Once upon a Blue Moon…

Hanging, high in the inky darkness of the night sky, partially hidden by fleeting clouds, the moon always strikes me with great wonder.

Once upon a Blue Moon...
Once upon a Blue Moon…

I stare up at the glowing orb, seeing the sun’s mirror reflecting the glory of our stellar body. I am searching quickly for familiar canyons and tranquil seas, satisfying a deep, almost visceral, need when I find them. The moon seems to pull me closer, drawing me in to whisper the secrets of the universe in my mind, especially when, as at this time of year, she wears her cloak of blue.

Oh, mysterious Lady Moon! Stay a while longer, so that we may bathe in your incandescent aura and connect with the bountiful sun, the scintillating stars and all else in the vast expanse of the universe.

But clouds obscure your view, shrouding you in wispy cerements until you seem distracted, gone to another world, away from me. I know you will return.


The Iron Man

On the beach front of Scarborough’s North Bay sits a Giant Iron Man.

What have you seen, old man?
What have you seen, old man?

He enjoys remarkable fame, both locally and nationally as a piece of landmark art. In reality, he’s there as a tribute to a particular young soldier from the North East who was part of the Allied liberating force, one of the first people to enter the Belsen concentration camp at the end of WW2. The plaque next to the sculpture, which is around ten feet high, tells the story of the inspirational figure that it is based upon and also the story of how the art work came to be donated to the people of Scarborough by a charitably minded citizen.

But I want to tell the story that grows in my head each time I meet Iron Man.Iron Man’s name is Arthur Gully. He wears a traditional Northerner’s cloth cap, albeit fashioned in intricate detail from iron. His face is lined, each deep wrinkle etched by the horrors, worries and fears he has been facing for all of his long and eventful life. His bravery knows no bounds and his physical presence, stoically seated staring out into the North Sea for evermore, is a startling metaphor for the indomitability he showed throughout all the trials and tribulations of the life of a man born in the early twentieth century.

In the early part of the Twentieth Century, Man was invincible. He had built marvellous structures and great wonderments for all the world to be in awe of and to proclaim him Master of the Universe. As the years flew by, he became  increasingly arrogant in his determination to be the conqueror of all he surveyed, and more that he could not even perceive at the time,  Man fought with his fellow Man repeatedly and with progressively more aggression until sometimes it seemed they would fight to the death of all around.

For the dawn of each new day, Man must look to the East, acknowledge the presence of the Sun and pick up his sword to continue the fight; victory is not only the single most important objective, it is the exclusive objective.

There is no time for softness or beauty. No time to recall kinder, happier times. The Sun will set whilst Man readies himself for tomorrow and the promise that soon, the time will come when he is, after all, Master of his Universe. When that fight is won, he can then allow himself to rest, to watch the sunrise with joy and love and most importantly, peace in his heart.

When you are made of iron, there are two important facts of life: your heart has been hardened by the fight so that the beauty you witness each morning is lost to your soul and the pummelling from the sea, the air, the sun and the earth around you will rot your very fibres, challenging your endurance endlessly until you redden with the memories and finally dissolve into rust – dust to dust and ashes to ashes – the Earth will reclaim you for her own.

It is no wonder that you frown so sadly, Arthur. Your giant courage reminds all who pass by each day that we may learn from your sacrifice – learn to live with each other harmoniously, spend time enjoying the beauty that surrounds us and keep being thankful for the opportunities to greet each sunrise with peace in our hearts. Thank you Arthur Gully.

Old soldiers never die, but plenty young ones did.
Old soldiers never die, but plenty young ones did.

Dresden quilt plan a

You have to have a plan, right?
You have to have a plan, right?

I really am enjoying the process of creating this Dresden quilt. For one thing, it satisfies my need for mathematically challenging puzzles. I had decided, you may recall, to make it a 20 block quilt, with four blocks across and five going down. With sashes and edging allowances, I thought this might be about right.

Then I decided to make a special block, with one blade showing every different fabric chosen – twenty-one in all – and I also thought it might be good to use a left-over piece of embroidered lemon silk that I used to make a dress for my granddaughter to attend her uncle’s wedding in Australia, just over a year ago. Having determined this, and liking the idea very much, it just wouldn’t fit with a 5×4 configuration. Not at all!

