August 31, 2008

This is....

My favourite place to buy fabric...


My heart starts to race just at the thought of all of the fabric shops, button shops, the retro market stalls and wonderful bagel cafe we went to every morning.

The best of all is the Albert Cuyp market area, where there are stalls as well as some fantastic shops, catering to the theatre and costume trades as well as to people like me who, the first time I went, were astounded by the fabrics. I'd never seen silks like that, so shimmery and rough - or screening camouflage scrim for theatre sets, and of course, everything in between.

When we lived in the UK, I worked for a publisher who was creating co-publications with a Dutch publisher. And so, every 2 months or so, off I went to Amsterdam for a day or two, and hopefully a weekend if I could afford to stay on. Being a complete market fiend, this was heaven!

There's a wonderful description of the Albert Cuyp market from Morelle (who makes beautiful bags!) - that is so similar to my experience, too!


August 29, 2008

Love Fridays

It's tempting to think there's not much to love when you're courting a cold and sniffling on the sofa, BUT these things take my list for today:
  • New gesso, a palette knife and some gel medium. Ideas percolating!
  • Snuggles with a warm dog.
  • Coffee in the sunshine with an old colleague. And I get to go home and have a nap afterwards instead of back to work - sometimes job hunting's not so bad.
  • Sewing some pretty colours...
  • and reading posts like this - 'Hitting the Motherload' that make me laugh! Maybe I'll be out tomorrow, feeling better and checking out the rubbish tips, too. I've scored a couple of treasures in my time here in Melbourne, but nothing to this!
Have a good weekend! More Love Fridays from Big Cat and more...


August 26, 2008

Blue and white

Sunny, breezy, blue and white day...

Magnolias down the street next to the fenced-off, abandoned house.

That blue wall recently got a new addition. Isn't she lovely? I've never met the person who painted their house blue, but I bet they're creative types.

It's so restful, I'll just stop for a break...

August 25, 2008

It's for real...

Just a little excitement over here as we discovered today that our new Posted Stitches site was posted as an inspiring site by the CraftGossip Blog Network. I'm delighted that you liked our efforts, folks!

Posted Stitches is rolling along now, as we are releasing our thoughts and notes from the month of July. Check it out to see what we came up with on the theme "There's no place like home"!


August 23, 2008

Sewing through sunshine and rain

The sunshine comes and goes, annd although it's chilly outside, the sewing room is warm and cosy with the heat of creation. -Or maybe the sewing machine's just about to overheat and will suddenly blow up on me.

Why? This is what I've been up to:

The red gingham/plaid is a flannel and cotton 'quiltlet' - i.e. that's a small quilted piece with three layers, but the middle one's just heavy cotton, not wadding. This mini coverlet is for the dog. Not that he knows or cares, but I do - it will stop him grinding his little hairs into the sofa. Or so I believe in my more delusional moments. Let's move along....

In the background you can see the completed project bag, using Eileen's fantastic fabric from Toronto. Years ago, I made a large market bag using this technique, so I decided to adapt it to a boxy little project.

Perfect for holding a little hand-sewing project - and made entirely from bits from my stash.

I hope you're having a good weekend, too!


August 21, 2008

Posted Stitches goes live!

It's online!
Some of you know that I have been working quietly for a couple of months now on Posted Stitches, a monthly art quilt challenge with Jennifer Ackerman-Haywood. Jennifer runs the CraftSanity blog and podcast that I have mentioned many times, and we became pen pals earlier this year after a podcast of hers in which she interviewed Samara O'Shea, author of "For the Love of Letters" (CraftSanity episode no. 69)

Much to my surprise, soon after we started exchanging letters, Jennifer got in touch and asked if I was up for an exchange challenge: one art quilt a month, to a pre-agreed size and on a pre-agreed theme.

The challenge, however? You have to use materials that were sent to you by the other person.

The first quilt challenge was a self portrait. Now just imagine choosing fabric and embellishments for a complete stranger to make their own self portrait with. -And receiving a surprise parcel yourself, with the makings that you have to fashion into a portrait of your own. And you have just under a month to finish, because in my case, I was on the road with my needles and thread, travelling Europe and the UK, carrying Posted Stitches in my rucksack.

Fun? You bet! Want to see what we made? Check out Posted Stitches, where it's all happening.


August 20, 2008

On my desk Wednesday

I can't resist this meme going around (thanks, Kootoyoo!) Now, I'm not going to take a photo of my desk this week because you can't see it! It's dark and gloomy in there, and the desk is piled high with fabric, books, postcards, and all sorts of delights that I brought back from my travels abroad. - Which I plan to show you soon in a "Bottom of the Suitcase Show". But for now, I count "all over the desk" to be the same thing as "unpacked".

