My name is Charlotte, sometimes known as Ms Lottie, occasionally as The Slightly Mad Quilt Lady. This is my blog, where you'll find me writing a lot about my quilting and textile arts and a little about my family's life in a small seaside town in New Zealand. Haere mai!

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Cushion Love

Happy Christmas to you! Or Happy Holidays, or happy whatever (if anything) you celebrate. I hope you and your loved ones receive some of the peace and joy of the season.

I’m going to spend some of the Summer camping with my husband’s extended family, just as we’ve done for the last decade. It’s an unintentional tradition, but one that brings us all great enjoyment. Let’s hope we can keep doing it for another decade or so.

There is no power at the site where we camp, so it’s strictly hand sewing for me if I want to do any stitching. However, I did manage to sneak home on Christmas Eve and put the finishing touches on some handmade presents for my children and my nieces.

My eldest niece on my husband’s side was given the middle name Taraire, which is the name of a native New Zealand tree.

When our son was born, we gave him the middle name of Nikau, also a native NZ tree. And so another unintentional tradition was formed.

The next to be born, my twin nieces, received the middle names of Pohutu and Kawa, which together are Pohutukawa, another iconic NZ tree.

So, when my daughter was born, she in turn received a tree middle name, this time Kowhai, which has brilliant yellow flowers in Spring.

Seeing as I have made patterns for just about all those trees at one time or another, it follows that I could make cushions with those images on them. One for each child - the pohutukawa ones, getting a different stripe of black fabric and a different back. The fabrics all came from my stash as did the buttons. The embroidery is done once from the front then again from the back as bobbin embroidery with a heavy hand-dyed thread on the bobbin.

And they loved them! Or at least they said they did...

Have a safe and happy New Year!

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Five Years of Jade - a finish

My most recent traditional finish, titled "Five Years of Jade". And three of my good quilty friends helping me with photos!

Two posts ago I discussed a few of my thoughts about learning to talk about my work. Further to that there are some more points I'd like to add after I read Suz's comment, which was:

"Even non art quilts have a story... how the fabrics came to be... what sparked the interest in a pattern... who the quilt is for. I have always found these things to be interesting but it always seems like pulling teeth to get the back story... and although your wording is lovely, it doesn't always need to be a carefully curated set of words."

And she is right. Every quilt has a story and they are all interesting. But some people can tell their story more engagingly than others, and those are the skills I'd like to learn. By listening to others I hope to learn about how they make their words spark connections in my brain, or make me laugh, or draw me in.

My work is occasionally traditional quilts and more often figurative or narrative textile art, and I think it's important to be able to talk about both types of work. I think the skills are interchangeable, because, as Suz says, every quilt has a story.

And I think some of that is realising that others ARE interested in the story, so don't minimalise the journey - expand on the details instead!  If you are standing up at show and tell, don't forget the 'tell' part. Tell us how many fabrics you auditioned until you found the perfect one in your friend's scrap pile. Tell us that you made this for Aunty June's fifth wedding because you thought if you made her a special wedding quilt it might stop her getting divorced....again. Tell us that the sashing has those added blocks because you ran out of that one fabric and had to use two.

So in the spirit of 'tell', here's my quilt 'Five Years of Jade'. It is named thus because it took about five years to make, and Jade is a cool word for green ;-)

The quilt began from watching others completing Charlotte Hawke's mystery quilt called Scrapitude. I didn't join on the mystery because I don't like surprises when it comes to quilts, but I liked every one's finished quilts so much that I downloaded the pattern and instructions and started making it on my own.

Because of my previously noted dislike of surprises, I controlled my colours - rather than using whatever darks, mediums and lights that came out of my scrap bin, I chose bigger pieces with a controlled palette - no scrap vomits for me! But in keeping with the spirit of the project, the majority of fabrics came from my stash. I did a lot of piecing of this quilt on night shifts on and off for probably more than a year and then it sat for ages and ages as a flimsy.

I had the perfect border fabric in my stash, bought as an extra-wide backing for some or other project that I can't remember, but obviously never used. I wanted a wide border to help the quilt fit my bed and, as all the edge triangles were bias, it really needed something to stabilise it. 

When I got back from Canada I was looking for a quick finish, something to give me a sense of having 'done something', and whipping on some borders and bundling it off to the long-armer was the perfect fix!

This is the first quilt I've ever had long-arm quilted and my friend, Melissa Gelder of The Quilting Octopus, did a great job on it. She helped me find the perfect all-over pattern called Feather Swirls by Anne Bright and she also had the perfect grey-green backing fabric on hand. Sorted!

So there you have it. One completed traditional quilt, and the story that goes with it.

