Friday, 16 December 2011

Phew! Finished in time

Finally finished the Christmas embroidery which I began last Autumn in the hopes that it would be done by last Christmas but I was left with the last line unfinished and it had to be put away. I'm afraid I took a very quick photo on our white and grey marble table, which makes the embroidery look a bit grubby but I will post a better picture when I get a frame for it on Monday. I am really glad I made the decision to do this on antique linen as it is very traditional and it just looks right. There are so many beautiful German carols but this has always been one of my favourites - rough translation below:

Oh come, little children, come to the crib,
Come, all of you, inside Bethlehem's stall,
And see what our Father in heaven has done
In this holy night to give us Joy!

It has a really beautiful, innocent melody - I could sing it for you but that would spoil things!

Sunday, 27 November 2011

New Quilt - not mine!

Radiotherapy finished, third chemo about to begin - feeling okay apart from diminished hearing (probably from the RT).

My eldest daughter came to Germany for five days recently and we had a wonderful snuggly, cuddly time, watching movies, lots of comedy, eating lovely food and lots of talk. It did me so much good. And this week my sister came out, also for five days and she has not quilted before so, as I was feeling well, I got her a simple table runner pattern and she went through every stage of making a quilt as a learning exercise by making this runner - she chose the fabrics so well and it looks beautiful. Unfortunately, my sewing machine just collapsed and refused to sew towards the end, so my sister had to turn the wheel manually and my goodness, those stitches were slow. But she finished and I am so proud of her. She is going to applique/quilt something in the big orange square when she gets home and has time to think about it more. I really think she'll carry on with this and she wants to do some placemats next so she's setting herself realistic goals rather than taking on a bedquilt and investing in a load of fabric. Luckily, she used to make clothes so has already quite a stash of cottons to choose from.

And here are the two embroideries I am working on (quilting is a bit too physical at the moment but I hope to get back to it soon). The German Christmas carol is a favourite of ours and I tried to finish this for last Christmas but didn't make it - am determined to get it done and framed by this Christmas. The other is the old German Coffee shop which is extremely tiny stitches and very slow progress but I do love the look with the copper thread picking out all the lettering and special features. I will not finish this until after New Year.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Dealing with things

This is a difficult post to make. I never intended this blog to be anything other than quilt-focused, with a little bit of holidays, family and food thrown in. However, my life has completely changed over the last four weeks and I cannot go on with the blog without mentioning it.

My MRI revealed that the pain in my rib was from advanced metastases from an unknown tumour. Health care is very good here in Germany and I spent the next two weeks doing every test imaginable to try to discover where the tumour was. Eventually, a form of breast cancer was diagnosed but still no evidence of the guilty tumour. I was admitted to hospital for a mastectomy and the doctors hoped to find the tumour in the tissue which was taken. The pathology lab worked on the results for a week and eventually found two tiny tumours of a very powerful and aggressive nature. These had sent metastases through my spine. After leaving hospital three days ago, I am due to begin a strong course of chemotherapy next week in order to treat the metastases. Then will come some radiation and any other therapy thought suitable to keep me going as long as possible.

I feel well-looked after, have good medical support and great friends and my husband has been with me at every appointment and completely there for me. After the terrible black hell of the initial shock, something in the human spirit seems to let in the light again and I am able to look positively at life again.

I just want to make clear that I will not be giving a blow by blow account of how I am all the time - this is still my quilting blog and I want to keep it that way but over the next few months I might not be getting much quilting done or anything else to show. I will, however, have even more interest (and time) for reading all my favourite blogs. I have given up my part-time job and am going with the flow.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Slow but steady.

This is my progress so far - I like sewing by hand but am hampered by not being able to sit upright so this is going slowly. I am enjoying it, though, and it is proving a great distraction. I now have to make up the pumpkins to go at each end, then borders and prairie points. I also will have some small pieces of fabric from the kit left over and I think I'll make some matching coasters. Don't know if that plan can include the little triangles below, but if not then they will go into my 'little triangle' box for use later (Bonnie Hunter has made me feel so responsible for fabric that I can't throw them away...)

And here is my little friend, Logan, watching over me - since I've had this back problem, he has stayed close unless he is on his walks with Stuart. He doesn't understand why I can't play with him at the moment but in his own way, he's looking after me.

