?), and then this morning, after I’d scrubbed the kitchen table (and the kitchen floor, because have you seen the size of that quilt?  There was no way I was going to be able to baste it without some of it falling onto the floor at some point.), I finally got it basted, and started the quilting!

Did I mention this is a very large quilt?  And incredibly heavy?  I am going to have very well developed shoulder muscles by the time it’s finished – moving it around on the machine is a real workout (I am so thankful for my nice new sewing table – quilting it on my old setup would have been impossible).  But I’m pleased with how the quilting is turning out so far – it’s definitely not perfect (the other problem with it being so hard to move is that it’s difficult to keep the motion nice and smooth, so some of my swirls (the swirly patterns are supposed to be air currents or something – it makes sense to me, anyway) are pretty wobbly in places), but hopefully the effect as a whole will make up for the occasional oddity.

Don’t hold your breath for this to be finished soon though – there’s a lot of quilt to cover, and many many hours of work still to be done (and also, much as I enjoy quilting, I don’t really want to spend my entire break in my sewing room, when the sun is shining outside (well, it was earlier – it’s clouded over again now…)).