This is what's been on my desk for the last few days:

I've been drawing and doodling like mad for the new blog I'm setting up with Jennifer of CraftSanity. We'll be all done in a day or two! I'll let you know when the excitement begins.


August 19, 2008

Visit the continent

What an image!

This is a postcard that I picked up last month at the National Railway Museum, in York (UK). It's a copy of a railway poster, designed by R.E. Higgins in 1933 for the London and North Eastern Railway.

I love the strong black shape of her dress (that lovely dress!). - And the way the dark dress and her black cap of hair pull the figure towards you, visually. That haircut's almost brutal, but it, and her confident, graceful posture, make her striking and stunning. The artist set the kiosk in the background in a way that echoes the shape of her head - two dark domes - and the softer navy blue of the kiosk pushes it into the background, which creates depth against the silhouette of the cityscape.

Everything's flat: there are no contour lines, no shading on any of the figures or forms, the horizon is flat - but there's a sense of depth that pulls you in. It's almost dizzying, and that's the effect that makes it work.

It's so stylish, isn't it? Everything about the construction of this poster says: "I am an image, I was designed to be this way. I am stylish, and a little influenced by Japan, and very, very, up to date" Just like the prospect of going to Paris for a little shopping. In 1933.

Higgins, I raise my hat to you!
(the one I've got in this enormous feather-light hat box slung casually over my arm...).

August 18, 2008

Sunshine at last! (briefly)

Have you ever noticed how a dog can stare? I mean, these guys outlast any staring competition champions for bore-into-your-neck laser beam stares of a high calibre nature. The one aimed at me now is saying "Take me for a walk! I require walking, human!" I suspect this post will be short.

Here's the culprit (on the walk he had yesterday, heaven forbid he insinuate that I never take him out).

The main reason I took the picture is that I love that graffiti at the end of the railway bridge. Arrrh. It's comical-odd-scary, and I reckon it's dead cool.


Here's a quick pic of what I was working on yesterday. I wanted to learn how to make bags, and so I worked out my own method - sort of like doing a jigsaw puzle, or a logic puzzle, which was the main attraction of the exercise. And I wanted to use this YUMMY fabric scrap given to me by Eileen in Toronto. Thank you, Eileen!

When we get some more sunshine, I'll photo the completed thing. I love it already (and it's already full of hexagons - crazy laugh here - )

Did someone just say the 'W' word? Must go.


August 16, 2008

Having so much fun...

This evening was ace. It's cold outside and the rain rushes down every so often, but we're all cuddled up with projects and good books. What more would anyone want? I have just been reclining on the sofa with a toasty-warm dog snuggled into my lap, and my guilty pleasure reading. Here's a lovely bit of overplaying from a comic sequence halfway through. - 'La, sir!'

I've got lots of crafty things on the go that I want to share, but with so little sunshine over the last few days, I am waiting for some good light. Indoor photos are so depressing, flash or no flash.

But while dinner cooked tonight, I was having a fantastic time drawing on fabric.

The fabric is part of a monthly challenge I'm working on, and I was looking at it, thinking: 'Hmm, this could be jellyfish, or strange lurid faces, or wobbly TVs, or flowers or people's heads...' So I decided to give it a go and see what came up. All sorts of things, is what! A pool, some fish, some aliens and a monster, jellyfish, lots of people, a TV and of course - a cup of tea. Mmm, one lump, please. Ta.

There will be more of this mad fun-ness along these lines - I promise. I'm addicted.

The dog sendeth up snores, and it's time for me to head to bed too. A bientot and back later with photos, one hopes.


Hexagons all around

Man, this is bad. Definitely serious: could be fatal. For so many years, I've resisted the hexagon quilt urge - so that now, my slippery slide into hexagonality is no halfway thing. It's an obsession. 

I've just been cutting papers and digging through my fabric bag for scraps big enough to make a hexagon. Pieces of everything, from old pyjamas to an ex-boyfriend's favourite shirt (sorry, Steve, I 'acquired' it back in second year), from the quilts I made for my sister and my mom, and even from a failed marble-dying attempt using my husband's old shirt. 

Clearly, men's shirts are not safe around me. 
(- see?)

The attraction is the prospect of actually using these scraps, and having them around in a quilt (I love the memories associated with the scraps in the scrappy quilt on our bed). The huge amount of time this will take and high likelihood that it will never be completed are definite detractors. Maybe that's why I'm pushing it now while I've got the bug. Snip snip!