It is Stuart's and my 35th wedding anniversary today. Unfortunately, because of me, we can't go out and celebrate or go away for the weekend but it doesn't matter. The real celebration is our recognition of how far we have come together and that we are happy to carry on. Good things.

Friday, 16 September 2011

New Quilt beginning.

This is the start of my new quilt but it is not one of the big quilts with my new fabrics that I was mulling over. I'm still only comfortable when lying or half-lying on the sofa - otherwise big pain. Only three more days until my MRI and then I'll know what the problem is. I hope. So I can't sit up or use the sewing machine, which most people would take as a disincentive to quilting. At first I was reading and watching movies etc. Then my hands got fidgety so I managed to do some embroidery. Then yesterday, knowing that the quilt group was meeting and I couldn't be there, I decided to adapt to my situation. Amongst the fabrics that Renate brought back for me from the US when she moved countries was a Thimbleberries Halloween Pumpkin table runner kit. I've never bought a kit before and I don't like Halloween so it was a weird thing for me to buy. However, I do like eating things made with pumpkin and I love Autumn, so I decided to see if I could hand-sew without sitting upright. Well, I can and here is one of the first completed blocks. I feel I'm back in the human race even if I can't work, walk the dog, go shopping or any of the things that make up a normal day. Anxious about the MRI but so much more cheerful being distracted by this!

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Almost finished.

Above is the Provencal table topper that is almost finished. One row of machine quilting on coloured blocks remains to be done but I have no idea when I can manage this as I have injured my back and am out of action for a while. I am pleased with the quilting as it was only my second attempt at machine quilting and although it was laborious to keep turning and shifting the quilt while going round the flower petals, I really like the effect and also the look of the back (below)

I have not pulled the quilt straight enough for this photo and it looks wonky but it is, trust me, straight in real life - it is only cyber-wonky!

Am having an MRI next Monday to find out exactly what is causing my pain but until then I am only comfortable when lying or half-lying down. This means I can still manage to embroider a bit but quilting is out of the question (although I do have a little halloween quilt kit packed away, hmmm, maybe I could hand-sew it?) My husband is looking after me wonderfully and I am so glad that he is only travelling once a week now and is able to work from home more. There was no quilt group meeting last week and I know I cannot go to this week's as I cannot sit at all. Thursday isn't Thursday without the quilt group! Thank goodness for BBC Radio 4 and thank goodness for Youtube, where I am watching old episodes of Family Ties (I know it's dated but still so funny and my daughters and I have always adored Michael J. Fox, so I'm on a nostalgia run and it keeps me amused and is non-demanding).

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Back again.

Above is the small top I made from the Provencal charm squares. As I said before, totally outside my comfort zone and I found it quite exciting to play with bright colours and not quite know where I was going with it. I'm not usually so adventurous (although a lot of quilters would not see this as particularly adventurous!). If I were making a large quilt I know I would not have been able to go without a plan so this is the second time that charm squares have freed me up to be a little bit looser.

I cut all 42 squares in half and used eighty of the eighty four rectangles. I saved four rectangles, one of each primary colour, to make the flower middles - this left me a little short in the strips but I just filled in with a few white blocks. Then I drew very quickly and loosely the petals and backstitched them. I did feel the temptation to use a symmetrical petal template but gritted my teeth and resisted. I do like the result as it is bright, happy and naïve in a childlike innocent way. I've almost decided that my next quilt is going to be a 'tree of life', very traditional, so you can see I'm already reacting against my phase of relaxation. I think there are just two sides of me, one that adores Handel, Mozart and Haydn with their beautiful symmetry and sense of order in the world, and then a side that loves the wildness of Cajun music and (some!) improvised jazz. In my quilts, it's Haydn who wins nearly every time.

Haven't been posting mainly because I've spent the summer holidays enjoyably wasting time, doing chores and looking after guests; youngest daughter, two of Stuart's oldest friends from Scotland, and eldest daughter and partner. Naturally, I put on some of the weight I lost because I was cooking for them and eating out as well. I'm back on my 'good' regime this week but we have more guests coming up; Stuart's brother and his new wife are coming next week - they are about to begin a two-year part-world-tour in a yellow Unimog (like a cross between a four wheel truck and a camper van) as an early retirement venture.
School starts this week, too.

