Monday, 27 October 2014

Postcard from Route 66

The Blue Swallow Motel, Tucumcari, New Mexico

We've been on a road trip, but it seems like a distant memory now.  We've been back at least 3 weeks and I've been wrestling with an operating system upgrade and Adobe software that is suddenly no longer compatible .... arghh!  Due to these technology issues I can't watermark my photos, so I've been playing around with mosaics - not my normal format, but this will probably shorten an otherwise photo-laden post!

We spent almost two weeks on the road and clocked up 5,000+ kilometres driving west from St. Louis on the old route 66 through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico.  We stopped at the continental divide - just east of New Mexico's border with Arizona - and then left route 66 to head north and back to St Louis via a different route.  The following mosaics give you an idea of some of the things we saw!


We had fun driving through Missouri on what is left of the old route.  Interstate 44 cuts right through a lot of it, so you spend your time hopping from one side of the interstate to the other and following odd remnants of the road, but there is quite a lot of Americana still to be seen.  The giant rocking chair in Fanning was definitely the best 'giant' that we saw along the route - in fact, we drove past many of the supposed giant signs without noticing because they've been dwarfed in more recent years by modern advertising hoardings!


Route 66 cuts across a very small corner of Kansas for about 20 kilometres.  Not surprisingly there isn't an awful lot to see in such a short distance ... and when we drove back across the state on the way back from Denver later in our trip there wasn't much to see then either.  

Sorry Kansas!  We did like Kansas City, but that ain't in Kansas ... go figure!!


Oklahoma was a bit of a mixed bag!! We liked Tulsa and were pleasantly surprised by its architecture. The downtown was similar to St Louis in that it is obviously full of office workers during the day and deserted the rest of the time ... no shops and many restaurants only open at lunchtime ... guess where our hotel was!!  The road from Tulsa to Oklahoma City was interesting with lots to see, but after Oklahoma City things became decidedly boring and very uncomfortable.  

The writer of our Route 66 guidebook waxed lyrical about miles and miles of original pavement (that's the road surface for all of you non-Americans reading this!) and called it the best pavement on the route.  I beg leave to differ - our very comfortable car's shock absorbers were well-tested and my bad back certainly suffered ... after a while we resorted to cruising down the motorway instead!  It was a good call!

You may be surprised to know that in many places you just can't follow the original Route 66 - between what the interstate destroyed when it was built and the lack of maintenance on some of the older sections, there are places where the old route is just a dirt (or, if you're lucky, gravel) track.   Then there are bridges that are no longer passable and places where the road just dead ends because the interstate has cut it off.  Whoever is navigating needs to stay on their toes!


We didn't spend all that long in Texas - in fact I think we zipped through most of it on the interstate because the guide book seemed to indicate lots of dirt / gravel tracks or original concrete ... and we didn't want to go through that again!  We stopped off at McLean to visit the Devil's Rope museum (that's barbed wire to you and me!) because, well, why wouldn't you?!  It was surprisingly interesting!!  

A good reason for not spending long in Texas was the weather - we'd wanted to look round Amarillo but ended up taking refuge in a steakhouse to avoid a torrential downpour/ thunderstorm that reduced visibility to zero.  It was quite amusing to sit and eat steak surrounded by stuffed animals looking down at us from the walls and watching 5 people each trying to eat 72 ounce steaks (that's just over 2 kilos in real money!) in an hour.  We've never seen this sort of competitive binge-eating in real life before ... just on the telly!  It's a very American thing and I just don't get the appeal in real life or on the box.  None of the five succeeded, so I assume that along with their 'to go' boxes (another very American thing)  they got a hefty bill to pay (if they manage to eat all 72 ounces, the steak is free!).  Madness!!

New Mexico: 

We spent quite a while in New Mexico - 5 nights in total (2 on the route and 3 up in the mountains) - and we loved it!!  The scenery was spectacular, the views of the milky way at night were breathtaking  and there were interesting places to visit (Santa Fe, Taos, Los Alamos....).  

We'll be going back to New Mexico for sure!

Return Trip:

After New Mexico we headed north into Colorado. Crossing a plateau that was approx. 3000 metres above sea level, we drove mostly through 'low' clouds and rain, so sadly we didn't see much!  From Denver (traffic nightmare) we headed due east and had a very long day on the interstate driving across Kansas.  That was a distance equivalent to driving from Brighton to John O'Groats: we did it in just under 8 hours on the interstate and hardly saw another vehicle.  Very strange day!

We spent 2 nights in Kansas City, Missouri (great art galleries - we had to stay indoors as we were on tornado watch) and then headed for home. 

Next year we're planning to pick up a bit of route 66 in Arizona ... and there may be a trip up to Chicago too.  One way or another we'll probably do most of the route before we leave the States if we can fit it in with our other holiday plans!  

Friday, 8 August 2014

Purses - A Quick Catch-Up

I don't think I've posted photos of some of the purses I've made this year.  These two were a present for friends we visited when we were in New York ... seems like ages ago!

