US trip: 22 March 2017

23 03 2017

Today I checked out of the AirBNB where I’d stayed for the past 4 nights. What a lovely experience I had with the hosts and other guests, and what a lovely house! If you’re intending to visit the Tampa/St Pete area, let me know and I’ll give you their AirBNB details. You’ll need a car if you stay there, but everything in the area is within easy driving distance; some restaurants are within walking distance (2 blocks away).

I’m currently at the airport waiting for my BFF to arrive from Boston, then we’ll head to the conference hotel in St Petersburg for the next 4 nights.


After checking into the hotel, we caught the Downtown Looper trolley (50c per ride) to the Holocaust Museum stop just two blocks from the Chihuly Collection — a building housing some of Dale Chihuly’s amazing glass art (pics to come!). Wow, what a collection!!!! If you’re ever in St Pete, you have to put this on your list. Here are a couple of the photos of these magnificent glass pieces.

Quilters looking at this picture might think it’s familiar — that’s because Melissa Sobotka has won many awards with an art quilt of this Chihuly work

These were in the ceiling — it was like walking underwater through a fantastic coral garden

HUGE ‘garden’ of glass. See the people at the back left for perspective

HUGE ‘garden’ of glass. See the people at the back right for perspective

Across the street in the Morean Arts Center Glass Studio and Hot Shop, where we sat in on the hourly demonstration of glass blowing and making. An even bigger ‘Wow!’ This was fascinating and is free with your attendance at the Chihuly Collection (it might be free anyway — no-one asked to see our tickets). Again, pics to come once I process them. We saw a glass maker (Tim) create an amazing fluted bowl, and watched him through all the steps. The female glass maker (Danielle) helped him at various stages and explained every step of what Tim was doing — she’s a natural teacher and was super good at explaining it all. This is a ‘must see’ as well.

Once we got back to the hotel, we registered for the conference, caught up a few of our ‘tribe’, then I went to the freelancer’s happy hour at a local tavern right near the university. Met some interesting people there.

Tomorrow the conference starts!

US trip: 21 March 2017

22 03 2017

I drove down to Anna Maria Island today, to visit with family. My second cousin, his wife, his dad (my 1st cousin once removed) and his dad’s partner, and his aunt (also a 1st cousin once removed) were all there, and we had a lovely time catching up on family news and family history. I last saw the aunt when I was is in Michigan last October, but hadn’t seen the rest of that branch of the family since 2002 when we all in Nashville.

I hear the beaches on Anna Maria Island are beautiful, but we spent the day in the rental house just talking — the beach will always be there, but my family may not (the older members of the family are well into their 80s now).

US trip: 20 March 2017

21 03 2017

Today was a full ‘day off’. I had planned a lot to see and do in the Tampa/St Petersburg area, with contingencies if the timing wasn’t right, but I got everything on my list done.

First up was a visit to Blick’s Art Supplies near the Tampa International Airport. Think Office Depot (US) or Office Works (Australia), but for art supplies! Heaven on a stick ­čśë I didn’t buy much (I have to cart it home) but I looked at EVERYTHING in the store.

Next I headed across the bay to St Petersburg and the Dali Museum, where there was also a Frida Kahlo exhibit on at the same time. The admission price ($24 for adults) gave access to both.┬áThe docent-led tour of the Dali works was meant to be 45 mins, but she had a really big group at 11:30 on a Monday (I think the tours are every hour on the half hour). This meant she was very slow getting through her spiel and answering questions, and waiting for all of us to get up close and personal to see some of the imagery she was explaining. I left the group after about 30 mins after realising I might have been better off getting the free audio handset/headset and being guided by that instead. That’s what most people were doing. What the docent said up to that point was interesting and useful, but I found it was too drawn out because of the group’s size. The paintings are pretty awesome.

I’m not sure what I was expecting with the Frida Kahlo exhibit, but those expectations weren’t met for me. There was almost none of her brightly coloured work on display; instead, plenty of large black and white photos, lots of text about her life, and quite a few of her smaller and more intimate pieces. It was hard to see, but if you looked up after the first two ‘rooms’ of the exhibit, there was a sign that said that the family-friendly part finished and the full tour kept going. The more graphic works were in the ‘full tour’ section.

This painting was HUGE and amazing. If you squint you can see a pixellated Lincoln portrait!

