17 July 2017

My book of the month: July

Here's my confession up front: I usually steer clear of books set in World War II Britain because I tire of the stiff upper lip attitude that seems prevalent in most of the stories set in this time. It may have been true but I don't want to read any more about it.

This novel is different. It charmed me with its story lines about relationships and the natural inclination of people to support each other during terrible events. It could really have been set in any society during war.


The characters are different ages and react in different ways to the bombing of the town of Chilbury in 1940. Portrayed through letters written by various characters, the story shows how human resilience can shine to make life worthwhile, even in difficult times.

You can read more about The Chilbury Ladies Choir on Goodreads.

11 July 2017

Making your life the way you want it

A few months ago, I shared with you that I enjoy being a homebody. I cherish being in my nest, in the calm and nurturing environment I have created. I'm exhausted by people who always want more - more travel, more goals, more of this, more of that.

Did you read this article by Wendy Squires in the weekend papers? I felt such relief that someone else feels the same as I do. As Wendy says, "Your life and goals don't happen to look better to me. I don't necessarily want what you want."

And that's the key, I think. We are all different and we make our way in life as best we can, in line with our own priorities. So next time you look at a friend and think, 'she could achieve so much more', just stop. Don't project your personal outlook and goals on to her. 

As Wendy says, "What I will say to those of you who worry about me, who are always asking me what next, who next, or urging me to go harder and faster, is: slow down. I understand you are coming from a good place but it is your place, not mine." 

Yes, indeed.

26 June 2017

In the Studio with Megan Manwaring


Did you miss my article about QuiltNSW President, Megan Manwaring? Now you can read it online for free!

19 June 2017

My book of the month: June

Do you know that feeling when you eagerly anticipate the new novel in a favourite series? I have several of these faves and the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths is probably my number one!



Dr Ruth Galloway is an English forensic archaeologist who, it must be said, has a complicated life. I always find myself drawn into the stories in this series, with their mix of archaeology, police procedural plots and, above all, the personal lives of Ruth and all who enter her life. 

I read this novel in one day, while waiting at a hospital (long story). Sadly, I have to wait until 2018 for the next instalment!

The Chalk Pit is the ninth in the series. You can read more about the book on Goodreads

05 June 2017

Quilt stories

I was fortunate to interview two quilters for issue 85 of Quilters Companion magazine. Two - double the fun!


Christine Lethlean has a fabulous studio in rural Victoria, where she is creatively resourceful. I am always thrilled to peek into another quilter's creative space - it's that inner sticky-beak in me!



My second article is about Rachaeldaisy, an award-winning quilt maker with a playful name. Rachael won Best of Show at the Sydney Quilt Show in 2016 and I enjoyed discovering how she developed her colourful style. You can read this article online now!

I don't have any more articles planned at present so, if you need a writer for craft-related articles or a technical editor for quilt patterns, I'd be happy to discuss how I can help you. Email me and let's talk!

Meanwhile, I'll go back to plotting my novels....

29 May 2017

Three things I like this week

Right now, the sun is shining and the temperature is cool. I'm sipping green tea while composing this post and life feels good. What better time to list three things I like this week?

1. This book about creative studios

Working in an organised and comfortable environment at home is important to me and I love snooping into the creative spaces of other people. That's why I was excited to finally devour Studio: creative spaces for creative people by Sally Coulthard.


The studio on the cover is too dark for my liking but the book shows studios of all styles, shapes and colours. It certainly satisfied the sticky-beak in me!

2. Flat pack achievements

I was thankful for my Black & Decker rechargeable screwdriver as I assembled three pieces of flat-pack furniture - two bedside tables and an entertainment unit. They all have drawers (six in total) and I managed to put only two sets of drawer tracks in the wrong way. Yay me! 

I may retire from assembling furniture for a while now; I think those pieces are this year's quota.

3. Seeing Ian Rankin

The Sydney Writers' Festival wrapped up on the weekend and we attended one of the sessions on Saturday. What a thrill to hear Scottish writer Ian Rankin in conversation with Candice FoxIt was an entertaining chat and he recounted some funny and fascinating stories. 


I always like to learn more about authors who write my favourite books and this session did not disappoint. How fortunate we were that he travelled from the other side of the world to engage us.

How is your week? Have you had any positive experiences? Share them in the comments so we can all enjoy them, too.

15 May 2017

My book of the month: May

Real people are multi-layered, aren't they? I enjoy books that have characters so well formed that they appear real; they have so many layers of complexity that the reader can understand the characters' behaviour. The real Liddy James by Anne-Marie Casey is one of these stories.


It's not just about Liddy, though. As she forges her way through life at ferocious speed, with a ruthless reputation as a top divorce lawyer, we also see the impact she has on the other members of her family.

I thought this might be a predictable story about how a 'perfect' life falls to pieces and, in some ways, it may be read that way. But The real Liddy James is much more than that. It's about recognising our true selves and finding our place in relationships with others. 

Read more about The real Liddy James on Goodreads 

08 May 2017

On being a homebody

I've always needed solitude. There's nothing more soothing to me than simply being comfortable, maybe with a book or a hand sewing project to engage me. Even when I was growing up, I could spend hours alone on our front verandah, drawing clouds with creamy pastels, or in my bedroom, dreaming or reading.



Nothing's changed now that I'm older. I don't crave travel to foreign countries or being with large groups of people. That's not me. I am a homebody and that satisfies me.

I think that as you get older, you get to accept that your inner self is what makes you happy. It's what you are, deep inside, that defines the type of life you enjoy.

Making a comfortable home and pottering around it and my garden - these are the parts of my life that nurture me. Now, as I share that with another like-minded person, it is even more satisfying. And there can't be anything better than that.

