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Wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, great-aunt and friend....and fur-kid mum I love Quilting, stitching, photography, cooking, baking, gardening, blogging and making new friends...stop by and say hi!

Monday 31 March 2014

March NewFO - It's a Mystery

Here we are at the end of March and it is NewFO check in time again.  The project that I started this month has been on the planning board since last December.  It is a Mystery Quilt that I am doing with a few friends from my Chat & Sew group.  Marilyn, Lorraine, Zita, Helen and I meet on the first Wednesday of each month with our group leader, Tanya, to get together and sew (sewing machines are essential for this group).  As we were coming to the end of the year in 2013,  we were trying to decide what we would like to do once 2014 came around.  Someone suggested they would like to do a Mystery quilt so Tanya put her thinking cap on and came up with a Mystery quilt - with a twist.

We had a couple of months to collect 9 co-ordinating fat quarters and that is all we were told.  I chose some Japanese inspired fabrics that I had admired more than once on a display quilt at Quiltessentials and Claudia helped me gather my requirements.  We were due to start in February but I was away in the UK at this time so I missed the first month and started in March instead.

To start with, we needed to cut the fat quarters up into various squares, rectangles and triangles...... "oh dear, did someone say triangles!"  Here are my squares/rectangles laid out on the cutting diagram.  I am not cutting the triangle bits until I get my pattern each month because I just imagine the chaos all those triangles will cause. I did all this at our group session but I will be catching up by sewing the blocks as homework.
Then we cut a swatch of each FQ and gave it a number from 1 to 9 in any random order we liked....no rules yet.
After I did all the cutting out and numbered my mini swatches, I realised that colours #2 and #8, even though one has blossoms and one has birds, were too similar and if they appear next to each other,  will not look so good
 I  think I can still inter change them throughout the quilt but I need to find another contrast fabric. I am going to go with a darker shade of green. I have picked one out of my stash already but since I did not need it for my first block, I still need to finish cutting it up. Here is my new swatch chart.
At this point I realised I needed a better method of keeping my squares together rather than the piles on the cutting guide.  Not so easy to transport to class that way.  So I cut out paper templates and drew on them whether the squares were to be cut into 2 triangles or 4 and what the length of each side was. I think this will work well for me.
So here is the Mystery part.....Every month we get a pattern which is a little like a paint with numbers puzzle.  We have to follow the numbers on our swatch chart and find the corresponding shape to make up the blocks. Until you find these coloured shapes, you have no idea what your block is going to look like.
 I tried out block one on my design sheet but I wasn't really happy with the charcoal fabric in the centre because I think it pulls your eye in to just see those two dark squares.  Thats ok, the rules are: I can mix up the colours of the block if I want to.
so I swapped the charcoal and the mustard and I like it better as the centre pieces are showcased equally.  What do you think? You probably recognise this as the Card Trick Block. This block has an added border which will be put on later as it is smaller than the other blocks.
We get two patterns sheets a month and the second one for March was a starburst block.  I laid it out on my design sheet to see if it worked for me and I was quite happy so didn't swap any bits around. This is actually the one that I started sewing first.
While I was cutting out at the group session, the other girls were sewing their blocks and were having such a lot of trouble sewing those triangles(.....yep, I knew it.....triangles are the pits to sew together.....) so there was a lot of stitch unpicking being done. Having witnessed all this unpicking, I was a bit nervous to start sewing.  I decided to use my Pfaff machne as it will have to travel to the classes and is much easier to travel with and it has a built in walking foot which I thought would be advantageous when I very carefully sewed the triangles.

Slow and steady wins the race?  Oh yes,  my triangles sewed together beautifully and I was ecstatic that I did not have to unpick any triangle units.  I did have to unpick a row that I somehow turned upside down but all in all, it went together so well. Lovely matching seams and sharp points. 

