31 August 2014

Learning to be creative

I had lots of lovely comments about my Evolution of a Quilt post, particularly about the creativity involved. I believe we too often get caught up in the 'rules' of our art. The rules often have a well-meaning background - cotton for quilting because it doesn't stretch etc, but too often we buy into them so thoroughly as to stifle our individual creativity.
Folk Welcome, from Evolution of  Quilt

I quilt because it's a creative expression that appeals to me. It's a way, that works for me, to show my appreciation of individuals and to make something truly personal. Lots of my creative efforts over the years have come to naught, but just because one idea doesn't work out, isn't a reason to give it all away.

I choose to never even consider showing my quilts in a formal setting because because I don't want the 'quilt police' picking holes in my creativity or technique.

I was exposed to the possibilities of ignoring the rules years ago when a quilter showed me her 'inside out' quilt. It wasn't a raggedy quilt such as is common today. She'd simply sewn the top's patches together the wrong way, so the seams were on the outside. I'm not sure a lot of the ladies in the group thought it was 'kosher', but for me it was a mind-expanding moment.

I started to really feel some freedom in my creativity when I joined an online abstract quilters' group. Every month a word was chosen and everyone made an 8 inch square 'quiltlet' to represent that word. One month would a tangible object (sea, food, child), the next month would an intangible object (spirit, love, depression). I didn't regularly complete the challenge piece. I think I was studying and working at the time; and I wondered what I would do with all these 8 inch squares. I did draw a lot of them, developing concepts. And I loved seeing all the different ideas others had come up, using techniques I'd never heard of, or using ones I had heard of in totally different ways.

Later I started quilting sermons. I followed the same principle of an 8 inch square. I would sit in church with my artist sketch pad and draw images that came to mind. I'm sure some frowned on my endeavours (another example of people judging creativity). I think I made up 8 or 9 of the ideas. I can still tell you, five or six years later, what those sermons were. How many people remember last Sunday's sermon, let alone ones from years ago?

I had a lot of fun with these small quilts. I used different fabrics: velvets, satins, plastics. I used embellishments: chain, beads, rocks. I pieced, I appliqued.

Crossing the River Jordan into the Promised Land (2006)
I've just started reading a book called, "The Artist's Way: A spiritual path to higher creativity", which I'm hoping will help me take further steps in developing my creativity, rather than merely mimicking the creativity of others.
Julia Cameron's book (available from her website)

My encouragement to everyone and anyone is just do it. If being self-creativity is scary, take baby steps. If you always religiously follow a pattern, choose a pattern you like, but make it in a completely different colour way. If you always do patchwork, make a small wall-hanging or cushion cover in applique. If you always use bought applique patterns, check kid's colouring-in books or stained glass pattern books and choose your own colours. If you always do needle-turn, try a raw edge (or vice-versa). Start small. Make placemats or cushions. If it doesn't work out it's not an entire quilt (unlike the Hidden Wells quilt I started, but ended up melting all the poly thread on :-( )

30 August 2014

Talking about Jane Austen in Baghdad (a book review)

Book Cover:  Talking About Jane Austen in Baghdad: The True Story of an Unlikely Friendship
I don't usually write book reviews. Left to my own devices I'll happily devour a book a day. I try hard to be disciplined about doing other stuff, so might take two days for most books. I picked up this book from the library yesterday and finished it today. That counts as two days in my book (haha).

This book is the exchange of emails between Bee and May. Bee is a British journalist, married with three young daughters, juggling all the activity of a busy Western city life. May is a Iraqi English professor living in Baghdad. Bee contacts May to conduct an interview in early 2005 for the BBC World Service.

They didn't write the emails with the plan of turning them into a book - they just wrote emails to each other, developing a friendship along the way. Both women are obviously articulate and trained in language and writing, but it's probably not the greatest writing to ever be printed.

What it is is a harrowing description of living in a war zone, of living in fear of your mortal life day in, day out; juxtaposed against the normalcy and downright luxury and opulence of Western living. May talks about her depression and fear, the mental strain of living with death threats and daily dangers. Bee counters with descriptions of her daughters' birthday parties and their holidays.

Although it's unlikely to win any awards for writing, I read until after midnight last night, and aside from a brief break to make lunch, read all day today, because I was so caught up in their lives, so wanting things to change, so anxious to know that things worked out for May.

