Friday, 15 January 2016

Quilts, Batting, Books and Other Things

Happy New Year! I've taken an unintended month away from my blog, just because life has been deliciously busy, more on that below, but first, I wanted to show you the finished baby quilt that I was working on in my last post of 2015. I'd already shared what the quilt top would look like, so the main details left are those relating to quilting. I usually use Quilter's Dream Puff, which is incredibly warm and thick, but I wanted a batting that was light and soft and which wouldn't overheat a brand new baby, so after some research I chose Quilter's Dream Orient wadding - a mixture of bamboo (which like wool, has the magical property of being cool in the summer and warm in the winter), silk, tencel and cotton - it was really lovely to work with and felt noticeably strokeable before it was turned into a quilt sandwich. This is notable because waddings are rarely tactile, which is fine because they're hidden inside the quilt, but whenever I touch them I'm reminded of an old school friend who had a phobia of The Body Shop's plastic bags, which were some of the first bags made out of recycled materials in the early '90s and had a very odd feel to them. We would usually shop and then I would carry both of our purchases home from town! She would definitely object to touching many quilt battings if she were faced with them). 

Having enjoyed trying out a new batting so much, when I had to place an emergency order for some hand quilting thread from the Cotton Patch this week, I finally decided to also buy something that I've been wanting for the last few years, but which has always seemed too frivolous to actually purchase: wadding sample packs! The Cotton Patch offer 16 wadding samples and it's been really quite dreamy to be able to feel, scrunch and hold them in my very own paws to get a true sense of each sample's quiltability (or more importantly, their snugglability). They are all so different and I have a strong desire to make a brand new quilt, just so that I can try out what I think will be my favourite!

Anyway, the busyness: after a lovely Christmas day with my family, we travelled to Obergurgl in Austria on Boxing Day to welcome in the new year on skis and then returned home to celebrate my husband's 40th birthday, followed by our 15th wedding anniversary and 20th year of being together (I met my husband in our first term at university when I was 18). It's been a fairly magical month, when even getting up at 3.30am for our flight had the reward of seeing sunrise from the air. 

Despite all the amazingly breathtaking views, throughout the holiday my eyes kept being drawn back to a ramshackle hut that we could see from our bedroom window - I really loved it, despite it being a little bleak. When it started snowing again on New Year's Day it looked even lovelier and I felt really pleased to have before and after photos!

I fell asleep ridiculously early each night - a combination of high altitude and skiing for hours every day, but I still tore through three books. Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger was a gift from my parents - it's a really painful story in many ways, as it's about several deaths that occurred one summer within a small community, however, it's very much worth reading. The characterisation is rich and the internal battle that each person can be seen to be wrestling with is thought-provoking and brilliantly told.  

Next up, A.M. Homes' Jack. As an author, A.M. Homes seems to provoke a Marmite reaction because at times her subject matter has been controversial, so I was braced for this book to go either way, but I really loved it and enjoyed her writing too, so much so, that I bought May We Be Forgiven as soon as we arrived home. Like Ordinary Grace, the story is told from the point of view of a young boy (I think Jack was actually about 16 or 17, but for most of the book I read him as being a lot younger, so perhaps this is the only part that didn't work so well for me) after his father leaves the family and then reveals himself to be gay. Another book full of really likable, but also flawed and interesting, characters. These two books actually sat really nicely next to one another when reading them back-to-back as sometimes it can be hard to move onto something else when you've enjoyed a novel. 

I've read quite a few of Tracy Chevalier's books and Remarkable Creatures was a recommendation that a reader made to me in the comments to one of my previous posts (Thank you, Suze!). A fictional tale based on true events, it's the story of a female fossil hunter living in the 1820s at a time when men were often credited with her work and the discovery of certain fossils brought an unwelcome challenge to the creationist belief system. I found both of these aspects of the book completely fascinating - we have come so far! - but also, I found the fossil hunting detail completely compelling too. In many ways it's quite a dry book and the female characters lack any traditional sense of charm (I think the title, Remarkable Creatures, is as much a reference to the women as to the fossilised creatures that they dug up), but it's also what makes the book feel so genuine and true. I really loved it. 

Since we've come home, in between celebrations, I've been working on writing up the pattern for my yellow English paper piecing project - I'll share an update on that in my next post.

What are your thoughts on new year's resolutions? Personally, I avoid them - the idea of trying to turn over a new leaf and be a different person at an arbitrary point in time (rather than at a time that arises naturally) has never appealed and I think as a process it can feel inherently self-critical. I'm all for self-analysis and trying to be a better person, but less for raking one's self over the coals just because it's January 1st. I've noticed that more and more people are choosing a word for the year, rather than making a resolution for the year. I really like that idea - it feels less of a measurable goal that one can either succeed or fail at and more of a positive reminder-to-self to just try to seize more of that thing into one's life (whatever the thing may be). I didn't manage to come up with a word, but I did come up with a phrase that feels right and which started to rumble around my head in the latter part of 2015. However, I've read that for many people once you've vocalised something, the brain registers it as having been 'done' because of the positive feeling gained from sharing the idea, and that you're then less likely to actually embrace or do the thing in reality. So for that reason, I am going to be Secretive Sally (although I've suddenly realised that Furtive Florence works just as well and doesn't involve a name change!) and keep the phrase all to myself! But I'd love to hear your thoughts on all things related to the fresh-sheet of a new year and how you approach it. Or more book recommendations. What you're sewing. Or just what you did over Christmas.

Wishing you the happiest of new years (until 2017, when I will obviously go for even happier!),
Florence x

Ps. The book-related links are the kind where Amazon give me a tiny percentage of the proceeds if you buy the book, although obviously they don't pass on any of your details to me. If you'd rather I didn't share in Amazon's profits, just google the book title independently or pop into your local bookshop! x

A few of the books/products that I link to on Amazon from my blog contain affiliate links and very occasionally, I'll mention a product that I've been given free of charge. I choose the things that I recommend carefully and my priority is to only share things that I love.