That was yesterday and I finished block two so today I was going to return to block one and lay out blocks 3 & 4 on my design sheets ready for the class on Wednesday.  I set to sewing and had all sorts of trouble with my sewing machine today.  It just didn't want to go over the seam humps.  I rethreaded it several times, checked the feeddogs and even changed the needle which worked but not entirely until I had struggled through sewing it together, and then....OOPS....when I was pressing the block I realised that I had sewn it just the way I said I wasn't going to! Well it will stay like that now and I will assess it when I am finished all the other blocks. Maybe I will redo it, maybe not.
 With block two out of the way, I started to puzzle out the next block. Initially I was not happy with the suggested layout of colours so I have changed it a couple of ways. The first one is the original. I kind of like the middle layout best but I would be happy to hear your views.
I don't think Block 4s layout needs changing but I tried it a couple of ways just to see what would happen. I am leaning towards the first pic which is the original way......Miss M agrees.
With the two layouts done, I am ready to meet up with the girls on Wednesday and sew them together. I will update my progress on this quilt each month as the classes come up.

Today I am linking in to the March NewFO party over at Cat Patches

I will return to blogging about my UK trip in a couple of days.

Saturday 29 March 2014

Three Castles and a Loch in the Mountains - Part 1

We woke up on day three to a rainy, cold day but I was really looking forward to seeing the countryside.  I couldn't exactly remember where we were going but I knew we were going to see some castles and lochs in the highlands so when the tour greeter asked where we were going, all I could think of to say was "to see three castles and a loch in the mountains". Apparantly he found this quite amusing and assured me we would see more than one loch and lots and lots of mountains. We were heading off to the Western Highlands.

We were only a small party and Miss M and I sat apart in the one seaters so we could each have a window seat. Lets face it, we had spent every waking moment together so far. A little separation was not going to get either of us upset. I was up front so I also had a fabulous view out of the front window of the mini bus as well.  One of the first sights was not any of the expected sights, but a rather beautiful, gigantic sculpture of two horse heads rearing out of the ground at the River Carron crossing.  These have only just been completed and the surrounds were not yet landscaped but I thought them absolutely beautiful.  Unfortunately I did not have my camera prepared to take any kind of photo at this point and anyway, we were moving quite fast on the freeway so I have scoured the internet to bring you this image to give you an idea of what they looked like. And I mean "gigantic"!

Our kilt wearing bus driver, Jaimie, promised we could stop at the base of Stirling Castle for a photo op as we were driving past it anyway so a quick detour would not make any difference to our trip and it was just a short drive from the Kelpies to Stirling.  Would you know it? as we were getting out of the bus, it started raining heavily. The photo I took was not very good but even so I wasn't disappointed that we were not going for a closer look. It doesn't look very castellated, does it?
Luckily by the time we reached the village of Doune, the rain had stopped and I was glad because Doune (pronounced "doon") Castle was my kind of castle.  A little weathered and worn but still standing as it did in the 1400s making it easy to imagine what life was like here in those Medieval times.

 There may be a slight off chance that you think you have seen this castle before and if you are a Monty Python fan then you would be correct because this castle was used in the film "Monty Python & The Holy Grail". The audio commentry is given by one of the actors of that film, Terry Jones.
It turns out Doune Castle is quite a celebrity castle having featured in 'Ivanhoe' (1959) to the 'Game of Thorns' TV series (present day). Jaimie told us that they have recently been using the castle to film a TV mini series called 'Outlander'.  This is a series of 9 books written by Diana Gabaldon (I have read 3 books from the series already).  I suppose this is why the courtyard of the castle looks like a deserted market place at the time of our visit.
Inside, with the help of Terry Jones, we were able to explore the enormous kitchen, Great Hall and several other chambers.
Other than the rest of our tour mates, there were no other tourists here at the time so we were able to roam around, listen to the audio tour and take in the ambience of the castle. Anita, if you are reading today, yes, I did touch the walls  LOL!

