Sunday, March 27, 2011


Apparently if you have more than two of something you can call it a collection.  Was Noah must the first person to start collecting?  When The Dancing Queen gave me a piece of pink depression glass I immediately remembered a piece given to me by another dear friend.  Of course the second piece had to be wrapped carefully and taken to Shoestring Cottage from our apartment, so that they could cluster together.  Now whenever I look at them I have a desire to add a third piece so that I have a collection.

Why do we have this desire to form collections, I wonder?  Some people are immune to this strange compulsion, but most have a collection of one kind or another, though they may be loath to admit it.  Even Mr Shoestring, that most practical of fuming beans, has a collection of Bakelite objects of which he is inordinately fond.  Recently he started a collection of old kitchen utensils, but not just any old kitchen utensil will do.  They have to have wooden, red painted handles. 

 (Though strangely that seems to have led on to a subsidiary kitchen implement collection, old fashioned “quicksie” makers which you heat over the element on the stove to create toasted sandwiches.  The first time he experimented with them we ended up with a piquant charcoal and sweetcorn combo but he has since mastered the art of keeping an eye on them while they are cooking.) 

Another friend who visited during the weekend tells me she collects old peanut butter and marmite glasses and also egg cups, but there is a very strict price restriction on them resulting in the need for some touch up paint jobs to the egg cups involving twink and lipstick from time to time.  Lady Raglan started a collection of old aprons when she moved to the country, but this may have been a reaction against her aristocratic lineage.

Whatever it is that we choose to collect, the thrill of the chase can give us such pleasure and the feeling that the next big find may be just around the corner justifies those endless hours spent pawing through charity shops and flea market stalls; we just know that the perfect piece is out there somewhere, waiting for us.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Day In The Domain

Today was the annual event where the town turns out for a day in the thermal domain.  The domain has been preserved in all its Edwardian glory, complete with bowling greens, a skating rink, petanque courts and pleasure gardens.  The weather was perfect, not too hot but beautifully sunny and from the hillside in the domain we could survey the surrounding countryside.  The brass band was the first to play and then the rotunda was used all day for different artists. 

There were lots of fund raising stalls and craftsmen and women selling their wares.  I was very tempted by some silver jewellery and paintings but Mr Shoestring was not impressed, so I kept my wallet safely in my handbag.  But we did agree on some tasty Indian food courtesy of the local Indian restaurant.  Delicious. 

Here some of the thermal water is released into the stream running through the domain.  It is very picturesque and attactive, especially when the steam catches the light in the early morning or at sunset. 

We bought quite a few plants from a stall for the garden at Shoestring.  For me it is more enjoyable to buy from local nurseries rather than nationwide chains; you know your plants are used to the conditions where you live and are more likely to survive in your own garden, plus which the profits are going directly to local growers. We raced home eagerly and planted them in the part of the garden we are currently developing.  There was a gardenia (not sure whether it will survive the winter, something of an experiment), some heucheras of differing hues and several ligularias with spotted and curly leaves.  (They will be at home with all the variegated specimes we seem to be gravitating to of late.)

There was a lovely exhibition at the old Post Office building where the local patchworkers displayed  their latest creations, and a car club of enthusiasts who collected old Riley cars had descended on the town, which added to the vintage atmosphere.  

I spent the afternoon with my dear friend Mrs Peaceable in the courtyard at a local cafe in the old bank building.  Needless to say, we put all the problems of the world to rights and felt very pleased with ourselves after a large coffee in the sunshine.  When I returned home Mr Shoestring had just completed watering the garden to welcome our acquisitions to their new home, then two more friends arrived for a cup of tea and we all compared our purchases of the weekend.  What a lot of pleasure we can glean from spending $1.50 on some bric a brac!  A harmless addiction, surely?  

At this time of the year every day in the sun feels as though it may be the last for some time and we enjoyed it all the more for that reason.  Here's hoping that we have a long and warm autumn, though of course with plenty of rain for the farmers and gardens. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Room Of One's Own

When we lived in a big house in the country I had my very own room for my sewing supplies and all the other strange and extraordinary things which went with them.  I could strew things all over the floor and leave them for days on end without any comments or disparaging remarks.  Since moving to the apartment in the CBD I have been without a sewing room and my dears, what a sad situation that has been!  Despite having had a big purge before moving to town there were still craft supplies cunningly concealed beneath beds, in storage cupboards and at the homes of various long suffering relatives and friends around the country.  So you can imagine the bliss of having a room for my craft supplies again at Shoestring Cottage.  Sometimes I go in there and spend a happy hour or so just opening cupboards and turning over pieces of fabric, surprised and pleased at all the projects I have ahead of me. 

