Scrappy Quilt: Finished

28 01 2014

I finished up my scrappy quilt over the Australia Day long weekend. This quilt is for me, and used up lots of 2.5″ squares of scrap fabric. The only ‘new’ fabrics in this quilt were the yellow border fabric and the blue/green backing fabric, both of which I bought in Bali about 18 months ago. I still don’t think I made much of a dent in my scrap stash… 😉

For the quilting, I did cathedral windows in the 100-square blocks, a long U shape in the first yellow borders, a double circle in the border of scrap fabrics, then some spirals in the outer yellow border. I used the same thread throughout. All the quilting, except the stitch in the ditch and the straight lines in the outer border where I used the Line Tamer ruler, was done free motion. No rulers, markers, templates.

On the back, I joined the backing fabric with more strips of the scrap squares, and as I’d made five 100-square blocks, I used the fifth block as my foot warmer pocket — I backed it in a fleecy fabric and quilted it the same as the main quilt. For the binding, I used the same fabric as the backing fabric and I like how that contrasts nicely with the yellow in the borders.

The pattern I used was a free one from here:

Click on a photo to view it larger.





Back: First photos without the foot pocket attached


back01 back03

The back (inside) of the foot pocket on the back:





Threads used:

  • Top: Fil-Tec Glide ‘Mango’ (40 wt trilobal polyester, color 80116)
  • Bottom: Fil-Tec Glide pre-wound bobbin (white)

Cute but destructive birds

25 01 2014

Like many parts of Western Australia, my local shopping centre’s surrounding parkland is overrun with Little Corellas. They are a very social, very noisy native bird, and they are also very destructive, digging up lawns and making small sand hollows in the lawn as a result, pecking at wood and anything else that intrigues them, and flocking in huge numbers. They are super cute as long as it’s not your property they’re attacking 😉

On a very hot day last week I was walking back to my car in the local shopping centre’s car park when I spotted this pair. They had moved away from the main flock and were pecking away at the old tree stump/pole under the shade of the peppermint tree. They weren’t afraid of me at all and I was able to get within a metre of them to take these photos with my phone. At one stage the one on the left put its foot on the back of the other one as if to hold it in position so it didn’t fall off the narrow perch, or if you want to get all anthropomorphic, it looked like one had it’s arm over the other one’s shoulders, just like good friends do 😉

Perhaps they were a mating pair — it seems they pair for life:









Update: This flock of Little Corellas has nearly decimated the main signage for the shopping centre. This signage was replaced less than 12 months’ ago, and these birds have attacked it with gusto the past couple of weeks. As a result, there are bits of styrofoam everywhere near the main doors to the shopping centre, and the sign is looking wrecked. Either the signage will have to be replaced with something more sturdy and less attractive to birds, or the corellas will have to go. I wonder which it will be….

Spoonflower order has arrived!

25 01 2014

I’m attending an Empty Spools workshop at Asilomar, Pacific Grove, California next month, and one of the supplies I needed to have was a photo of a person’s face printed onto fabric. I don’t have an inkjet printer or the required ‘fabric paper’ so I asked the tutor if I could use Spoonflower and get my photos printed that way. She said that was a good idea.

So I gathered together about eight different photos of people (and one dog and one cat!), put them into a single image file, then ordered a yard of Kona cotton fabric from Spoonflower, which contained all the portraits as about 8×10 printed photos. I placed my order on January 6, Spoonflower told me they’d printed it by January 9, and were shipping it on January 10. It arrived at my PO box sometime between 21 and 24 January, so I’ve received it well before I need it late next month.

It has a lovely ‘hand’, so hopefully will stitch really well.

I won’t post a photo of the yard of fabric until after I’ve started the workshop 😉


Awesome service gets a customer for life

23 01 2014


I’ve just been on the receiving end of some AWESOME customer service from Living Edge/Herman Miller.

Back in 2007, I bought 2x Herman Miller Aeron chairs as I was now working from home full time.

Recently, the gas lift in one of them started to fail, and I’d slowly sink to the floor.

I calling Living Edge in Perth (who I bought them from) and got a callback almost immediately from the Sydney office, who look after maintenance and warranty issues. I was told that the spare part would be free AND that they would fit at home for me, even though I live 160 km (100 miles) from the nearest store! All I had to do was take photos of the product/serial number label on the bottom of the chairs and send them to the Sydney office.