Next stop was Mazzaro’s Italian Market for lunch. This place had great reviews on TripAdvisor, and a personal recommendation from a friend, so I made the effort to get there. It’s not in either town and you’ll need a car/cab to get there. I had the HUGE Hot Italian sandwich (for an amazingly cheap $5.50) and it was all kinds of awesome.

From Mazzaro’s I headed south on I-275 over the super high Skyway Bridge across the bay to Ellenton where there’s an outlet mall. Did a small amount of shopping (I knew what I wanted) before heading north again (this time on I-75) to Apollo Beach and the Manatee Viewing Center (free admission) immediately next to the main power station for Tampa.

There were lots of manatees! They don’t do much, but they did move around a bit, surface for air every few minutes, occasionally give a glimpse of their tails. Mostly, they just looked like submerged logs in the water.

I didn’t get back to the AirBNB place until 6pm, so it was a long day of circling the entire Tampa Bay!

US trip: 17-19 March 2017

20 03 2017

This year my conference is in St Petersburg, Florida, so I headed over a few days beforehand to allow enough time to deal with the jet lag and to see the Tampa/St Pete area, where I’ve never been before.

The flights

It’s along haul to the other side of the world, so where I can, I go Business Class — being cramped up in Economy for 30-odd hours is not my idea of fun! The first leg was the 4-or-so hours from Perth to Sydney (Qantas A330, with the lay-flat seats).

Domestic Business Class menu

Pre-flight drink — sparkling cabernet, showing controls for seat behind

Chicken and vege soup

Pork cutlet

I overnighted in Sydney at the airport, then caught the BIG flight the next day — Sydney non-stop to Dallas Fort Worth (DFW), some 15-16 hours in the air. We were late leaving Sydney (strong winds and driving rain), so were late getting into DFW, which meant my original just do-able 2-hour connection time was now fewer than 90 minutes. Immigration was super quick and fully automated, and Customs was quick too, but waiting for my luggage took ages. Then I had to get it through Customs and to the drop-off point for the transfer to the American Airlines flight to Tampa. Next was the TSA security line (there’s no TSA Pre-check for boarding passes issued by Qantas), then through to check the board for the terminal and gate my flight was leaving from — of course, it was the farthest terminal from where we had landed! It was all a big rush and I made the boarding gate with 5 minutes to spare before the first boarding call. At that point I was fine, but I was hoping my luggage would make the flight too.

The flight from DFW to Tampa left about 10 minutes late and arrived in Tampa a little late too. Coming in over the Gulf of Mexico was great — even though I wasn’t in a window seat, the person who was let me look at the stunning scenery.

After arriving, I eventually found the guy meeting me at the airport and taking me to my destination — an AirBNB house I liked the look of from the pics and reviews on the internet. Charles the driver was great — a good driver, and a keen wit and intelligence. I’ve requested him again for the return trip to the airport on Sunday.

The initial accommodation

This time I decided to take a punt and give AirBNB a try. I’d researched several places in St Pete and Tampa and one kept standing out and I kept coming back to it. After emailing the owner several times with my newbie questions, I booked 4 nights there. This was back in May, and I just hoped it would be as the internet pictures and reviews indicated it would. It was! What a wonderful house — there are 6 bedrooms, all with en suite bathrooms. The house overlooks the Hillsborough River, and all the guests have full run of everything except the owners section – kitchen, living rooms (one upstairs JUST for the guests), pool, dining area, balconies, fire pits, and even the grand piano!

My bed is like a dream — super comfy mattress and pillows. And the entire house is air-conditioned. Breakfast is ‘make your own’ from all the food put out each morning, including bacon and eggs. The hosts are delightful too. All in all, this has been a very positive experience. I’ve also met and chatted at length with some of the other guests, all of whom are nice. And all this for less than the price of an impersonal hotel room.

Oh, and did I mention the three full-size poodles, and the African grey parrot who talks and whistles at you, and the cockatoo?

Out and about Day 1 (19 March)

I picked up my rental car from the airport at noon, then headed out to Clearwater Beach on the recommendation of a friend. Problem was, it was a beautiful spring Sunday and everyone else had the same idea!!! Traffic was a bit of a nightmare, so I didn’t bother trying to actually SEE Clearwater Beach up close and personal — instead I saw how white it was from the road, and kept driving south down to St Pete Beach. The traffic was much lighter and many of the public carparks for these beaches weren’t full — to me the beaches looked the same, so I’m not sure what the attraction was with Clearwater.

