Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Fangirl Moment

This blog post is basically just a fangirl-squeal in words.  You have been warned.

I had a real fangirl moment on the weekend.  I saw Ian Stenlake perform live on stage.  An honest-to-goodness dream come true.

For those not in the know, Ian Stenlake is a fabulous Australian actor and singer.  One of the best.  No, scratch that.  THE best.  I did say I was a fan.

With Ian Stenlake at the Emerald Christmas Carols - 2010
Ian Stenlake was Oscar Stone in the original series of Stingers.  That's where I first saw him.  He was the first actor I remember seriously admiring.  I bawled my eyes out when Oscar died.  The show was never the same again.  Not for me anyway.  Most recently, Ian stared in Sea Patrol as Lieutenant Commander Mike Flynn, not to mention countless musical theatre productions around Australia.

For a very long time I've wanted to see Ian perform live on stage.  A few years ago (2010) Ian and his wife Rachel Beck came to my little home town of Emerald to perform at our Christmas carols (our church minister has friends in high places!).  Amazing.  Made my year - and this was the year I'd had my first trip to Europe!  What can I say, the man has an amazing voice.
With Rachel Beck and Ian Stenlake - 2010
When I heard Ian was going to star in Harvest Rain's production of Guys and Dolls in Brisbane, I knew I had to be in the audience.  I may not have bought tickets the day they were released (living in England had its drawbacks) but I was pretty close!
Guys and Dolls - Harvest Rain.  Image from 
It was amazing.  Brilliant.  Fantastic.  There were only 6 performances in the season, so the cast gave it their all the whole way through.  I had an absolute ball.  To be honest, I was having so much fun I probably wouldn't have even noticed if they hadn't been great, but they were, and I did (notice that is!).   I was in about the 5th row back, and loving every minute of it.
Tweeting with Harvest Rain during the night
Also, it was awesome to know that here in Queensland we have some amazing musical theatre talent.  The cast was made up of veterans of the screen and stage, professionals with a few shows under their belts, and newbies, and they were all great.  The setting and costume and band and lighting and props and sound effects and all that were very cleverly done.  The use of block colour was very clever and effective.  The orchestra were very talented.  And they were Queenslanders.

Harvest Rain is putting on a production of Cats in July (500+ cast members and the amazing Marina Pryor) and Spamalot in October (where I will fangirl-squeal over Simon Gallaher and Jon English of Pirates fame).  My flights are booked (well, almost - need the funds in my account first).  I will be there with bells on, supporting the Queensland theatre talent, and having a blast.

Like I said, I'm a fan. So shoot me :)

Saturday, 22 March 2014

The Brisbane Stitches & Craft Show

It was one of those last-minute discoveries. Mum (OzzyPip) and I were on the plane, flying to Brisbane for the weekend to see Guys and Dolls. We didn't really have any other plans- catch up with my brothers and a friend or two, maybe do some shopping. Random stuff. Flipping through the on-board magazine (as you do) I got to the What's On section. "Hey mum, we've just missed the... no, wait, the Stitches and Craft show is on this weekend!" Suddenly we knew what we were going to do Saturday.

Turns out the friend we were going to catch up with, a friend from home visiting her daughter in Brisbane, had had the same discovery on her flight down a couple of days earlier. The things you discover in in-flight magazines!  So a quick change of plans and we met up at the fair instead. :)

Mum and I are now back in our motel room with very tired feet, much heavier bags and considerably lighter wallets.

I was very impressed with the range of stalls and the types of crafts catered for. I went to a couple of different craft fairs while I was living in England, which were considerably larger (but we are comparing Brisbane and London here!), but seemed to have a lot of the same stuff repeated at every third stall. Where as the Brisbane one had a good variety of quilting supplies and fabrics, appliqué, beading, cross stitch, card making, scrapbooking, teddy bear workshops, dress making, the list goes on.  The other thing I really liked was that there were a lot of supplies and equipment shops- OttLites, hoops, needles etc. Not as much cross stitch fabric as I would have liked (hardly any) but given that it was in Brisbane and covering so many crafts- I guess I can't have everything! 

Mum and I were rather restrained, and didn't buy as much as we could have. She has a rule that she's not allowed to buy any quilting fabric unless it's for a specific project. I have a rule that I'm not allowed to buy any more patterns - I have so many in my "want to stitch" pile and now I'm designing my own the pile is growing ever larger! At any rate between us we managed to stick to our rules (almost- I bought one pattern) and spent a lot of time admiring instead.

Not that Mum could spend too much money. We landed in Brisbane only to discover she'd left her wallet behind... at home... in another bag! So I'm paying for the weekend and she's paying me back at a later date!

