July 7, 2017

NOTE: To find out more about anything I’ve mentioned below, please click on the blue highlighted words to go to their websites.

On the flight from Johannesburg to Durban I struck up a conversation with the fellow sitting next to me.  Turns out he is the Account Manager for Product Managers of DyStar – of which Procion Dyes is a subsidiary!  Of all people to sit beside, the guy who supplies dyes to the quilt artists, shops and fabric manufacturers in Africa! This is where the dyes for the shweshwe fabrics we are about to buy come from.

Durban is quite different from Johannesburg – it is on the coast of the Indian Ocean, for one, and further south.  The ocean is quite warm at this point, and the air is quite a bit more humid.  It feels sub-tropical and there are lots of tropical/textural gardens like I’ve seen in parts of Australia.

We drive directly to the home of Odette Tolksdorf, who is Val’s partner in this venture.  She has been doing the local organizing of this trip – brilliantly, in my opinion.  Odette has provided a beautiful lunch for all of us, plus our first encounter with three other South African art quilters.

Odette Tolksdorf

Odette with one of her pieces.

Val, Dudu Malinga & Ann

Ann had made a number of small sewing kits which she gave to the Isipethu Embroidery Group (along with our embroidery threads) via Dudu, who came to the lunch. We gave her a bunch of embroidery threads as well to take back to the group.

Judy Jordan & Jeanette Gilks

I fell in love with Jeanette’s work. Judy, the coordinator of Isipethu, is sitting behind.

It was a very convivial afternoon.  We stopped at the Artisan Gallery on the way to our hotel.  More stuff to buy!!! (By now it seemed impossible for the lot of us to NOT buy, when given the opportunity!)


Our hotel in Durban did not feel as pretentious as the one in Johannesburg, nor as barricaded. Yes, there’s still a sense of security everywhere, but we were able to walk along the road to local restaurants without feeling on guard to the same extent. We were beginning to be able to see more open walls and gates to the houses beyond.

The next day was nice and warm and a bit rainy, but it didn’t prevent us from dipping our toes in the Indian Ocean!

Durban Beach

We were headed for our first chance to refill our bags with fabric, after unloading some of the supplies we brought with us.  We went to the fabric area of Durban, to Val’s favourite shop for shweshwe fabric!  This is originally a blue denim-like cotton fabric, painted with geometric designs, but now it’s all the colours of the rainbow.  The fabric in the shop feels like cardboard, with all the sizing in it, but it washes out to be a thick-ish (like denim) cotton and much softer. The designs are beautiful.  It was so difficult to choose! It was NOT the budgetted 1/2 hour stop!!!  Kudos to our driver for getting the bus around the narrow streets, too.

Fabric quarter

The fabric sector of Durban.


A very colourful corner of the shop.

There was lots going on in the street outside as well.


We visited the Indian and African Market in Durban, meeting an old friend of Val’s from when she lived here. Spices were purchased! And this is where I bought the first of my bowls made from telephone wire.



The Durban Botanical Gardens features some of my favourite things: cycads, for one.  Have you ever read the book “Island of the Color Blind” by Oliver Sacks?  Fascinating tale of an island in the South Pacific where they eat flour made from the fruit of the cycad. It results in the whole island being unable to see colour! The fruit itself is very colourful, though.

005 Botanical Gardens (22) cycad with two orange fruits

Golden Bird of Paradise honouring Nelson Mandela

We also saw for the first time, the Bird of Paradise variety called “Mandela’s Gold”.


It kept raining off and on all day.

After lunch we visited the Phansi Museum and had a brilliant guided tour through all the artifacts there.  This is a private museum, started as a collection in the basement of Architects and Planners offices. There is so much Zulu art here! Our guide, Phumizile Nkosi, was very entertaining, especially when describing some of the strange ways of using things. I had to take a picture of some of their musical instruments.


Guitars made from oil cans.

They had a temporary exhibit of Mandela-inspired beaded art while we were there.


Our day finished with a lovely Indian meal featuring the famous Durban curry at Palki’s

The next day was all about ceramics, sculpture and beading. We set out for Ardmore Ceramic Art in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.  If you have the time, click on the Ardmore name and visit their website to see some of their magnificent works.

Started by Fee Halstead in 1985, the studio employs local Zulu artisans who have trained there, making fanciful African-inspired ceramics that are exhibited and sold around the world. Over the years, AIDS has taken many of their artists, and so they now provide anti-retrovirals to their people. So many of the stories around these projects we visit have AIDS stories wound around them. Health care as well as mental care entwine to create these hopeful, successful projects.


A wall of plates dedicated to the artists whom they have lost to AIDS.


Painter at work

Most of the potters are men; the women are the painters.

Fee is also an equestrian; her daughter is a member of the South African Olympics equestrian team, and we were privileged to watch them working a couple of their horses.

Fee & daughter

We stopped briefly at an extraordinary monument/sculpture to commemorate the place where Nelson Mandela was captured before he went to Robben Island.  These are individual vertical steel bars that look like nothing much until you stand exactly THERE.


I am amazed at the creative process it takes to come up with this idea!

Our next stop was the Hillcrest AIDS Centre, where we learned about their vital work with AIDS patients, including a 24 bed respite care facility, and dropped off supplies to help them continue their work. Happily, 70% of people who stay in the care facility go home, thanks to the excellent drugs now available for AIDS patients. Our suitcases were getting pretty empty by this point, and their little shop beckoned, filled with exquisite beaded things we could carry home.

Peter & Veryan


You could help support this too, by shopping in their Woza Moya craft shop.

Onward! To meet Carl Roberts, Sculptor, at his home.  Tucked away in the jungle treetops, his studio is filled with unusual things – he works with wood, bone and stone, and it makes for a fascinating “stash” as a result. He and his wife were so generous in allowing us to visit them at home, and the work was astonishing and magical.

