Monday, July 26, 2010

Craft fair? Should have called it Craft Affair.

I have an creative friend here in Melbourne, which is great because I really miss my creative friends from Canada.  So when I had the opportunity to get 2 dollars off the price of admission to the 2010 Craft and Quilt Fair in Melbourne I snapped up two tickets, one for her and one for me.  To my relief, my friend suggested meeting at 9am.  Usually I wouldn't find myself dressed by 9am! But I would do anything for crafting, even that.

The massive Craft and Quilt Fair ( is organized by the crafting juggernaut Expertise Events that brought Australia the 2010 Australasian Quilt Convention.  There are other thrilling events like the International Jewelery Fair in Sydney and the Autumn Jewelery Fair in Melbourne.  On my door prize entry ticket I expressed interest in the Textile Art Festival (fingers crossed) and nixxed the Scrapbook and Papercraft Convention and Expo. They have big plans.  But most importantly, we can look forward to the upcoming 2010 CraftExpo in October!  Make sure you keep that piece of paper they gave you when you eventually left the exhibition centre, hours (or days) later, bruised and battered, a with a lot less money in your bank account.  This little paper gives you $5 off the price of admission to the CraftExpo! 

For those who don't know, Melbourne is a holy crafting city.  Ok, it may not be the Mecca or Vatican of Crafts, but crafting enjoys a very loyal following here.  Melbourne is also, cross my heart lest temptation get me, a city of sin.  Up and down King Street men, and lets face it some women too, pop in and out gentleman's clubs and brothels.  Some are just having a bit of fun.  Most are cheating.

But what about those of us whose proclivities shy away from the peelers and peep shows?  Fear not!  Another red light district has popped up on the other side of the Yarra River in the Melbourne Exhibition Center!  And I would wager that most of the women lining up here were being unfaithful.  They were having an affair at the fair.  You could see it on their faces - guilty pleasure.  Women casually passing by a wall of yarn, gentling passing their fingers over the wool.  CHEATERS!  Fabric displays filled with fat-quarters and women pinching and pulling on the squares.  CHEATERS!!  Embroidery threads unwound and held up to the light.  CHEATERS!!!  Women layered 5 rows deep, all on tippy toes, craning their necks to get a better view of the $5 wooden bag handles.  CHEATERS!!!!  It was one gigantic peep show! And all these women were crafting two-timers.

I was cheating too.  Despite my avowedly deep connection with patchwork quilting, I really wanted to try something new.  Experiment.  So when my friend and I saw the Felt Studio with Wendy Bailye we pulled out our $30 mad-money and signed up to make the felted rose.

Liz, our felting madame, introduced us to the colourful silks and generous wools, the soapy warm water and the PVC mats and plastic sheets we would use to bind our felt and roll it.  With two flat fingers, Liz showed us how to pluck out the fibers and gently lay them onto the flat felt back ground. 

We made our designs onto the three layers of our flower, wet them down, and then covered them up with the plastic bags and gently rolled them like cigarillos.  Every few minutes we would check on the delicate felt, rotate a quarter turn, re-roll the mat and rock them back and forth again to agitate the fibers.  All this agitation gets the felt ready to bind with the layers.  Then, with the assistance of a little dab of olive oil soap at the centre of each layer, we piled them on top of one another, jabbed our finger in the centre, plugged the flower into our other hand and twisted. And twisted. And twisted.  Soon our layers of petals are bound together, and with some gentle plucking and pulling our flowers had shrunk to a respectable size, were wrung out of water, and ready to be pinned on by our beaming instructor, Liz.

The whole time, we created a spectacle.  Ladies passed by and paused for a second look, cautiously nudging a friend and pointing with their eyes, 'Oh, that looks like fun.'  As we were agitating fibers, woman after woman pulled out $30, $40, or $50 to share in this unique experience, emboldened by those of us already inside. Felting was FUN!!