If you want to understand why people, even wealthy and educated people, are seeking asylum from Iraq, Afghanistan and other hot-spots around the world, you need to read this book. If you're one of those who say, "They should wait in line; they should follow the correct processes; they should do x, y, z; before seeking asylum" you need to read this book. Read this book and begin to understand the daily lives of ordinary, every day people caught up in horrid out-workings of political messes not of their making.

29 August 2014

Evolution of a quilt

I rarely follow quilt patterns. When I do follow a pattern it's usually a rather loose interpretation. This post is about a quilt I designed and how I ended up with something very different to what I planned.

Folk Welcome

A quilty friend agreed to do some knitting for me. I kinda conned her into it, so I thought a thank you would be appropriate. The friend likes folk music, banjos in particular (or maybe it's banjo players, I'm not sure). I went a-Googling for banjo images.

Not sure why it came up when I Googled "banjos", but I found this amazing quilt by Jen Sorenson from A Quilting Jewel:
I thought maybe I could do the same thing with banjos. I found this photo by George Banjos that I really liked:

I thought maybe I could 'treat' it the same as the guitars - with the overlaps in different colours to the bodies. I realised though, that this photo has a couple of extra stems, and the banjo in the front ended up all different colours with no real definition of its own. I removed the front banjo, but finally I decided that banjos are actually quite boring. My drawings were all looking like upside down lolly-pops or balloons.
Sort a maybe, but maybe not

I changed tack and went looking for folk music photos. I found a photo of a guitar, violin and banjo that I really liked. It's a Shutterstock photo, so you can see it on their website.

To simplify the photo I printed it and traced the outlines that I wanted in Sharpie, scanned it, and worked with the clean copy.

My plan was to make a wall-hanging. I work in Excel because it has no page borders - you can make things as big as you like. My first print was four by four A4 pages. I thought maybe it was too big, so I printed it again at two by two. But after discussion with my daughter, we both decided it looked better bigger rather than smaller.

At this stage, the plan was still to possibly use the colour technique from the first quilt. But I really liked the instrument grouping as it was, and the 3D of the guitar, in particular, would make it difficult.

The next step was to decide what fabrics to use. Although I'd given up on the overlapping colours I still wanted 'unreal' colours. I knew I didn't have the right fabrics in my stash and I didn't want to buy any. I'm trying to be "good" with the family budget.

I do have lots of 2 inch squares. "Easy", I thought, "Just patchwork it." Ah, famous last words. It sounds really easy in concept, not so easy in reality. I traced each piece - so the top half of the violin (for example), laid my 2 inch squares over the tracing, then sewed them together in rows. Then added more squares. Every time you sew two 2 inch squares together you lose a 1/2 inch; every four squares you lose a square. Even though I overlapped the squares when I laid them out, I don't think I got a single piece right first go. Some bits, like the narrow rim of the banjo, were harder to piece than others.

After I had all the pieces sewn in squarish shapes, I retraced the shapes on Vlsiofix - remembering to reverse them (almost forgot a couple of times), ironed the Vlsiofix to the fabric shapes and cut them out. It was quite exciting to see it actually start to come together.
The hard bit done. Patchwork laid out over my original 'pattern'.

My original plan was to simply edge stitch the instruments to a fleece as a single layer 'quilt', but I started to worry that the fleece would stretch and buckle. When I found a piece of black cotton fabric in my stash almost the perfect size I decided to use that, and back the quilt with fleece.

I had always planned to add the name "Folk Welcome"; the other design elements came about because it needed some spaces to be 'filled'. The font is called "Candle", with some modifications.

I layered the quilt - fleece backing, cotton top, patchwork and applique, and top-stitched/quilted in one go. The stitching holding the instruments, letters and music is the quilting. I used a black thread and blanket-stitch to edge everything. The instrument strings are stitched (again, as quilting) in silver metallic thread, which behaved surprisingly well. For a little extra, I used wooden jacket toggles for the violin's tuning pegs. Originally the pegs were part of the patchwork, but I didn't like it.
Violin tuning pegs. Only just now thought that I should/could have continued the strings from the quilting to the pegs. DUH!
If you look carefully, you can just make out the 'strings'.

The binding is 6 inch strips. Must remember next time to iron the seams OPEN. I usually join my binding strips with a 45° angle. Obviously that's impractical on 6 inch strips, so the seams are four layers thick, and I ironed all the seams to one side - so they're actually 8 layers thick.

