Monthly Archives: March, 2014

Last minute holiday sewing

As I write this post, I am on my way to Barbados. And boy do we need a holiday! New York over Thanksgiving was marvellous, and the UK a few weeks ago was wonderful too, but with so many friends and family we wanted to see and so much we wanted to fit in, neither could really be classed as relaxing. Lots of fun, certainly. But exhausting too. We’re bone-achingly tired. 10 days of proper rest and relaxation is most definitely called for.

I’d already made some clothes to take away with me, primarily a couple of pretty skirts, but the last few days have seen a veritable flurry of activity in my sewing room. My first little project was caused by the realisation that I needed a plain white top to wear with said new skirts. My goes-with-everything top from last year sadly no longer fits (it must have shrunk in storage…), and I couldn’t find anything suitable in the shops in Lausanne. So I decided to make one, using some white broderie anglaise fabric I had in my stash. The result was this precious little top, which I adorned with a little turquoise ribbon as a pretty trim.

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After that, all was ready to pack, and as I was merrily putting things into cases, I came across RR’s ratty old drawstring bag full of various cables, chargers and adapters. I have always hated this bag. It’s too big for what he uses it for, so everything ends up in it all higgledy piggledy. You can never find what you’re looking for in it, and everything gets all tangled up and messy. Now, I had some Spitfire fabric left over from a cushion I’d made him for Christmas, and I wondered if I could make a better bag to contain all those cables.

Of course I could! And here it is.

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I used u-Handbag.com’s Sugar Loaf Pouch pattern again, only this time I borrowed the template from my friend Ms C, so it actually turned out the right size. I still can’t work out what went wrong with the printing the first time around, but thankfully this time it worked like a dream.

Then I decided to make myself a couple. Just because I was already all packed and I had the time and I was jealous of RR’s bag. I used a couple of fat quarters I’d had prettying up my stash for a good three or four years. I made the larger size for all my cables, and the smaller one for a little holiday medical kit – tablets, plasters, etc.

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Sitting together, pretty as can be…

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Side view

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View from top

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Check out that top-stitching!

I’m pretty sure I’ll be making some more soon, given that they’re so pretty, and so easy to make (once you have the right size pattern template, that is!) Imagine what a lovely little gift that would make, stuffed full of yummy Swiss chocolates 🙂

But for the next few weeks, all I have to concentrate on is deep rest and extreme relaxation.

Bring it on 🙂

The Quilt from Hell

Have you ever had one of those projects? The kind you thought was going to be an absolute breeze? That you left till the last minute because you thought it’d take a day at most to piece? The one you never realised you could be so wrong about? That you ended up cursing out and wanting to rip apart with your bare hands in frustration? The project that, once finished, you took such deep satisfaction at managing to overcome all the issues that the Quilt Gods threw at you, that it actually seemed worth all the Very Bad Words that were uttered during its construction?

I have. And it will forever be known as The Quilt from Hell…

It all started out innocently enough, with some Very Good News. My lovely schoolfriend, Ms S, and her husband, Mr M, announced last year that they were expecting a baby boy. I was so happy for them, as I knew how much they’d been looking forward to becoming parents, and I immediately decided that the new arrival would need a quilt. 

Now Ms S is an exceedingly talented lady. Not only is she pretty and kind and a complete brain-box, she is also extremely crafty. She creates, sews, crochets, bakes a mean chocolate muffin, and even has her own Etsy shop. I am in total awe of her! So the quilt needed to be super special. And when we were in the US back around Thanksgiving, I found just the thing, handily bundled together as a super-cute kit. The fabric range was Boy Crazy from Riley Blake Designs, and included cars and robots and space rockets, and lots of other things that little boys like to play with.

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The pattern seemed deceptively easy. It consisted of 12 scrappy 16-patch blocks, set on point, alternated with plain white squares, and a couple of directional borders.

I know, sounds like a walk in the park, doesn’t it??! But one word in the last paragraph would come back to haunt me. And that word is ‘directional’… Given some of my previous experiences with directional fabric, you might think that warning bells would sound at this point, but no. All I thought was – oh how pretty, the little cars are all driving in the same direction!