Today there are museums and study centres dedicated to learning the stories behind antique quilts. People want to know about quilters' work, even a hundred years after the last stitch was taken, so please don't underestimate the interest others have in your work.  And don't miss the opportunity to talk about your work in the present day! Share the love, share your knowledge, learn to talk about what you did and why you did it and the world will be a richer place for it.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Auckland Symposium 2019

I haven't written anything about symposium yet. Even though it was three weeks ago! It's such a 'big' experience that it's always hard to know where to begin.  So I'm going to start with Aotearoa Quilters, as I'm super passionate about the good work they are doing to support and encourage NZ quilters.

I began my symposium week by arriving the day before it officially opened. My aim was to help out the Aotearoa Quilters committee hang the silver colour challenge quilts and the New Zealand through our eyes challenge quilts. It took me a while to navigate scary Auckland traffic (remember, in my town there is only one set of traffic lights and they are for a pedestrian crossing!) but I made it in time to help Shirley get everything sorted and hung to the best advantage.

From left to right: Donna, myself, Shirley and Mary. I'm not on the committee anymore, but these other women are and they work so hard as volunteers to run AQ, think up challenges, organise the Great NZ Quilt Show, support regional groups, and promote and support NZ quilters in as many ways as they can.

Here's the wall of the silver colour challenges. This year, being AQ's 25th anniversary, the colour was silver. The hexagon shape was to shake it up a bit as some folks were getting bored of the 12" square. We thought there may be a few less entries because of the changes, but happily there were just as many as usual, so good to see NZ's aren't scared of a challenge!

The winners and merit quilts nicely displayed in the centre. Thanks to Mallee Textiles and Cottage Flair for the sponsorship of the awards.

And better shots of the winner, by Kat Martin.

Merit for Fyvie Murray.

Merit for Caro Stewart. 

And Merit for Mary Metcalf.

Here's my entry. I decided to have a bit of fun with this one. I hate working with metallic thread and I'm pretty sure there are many others who share my feelings! So I let my frustrations run riot, illustrating what happens to my rolls of metallic thread when my back is turned.

I'm really excited to let you know that we signed up HEAPS of new members at symposium (here's Flicity and Kerry at the AQ table waiting to tell you how awesome the organisation is), which means NZ's are getting behind the spirit of the organisation. AQ's mission is: to provide New Zealand quilters the opportunity to expand horizons, to share work, and to learn. We do this by supporting quilters and textile artists at all levels through offering a variety of classes, exhibitions, regional meetings and professional development opportunities.

Of course, the more members we have, the better we can do that, so it's great to see the organisation growing and thriving.

There was also a short and sweet AQ breakfast to give out the prizes for the suitcase exhibition winners - this is a travelling exhibition of small quilts picked from the main symposium exhibition and supported by Aotearoa Quilters - to meet and greet and to hear some of our life members talk about the history of the organisation. We were encouraged to dress up in silver, and above you can see my scary silver mask I found at the $2 shop!

If you'd like to hear more about what Aotearoa Quilters is up to you can follow their page on Facebook, or their Instagram feed, or even better, become a member and get their newsletter and access to the members only FB page.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Learning to talk about your work

I believe that learning to talk engagingly and intelligently about your work is one of the most important skills an artist can develop.

How many times have you listened to someone talk about their piece and gained a whole new appreciation for it? And how many times have you heard people point out flaws, put themselves down, or say a variation of, “I just liked those fabrics so I made it.” Hmmm. 

And it’s FINE if you DID just 'like' the fabrics! But perhaps you could say, “I liked the way these fabrics worked together and I wanted to play with the proportions and see how it altered the conversation between them.” Same thing really, but just said with a little more agility.

I'm making this blue quilt at the moment because I liked the indigo-dyed napkin that I printed with fern fronds, and I found some other blue leftovers. But instead of saying that, how about, "I wanted to see if I could compose a successful composition using a limited palette."

I do not claim to be that great at speaking about my work, but it’s something I’m aware of and I’m striving to get better at. 

I’ve recently been watching the videos of the Quilt National ‘19 exhibitors. These are short videos of makers talking about their quilts. And it’s been a great learning experience (besides also being able to enjoy the beautiful works.) I try and think when I’m listening:

Are they making sense?
Are they adding to the story I see visually?
Have I learnt something?

Here’s the link if you want to listen and watch too.

Sunday, September 22, 2019


I finished this piece a few days ago. Although I haven't put a hanging sleeve on it yet, so I guess it's not 100% finished. Do you count your finishes from when you've put the last stitch in the binding, or from when they are labelled, sleeved, photographed, documented....etc. etc?

This quilt is 18 1/4 inches by 18 3/4 inches. A very inconvenient size really, but that's just how it ended up.

I began this piece because I needed some more organza quilts for a class I was running. At that time my other samples were in the middle of the ocean, being posted back from when I was teaching in Canada (they arrived just the other day). When it started, it looked like this:

It's three layers of fabric. There is a salmon-coloured hand-dye underneath a layer of multicoloured silk organza.  The bird is cut out of the salmon fabric, as are the unfolding fern fronds, and there is a yellow fabric under the bird and white fabric under the fronds. 