In fact if I never bought another scrap of fabric I would still be struggling to get through all these fabrics in my remaining years, so there is a strict ban on the purchase of any more fabrics ... unless strictly necessary for the completion of a project, of course. 

I know I am not alone in this passion for my own little space.  Mr Shoestring can spend many a happy hour in his shed turning things over and putting them back on shelves, so we are both happy at Shoestring in our different places.  A win/win situation!

Now for the best buy of the week.  What about these fabulous genuine art deco shoes?  They are in beautiful condition and the craftmanship is wonderful.  Even the leather linings are soft and the stitching is so tiny.  Why do you think these shoes would have been saved in the back of somebody's cupboard for perhaps 70 years?  I like to think the original owner wore them to the dance where she met the love of her life and always remembered that night whenever she saw the shoes.  They are a bit like Cinderella's glass slippers perhaps, especially because they are so tiny.  They are a size 28 and there is no way many modern adult women's feet would fit into them.  I looked up a book on art deco fashion which mentioned that, "The 1920s produced the most exciting shoes of the century, with a tremendous variety of cut, colour and ornamentation.  With shorter skirts, legs and feet were now on display and shoes became the focal point of fashion.  Women wanted coloured stockings and new shoes, especially after the sombre and practical styles of the War."

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Kindness of Strangers

This weekend there was a definite feeling of autumn in the air at Shoestring Cottage.  I was thrilled to find that the grass seed we planted last weekend had germinated and seemed to be growing by the hour.  I got out my electric jug and doused various perennial weeds with boiling water, planning to plant grass seed when they die.  I am not sure whether this will work but it is worth a try, rather than using poisonous sprays.  Also I had a happy time puddling around with my bags of coffee grounds, spreading them over an area of the back garden which I am hoping to bring under control and plant up, having removed a lot of seedling Phoenix palms and cacti and sifted out as much of the broken glass and shards of old crockery as possible. 

While I was weeding the front border which runs along the footpath a kindly local stopped to chat to me.  This lovely lady was in her 80s with twinkling bright blue eyes.  Obviously her mind was sharp as a tack and she looked a picture of health.  She told me she had grown up in the town and that when she and her husband left to live in other parts of the country she thought they would never return; however they had come back upon his retirement and lived here happily since.  She was wondering whether I would like a small piece of furniture as a gift.  Apparently while passing to and fro on excursions to the library she noticed that somebody was caring for Shoestring Cottage and its garden once again and wanted to give us the gift of a  Queen Anne side table which she no longer needed.  I was overcome by this lady's kindness.  How thoughtful and generous, and what a lovely present.  The side table is dainty and perfectly fits the dimensions of our small dining/living room.  I will take great care of it and always think of my new friend when I use it.  
The other good thing about this weekend was that I spent a whole day in my sewing room murmuring to myself, turning over piles of fabric and finishing a dress I started making about a year and a half ago.  Also made two more crazy quilt squares, ready to be embroidered and embellished, and started some new cross stitch.  The plan is to make deep embroidered borders for the bed sheets.  First of all one for the rosy bedroom, with red embroidery.  But before I tackle that I will begin with an experimental piece, perhaps a cushion and some tiebacks for the curtains, to test the water fastness of the red embroidery cotton.  Happy days, happy days!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Magic of Crazy Quilts

I completed my first crazy quilt for the 1000 silk ties project when four friends pooled their resources and used old silk ties to create a number of different projects.  In my crazy quilt the ties were mixed in with new silk pieces and a random effect was created, mainly using jewel colours.  As well as the silk fabric and silk ties there were some added patches made from images printed onto silk. 

 I was hooked!  As soon as the first quilt was finished another had to be started straight away, but what to do to make it a bit more interesting and exciting the second time round?  I started making a couple of blocks out of yellow/cream/tawny tones but once these were nearly finished decided making a whole quilt with this limited palette would be too boring.  So instead of that, the new plan was to make a "rainbow" effect through the quilt by making the blocks in different shades for each row so that the rainbow effect would appear.  This has been such fun to create, the first six blocks are almost finished now (30 will be needed) and they have been very enjoyable to work on. 