The guy from Living Edge arrived today and fixed my chair AND replaced the same part in my DH’s chair as it was purchased at the same time. And cleaned/serviced/regreased our chairs too. ALL under warranty, including the travel/callout/labour time. ALL for free.

It’s nice to see that a big company like Herman Miller stand by their products so well. They were expensive chairs, and although they have a 12-year warranty, I was surprised that something like the gas lift was covered under warranty AND that there was no labour charge. FTW!!

Would I buy another one of their chairs? Very likely, just based on that awesome customer service. They’re good chairs too 😉

See also:



Driving and renting a car in the US

23 01 2014

A professional colleague of mine is going to rent a car and drive in the US (California mostly) for the first time, and he asked me if I had any tips. Over the course of a couple of emails, here’s what I told him, based on my experiences as an Australian who rents a car in the US and drives quite long distances there at least once a year. I decided to write a blog post incorporating our email exchange so that I have it for future reference, and in case anyone else is looking for this sort of information.


Renting a car

Where to get it: In the earlier days, I’d hunt the car rental company websites looking for the best deal and trying to compare apples and oranges. However, the last two times I’ve got a car via AND got insurance via Priceline as well. If you enter a bid, you can often get a car for $25 a day or even less, even when it’s normally $50/day. And that’s from the brand name companies. For example, I bid $25 a day on a mid-size car and got it with Avis via Priceline, so it will be just a tad over $500 for the two weeks including all taxes etc. (they are the killer, as are one-way drop-off fees or fees for dropping off at a different location to where you picked up the car!). I could have tried bidding lower, but I thought that was a good deal so I took it. You’re not bidding against other people – Priceline submits the bid to the providers and they choose whether or not they want to accept it. I specified only brand name rental companies too, when I placed my bid.

Drivers license: I haven’t needed an International Drivers License any time I’ve rented in the US (typically in California and Texas). I just show my Australian drivers license and my passport, and that’s all the car rental companies seem to want.

Car size and other info: If you’re driving any distance, consider a standard or mid-size car, not a compact. You’ll have more leg room, driver/passenger comfort, and space for suitcases etc. I rarely get an SUV as I like to have a boot (trunk) that hides my possessions/suitcases/laptop bag from people! The price difference is not a lot between the models. If you’re travelling with more than 2 people for any part of the journey, consider a full-size 4 door. All cars I’ve booked have had air con and unlimited mileage, so that’s a no-brainer. One other thing — car rental companies invariably will NOT let you take the car into Mexico, so if you’re thinking of going to Mexico, do it another way. Typically, Canada is OK, but check with the car rental company before you book in case they don’t cover you and the car while you’re there. If you nominate an additional driver, you’re likely to pay an extra daily fee for that, AND the other driver usually has to be with you at the time you pick up the car so that their license etc. can be checked. So if you and your other party are arriving at different times, that could be a problem.

Car rental insurance: Again, I got this as an add-on via Priceline when I booked the car. I think the insurance cost me $80/week for full coverage with a US insurer. While your Australian travel insurance and credit card insurance offers SOME coverage, don’t expect it to offer all. There were many years when I didn’t take car insurance and winged it hoping that I wouldn’t have an accident. I never did have an accident, but I’m a bit more cautious these days so I take the insurance option that Priceline offers, instead of the very expensive insurance offered when you pick up your car.

GPS or not: I’ve never taken the (expensive) option of a GPS unit. That’s because I’m often going to places I’ve already been, or have printed out my Google Maps and driving directions before I leave Australia and have them ready to use. When I’m in my hotel room I’ll recheck the route via my laptop the night before, and have the printed map next to me when I’m driving.

Fill up or not: I usually opt to fill up the tank myself before returning it to the airport (there are always gas stations ringing the airport for the rental car people), UNLESS you know that the full tank option the car rental company is offering is way less than the price per gallon on the street (it rarely is, and how do you know the street price when you’ve only just landed?). Be aware that if you take the rental car company’s fill up option, they will charge you upfront for a FULL tank of gas no matter how much is left in the tank, so if you take that option, make sure there’s not much fuel left in the tank when you return the car.

Returning the car at LAX: Signposting back to the rental car return places at LAX is fairly clear, BUT stay in the right lane of W Century Blvd heading back to the airport off the 405 (there’s an ARCO gas station on the right after you cross under the freeway and a Shell on the right at the corner of Aviation Blvd for filling up). Look for the car rental company signs about halfway up the poles at the corners of the streets. Different companies have different locations, so your company may be in street A whereas another company may be in street B. That said, many are in Aviation Blvd, and there’s a free shuttle to LAX.