Yesterday, I wandered down Smith and Gertrude streets, checking out what's up since we left for our trip three months ago. Scored some bargain t-shirts for screenprinting - did I mention I've signed up for a screenprinting course? I can't wait! And had a sloppy roast beef and horseradish sandwich and stopped in to Meet me at Mike's for a spare copy of Mixtape. Plus a quick sigh around Books for Cooks and a dash through Dean's art supplies, where beautiful paper mysteriously became mine. *happy sigh* 

All of these things, and more, for projects and ideas which do NOT involve hexagons. 
- Right? 

August 14, 2008

It arrived!

... and my, my, it's good.

Simple kneads

I made bread the other day, to a simple recipe from Allan Campion and Michele Curtis's Every Day in the Kitchen. I turn to this cookbook when I need a quick and simple recipe for a half-remembered family favourite, like Hungarian chicken or pot roast, and when I was new in Australia and wanted to explore some easy, Asian-influenced everyday dishes (Chinese crispy-skinned chicken, anyone?) They even have several recipes freely available online, so if you're interested, you can see for yourself.

With the cold weather in Melbourne continuing, I find I'm lured outside into sunshine without sufficiently considering the need for multiple layers. And halfway down the block I'm belted by the wind, so when the dog walk's over, I'm in the kitchen with a rage for slow-cooking, standing-over-the-stove stirring and batch baking. (Excuse me, did someone down at the back just make an 'oink' noise?) -Who am I kidding?

So, this loaf of bread, right? I liked it, but I didn't looove it. Lovely and golden, crusty on top, smelled great ('Honey, we can sell the house now, it smells of freshly baked bread! - We don't own it? Ah, yes.' Must have got wrapped up in dreams of domestic bliss again).

What I didn't love was the texture. It's more like a pound cake than a loaf of white bread. I was discussing this sad fact with my friend Meghan at the market this morning, and we agreed that I wasn't letting the gluten develop properly into strings. Yes, this is the kind of comment someone like Meghan would, thank heavens, understand completely (Dad, you too. I know you're out there).

So I resisted the urge to buy beautiful bread at the market in order to force myself to try again. I sifted the flour, added the salt and yeast, the bit of butter and the warm water, and then I looked at the recipe again: 'Knead for 6-8 minutes'. Ah. Hmm.

With my little orange cockerel timer set to 8 minutes, I started kneading. Whump, bump, stretch and push; whump, bump and repeat... and after what seemed like forever - must be at least 5 minutes - I snuck a peek at the timer. Which sat at somewhere between 1 and 2 minutes. Yes, well.

So now, having learned the value of time, my ultra-stretchy, 7-minute kneaded bread is sending up little tiny bubble-burps next to me as I type. I'll let you know how my experiment turns out. At the very least, the kneading session was a good warm-up workout!


PS. We had three slices each. (oink) It was perfect!

August 12, 2008

What to do in winter

... when it's cold and damp outside!

1. Bake bread
2. Run around the park with the dog
3. Look for colour around you

I'm gradually adjusting to the fact that it is winter in Melbourne, and that the house is chilly all the time, except when I'm cooking. (Mmm... now, if I needed inspiration, that would be enough!)

It's a bit daunting, facing the prospect of job-hunting, but I'll get there. In keeping with the plan to draw something everyday, I was off to the art supply store yesterday to get a few coloured pens. The textile paint accidentally became mine, too.

I was out in the garden in my big fluffy sheepskin slippers, photographing the paints in the cold winter sunlight this morning. It's exciting to be drawing again!


August 10, 2008

Waking to rain

This morning I woke up early to the sound of rain - it felt very, very early, because it was still dark, but it was probably only 6:30. There's nothing better than listening to a soft fall of rain on the roof while you're all warm and snuggly in bed with big puffy covers and your one true love (snoring gently, ahem.)

It's lovely to get back home and gradually unwind. The unruly piles of random stuff are gradually moving away like some ultra-slow vortex spiralling into the black hole of tidiness (as you can tell, tidiness does not always sit well with us). So now you can see most of the floor of the spare room again, and some of the table, and some of my desk. And I made scones. Achievements.

The funny thing is, having lived out of a suitcase for three months with a limited wardrobe (two trousers, one dress, 5 shirts, two jackets) - I'm beyond all patience with my crammed-in bulging wardrobe and drawers of shrunken, stretched or simply unsuitable clothes. I mean, I didn't miss any of it, so clearly I need very little of it, right?