Carl Roberts

What a jam-packed visit to the Durban area! We said farewell to our wonderful, informative and fun guide Jacqui the next morning, and flew down to East London to continue the trip.

Trip of a Lifetime – Soweto

July 6, 2017

The name “Soweto” is an amalgamation of three words: SOuth WEst TOwnships.  The townships were created by the Apartheid government of South Africa to keep all the Blacks in one area, close by to Johannesburg and the gold mines, but well away from where the whites lived. “Apartheid” actually means separation.

Mural on Chris Hani hospital

We picked up our guide, Collette, who lives there and knows all about the history of the township – there are about 5 million people who live there now, all crammed into an area of 41 square miles (106 square kilometres).  There are various levels of income, and some people do live in nice houses as they raise themselves up and stay in the town, but there are still lots and lots of shanties where people eke out a living somehow.


In the Bara market near the hospital.

Children born after 1990 are called “Born Frees”.

We got a wonderful overview of how things are and were there, and then we visited our second stop to deliver some knitting supplies at the Phaphama Group.

Phapama Group

The table was full of yarn and knitting needles for the seniors.

Phapama knitter

This woman was so proud to show us her wares, which she knit herself.

Before we left (Val had told us the first day that she would be wrenching us out of wonderful experiences under protest from us, only to deliver us to another, equally wonderful place, she was right), the ladies (all dressed up in their best) followed us out to the bus and sang their goodbyes to us. They were all so sweet – there wasn’t a dry eye among us as we climbed back in the bus.

Phapama Group grandmothers goodbye

We were off next to lunch!  Thanks to Collette, we were expected at a private home where lunch was served. We ate traditional food – lots of grilled veggie dishes including “chuckalucka” – all with our fingers.  First we had to wash our hands from a communal bowl. Then we lined up and friends and neighbours who had come in to help out served us some really delicious food!

lunch in Soweto (Joan & Peter Gillespie, Ruth)

lunch in Soweto

I don’t normally post pictures of what I eat, but this is the meal we ate with our hands. It was delicious!

We sat in groups of three: two “bus people” and one “local”. Our job during lunch was to learn how to say “hello”, “how are you?” and “my name is: _____” in one of four languages spoken among the group.

Val and I were sitting with Sydney and he is Setswana.  His job was to give us our African names, and when he found out I was a singer/songwriter, my name became “Miriam Makeba“. I was deeply honoured by this!  Then, they tried to teach me how to sing her clicking song – that was too much for me!

Each one of us stood up and introduced ourselves to the group.  It was such a good way to get to know each other!


“Le Kae”

“Lebitso la ka ke Miriam Makeba!”

Sydney & Cathy

Ke a leboga, Sydney!

There followed singing and dancing by all of us before we got back on the bus.  I could have stayed there all day!

It was on the way back to the hotel that I started to write my Thank You song that we could sing back to them.

We left Collette behind and joined Jo Buitendach for her tour of the Constitutional Court in Braamfontein.  She is a specialist in graffiti – especially inner city graffiti.  I’ve been fascinated by graffiti for years, and was very interested in hearing her take on it. The government has built a beautiful national courthouse on the property that was one of the most notorious prisons in South Africa: Prison #4. This prison has been called the “Robben Island of Johannesburg”, but was in many ways worse.  Robben Island was reserved for freedom fighters exclusively, but in Prison #4, the freedom fighters were incarcerated with everyone else, some of them really dangerous.

Cell block priority

Blankets showed how closely the men had to sleep. Blankets were also used to create art.

Solitary cells

A row of cells for solitary confinement.  On the back of most of the doors were scratchings made by the inmates. Slogans, names, letters.  All ways to say “I was here”.

Solitary cell graffiti

In the Courtroom itself hung an amazing South African flag – all done with beading! The bricks are from the original “Awaiting Trial” block which was torn down to make room for the new courthouse.

Beaded South African Flag

So much in one day! Plus a short visit to Nelson Mandela’s home in Orlando and a very short stop at the Hector Pieterson Memorial. It was our last night in Jo’burg. We fly to Durban in the morning.

ready to rock Soweto

Trip of a Lifetime Part 2: South Africa days one and two

July 4, 2017

Sorry for the delay in getting this second installment to you: my computer died just after the last one, and I’ve had to spend a couple of weeks getting things back to where they were (my backup settings have now been fixed……!!)

We had an 11 hour flight from Perth to Johannesburg, South Africa, arriving at 5am.  Happily, the hotel found us our room early so that we could get a nap in before the festivities started at dinner time.  Our first impression of Johannesburg was that of a walled city.  Every house had a high impenetrable wall around it, often with razor wire on top, and security signs about “armed response”. There were lots of black people walking along the highways – and lots of white people driving BMWs and Audis and Mercedes Benzes. We definitely weren’t in Kansas anymore, Toto!

The hotel itself was sumptuous with walled patios and swimming pools. Strange birds strutted around like they owned the place, and attentive staff made sure we were comfortable. Outside, there was lots of construction, street vendors and cafes. We were told not to visit ATMs by ourselves, and not really to wander about much.  Odd, for Canadians.

Our first night was all about introductions and dinner at a local restaurant, where we sampled some African food (including fried worms!!!) and got our faces painted.

Cathy & JCB

We have a group of 24 (all Canadian except for four Americans and including 3 husbands) on this guided tour organized by Valerie Hearder (Nova Scotian now, but originally from Durban) and Odette Tolksdorf.  They are both art quilters, and there is a significant fibre arts component to the trip. Val loves her birth country, and has planned this 21 days to show us as much as she possibly can about why she loves it so much. Our suitcases are bulging with embroidery and sewing supplies, reading glasses, knitting yarns and needles and school supplies to give away as we visit some of the projects.