As we looked around, at least 10 other women had joined our troupe.  Some were felting booties, others made silky flowers, still more were laying out long silk scarves and gently pulling out wool and laying it down gently in floral designs.  They all had a look of satisfaction that only comes when unbridled creativity is given the levity to come out.  You could tell they were all sneaking around, experimenting with a craft they had never tried, a form of expression that had been, until now, exotic and forbidden.  With a squeal of delight, the women across the table pulled out another $30 and signed up to do another project.  I knew it.  They were all cheating on their favorite craft. 

My friend might be cheating too.
Look at that smile. Is that the smile of a crafting two-timer?  I don't know...  She is a knitter.  And from the way she looked at anything woollen I would imagine she wasn't cheating.  It was kind of pious as a matter of fact, like a deep communion she had with spun wool.  I, on the other hand, had a dark temptation that saw me caress a skein of tangerine orange wool unlike any other and imagine all the things I could create with it.   No, my friend wasn't a two-timing knitter.  Felting is related to knitting because you work with wool.

 But I think she may be cheating with silk scarves.

Time wasted to date: 23 hours

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Wrap it up

So, I know.  I should really finish my thesis.  There have been some not so subtle hints from people I know, love, and respect.  My favorite so far has been my friend's husband who said 'Tell her to get her butt into gear and get her PhD done already!!!'  I totally agree.  But its so hard when you flog yourself with the thorny whip that is 'writing' and miss deadline after deadline.  Then you see your Super and plead with her for mercy, 'Please just give me another day! PLEASE'!  And then she smiles down upon you with countenance (I thought that impossible given our height difference) and says, 'That's okay.  Get it to me when you can.'



So, I can take my time with this?  YIPEE!!!  I'm going out for a coffee.

And then the unimaginable happens.  Someone who started their PhD only days after I did has handed in her thesis.  Oh, the pain!  It seems like everywhere I go there is some reminder of them.  A facebook photo here.  A three year employment contract there.  Their face on a dartboard in the corner of my office.  Its enough to drive a woman to drink.  But what should I down?  One of those nice bottles of wine I've been saving for when friends and family visit?  Nahhhh.  I am going to drink my own home brew.  Enter today's adventure: Yeast!

Hubby and I have been emboldened by some great brewing successes.  There was the original 9 litre all grain APA trial we did on the stove-top.  Then there was the last batch of heavily hopped APA.  It was a great success.  Taste - spot on.  Colour - rich and yellow-orange.  Head - foamy and creamy.  Hops - hoppy, bitter, and fragrant.  So you can imagine that given our success we are very pleased that we thought ahead, collected our yeast from the trub, bottled it, and stored it for the next batch. 

Hubby is a great researcher.  He researched the heck out of our new fridge.  He researched the heck out of kegging.  He researched the heck out of re-cultivating yeast.  One day he came home with some cheap Light Dry Malt Extract and mixed a 1/2 cup in with some boiling water, creating a 'mini-wort'.  After he chilled it in an ice bath we poured it into our sanitized 2 litre pop bottle.  Then in went out yeasty friends. 

I like to imagine yeast as a bunch of old grandpas in wheelchairs, with granny quilts on their laps, snoozing with their mouths agape.  Then a hot young nurse comes walking by and all of a sudden everyone is awake, acting half their ages, cracking wise ass comments.  Like Cocoon.  Or Benjamin Button.  Within a day there is a 'budding' party in our pop bottle.  Hurahh for asexual reproduction!!! 
(Picture downloaded from

Sadly, not all yeast get to live such fantastic lives.  Did you know that some yeast are murdered for their vitamin B content?

Excerpt from wikipedia*:
"Brewer's yeast" (also known as "brewing yeast") can mean any live yeast used in brewing. It can also mean yeast obtained as a by-product of brewing, dried and killed, and used as a dietary supplement for its B vitamin content.

