Christmas at Blenheim Palace

In one of the grandest settings in England, Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire plays host to three Christmas events not to be missed. One is a lovely Christmas market situated in wooden huts with a mix of food and craft stalls. Despite one guy who tried to sell us a subscription service for flowers and who wouldn’t take no for an answer I did manage to buy a Christmas pudding all the way from Australia (!) and a pair of Wristees which were great for using my camera in the cold.

The second event is Alice in the Palace where some of the interior rooms are decorated for the season on the theme of Alice in Wonderland. Not being a big fan of the book Alice in Wonderland my family and I decided to give it a miss in favour of the third offering – the outdoor light trail. A mile long, which took an hour and half to walk, the trail featured string art, a colourful waterfall, two light tubes to walk through, a penguin house and a light show on a palace wall. It was all very well organised with loads of double decker buses ferrying people from an offsite parking lot to the main entrance right to the front door of the palace. A little snow might have added to the seasonal ambience but one can’t have everything.

San Antonio, Texas

We stayed in Texas for a few days after my week of quilting so my husband could go to the Formula 1 Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas in Austen.  Lewis Hamilton became the 2019 World Champion after that race.  We also went to an NBA basketball game in San Antonio to see LeBron James play for the LA Lakers.

I was more interested in the San Antonio Riverwalk which I always pictured as being some sort of wooden boardwalk but it turns out that it goes for fifteen miles and has numerous shops and eateries along the way.  It is made up of parts of a natural river as well as connecting canals and it runs underneath street level with access stairs and bridges.  When we were there it was Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) festivities with an illuminated parade of boats in the downtown area of the Riverwalk and painted skull decorations everywhere.

We also visited the Alamo – a historic Spanish mission and fortress compound founded in the 18th century by Roman Catholic missionaries.  It was the site of the Battle of the Alamo in 1836 and is now referred to as The Shrine of Texas Liberty. Today it is a museum in the Alamo Plaza Historic District and a part of the San Antonio Missions UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Texas Quilt Museum

On the days off between Quilt Market and Quilt Festival we took a drive out to La Grange, home of the Texas Quilt Museum.  It’s about an hour west of Houston, and quite a small town, but it was chosen as the site of the TQM because it is situated equidistant between Houston, San Antonio and Austen, Texas.

Coincidentally, because of the Sapphire theme at Quilt Festival the TQM also had a display of historical blue and white quilts which form part of a collection of a local Texas quilter.  Next door to the TQM is a knitting/quilting shop called the Quilted Skein which was fun to browse around (although I was glad that I’m not a knitter because I might have done even more financial damage).  Outside of La Grange is a shop called the Texas Quilt Barn which also added to my baggage going home.

Quilt Festival, Oct/Nov 2019

As part of our trip to Houston, Texas I got to spend a day and a half at Quilt Festival which is open to the general public.  The huge halls of the conference were packed with enthusiastic quilters and it took a long time to get a coffee or lunch.  The vendors were doing a roaring trade but with having to pack any purchases  in a suitcase I spent most of my time looking at the quilts – so beautiful and so much talent!

The year 2019 was the 45th anniversary of Quilt Festival.  The theme was Sapphire and featured a display of blue and white quilts.  Rising high into the rafters and on BOTH sides of the display I got a crick in my neck from just looking and looking at the quilts occasionally feeling dizzy spinning around trying to see every detail.

Here are a few of my favourite quilts of the 1700+ in the show:

How was the Threads of Success conference?

Schoolhouse Series

The opening day of Quilt Market features the Schoolhouse Series and TOS attendees had the opportunity (for a small extra fee) to join the quilt retailers.  Tula Pink was the keynote speaker and she introduced her latest Homesewn fabric line which wouldn’t be in the shops until April 2020. 

Of the 280 available sessions my favourites were the ones with the well-known names in the quilting industry – Lynette Anderson, Kathy Schmitz, Lisa Bongean and Marti Michell.  Without attending the TOS conference, a non-existent (for now) quilting business like mine would not have been able to soak up the entrepreneurial expertise offered in the Schoolhouse series.

Threads of Success Conference

TOS officially opened with a drinks and nibbles networking event on the first evening of Quilt Market which takes over the entire facilities of the George R. Bush Conference Centre in downtown Houston.  A chatty, business card swapping melee predominately attended by US quilters, three Canadian provinces were also represented at the conference along with a lone international delegate – me from the UK. 

Breakfast the next morning was accompanied by a motivational keynote address with Ricky Brooks of RNK Distributing.  His theme of “Turning Dreams into Success Stories One Stitch at a Time” was repeated over and over at the conference with inspiring presentations from the likes of Alex Anderson and Kimberley Einmo, both of whom are incredibly successful.

