Slippery thread: When a thread net just doesn’t work

28 06 2020

I had a spool of very slippery thread that continually unwound itself and slipped off the spool (a variegated Wonderfil Silco 40 wt, in case you’re curious). I wanted to use it on a quilt, but it just tangled as it came off the spool. So I put a thread net over the spool to try to tame it. That helped a little bit, but not a lot—instead of falling off the spool, the thread now tangled after it left the thread net and as it went through the tension disks on my Handi Quilter Sweet Sixteen, and then it would either snap or cause little blips of thread on the back of the quilt. It was frustrating because I had to check and adjust the flow of the thread through the thread path to the needle every few seconds. For a large lap quilt, that got old fairly quickly! There had to be another solution, short of throwing this spool into the bin (and believe me, I wanted to throw it into the bin several times, but the colours in the thread were a perfect match for my quilt).

Hmmm…. what to do…. I needed something that guided the thread out through a small hole but it had to be big enough to hold the spool with the lid closed. What could I Macgyver?

To the rescue: A plastic vitamin container with a lid, a sharp-pointed knife, and a thick metal skewer (like you use on the BBQ for kebabs). I used the sharp knife to make a small hole in the centre of the lid from the underside, then gently pushed the skewer through (again, from the underside of the lid) so that the hole was big enough for the thread to pass through without catching, but no too big. Then I used the knife to cut an X on the underside of the container, again using the skewer to open up that hole. This hole needed to be bigger as I needed to be able to push it down onto the spool pin on my machine so that it sat snugly on the spool platform. I pushed the container onto the spool pin, put the thread spool into the container on the pin, grabbed the end of the thread and threaded it through the hole in the lid, then screwed the lid onto the container. Done!

So, how did it work? Quite well and much better than the thread net. I still had the occasional tangle, but these were manageable. Problem solved!

Price gouging

4 06 2020

Talk about price gouging!

I know that tourism providers are hurting badly and reeling from the impact of COVID-19, and that our state’s borders are still closed, which means we can holiday in our own state but not elsewhere in Australia or overseas. And those from other states and overseas can’t come here yet. Our state’s tourist people are actively encouraging us to explore and holiday in our big state.

But why would you when you encounter exorbitant price gouging like this?

Back in Feb, I found an ideal Airbnb place about 2 hours north of Perth that looked perfect for the annual quilting retreat with my friends. At the time the price for booking the whole house for 4 people for 4 days in July or Aug was $200/night + $200 cleaning fee and $155 service fee (whatever that is), so a total of $1155 (~$288 each). Fast forward to today when I looked again at the same place, also 4 people, 4 days, late Jul or mid Aug (and any other date I put in outside school and pubic hols for the next 9 months) — the price has now jumped to $724/night + $200 cleaning fee + $480.79 service fee, for a total of $3575.80 (~$894 each) — more than a 300% increase!

That’s a BIG NOPE from me.

Gloria Loughman retreat: The Abstract Landscape

3 06 2020

Better late than never! I attended a 4-day residential retreat with Gloria Loughman in early March 2020, just before the world went to hell in a handbasket with the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. I forgot to blog about it!

The theme was ‘The Abstract Landscape’ and we could use one of our own photos for inspiration, or one of Gloria’s patterns. Gloria also had hand-painted and hand-dyed fabric for purchase, or we could use our own fabric—commercial fabric and/or fabric we painted on the first day of the retreat. I used my own fabric with some from the piece I painted. The inspiration for my piece was a group of photos taken by others during Australia’s devastating bushfires in December 2019/January 2020. I didn’t use one particular photo, instead getting inspiration from the colours and silhouettes in them all.

Much of what we did is now lost from my memory (the changes in our world in the next few days, weeks, and months after the retreat dominated everything and so the details are now gone). But we did start with painting our 1 m pieces of white fabric. Because I knew I was going to do something based on fire, I painted an array of sunset colours from yellow through to deep orange. Once dry, we cut strips of fabric for our background from both our hand-painted fabric and any commercial fabric we were using and lightly stuck these down on another piece of 1 m white fabric, moving them around as required. I think freezer paper was involved.

Yellow/gold/orange fabric strips laid out to create the background

We kept building up our background, then added foreground details. My foreground was the burnt trees of the bush, and that’s where I thought I’d finish.

Background all done and sihouettes of blackened and burnt trees added, but it was still missing something


I then added batting and backing and quilted the piece just using straight-ish horizontal lines across the background and leaving the trees unquilted (except for some very close top-stitching to secure them safely to the quilt). But it was missing something to give perspective and the sense of enormity and hopelessness of these fires. So I hunted out a silhouette image of a kangaroo in full flight and added it in. Finally, I used Robbi Joy Eklow’s facing technique to finish the quilt.