(Picture downloaded from

Australians love vitamin B.  And they massacre loads of yeast every year for their icky Vegemite.

Excerpt from wikipedia:
The general method for making yeast extract for food products such as Vegemite and Marmite on a commercial scale is to add salt to a suspension of yeast making the solution hypertonic, which leads to the cells shrivelling up. This triggers autolysis, where the yeast's digestive enzymes break their own proteins down into simpler compounds, a process of self-destruction [emphasis added]. The dying yeast cells are then heated to complete their breakdown, after which the husks (yeast with thick cell walls which would give poor texture) are separated. 

That sounds horrible!  Can you believe that?  Perfectly good yeast is being butchered for Vegemite! How would you like it?  Sitting there in your wheelchair, waiting for that hot nurse to walk by so you can get down with some asexual budding and then someone dumps a load of salt on you so that you start oozing vitamins!?  Then your husky skin is discarded and what's left of you is spread on some toast!

I know what your thinking.  Asexual budding doesn't sound like much fun.  Well, the party in my pop bottle begs to differ.  If this bottle's rocking, don't come a knocking!  

Yeast for beer, not toast.

Time wasted to date: 19 hours. 

* I know, wikipedia is not always a reliable source. 

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Birthday Pillow!

I have a friend at school - shock! horror! - and when she told me she was turning thirty this year I was excited.  Like her, I turned thirty in a country far, far from home. It sucked.  I was determined not to add to any of the suckiness of her day.  Enter The Birthday Pillow!

While our building is slowly being demolished and reconstructed all around us (the latest news: just a small vent hole being drilled from roof to floor going right through our room) those in charge refer to this as just a 'post-grad room'.  But it is soooooo much more.  We are an office of highly educated, esteemed, hard-working colleagues who like to practice mandarin orange basketball, cubical 'Tour de France', the occasional 'avoid the hot tea Footy match', and rock out sessions to Jay Z and Alisha Keys.  Nothing gets the blues out faster than a chorus of 'New YOOOOOOOOORK'!

We have several items to make our time in prison working more enjoyable.  This includes several coffee presses, a coffee maker, tea (various varieties), hot chocolate, Nestomalt, long life milk, kettle, paper towels, lots of chairs, several shawls, and The Pillow.  The latter two items are used for cat-napping under our desks.

My friend brought The Pillow in question to school after a particularly long bout of weekend work.  It has sure come in handy; the floors are cold and the desks are hard.  The head should be protected from both whilst resting (on the floor) and thumping (against the desk in frustration).  So while I meditated on something to make her for her birthday (a classic Dilly Dally technique) I saw the pillow winking at me from the corner of my eye.  What a great idea! I'll have a rest and think about it later.  After a 15 minute cat-nap under my desk it came to me: a patchwork quilted pillow cover!

After the last sewing day of the Melbourne Modern Quilt Guild I was emboldened to try paper piecing.  Basically you take a piece of paper with your design on it and sew on the backside.  This is great because any pieces smaller than 2.5" seem to go wonky on me.  My sewing machine may have too Umph?   It was a nightmare to piece the Ohio stars and border on my last project for this reason.

Anywho.  After finishing the drawing I quickly learned a few rules about foundation piecing.  This was essentially a log cabin design.  There could be no hangy-down-bits.  I had to go one log at a time.  And I needed to set my stitch length smaller so  the paper would easily tear away.  For the paper I used some no-name baking paper: great because it can stand the iron and it's transparent.  So when I went 'off pattern' I could draw on one side and see through to the other.  All in all, I really like this way of sewing.  The object under creation has a form and shape that otherwise it wouldn't have and it made sewing a lot easier!

So, I kept building up the logs till the pillow cover was 16" on all sides.  There was one problem though.  And its my favorite kind of problem.  I had run out of fabric!  I needed something for the backing.  As hubby reclined on the couch playing Bejeweled on his ipod (I HATE BEJEWELED) and Hire-A-Hubby drilled though the floor in the flat next to ours (ON A SATURDAY!!! HUBBY GO HOME!!!) I quietly excused myself so as not to arouse suspicion, jumped in the car, and drove to Spotlight.