We meet our driver, Charles and start with a bus ride to the Cradle of Humankind. This is a really important site for human fossils, some as old as 3.5 million years!  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and we got a private visit with one of the researchers at one of the many limestone caves where they do their digging.  They only dig for a few months each year, and get enough interesting fossils to keep them busy the rest of the year, identifying and cataloging them.

It was the trial by fire for our new bus driver, Charles, who had to drive us on single lane dirt roads in the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve to get to the site.  It was our first day in South Africa, and we saw all kinds of wonderful animals!

Neck & Deck giraffeWhite rhinos

When we finally got to the site, we were greeted by a table full of hominid skulls to introduce us to our cousins and ancestors.

Drimolen Fossil site - Cradle of Humankind

This is also where we had lunch, under the trees watching the weaver birds flitting into and out of their nests.

The dig site was fascinating – tarps cover things from season to season (they weren’t digging at the time we were there). There are more than 3 dozen of these caves where they are unearthing huge numbers of fossils each year. These caves were found originally in the search for gold.  Instead, they found gold of another sort: history!


A great introduction to Africa!

From there, we drove back into town to visit our first couple of galleries. The Everard Read Gallery is high-end art, and it was a good introduction to the artistic sensibilities of some South African artists. Lots of sculpture, etc.  Across the street was an beautiful new Gallery called Circa. It is a totally amazing building and there were lots of wonderful photo opportunities while we were there.

Jacqui, Ruth, Colleen - Circa GalleryEverard Read Gallery

Our first day in South Africa:  lapwings, oryxes, giraffes, pronking springbok, rhinoceros, warthogs, weaver birds, 70,000 year old fossils.


Today we meet our first group of women to whom we’ll give embroidery supplies. We  picked up our guides at the Pretoria Botanic Gardens. From there, we drove to one of the poorest areas of all of South Africa: Winterveld. As we entered the community, we noticed lots of people on the side of the roads – lots of vendors, lots of people waving at us. I imagine there aren’t a lot of tour buses that make the trek into these parts.

roadside clothing stall - Winterveld

Selling clothes on the side of the road in Winterveld at a “bend over boutique”.

We arrived to an amazing display of colourful embroideries done by the Mapula Embroidery Group!

There were hundreds of pieces, large and small, and some of the ladies who made them were in attendance.  I bought a few pieces, but was only able to meet the maker of my little giraffe bag. This is Jennifer Makamo.

Cathy and purse maker

This project was started by Sister Magella and the Soroptomists in Pretoria in 1991 to help women in the Winterveld – named the “throwaway people” by Sue Miller in the Pretoria News. Started with 14 women participating, now over 140 work on making these pieces. Some live entirely off their embroidery work – they are only paid when their work sells – and each person making money might be feeding up to 10 family members.  We did our best to help pay these women, and we left them with some supplies to keep on making them. Their pieces have been sold worldwide, including to the Obama White House, and 50 to Oprah Winfrey.  It “gives them a reason to be”.

Sister Magellan, Sisters of Mercy, Winterveld

Sister Magella in the middle and Janetje, one of the Soroptimist founders, on the right. I think the woman on the right is Tswane.

Two of our group from Canmore managed to involve the Lions and Rotary clubs to help them bring reading glasses from Canada.  They brought HUNDREDS of glasses!


There are two artists who draw most of these pieces – drawn with crayon on black cotton.  The motifs are outlined, then given to the women to fill in with embroidery stitches.  One of the artists is a man who sometimes draws very political pieces.  This is a new one all about President Zuma and the current state of politics.

anti-Zuma hanging in preparation

The women dressed up for us – they were beautiful in their traditional dresses!

fashion parade

Before we left Pretoria we stopped in at the Union Buildings, the official seat of the South African government and office of the President.  This is where a remarkable 9 metre high statue of Nelson Mandela, erected in 2013, welcomes the world into his embrace.  His “Rainbow Nation” dream is still alive in this country, even though the way seems to have been temporarily lost.

Mandela statue

Day 2 in Africa:  We begin to learn about the wide divisions between the “haves” and the “have-nots” in South Africa. We learn there is hope in the poorest areas. We learn that people here Think Big!

Hamba gashlei – Zulu for “go safely”.

A Trip of a Lifetime – Part One (Australia)

June 13, 2017

It’s been ever so long since you last heard from me!  Sorry about that – as you’ll see below, it’s been very busy. John and I have recently returned from a trip of a lifetime, and because it has some quilting content, I have decided to tell you all about it.

We were away for 3 months in all – if you’ll remember, we are no longer doing our long driving tours, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to travel any more! We started with 5 weeks in Australia, seeing good friends from Sydney to Brisbane, Canberra to Melbourne and Adelaide, followed by a flight to Darwin and another flight to Perth.  We then joined a 21 day guided tour in South Africa, followed by three weeks in Europe and the UK.

The original reason for this trip was to help John celebrate his birthday in Australia.  This birthday lasted for at least a month, since he kept getting more cake every time we turned around! On the day itself, we were in Tamworth, the country music capital of Australia, and we had to get this picture of all of us (we met Aussie friends who live in BC) in front of the famous Golden Guitar!


Some quilty highlights (not much singing involved in this trip) included giving away a new quilt from fabric that our friend Barb gave me years ago to make into “a pillow or something”.  I have a new theory: the longer it takes to give back a piece someone asks you to make, the nicer the final product needs to be!  The “pillow or something” ended up as a medium sized wall hanging!  It was hard to find more unicorn fabric that wasn’t “girly”, but John found some on line, and I was able to make this.

006 Elanora with Barb and Dennis ONeil (4) quilt presentation

I was happy with how it turned out, and Barb was too.

We visited friends in Brisbane, and headed back down the highway through lots of rain.  One should never complain about rain in Australia EVER, but we ran into one flooded out highway and had to divert inland to find another way south – we still had trouble, and are lucky we didn’t float away!

009 drive south through rain (3) med

It was after we left that the cyclone hit, and there was flooding everywhere. We’re lucky to have gotten through when we did.