I won’t be making that mistake again…

The first issue I encountered had nothing at all to do with directional fabric, though. It was an error in the pattern itself, which called for the white fabric to be cut into 8″ squares.

While I was cutting them, I remember thinking “Gosh, 8″ is a funny size for setting squares – wouldn’t it usually be either 7 1/2″ or 8 1/2″‘?” but I foolishly ignored the Inner Voice of Reason and continued cutting happily away.

It was only once I’d made the 16 patch blocks that I realised that – yes – the finished block size was indeed 8 1/2″ square. So my setting squares were too small. So I had to recut them. And I didn’t have quite enough fabric. A small annoyance, easily rectified with a visit to my stash to retrieve some Kona white.

So, then, so far so good. The main part of the top was duly pieced with the right sized setting blocks, and I even decided to jazz it up a bit by appliquéing Daniel’s name into the setting squares. This was all RR’s idea, and a jolly good one, too, I have to say 🙂

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Then the directionality of fabric came into play.

Border 1 – little cars, all driving from the left of the quilt towards the right. The fabric supplied in the kit was cut both crosswise and lengthwise to make this possible. The only problem was that there wasn’t enough of it. There was just about sufficient to do the top and bottom border, but not enough for the sides. Lateral thinking was called for, and so one of the discarded 8″ setting squares was cut into 4 cornerstones. And it was still 1″ too short on each side…

After some Very Creative Pressing, Plenty of Pinning to ease the fabric of the quilt top, and Lots of Words Beginning with ‘F’, I managed to get the first border to just about fit.

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It almost looks like it was planned that way, doesn’t it? If you can ignore the fabric puckering and rippling round the corners, that is…

Next up – border 2. And the same problem reared its ugly head. The border was once again directional, and once again there wasn’t enough fabric. Well, this time there was more than enough for the top and bottom borders but, unfortunately, not quite enough for the sides. So, to make it fit, I had to piece it, by cutting into the surplus from the top and bottom. Fortunately, there was just enough left over.

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And yes, it really was only 2″ or so short, which made it all the more annoying…

Ok then, quilt top pieced, issues overcome. Now for the backing. A beautiful piece of large scale directional fabric.

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Uh-oh! Did she just say directional? Sadly, yes… And therein lay the next issue. The print was oriented lengthwise across the fabric rather than crosswise. And there wasn’t enough fabric to piece it so that it ran in the right direction. Grrrrrr……

So out came the rotary cutter and I chopped up my 3 yards of fabric into smaller pieces, which I then proceeded to sew back together, to make a hodgepodge of a backing that just managed to fit.

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Perhaps hodgepodge is a little harsh. Let’s call it improvisational, shall we???

After all that, the actual quilting was a piece of cake. I used white thread to echo quilt the appliquéd letters and the edge of the setting blocks. Then I quilted concentric squares in the 16 patch blocks, using a vivid orange colour to co-ordinate with all the bright colours in the prints.

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Finally, I quilted parallel straight lines around both borders, again in orange.

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To finish the quilt, I decided to use a bias binding, to make my stripes appear diagonal. I’d never done it before, but my friend Ms E has used it on her quilts and talked me through how to do it at the last Patchwork in the Peaks quilt retreat. I thought it looked beautiful and had been wanting to give it a try for ages. And anyway, I figured, what else could possibly go wrong???

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!!!!!!

This is what could go wrong. I miscalculated and cut the square to create the bias strips too small. So there wasn’t enough binding, and I had to cut another square. And when I cut the strips from this one, I cut them the wrong way…

Aaaaaarrrrgggghhhhhhh!!!

Some more creative cutting and piecing just about salvaged the situation (along with a stiff gin and tonic…). And the quilt was finally finished. Ta da!!!

It was delivered to the adorable little man himself last week, when I was back in the UK. Ms S and Mr M loved it, and  Baby Daniel showed his appreciation by throwing up his milk on my jeans, then all over his Daddy’s jumper 🙂

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Looking back, though, I have to say I’m rather proud of myself. Normally when things go wrong I would simply go and get some more fabric to put them right. But I’m on my 6 month Fabric Fast, so that wasn’t an option. I was forced to think creatively about how to get round the issues. And no, the quilt isn’t 100% perfect, there are seams where I’d prefer there to be no seams, and a slight puckering in the corners, amongst other things, but you know what? It was a labour of love, and I think that makes it more personal.

