Giving a hoot for charity

Some hospitals have programs where quilters donate quilts for children with cancer. When a new patient is admitted they get to choose a quilt to keep, to have something personal to brighten up their often long and arduous hospital stays.

My quilting group decided to make such a quilt, and gave me the job of designing it and choosing fabrics. Knowing my weakness for owls, they cunningly suggested an owl theme to make the job more appealing.

How could I resist? I turned, of course, to the internet, and good old Google did not disappoint. There are so many generous quilters out there offering patterns and tutorials for free. I found the cutest little owl applique here. Originally intended for a bib, it made a perfect quilt block once it was enlarged.

Look at this little guy! Isn’t he gorgeous?


That’s the one I made. I found a great stripey fabric in bright bold colours to go between the owls. I gave everyone a plain background piece and asked them to make their owls in colours to go with the stripey fabric. Here are a few of the gorgeous little owls I got back:
 Putting it all together was nice and simple. Baby Duck and I had a lovely time rearranging owls to get the most pleasing design. (Taking a picture was tricky, though. Apologies for the less-than-stellar photography here. One of the lovely ladies in the group is quilting it at the moment. Hopefully I can get a better photo when it’s finished.)
 I’m very pleased with how it turned out, and I hope that it’ll brighten some sick kid’s day. It certainly made me smile. Those owls are so adorable!

Elsewhere, on the glorious Internet …

Haven’t done one of these posts for a while! Baby Duck doesn’t like too many linktastic posts, and since he’s my main audience I like to keep him happy! But I’ve come across some interesting tidbits in my travels across the glorious Internet this week, so I thought I’d share them with you.

First some exciting news for Baby Duck and the legions of Dr Who fans out there: the new series starts in Australia on Sunday 24th August! I have a worrying suspicion that I won’t like Peter Capaldi as much as Matt Smith, but I’m keeping an open mind. The BBC has some photos from the first feature-length episode “Deep Breath” here.

Next, something that would have rocked my teenage self to the core: the dragonriders of Pern may be coming to the big screen! Warner Bros has optioned the whole series. Admittedly, movie options come and go all the time, and don’t necessarily lead to a movie, but still! I think it was the Pern books more than anything else that fostered my lifelong obsession with dragons. One day not too far away there will be a new dragon book in the world, written by yours truly, and Anne MacCaffrey’s marvellous series is partly to blame.

And speaking of writing: Tansy Rayner Roberts does a great interview with writer Foz Meadows as part of the ongoing “Snapshots” series. Foz voices her disquiet with the idea that everything about your life pre-baby should cease to matter once you become a mother. “You can love your children without being ready or willing to sacrifice the most integral parts of yourself on the altar of motherhood.”

This really resonated with me. My children are the focus of my life, but even so I was hanging out for Baby Duck to start school so I could start writing again. In the end I couldn’t wait that long, and snatched writing time while he was at preschool or watching TV. It’s so important to have some identity other than “mother”. I think it’s good for the kids too, to see that mum is a real person with goals and dreams that don’t revolve around them.

 Real people – even grown-up people – should have a little fun in their lives too. Author Kristen Lamb discusses the lack of “play time” in the lives of adults and is very wise on how our modern “all work and no play” culture is bad for creativity.

But luckily, creativity isn’t dead! For a beautiful burst of colour, check out Faith’s gorgeous quilt. It’s a fresh modern take on the old faithful “flying geese” pattern. Love it!

What’s on the wall?

Baby Duck says there are too many linktastic posts on my blog lately, and not enough about important things like him. He has kindly given me many helpful suggestions on what I might write about, from his grand scheme to earn Lego by watering the lawns to his marvellous artworks in the school art show.

Since he is one of my main readers, I guess I’ll have to pull my socks up – but not today. More on the art show anon, but today I’m going to show you the evolution of a quilting “artwork”, in the hopes that this will fire my enthusiasm to finish this one off. It’s been hanging on my design wall for about six months now, and though I still like it, I’m getting sick of looking at it! Time for a change.

This started life as a jelly roll, which is a fancy name for a set of forty 2½ inch strips rolled up into a pretty bundle like this:

I spent about three hours in December last year engaged in what is known as a jelly roll race, where you sew the forty strips end to end into one ginormous long strip, and then go through more sewing stages where the strip gets progressively shorter but wider, till you end up with a random-looking quilt top like this:


(Sorry if that explanation made no sense. If you’re interested you can see a video with a much more lucid explanation here.)