The rain followed us to Canberra, but didn’t interfere in our busy social schedule! One night we got together with quilty friends there, including Michelle Law, who used my pattern of 1/2″ hexagons to make her own version of my “Seven Garden Maze”.  I love what she’s done with it – and she deserved to receive the ribbon at the last quilt show for it.

014 SCQ dinner (4) Michelles 7 Garden Maze

Michelle, Donna, Jenny (the famous Jenny Bowker!) and Kathryn are all extraordinary quilters and good friends, and I’m happy that I got to see them all together in a small group.

014 SCQ dinner (13) canberra

We had some amazing show and tell that evening, as well as a wonderful meal.

Our travels took us on down to Bega, Bairnsdale, and Melbourne. We had the chance to wander about downtown Melbourne, around Federation Square with our friend Judy. We really wanted to see the graffiti alley, just across the road from the Square. We had been seeing graffiti everywhere in the city – they seem to really encourage it.  Some of it is horrible, like any other graffiti that most cities paint over.  And then we got to Hosier Lane!

019 Melbourne (16) Hosier Lane baby hand

Just amazing.

From Melbourne we decided to repeat one of our favourite drives in the world: The Great Ocean Road!

Cloudy still, but it didn’t rain on us that day.  By the time we got to Adelaide, the rain had left us behind, thankfully. In Gawler we visited friends who took us out to an Aboriginal celebration of the great Murray River that night.  These people had travelled the length of the river doing these celebrations along the way, and this was the last one, at the Murray River mouth.  We were quite honoured to be there.

003a Goolwa aboriginal celebration (18)

Our friends in Adelaide live in the Hills and have lots of wildlife around their house. I’m very happy with this picture of the iconic kookaburra who is one of many who visits them every day.

007 Adelaide (9) kookaburra

I was very lucky to be in town for the South Australia Quilters’ Guild meeting!  Raelene and I went after dinner, and it was great to see some familiar faces in the crowd.  We’ve sung for them a couple of times, and I got up as “Show and Tell” and sang a song for them. I have no quilts with me, so I have to just sing!


006a Quilters Guild of South Australia (4)

They had a huge show and tell of quilts – if I remember correctly, these were the result of the mystery quilt bags – multiple designs with different fabrics.  For $40 you get a bag and make up the quilt. If you have a group of 20 making them, the organizers will come over and teach the pattern for free (and bring chocolate too)!

This is a big guild, and I was interested to see how they were keeping everything fun and new for their members. As a guest, for example, I was whisked to the front of the line to sign in and given a private tour of the room by one of the executive members. Nice touch.

We flew up to Darwin for a few days.  This is where I wrote the first quilting CD, and I have some very close friends there.  We stayed with Alison, a marvelous quilter, who showed me a couple of her new quilts.  The circular hexie one is a pattern by Geta Grama that I’ve been thinking about making some day.

008 Darwin (1)008 Darwin (12) Alisons Geta Grama quilt009 darwin (1) at paperbark woman

I was thrilled to hear that Paperbark Woman – a shop that specializes in Aboriginal fabrics – has re-opened after a long time being closed.  Lenore is the one who talked M&S Textiles into making Aboriginal fabrics, and introduced them to some of the artists. Her whole shop is full of the fabrics, and many of them I hadn’t seen before. Yes, I came home with some of them!  The stories about the designs are included when you buy the fabric, too.

One last stop in Australia – Perth for 5 days to catch our breath and prepare for the next leg of the tour: South Africa!  Our friends Andy and Vicki had this on their counter: I have never before seen Vegemite flavoured chips!!! They were pretty good, too.

010 Perth Vegemite bagel chips

We spent a day as tourists out at Rottnest Island – never been there before! This is a destination for vacationers – lots of lovely beaches, and fun stuff to do, but not overly developed. People go there and rent cottages for a week at a time.  It’s a fairly long ferry ride out, and we hired bicycles to wander around the island.

The island is famous for one of smallest marsupials in Australia: the quokka.  There are signs everywhere to keep away from them, to not feed them, but that doesn’t stop the visitors.  I kept thinking what would happen if people do that in North America – any wild animal you could snuggle up to here would bite you!

011 Rottnest Island (15) quokka

The island is called Rottnest because the first visitors saw these animals and thought they were very large rats. They are very cute, and they don’t bite. This is where they live:

011 Rottnest Island (26)

I have obviously left out quite a bit from this section of the trip – we had a lot of wonderful visits with good friends, ate a lot of good food and drank a lot of good wine. I’m going to continue in the second installment about the jewel of this trip: three amazing weeks in South Africa.

The End of the Big Drives

February 17, 2017

As unbelievable as it seems to me, John and I have now completed our last Big Driving Tour.  The car has been emptied out and things are put away.  Maybe now I can actually unpack my stage clothes and quilts.  I found all the fabric I bought during the tour – see the last picture on this blog post.  Here’s a recap of the tour from September 11 to November 22nd, 2016 (I know this is waaaay late!) – pour yourself a cup of hot brown drink; it’s a long one!

We started to see some lovely colours through the mountains in Wyoming, through the Snake River Valley, just south of Jackson Hole.


It’s unusual to see red maple leaves in the mountains.

Steamboat Springs was our first stop, and I taught a Mock Mola class there. It’s a ski town in the mountains in Colorado, and we both said we could live there!


It was a small class, and they did great work!

From there, we headed across the final mountain range to Colorado Springs. Absolutely gorgeous drive through Rocky Mountain National Park, above the tree line. None of our pictures fully capture how astounding the scenery is there.  I’d highly recommend it to anyone looking for a great drive. In the summer.


In Colorado Springs, another class!


After class, we spent another couple of days in town, hoping that we could have a balloon ride.  The first two days were too windy, then it looked like it was a “go” for the third day.  Unfortunately, someone (who may or may not still have his job) neglected to refill the gas tanks of our balloon, and we missed out – AGAIN!!!  Maybe sometime we’ll get up in a hot air balloon; we’ve now tried 6 times without any luck.