After all, there can’t be many babies out there who have the honour of owning The Quilt from Hell!

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And by the way, people, apologies for the rotten quality of the photos – they were taken in our hotel room the morning I delivered the quilt, when I suddenly realised that I hadn’t quite got round to photographing it yet…

An Expat’s Shopping Basket – weird yet wonderful!

On Sunday night, RR and I arrived back in Switzerland after a wonderful but exhausting trip to England. RR had driven over 2 weeks ago, and I joined him partway through the first week. I managed to fit in seeing a large number of family and friends, we took in 2 rugby games, went to see the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain play in Basingstoke, got my sewing machine serviced, and did a not insubstantial amount of shopping.

Whilst the journey back home to Lausanne was long and extremely tiring, one of the major advantages of driving over has to be the opportunity to fit in a proper supermarket trip, and to stock up on what I consider to be all the ‘essentials’ of British life. Whenever I do one of these major grocery shops, I always wonder what the checkout person thinks about what can only be described as the rather odd assortment of products lined up on the conveyor belt.

Not your average weekly shop, that’s for sure!

So, if you’re at all interested in what a longish-term forty-something expat misses the most about England (apart from friends and family, that is), here, in no particular order, is my rundown of the essentials of my shopping basket (or, in our case, a rather large shopping trolley!)

1. Assorted cleaning products.

Swiss cleaning products are rubbish. They are waaaay too eco-friendly, and just don’t seem to get things clean enough. We normally source ours over the border in France, at the local Carrefour supermarket, where one can generally find a large number of British and American expats in the cleaning products aisle, fighting over the last bottle of Domestos 🙂 (for my American friends out there, Domestos is the British version of Clorox …)

This trip back, I took the opportunity to pick up some products that you can’t find in Carrefour, or pack into a suitcase to take back on the plane.

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2. Proper marmalade

Not Bonne Maman bitter orange jam or any other inferior substitute – the real deal 🙂

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3. Assorted curry ingredients and spices

Ok, so maybe we went a bit crazy here, but they were £1 a jar and there was loads of choice, whereas they cost a fiver a pop here for a choice of 2. Poppadoms are self-explanatory, and the assortment of spices – well, you can never have too many. And we do eat rather a lot of curry…

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4. Marmite

Love it or hate it (I love it, RR hates it) – in my opinion, it’s as much a breakfast necessity as marmalade…

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5. Ribena

Not available here. Especially not the reduced sugar version 🙂

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6. Heinz Baked Beans

Ok, so you can get a tin of beans here if you’re willing to shell out £2, but we can get a four-pack for the same price back in the UK. So we bought 2…

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7. Assorted Cadbury’s chocolate

I know, I know, Switzerland is awash with chocolate, all of it delicious and creamy, but trust me when I tell you that there are times when only Cadbury’s will do.

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8. English cheese

Ditto for cheddar and Wensleydale cheese. Swiss cheese is yummy, but for a decent cheese on toast or cheese sandwich, you need a proper, sharp cheddar. Gruyere just doesn’t cut it.

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9. Crumpets

I used to live on crumpets back in England, so I really do miss them. And guess what – you can’t find them here…

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10. Baking products

Yes, I know you can make self raising flour by adding stuff to regular flour, but it never seems to work as well. This should last me a while, I hope…

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11. Marigold Swiss Bouillon Powder

Despite it’s name, it’s not actually Swiss, and you can’t get it here. We find other stock powders waaaaay too salty. And we use it a lot.  

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12. PG Tips

Last, but by no means least, the mainstay of a British expat’s store cupboard – proper teabags. British teabags don’t come individually wrapped in namby-pamby packets of 20 envelopes. They come in boxes of 240 (which will generally last us 4-6 weeks, depending on how thirsty we are). An absolute essential 🙂

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So there you have it. I love living in Switzerland, really I do. We have a wonderful life here, and have no plans to move away any time soon, but sometimes a little taste of home is just what’s needed to put the world to rights.

What do you think?