Hunter Valley wineries

31 10 2012

Our first day in the Hunter Valley, NSW was spent driving around getting our bearings, and checking out the location of the wineries. We ate that night at SSS BBQ Barns in Cessnock — I had the chicken and ribs (pictured below) and my husband had the sampler plate. He also had dessert (toffee basket with macadamia nut ice cream and berries), though I don’t know how he fitted it all in.

On the second day we started at the Small Winemakers Centre (MacDonalds Rd). What a brilliant idea! It was a one-stop tasting centre for several small wineries, many of which don’t have their own cellar door or who can’t compete with the big players, with their fancy restaurants, golf courses, resort accommodation etc. We bought a sample pack of six red wines — it should arrive next week when we’re home again.

Our next stop was a place we visited last time we were in the Hunter — Piggs Peake winery (Hermitage Rd). We spent a good hour here, sampling most of their extensive range of red wines and talking at length to Steve (the winemaker) and Rob (his assistant). Oh, and tasting various blends of their zinfandel, which is still in the barrel.

From the quirkiness and simplicity of the Piggs Peake winery, we stepped up a bit when we walked into Keith Tulloch Wines (also in Hermitage Rd). Wow! What a tasting room they have there! You pay $5 per person for tastings, but that’s refunded on your first purchase (if you buy anything). Their ‘Kester’ wine was the best, but at $60/bottle, it’s a bit out of our price range…

The Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard (Debeyers Rd) was next. This winery was atop a high hill, with 360 degree views all round. Just as we arrived, a couple were leaving with their wine — and their pilot — heading to their helicopter on the lawn! Now there’s a way to get around with a non-drinking skipper ๐Ÿ˜‰ It seems some local companies offer this service.

View from the car park at the Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard

Our next stop (yes, I was driving so I was sipping and spitting!) was the Capercaillie Wine Co (Lovedale Rd). They had some superb red wines, particularly their shirazes and Cab Sav. We bought a bottle of ‘The Gillie’, their top-of-the-range shiraz, for dinner that night.

Our last stop was Petersons Wines (Mount View Rd), which also had some lovely reds.

Dinner that night was at Indian@Hunter (Vincent St, Cessnock), where we had the Chennai Chicken (we asked for it ‘very hot’), Goan Beef Vindaloo (asked for ‘hot’), rice, and cheese naan. The food was EXCELLENT!

Tomorrow we head back to Sydney, having spent a relaxing three days in the Hunter Valley. BTW, we stayed in Cessnock at the Wine Country Motor Inn, right in the heart of Cessnock and only a few minutes’ driveย  from the Hunter Valley.ย  Much cheaper than staying in the valley itself at the expensive resorts.

Friends and travels

29 10 2012

We had a busy weekend just gone. On Saturday I drove to Perth to drop off the latest batch of community quilts I’d finished, and to pick up another ten. Then it was off to the airport to pick up Dave, our good friend from the US (he’d flown in from Auckland via Sydney that day after spending a few days in NZ speaking at a conference). And then I drove Dave home to our place (it’s a 90 minute drive each way if the traffic is good; I left home at 9 am and we got back about 2 pm).

We spent lots of hours chatting and catching up, then we all went out to dinner to our local steakhouse (well, it’s a 50 km round trip, but local enough!). As usual the steaks were AMAZING, and then Dave finished off with his Australian favourite, Sticky Date Pudding, which he said was the best he’d ever eaten. High praise indeed, as he’s eaten plenty of them each time he’s come to Australia. My husband and I opted for home-made ice-cream at an ice-creamery in town (mine was a to-die-for mango sorbet!). Then home and to bed. Dave had been up for about 20 hours straight at this stage, and we had to be up early next morning to drive back to Perth.

Why were we driving back to Perth the next day, and how come Dave only stayed with us for just one night? Well, it’s all to do with a train and a conference. Dave’s done The Ghan each way from Adelaide to Darwin, but had only done the Indian Pacific from Sydney to Perth and wanted to complete the loop by catching the train from Perth to Sydney. As he and I are both speaking at a conference in Sydney at the end of this week, we both needed to get to Sydney. He couldn’t leave Auckland any earlier, and the train only goes on some days of the week. Thus the lightning trip to Perth (and he really wanted to see our new house, thus the extra trip to our place). Once we’d put him on the train, we high-tailed it out to Perth Airport to catch our flight to Sydney– my husband and I are taking a few days break in the Hunter Valley wine region before the conference. We’ll meet Dave again on Thursday in Sydney.