We had beautiful weather in May and June, indifferent weather in July and pretty awful weather in August. I am wishing for an Indian summer to please all my sun-deprived friends.

Monday, 11 July 2011

No picture day

Have just started a small quilt, probably a table-topper, from the Provençal charm pack I had. No photos today as I have been too busy to get the camera out but will do soon. Dental check today ('Perfekt, Frau Johnstone!') and had to rush to buy a new hoover before my appointment as the old one blew up yesterday (probably my fault). My youngest daughter is visiting from England for a few days so I might not have much time for sewing. I decided to keep the quilt very simple as the fabrics are so bright and busily patterned - quite outside my comfort zone - and just cut them in half and did chinese coin strips alternated with white. I plan to use the very few (5) half squares left over to make some applique flower middles and then embroider the petals and then, Horror of Horrors! - machine quilt the lot. I hardly ever machine quilt and I know my hands will be itching to quilt something so small scale and easy to manipulate. However, for once I want to do something seasonal and use this tabletopper while the weather is appropriate. It makes me feel happy to look at it and very summery so I hope to get it finished and on the table very soon in order to enjoy it.

I think then I will finish the two unfinished quilts I have which only need binding and do a bit of my Kaffeerösterei embroidery before I start another quilt. Ideas for the next one are shifting around my head but haven't settled yet so this will give them time.

Have heard quite a few stories about other people who have had a taste problem after a heart op - in some cases it can take months for the problem to disappear; am hoping that my husband does not have to wait that long.

This is the first week of my long school summer break and I have that luxurious feeling of abundant time to do wonders before school starts again. Let's hope I get at least some of the things done around home that I've been postponing until just this time!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Finished and unfinished...

Above is the finished quilt for my sister-in-law, Helen (who doesn't know I've got a blog so will not find out about this).

By doing simple quilting from point to point on the tumbler shapes, quite a nice geometric result happened on the back, and I really enjoyed using the figure 8 template for the bands and borders because it had no stop and start points except for the floral corners, so is a quick pattern to use. Miind you, for some reason, this is a heavy quilt and the quilting was quite hard work. I think it is because I used an iron-on batting and the weight of all that glue stuff seems to make quite a difference.

Logan, the Quilt Policeman, on duty inspecting my stitches and finding a few knots on the back from that awful King Tut quilting cotton I used (King Tat, I call it and will never touch it again, however pretty the colour might be).

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I tried to enhance the colour of this photo as it came out rather dark but although it has left the cream border cream, for some reason it has changed our grey/beige carpet to vivid turquoise. Still, you can see the lovely corner pattern of this nice template.

And the finished article, just needing to be washed (christened) and labelled and then Stuart will take it with him to Scotland on his next visit as it is too precious to post.

Don't know what to work on next. Really want to use my Jane Austen-ish fabrics and my Civil War reproductions, all of which have remained untouched since I got them. But as we have had such warm weather, and it doesn't look like we'll be having a holiday this year, I'm tempted to do something sunny and holidayish to keep in cheerful mode. I have a charm pack of French Provencal fabrics and just might play with them for a bit...

The unfinished thing is my poor husband, who is now home from three weeks' rehabilitation but still not feeling too great. All is well with his heart, everything fine there, but he is having difficulty putting on weight after having lost 11 kilos in the last couple of months. The altered taste problem, which probably came from the anaesthetic or from his antibiotics before the op, has prevented him from eating much. It is getting better and now he is home I am able to cater more specifically for what he thinks will taste okay, rather than having what was given in the clinic (very little choice). So things are improving but slowly and he is an impatient man (probably how he got to be heart-stressed in the beginning) and wants to get back into his life and feel normal again. He is still not supposed to drive his car (but has been as there was a problem with mine this week), NEVER EVER supposed to lift anything above 10 kilos again (he is not a weightlifter or anything but this news has depressed him and made him feel old) and he is still not supposed to sleep on his side for another week. Poor lad, he is therefore underweight and sleeping badly with many interruptions, still taking a load of drugs and on top of that he has given up smoking. So he is dealing with a lot of frustration with no help from a cigarette. He's using an electric vapour cigarette to calm cravings and give him something to wave around - it's an excellent idea and contains no nicotine, just a flavoured vapour, battery-operated. So he is doing really well, considering. Not the easiest person to live with at the moment, however!! He has decided to go to a business meeting tomorrow (something else he shouldn't be doing) but I think it will be good for him to see clients and colleagues and feel he is needed again. It is in Frankfurt but he intends to go by train and stay overnight before the meeting tomorrow, which is a gentle approach.