I decided to use this as the background for a garden of giant flowers. This was the first iteration:


Not quite enough flowers, I thought. My garden looked a little lost and spread out. Back to hacking printed flowers and black circles out of fabric, and a little rearrangement:


That looked better, so then I put all the stems in:


Mind you, none of this is sewn down yet, only glue-basted on (which is a technique I haven’t tried before: so far, so good. Nothing’s fallen off the wall yet!). The plan is to put the three layers of the quilt together and then attach everything as I quilt – save the step of sewing the quilt top first, then quilting later. Genius lazy plan, I hope. We’ll see if it works.

Then I started adding borders, and of course that was where I stopped – because the creative fun was all over. Adding borders and finishing things off is boring, at least for this attention span-challenged quilter.

But now it’s nearly December again (as Christmas-obsessed Baby Duck delights in pointing out) and way past time to get this down off the wall and into the finished pile. It’s so cheerful and fun. Hopefully soon I can show it to you in all its finished glory!

Elsewhere, on the glorious internet …

From the “I could have told them that” files: Google discovers putting M&Ms in ceramic containers and healthier snacks in clear glass ones encourages employees to go for the healthy food rather than the confectionary. Well, derrr.

This is the same reasoning that leads me to ask the Carnivore to store his chocolate in the downstairs fridge. I know it’s there, but because it’s not staring me in the face when I go to the fridge, I don’t raid it.

On the writing front, a couple of interesting links about characters:

Ever noticed how “strong female characters”are just women who can fight like men? They aren’t allowed to be “strong” in any other way, nor can they have any other attributes. Male characters, of course, can have multiple facets to their personalities.

“I don’t think it’s my job to make likeable … characters. I think it’s my job to make compelling characters” says author Deborah Levy. Good characters have to have complexity. Instead of one-dimensional caricatures (like “strong female characters”), they show “the nuance and ambiguity behind seemingly simple behaviour”. Just like real people.

In the world of fitness, a new university study has shown that interval training can accomplish as much in seven minutesas a long workout in the gym. This is very timely for me, since I’ve just completed my second week of just such a program, the 12 Second Sequence by Jorge Cruise. So far I don’t have muscles on my muscles, but I’ve got my fingers crossed.

And finally, for a lovely rainbow of luminous colour, check out Faith’s lighthouse quilt top. She’s going to be doing a quilt-along of this pattern soon. I’m tempted …

Elsewhere, on the glorious internet …

A fascinating article on a concept called “survivorship bias”, exploring the misconception that to be successful you need to study others who’ve been successful. In fact, the truth is that “when failure becomes invisible, the difference between failure and success may also become invisible”: Survivorship bias

Author Kameron Hurley takes the idea into the world of writing and marketing books: Survivorship bias and writing better books with bonus marketing chat: “The more we focus on ‘success’ the more we focus on the one-offs, the quirks, the outliers. It’s focusing on failures and middle-of-the road pieces that teaches me how to improve.”

Still on the topic of writing, a helpful post on the NaNoWriMo blog on turning those cardboard characters into living, breathing people: Occupy Steve: how to flesh out your characters

Disney “pretties up” their new Princess Merida doll. Sigh. What’s the world coming to when even a Disney-created princess, all tiny waist and huge eyes, isn’t considered appropriately princessy? Merida, from the movie Brave, had messy hair and freckles to go with her independent I-don’t-need-a-prince-I’ll-do-it-myself attitude. At last! An imperfect princess who didn’t wait to be rescued for real little girls to admire.

“The freckles had been erased and the fabulous tangled hair was pageant coiffed. She looked like a titian-hued Cinderella. Even the dress is blue. Fierce, awesome Merida had joined all the other Stepfords on the shelf.” Where have the brave girls gone? 

On to something more cheerful: Full of colour and quilting delights, Kathy Doughty’s always-inspiring blog here features, among outrageous chooks and beautiful medallion quilts, a shot of me contemplating a wall full of pink and orange triangles as I ponder the layout of a new quilt: The creative bug

And for pretty crochet goodness, Lucy from Attic 24 has some lovely mandala flowers. I’ll have to give these a go!

New Zealand through a quilter’s eyes (Part 2)

New Zealand is a beautiful country, and I took scads of touristy photos of all the gorgeous places we visited, but as I mentioned in my previous post on New Zealand through a quilter’s eyes, I also took some that appealed to the quilter in me and left my family scratching their heads.