Our flight to Sydney was delayed about 30 minutes as there was a BIG electrical storm (lots of lightning) that came through while we were waiting to board. We were on the PER-SYD flight that uses the 747 and I’d been able to get us a Business Class upgrade on Qantas frequent flyer points a while back. So we were in the upper deck of the jumbo. It was the full upgraded Business Class too — with the lie-flat beds, etc. just like those used for international flights. There were only 24 seats in the upper deck with two toilets and two attendants. Very nice. Dinner on the flight was spicy dhal soup,ย  fillet steak with a panko and rosemary crust, thinly slivered and layered carrots, broccolini and onion, followed by Maggie Beer passionfruit ice-cream with almond biscuits (tulles?) and a sticky white wine. Absolutely delicious and all served on fine bone china (yes, I could see my fingers through the soup bowl) and with proper cutlery. I felt like a very full balloon after all that wonderful food ๐Ÿ˜‰

We landed at SYD after 9 pm, some 30 minutes late (as a result of the delay out of Perth), and got our bags and picked up our rental car to drive maybe 200 metres to the hotel we stayed at overnight (Stamford Plaza Airport Sydney). Nice room, good hot shower, but the water pressure was a bit lacking. Parking was included (the carpark under the hotel is a real maze and very awkward).

We left about 10:30 this morning headed towards the Hunter Valley. We’ll stay in Cessnock for three nights as it’s spitting distance from the winery region.

My husband had a very sore neck/left shoulder as a result of the flight and driving to Cessnock, so when we got here we asked the receptionist about Chinese or sports massage. She gave us a flyer for Thai massage, so we went there and both had a 30-minute head/neck/shoulder massage. I think it was my husband’s first massage and he moaned and groaned an awful lot! (I was invited into the room while he had his massage) But I think the upshot was that he thought it was good! He was amazed by the strength and dexterity of the tiny little dot of a lady who massaged us both. After a good hot shower and lots of water, he’s now sleeping the pummeling off ๐Ÿ˜‰

Oh, lunch was in Gosford at the Trackside restaurant. We shared a Mexicana pizza ($14.50 for a large) and it was more than enough for the two of us.

Bruises on the second day after the Thai massage…

Community Quilt 24

26 10 2012

I wasn’t sure if I’d have time to quilt the last community quilt in the batch of 11 that Lisa gave me in September. But I had a couple of hours this afternoon, and I’d already pin basted it last weekend (that saved me at least an hour).

The only way I was going to get it done in a few hours was to do an all-over motif in a single thread. And a motif that I could do easily and didn’t really have to think about. No rulers, no markings, and nothing too complicated.

The quilt top was lovely — such bright colours and the entire thing was hand-pieced!!! Who know how many hours it took the maker to make…

I decided on a purple/pink thread (King Tut ‘Egyptian Princess’, colour #403), with a pale pink (Deco-Bob) in the bobbin to match pale pink backing fabric. And I decided on what I call an ‘open headband‘ motif.

Here’s the result (click on a photo to view it larger):

And here’s a bit of the back:


Community Quilt 23

23 10 2012

This was the last quilt I had time to quilt at the retreat last weekend (yes, it was a four-day weekend…). And what a beauty it was! The colours, while they aren’t ‘my’ colours, were just gorgeous and the fabrics harmonised so beautifully. This was just a simple 9-patch quilt, but the effect of the colour wash from dark on the outside to light in the centre is just stunning.

I knew I wanted to quilt it with an all-over motif and in a thread that would not detract from the beautiful fabrics. My friend Bobbie had *just* the thread — ‘Driftwood’ from Fil-Tec (Harmony range), which was a variegated thread in soft maroons, creams, tans and with a hint of blue/grey. It was PERFECT for this quilt — the light parts showed well on the dark fabrics and the dark parts showed well on the light fabrics, creating a reverse colour wash effect to the quilt top.

Glenys suggested a large leaf motif as there were leaves in the lighter fabrics, so that’s what I did — leaves and vines and curly bits.

Click on a photo to view it larger.

And the back:


Community Quilt 22

23 10 2012

What a pretty quilt top this one was! I really liked the colour wash that used much of the colour palette, and the sharpness of the piecing against the crisp white background.

I followed my friend Michelle’s suggestion for doing straight, simple lines in various variegated threads in this quilt. I liked the effect of ‘squares within squares’ that the straight stitching created (yes, I used my Line Tamer ruler to do the straight lines!). Along with Community Quilts 18, 19, 20, 21 and 23, I also completed this one at my quilt retreat last weekend.

Click on a photo to view it larger.


Community Quilt 21

23 10 2012

Wow! This quilt top was just stunning! So much work had gone into it — all of the appliques were hand stitched. It deserved some serious quilting, so I experimented with different motifs and designs in the different areas of the quilt — and I had my first attempts at using a scallop ruler. The scallops look fine from a distance, but don’t get too close as some are a little wonky!