Of course, the quilt has a label.

21 August 2014

Right of Way

At some point in time, since I finished my last 'how to be a safe pedestrian' class in primary school and since I gained my drivers' licence in high school, the road rules appear to have been changed. It is becoming increasingly apparent to me that people think that pedestrians have right of way in all circumstances.

A couple of weeks ago I was slowly (thank goodness) working my way through a shopping centre car-park, when a man stepped out in front of me to cross the road. We were three car spaces from a marked pedestrian crossing, but it would seem he couldn't wait. Even though I came within mere inches of him, he never acknowledged me. I can only surmise that he'd spent some time in Asia, where I first learnt that to meet a driver's eyes is to grant them right of way. If you never look directly at the driver, you, as the pedestrian, have full immunity. (Although I'm not sure how well that goes down in court after you're hit.)

Last week I was driving down our back streets, taking the Teen to school. There were several groups of children - primary school aged children - walking to the various bus stops. They were walking down the middle of the road. The road doesn't have paved footpaths, it only has grassed verges. And I know, if it's let grow too long, the grass can be a bit wet and cold this time of year in the mornings - but I did expect them to move out of the path of my oncoming vehicle. But no. Apparently they believe they have right of way and I (and my car) are required to change lanes to go around them.

Tonight, driving home in the gloom of dusk, I spied movement on the road ahead of me. Two people, wearing dark clothes, were having a discussion (it seemed reasonably calm and normal - not a drunken brawl) in the middle of the street. Again, I expected them to move out of the path of my oncoming vehicle. Silly me. These two adults have apparently learnt the same road rules as the local primary school children.

Sadly, I suspect from other events going on around me, that this disregard for rules designed to protect people, is not limited to pedestrians and the roadways. I see a growing "I'll do it my way" movement, that has little or no consideration for anyone else. I just wonder what happens when they meet a driver with the same attitude?

12 August 2014

Grumpy Old Woman

When I was younger, I was the perfect sucker. If you sold me a lemon, I'd suck it, even if I'd actually asked for an orange. Even today, if a product is faulty, I prefer to coerce the hubby into returning it. But every now and then my inner grump is let loose. Usually it involves computers or technology. I've gotten very good at complaining to telecos.

Tonight it involved a tow truck. Parked across my driveway.

I left the house this morning at 9:45am to go to choir. I went straight from choir to a contract job. I left work at 6pm. I stopped at the shops for dinner (don't shoot me). As I waited at the intersection across the road from home, I noticed flashing lights. It appears there was an accident at the next intersection down. I realised that a tow truck was parked right across my driveway.

As you face the road from the house, my driveway is on the far right of our property. The driveway of neighbour to my left is on the far left of their block. (Remember if you don't drive on the left-hand side of the road, you have turn these things around in your head to make sense ;-) ) The accident was a further three houses down the road. There is nothing between my driveway and the neighbour's driveway. And the block next to our neighbour is vacant - as in no house, long grass, resident snakes. It doesn't even have a driveway.

I pulled in behind the tow truck and flashed my lights. No response. I honked my horn. No response. I got out of my car and walked around to the driver's door. No driver. He's wandered up the street to check out whether he can make money out of someone else's misfortune. And left his dirty great big truck in front of my driveway.

I was tempted to walk up to the accident and ask a police officer to fine the driver. It is, after all, an offence to block a driveway. But I decided the police were probably attending to more important issues than my grump.

Just as I finish writing a "polite" note to leave on the windscreen, I noticed the driver walking back to his truck. He's a little bigger than me, just by a fraction. And his truck was a little bigger than my car. I stowed my note. He didn't even notice me and my car behind his truck. Not a wave, not anything.

My grump, which had been temporarily quietened by our difference in size, roared into life again. I rang his company. I complained. I was polite, but I was obviously a grumpy old woman in full flight. I figure they have identifying number plates on their trucks for a reason. I hope Mr Tow16 from 131Tow learns to look for driveways. And I hope he's grateful I only reported him to his boss, and not the police.

Bagels and Bread

Yesterday The Man brought home bagels. Real, boiled bagels. If you've never had bagels, you won't understand the fuss. If you live somewhere where bagels are as common as bread, you won't understand the fuss.

I was introduced to bagels in Asia, and even though I love super soft (super bad for you) white bread, the chewiness of bagels really appeals to me. Unfortunately, for many places in Australia, bagel simply means "flatish bread roll with a hole in the middle". If you've ever eaten a bagel (or two or three) you'll know that just doesn't cut it.