After St Pete Beach, I looped back to St Petersburg itself, driving by the hotel where the conference will be to get my bearings (it’s close to the Dali Museum, where there’s a Frida Kahlo exhibition on at the moment). Then ┬áheaded back to the AirBNB, after stopping for a late lunch (3pm) at a southern-style restaurant on North Florida Ave (Fodder and Shine).

This evening was quiet early on as everyone was out, so I started writing this blog post. Then people started coming home and we started chatting. Two hours later… and I’m finished for today.

Sophie Standing workshop

11 03 2017

Last weekend I had the privilege of attending the first-ever workshop held by textile artist Sophie Standing. And what a workshop it was! Sophie (originally from the UK, then ten years in Kenya, and now living in the Seychelles) was an absolute delight, so helpful, and just an all-round lovely person. And her art is AMAZING! The four days just flew by, ably helped by the hospitality of Michelle and her team at Handcrafters House in Midland, Western Australia. Thanks must go to Michelle for working for more than two years to convince Sophie she needed to share her skills with the quilting world. I’m sure a new world has now opened up to Sophie, and I expect to see her moving from strength to strength as her work and techniques become more widely known.

Now, to the workshop…

We all worked from the same photo (provided by Sophie) of a shell on a beach, but the variety of work produced by the 20 ladies in the workshop was as different as they were.

Sophie started by talking about some of her pieces and the techniques she used for choosing fabrics, thread, and stitches. Then we were off on our own, choosing our fabrics and getting started on cutting out, pinning, and stitching. I think we all needed a little help from Sophie with our fabric choices — I know I did, and I was really pleased with the fabrics she helped me choose. I didn’t use some, added others (the lizards on the body of the shell, for example — I figured if Sophie can put flowers on a gorilla, I can put lizards on a shell!), but basically used the palette she helped me with.

The photos below show the original shell, some of my work in progress, followed by a section of Sophie’s work, and then some photos of some of the other work done in class.

My interpretation – in progress

(click on a photo to view it larger)

Others’ work

Sophie and her work



Huey, Dewey, and Louie

11 03 2017

A couple of months ago, I made some baby quilts for a relative. I purchased a duck applique pattern when I was at the New England Quilt Museum’s shop (Lowell, MA) last October. The pattern was for 9 different ducks on the quilt, but after cutting out the pieces for three ducks and knowing I was making three quilts, I figured cutting out nine ducks in total was enough, not 27!

I always make gender-neutral baby quilts, even if the recipient knows the gender of the child (she doesn’t) — I just have a thing about the stereotypical pink for girls and blue for boys, and so I make baby quilts in yellows, greens, oranges, and purples instead. For my niece’s quilts, I chose various shades of purple and of course the yellows and oranges in the ducks.

I started by cutting out a wide strip for the ducks, then fusing them in positions where they looked inwards to the centre of the quilt, with the middle duck looking straight out (I call them Huey, Dewey, and Louie). After fusing them in place, I satin stitched around them in matching colours. For the top section of each quilt, I did some improvisational piecing with strips of purple fabric, interspersed with flashes of yellow and orange. I then separated the top section from the duck base with a strip of yellow or purple fabric (the ducks on the darker background were separated by the yellow strip). The backing is some purple sheeting I had.

I quilted the top section of each quilt differently — for one I did a large meandering stipple, for another an open headband motif, and for the last one, a spiral motif. For each I used a variegated purple cotton thread. Each of the bottom sections has wobbly vertical lines, emulating rain. (On one, I’d done a heap of tight McTavishing in the bottom section, then because the tension wasn’t right, I decided to unpick it and do the vertical lines instead. Fortunately, I was on a retreat at the time and one of the other ladies helped me out — between us, it took a total of 10 person hours to remove that stitching!!!! Thanks again, Carol!)

I bound each quilt with the dark pink/purple fabric, stitching the binding to the wrong side of the quilt, then pulling it over to the right side and machine stitching it down — I liked the effect as the stitching line is straight on the front and doesn’t need to catch the back as it’s already stitched down.

(Click on an image to view it larger)








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And in situ: