Thursday, November 29, 2007

Barcode yourself

I came across this cool barcode art site today. Barcode yourself!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Quote for the day

Boss: (sighing) The whole world is totally mad except you and me. And you're fairly mad.

green eyed monster

Ooooooo I'm jealous of our neighbours.

I live on a street of pretty much identical Victorian houses. Our house has all the original cornices, doors and staircase, but only 2 of the original sash windows and none of the fireplaces at all.

We were round at our next-door-but-one neighbours who have been doing up their house. In their living room they showed us the most magnificent fireplace and oak surround, which are original to the house. Maureen told us that all the houses used to have these, but now only 3 on the street are left.

Another neighbour had been round to Maureen's house to take photos of her fireplace because someone in the 70's had cut the bottom of their oak surround off, mounted it on the wall in the hall as a shelf, and painted it black!

I was even more amazed to hear that another neighbour had put 7 (count 'em - SEVEN) original fireplaces from their house in the skip only last winter, and they were carted away before anyone else on the street realised and could rescue them! These particular neighbours were gutted when they realised the value of what they had just thrown onto a landfill. They were probably worth hundreds of pounds to a salvage yard.

Our house has had all the fireplaces removed and most plastered over. We have one reproduction surround with a gas fire, and one modern looking thing with an electric fire where the originals would have been.

We are considering getting the electric fire replaced with a proper grate so we can have a real fire. The fireplace man gave us this cool smoke bomb thing so we could test our chimney. We pulled out the electric fire, lit it and held it in the fireplace. Nick ran outside to check what happened to the smoke.

I knew it was good because it started to draw immediately, but the man had warned us that sometimes the smoke can start to come out of the eaves or into upstairs rooms if the chimney is damaged. Luckily for us the smoke shot out the top like a papal election. The nest step is to book a chimney sweep. Dick Van Dyke need not apply.

going up in the quilting world?

After my quilt was exhibited at the Scottish Quilt Championships in September, I got an email from a lady who is doing her exam to become a judge at similar events.

I was flattered to hear that she had chosen my self portrait quilt (along with another one at the show) to study as part of her qualification. She had to look at my quilt and figure out how I constructed it, then try and recreate a small sample. The idea behind this is so that judges can learn to appreciate what kind of work goes into creating an unusual piece, and perhaps forgive the untidy back, or less than perfect edging.

I had a lovely long chat with her last night about the way the quilt came into being, and how crazy I was to cut out all those 1000s of circles. I even gave away my secrets of how I formed the image. It was really nice to be discussing art quilting again with someone who appreciates what I'm trying to do, and doesn't think I'm weird for wanting to do it! Thanks for the boost Fiona!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Crash site

I'm telling you, the bus stop outside my office window is the source of limitless activity and action.

This morning I have been doing my good samaritan bit by providing tea and chairs to the poor unfortunate people who were standing in the bus shelter when a bus crashed straight into it. The noise was horrendous.

Luckily no-one was badly hurt, although 2 ladies were taken to hospital, one who took the whole weight of the bus shelter landing on the back of her her head. She was awake, but couldn't speak, was covered in broken glass and was shaking badly.

I rang 999 (the first time I've ever had to do that) and before I knew it the police and ambulance were here, adminstering first aid and taking statements in my office corridor out of the rain. It was rather surreal. I became a tea lady dishing out sweet tea to various dazed looking bus passengers.

Apparently the bus driver has passed his test less than a week ago. He must be feeling dreadful.

I took this photo about 30 mins after the crash, but it's a bit crap because I felt a bit goulish and tried to take it without anyone noticing. By this time they had tidied up the bits of the bus stop into a pile to clear the pavement, but imagine that thing landing on you!

The most amazing thing to me during this whole episode was that the emergency services put me on hold! I rang 999, got through to the operator who asked 'which service?' I said ambulance and then she said 'you are held in a queue, I'm putting you on hold' Admittedly by the time I'd got over my astonishment (probably about 3 seconds) the ambulance people had answered, but it was wholly disconcerting. For those 3 seconds all sorts of images flashed through my mind of someone bleeding to death by the side of the road, one hand staunching the bleeding, the other hand clutching the phone and being told 'Your call is important to us and we will attempt to answer you shortly. please press one for head injuries, 2 for limb amputations, 3 for heart attacks, 4 for accidents involving hoovers. In the meantime, here is some music...' (fades to the Blue Danube)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

4 hour power cut

Driving back into my town last night it took me ages to work out what was wrong. Then I realised. It was pitch black. There were no lights on anywhere as far as the eye could see.

Once in my house I stumbled around for candles and matches and then went to check my elderly neighbour was ok. I nipped next door and took her some candles. She was more than ok, and we sat by candle light having a nice chat and a glass of wine.

Then I went home, sat on the sofa under a quilt and luxuriated in the absolute silence and beautiful moonlight. It was magical. These days it’s very rare we are in silence. Not just the absence of music, or the TV, but the hum from the fridge, and the boiler. It’s even rarer to be in total darkness. There are normally loads of little lights all over the house, the answer machine, the oven clock, the microwave, and all of these usually create quite a glow.

Nick got home and we had a very Victorian evening. We put candles on the piano, Nick did some practice (boy he needs it) and I attempted to make my rag rug (I gave up cos I couldn’t see what the hell I was doing.)

At 9pm the lights came back on, the fridge rumbled back to life, the boiler roared, strains of radio 4 floated down from upstairs and I was actually disappointed. I had been feeling so totally peaceful and calm and Jane Austen-like.

On the plus side I could make a nice cup of tea and put the washing on.

(my shiny new sewing computer (see below) was totally useless in the power cut, but if I’d had the antique treadle powered machine I could have merrily sewed by candle light – what irony.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Cork Tiles anyone?

I don't like Homebase. Its much more expensive than B&Q and the service is terrible. Where ever possible I go to Charlie's, our local DIY shop, where you get proper service and advice from a man who actually knows what he is doing.

Unfortunately last night Charlie didn't have what I needed so I went to Homebase. The following conversation is actually true - no embellishing I promise you!

Hi, do you sell cork tiles?
Homebase Lad: Er, I don't know.... What is it you want?
Me: Cork tiles.
Lad: (looking confused) what are they?
Me: You know, floor tiles made from cork.
Lad: (Frowns at me)
Me: You know what cork is?
Lad: No.
Me: The stuff that they put in the top of wine bottles, like very soft wood. They make floor tiles out of it sometimes for bathrooms.
Lad: Oh. Right. The ceramic tiles are round here.
Me: No, not ceramic - cork.
Lad: I'll get someone else to help you.

Home base woman: Cork Tiles? Erm I think we used to sell them but we don't have any now. What is it you want them for?
Me: I want to make a massive pin board.
Woman: You could try Argos?

In the end I bought 3 packs of polystyrene ceiling tiles. I have glued them to an entire wall in my studio, covered them with white flannel sheeting and now I have an excellent design wall where I can pin up the pieces of quilts in progress. It actually works brilliantly and is definitely preferable to laying out my fabric pieces on the floor which is what I used to do. Now I just need to design some new quilts!

Wake up cat

I don't need an alarm clock anymore - I have my very naughty and untrainable cat. Since moving to the new house and installing a cat flap she has total free access to any room and can open doors by banging against them with her head until they open.

These days she has taken to sleeping on my feet in the night and then at about 6.30 she comes to sit on my neck and puts her face about an inch away from mine, purring loudly. It's a bit weird opening your eyes and seeing a huge green pair staring at you from such close quarters. If I ignore her or throw her off she persists until I get up and feed her.

We have tried shutting her in the utility room at night, and pushing the table and chairs against the door but she can push them out the way because the floor is smooth.

It seems we are not the only people who suffer from this:

Monday, November 19, 2007

Moulting Chickens

My poor hens look like a cruelty case. It's natural, I promise!

I think you'll find it's a sewing computer.

My lovely new sewing machine arrived on Friday. The big difference between the new one and my old one (apart from the price) is that it is referred to, not as a sewing machine, but as a ‘Sewing Computer’. This is because it is a highly sophisticated piece of computerised equipment, and I won’t hear a word said otherwise.

Naturally Nick fell about laughing when I showed him the terminology in the manual. ‘But it is computerised!’ I protested. ‘It sews by itself, and it’s got a little screen and flashing LEDs and everything.’
‘Darling, most home appliances are computerised these days,’ Nick said, ‘even our toaster. You don’t call that a Bread Computer do you?’

Pah! Home appliance indeed.

Later that evening I was chatting on the phone to my Dad and he said (with far to much glee and cheekiness for my liking) that he had been in Aldi and had seen a sewing machine that was £49.99, and wouldn’t I prefer 20 of those instead of 1 of mine?

They can laugh all they want, I don’t care. It is an absolute dream to sew with. I love it. If Dad had his way I would be using this:

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Drive thru Architects

A bloke put his fist through our office window the other night. He was arrested when he took himself off to the hospital with bleeding knuckles. What an idiot.

I had to sit next to a very draughty boarded up window for a day until the glaziers came. Then we sat for half an hour without any glass in the frame as they fiddled on and cut the new pane. It was a) freezing, and b) very bizarre to be totally open to the world. I felt like I was working in a drive through.

Me: Hello, can I help you?
Customer: errr yes. I’d like a medium house extension with a side order of dormer windows please.
Me: Certainly sir. Would you like fries with that?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Flight of the Conchords

I don't often write about TV because I don't watch that much, but I feel compelled to tell you that last nights episode of Flight of the Conchords had us both in tears of laughter, quite literally.

If you have missed the series you missed a gem of telly viewing. BBC 4, tuesday nights. Genius of comedy.

This clip isn't from the BBC series, but it's a live performance of one of the songs from the series. There are tons more songs on You tube if you like this one.

The Archers are podcasting!

In a breakthrough move (so Nick tells me) the BBC have negotiated new contracts for the actors in Radio 4's 'The Archers' in order for the programme to be podcasted every day.

This is great news for me. Not because I download it to listen to - I listen everyday anyway, but because now Nick downloads it to listen to in the car and is completely hooked to the ultimate radio Soap Opera.

This is a development I would never have anticipated. For years Nick has gently teased me for my love of the gentle 15 mins of farming related story lines accompanied by the restful mooing of cows in the background. I'm delighted he has seen the light and now seems to care as much as I do about the fate of the church pews, Ruth's persistently escaping bull, and whether or not Will's new girlfriend is just after him for his inheritance.

He's getting better but Nick is still asking me who is who during episodes - maybe this will help?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

task list progress

I have completed steps 1 and 2 of my task list.

My studio is nearly ready for use - decorated and floor painted. Just need to make some curtains and set up my tables.

Step 2, buy new sewing machine also completed! I bought this fantastic machine on Friday. It's being delivered this Friday, so if I go quiet again for a while you know what I'm up to! I bought it in a specialist shop in Edinburgh and included in the price is 3 hours of individual tuition, which may well be useful given the number of buttons and flashing lights it has compared to my current machine.

(Note - new carpets in spare bedroom sacrificed in order to buy new sewing machine. Have painted the floor-boards instead. Drafty but cheap. Guests will just have to suffer/wear slippers/imagine they are living in victorian times.)

My week in Ohio

Where to start?

I had a fantastic time in Ohio at Nancy Crow’s workshop. It was extremely inspirational and a huge step in my learning curve. The main shift for me is my perception of myself and of my work.

I think I am a very non pretentious person. I find it very hard to describe myself as an ‘artist’ for fear of the sniggers, and the ‘who-does-she-think-she-is’ comments. I find it difficult to discuss my art work in a way that gives it credence, often resorting to deliberately off-hand comments intended to demean what I make, thus deflecting any criticism.

This week has taught me to stand up and present my work in a positive way, articulating the decisions I made during the process, and believing that what I create has a right to exist and to be respected.

I also learnt that, of all the ‘crafts’ I have indulged in over the years, fibre and fabric is a medium that I can use to create pieces that I am proud of. I have tried painting but never feel that I can express what I feel through the paint.

So bearing this in mind here is some of what I did during the week.

The first day was all about line, figure / ground relationships, and composition. We had to make 18 small studies in black and white that explored the free hand cut and sewn line as the figure, but also paying attention to the ground, and the relationship between the two. It took me a while to settle into the exercise. I was very nervous and self conscious. By the afternoon I was fine, and was sewing demonically. I produced a few really nice little compositions, and I was very glad of my architectural training. At least I have a good eye for proportion, which was really the crux of the exercise.

These snaps are of Caitlin, Leslie and Margret working on their line exercises. This is the main barn studio, and as you can see it's a great place to work in.

The next day we had to take what we had learned about line, and apply it to a 4 foot square composition, using only white and off whites, black and darkest blues. The limited palette really helped to concentrate on the figure / ground emphasis, without getting bogged down with too many decisions about colour.