This chamber is the Lord's Hall and was beautifully decorated. It turns out that it was refurbished during the Victorian era and this is how Victorians imagined it would look in medieval times.  Those Victorians had such romantic notions.

We had a good hour to explore the castle and the only places we didn't go into where the bedchambers which were up some very narrow and steep spiral staircases which I decided I just couldn't manage. Coming back outside, I carefully avoided the worst of the puddles and muddy paths to take some more exterior photos and then a quick toilet break before heading to our next photo op.
Leaving Doune, we started to head into the mountains which were topped with a blanket of snow.  This is Rob Roy country and also the feuding grounds of two of Scotlands most well known clans. The Cambells and the McKenzies and Jaimie kept us enthralled with tales of how these tribes lived and fought with each other over the years. Our next stop was on the banks of Loch Lubnaig which was just breathtakingly beautiful. The Loch was snuggled by snow topped mountains and the mist was rolling in as we stood there.

 Back on the bus and listening to more historical accounts of the area and stories of Rob Roy, Scotlands own Robin Hood, we made our way through some of the most beautiful scenery. The snow was quite heavy in parts weighing down trees and mounding up on the roadside.  I was really hoping that when we stopped for lunch, it would be somewhere blanketed in snow.
This is the only photo I managed to take from the moving bus and it is an old railway bridge on the side of the mountain which is part of a walking trail. The railway line is no longer in use.  it would be lovely in summer but it was not being explored today. 

We reached the town of Tyndrum, where we were to have lunch at the Green Welly.  This was really the only let down of the day.  The Green Welly is a just a truck stop and a rather dismal cafeteria at that where the food was not very enjoyable and we ended up with a soggy sausage roll each. The other disappointment was that it was not as snowy as I had hoped.
a patch of left over snow near the Green Welly = it looks rather alot like soap suds
I will take you deeper into the Western Highlands tomorrow - If you care to accompany me.

Friday 28 March 2014

Three Castles and a Loch in the Mountains - Part 2

If you would like to read Part 1 about our Scottish adventure into the Western Highlands, click here.

After lunch, we were once again on the road and heading towards Kilchurn Castle (castle #2). The castle is only open to the public in the summer months so we would only get as close as a photo opportunity from the main road. This should of been a gorgeous photo but can you see what is wrong with it?
If you haven't spotted it yet, some ruddy power pylon has been planted in this gorgeous scene, right there behind the castle. Damn modern technology! There was no avoiding it, no matter which angle the photo was taken from.  The castle was originally built back in the 15th century on an island on  Loch Awe.  In Summer the castle can be accessed  by foot. I thought I would try out my Panoramic camera feature again.......but I still need some practise. See how I have chopped off the tops of the mountains. It gives you an idea of how lovely it is here though.
There was still plenty to see and we were heading for castle #3, Inveraray Castle, on Loch Fyne which is a sea Loch.  Inveraray Castle is just outside the very quaint village of Inveraray. Just look at those dark clouds rolling in.
There has been a castle here since the 1400s but the current Invereray Castle was mostly built in the mid 18th century and parts rebuilt in the mid 1800s after it was detroyed by fire.  It is owned by the Duke of Argyle who is a Scottish Peer and one of the richest men in Scotland. He and his family were residing in the castle at the time of our visit so we were unable to call in.  Instead we were taken to a vantage point on a bridge to get a photo of this impressive Castle.
Here's something you might find interesting if you are a Downton Abbey fan....like me! This castle was used in the 2012 Christmas episode when the family went to Scotland to stay with their family at the fictional "Duneagle Castle". It was infact Inverarary Castle.
 Our next stop was a place called "Rest and be Thankful" and Jaimie told us we could expect to see breathtaking views here as long as the rain and mist stayed away.  The road we were travelling on was originally a military road built at the time of the Jacobite wars in Scotland in order to move troups quickly.  The part we were travelling on runs from Invererary toward Loch Lomand across Glen Croe.  The men building the road were ordered to stop at the pass to rest and be thankful for the vista from that spot.
Looking across Loch Fyne to the road we would be travelling on
Jaimie told us that the road is locally referred to as Avalanche Road and judging by the water cascading down the sides of the mountains, it is not hard to imagine how soft the land must be and able to dislodge rocks and dirt. It was raining heavily again by now and I was not hopeful about seeing the beautiful vista we were promised at Rest and be Thankful. And here it is.....hidden by mist and rain.  Oh well, them's the breaks! Onward to Loch Lomand.
Loch Lomand, apart from Loch Ness, was the only Loch I have previously heard of and Jaimie reminded me why the name was familiar to me when he told us the tale of two soldiers from the Loch Lomand area who were taken prisoner by the British in the Jacobite Uprising in Scotland. One was let go and the other was to be executed.  The one who would die is the one singing the lyrics to the the song "The bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomand". He is reminiscing about them being there again and how he will get there quicker on the low road of death but he will never be able to meet his love on the banks again.  Quite sad when you really listen to the lyrics.  I never knew the lyrics had this connotation.  Listening to the song, I really had goosebumps.  We were making our way back to Edinburgh now along the banks of Loch Lomand but it was raining quite heavily so I didn't take any photos. The trip back was very relaxing and we listened to a variety of Scottish music.....modern, not bagpipes.