In the breakout sessions I learned about pattern writing, packaging for customers, photographing quilts and answering the question “Are you ready for a booth?”  The Chief Visionary Officer from Martingale, Jennifer Keltner, outlined the procedure for approaching publishers in “Is writing a book right for you?” while Ebony Love gave the lowdown on independent publishing and distribution.

Creating a social media strategy, building a personal brand and developing a professional media kit were underlying suggestions for all delegates to consider before they should approach a publisher with a book idea, send art designs to fabric companies, launch online classes on YouTube or book on as a teacher at a quilt guild meeting. 

On the fourth day of the conference TOS delegates met with a mentor who talked them through what they could expect on the Quilt Market floor.  I was lucky enough to be paired with Tula Pink who showed her small group around her Homesewn booth.

Personal attention

As we handed out business cards and swapped quilting histories it became obvious to me that practically every person at the conference had a book idea, pattern design, fabric artwork or new template buried away in their bag that they wanted to share with someone firmly ensconced in the quilting industry.  I know I did and if I could have had five minutes of Jennifer Keltner’s time she might have been able to give my book idea a little professional looksee and a few words of editorial advice that I could have used to improve my proposal.  With 100 delegates I know this kind of personal contact is probably impossible.

Houston bound!

Well, I am off to Houston, Texas to perhaps the biggest and best quilt show in the world!  I’ll only get to attend the Houston Quilt Festival for a day or two but I will get to spend four days immersed in the quilting world as I attend the inaugural Threads of Success conference being held in conjunction with Houston’s Quilt Market which is not open to the general public.

Along with two full days of lectures I will also go to the Schoolhouse Series which I have heard is exciting, scary and fun all at the same time!  Hundreds of lectures, demos, workshops and samples will be delivered all day, rotating every 20 minutes!!  For this usually peace-seeking person I am sure I will be blown away by the experience.

To top it all I am also taking a book proposal with me that features eight of my own projects as well as three of the quilt tops.  I hope to get some ideas about how I can take the book to publication or perhaps someone might be interested in one of my quilts for a quilt pattern or magazine pattern?

Here’s hoping!  Wish me luck!

Five days of Creativity

A recent trip to Scotland provided lots of inspiration for quilts and embroidery projects.  Ranging from May Morris’ beautiful work in Wightwick Manor, Wolverhampton to the amazing Quaker Tapestry in Kendel in the Lake District I was amazed at the artistry and skill of the creators.

One of the Quaker Tapestry pieces summed it up for me perfectly:

…in their handiwork is their prayer.  Ecclesiastes

See for yourself!

Short trip to Scotland

Last week Steve and I took our wee dog up to Scotland to visit my cousin who used to dog sit for Pepper when we lived in Aberdeen. In order to be fair to our 14 1/2 year old pooch we decided to break up the journey and have a bit of a holiday on the way north. We visited Wightwick Manor in Wolverhampton and Blackwell Arts & Crafts House, The Quaker Tapestry and Wray Castle in the Lake District. During our stay in Scotland we went to see the Queensferry Bridge, Dumfries House (which is a renovation project of Prince Charles), the Falkirk Wheel and the Kelpies. It was a great trip made even better spending time with my cousin Aileen and her dog Reno!

Chania’s Folklore Museum

When I travel I love to visit museums that feature local handicrafts and costumes. I found a little gem of a museum in the back streets of Chania’s old town on the island of Crete. It was developed by Irini Koumandraki who displays historic pieces of embroidery, applique and lace in vignettes alongside old irons, farm utensils and crockery. It’s charming and protected by Irini’s ten year old dog who likes to check out any visitors.

Best of all was talking to Irini about her own work (see the first five photos) which she makes entirely by machine with silk threads (see the photo of her thread stash). “It is all just in my head,” she said, “I don’t have a pattern!” I bought the olive tree piece for my own collection and in driving around Crete I realised that Irini has got the tree just right with it’s numerous scraggy trunks and the purple hued leaves.

Santorini, Greece

What can I say Santorini, Greece is as beautiful as they say with the white and blue buildings radiating light as they bask in the hot sun. The town of Oia is where you’ll find the quintessential blue domed buildings; Fira has white/cream domes but it’s where you’ll see the donkey steps and the huge cruise ships moored out in the bay.

The most excitement of the day was taking the two hour ferry ride from Rethymno, Crete (near where we were staying) to Santorini Island. The ferry had more passengers than cars so the vehicle decks were used to sort out the hundreds of people as they quickly got on and off the boat. And I mean QUICKLY – the ferry docked with its bay doors open and the passengers got off while others got on (see photo). This all took minutes and then the ferry left as the bay doors were raised!

Then we were collected by buses and had to drive up the cliff face on a twisty road full of other traffic – a bit scary if you were on the seaward side of the bus!