The cut out bird ended up on another composition.

But I wasn't happy with the dominance of the bright fern fronds. So I took the yellow fabric away from behind the bird and replaced it with white. Then I replaced the white that was behind the fern fronds with a dark, rich purple (and got rid of the flax stalk).

I really liked the way the purple fabric extended the composition beyond the edges of the salmon fabric, so I cut them in a hill shape and included it in the design.

The feathers came last.  And I played around with different layouts to get the feel that I was going for.

For me, this quilt is about the spirituality of dawn, that beautiful, sacred, quiet time. When we can look at the sun rise and be thankful for a new day with all its potential. The feathers are a symbol of what the bird is leaving behind to rise towards and celebrate that new day.

I added a little red hill off to the left for balance, some paint to define the main hill and highlight the bird, and then quilted the whole thing. You may notice the peaked window shape quilted in, which is another nod to the spiritual feel of the quilt.

It's finished with a facing so there are no edges to confine the bird.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Artful Firewood

Following on from my barn quilt and building post, I thought I'd show you something else I noticed while travelling.  This was particularly in Newfoundland (by the way, the emphasis is on the 'land', as in New-fin-LAND, it took us a while to get it and we were gently corrected a few times!)

Newfoundlanders need a good source of heat. It gets cold, like really cold! It was Springtime when we were there, and there were icebergs....need I say more?  Lots of houses use central heating with diesel, but lots also have a fireplace, or even a central heating furnace that uses wood.

And the further North we went, the more we saw of these.

Beautifully stacked firewood. If you live rurally, you can get a permit to go and cut your own firewood, and plenty of people do. Then they take the time to stack it in the most eye-catching piles.  I think it helps that the trees seem to grown straight and with not many branches (spruce?) and so they can cut them into these lovely rounds.

Which are particularly artful when you combine this year's fresh cut with pieces that are older and weathered.

And if you don't have time right then to chop them into fireplace sized chunks, you can store them in trunk stacks.

Or perhaps a tee-pee shaped stack is more your thing? I'm presuming this helps with rain run off?

Some people had sheds, but most just stacked it up in rows in their yard. You jam a pole in the ground at one end, stack a line of wood, almost like a fence and them jam a pole in the other end to stop them rolling away. Efficient and lovely to look at.

We saw them everywhere. On the beach even. That's Labrador in the distance. We were up on the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland on the west coast and the Gulf of St Lawrence is only 18 kms wide at the narrowest point. The sea seems pretty calm compared to the wild east coast.

And out in the forest. I think this is a commercial cutter's stack. Still pretty!

Here's the messiest pile we found. And right behind it was a perfectly stacked line of wood, so I'm presuming this guy just went home for a cuppa inbetween stacks. No letting the team down here!

This wasn't actually firewood, I found it by a shed at the hunting lodge we stayed at, right next to a lake. I think it was old poles that had been a jetty. Still stacked nicely!

Our hunky, gnarly manuka and macrocarpa that we use in New Zealand just doesn't lend itself to this artful stacking. But we can aspire, right? 

Do you take care with your firewood, or is it all just jumbled in a pile under a tarp, or piled into a bin?

Friday, September 13, 2019

Sketching on the iPad

I have had an iPad mini for quite a few years, and last year my family upgraded me for my birthday as my old one wouldn't update some apps etc etc.  I use it constantly for emails, blogging, keynote presentations, note taking etc, but I know I've never explored it's full potential.

When I was away in Christchurch, I was pretty chocka luggage wise, and so I didn't risk packing a sketchbook.  And it was a pain, I was coming across lots of inspiration and getting heaps of new ideas - as you do when you travel - but I had no way to start processing them.  So I stuck with taking lots of photos, and hoped that I'd remember the ideas I had.

Then I thought about my iPad. That tends to go everywhere with me, and I know you can use it to make great art (check out Susie Monday, a textile artist who makes wonderful art inspired by and with her iPad, and teaches it too) so maybe it was time to have a play with some apps.

The one I've found that I'm enjoying playing with is Adobe Photoshop Sketch. I think it was free, and if it did cost, it wouldn't have been much. I don't mind paying a one off reasonable fee for an app, but I don't like to get hooked into monthly or yearly subscriptions!

Here is my first ever drawing using the app, trying to get used to the different tools:

And then I did this one:

Which I'm quite pleased with. I figured out how to import photographs, 'trace' them and then hide them again.  Which you can see in progress below. Yes, I made my daughter pose upsidedown on a chair for me! This is an idea for a quilt that's been floating (sorry!) around in my head for a while, so it was good to get it recorded.