This is the closest we’ve ever gotten to getting airborne in a hot air balloon!

We had a bit of time before we had to get to our next show in Kansas, so we turned into tourists for a while. We stopped in at a couple of presidential museums on the way.  In all, we visited 3 official presidential museums on this trip.  Fascinating, to learn of the history behind each presidency.

(L to R): Eisenhower statue in Abilene KS, me with Amelia Earhart (I know, she wasn’t a president, but we went anyway) at her family home in Atchison KS, and John with Harry S. Truman in Independence MO.

Another class in Leavenworth KS.  Our show in Leavenworth was small but enthusiastic. Connie and Maria did a great job organizing the event.

This is Vicky, Kim, Connie, Shari, and Denise displaying their stunning work at the end of class. 


After Leavenworth, we stopped in to Hamilton MO on our way east. This was a Highly Recommended Stop, for a quilter!  The big mural in Hamilton MO signifies the Town that Quilting built. It seems like the entire downtown is one big quilt shop! It’s not, though – it’s TWELVE quilt shops! Yes, this is the home of Missouri Star Quilts.


We paid a visit to the Lincolns (Abraham Lincoln Museum and Presidential Library) in Springfield IL. It’s a very good museum, but of the three we visited, we liked the Eisenhower the best.  There was an amazing map in the Lincoln Museum, though, that was worth the price of admission: it is an animated map of the US, detailing all the major battles and territories held by each side throughout the Civil War – the entire history in 4 minutes!


Can you spot John hobnobbing with the Lincolns?


From Kansas we drove through to southern Ontario for the month of October.  There are always lots of people to see there, including many family members.  Our first show and class was in Burlington ON. I’ve written a song about the Burlington Teen Tour Band quilt (“Boots and Bayonets”), and it was great to sing the song for them again. The class the next day was very creative and fun.


I have a very old friend who lives in Burlington – in fact, I used to babysit her kids when I was growing up in London.  We spent a delightful evening with her and her daughter the next night.

The next day we drove into Toronto for a Thanksgiving lunch at my nephew’s new home.  I gave away two quilts at that luncheon – it’s my very favourite thing to do! One was a delayed wedding quilt for Dan and Yasi – they wanted a cuddle quilt for watching TV under, all flannelette. The other was for my brother and sister-in-law: a portrait of their old house.  I learned a lot doing that one – I even used a new technique called “Confetti applique” that I learned from Ruth Bloomfield in Queensland Australia. (She has given me permission to teach this – watch for a new class soon!)

Here’s a closeup of the “Knoxvilla” quilt.


Then we headed up to spend the remainder of the weekend with my other brother. I picked up a new sign for him when we were in Texas earlier in the year (thank you, Paul Hewitt!). Doug would not be a Republican, if he lived in the US, hence the look on his face! I love this picture of him!


The leaves were just getting started in the near-north of Ontario, and they continued for us for the next month.  I have so many pictures of the gorgeous fall leaves!  I’m sure there will be a confetti-appliqued fall colours-themed quilt or two in my future.



We had lots of shows in Ontario: Orleans, Algonquin Highlands (Haliburton), Whitby, and Richmond. Then we crossed over to the US again to complete the tour.  Erie PA was our first stop, and I taught a class for them as well.


I love glass. Stained glass, blown glass, fused glass, any kind at all.  We’ve been able to visit a couple of glass museums over the years, and took the opportunity to stop in Corning NY at the largest glass museum in North America. Corning – the inventors of Corningware, Corelle dishes, and Fibre Optics.  At the museum is a working glass-blowing studio, and many displays about telescope and lighthouse lenses, safety glass for automobiles, history of glass making, modern art glass, and computer display glass.  Four hours is not enough for this museum! And the gift shop is the whole bottom floor of the building. Since we were there just before Halloween, they had all their blown pumpkins on display.

Corning Museum of Glass

Then we had a week off to explore the Washington DC area.  On our way, we stopped off in Mifflinburg PA to visit Verna’s Quilt Shop.  It’s in a Mennonite/Amish area, and here’s the view from our car window on the way to the shop.



School bus and horse-drawn carriage.



Verna’s is chock full of fabric. If you want to use their restroom, it is a one-holer out back!

A this point in the tour, we became TOURISTS! We spent a week in Arlington Virginia, and took in a lot of things in the area, beginning with the George Washington Masonic Memorial.021-george-washington-masonic-national-memorial-small




There was a stunning view from the top of the memorial.


It was the Saturday before Hallowe’en when we went to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s house.  The place was overrun with children, all dressed up for trick-or-treating!


There was a lineup to get to meet “Martha Washington” on the front steps of the house.


Yes, Elvis made an appearance!


This little chocolate chip cookie was my favourite costume of the day!

It was final preparations for All Saints’ Day at the Museum of the American Indian, and Day of the Dead performances and celebrations were in full swing.  What an amazing building, designed by Canadian Douglas Cardinal.

There were performances all day long, and, from the fourth floor, we caught a bit of the ukuleles from Hawaii.


Beautiful day in the national capital!

The fall colours had followed us from Ontario, and were starting to blaze in DC as well.  We saw lots at the Arlington Cemetery in our visit there.


Our tours took us to the FDR monument, which also sported some fall colours.



John with FDR!

Above are three pictures of our day in Washington:  the gigantic Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, a section of the Berlin Wall at the Newseum (well worth the visit – there’s so much there!), and one of me sitting in a Parks Canada “red chair” in the echo rotunda at the Canadian Embassy.

Then, it was back to work!  I taught a class in Lewes, Delaware – a “Hexagons: State of the Art” workshop.  It’s a bit of a sweatshop, especially in the morning, but everyone gets to try out different ways to make hexies using many techniques.  In the afternoon we play with fussy cutting fabrics using the Lucy Boston templates, and beautiful things were created!