At the Waitangi Treaty Grounds we saw a 35m waka or war canoe, built in 1940 for the centenary of the signing of the treaty between the British and the Maori. Its name was almost as long – Ngatokimatawhaorua. Old skills had to be relearned to construct the canoe in the traditional way, including intricate carving like this:

Such gorgeous texture and pattern.

More texture caught my eye in Waipoua Forest. The mighty kauri trees had such interesting bark, almost like dinosaur skin. 

You can’t see the effect so well on this one, but I loved the contrast of the fluffy, almost velvety green moss against the red whorls of the trunk.

More colour delight at Huka Falls:

Can you believe that fabulous clean blue-green water??

For a different shade of blue, here’s a shot across Lake Taupo, the biggest freshwater lake in Australasia, formed in the crater of an old volcano, which must have been truly enormous.

 You can see the peaks of active volcanoes in the background. When Taupo itself last erupted, about 2000 years ago, it buried the country for miles around in 200 metres of ash. The red light of it in the sky was seen as far away as Rome and China. I sure wouldn’t like to be around if it ever went up again!

In the town of Taupo itself I embarrassed my children enormously by taking photos of the garbage bins. I have to admit, even I felt a little peculiar about it, but look – they were so gorgeous! – how could I resist?

In Hamilton, there was lots to admire in the very pretty Hamilton Gardens.

Gorgeous repeating patterns:
and an absolute riot of colour:

How eye-popping is that colour combination? Wouldn’t it look sensational in a quilt?

Then there was this café at the glow worm cave at Waitomo. It made me think of quilting too, with the diamonds formed by the lovely arching lines of the overhead shelter very reminiscent of a quilting pattern.


Really, there’s quilting inspiration everywhere. If only there were enough time to make all the quilts I can imagine!

Happiness is …

Happiness is curling up with a good book.

Sometimes when the house is quiet I wander around and find all three ducklings lost in a book. It always gives me a thrill. I love that we’ve managed to pass on our love of reading to the offspring.
Of course, even more frequently I’ll find one or more of them glued to their ipod instead, which doesn’t make me feel quite such a success as a parent, but oh well. Can’t win ’em all.
The other thing that makes me happy about this picture? Look at that quilt Baby Duck is parked on. A finished quilt, actually on a bed, being used for its intended purpose! Something of a rare sighting around here.
I know I showed it to you while it was in progress, but I forgot to show the finished article (something I do a lot!), so here it is for your viewing pleasure, ladies and gentlemen – Baby Duck’s “bugs in bottles” quilt:
And a little close up:
Some cute fabrics in this one. Thank goodness I finished it before he outgrew the cuteness!

New Zealand through a quilter’s eyes (Part 1)

Lines, patterns, colours. Sometimes a quilter’s holiday snaps focus on things that don’t interest the average tourist.

Take this wall down by the docks in Auckland, for instance. It looked like it had been made out of old weathered packing crates.

The Carnivore just shook his head. Why are you taking photos of this piece of junk? But I thought the soft aged colours were beautiful.

Then there was this building nearby. Patterns of lines and colours. Very cool.

At the aquarium the jellyfish looked like an abstract painting, softly glowing.

Or maybe some kind of alien life form? So pretty!

We took the ferry to Devonport quite unexpectedly, having to fill in a couple of hours before our harbour cruise one morning in Auckland. Imagine my delight in finding a whole row of poles along the street covered in crochet! Naturally I had to embarrass my family by taking scads of photos.

Aren’t those frogs just the cutest?? I just love that there are people out there who see a whole bunch of plain poles and think wouldn’t it be great to cover those suckers in crochet? So whimsically pointless, but why the hell not?

Further north I was taken by the light through foliage, particularly the marvellous umbrella-like spokes of the ferns.

Out on the beautiful Bay of Islands I loved this pop of bright orange against the blue water. This photo doesn’t do justice to the colour of the water there, though, which was a glorious deep blue, shading to a clear green in the shallows.

So much colour everywhere! And of course I’m all about the colour, so I loved it. I have lots more pretties to show you, but I’ll save them for another post lest you die of old age waiting for the page to load.

Lesson learned

You know how sometimes when you’ve been working on something for a while and you just want it to be finished now already – you put your head down and bolt for the finish line? And if there’s a few little corners cut or things not done quite up to standard in the rush you just go Who cares? Don’t be such a perfectionist! No one but you will ever notice.