So the day after we got back, and in the last few days, I've been going through everything. Yup - nope - doesn't fit - didn't like it anyway. This time I'm even making myself ditch the 'maybes'. So far there are three large bags by the door, and I've only done the drawers and 1/3 of the closet. I'm dreading the rest of it. It's hard to keep up the strong spirit of willpower (me being a hoarder and all), but I'm trying. I've got to get the stuff out of the house quick before my resolve wavers and I get used to it all again.

Anyway. I've been catching up on what's happening in the crafty city called Melbourne, and there I'm loving what I've found!

First things first, I want to take classes here at Thread Den. So many of them look great, and one of my resolutions on the trip was that I was going to learn to screenprint, and to sew garments properly (as opposed to making it up as I go along). I'm in!

I heard all about Thread Den on Craft City Melbourne - is this new, or was I just blind?! Ah, looks like it started a day or two before I hit the road in May. It's a collection of reviews of great places to find crafty goodness, supplies and provisions for a crafternoon out and about. Best, it's arranged by suburb, so you can check up on what's local, or hit an area with your craft friends for an afternoon out.

And I've subscribed to MixTape zine - boy, I can't wait till my first issue arrives! I've been looking at their blog and reading reviews, and I'm so curious to see. I'll let you know when it arrives.

Last, but not least: a little stitchin' -

A little rash of hexagon fever passed through yesterday, leaving me weak at the knees and collapsed on the sofa with stacks of sixes of various colours all around me. A flower later, and no more papers, and I finally managed to stop. I've got to learn to wear a thimble all the time: I just hate pushing the blunt end of the needle through my fingertip - yeeow.

The last few stitches went in on my mini-quilt for the Craft Sanity collaboration. With a binding and a label, we'll be there soon!

I've got a sleeping dog on my lap - mmm, toasty! - and so it's time to drink some coffee and stop this over-dog-one-finger typing nonsense.


August 8, 2008

Dignified Dawg

Now, here's something I will not do. 

This lucky Louie is wearing a handmade coat, courtesy of the good folks at Quilting Arts magazine. While I generally love their magazine and appreciate their creativity, I can't see our Toby putting up with this. Ever. (Or maybe it's just me who's got a well-developed sense of dignity.) 

We picked Toby up last night from the friends who have
 kindly looked after him for the last three months. Shoulder-high leaps and bum-wagging wriggles - we think we remembers us. Even so, I'm not making him a coat.... 

(Jacket by Pokey Bolton; photo credit Quilting Arts magazine 2008)

August 7, 2008

Playing with your food

It's nice to be home, but the jetlag makes me walk around the house all day, moving things from one room to another and back again. Or at least, that's how it feels. And waking up at 3:15AM. Man, I hate waking up at 3:15AM!

But one of the best things about being home is the kitchen. We went to the Queen Vic Market this morning (*sigh*, my one true love!), and now I get to play with my very own kitchen and all those lovely recipe books again. What to make first? Something simple: roast chicken with wine and something, I don't know what yet - maybe pinenuts and garlic. Mmm. And baked winter veggies. 'Cause yes, it's winter folks, and it's pretty chilly in here at night.

And now I'm online catching up with some reading - and amused by these amazing whimsical carved food art treats, spotted on Bibi's Box and as reported in the New York Times in the article Knife Skills: Creating Feasts for the Eyes.

There's a slide show of some pretty awesome food art, including the lemony bear above - which is credited to Saxton Freymann, author of many books on the topic - on the New York Times' Playing With Food page.

August 6, 2008

The travel quilt: finishing stitches

We're home. Three months of around-the-world excitement, bag-lugging, photo-snapping, talking looking and thinking, and here we are: back in our little house. We close the door behind us and the travelling is all over.

Or not.

I feel like I do when I've just completed a really big, really involving hand-quilted quilt. You plan and cut and sew and work on it for months. Starting it is exciting, but sometimes you have to find the energy to pick up and keep going. You learn to fall in love with it all over again somewhere in the middle. You make mistakes. -And if you're me, you veer of the plan and make adjustments partway through. You see new things in the process, get into the rhythm of it, breathe and relax while you're stitching and think of other things. Sometimes big problems sort themselves out, quietly, at the back of your mind while you are stitching.

So too with travel. A really long trip takes planning, time, and a different kind of energy than a short holiday.

You start off on your adventure, and everything's exciting. Sometime, perhaps several weeks later, you make a few mistakes and you get tired, and perhaps a little overwhelmed by the enormity of the trip (just like a quilt!). You need somehow to learn to love the travel life again - to think about what you're seeing, and to allow yourself just to be who you are, wherever you are. Not defined by house, friends, job, car, clothes, culture, language - all of those things we use when we're at home to say to the world "I am this kind of person". Everything is now, in the present tense.