What to do?


No, don’t be ridiculous! You’re creative,  you’re mathematical, you can come up with a solution. Surely?

My thinking cap sometimes is a little on the large size. This is because when I need it most, my brain seems to shrink to the size of a diplodocus’ brain. For those of you who are not dinosaur nerds, or are neither the mothers of said dinosaur nerds or the teachers of same, the diplodocus was a very, very large dinosaur with a teeny, tiny brain about as big as an orange, which considering it was nearly 200 feet long, meant it was marginally smarter than the vegetation that it ate. On this occasion, I was so enamoured of my colours that my mental plan to create this quilt was all in my head and at some point it was really going to be necessary to actually visualise those thoughts. Seize them like some bewitched fairy, with a gossamer butterfly net capturing the concepts and giving them form, reality, actuality.

Of course, I COULD just have kept going and the quilt itself would be those actualizations. But the mathematician in me just would not be quiet. She needed to *see* how it would fit together. How I was going to solve the mystery of the lop-sided quilt. Plus, as a side concern, how is it that I’ve managed to make a full circle – which you will recall is categorically, undeniably only ever a 360º possibility – get divided up equally into 21 blades? Each blade is approximately 18º, so in theory at least, there should only be twenty in each circle… All I can say in my own defence is that my judgement of seam allowances leaves something to be desired, hence the need to add the extra blades. On the plus side, it does mean that my Dresden’s are completely and totally unique. Go me 🙂

So, I photographed each background, resized everything to fit into a five by five grid and hey presto! This worked! It was symmetrical (satisfying my geometrical OCD) and yet with each block having a different configuration of blades, they would all be different so I am biting my thumb at computative theory and getting creative! all boxes ticked. It just meant that I needed another five more Dresden roundels. One hundred and five more blades to cut, stitch the tops, turn out and press then stitch together, trim and press once again. Harumph!

It’s taken a couple of days to finish the roundels and cut the block backgrounds out, but here’s a picture of what it is going to look like someday soon – I’ve just pinned the roundels onto their backgrounds for the purpose of this picture. The middle block is the yellow silk, which curls up until it’s sewn. The two on either side are purple silk so there’s a similar problem there for now. The rest are cotton and I have to say… I quite like it so far. Each roundel still needs the centre circle appliqueing over the top, and they need stitching down, but you get the idea, I hope.

It's starting to take shape
It’s starting to take shape

The next issue is really whether I should set them directly next to each other as in this image, or should I have a ‘sashing’ between each block, to define the blocks as separate entities? Hmmm….

Block’s Away!

Ambition is an essential part of life I think, because without it you have no goals to try to achieve, no dreams to fulfill, no burning desires to satisfy. I’m not big on ambition a lot of the time, or at least, I’m usually totally rubbish at telling people about what I really, really want to achieve, or to do or to accomplish.

But this week, I’ve shared my ambition to make a Dresden quilt, which to some may seem a very modest ambition, one that could be achieved fairly simply, with a little application and some time. To others, it seems almost as unreachable as the midday sun, beyond imagination or at least, beyond the limits of an ordinary lifetime. Ok, so it’s going to take me longer than I had originally thought, this Dresden quilt. I hadn’t realised until this evening that I was being a bit ambitious to attempt this. I think I just thought – ‘Ooh, that looks pretty! Also, it kinda looks like flowers, and everyone knows how obsessed with flowers I am! I’m gonna get me one of those…’

I’ve spent all of today finishing pressing those blade points. All four hundred and twenty of them, plus a few to spare. I even made little cardboard corners with the mid-line marked at forty-five degrees so that the points are all the same (perfectionism is very, very boring in reality!) and when I pressed each of the little points, I was secure in the knowledge that they would all be uniformly shaped and sized. Ahem. Hopefully. If I can manage to sew in a straight line.

Once pressed, I began to have all of the *FUN* I’ve been promising myself! That was, until I realised that each of my Dresden roundels will require twenty-one blades, rather than the twenty I had planned for. It’s a jolly good job I had made plenty of spare blades now, isn’t it? The first round was unlikely to fit without the extra blade and so this required a rapid rethink of the make up of each block.