I’ve called it ‘Run for your life’ and it’s for sale (I’ll add it to my Etsy store in the next few days). It’s an art quilt ready for hanging and is 57 x 44 cm / 22.5 x 17.25 inches.


Close up of part of the background and the horizontal quilting

Community Quilts 477 to 483

2 06 2020

I’ve been a bit slow with the Community Quilts posts. First, there was a change of CQ coordinators in our state’s guild (that always delays things as new people coming into the role get familiar with what needs to be done), then there was a lack of prepped quilts (i.e. sandwiched, pin basted, bagged, ready to quilt), then there was the issue of getting the prepped quilts to me, and then me returning them (our state’s internal regional ‘borders’ were all closed for a month or so, and it was only 2 weeks ago that I could go to Perth from where I live). At a personal level was the discombobulation that I’m sure many have felt throughout March, April, and May as world and local events changed rapidly as a result of responses to COVID-19. I know that I couldn’t focus on many things I would normally do as a form of relaxation, such as quilting.

Anyhow, once my brain was in a better place, I knocked off these seven and was able to deliver them to Perth a week or so ago when I picked up my new sewing machine (a Pfaff Performance Icon). I also collected another two bags of quilts for quilting, so hopefully I won’t take so long with those.

Community Quilt 477

Community Quilt 478

Community Quilt 479

Community Quilt 480

Community Quilt 481

Community Quilt 482

Community Quilt 483

Commission for 20 luggage tags

2 06 2020

A travel company commissioned me to make 20 luggage tags for them, in green. The prep took nearly as long as sewing them! They are on their way to the US today.

I have others for sale in my Etsy store, for when you’re next ready to travel.


Cut pieces of fabric, plastic for pockets, inner stiffening fabric, and cotton webbing loops

Everything prepped for making the luggage tags

20 completed luggage tags, in green fabric with neon green loops

20 finished luggage tags

Bluprint: Getting your forever classes

25 05 2020

Sadly, Bluprint (ex Craftsy) is closing down! I’ve written up a set of instructions for downloading your Bluprint ‘forever’ classes here:

Finishing the Iggy Marley art quilt

27 01 2020

Another art quilt I started in 2018 is now finished! I did Susan Carlson’s workshop in May 2018 and created Iggy Marley, a Jamaican iguana, from fabric scraps. His body was pretty much finished by the time I finished the workshop, but it took a long time to get the inspiration for how to do the background. Iggy sat on my design wall for ages, waiting for the inspiration to come.

I actually did the background some time back—painting direct onto the duck/canvas fabric. But then I was faced with the dilemma of ‘how to quilt it?’, so he sat on the design wall for many more months. Eventually I decided to do stitch a jumble of leaves in the green background and perhaps pebbles in the brown dirt. To give a lot of body and texture to the quilt, I had already put batting behind him and quilted the major parts of the body, the tree trunk, and around the leaves. To add even more body—and to stabilise the quilt—I added a large piece of foam stabiliser (such as ‘Soft and Stable’) and backing fabric, then quilted over it all again, making sure everything that needed to be stitched down, was. I was still in a dilemma regarding the quilting for the background.

Some weeks later, I bit the bullet and stitched a heap of small leaves in the green background. And I hated them! They were SO busy, and detracted from Iggy, who needed to be the star of the show. So I unpicked those 10,000-plus stitches… watching two movies and a 4-part TV series in the process (the dark but compelling ‘Lambs of God’). Fortunately, fabric is pretty forgiving, so with some shaking, gentle patting, some water and some steam, all the needle holes from that stitching eventually covered over. And there he sat on my design wall, again. Waiting for inspiration. Again.

Finally the inspiration came when I saw one of Pam Holland‘s art quilts on Facebook—she had done very narrow vertical stitching, and that inspired me to do the same on Iggy. But I didn’t want to use vertical stitching for the entire green background so I decided to stitch some more large leaves, echoing the size and shapes of the painted leaves. Then I stitched all the vertical lines, nice and close together. I decided to do the same for the foreground, this time stitching horizontal lines in a soft brown. Now he was done!

Except for how to finish him off—do I add a binding? (no, too traditional), or do I add a facing? I’d never done a faced quilt before, so I experimented first on the vintage doily quilt, then once I had the technique down, I experimented on a scrap piece of foam, with batting, backing and the same duck/canvas I used for the top, and stitched with similar quilting. I wanted to make sure that I could turn a facing over all that thickness and not mess it up. I certainly didn’t have a lot of extra space at the top and bottom of Iggy to work with, so messing it up wasn’t an option. It worked, so I got to and finished him off with facing.