This one was a present for a recent birthday.  I love this fabric - shame I can't get any more of it.

And this one I decided to keep for myself (why not?)!  I've made umpteen purses like this over the last 5 years and this is the first one that I've kept!

All made using a tried and tested pattern by Nicole Mallalieu of You Sew Girl!

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Here's One I Keep Forgetting...

This little purse simply doesn't excite me - probably something to do with all the trouble I had making it, but it got left on one side a lot and only got its frame glued on last weekend.

The pattern is this one and it gave me lots of problems.  To cut a long story short (because it got me quite mad) the printed pattern that I was sent with the purse kit wasn't printed to the correct scale and came out on the large side.  I contacted the designer and one of her team sent me a digital version with instructions to print at 100% which I duly did and guess what, the damn thing was exactly the same size as the one I had received in the post.  So after some major procrastination I pfaffed about rescaling it and finally got it right.

I was ready to throw in the towel at that point but eventually got back round to it and started making the purse.  That is until I got to step 7 in the instructions - the bit about making a flat bottom in the lining - when everything ground to a halt.  I tried to pin the thing the way it said, but I couldn't get the material to replicate the photo.  I tried many, many times; I emailed the designer but didn't get much further with her advice and finally I hit rock bottom and asked Andy, my engineer husband, if he could make it work!  

He said it had to be bad if I were asking him about sewing patterns (don't I know it!)! He agreed that the instructions were unclear and we cobbled something together that does the job and doesn't look too bad. Once I stopped paying attention to the instructions things started to improve.  In fact, I'm really not sure why there was any attempt to create a flat bottom in the lining as the purse outer doesn't have one and it's quite tight in there - you wouldn't notice a flat bottom even if it had one!

Enough said. - It's a fairly cute little purse; it just wasn't the best sewing experience!  

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

A Bag and a Book

I've been sewing!!  

This one has been at least a month in the works - I got the pattern (I'll get to that in just a mo) at the beginning of May and I constructed the lining before I went to New York.  Everyone makes the lining first, right?  It's a great way to check you know how the bag is constructed and you get to test out any new techniques on the bit that is least visible and usually a cheaper fabric.  I always do it that way round anyway.  

The fabric is all from my stash ... quite possibly a first for me!  The lovely green fabric with the woodpecker print was passed on to me by a friend who had received it from a Japanese contact and didn't have a clue what to do with it.  It is a tenugui or piece of cotton cloth - it's hand-dyed and has multiple uses as the accompanying booklet explained at length.  

Nowhere in the booklet did it mention cutting up the cloth to make bags but I figured that if I made a very simple bag with it, it would work nicely!  I used Wonder Under to attach this very fine cotton to some black cotton canvas.

OK - onto the pattern!  I treated myself to a copy of Nicole Mallalieu's latest book and it arrived at the beginning of May ....

This is Nikki's second book and I prefer this one because it's just about bag-making and I really don't sew much else if I can help it!  Many of the bags I have made in the last 5 years have been from Nikki's patterns as her instructions are always extremely comprehensive, clear and well-illustrated.... and this book is no exception.

It starts with a section on Tools and Materials which includes a very handy guide to interfacings; then there is a chapter on Key Skills, followed by in-depth instructions on the Techniques used to make the bags (how to alter the patterns, different types of straps, pockets, bases and closings).  Approximately one third of the book comprises the background information that you need to make the 11 bag patterns that follow.  The patterns are graded from Beginner to Confident, so there really is something for everyone and the instructions for each pattern are very detailed.  Pattern pieces are included at the end of the book for tracing.

I have made a lot of bags over the years and I will be having great fun over the months to come making several of these patterns, but I would also recommend this book to someone who has never sewn a bag before as you get comprehensive guidance at a fantastic price (no, I'm not being paid to rave about this book - I just like it!!) - $17 gets you 11 bag patterns which works out at just $1.50 per pattern.

Back to my bag ...

OK - so photographing bag interiors has never been my strong suit, but I thought I'd give you a quick peek.  There is a zip pocket on one side and a compartment pocket on the other and it closes with a magnetic snap; it also has an internal base support so that it doesn't pull out of shape as soon as you put anything inside!  I thought about making it fancier with O-rings and bag feet but decided it didn't really need it.

Now I really should get back to some of the other things I had in the pipeline before this book arrived on my work table!

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Postcard from New York

My favourite flowers ... tulips at Boscobel House, Hudson Valley 

Last week we went to New York - first to visit friends in the Hudson Valley (beautiful place - hard to believe how close it is to the city) and then on to the Big Apple itself.  The weather wasn't always kind, but we had a great time.

So, here are some snaps from our trip:

We walked a lot this trip - this guy was keeping guard on top of a wall in Central Park!

We saw lots of carriages ... loads of tourists seem to be willing to pay a small fortune to see the park this way.