I also taught a Mock Mola class in Williamsburg VA, and got to see an old friend at the same time: Freda Atkins.


Then, it was a huge drive WEST! Seven days later we stopped in Havre MT at the quilt shop there, and as we approached the border to cross into Canada again, this is what we saw out the window.



Welcome Home!


Our friend Pat Ruby hosted a dinner where I got to invite some of the good friends I hadn’t seen much of since I moved to Victoria in 2000.  What a night! It was just like it used to be, with lots of laughing and storytelling, but somehow everybody is looking much older.  How did that happen?

One last show and class at My Sewing Room before we headed home.


We stayed with Robyn (on the right), a fellow engineer who knew John in Yellowknife – and a sewer of great skill. We laughed a lot with her, too, and I got to take a yoga class with her and her partner while I was there.

A last familiar road over the Rocky Mountains, ending with a ferry ride and our own bed for the first time in 10 weeks. After I unpacked the car, I found all kinds of fabric I had stashed in various nooks and crannies during the tour.  It was just like Christmas!!!


And that’s it! Thank you for reading until the end of this very long missive. It was a lovely tour, and a great way to end 16 years of touring this program. We got to see lots of old and new friends, took in a lot of touristy stuff, and enjoyed mostly great weather.  Thank you to all who made it memorable, comfortable, and enjoyable. I hope to see you again.

Bucket List: Denali

July 16, 2016

07 Denali to Anchorage jb (12) fireweed jb med

John and I just returned from a fantastic week in Alaska. We were there to sing and teach at the Valley Quilters’ Guild in Palmer. We were very well taken care of by the gals at the guild, in particular Jessica, Julie, and Glenda.

We have been to Alaska before. In February of 2006 we flew up to Juneau and sang there and in Ketchikan. That’s when we took the ferry up to Skagway to see the Duck Neck quilt (which I wrote a song about). We also did a cruise in 2010 up to the Panhandle which stopped in the same places.

But we’d never been further north in Alaska, and that’s where we went this time.  We flew into Anchorage and Jessica and Julie picked us up to begin our adventure.

The Mat-Su Valley is the heart of agriculture in Alaska. It began with an experiment back in 1935 when the New Deal sent settlers from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan to form a colony.  We were told it was an experiment in communism – or perhaps communalism – but most of them left the next year, likely for various reasons.  BUT there are lots of farmers there today; the valley is known for HUUUUUGE cabbages and various other produce.  Everybody had something growing, either outdoors or in a greenhouse with the very long days but short growing season.

We spent the next day with Glenda and her family.  They took us up to Hatcher Pass, where we wandered around an abandoned gold mine, once the 2nd largest in the state.  The views from up there were tremendous.

Before returning to Palmer, we stopped in at a reindeer farm. This is a tourist trap, and they do play up the Santa connection (though there was none with a red nose!). You do know, don’t you, that all of Santa’s reindeer were female?  Male reindeer lose their antlers in October.  This time of year, they all have fuzzy antlers – they are growing about 4″ a day and they are very sensitive. The fur grows on the skin that covers them as they grow.  When the antlers stop growing, the skin dries up and falls off.

They also had a herd of elk (same species, but the wild elk are larger) and a sole bison, who had been raised with elk and thought of himself as one!  It was fun to visit the farm and to feed the reindeer.

We sang for the guild the next day and did a Mock Mola class.  The day was very long, but it was never dark – there are 18 hours of daylight this time of year.

02 Palmer show day (10) MM class med

The next day was another day off, and we drove down to Anchorage with Jessica and her husband Dave. They have a great museum there, with really good exhibits on the development of Alaska. We did stop for some chocolate sustenance at the Alaska Wild Berry Products shop, where they have the tallest chocolate waterfall in the world (whatever brings in the tourists, I guess….). Alas, you can’t dip into it.

Yes, that’s the man I married on the right…

From there, we headed down to Turnagain Arm. It was named by William Bligh who served as Captain Cook’s sailing master on his last voyage to the north Pacific (right after that, he went to Hawaii where he was killed by the natives). When he realized that this waterway didn’t get him to the Northwest Passage, and they had to explore two arms of it, both leading to river mouths, he called it Turn Again.  It’s beautiful, but it’s also a great place to see a tidal bore – 2 1/2 hours after we were there!

03 Palmer anchorage (33) Turnagain Arm med

The next day was a Notan class.  Here are some of the pieces created (mostly on paper) during class.

Then, we were on our own for a couple of days before heading back home.  We rented a car and headed north to Denali National Park!  Our plans had us staying a couple of nights near the entrance and taking a day-long shuttle bus into Eielson Visitor Center. We hoped for good weather.

Our first view of the mountain came as a surprise.  We had caught glimpses of white-topped mountains through the clouds and kept saying to each other: THAT’s Denali. No, THAT’s Denali! But when we did see it, near MilePost 132, it was absolutely unmistakable.  It towers over all the other mountains.  At 20,310 feet, it is the tallest mountain in North America.  But if you want to climb it, it is taller than Everest because the climb starts much much closer to sea level than does Everest. This is July and it’s still totally covered in snow and ice.

05 Drive to Denali (4) small

We got up early the next morning and hopped on the 7am shuttle. It is not possible to drive in the park for most of the year.  In the fall, they have a lottery to allow 1500 cars to drive through the park, and the locals jump at the chance.  For us, it was better to just sit back and look for wildlife instead of concentrating on the gravel road ahead.

Our driver came on the PA system to tell us “up ahead is the ‘Mile of Terror'”! Halfway up the side of a mountain, the road has been perched on top of scree – the tumbledown rocks on the south slope – not the most secure looking driving surface. It was thrilling!