The reason for the name “crazy” quilt is not known; there is one theory that it stems from the “crazed” look of a cracked glaze on china.  It underwent a period of great popularity in late Victorian times and a resurgence during the 1930s and has never completely died out. 

The beauty of crazy quilting is that with only a small number of simple embroidery stitches an intricate, interesting and colourful effect can be obtained.  Also there is no exact counting to be done and it can be picked up when you have only a few minutes to spare and put down again without “losing your place”.  Small scraps of luxury fabrics, leftovers from other projects, sentimental mementoes such as laces donated by friends and family, special buttons, beads and charms can all be incorporated into your work.  Once your friends and relations know you are “saving up for a crazy”  you will be surprised what they find for you – old silk ties, silk scarves, sports prize ribbons and so on will all make your work unique and you will remember where your prize pieces came from each time you see your “crazy”. 

Straight Stitch (or Running Stitch)
Chain Stitch
Fly Stitch
Blanket Stitch
Herringbone Stitch
Feather Stitch


If you are frightened by the thought of a large project such as a bedspread you could start off with a cushion, table runner or Christmas table centrepiece.  Or a framed work of crazy quilt art could be the answer. 
Be inspired by the things you love, be they pets, hobbies and activities, family members or the natural world.  Take note of colours in nature which please you and use those combinations in your stitching.  Use materials from family members and friends to personalise your work.    
Try not to mix fabrics of entirely different weight – a lightweight silk next to a heavy brocade will cause extra stress on the seam and not be so durable.
Keep to a single “family” of colours for a more coordinated look, for example pearly pastels or darker colours all of the same depth.  Decide on a general colour theme before you start your work.  You can even sort your fabrics and threads into categories in this way if it is helpful.   
Look out for old handkerchiefs, laces and doyleys from thrift stores and relatives.  Ensure that if you are using old fabrics (such as old silk dresses) the fabric is still sound and will not deteriorate.
If possible avoid synthetics as they can melt with ironing.  Cotton lace rather than modern synthetic lace looks more authentic and is longer lasting.
“Let the thread do the work” by looking out for variegated threads.  These can be bought cheaply at emporiums or there are luxury silk versions available.
Try using perle cotton, crochet cotton and bargain threads from the $2 shop in your work. 
If you love it, use it!  There will be a way to incorporate your favourite bits and pieces into your quilt.  Resist the urge to save your favourite luxury threads for a “special occasion”. 
Do not cut very long pieces of thread to use – it is tempting not to have to thread your needle so often but you will get more tangles and knots.  Let the needle hang down from time to time and “unwind” if you are having problems with tangles forming. 
Look for ribbons to use to embellish your seams – some can be found at very reasonable prices.  Over-embroider ribbons which are a bit plain for your taste. 
If you are using old patterned silk ties alternate them with plain fabrics to prevent an overall “too busy” look – remember that your embroidery and embellishments will provide a lot of visual interest also. 
If you are adding buttons and charms try to put them on pieces which will not receive wear and tear – wall hangings for instance rather than bed quilts.  Use beading thread to attach them and secure firmly and add them when other stitching is completed.
If you wish to put ribbons along a seam it is a good idea to put them in at the “construction” phase when you are putting the “ground” together.  But if you decide to add them later they can be stitched along the seam.
If you have left over thread in your needle use it to make an area full of flowers composed of small French knots and lazy daisy stitches on one section of your block. 
When you find your work is becoming a bit “samey” (for instance you are repeatedly using the same stitch combinations) pick up a new block and work on that for a while or look for new techniques and inspirations on the block you are working on. 

Try using pictorial elements in your crazy quilt – look for fabrics with pictures on them and use them as patches in the quilt block.  Or you can print onto fabric using images scanned into your computer, but be aware that these will not be waterproof.  There is a product called Jiffy Jet Set which you can use to make your printing washable. 
Cross stitch on waste canvas – you can use waste canvas to create small cross stitch pictures and then when the waste canvas is removed you will have a cross stitch on your silk or other fabric which you can use as a patch. 
Embroidery of flowers etc – use silk ribbon embroidery or freehand embroidery to “draw” scenes which appeal to you.  Try creating pictures of your favourite animals, flowers and scenes. 

So give it a go and have fun, it really is only limited by your imagination.