Some of the various quilting techniques and motifs I used on this quilt included:

  • stitch in the ditch around all the applique pieces
  • McTavishing in the black centre square
  • leaf and vine motifs in the first black border, with flowers in the open part of the baskets (all black on black so hard to see in photos!)
  • ‘piano key’ straight lines (using a straight ruler — Line Tamer from Four Paws Quilting)
  • scallops in the outer cream border (using a scallop ruler from Handi Quilter, courtesy of my friend Michelle)
  • Diane Gaudynski-style feathers in the large outer black border

I only used black and cream threads throughout as it was important that the quilting enhanced the quilt top without overpowering it. This quilt took about 12 hours to complete.

Click on a photo to view it larger.


Community Quilt 20

23 10 2012

The next quilt top I worked on at the retreat was one I called ‘fractured diamonds’. None of the other girls liked it, and I wasn’t too fussed about either the fabrics used or the offset diamonds. However, it was a quilt top that needed quilting, so the only decision I had to make was how to quilt it.

Glenys suggested that I do diamond ‘spirals’, so I did — on all the diamonds (blue water fabric, autumn leaves brown fabric, and the cream areas in between). I used variegated threads for the coloured diamonds and a plain cream thread for the background.

Click on a photo to view it larger.


Community Quilt 19

23 10 2012

Prior to our weekend quilting retreat, I’d stitched part of this quilt — I’d gone around the edges of all the hand-appliqued pieces in the Dresden fans (flowers) with invisible thread just to hold them in place properly. I’d also stitched the centres of each ‘flower’ in a stylised sunflower/Fibonacci spiral (yes, I made it up!).

So all I had to do on the retreat was decide how to quilt the big open yellow spaces. Glenys suggested emulating the centres of the flowers in the yellow blocks — I thought that was a great idea, so did so, then stitched flower petals to attach to the centre, making sure each petal point matched a particular point on the fans.

Click on a photo to view it larger.


Community Quilt 18

23 10 2012

This was such a gorgeous quilt top! The colours, the fact that it was perfectly straight, and the gorgeous tones of the beige fabrics blended so well that the light and dark beiges were hard to distinguish. The backing was the same dark blue fabric as the darkest blue in the log cabins, and had a panel of these same log cabin blocks through the centre of the backing.

How to quilt this so that the lovely top was enhanced? Well, it was obvious that I’d use a beige thread in the beige areas — that was a given. But the choice of motif was a little harder to decide. First though, were the blue parts of the log cabins. I saw art deco and Navajo Indian motifs in the straight lines, so to really emphasise the straightness, I marked and stitched circles (!), bringing out even more the art deco/Navajo elements that I already saw.

I then stitched in the ditch and in the centre of the blue bars down to the largest circle and in parts of the inner circle too. I used a navy thread in the top (no I don’t recall which one — I quilted six community quilts quilts over my quilt retreat weekend and didn’t keep track of my threads), with a matching navy bobbin thread.

Finally, I decided on a simple wave motif for the beige areas and quilted those after I’d completed all the blue areas.

Click on a photo to show it larger.



2012 Challenge

20 10 2012

This is my weekend with the girls — my four quilting buddies. We sew, we laugh, we talk, we laugh some more… And we share the results of our challenge pieces for the year. I set the 2012 challenge at our last retreat weekend in October 2011. My friends didn’t disappoint! They all interpreted the challenge in their own way and did some fabulously creative work.

Here are the results:

My piece (more details here) was an art quilt that was based on a photo of the beach at Port Douglas in Far North Queensland.

Bobbie’s piece interpreted the wide brown land, the relentless sun, the flooding rain, and the cool green of the Australian bush.

Flora took her inspiration from a Ken Duncan photo and used a confettit technique to create the background and the gum tree’s leaves. She used a silk in the reddish brown of the Australian landscape for the border.

Glenys lost her first piece when she moved house earlier this year, so she did another one! In this gorgeous quilt (the photos don’t do it justice) she wanted to show the harsh Australian sun and the red earth.

Finally, Michelle used variegated threads on black and a whole heap of free motion stitching to depict Uluru (Ayers Rock), the bush, and the pools of water in that landscape.

Here are all our efforts on Bobbie’s design wall:


As with previous years, I think our work was just stunning and showed all sorts of creativity! Well done girls!

After the reveal of the challenge pieces, we then have ‘show and tell’ where we show some of the stuff we’ve made during the year. Here are some of our efforts:

Now that the formal part of the proceedings are finished, let the party begin! ๐Ÿ˜‰