So, when hubby said he'd found real bagels, would I like some, I said, "Yes, please." This morning I had a blueberry bagel with cream cheese for breakfast. Mmmmm.

And the best news is, even though the bagels were found at the Ekka (the city's huge annual show or fair), they come from a regular shop, meaning I can buy them locally all year round. Well, semi-locally. They're based on the other side of town, so it means a bit of a drive. Probably not a bad thing.

The shop is "The Bagel Boys".
The Bagel Boys
The bagels are available from a bunch of markets and shops in Stafford, Teneriffe, Paddington, the Valley and around that sort of area. The boys do plain, poppy seed, sesame seed, soy & linseed, onion, garlic, jalapeno, sunflower rye, everything, blueberry, and cinnamon & raisin flavours. I'm kind of hoping that "everything" does include a mix of garlic, onion, cinnamon and raisin ;-)

11 August 2014

ANZAC Girls and TV Ratings

We just started watching a new mini-series from the ABC, The ANZAC Girls. It's about the role of Australian Army nurses during the First World War. The first episode was ... I want to say enjoyable, but there was a lot of human suffering and 'enjoyable' seems inappropriate.

As an Australian you grow up with the ANZAC stories, legends and myths, but I don't know that I've ever really heard much about the nurses. There's been a few stories about Aussie nurses in Asia during the Second World War. This story has so far focused five nurses, two more so than the others. They are a diverse array of characters, which hopefully will become even more three dimensional as the series progresses.

M – not recommended for children under 15; may include moderate levels of violence, language or themes.
I would like the TV rating system to be revised. The episode was rated "M" (mature audience). We don't often watch M rated shows. Maybe I'm not mature enough, but I find them often too graphic. The M rating covers a range of issues, such as "violence", "adult themes", "nudity", "drug use", "strong language". I assume every channel is the same (we only watch ABC shows), at the beginning of the show when they tell you it's M rated, they also tell you the specific issues. I find the M rating is usually due to violence, or maybe that's just because I watch the who-done-its.

This show had a warning about violence. I didn't notice any violence. Being about war, I'd braced myself for scenes of the battle fields. But there were no scenes of the actual fighting. Not even any punch ups in the camps or cat fights between the nurses. However, there were plenty of scenes in hospital rooms of horribly mutilated bodies. Bayonets are nasty business, even before you add bombs and bullets. And there was lots of bloods. Lots of blood. I think "blood" should be a warning.

An Experiment in Blogging and Music

I thought I'd experiment with blogging instead of Facebooking. I got a little cranky last week when I posted absolutely gorgeous photos of a baby koala and mama we'd seen in the wild and nearly no-one on my Facebook feed saw them - until I posted a sad follow up about people not commenting.

Of course, a blog post feels like it should take longer to write and have a bit more care put into it than a Facebook post, but we'll see how I go.

This morning I'm off to choir practice - if I can get the address and time. It's a once off choir to perform for Seniors' Week, and silly me deleted the email with the details. BUT, I do have the lyrics, safely filed away in my performance folder and sitting in my new choir tote.

It's sad that choirs have gone the way of the dodo bird. Singing is such a natural and instinctive part of what it is to be human. In our modern, busy society we think that only experts or those 'good enough' should be allowed to sing, or least to be heard. (Unless, of course, you're a little tipsy, in which case you are invited to make an absolute fool of yourself at the local pub karaoke.)

I think the advent of recorded music inadvertently destroyed many of our avenues of community singing. Why gather around the family piano listening to Uncle Albert belt out songs with no sense of tune or timing, when you can listen to Buble sing the same songs with true expertise? Why indeed. Because music is not just about the listening, it's about the participating.

We used to be able to participate in church, but by and large, that has also gone along the wayside. In recent history, church music has become "popular" and is now written for the professional, trained singer, not the ordinary Joe.