Returning the car at DFW: These guys got it right when they built the airport! ALL the car rental companies are in the same lot, and there’s a single shuttle bus (large) option that services ALL companies. Just make sure you catch the correct bus for your DFW Terminal number. Getting the car back to the car rental lot at DFW is super easy as the signage can’t be missed.

Driving in the US

The car: All the controls in your car are the same as at home (except the windscreen wipers which seem to be different in EVERY car no matter where you are) – so the foot pedals for brakes and accelerator are still on the right side of your body, and the parking brake is either in the centre console or a foot press thing, just as in cars here. You’ll be driving on ‘the other side of the road’, but your controls are still in the same place in relation to your body.

Signs and directions: Driving is SO easy in the US! The roads and highways are very well signed (not like Australia) and it’s all very logical. For example, an exit number relates to the number of miles to/from the state border, so is logically sequenced – e.g. Exit 25 in Nevada is 25 miles from the California state border; Exit 26 is approx. one mile after Exit 25; Exit 30 is about 5 miles past Exit 25. Highways are also logical – main interstates are odd numbered north-south and even numbered east-west and the numbering starts at the west coast and moves from left to right across the country for the north-south interstates and from bottom to top for the east-west ones (e.g. I5 is the main north-south interstate running from Canada to Mexico through California; I10 is the main interstate running from California to Texas and beyond; I80 runs east-west via Utah, and I15 runs north-south in California but further east than I5 – there’s a pattern to it all!). Minor highways are typically two or three digits long and are white on the road signs, whereas interstates are blue/red/white signs.

Merging: Merging is done properly by most people, and merging lanes onto freeways/interstates are invariably long and you can get right up to speed before having to merge. Trucks stay in their correct lanes. People let you in. Yes, there are some crazy drivers and speeds at times, but it all seems very controlled.

Speed on freeways and interstates: No-one seems to stick to the speed limit and it can seem crazy at times, but the traffic tends to travel at the same speed so keeping up with it is the best option, especially in LA. Allow a LOT of contingency room with times as an LA freeway back to the airport can become a car park fairly quickly. I always try to get to LAX at least three hours before my flight, in case there’s a problem with the traffic.

HOV/Car pool lanes: If there are two of you, then you can travel in the HOV lanes on the LA freeways (and elsewhere in cities, depending on where you’re going). These are the car pool lanes and require two or more people in the car. When you see an HOV lane, don’t just pull into it – there are double yellow lines for much of their length with the occasional break for a dashed line. You pull in/out where there are the dashed lines.

Other road rules: There’s ‘right turn on a red light if it is safe to do so’ (for us, that would be a left turn on a red) in most states, which is a most eminently sensible law to keep traffic moving. And they have 4-way STOP signs at some intersections. The rule there is you go in the order you arrived, so first one to the intersection stops, then moves off first, the next one stops, and moves off second, etc. Again, eminently sensible and works well.

The hardest things…: The hardest thing about driving in the US is driving on suburban roads with little/no traffic and few lane markings – you invariably turn the wrong way into a street and end up on the wrong side of the road. When driving on marked roads, highways, freeways, it’s really easy — just follow the cars in front! The other hardest thing is being a pedestrian as we look the ‘wrong’ way when checking for traffic.

Paying for petrol: Gas stations in the US, almost without exception, allow you to pay by credit card at the pump. Super simple and super easy and gets the traffic in the gas station flowing quicker. BUT… you may need to enter a US ZIP code to allow your credit card to be recognised. Either find a ZIP code near where you are that you can enter OR go into the gas station first and give them your credit card to pre-authorise while you pump.

Travel insurance

DO NOT travel to the US without travel insurance!!!!! EVER. I can’t stress this enough. A two-day stay in hospital with tests could easily cost $50K and up, and having to be airlifted back to Australia is probably a $30K exercise. I’ve never needed to claim, but one small car accident and a broken bone could cost dearly in both rental car and medical bills without insurance. I get an annual worldwide policy for just over $300 a year. That covers me for any travel within Australia and anywhere in the world. By buying an annual policy, I don’t have to think about travel insurance for individual trips.