Looking south from Central Park

This poor little guy wasn't quite expecting a photo shoot ... shortly afterwards he disappeared back into the undergrowth!

And another unsuspecting model!!

Love the building (designed by Frank Lloyd Wright) but the Guggenheim was by far the worst of the galleries we went to - really not worth the entrance fee.  The Kandinsky collection wasn't on display which was a disappointment and the only display on Frank Lloyd Wright's work was in a corridor in the basement.

The Empire State Building ... we didn't go up!

Another iconic building on a very grey day: the Flat Iron building

Times Square

And again!

That's probably enough photos for one post!  We also visited The Metropolitan Museum, MOMA, Grand Central Station and B&H (my favourite camera store anywhere in the world!).

One of the best things about the trip was the food ... lots of great gluten-free meals ranging from pizza to Chinese to a fantastic Brazilian steakhouse (I'm seriously considering petitioning Fogo de Chão to open a branch in St. Louis!).

Thursday, 8 May 2014

A Mandala for Yarndale

Last night I decided to pick up my crochet hook after a break of almost a year ... the baseball game was on telly; Andy was out and I needed something productive to do!

Having read this post on Attic 24 I decided to make a mandala using this pattern and some left over yarn.  This cotton was purchased in Germany - can't remember what for now, but whatever it was never materialised.  I've misplaced the label, so have no idea what it is!  I used a 4mm hook and ended up with a mandala exactly 7 inches in diameter.  Once I've located some PVA glue to stiffen it, it will be winging its way to North Yorkshire for Yarndale.

Took less than a baseball game to make, doesn't seem to need any blocking and the Cardinals won ... all good!

Friday, 2 May 2014


There's been some sewing going on round here this week!  This is a finished (and well-used) lap duvet using instructions from the Purl Bee.  The quilting is very subtle ... too subtle to really see in this photo.  It's been so useful as the weather doesn't really know what it's doing - our heating is off now but sometimes it's a bit chilly in the evening and this is perfect to snuggle under in front of the telly!

Three purses waiting for their frames!  This is a Nicole Mallalieu pattern that I've used many times before.  I always get to this point (when the sewing is done!) and everything grinds to a halt - I hate glueing the frames on and always need another pair of hands, so hopefully Andy will help out this weekend.  There is no way I can wrangle a purse into the frame on my own without getting glue all over the fabric and that would be a shame, especially as I've used some of my favourite Japanese fabrics on two of these.

I've had some fabric deliveries this week and this rose fabric is my favourite of the new fabrics.  I also got a new purse pattern and frame.  Given how much I hate the gluing process, Andy was a bit bemused that I chose a frame with three bits to glue ... but I wasn't thinking about practicalities when I ordered it; I just liked it!!  

I also ordered some clamshell purses (no sewing required, just lots of glue!) and a sashiko kit, so I've lots to keep me busy.  And I've ordered a new book of bag patterns that should be here shortly ...

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

I really am back this time!!!

This time there really is some crafting going on round here!!  I've mostly sewn the lap blanket I bought fabric for before christmas (just need to quilt it) and I'm cutting out purses.  I don't think I've made a frame purse since I left Canada in 2011 ... let's see if I can remember how!!

So, what has been happening round here?  Umm ... not much!

Any excuses?  Yes, loads!!

I set my sewing machine up in our spare bedroom early in December, sewed something quick and easy and then had to tidy everything away for visitors.  I really do miss having that dedicated craft space!  After Christmas and visitors it got really cold (did you hear about the polar vortex?!) and there was no way I was going to sit next to a very draughty window to sew.  I also didn't knit or crochet over the winter due to ongoing problems with my neck and arm.

So the weeks went by and nothing much happened round here apart from lots of shivering!  I decided to get to grips with the US health system at last and registered with a dentist, primary care physician (that's a GP in English!), ob/gyn and optician.  They all wanted to do lots and lots of tests and, in the dentists's case, lots and lots of drilling.  Round three with the dentist is next week! Gulp! It's been quit an expensive few months, but I do have two new pairs of varifocals and I can actually see to thread the needle on my sewing machine again.  It makes a difference, you know!

Then we've been doing our taxes in various countries.  The less said about that, the better.

We went on holiday last month too and now that I have new specs I'll probably get round to editing my photos from New Orleans!  Having upgraded my photo editing software I've just realised that I need to create a new watermark brush tool before I post any of those photos online and I remember what a pain that was to do last time round, so it may take a while.  

And, of course, the baseball season started!!  Go Cards!!

When I finally thought about doing some sewing again the other week and sorted through my fabric, I realised my cutting mat is being used to protect the coffee table from all the electronics that currently reside on it whilst we wait for our new media centre to arrive (hopefully by June) ... so I've been out to JoAnn's this week and treated myself to a new one along with a few other essentials that I haven't found since we unpacked.  I've got to go back tomorrow as there were a few things I forgot, but I'm definitely in the mood to sew.

Watch this space!!