Sunday, February 27, 2011

Bags Packed and Ready to Go

My bags are packed and I am ready to join the influx of helpers to Christchurch. We’ve watched the news with the kids. We have explained that Mummy is going to help people’s houses. I shall be back shortly.

How Not to Make Jam

I fear my Jam making mojo has left me this summer. Last year I had it down to a swift process. I spread it over two nights just to keep boiling sugar away from little hands. I even gave each batch labels and names. This year I tried unsuccessfully to preserve in a series of one night stands. As I stirred I dreamed of fantastic names for each. I was looking forward to “Over the Fence Scramble Plume Paste” and “Secret Recipe Blackberry Cordial”. So far my attempts have resulted in great tasting, but not entirely successful results. I’m only sharing my woes in the name of a greater cause, or more specifically, so that you can read my errors in horror and not repeat them.

1 – Do not attempt to preserve when children are sick
Do not juggle fruit paste at the very delicate point between just right and burning when you are likely to be interrupted by vomiting. Sick children can sometimes mean lots of sleeping. It can also mean needing a lot of help at very, very, short notice. It sounds like something only an idiot would try and I would have to be that idiot. I thought I was set with both kids in bed at 6 and an evening to myself. The sleep lasted 45 minutes before the vomiting began. I can tell you that Miss H’s mewling “Mummy, cuddle please” gives only a 2 second warning that she is about to throw up. Everywhere. But thankfully, not in the preserving pan. The fruit paste is a little on the chewy, overcooked side but not entirely due to the children – see below.

2- Do not attempt to preserve while watching TV
Much the same as above, only and idiot would try it. There was much stopping and washing down of burnt, sugary, pastey pots. Fruit paste takes a long time to reduce, but this doesn’t equate to a long unattended time, even if you are cuddling children on the couch. It did mean I got to see Graham Norton interview Cher. Not exactly life changing, so next time I really will turn it off.

3 – There is a lot of sugar in that stuff
I had an arcane view that sugar couldn’t get any more concentrated that it is in the bag. After boiling down 1.5 kg of sugar into the size of a very small Tupperware container I know I was wrong. While consuming fruit pastes – consider applying the paste straight to your hips, because that where it is going.

4 – Don’t start until you have all the utensils ready
Just because you think you saw the funnel in the bottom cupboard, doesn’t mean it will be there when you go looking for it. Don’t be tempted to use the kids’ bath toys either. In my short lived attempt to make blackberry cordial, the funnel was nowhere to be found at the crucial moment. I thought I was very wise to turn off the pan before driving to get a funnel from a friend. Possibly even wiser to stop for a cup of tea. Then I smugly reboiled the mix before bottling it. I now have three bottles of blackberry jelly. It’s tricky to get out of the bottle, but heaven on ice-cream.

There you have it. The sad and sorry tale of how “Over the Fence Scramble Plume Paste” became “Chewy Night in Front of the Telly Plum Paste” and “Secret Recipe blackberry Cordial” became simply ice-cream topping.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Christchurch Earthquake

Christchurch was hit with an earthquake of devastating proportions yesterday.

You can search the news agencies for the big stories and summaries. The web is awash with them at the moment. On a personal level you read an individual account as Sarah of Miss Crafty Tea Pot tells of how it felt in her little house here.

While we, at casa Seven-Stitches, live a long way from Christchurch, the New Zealand web of who knows who, reaches into the very heart of this city. My colleagues stood stunned as we watched the footage yesterday. My mother called in the evening to let me know all my cousins were accounted for. My dearest and I tiptoed through the evening, before turning the TV on after the kids were in bed. They knew something was up as they have never been quite so good at staying in bed.

There are a few ways you can help right now.

The Red Cross Appeal - (collecting funds to support their tireless actives and efforts during this period)

The Student Volunteer Army - (mobilising available hands to work in co-ordination with Civil Defence)

I am sure there will be other drives to mobilise support in the following days, but right now I understand that financial support is the easiest for the aid agencies to work with.

Edit: Catalina's Cottage is calling for quilt as you go blocks. Dimensions and links to tutorials can be found there too. This comes just as the ones for the September event are sent on their way.