Easy cathedral windows quilting motif

19 01 2014

I have LOTS of 2″ squares in my scrappy quilt — probably about 500. As all the fabrics are a mixed bag (batiks, cottons, fabric from old clothes, cheap fabrics, expensive fabrics, stiff fabrics, fraying fabrics, etc.), I wanted to stitch a quilting design that held them all down as much as possible and that secured the seams and joins as far as possible, while also creating a rounded effect against the stark geometry of the squares. I decided on the cathedral window quilting motif (shown finished below), and took photos as I went to explain how to do it super simply.


What I like about this motif is that you get all sorts of sub patterns within it — you get circles, semi circles, flower shapes, and curved diamonds all in the one pattern!

While I could have used rulers to create the arcs, I would’ve spent many hours quilting each block and likely getting frustrated if the rulers moved a little. This quilt is for me to use — it is NOT a show quilt — so my arcs didn’t have to be perfect. The method I describe and illustrate below took me about 15 minutes to stitch in one continuous line — that’s 15 minutes per 1100-square block. And to be honest, the effect is just as dramatic as ruler work if you don’t look too closely 😉

The essence of this motif is the ‘S’ curve — if you can free motion stitch an ‘S’ curve you can do this!

How to create your own cathedral windows:

  1. Start at the top of a block of squares — I started one square in from the edge of the block.
  2. Stitch an ‘S’ curve with the centre of the ‘S’ going through the seam join. I tried to make my curves between 1/4 and 1/2 inch at the fattest point, and arcing relatively evenly throughout the curve. But don’t beat yourself up over this — it doesn’t have to be perfect as the end result still looks good. Just go with the flow of the ‘S’ curve.
  3. Repeat the ‘S’ curve motif all the way down to the bottom of the column of squares.
  4. When you reach the bottom, come back up the column stitching ‘S’ curves in the opposite direction.
  5. You’ll end up with small ovals with pointed ends (like little footballs).
  6. You end up where you started so stitch an arc across to the top of the next column and repeat the ‘S’ curves going down and then back up.
  7. When you’ve finished all the ‘columns’, arc down to the rows and stitch ‘S’ curves across all the rows. Turn the quilt if you find it easier to stitch up/down than left/right.
  8. Stitch an arc at the end of the row down to the next row and repeat….
  9. Repeat until you get to the bottom of the block, then stitch arcs across the bottom and up the left side until you get back to the beginning.

And you’re done! Cathedral window quilting the easy way.

Here’s a diagram in case you learn better this way or want to practice with pen and paper first (explanation below the diagram; the arrows show direction):


  1. Start at the green star position.
  2. ‘S’ curve down the column (solid line with yellow ‘1’ in the diagram).
  3. Come back up the column in the opposite ‘S’ curve direction (dashed yellow ‘2’ in the diagram).
  4. Stitch an arc to the next column (yellow ‘3’).
  5. Repeat steps 2 to 4 for all columns (NOT shown on diagram).
  6. When you’ve finished the columns, stitch an arc to the edge of the block (red ‘1’ in the diagram).
  7. Stitch another arc down to the first row (red ‘2’).
  8. Stitch an ‘S’ curve along the first row (red ‘3’; solid line).
  9. When you get to the end of the row, stitch back in the opposite direction (red ‘4’; dashed line).
  10. At the end of the first row, stitch an arc down to the next row (red ‘5’).
  11. Repeat for the rest of the rows (NOT shown on the diagram).
  12. At the bottom, stitch arcs all the way along the bottom, then up the left side (NOT shown on diagram), back to the start position (green star).

Revamping an old quilt

19 01 2014

I learned to quilt back in the late 1980s. After making a few quilts, I stopped when life, work, etc. got in the way. One of the quilts I made back in the 1980s was this one, photographed in 2006 when our house in Perth was for sale:


There was a lot wrong with it, including the horrible hand-quilted stitches I did in black thread on white. Yes, there was a time when I hand-quilted… long before I knew you could quilt on a machine! The stitches looked OK on the front, but they were shockers on the back. I remember stitching this big quilt inside a 16″ quilting hoop… I must’ve been MAD.

Here are some ‘before’ pictures of this quilt, including the embarrassing stitches on the back:




As I was out of Community Quilts to quilt over the summer break while the coordinator was taking a well-deserved break, I decided to tackle this old quilt to try to breathe some life back into it.