Jaimie promised us one more photo stop if we could make it to Queensferry before the light completely faded.  He was going to show us the two bridges that cross the large expance of the Firth of Forth just outside of Edinburgh.  It was the last photo of a very enjoyable day.
The Road Bridge built in the 1960s
Our viewing position was right in the middle of these two magnificent bridges so I had to take seperate photos although I would of loved them both in the same photo.
the Rail bridge was opened in 1890

Tomorrow we would head to Essex to stay with my mum and Norman for a few days. The next post will be our return to London for the final week of our holiday.


Thursday 27 March 2014

"Oot and aboot" in Edinburgh

I woke up feeling very cranky on our 2nd day in Edinburgh and got very irritated by the fact that we couldn't find anywhere to have breakfast other than a greasy spoon. Uggggh!  I wanted porridge!......isn't Scotland the home of porridge?......why doesn't anyone provide it for breakfast? I hadn't slept well, my back was sore and I was COLD.  It really was a test of Miss M's patience and hats off to her for putting up with my 'like-a-2-year-old' tantrum. I needed her to take charge and she did.  She decided we would walk down into the new town and go to Pret for breakfast (We know that Pret sell porridge). Afterwards we would revisit the tourist information kiosk and look at booking a tour for the next day. Looking at the photo below, you would have to ask yourself "how could anyone be in a bad mood on such a gorgeous looking day?"

The Scott monument
Following Miss M's decision, we ended up booking a Western Highland bus tour and then decided to spend the day exploring the city.  Firstly -  back up the mound towards Edinburgh Castle.'The Mound' is a man made hill extending from the Princes Street Gardens up to the old town. The dirt forming the mound came from the excavations of building the new town.  This all started in the 1700s and it was landscaped in the 1800s. Apparantly, it was a Loch before they started filling it in. Facinating!

climbing the steps that scale The Mound......that is Miss M ahead of me.
It didn't take long to scale The Mound and find the Castle entrance at the top of  The Royal Mile.  There would have been a time centuries ago when it wouldn't have been so easy to reach this spot.  The castle sits on a rocky crag to defend its occupants from invaders. 