KiwiQuilters is donating the surplus healing hearts quilts (140?) from the Pike River disaster (that felt like just yesterday too) to Quilts for Christchurch.

Leonie at Kiwi at Heart is calling for softies for the Children of Christchurch. Add a comment to her post, with means of contacting you and she will email out the details.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Crafty Book Review -Quilts 1700 - 2010 Hidden Histories, Untold Stories

In 2010 the Victoria and Albert Museum held a ground breaking exhibition surveying the history of Quilts in Britian. This is the book that accompanied that exhibition. I wish I could make a knowledgeable comment on whether it is as amazing as the exhibition itself. If I had a time machine, I would be tempted to see this exhibition again and again on the basis of the book alone.

Liberty Jack, Janey Forgan, 2008
©V&A Images, Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Before I go any further, I must admit my bias. I have a weakness for reference books, books that give historical context and almost any publication by the V&A. Consequently, this book is right up my alley. I love it when a book is something that you can return to again and again, learning a little more each time. I also like to see how what we sew today, is based on what has gone before and how these works have been changed by larger events.

The exhibition has had a resounding effect on the online quilting community. Janey Forgan’s Liberty Jack (seen above) has been and inspiration to many quilters and stylists alike. A quick search on shows that it has even inspired it’s own flickr group.

The Rajah quilt 1841 -
Made by women on board the convicts ship Rajah en route to Australia

©V&A Images, Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The book appears to be an almost complete catalogue of the exhibition. Accompanying the beautiful photos are a range of essays giving both historical context and relevance of the artform today. I loved the essays that added personal histories in the context of the time. It was intriguing to see the diverse range of sources used by the researchers too. There were the heartbreaking records of identifying patchwork left with abandoned babes at foundling homes, fabric left in the hope that one day when the mother had a means of support she could identify her child and reclaim them. Also the more comical tracing of the popularity of quilts by looking through the lists of stolen items in court records. One or two essays read as if they were intended for academia, but the majority was quite accessible.

I was too busy reading, rather than taking notes while I had this book out. This is a mixed blessing as it means that as I came to write this review I have stumbled upon the accompanying curators blog. Over here you can read about Sue Pritchard’s journey in putting the exhibition together and read about some of her favourite pieces in the exhibition.

A collection of essays by different authors with relevant quilts illustrating each one and a catalogue of photos covering quilts not featured elsewhere in the book.

What I like:
Can I say that I liked everything? While it is not going to tell me how to quilt, it might shine a light on why we quilt and leaves me wanting to try some of the older techniques and styles.

What I’d Pass on:
Some of the essays were probably best left to the accompanying conference proceedings.

What I’d Like to try:
There are no projects in this book. Sometimes it is nice to finish the book and marvel at it, rather than just want to get stuck into making things from it. That said, I am tempted to try some paper pieced clamshells, but perhaps on a smaller scale than the entire 4 posted bed with curtains.

Who I’d recommend it to:
In short ME. I would also recommend it to quilters with a passion for historical context or textileartist/craftsman who are looking for a source of inspiration. I feel it would be wasted as a coffee table book as much of it begs to be read and deserves to be pored over time and time again.

If you are looking for projects to make, this is not your book. Instead give the accompanying Patchwork for Beginners, also by Sue Pritchard, a try. This book also serves as a smaller, dip your toes in the water, introduction to the history of British quilting.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Forgotten Orchards

Family trips have always included numerous detours. One of my Dad’s favourite detours was to hunt for forgotten orchards. His favourites are the ones where you can find obscure fruits. These days we would call them heirloom. I’m forever pointing out the side roads to my dearest as he drives past them. Did you know that if you turn down the right side roads, greengage plums can be found just north of Paihiatua?

My parents have a collection of random fruit trees that came with their house. There is the strange peach tree, which has green flesh even when it is ripe and of course, the phantom plum tree. The phantom plum tree appears to be a Black Doris plum tree but the fruit mysteriously goes missing just as it gets ripe. Rumour has it, a woman who used to live in the house, was prone to visit the places she knew as a child in her wanderings. She has moved on in the last few years. While I have no idea where to, her house has been replaced by a new development and her slow shuffle is missing from our streets. This year the fruit stayed intact for long enough for us to try some and while it tasted great, I preferred the mystery of the phantom plum more. It grew to feel like some agricultural karma for our forgotten orchard raids.