Or maybe you tell yourself that’s the best job you can do when really deep down you know you could make it better except you can’t be stuffed fiddling with it any more.

Yes, well. Check out Exhibit A:

Many moons ago – possibly even before the first duckling arrived, but so long ago I can’t remember any more – I designed my own quilt, based around a beautiful printed panel I bought. Naturally, being me, the finished quilt top got stuffed in a drawer and never quilted, till earlier this year I had one of those seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time moments and entered it in a quilt show.

Then of course I had to finish it. But ohh! the horror! when I dug it out of the cupboard and saw those terrible mismatched seam intersections. This wasn’t going to be a quick quilting job. Present-day me couldn’t bear to enter something so dodgy in a big prestigious quilt show, as if that was the best I could do, even if lazy-beginner-quilter me had been satisfied with it.

So out came the unpicker. Man, I hate unpicking! So much that I was tempted to just let it go. And there were so many of these hideous seams to unpick. But I got through it, thinking unprintable things about my lazy-ass close-enough’s-good-enough former self the whole time, and managed to produce a much better finished object.

I’m glad I took the time to fix it, though I hated every minute. It would have bugged me ever after if I hadn’t.

So, lesson learned. Do the damn job right the first time! Words to live by, I reckon.

Chagall with mangoes

I’ve been attending an art quilting class this term at Material Obsession. What fun! I’ve never been a big fan of traditional quilts, though I’ve made a few over the years – getting sucked in by the colours in my usual way. Plus they’re a great way to learn the sewing skills you need. I’m certainly not knocking traditional quilts with their regular block designs. I just wanted to try something a bit more “out there”.

You might remember my first attempt at an art quilt, which I blogged about here.

Oops. I can’t believe that was nearly two years ago! Aaaand it hasn’t got much further along in all that time. I know, you’re shocked. But it now has a red leaf and is ready to quilt, so hey – progress! Glacial, but progress.

So, given the fact that I work so much better with a deadline (ah, Grasshopper, self-knowledge is a wonderful thing), I decided to join the marvellous Kathy again for art quilting classes.

Our first month the assignment was a still life. Not the most exciting of things to me, having watched Mum paint half a bazillion of them over the years, but oh well. I dutifully flipped through some art books for inspiration – artists love still lifes – and gathered my fabrics to take to class.

When we arrived Kathy had some all-white objects to set up against a white backdrop, her point being that colour would distract us. If everything was white we could really concentrate on the shapes and the relationships between them. You can see Kathy’s account of the class here, with a picture of the set-up.

And then she handed out paper and pencils and told us to draw. EEK!! I haven’t drawn since high school, so I wasn’t very comfortable with this step. Predictably enough my drawing was fairly unimpressive.

Then the fun started. “Now draw it again, this time without looking down at the paper.” It was fascinating to see how much looser and freer everyone’s drawing was this time. I liked mine much better. “Now draw it with your eyes shut.” I admit I did peek once, but my drawing was only slightly more surreal this time than the previous attempt.

Then it was time to get started on the designing and sewing of our quilts. Some chose to use the sketches we’d just done as a starting point. I had a still life by Chagall.

I love Chagall’s blues! I was picturing this colour scheme, with the window and the bowl on the table in front of it, only with mangoes in the bowl. In my head the contrast of the orange mangoes against the blue room would be delicious. Only problem was I’d forgotten to bring any mangoes with me, so off I trotted in the middle of the class to buy some.

Once I’d done a quick sketch of my mangoes (without looking at the paper – yay for bold free drawing!) and worked out the proportions of my design I got busy with my blue fabrics creating a background. I tried a new-to-me technique for cutting and piecing curved lines, so there are no straight lines in the piece. I like the slight wonkiness of it all.

I completed the background by the end of the class. True to form, I then put off adding the bowl of mangoes till it was almost time for the next month’s class. It felt like it was going to be too hard. Without the motivating power of the deadline I still wouldn’t have done it, but I managed, and it wasn’t as hard as I’d feared.

At first I wasn’t happy. I’d tried to suggest shading by using different fabrics, but it seemed to me that it hadn’t worked until I was doing something on the other side of the room and happened to look back. Then I could see the blending effect and felt better.

I still have to quilt it, of course, but I’m pleased with it so far. For some reason I’m ridiculously happy with the shadow under the bowl, of all things. Mainly just because I thought to add one(!), but also because it’s a scrap from a quilt I made for my Dad many years ago.

Turns out still life was fun after all!