Despite all this, I did manage to make a few purchases:

- A folding task OttLite lamp for my desk for those fiddly finishing tasks and sewing when I'm not near my large floor lamp.
- A mini LED light for stitching on the go (plane, backseat in the car)

- Sew Many Memories by Sue Hill Designs- my one pattern purchase (many others were patted and admired). This will eventually (when stitched) be for Mum. She loves the old Singer sewing machines, and pointed out and admired (loudly) the design while we were walking around so it won't be a surprise!

- QSnap frames in 11" and 6". I love these frames: they are so easy to hold, stretch the fabric nicely, don't leave as many marks as hoops, and don't tend to squish your stitches as much. Mum bought me an 11" frame years ago (8 or 10) and I've used it so much the clips have eventually worn out (currently held together with duct tape!). The 6" one will be great for my smaller projects. 

- I also bought some beads for cards and purple paper clips!

Mum managed to buy an A1 size quilting mat that we then had to lug around for the afternoon! Fortunately we ran into another ex-home-town friend who had her car and could drop us off at the motel with all our bags. Negotiating the buses with the mat would have been interesting!

All in all a very fun, last-minute, stitchy day.

Happy Stitching!!

Saturday, 15 March 2014

How to... Frame Your Stitching

Getting my stitches framed always seems to be the hardest part of cross-stitching for me.  Well, to be honest as I said in my last blog post, the hardest part is working out what to do with the finished project (display it, give it away, etc) but getting them framed is definitely up there!  It's time consuming, you have to work out the most appropriate frame/display option, and it can be expensive!  9 times out of 10 my finished projects wind up in a box under the bed (or in my mother's craft cupboard).  However, as I mentioned last week, I'm on a mission to get all my finished projects framed, displayed, and find a home for them if needed, without it costing me a fortune.  While I was at it, I thought I'd share a few of my framing tips, and tips I've gathered from other stitchers, books and magazines over the years.

Some of my finished & framed projects from last week.
1. Wash first! Make sure you wash your stitching before you frame it.  No matter how hard I've tried to keep them clean, I always find my projects need a good wash when finished.  I find a good wool wash detergent gets them clean without damaging the stitching.  I tend to hand wash as a rule, however if I have a particularly stained project or quite a number to clean at once, I have been known to put them through the washing machine on a very gentle cycle - but I wouldn't recommend it for the faint hearted! Oh, and make sure your threads are colour fast, although if you're using DMC or Anchor you should be okay.

2. Ironing: Place your stitching face down over a fluffy towel and keep the iron on a low setting.  It's a good idea to cover your work with a thin clean cloth to prevent damage.  I tend to sprinkle water over the project to get out the more stubborn wrinkles, although I have read plenty of instructions/tip guides that say to avoid steam.  Each to their own I guess.

3. Choosing your frame: hoop, wooden frame, plastic/metal frame, stretched canvas.  There are so many options out there and the choice is, of course, entirely up to you!  As I said, I'm trying to do this without it costing me a fortune, so I tend to raid the cheapy dollar shops in town, and keep an eye on the sales.  I've always tended to favour the standard wooden frame however have lashed out recently and tried stretched canvas.  My big tip - take your stitching with you when buying a frame rather than relying on your measurements.  Otherwise you wind up with some oddly sized frames and no idea what to do with them since they don't fit the project you thought they'd be perfect for.  Yes, I'm speaking from recent experience!  Remember to keep in mind how much of a boarder you want to leave around your stitching, how big your material is, and whether or not you're using a mount (cardboard frame inside the wooden frame).
Frames from my stash - the cheapy shop was having a sale!
4. Backing: You'll need to stretch your fabric over a mounting board of some description - otherwise it's going to look crinkled/wrinkled in the frame, and it will be hard to see all your hard work.  Where possible, I like to use the mount that's come with the frame.  Obviously this isn't an option if you're using the mount to display your work, but I don't tend to use mounts unless I'm getting my stitching professionally framed - just a personal choice.  The reason I like to use the mount as my backing board is that I know it's going to fit back into the frame!  That's the downside of cheaper frames - you don't have a lot of space to play with.  A new trick I've recently been trying is to use the glass as my backing board.  It does leave your stitching exposed to the elements but providing you're not hanging your stitching in the bathroom, kitchen, or somewhere really dusty or in direct sunlight (eg outside) I'm hoping it will be okay.  It also means that I don't have to worry about squishing beads, which is an issue when I don't use a mount.  If you are using a different board, use your glass to trace the size onto some thin card - if your cardboard is too thick, it won't fit in the frame.  It's better to cut the board a little smaller than the glass than a little bigger - too big and again it won't fit!
Position over your mounting board (or glass), and use your left-over
thread to lace the edges of your fabric together. Once secure,
position back in the frame (taking car of the top and bottom side!)
5. Lacing: The other good thing about using the glass as a mounting board is that I can see where my stitching is positioned while I lace.  Lacing is the process of stitching the edges of your material together to hold them in position over the mounting board.  Professional framing guides will tell you to use pins or tacks to hold your stitching in place once you've worked out how to position it on the mounting board.  I've always tended to risk it, which does mean I occasionally need to reposition and redo the lacing!  The pictures above will show you my lacing steps, as well as showing off glass vs mounting board.