I once had a run in with someone about whether I sang well enough to lead singing in church. A friend commented to me, "Maybe they should see you as a canary. If, with the training you've had, you cannot sing the song well, then chances are that ninety percent of the congregation can't sing it either." But, sadly, too often the focus is no longer on ensuring the church body gets to sing the song wholeheartedly. The focus on the team at the front sounding brilliant.
My regular choir, Jacaranda Jam Community Choir, is composed of a wide variety of singing abilities. Everyone is accepted. Even if you can't hold a tune in the shower, you're welcome to come along and participate. We work very hard to sound good. But that's the difference - we work hard to sound, we don't expect people to turn up sounding good. We allow room for growth and mistakes. It's a very safe environment to enjoy singing.
Ah, the details of today's rehearsal have turned up. So, I'll be running along shortly. It's a little scary, agreeing to join this group. Apparently, last week they only had four people. Not quite the same safety in numbers as Tuesday's group, but I can guarantee that the audience will be singing out loud and proud, being from the generations that used to sing more.

10 August 2014

Choir Tote

Although I always seem to have more bags than I know what to do with, I didn't have a suitable bag for choir. I wanted a dedicated bag, so I wouldn't be chasing up music and pencils and so on every week. I had a bit of a cursory look online for patterns but found nothing that really appealed to me, or met all my criteria:
  • big enough for my current folder of music, with potential for more to come
  • holder for my water bottle
  • pocket for my choir scarf
  • pockets for tea, pencils, erasers, and odd bits and bobs
The holder for my water bottle was pretty important; I'm always worried I'll forget to close it properly and it'll spill all through my music. We break for morning about 11am, which is far too late for me to be drinking caffeine, so I always carry my own decaf bags.

Our choir is called Jacaranda Jam (we're on Youtube at a school function, where we were 'invited guest performers' - Song 1Song 2, Song 3). Our 'uniform' is black and purple with the choir scarf, which is a swirl of blues, greens, and purples. I wanted my bag to reflect that colour scheme.

My plan became to make a simple tote - a rectangular bag, with a quilted outer, lining, pockets and shoulder straps. No fasteners or fancy bits. Just simplicity. I did not take photos as I went but the basic steps I took were:

1. Piece the squares together into a 6 x 10 'mini quilt top'. The bag is just this one piece.
2. Quilt the top and iron-on pellon with a fancy stitch over all the seams. I ummed and ahhed about whether to use bag wadding, which is stiff, but decided I didn't really need the bag to stand up on its own.
Quilting detail
3. Cut the lining fabric the same size as my finished 'top'.
4. Sew the pockets. All the pockets are double layers; no hems.
5. Sew the pockets to the lining fabric. The bottle holder has no base, and on a side seam. I used my actual water bottle to determine where to attach the sides of the holder. If the holder is sewn flat against the lining, it will pull.
6. Sew the lining into a tube, and partially sew the bottom seam in from both corners (about 4 or 5 inches).
7. Sew the outer into a  bag.
8. Sew the base corners (this site has great instructions for box corners) in the outer and lining.
9. Sew the handles.
10. Pin the handles, outer and lining together and sew around the top opening. Refill bobbin.
This little gap of about 4 stitches is where my bobbin ran out while sewing the outer and lining together.

11. Reinforce the handles. Because they come out from between the outer and lining, I folded them down the outer about an inch and then back up. Over that double layer I stitched a box with x through it.
Handle top-stitching for reinforcement
 12. When I made my box corners, I didn't cut off the extra bit. To firm up the base, I cut a piece of stiff bag wadding, and attached the ends of it to the box corner flaps.
13. Sew up the hole in the base of the lining.
14. Fill with stuff.

04 August 2014

Owl Sculpture/Bird Bath

I recently had a query about the progress of my owl sculpture (Owl). The owl progressed so far on Day 1 and then sat ignored in the garage for months. I was side-tracked by other things, but mainly I was deterred because of the amount dust the carving produces. Finally, I decided, if I wasn't going to "finish" the sculpture, I should just use it. I'm happy to say, the local birds don't realise it's supposed to be more 3D than it is.

To create the bird bath, I put a heavy duty stake in the ground, with about 6 inches of so showing above the ground. I drilled a matching hole in the centre of the bottom face of the block. This prevents wind or over enthusiastic birds (or the neighbour's cat :-( ) knocking the bath over.

On the top face, I drilled a similar hole. The bath is large plant pot saucer, with a central drainage hole. A large bolt sits through the hole and into the top of the owl. The bolt is silasticed (plastic glue for sealing water-tight) to the saucer.
Showing a few chips and bumps due to neglect in the garage - one of the reasons I decided he needed to be used in the garden, finished or not.

In this photo you can just make out the blob of silastic around the central bolt, holding the saucer to the top and creating a water-tight bird bath.

The locals like my owl