Weeks on the road and your ties to home re-knot and re-arrange themselves: some friendships become more important to you (as you realise how much you're looking forward to seeing them again), and others are reunited - people you used to see every week but who you've left and moved away from. Those friends are still there, still themselves, only maybe a little bit different, and that can be exciting.

Finally, with the deadline in sight, you start to pack things in. When I quilt, I nearly always miss my deadline by a week or two, and the same with this trip: we decided to extend our stay and return a week later than planned. Which has its own challenges, not least financial! We fell prey to the 'just one more thing' trap as we tried to see to much, got sick, had to sleep - and finally, took those last days in Vancouver, the last stitches on the binding of our travel quilt - nice and easy.

So here we are: back in Melbourne, from summer to midwinter, in our chilly little house with all the leaves off the tree in the yard (hey - who stole the leaves? Oh yeah, winter started while we left).

And we're all wrapped up in a cuddly quilt of our memories.

August 3, 2008

Doing some drawing

While sorting out some stuff at my parent's house, I came across a big box of my old sketchbooks from 10-15 years ago. Maybe a dozen or more, thick books filled with not-so-good and rather-good drawings and ideas - they were pretty inspiring, because I remembered what it was like to play and draw ideas every day.

On this trip, I've tried to draw something, even if only something small, every day. This is a big thing because I haven't done that for about 10 years - basically since these sketchbooks got put away. -And although I'm enjoying it and I'll persevere, it's annoying how much I've forgotten (like how to draw convincing feet!) Grr. It's not that I didn't want to draw, all those years, it's just that other things - like learning to embroider and to quilt - took over. And so drawing retreated into a corner and instead of drawing and painting anything that took my fancy, all I did were the occasional black and white cartoons for many, many years.
I sat down and drew this one after the Quilt Hunting expedition at the O'Keefe ranch, having seen a stack of folded quilts in a cupboard just like the pile in this cartoon, above.

It's amazing how some feedback sets you running again: I've been working on a collaborative project with a new friend, Jennifer of the CraftSanity blog and podcast (watch this space: we'll be launching it very soon!), and also enjoying looking at the incredible leaps in skill made recently by my Dad as he paints more and more often, and takes lessons and challenges himself. (And he's organising a fantastic Canadian art show, Art Visions 2008). So I am trying not to listen to the demons and to learn to draw feet again - I can see from the old sketchbooks that I once knew how, so it can't be all that bad!

At the bottom of our suitcase, as we head into the final, homeward leg of our round-the-world trip, I've got a fat soft big old sketchbook, busting with ideas. -And the last 50 pages are empty, so I've got some work to do: time to fill 'er up!

August 1, 2008

Quilt Hunting, part 2

Well, it wasn't only quilts that we found at the O'Keefe ranch - there was also a cowboy exhibition in the museum, with all sorts of artifacts, including these beautiful embroidered gauntlets.

The caption reads: "Beaded and fringed gauntlets were extremely popular among the cowboys of the BC Interior. These gauntlets from the South Okanagan are ornamented with beadwork and embroidery".

When I first saw the gauntlets, they reminded me of the embroidery you tend to see on Canadian First Nations' items, such as moccasins and gloves. There are a few examples in the Textile Museum of Canada, such as this embroidered and beaded decorative cuff (presumably for a coat), made by Woodlands Cree in Western Canada, c. 1880, or this pipe bag from Ontario, of about the same time.

Most of the photos in my previous post were from the Schubert House, on the ranch -- but of course, there was a main house, which was decorated in rich style as befitted a successful ranching entrepreneur of the late 1800s.

The recreated ranch house kitchen...

... with a triple Irish Chain quilt on display below the window.

The very expensive William Morris wallpaper on the stairwell and hall. Somehow this stairwell manages to be dark and rich-looking, but not gloomy. Perhaps it's because of the light wood of the banisters and the high contract on the wallpaper, or perhaps also because the staircase is freestanding and there are no supports or posts constricting the space?

You can't see it in this picture, but a judiciously-placed mirror enabled the lady of the house to glance up to the upstairs landing from the parlour - just to make sure that there were no eavesdroppers amongst the children of the house!

And finally, upstairs in one of the bedrooms, a beautiful washstand sits next to the bed with a faded beauty of a log cabin quilt. The colours of the room are cool and comfortable, but not dull - simple and charming.

- Now I want to go and make a log cabin quilt!