I struggled big time in the morning. I pinned up loads of cut pieces, knew they weren’t right, but didn’t know the way forward. Nancy really pushed me. She refused to tell me what to do, only kept asking questions to make me analyse my work. It was not an enjoyable process, but I was driven because I knew something good was lurking in there somewhere! By 3 in the afternoon I realised it was coming together, and by 7.00 I started to sew. The studio closed at 10.30 so I was nowhere near finishing, but I mean to complete this piece because I really like it. This is it before starting to sew it together:

Day 3 was another quick study day. We had to produce multiple small studies with curves, circles and bends, and assemble them into a sampler for future reference. I found this exercise quite easy as I seem to have a knack of sewing curves without making the fabric go all wrinkled and puffy.

Day 4 and 5 were dedicated to producing an 8 foot square composition. That’s large! The brief was to make a 4 plex of bulls eyes, in other words 4 bulls eyes that are formed from 4 quarters. I loved this exercise. I loved the colours I chose to work with, and I enjoyed the improvisational nature of the way I was working. I cut out the shapes and pinned them to the wall, moved them, re-cut them until I was happy with the composition, and only started sewing once everything was in place. I managed to sew all 16 quarters with 10 mins to spare. If I had had another 2 hours I would have been able to fit them all together into a whole piece but I shall have to do that at home in the next few weeks.

These are the photos of the exercise in progress:

The results symbolise a huge step for me, both technically and design-wise.

On a wider note, I greatly enjoyed being in the states once more. I realised again how much BIGGER everything in America is! My small hire car turned out to be a huge saloon ford fusion. That was the smallest car they had! Even the road-kill is big. I was shocked to see 2 huge dead stags on the side of the motorway (sorry, free way). I wouldn’t fancy hitting one of those at 70 miles an hour! One night I had to brake suddenly for two does who were standing in the middle of a country road. They didn’t move out of the way! They just stood there looking dazed and I had to nudge them off the road with my bonnet (sorry, hood). I don’t consider myself to be slim but in America I look like a bit dropped off! Some of the people there are ENORMOUS!!! Mind you with the fast food so cheap I can see why. I went to Wendy’s for my lunch at the airport. I got chicken nuggets, fries and a coke and it came to $3.60, which is about £1.80. No wonder they get so fat! Also, the Americans do shopping on a large scale. I went into a Walmart to buy Nick a new Ipod touch and felt a bit agoraphobic. The aisles were so long they were disappearing into infinity. After that I went into a quilt store next door. Fuck me – I am not kidding here, it was the size of large British supermarket. There was an aisle dedicated to pins that was over 5 m long. The scissor and cutting section alone was the size of my local quilt shop. I was virtually hyperventilating and I had to phone Nick immediately to tell him about it. I only had 25 minutes to spend in there before going to the airport. Come to think of it, that was probably a good thing. I managed to spend £50, and I could have easily spent 2 or 3 hours in that shop. The exchange rate is the best in history (£1 = $2.06) so everything is so cheap over there for us Brits. A spool of thread that here costs £6 is a little over £2 in the states. I bought 8 spools. I also had to buy a new suitcase to bring back everything I had bought!

There were some wonderful people on my workshop. We had such a nice atmosphere in the barn, which is a sensational space to work in. We had plenty of laughs including a long discussion about the toilet paper habits of different nations. Yet again I proved my theory that Brits fold, and American scrunch. You may remember my rather un scientific study from a while ago, well I think this time I proved it conclusively.

Another thing I learning is that in America you can get away with saying rather crude things if you say them in a ‘cute English accent’. As my husband would say, you can take the girl out of Scunthorpe, but you can’t take Scunthorpe out the girl.

I was pleased to see there were some other pretty crude people there, including Caitlin who had a sticker on her sewing machine that proclaimed ‘I love my cunt’ and Martha Lee who was apparently a sex pot in her youth and was telling us (in a wonderful slow Carolina Drawl) a thing or two about Viagra. Very enlightening!

Finally I realised I need to:
To rename my ‘craft room’ my ‘studio’ to help with that mental shift
Buy a new bernina sewing machine to replace my £99 crappy thing
Install colour corrected lighting.
Get a better steam iron
Find some like minded people in the area who will motivate me
Get a better routine of working on my art stuff on Fridays when I’m not being an Architect.
Stop procrastinating and just do it.
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