I was quite excited by this visit although I had no clue as to the historical story this castle had to tell.  My excitement faded a little when I faced the queue to buy tickets to get in here.  Remember, I was wearing my cranky pants today!!  My advise to you if you visit, PRE purchase your tickets.  It was the middle of February and we queued for at least a half an hour to purchase tickets and I thought they were a little expensive plus they didn't accept Miss M's student pass. Grrrr! We didn't take the audio either as it was extra.  Once inside we eventually found our way to the Royal Palace and followed the story of the Scottish Crown Jewels which are also known as the Honours of Scotland. The Honours have had a turbulant history being smuggled and hidden away from Oliver Cromwell's men for fear they would be melted down and then when the United Kingdom of Britain was formed in the 1700s, the honours were no longer needed and were locked away in the castle and forgotten about until they were again discovered in the 1800s.  Well worth seeing. The story is very interesting and the Crown Jewels are lovely. After that we had a look at the Great Hall with its magnificent timber roof.
 We took a peek at the dog cemetary and then because everything else was about cannons, regiments and the war memorial (not our thing), we decided to make our way out. We were hoping to hear the 1 o'clock gun go off but I realise now that they don't fire it on Sundays.....guess what day we were there? Before we go, I should show you the fabulous views from up here
This photo is taken from the north-easterly facing castle wall looking down on The Mound, the Princes Street Gardens, the New Town and out to the Port of Leith and the inlet to the Firth of Forth. The next photo is looking down towards Holyrood Park and Arthurs Seat (the highest peak visible). that's where we were hoping to end our day.
Leaving the Castle we followed the Royal Mile stopping in alot of interesting little shops on the way. I bought a cashmere tartan scarf each for my mum and her partner, Norman, who both celebrate their birthdays in February.

We stopped in at a tea room we had found the day before and had an early lunch.   You have to look for this place along the Royal Mile (near the Scottish Parliament Building) if you ever come this way. It is called Clarinda's Tearoom and it is a teeny tiny little tea room run by two lovely young ladies and is so homely and looks like granny's parlour.  They served homemade sandwiches, soups and other meals and had the most amazing trolley filled with homemade cakes, scones and slices......YUM! We both had a grilled cheese sandwich and something from the cake trolley.  As well as tea served in vintage teapots with mismatched cups and saucers. 

All warmed up after our lunch we continued our walk toward Holyrood Park.  Before we got there we found this very small building in a park just outside Holyroodhouse.  The previous day while we were on the bus, we found out that it was rumoured to be Mary, Queen of Scot's bathhouse! Very curious!
I was feeling in a much better mood about now and had packed up my cranky pants much to Miss M's relief (and mine - I hate being in a bad mood) and was very excited about walking up the hill.  Looking in this direction from Edinburgh Castle, you could clearly see alot of people on the hillside and on the ridge, walking up towards Arthur's Seat.  Once at the base of Holyrood Park, the number of people making the most of the good weather and walking out with their families and dogs, was suprising to me.  They are not really visible in this photo but they seemed to be dotted all over the hillside. I did notice that many of them were wearing wellies but I was undeterred and we set off on the paved path heading upwards at a leisurely walk.
I saw it mentioned somewhere that you can walk up to Arthur's Seat in 30 minutes but once we got off the paved track and onto the dirt ones I realised why people were wearing wellies.  Very MUDDY is what it was.  Miss M was not keen on going any further so we just took some more photos  before ambling back down the gentle slope we had climbed.
I was lucky enough to snap this shot without any people in it
This is the ruin of St Anthony's Chapel although I didn't know that at the time and looked it up on Wikipedia later.

We still had time to visit some of the free museums on The Royal Mile.  One of these was the People's Museum but we were disappointed to find it closed at 3pm on a Sunday afternoon so onwards towards the Museum of Childhood.  This was very interesting and rather creepy in some ways......I speak of the dolls room.  All those vacant eyes following your every move....made me think of a horror movie.

The Peoples Museum
 Leaving here we called into a fudge shop but they had just finished making a batch of fudge (bad timing on our part) and were not going to make anymore for the day so we bought a couple of fat wedges of fudge and continued on, finding the Christmas Shop a couple of doors further on.  Miss M found a couple of trinkets that she just had to bring home with her but I was not tempted.

a view of The Royal Mile
It turned out to be a better day than I expected and I was really looking forward to the trip on the next day.

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