20 is a lovely number, stitchily speaking, as it is divisible by 2, 4, 5 and 10 giving a good variety of possibilities when constructing blocks so that it isn’t just exactly the same all over. 21 is not such a good number, as this of course is only divisible by 3 and 7. I’d cut out, stitched the tops and most importantly PRESSED blades on the assumption that there would be twenty to a block. Complex factorising-focused mental maths followed, when it hit me that I was OVER THINKING the problem. How very unusual for me! I could work it out by just making up block of 21 with seven sets of three of the same colours and the left over ones could make up some interesting blocks in ten pairs with an odd, different, blade thrown in to un-balance the perfection. That way, the whole thing will look less ‘samey’ and thus marginally more ‘creative’. That’s my theory and I am sticking very firmly to it, like treacle.

So, that decision made everything so much simpler and indeed I did have a very enjoyable afternoon, picking sets of three that complement each other effectively or that just make the whole thing ‘zing’. The first block is now stitched together and the second is well on its way… I hope the learning curve levels out sometime soon … 🙂

Block one ready and reporting for action!
Block one ready and reporting for action!
Block 2 testing the background
Block 2 testing the background

Dresden quilt: work in progress

Dresden quilt in progress!
Dresden quilt in progress!

It’s been an exciting day. I decided, some time last week I think, (or was it only Monday?) to try a traditional type of stitching -using a Dresden plate design. I looked it up on You Tube – (thanks Jenny at the very helpful Missouri Star Quilt Co… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lcy_p4pryE4 ) and I was hooked straight away – it looks fantastic and relatively easy too. what could go wrong?

I headed off to my favourite fabric shop in Scarborough http://www.patchworkonline.co.uk/  –

Fabric palette for Dresden quilt project
Fabric palette for Dresden quilt project

it’s like an Aladdin’s Cave in there, full of fabulous goodies! I spent about an hour selecting fabrics and was very pleased with my chosen palette; I also delighted in the lovely comments that my friends at the Open Group for Bedlam Farm made about my choices. I KNOW it’s going to look great, provided I can actually sew a straight line at least 🙂

I couldn’t get hold of the EZ Dresden template on Monday, so headed off for a fruitless search in York the next day.  It just wasn’t happening in reality, so I ordered it online and then settled down to wait for it to arrive.

Sure enough my postie brought my present to myself this morning and I was literally hopping from foot to foot with excitement! Now I could get to work! I’ve been posting on and off for most of the day with progress updates, but decided that before I stop for the night, I’d share my progress thus far here.

I’ve decided to go with a quilt – the colours are spectacular and it deserves to be something large. I reckon I’ll put twenty blocks of Dresden’s in a four by five configuration, with a border round each block – probably a creamy colour, to tie it all together. Not sure what edging or backing I’ll go for yet, that’ll have to wait till I’m ready.

340 blades cut and ready to sew
340 blades cut and ready to sew

I found several other favourite bits of fabric in my boxes of stash and since each block will need 20 blades, plus a centre circle and backing square, I’ve got a sort-of plan in my head. I could spend time drawing it out, but I can’t contain myself for long enough to do that!

So, 20 blocks with 20 blades in each means at least 400 blades that needed to be cut, the top edge stitched together to form the point, then pressing of each blade. Individually. That is a LOT of pressing!  Each one needs to be turned out and the point positioned accurately before I press, or else the Dresden plates will look lopsided. Sometimes, I wish I wasn’t such a darned perfectionist! It’s going to take a bit longer than I anticipated, but I’d rather it look right than skimp on my efforts and end up with something shoddy-looking.

Once I’ve done the pressing, then the *fun* begins! I’ll be selecting colour combos tomorrow, then piecing each block together. I expect I’ll get maybe two blocks done tomorrow. It may be faster, once I get on a roll…

Stitching the blade's tops to make the points
Stitching the blade’s tops to make the points

Blades all sewn together for easy trimming

I have had to stop for the night… tired and head spinning a bit so I think I need a little rest. Back tomorrow…