I love Carnegie Spotlight a little bit less now then I did before.  I blame the ladies at the Guild.  They have introduced me to fabrics and designers I never would have known about before - evil doers!  And so despite the fact I can't afford those fabrics and designers, I feel a bit snobbish about Spotlight now.  That all fades though as I walk past the Quilting Corner.  I am  thrilled when I find some polka dots that will make great backing for the pillow at a really good price. I love Spotlight again!

The next day I sew it all up.  I wanted a quilted look on the pillow so I made a quilt sandwich on that side, practiced some free motion quilt designs, and played with heavily quilting some parts and leaving others as they were.  I used a high loft batting so these un-quilted parts were nice a puffy compared to the rest.  It was great practice.  That's what I am telling myself at least because The Thesis is still hanging over me like an imaginary devil with a sharpened trident.  Whenever I engage in fun and frivolity that little floating bastard pokes his fork in my back and makes me feel bad for what I just did.

The Pillow was a success.  In fact, it was too successful.  It has now been taken from our office and sequestered in the home of the birthday celebrant.  Its a good thing though.  A pillow this cute would wink at me and inspire more sewing.  Bad Pillow!

Time wasted to date: 17 hours

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Brewing and hopping

Well, I wasn't sure if my inaugural post would be on the subject of brewing and hopping or quilting... Brewing and hopping... Or quilting... I am flummoxed!

I flipped a coin in my head and brewing and hoping it is!

Last night Hubby and I stayed in and brewed a new American style pale ale. Lets say for the sake of my American brethren that it was in celebration of the Fourth of July. It wasn't. But lets just say it was.

Happy Fourth!

Hubby and I use the brew in a bag method. This means that after we get our water up to strike temperature we pop a huge voile bag in the Birko.

Then we add the yummy malted grains in a slow steady stream, stir to get out the beer clumps, and them clamp her up tighter then a bum on a cold bench. Ewwwww!

No, we wrap her up with towels, blankets and anything else to keep her warm.  Yes, even a housecoat. Then we let her sit and think about what she's done for 90 minutes.

Brewing in our apartment is an adventure in close quarters. Last night, as Hubby and I danced around each other in the 6'x3' galley style kitchen with a 40 litre Birko in the middle of the floor, I imagined us in a submarine. After burning his foot in a hot water accident some 3 months ago, I have this horrible fear that I might swing a hip with too much vigor and all that glorious steaming hot brew will come swishing out of the Birko and onto the floor. I imagine being at the helm of a nuclear powered submarine is very similar. The sticky heat and steam on the walls, the urgency of a well timed task on your mind and then, boom! You press the wrong button and its all 'Red October'. But no, we kept our cool. No one got burned. I think he and I would make very good submariners.

But I digress.  After 90 minutes we pumped up the temperature and got a boil going.  35 litres of beer at a rolling boil is an impressive site!  The sugars swirl around and as we add the hop bags the colour changes a little.  Soon our walls are slick with moisture and Hubby and I are commenting on how warm the little apartment has become.  We started brewing at an ambient temperature of 14-16 degrees.  After 90 minutes of a rolling boil the temperature in our little home is 21 degrees!

At 10:30 last night it was 'flame out', or in our case 'unplug'.  Hubby donned his big red gloves and we emptied the Birko into our two 'no-chill' cubes.  Its nice and cold outside so he put them out for the night and in the morning we had such chilled brew the gods let fly a chorus of angels!!   When next we meet, I will tell you about fermentation and the process of waking up those tired and cold friends of ours, yeast.  Or I may just post something about the quilted patchwork pillow case I made...  Decisions, decisions. 

Time wasted to date: 12 hours