Well, no quilting group today, so I need to look over some ideas for those provencal prints.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Time to breathe

Finally, a chance to catch up a bit. Quilt photos will have to wait.

The post-mortem was finally done on my father and the results straightforward. The cremation was held on Monday, 9th May, and I flew to England just for the day and met my daughters at the airport. I had to get up at 4a.m. German time to catch my early flight and I was so strung up that I didn't sleep at all during the night. I had time to wait until the girls' train got to the airport so I had a quick breakfast - it felt really strange to be wasting time at an airport knowing that within an hour I would be seeing my father's body. My daughters were tremendously loyal and supportive - they decided they would not let me do the viewing alone and insisted on joining me. Heartbreaking experience. I had the chance to say goodbye and slip in something small and important that I wanted to leave with him.

Very small cremation, just a couple of neighbours and the close family, beautiful weather, food at my mother's house and then back to the airport to say goodbye to my girls and fly home again - got in at 11pm. and slept like a baby.

Two days later, Stuart went into hospital for his double bypass. He was very anxious and then was told that it would be delayed for a day because he has O Negative blood, which is rare and that they had to order it specially for the op. The operation went very well and he came out of hospital after a week, home for four days and then today has left for three weeks' rehabilitation at a clinic near Cologne. He has had very little pain from the op in either chest, or the arm and leg from which the veins were taken. However, he has terrible nerve pain in the arm that wasn't involved. The surgeon says that it is from too much pressure being put on it during the operation so he is left with something akin to tennis elbow. The slightest touch sends him screaming with pain and that has been his main problem. Also, all food smells and tastes chemical to him and so he has lost a lot of weight since the operation when he should have been putting it on. He has grown very thin, very quickly. I have been as patient as I can but must say that I am relieved that he is now in rehabilitation so that the responsibility for his recovery and further progress is left to the professionals. We have paid extra for a single ('comfort') room and he has internet connection so we will be able to Skype in the evenings. I shall try to go and see him at the weekend and I am on half term holiday from school next week, which is very fortunate. I don't like leaving the dog for too long and the journey will be an hour both ways but I need to visit fairly regularly.

Last week was hellish - locking the dog up while I went to work, walking him, locking him up again while I visited the hospital, constantly answering the phone, making phone calls, doing emails, contacting Stuart's work colleagues, family, friends, more dogwalking, work, visiting - you get the picture. My eldest daughter flew out to be with us this weekend when he came home for four days because she knew it had been a bad week for both of us. After collecting Stuart from hospital, getting him settled and leaving him for a long nap, we both took the dog to the nearest nice beergarden and had a delicious lunch of Kölsch, cold roast beef, bratkartoffeln and home-made remoulade. The sun was sparkling and we sat and watched the barges go by and thoroughly relaxed. It may sound selfish but it was just what I needed - an hour and a half of sheer pleasure! (Stuart was still asleep when we got back so we didn't feel guilty...)

Monday, 11 April 2011

Shocked and tired

Today I went with Stuart to his cardiology appointment. Basically, the doctor said he needs a double bypass but they are not sure they can carry it out in his case and they need further discussion before making a decision. If they don't do it, he will take beta blockers for the rest of his life instead. If they do the op, it will be in a couple of weeks. Naturally, I want to be here and we have a conflict with my father's cremation. My mother is still waiting to hear if there has to be a post-mortem on my father's body, so we have no idea how soon a cremation service can be organised. And my daughters are in England not knowing if they are coming here to Germany as planned for Easter with us, staying in England so they can go to the cremation, or coming here to Germany a couple of weeks later so they can be here if Stuart is operated on. I was worried about Stuart when I was in Sylt but had no idea my world would be turned upside-down when I got back. I want to be with my mother, sister and brother, but also want to be with my husband. I need a cloning service. Feeling torn and sad.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Stunning Sylt and sadness too

My quilt group went for a long weekend to Sylt, an island which originally belonged to Denmark but changed ownership a long time ago and is now the most northerly part of Germany. It is one of the East Friesian islands and is a conservation area. We travelled eight hours by train Thursday and so had Thursday evening, Friday and Saturday and then another eight hour journey home on Sunday. We had a wonderful time.