The first task was to stitch in the ditch around all the blocks and all the arms of each star. I started with invisible thread, but it kept snapping, so as my patience was wearing thin, I decided not to persevere with it and swapped to a slightly off-white thread (with black inside the stars).

Once I’d outlined all the main elements, I unpicked much of the hand stitching. That was a thankless task! And very time consuming. I was better than I thought back in the day and had knotted the stitches every six or so, which meant I couldn’t get a run on pulling out snipped stitches from one end. <sigh>

I decided to quilt the start blocks with McTavishing, making sure that I went up to but didn’t go into the little stars. I left the hand stitching on those.


For the main border, I stitched lots of hearts and loops, again leaving the big hearts and the hand stitching for those. I didn’t quilt the black sashing strips or the maroon keystone pieces (in the sashing and the main border).


A couple of things that I noticed when revisiting this quilt:

  • Who knows what batting I used in it! It was quite puffy, so it was probably a polyester wadding. It was puffy in some places, thin in others, overlapping in others (I could feel the overlaps), and non-existent in others mostly at the other border where I had obviously run out!
  • The binding was done with bias strips (who uses those anymore?) and was very uneven. In fact the whole outer border was a bit of a mess, so I didn’t try to quilt it. I left it as it was, though I did stitch in the ditch in the borders.
  • Puckering was obvious once I started quilting. It was probably a result of not cutting correctly on the grain. Where possible I either stitched it into submission or left it if at the outer border.
  • Marks on the fabric. There were a few marks on the fabric that looked like rust. As this quilt has hardly been used, who knows where they came from or how long they’ve been there. I didn’t try to remove them.
  • Colour fastness. I was surprised how well the colours have stood the test of time. None of the fabrics or the black thread appeared to have faded and none of the black thread I removed left any black dye. I doubt these fabrics were made or treated the same way as quilting cottons today, and it’s likely that some were just cottons from a fabric store, not special quilting fabrics.

I was quite pleased with the end result.


Scrappy quilt: The middle

19 01 2014

Well, I only needed 400 squares for my scrappy quilt — 100 for each block. Making it 2 x 3 blocks would’ve made it HUGE, so as I wanted a lap quilt I stopped at 4 blocks (actually I made 5, and intend putting the 5th one on the back as a snuggly place for my feet in winter, like the old quillows).

With the sashing borders, more squares outside the sashing, and the main borders, this quilt is about 64 x 64 inches… plenty big enough for wrapping around me in winter (though it’s hard to think of winter when it’s close to 40C [104F] outside at the moment!).

Here’s a photo of one finished block, with the inner sashing border and the outer squares:


I’ve since added a wider yellow border in the same fabric as the sashing fabric around each block and put it all together ready for quilting. Actually, I started the quilting today, but I won’t take any more photos until I’ve finished it.

While white would have been a better choice to set off the multi-coloured blocks, I decided to use only fabric from my stash and NOT buy any more. I had a few metres of this lovely clear yellow batik I purchased in Bali a year or so ago, and it looked fine when I auditioned it against the blocks, so I went with that. Besides, a quilt that is in heavy use in the living room while watching TV and potentially drinking red wine or eating a snack is just asking for spillage if I did it in white!

The backing fabric as also from Bali, but that will remain a surprise until I finish it and take the photos.

Beautiful glass sculpture

19 01 2014

I saw this beautiful glass sculpture of a stingray at a friend’s new house recently. I love the colours — the iridescence, the shape, the sinuous lines. And the sandstone/limestone block on which it’s mounted just adds to the effect of a stingray flying low through shallow water over the white sand.

IMAG1646  IMAG1645


Summer heat

19 01 2014

I really don’t like the heat of an Australian summer. It may be a dry heat (humidity is FAR worse, in my opinion), but it’s still darned hot. And the threat of bushfires is ever-present.

Last week we had a run of days over 35C, with a couple of days over 40C (105F). One night it was still 33C (91F) at midnight, and according to my car, it was 34C just after 8:30 am the next morning… and rising quickly.


That day the temperature peaked an hour or so later at just a tad under 40C, then the sea breeze same in; the photo below was taken just after the sea breeze started to hit — only a minute or so before my car reported that the outside temperature was 40C. Note that I was very responsible and only took the photos when the car was stopped and pulled over to the side of the road 😉


We’ve got another batch of extreme heat again this coming week. I am forever grateful to Mr Carrier, the inventor of modern air conditioning!