He’s going into a local art exhibition next month (textile category), and then I might put him up for sale in my Etsy store. His finished dimensions are 85 x 57 cm (33.5 x 22.5 inches). My Mum REALLY likes him 🙂


Finishing a vintage doily art quilt

27 01 2020

Back in April 2018, I attended Empty Spools at Asilomar (Pacific Grove, California), and was part of the 5-day class run by Cindy Needham. One of the small pieces I worked on in that class was a vintage doily on a soft taupe background. I did most of the quilting on it in class, but it has sat in my sewing room, incomplete, since I returned. Well, I finally decided to finish it off. There was only a small amount of cross-hatch stitching to do on the background, plus trimming it square and facing it (I didn’t want a binding on it, so I used this excellent facing method from Robbi Joy Ecklow: Then I hand stitched down the loose edges of the doily.

I’ve called it ‘Enter the peacock’. I might put it up for sale in my Etsy store after it’s been exhibited next month in a local art exhibition (textile category). Final dimensions are approximately 50 x 50 cm (about 19 inches square)

One issue I had—and it was a major one—was that I’d used a blue Clover chaco chalk wheelie thing to mark the layout of the quilt in preparation for squaring it up and facing it. Then I’d sprayed a lot of water and used a hot iron to press down those facings so they weren’t going to move. What I didn’t realise was that the blue chalk was now EMBEDDED in the taupe fabric and it just wouldn’t come out. Normally, quilting gets rid of it, but this piece was already quilted, and by me using water and then IRONING the piece before getting the chalk out, I’d ‘set’ the chalk.

I spent hours testing various methods to get it out. Some of the things I tried based on some Googling (from least intrusive to most intrusive, testing small parts of the chalk-marked fabric at a time):

  • magic eraser (no effect)
  • fabric eraser (no effect)
  • eraser end of a Frizion gel pen (yes, it has an eraser!) (no effect)
  • vinegar/water mix (no effect)
  • dishwashing detergent (no effect)
  • hand washing detergent (no effect)
  • carpet cleaner (some effect)
  • CLR remover (no effect)
  • pre-wash laundry stain remover (Sard Degreaser Pre-Wash in Australia) (some effect).

What eventually worked (well, for 90% of it) was soaking the chalk lines with a pre-wash stain remover, then while it was still wet with that, making a think slurry/paste of Napisan and water and rubbing that into the marks as well. The quilt was really quite wet by now, but I left it for a good 30 minutes, then rinsed it out numerous times in cold water, giving the chalk areas a good rub with my knuckles to add the element of friction. Then I blocked it on the design wall and left it for a day to dry. There are still some residual blue marks, but they’re much harder to see now.

Click a photo to show it larger.

Finishing off an art quilt started in NZ

27 01 2020

Last October (2019) I attended the Quilt Symposium in Auckland, and one of the classes I took was a 2-day whole cloth mosaic class with Chris Kenna, a NZ quilt artist. I got the top completed in the two days, but it’s taken until now to finish the quilt ready for exhibiting in a local art awards (textile category) and then perhaps putting it up for sale in my Etsy store. The final dimensions are approx 1 m x 1m, so it’s fairly big! I’ve called it ‘We need the bees’.

Some of the things I did to complete it:

  • Made the quilt sandwich. I used a large piece of handbag foam (I don’t know what else you call it; an example is ‘Soft and Stable’) as the wadding and plain black fabric for the backing. The foam added a lot of stability to the quilt, stopping it from curling with the density of the quilting, yet keeping the whole piece light and tactile.
  • Free-motion quilted (FMQ’d) over the existing design on the top in matching threads.
  • FMQ’d more petals in between the appliqued petals, using threads that matched the colours in the appliqued petals.
  • FMQ’d the bee, using silver thread for its wings.
  • FMQ’d the black background, leaving an area immediately around the bee unquilted.
  • Squared up the quilt, and added a black binding in the same fabric as the top and back.

Click on a photo to view it larger.

Busy weekend sewing joey and other wildlife pouches

14 01 2020

The call went out for people to make items for the wildlife carer groups who are trying desperately to save wildlife injured in the devastating bushfires that have claimed so much land and bush on the eastern side of Australia in the past few months. I heeded the call last weekend, as did many many others from within Australia and around the world. So many heeded the call, in fact, that the coordinating group of volunteers had to press ‘pause’ during the weekend to take stock of what they had received and still needed. One Facebook group went from 20,000 members to more than 200,000 members in a matter of days. Even if each person only made 5 items, that’s 1 MILLION items that have to be transported, cleared through Customs (if from outside Australia), checked for correct materials, sized, labelled, sorted, stored, and distributed. And that takes a LOT of storage space (which has to be paid for), and enormous time and energy from a small group of volunteers. I’ll talk about how best you can contribute—if you feel the need to do so—below.