My photos are all uploaded in the wrong order but I can't be bothered to change them round so here is a picture of my meal at the famous Sansibar restaurant on the island. Sylt is a rich people's island and has lots of celebrities and VIPs owning property there and they have made this beach restaurant the place to be seen. This is my main course of Steinbutt (turbot) with giant scallops on a bed of herbed spinach and tomato. It was divine - all the fish was wonderful. We felt like celebrities ourselves.

Below is one of the typical Sylt houses - many of them have thatched roofs and are exquisitely beautiful and maintained in tip-top condition; all the grounds are immaculate with bowling green lawns. If I were a multi-millionaire, I would buy one immediately but that isn't going to happen...

They drink a lot of tea on this island and there were tea shops everywhere, selling wonderful blends of loose tea and often serving tea and cakes as well. This one sold very unusual teapots.

The weather was grim when we arrived on the Thursday and we had a very wild and wet walk to the beach. We thought we would be inside at the hotel spa or quilting the whole weekend as the weather looked so bad. But no, Friday and Saturday were warm and sunny and, though still windy, it was a warm wind. Below are the famous Strandkörber (literally, beachbaskets). They are the traditional beach seats for northern Germany, enabling people to sit and soak up the sun while being protected from the wind. They have pull-out footrests, storage, tables for drinks, pretty much everything you could want to be comfortable and we saw many people comfortably asleep in them later in the day. At night or in bad weather, the back and top fold down to become the basket lid which keeps everything dry.

I have more photos to put up but need to wait a while. When I came back from Sylt I found out that my husband's recent annual medical has revealed a heart problem and he had to go into a clinic on Friday for a heart catheter investigation. After I drove home from the clinic, my sister rang to tell me that my father had just died. I couldn't tell my husband until he got home the next day, so it was a strange and diffficult day, worried about my husband and grieving for my father. I am going to spend a week with my mother in England and shall not post again until I get back.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Tempus keeps fugitting!

Can't believe I haven't posted since 29th January. Time to catch up.

Stuart and I went to Aachen for a weekend - sunny and restful, lots of wonderful old buildings like this one:

Just look at those barley-twist carved pillars and the unusual window shutters! It is now a restaurant and although we didn't eat there as we had already booked somewhere else, on our next visit we shall certainly do so - I want to see the inside properly rather than a peer through the window. Yes, there was a table full of people looking back at me when I did so - when it is old glass in the windows, you can't see anything at first and then you see the faces...

One of the old houses has been turned into a museum and there is in the basement a Tile Room, all walls being completely tiled in different antique tiles. Quilt inspiration galore - really beautiful.

Our quilt group trip to Bremen was great fun and I managed to cut and sew on the borders of my new quilt, sandwich it and get the quilting started. Current progress below:

Have decided this quilt is going to be a surprise birthday present for my sister-in-law - I can post the photos because she doesn't know about my blog.

Next weekend six of us from the quilt group are travelling to the island of Sylt in the north of Germany. We will have an 8 hour train journey (three hours to Bremen and then Renate will join us for the next five hours!) and three nights and two days on the island and then the long journey back on Sunday. Our friend Gisela is married to the manager of the hotel where we are staying and it will be another lovely reunion as Bremen was an unbelievable eight weeks ago. If I don't take the quilt with me I shall take embroidery but have to take something crafty to do with my hands.

Saturday, 29 January 2011


After doing that very complicated Crescent and Star quilt for my youngest daughter, I really wanted to do something simple and relatively fast next (after that I shall probably want another complicated one). I always react against what I've just done. So, do you remember these delicious little jelly rolls I bought from a quilt stall at the Wiesbaden Craft Fair?