Along the way the bus stopped every time anyone saw wildlife. In all, we spotted a total of:

Moose: 7 (including 3 babies)

07 Denali to Anchorage (1) moose small

Grizzly bears: 5 (including 2 cubs)

06 Denali National Park (15) Grizzly and 2 cubs med

Caribou: at least 90, including a herd on top of a mountain

06 Denali National Park (67) caribou on road small

Dahl Sheep: 8 (all very far away)

Ptarmigan: 7 (including 5 chicks)

Golden Eagles: 2

And a whole lots of absolutely gobsmacking scenery, full of huge views and grandeur.

At the Eielson Visitor Center we got to see a quilt I’ve admired from afar, made by Ree Nancarrow.  It’s in four large pieces and it’s called “Seasons of Denali”. This quilt started as white fabric which Ree dyed, painted, stamped, silk screened and appliqued on top of to reflect the wildlife in the park in all seasons. It took her a year of hard work to make it, and it is magnificent.  It more than made up for the fact the we couldn’t see the mountain at all from our vantage on that day.

06 Denali National Park (18) The Seasons of Denali quilt small

But we did the next day. On our way back to Anchorage, it was totally clear.

07 Denali to Anchorage (10) Best picture of the mountain at MP138

This was such a wonderful experience, and I would highly recommend it to you; even if you don’t like camping, you can savour the joy of being driven on one of the most exciting and beautiful roads in the world through pristine wilderness.

So, thanks to the Valley Quilters Guild, we got to have a superlative experience.  The last night before our plane home, we had dinner right beside the float plane base. Float planes are essential transportation in the far north, and it epitomizes the end-of-the-road-and-into-the-woods ruggedness of Alaska.

08 Last Dinner in Anchorage  (4) float plane

Our Last Year of Big Drives

June 25, 2016

Last year we made the announcement that 2016 would be our last year of significant touring.  At the end of this year, we will be “hanging up our car keys” and only available for short “run outs” or flying tours – we will be more particular in the gigs we do. It is the end of an era.

Since September 2000, we’ve been on the road for between 6 and 8 months every year, mostly by car.  It has taken us through every province and state in the North America, throughout Australia and New Zealand (both Islands, top and bottom), England and Scotland, and Europe (France, Germany, Belgium). We get to big cities and little, urban and rural, and get the advice from friends and family for “must-see” places to go while we’re in the area.  It has been beyond wonderful, and the end of it is certainly bittersweet for me.

We’ve just returned from our spring tour, which took us to Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas (FIRST TIME!), Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan and Massachusetts.  We have only one more state to sing in to complete all 50: Mississippi. This time I’ve kept a personal journal to keep track of every day of the tour – so I can remember the joys (and the challenges) of this kind of life.  Mostly, the joys.

Looking back at the tour, there are some notable stops.  In between the gigs, we were able to do some interesting touristy things. We stayed in several Air BnBs, and got to see places we’d never been before.  We also got to meet many wonderful quilters, and see some old friends as well.  Here are some of the highlights:


We are huge fans of the Eagles (best road music EVER!) and had to stop off in Winslow Arizona to pay homage to the song “Take It Easy” by Jackson Brown. There’s even a statue of him at the corner. We now have (yet another) new Eagles “best of” CD for the car!

14 Winslow Arizona (6) The Corner small16 Albuquerque to Clinton OK (10) Cadillac Ranch from East small

The picture above was taken at “Cadillac Ranch”, just out of Amarillo TX, where everyone was spray painting these upended Cadillacs.  The paint is so thick on these cars that it looks like it’s dripping!

16 Albuquerque to Clinton OK (7) Cadillac Ranch closeup small

The best part of driving Route 66, though, was definitely just east out of Albuquerque New Mexico. Our Air B&B hosts told us about the Singing Highway. As you approach Tijeras NM from the west, there’s a rumble strip embedded in the road that plays “America The Beautiful” – but ONLY if you’re doing the speed limit!  Sponsored by National Geographic, it is the coolest thing we found on the whole tour.

We did a lot of shows and classes on this tour, and it was very busy at some times.  We did find a few days off in Atlanta Georgia, though, where I got to meet a second cousin for the first time, and visit both the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and the Martin Luther King National Historic Site.  Both places were deeply moving.

17 Atlanta Jimmy Carter Library (1) front small19 MLK site and Smid dinner (19) quotation med

Our next real touristy time was in Nashville TN, when we got to take a tour of the Ryman Auditorium.  This is the original venue for the Grand Ol’ Opry, and the inspiration for Prairie Home Companion (on NPR). They were setting up for the last performance at the Ryman for PHC the next evening.  Beautiful, historic venue, still hosting great shows.

03 Nashville (4) The Ryman from the balcony small

We even got to see a concert with Emmy Lou Harris while we were in Nashville, courtesy of the gal working the door at the Winery there.

After that, it was pretty much full-on.  During our time in Lexington KY, Bowling Green OH, greater Detroit MI, Ann Arbor MI and Boston MA, we had very little time to sit back and relax.  But we still got to see some family members, got awakened in the middle of the night by a hotel fire alarm, visited the amazing Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn MI, and dipped our toes in the Atlantic Ocean at Cape Cod.

11 Cape Cod (1)

Here are some pictures of the classes I taught during this tour – there were so many!  I was thrilled to have had a sponsorship from the Hobbs batting company for ALL of the black batting for my Mock Mola classes. It sure filled up the car, but was very very much appreciated. The first slideshow is from all the Mock Mola classes on this tour.

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The next is from the Notan classes:

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And finally, here are some of the Lucy Boston blocks that were designed (and ready to sew) during the “Hexagons: State of the Art” classes.

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Our next adventure will take us up to Alaska in July. Then: one more 2-month tour in the fall! Thanks, everyone who helped make this tour absolutely exceptional!  I hope our paths cross again sometime.