Meantime, I was already well into finishing a 3-day sewing binge converting 15 m of flannelette and 10 to 15 m of fabric from my stash into nearly 20 day and night time joey pouches, and about 10 wildlife pouches in various sizes. I delivered these to my local hub yesterday, and won’t make any more unless there’s another call out for these types of goods.

Some examples of what I made, ably modelled by my teddy and other soft toys:

Daytime hanging pouch for a joey -- the scooped side allows joey to poke out its head to observe the world around it

Daytime hanging pouch for a joey — the scooped side allows joey to poke out its head to observe the world around it

Small wildlife pouch, with 3 removable liners (spares for when others are being washed -- frightened little animals poop... a lot)

Small wildlife pouch, with 3 removable liners (spares for when others are being washed — frightened little animals poop… a lot)

Night-time hanging pouch -- this time there's no scoop. Joey needs to sleep undisturbed and not be tempted to look out into the world.

Night-time hanging pouch — this time there’s no scoop. Joey needs to sleep undisturbed and not be tempted to look out into the world.

The items I made, ready to be bundled, labelled, and given to my local collection hub

The items I made, ready to be bundled, labelled, and given to my local collection hub

YouTube video of how these pouches are used:

How to contribute if you are outside Australia

NOTE: These are my personal opinions and not any official stance, though I believe they reflect the position of the many groups and charities that have been inundated with donations.

My message to crafters outside Australia:

We love and appreciate the need you have to ‘do something’, but there are some not-so-small logistical and biosecurity issues that could mean all your efforts could end up being wasted. Sending unwashed items, items washed in perfumed detergent, items not made of natural fibres, items with pet hair on them could mean rejection of a whole shipment. We don’t have rabies in Australia nor many insects, lice, ticks, etc. that live in other parts of the world—and we don’t want to introduce any pest to the Australian environment that could severely damage our wildlife and agricultural industries (we haven’t got a good track record with introduced pests… just Google ‘cane toad’).

Although it doesn’t feel like you’re ‘doing something’, money is what’s needed for the ongoing support of human and animal communities that have been devastated by fire. As an example, food needs to be supplied to surviving animals in burnt areas, and this need will continue for many months—this food has to be purchased (if not this week because someone donated it for free, then next week and onwards), transported (often by helicopter because roads are impassable, or the terrain is impenetrable), and put in places of need. That takes MONEY, not craft donations from overseas. We have many many crafters in Australia who are meeting the immediate need for animal pouches etc.

So while we are honoured and humbled that you are all feeling so helpless about the plight of the animals etc. that can’t help themselves, money is a far better contribution you can make. Consider how much you would have spent purchasing the fabric/yarn (or how much you’ve already spent on fabric/yarn in your stash) and the cost of sending the goods to Australia (it’s not cheap!), and donate the monetary value of that instead, if you feel the need to ‘do something’. Or make pet beds, nests, or similar and donate them to your local wildlife carer groups—they also have ongoing needs to help them care for animals, but without any of the recent media coverage.

Money is portable and can be given where it’s most needed based on conditions on the ground, noting that these conditions are changing daily. (For people, some want clothing, some want accommodation and food expenses, some want agistment and feed for their horses, cattle etc.; for animals, some carers need pouches, others need food, water, and/or medical supplies, or industrial washing machines to clean the pouches, carry baskets and containers to allow animals to be transported or to sleep without being disturbed etc.).

Money will be spent in the local communities that are hurting the most, helping their economies get back off the ground. Money can buy food for animals, helping the communities and farmers who have produce that they may not be able to sell otherwise (e.g. fruit and vegetables with smoke taint).

Donated goods of any type have to be stored (requiring massive storage space requirements), and have to be appropriate to needs (e.g. no perishables, ‘as new’ not cast-offs/discards/unwanted clothing or furniture), and then have to be sorted and allocated (a LOT of people and coordination is needed to make that happen) (see here: Consider the situation where someone’s house has burnt to the ground in your neighbourhood—someone says the family needs toys, so hundreds of (used, discarded) toys are donated. But the family is living in a single hotel room with no storage for toys, and don’t have a home where they can store the toys. At that point, toys, especially in large quantities, are next to useless for that family, when they are trying to survive by paying for the hotel room (remember, the parents may have lost their jobs because their place of work has burnt down too or because they can’t turn up to work while they’re trying to deal with this crisis), for food for their family, for clothing to replace what they’e lost, etc. Hundreds of toys are the last thing they need.

If you’re outside Australia, especially if you’re in the US, your dollar will likely buy far more than you expect. Currently (14 Jan 2020), US$100 will buy $144 worth of goods in Australian dollars, so you’re getting a good ‘bang for your buck’.

Here are some lists of registered charities that are accepting donations:

Links last checked 14 Jan 2020