6. In the Frame: Once laced, you just need to pop the stitching into the frame, put the back board on, and you're ready to go.  I've taken to taping down the back of my board to make sure dust doesn't get in, and to hold it all together when I've used a different mounting board and things are a little tight in the frame.  Just make sure your tape is acid free!
Taping the back shut
7. Stretched Canvas: My latest thing (although I know lots of others have been doing it for ages) is to stretch my projects over canvas.  It gives a different look, and means you're not distracted by a frame or mount- your stitching is on display for the world to see!  And it fits in with the whole minimalist thing that is popular at the moment.  Again, I tend to buy cheap painting canvases on sale at the dollar shop.  There are a range of sizes available, which is great, although Murphy's Law is the shop won't have the size you're looking for when you're looking for it, even though they sold it only last week (this tends to go for frames as well in my experience - again why I buy big when they're on sale!).  I find it helpful to lace the fabric over the canvas first.  Then, when you're happy with it, use a staple gun to secure the fabric in place.  You may find corners look neater if you trim them down first.  Make sure you allow for enough of a boarder when choosing your fabric initially (prior to stitching) or you'll have nothing to hold it into place! 
Framing over stretched canvas
8. Get them up! There's no point in framing your stitches if you don't display them, so get them up on the wall, sit them on shelves, lean them on your books, or give them away.  But get them out there!  
The Librarian ready to go!
Happy Stitching!!

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Saturday, 8 March 2014

Finished Projects, Framing, and Gift Giving

What does your UFO (Un-Finished-Object)/WIP (Work-In-Progress) pile look like?

Mine isn't too bad.  I tend to have a couple of projects on the go – a larger one and then a couple of smaller ones I can work on when I need a break from the larger one.  So I don’t throw it out the window!  I do have a large pile of “want to stitch” projects which grows larger by the day.

No.  Instead of a WIP/UFO pile, I have an FO pile – Finished-Object.  Stitching projects that I have finished but then done nothing with.  A pile of projects waiting to be framed, or turned into cushions/banners/something, or stuck onto cards, or just given away.

A couple of weeks ago I decided enough was enough.  That’s one of the good thing about moving house, and having limited storage space – I rediscovered all of my FOs and had nowhere to put them.  I'm now on a mission to get them framed or displayed.

Some of the stitches I've finally mounted on cards this week
The age-old question is of course how to display them?  Do you go for the standard frame or something different?  A wall hanging or other useful object, like a cushion or box cover?  Options are limited when you've already finished the project – you can’t turn a large project into a shirt emblem or a small project into a large wall hanging.  Some projects are easy – they’re designed as bookmarks or cards, and I've (finally!) managed to finish these off.  For a lot of my other FOs this time I've gone the standard frame or the stretched canvas.  I love the look professional framing, with the matting and wide frame, but that can get very expensive!  I have a few projects I’d love to get professionally framed eventually, but in the meantime I've done them myself.  It’s actually not that hard to frame your own projects, or stretch them over canvas (a new skill!), and I'm impressed with the way they've come up.  Keep an eye out for the next blog where I’ll share my framing tips with you.

Some frames, hoops and stretched canvas

I even managed to get some hung

I now have a pile of FFOs – Finished-Framed-Objects (I made that one up – anyone have a better idea?).   But then the question becomes what to do with them?  I don’t have enough wall space to display them all (and doubt I ever will!).  I've always been hesitant to give away finished projects though.  Not because I've fallen in love with them (although that is occasionally the case), but because I never think other people will appreciate them.  I never think they are good enough, or the right style/look for other people.

I'm getting better at it. My parents and brothers have received numerous stitchy gifts, as have a couple of good friends.  When I moved overseas a couple of years ago, I gave away a number of old projects to the girls in my bible-study group, which they all loved.  And whenever I've stitched something specific for someone, they've always been very appreciative of it and loved it – wedding and baby samplers especially.

Turns out, people do realise and value how much time and effort goes into these projects, and they are impressed by the skill of cross-stitching – this old fashioned art still has a place in the modern world!  It’s my attitude that needs to change – I need to have more faith in myself and my stitching abilities.

I think I've got presents and cards sorted for the next little while.

Happy Stitching!!