I haven’t entirely grown out of forgotten orchard raids, however. As Dad and I climbed over fences to get to a wild plum tree, Mum turned to my dearest and pointed out “She’s her Dad’s Daughter, you know” to which my long suffering husband could only nod in agreement.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Friendship Hearts - A Tutorial

Here it is, a tutorial for Friendship Hearts. The beauty of this block is that it is made in matching pairs, one to keep and one to give away.

This block came about as I was given the challenge of making a quilt block including a heart. I set to make it as simple as possible and came up with this. I first made this block for Abi in march last year and promised a tutorial to follow. The gift cards in the stores are prompting me to do something now, rather than later.

You will need:
At least 2 fabrics with a light/dark contrast
2 rectangles - 6 1/2" x 7"
2 rectangles - 5 3/4" x 2 1/2" (with pinked edges)
2 rectangles - 5" x 1 3/4" (with pinked edges)

Step 1 - Round off Ends
Use a compass or random household objects (I used some glasses) to trace out a circle on the to the ends of the smaller rectangles on the wrong side. Cut around the line.
Note: if you are using a pinking blade on a rotary cutter, use a series of smaller straight lines to make the curve, one long curve can really chew up a cutting mat.

Step 2 - Place the Shapes
Place the rectangles, long side down and finger crease as shown - one central vertical line to both and a diagonal from upper left to lower right to one and lower left to upper right to the other. Finger crease the large rectangle into 4 quarters. Line up the long crease of the medium rectangle with diagonal line in the large rectangle, and using the other creases, align the centres as shown below. Make sure that the central shapes are going in opposite directions, think of each block being one half of the heart.

Step 3 - Machine Applique Layers Together
Pin the medium rectangle and straight stitch in place and press. Starting and stopping at the vertical crease. Place the smallest rectangle and straight stitch into place also. Repeat with the second block also.

Step 4 - Slash and Join
Cut each block on the central seam. Match up opposite sides of your heart and join with a central 1/4" seam. Press.

There you have it, a friendship heart for yourself and a fellow sewer.

The heart is offset towards the to of the block - leaving an ideal space to stitch some extra details such as a signature.
The block can be made without rounding the corners as shown above.
If you are not using pinking shears, cutting the block on the bias would allow for evenly frayed and stabilised edges (I should have thought of this before making the blocks above)
The block can be scaled -the medium rectangle measures approx the size of the finished block i.e in this case 6" block, 5 3/4" rectangle with the inner rectangle measuring 3/4" less in all directions.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Reviewing a Crafty Book

I live in the craft section of my library. It seems a shame to leave the books on the shelf and so I feel compelled to take them on regular outings. We walk together, take the train together and dream together. Consequently, I thought it was only fair to share what I have been reading. The last few weeks have seen some book reviews featured here at Seven-Stitches and I was wondering what you think.

(Random stack of books - not a crafty one to be seen her, but wasn't sure if I could post without a photo)

It takes a lot to convince me to buy a book, especially when I can readily get it from the library. If I need to get a book out of the library for a second time, it is certainly time to consider buying it. I like to think of this as the library test. Making the decision not to buy a book is not meant to be read as a harsh criticism, more a matter of me choosing to save my pennies for something else.

I understand that liking, choosing and buying a book is different for everybody. I have been in the habit of taking my haul of books along to my sewing group. I like being able to see what other people are reading and to be introduced to new books I wouldn’t normally have considered. It’s intriguing to see the differences in people’s tastes. Together we poured over “Dare To Be Square”*. While I loved the quilts, I decided that the heavy reliance on design walls was not for me. At the same time, two of my friends decided, right there and then, that it was just the book for them.

I’d love to know what you think about craft books
What attracts you to a book?
What makes a good book? (this might be different from what attracts you)
What do you want to know about a book in a review?
What is it you look for in a craft book?
What books do you love?
What is the last crafty book that you found inspiring?

*Watch for the review of this one in the coming weeks