The Makers

April 29, 2016

Yesterday John and I drove from our gig in Blairsville Georgia (up near the beginning of the Appalachian Trail in the mountains) to Decatur, where we have a few days off to explore the Atlanta area.  On our way here, we took a side trip to a most interesting school in the mountains: the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC.

16 John Campbell Folk School (1) sign small

We strolled through wooded grounds, an area of about 2 city blocks, from building to building, where there were woodworking, jewelry, clay, enameling, fiber arts, and cooking studios, a blacksmith shop and outdoor kilns.  There were vegetable gardens, a history centre and a craft shop, as well as cabins where people can stay during their week-long retreats.

16 John Campbell Folk School (11) cabin in the woods small

I don’t know if this is one of the cabins you can stay in – but wouldn’t it be great?

There were classes going on in every building.  Not huge classes.  In fact, the guitar class with Steve Kilby only had 4 students when we went by. But it was wonderful to see the facility, and I’m sure there are times when the classes are completely full.  They have the capacity for lots of students.

16 John Campbell Folk School (3) outdoor kilns small

These are the outdoor pottery kilns.

There are so many looms in the weaving studio!  And, of course, there’s a Barn Quilt on the side of the Fiber Arts Building.

I have been told about this place before – friends from Florida showed me the annual brochure years ago, but we’ve never been in the area to stop by before.  The facility is so impressive.

We stopped into the quilt studio (of course!) and met Jackie Cory and her class there.

16 John Campbell Folk School (8) quilting studio small

It’s a light and airy studio, very flexible for any number of students.  All the sewing machines and tools are provided, which means nobody has to fly there with their prized Bernina as carry-on!  Jackie was teaching a week-long class in colour value, and there were lots of quilts and quilts-in-progress all over the room.  It seemed like a really relaxed time, and everyone was happy.  I sang a song for them as they worked. It was fun.

I’m so impressed with this facility, and I’d love to teach there – Jackie told me that there’s a 2-year waiting list for teachers, and she got in because there was a cancellation due to surgery with one of the other teachers.  So it’s pretty unlikely that I’ll ever go.  But I can dream…..

What this says to me is that there are others out there like me and you:  people I call MAKERS.  Makers are the painters, potters, brewers, woodworkers, chefs, canners, hookers, knitters, builders, inventors and vintners.  They create something out of nothing, and they are very “hot” right now.

When we were in England, I was impressed to see people still thatching roofs.  I came to believe that everything that anyone ever did there (including tapestry making, window-leading, glass blowing and strange ancient house building techniques) IS STILL BEING DONE THERE.  By somebody.

I believe the act of making something tangible from an idea in your mind through your fingers into reality is central to being human. All those shop and home ec classes in school prepared us for a lifetime of creation.  I’ll include songwriting and playing an instrument in there, too, although you can’t touch the performance or wrap yourself in it when you’re done (but it is central to MY work).

I think it’s what gives my life meaning.  I have been a Maker forever, without recognizing it, nor valuing it until recent years. It is not highly thought of in the corporate world.  Regardless, there is nothing more calming than entering “the zone” and losing track of time while concentrating on making something. At the end of it, you can look and touch what wasn’t there before. And know that you made it.

I’ll never forget the time I sat at my kitchen table with my first successful loaf of bread that I made from scratch.  I ate it with my homemade marmalade. I felt like a queen.

So, whenever you might think:  “I’m just not creative”, give yourself a shake.  Go make a meal, quilt some potholders or knit yourself a dish cloth.  Buy a wine kit. Put together a bird house. Plant some flowers in your garden.

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What will you make today?

Aloha Quilt Cruise

September 26, 2015

Hi everyone:

I PROMISE I’ll update you on my travels to Hawaii on the Star Princess.  But I have limited access to wi-fi.  Here are a couple of pictures to start, though.

Having a great time with everyone.  The classes are going well.  We are now on the Islands for four days, then we’ll be heading back across the Pacific to Vancouver.

First night cocktail party.  Ready to go!

First night cocktail party. Ready to go!

Working on my Millie by the pool.

Working on my Millie by the pool.

I bought a bit of fabric in Hilo, including some here at the Discount Fabric Warehouse.  We had a great visit to Kilauea Kreations II as well - great quilt shop!

I bought a bit of fabric in Hilo, including some here at the Discount Fabric Warehouse. We had a great visit to Kilauea Kreations II as well – great quilt shop!

My friend Nora drove over to Hilo from the other side of the Island to spend the afternoon with me, and she brought a couple of her Millie rosettes.  Thanks, Nora - great to see you again!

My friend Nora drove over to Hilo from the other side of the Island to spend the afternoon with me, and she brought a couple of her Millie rosettes. Thanks, Nora – great to see you again!

It rained a lot when we were on the Big Island, but here in Maui today it’s beautiful.  Time to leave Starbucks and get back out there!



One Week from Today! Packing, Packing

September 12, 2015

The bags are getting packed, the kits are all finished, we’ve amassed a bunch of door prizes, and your sewing machines await! I’m practicing the ukulele, and bringing along a bag of quilts for my show and tell for the concerts.


In one week we’ll be embarking on our 15 day dream cruise to Hawaii!

As you’re packing, remember that Hawaii no longer uses plastic bags.  If you’re planning to do some shopping, you might just throw in a cloth bag for your use there.  They’re always very handy to have anyway.

I’ve been checking the weather and it looks as if we might get some rain while we’re there – it won’t be cold, just wet, so bring along some rain gear (unless you intend to live in your bathing suit!). Rain is the reason we’ll see so many beautiful flowers in Hilo and on the other islands, and if you live in the west, this summer’s drought means you will never complain about a little rain.

What else?

I’ve decided to throw in a pair of binoculars in my suitcase, in case I happen to be within a kilometre of a whale. (No guarantee, because it will be very early in the humpback whale spotting season.)


What else do you think you’ll need for this cruise?  Leave a message in the comments below. It could be helpful for some of your fellow cruisers.

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