My artist friend, Helen, says that when you record ideas in a sketchbook and then shut the pages, they all have 'idea sex' and when you open it up again, you'll get a whole lot of new ideas. I wonder if this will work with a virtual sketch book?!

Have you used your phone/tablet/device as an art tool? Found any apps that you love? Let us all know so we can share in the arty fun!

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Mud vs. Rainbow - thread dyeing

I promised I’d let you know whether I got mud or pretty colours with my thread dyeing experiment yesterday.

Well, they’ve been soaked (several times), rinsed, washed, dried and wound into skeins, and voila....!

I was honestly surprised that they turned out as well as they did. There are a couple of places where they are a little ‘blotchy’. And on a couple the colour change from one to the next is sharper than I’d like, but then again, that might appeal to some people.

In the photo below you can see in the top skein and the third one down are a little patchy near the ends. But they are still lovely colours.

I’ve spent today back in the studio dyeing up another 25 skeins and another bunch of fat quarters and half metres. Now my feet hurt, and all the washing and rinsing is yet to come!

Oh, and here’s the white fat quarter the threads were sitting on. It’s not bad!

My dye table where all my dye bottles sit. I'm considering putting a piece of fabric down on the table next time, then I might get all that gorgeous patterning somewhere I can use it instead of just wiping it off.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

A Dyeing Day

I worked a twelve hour night shift last night, and no matter my good intentions, it’s hard work getting motivated the day after an all-nighter.

I sleep till past lunch, but then I rub my eyes and yawn through the rest of the day.

So one of my strategies to still get stuff done is to pick something immersive but that doesn’t demand a whole lot of concentration. Something I can do while listening to 70’s music!

Today the dye studio won the lottery.

It was beautiful down there (my studio is a platform built under our house) with the sun shining through the ti kouka tree, and I got stuck in and dyed a whole stack of my variegated fat quarters. These will be for sale when I talk at Whangarei Quilters next Saturday.

I also tried a slightly different way of dyeing my embroidery threads. Usually I dye these in lots of two or three and carefully control the colour variegations. But today I put them on top of a white fat quarter to soak up excess and then just kinda went for it.

I’m looking forward to washing these out. They could be stunning...or they could be mud...

I’ll keep you posted!

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Canada has barn quilts. And barns.

Lots of you know that I recently spent two months in Canada*.  An amazing time was had, and I hope to write a few more blog posts about what I got up to when I was there, but for now I want to start with barn quilts. And barns.

I'd heard of barn quilts, but I'd thought they were just an American thing. But Canada has barns too, so why not barn quilts as well?! 

A barn quilt is a big quilt block painted on a piece of wood and stuck on the side of a barn. They've been around for hundreds of years, farmers used all sorts of folk art to decorate barns in the past, but in the last few decades they've had a resurgence.

They are often used to draw tourists to small towns, with barn quilt trails leading visitors from one place to the next. These barn quilts I photographed are all around the tiny town of Ailsa Craig, in south west Ontario, where I spent a week at the Ailsa Craig Quilt and Fibre Arts Festival.

One of our lovely hosts, Mary, spent an evening driving Clare, Catherine and myself around miles and miles of lovely countryside. There were more barn quilts I got to see but didn't photograph because the light was getting pretty low.

The south west Ontario countryside was beautiful. Quite flat, lots of farming, gorgeous trees that were just leafing out for Spring, and lots and lots of great barns.  I loved the shapes of them and the colours, so different from New Zealand.

The iconic Canadian maple leaf had to feature somewhere! If you want to know more about the barn quilts in Canada, you can visit the Canadian barn quilt website, where you can read stories about the people behind them and find maps if you want to follow a barn quilt trail.

As well as new barns, there were also lots of older buildings. Such great shapes.

Mary knew who owned this one, so we were able to get up close and personal with it.  There are also lots of barns that don't have barn quilts, but are still decorated in some way.

And then I got to rural Nova Scotia, and I found SO MANY brilliant barns! Unfortunately we were driving a hulking great camper van by then and Hubby couldn't really pull over for me every time I saw something I wanted to photograph (sad face emoji), so lots of these next pics are taken from a moving vehicle.


Nova Scotia has quite red soils, nicely echoed in the rust on this barn.

That's the Bay of Fundy in the background of the barn above. It has the highest tides in the world and when the tide is out there is acres of red tidal mud.

How could you not love everything about this big red beauty?

This one (above and below) is a rebuilt approximation of the barn on the Anne of Green Gables historical site on Prince Edward Island. This property was were L M Montgomery spent a lot of time as a child and was the inspiration for the house called Green Gables.

And I found other great buildings too, like this wharf shed in Maine, US.

And last, but not least, how about this abandoned house on the hill in New Foundland?  I hope you enjoyed my little structures of North America tour.

*That goes some ways to explaining the big black hole in my recent blogging activity!