I bought them from two separate bins but they go together beautifully. First I did a lot of cutting:

Then some pinning:

And then some sewing:

Not sure exactly how big a quilt I can make from these strips. What I've decided to do is sew together three rows at a time and when I'm out of fabric I can see how large a quilt it is going to be if I just sew them all together. If it does not look big enough even with a border added, I think I will add some cream stripes between each set of three rows. I will either just add plain stripes or might make rows of cream tumblers. Lots of possibilities for stretching these pretty fabrics if I need to. What's really funny is that I didn't notice until I uploaded these photos that I've made a mistake in my sequencing - will I be relaxed and laid back about the mistake and leave it alone? Anyone who knows me would say no and that if I don't correct it I shall fret about it - they are absolutely right and I'm off to put it right immediately! I don't think I'll have this top finished ready for our quilt weekend in Bremen but you never know - it all depends how much real life seeps into the quilting life, doesn't it?

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Mulling, not blogging

This is block #23 of the Nearly Insane quilt. Haven't done any of these for a while and am pleased to connect with it again. I've been mulling over which quilt to make next from the hundred-and-more 'must dos' on my list (you should see the number of quilts I've got bookmarked - I will either need to live to 300 or open a factory).

Since Renate brought me all the new fabrics I ordered from the US, I've felt a little overwhelmed by choice - not a good thing for me. I now have lots of the lovely Civil War reproduction fabrics but they are very much outside what I usually have and I have needed to stroke them and get to know them before deciding what to do with them. I've also got a lovely range of soft/warm solids which I want to use to make a quilt used by a character in 'Six Feet Under' - I would pause the dvd every time it appeared so I could copy a bit more of the design. It's one of those very simple quilts which look devastatingly good.

However, I've finally decided that it should be the Hartfield fabrics I should use first; I've had this 'Jane Austen' layer cake for a while now and it's time I stopped stroking and started sewing. What is it about these layer cakes that make you not want to disturb their pristine beauty? The thought of cutting them and having little cotton threads hanging from them seems an insult sometimes. Am I weird? Anyway, I've got one of those perpetual calendars with a quilt block a day and I spotted a nice one the other day which I think is simple enough to show off the fabrics well and yet has some applique leaves on each block which should give me a lovely bit of hand sewing too.

One of the reasons for the mulling is that some of us from the quilt group are going to visit Renate in Bremen for a long weekend at the beginning of February - our very own quilt retreat! This must seem odd to any Americans reading but we don't have opportunities for such things here in Germany unless you belong to a big group and our group is small. We are going by train so I shall want something to work on on the three and a half hour journey and also something to do while we are there. I think I shall take my Nearly Insane because everything I need is now in an easily carried box. If I can start the layer cake quilt and get quite a few blocks done, then I can pack those and do the applique leaves while I am there. We are all so excited!

Monday, 3 January 2011


Yes, it's been like living in limbo since Christmas here, maybe because we 'staggered' our Christmas a bit. My youngest daughter arrived on the 21st and the three of us and dog went to friends for our Christmas Day meal. Then the older daughter and boyfriend arrived on the 27th and we had our own Christmas Day (presents, crackers and usual Christmas Day meal) on the 28th. Then, almost immediately, it seemed, it was New Year's Eve and we were entertaining guests, so lots of prep and cooking. I thought once this was out of the way I could relax with some sewing as I have been itching to sew. However, the metal tab on my jeans zip broke in half and I stupidly tried to pull up the zip with the broken bit and it punctured my thumb. It has now been seven days since I did this and I am amazed at how long it has taken to heal. Probably all the cooking and hand-washing has stopped the healing but there is no way I've wanted to hold a needle in my hand in case the puncture opened again - although small, it was very deep. The weather has been cold and the snow has only just begun to thaw, so we've played with the Wii, board games, computer games and read books, watched dvds and had some nice meals.

Eldest daughter and boyfriend return to England tomorrow evening and youngest is here until 7th Jan. Apart from having a good clear-up, packing away the decorations and chopping up the tree, this week is clear for some sewing before I go back to school on Monday. Time, too, to drastically lose the weight I've put on over Christmas. Luckily, I'm so sick of food after all the festive over-eating that it is a great time to repair the damage. Happy new year!