17 April 2017

Three things I like this week

To choose only three things can sometimes be difficult. There are always so many small joyful moments in every day; we just need to recognise them!


1. New plants

I can't help but admire the gorgeous colours of the waterlily flowers in the top photo. I snapped this photo at The Collector's Plant Fair, a wonderful show where over 70 specialist nurseries gathered to sell their plants. I purchased only a few specimens but could definitely have brought many more! 

2. Seeing my writing online

Did you miss my Quilters Companion article about Sue Reid's quilt studio? You can now read it online for free!  I love seeing how other quilters arrange their creative spaces and how they make their work.


3. Hand stitching

I had an opportunity over the Easter long weekend to make progress with the applique on my BOM. Oh, how I am enjoying hand stitching these colourful blooms! Here's the pile of circles prepared for applique. Slowly sewing is so meditative. 


Do you have things that make you happy this week? Snippets of joy are all around us; we just have to look out for them.
 

10 April 2017

In the studio with Deirdre Bond-Abel

In the current issue of Quilters Companion, I have the privilege of sharing Deidre Bond-Abel's story of how her long-held dreams are coming to life.


Just look at the view through that window! Deirdre's business, Hat Creek Quilts, is based in Tasmania where she works while surrounded by inspirational countryside. 

Once again, I was fortunate to have a peep into the creative life of another talented Australian quilter. It was such a treat!

03 April 2017

My book of the month: April

I like stories set in Ireland. Having never been there, it seems like a fantasy land to me, with gorgeous landscapes and lovable characters. The library at the edge of the world by Felicity Hayes-McCoy does not disappoint in these respects.


At its core, this is a novel about community and family commitments. Each of these feeds into the other, of course, and make our small parts of the world better places. Lovely reading.

Visit Goodreads to read more about this book.

27 March 2017

The meditative effect of reverse sewing

Every day for the past few weeks, I've been unpicking the machine quilting on a friend's quilt. It was stitched so poorly by a commercial quilter that my friend knew she couldn't tolerate it. I offered to unpick it for her and so, armed with my trusty seam ripper and magnifying glasses, I started.


It is a huge quilt and it took many hours to separate the layers. It was fiddly work and yet strangely calming. I've found that I enjoyed the process while simultaneously feeling sad that it needed to be done. This quilt will be reborn later with my friend's beautiful hand quilting that will make it shine.

What have I cherished while unpicking the stitching on this quilt?


  • Quiet time with my partner. He's read a book or watched a television show with the volume turned down low. We've been in each other's company while doing separate activities.
  • Listening to podcasts to learn new things. The hours flew past while my mind was occupied with what I was hearing and my hands were busy with the seam ripper.
  • Thinking about ideas for novels. It's always fascinating how my mind roams as it considers what to write and how to plot the stories.
  • Simply listening to the noises around me. My neighbourhood has its own combination of silences and noises. It's comforting to know, just by the sounds, that I am home.
  • Making myself get up to move for ten minutes each hour. Thanks to the notifications on my Fitbit, I know when to walk each hour. Without these, I'm sure I would have stayed on my couch.
  • Catching up on the latest TV series of Vera, which I had recorded. Love these stories.
  • Knowing that my friend will be happy when she receives her beautiful quilt top back without all the ugly stitching.
  • Just being. This was the best of all; simply being, with the pile of black threads growing along side me as I rhythmically removed thread.
It's been meditative but I have to say I'm oh so glad it's over now!  

20 March 2017

Life observation: 1

I watched the woman from my window. She was carefully picking small flowers from a shrub in the park and I wondered; why? What was she planning to do with the large bag of blooms? I crossed the road to ask her.

I'm giving them to Buddha, she said. Do you know Buddha?

I nodded, of course.

I like to offer flowers regularly but the flowers you can buy in Australia are so large. Small ones are better; there are many small flowers in Burma, my native country. But here, they are too big so I pick these tiny ones for Buddha.

I thought you might be going to cook with them, I said.

She laughed. I've been asked that before; one man thought I would cook them into a soup. 

We laughed together and then I walked home, pondering her patience and the simple ritual she included in her life.



Curious, I wanted to find out why she might make this offering. I found ten reasons here. Rituals can be powerful, can't they?

13 March 2017

My book of the month: March

I enjoy books with happy endings. They make me appreciate that life is not all gloom and doom and that people can live fulfilling lives and enjoy nurturing relationships. Why wouldn't you want that?

Josephine Moon writes great stories with food-related themes and I've recommended another book by her before (here). I was fully committed to this story by the end of the first chapter. Great characters, interesting settings and a relationship that was meant to be - what more could I want from a story? Excellent read.


Read more about this novel on Goodreads.

06 March 2017

Three things I like this week

Recognising the positive things in my life opens my eyes to the good all around. They're not always big things; the small moments can light up my days.


1. Rain

We've enjoyed so much rain over the past week and there's more forecast for the coming days. My parched garden has soaked it up and everything is so green! Thank you to all the clouds that released their loads of water around my suburb.

2. Walking

I'm endeavouring to move more. Sitting at a computer or sitting with my sewing encourages the hours to fly past without me walking around. Conscious movement is the key for me, I've found, and alerts from my Fitbit remind me to walk. I'm becoming competitve with myself!

3. Stitching

Oh how I love hand stitching! My current project is a BOM pattern designed by my friend Sarah. It's gorgeous and I'm enjoying selecting my own fabrics and colours to make my version unique. 



What are you enjoying this week? 

27 February 2017

Exploding quilt block diagrams

When I've been writing patterns for my quilts, I've often thought it would be useful to include diagrams that show how the pieces of a block join. I have low-level skills with graphics programs and I don't have expensive software. I use EQ7 for my diagrams but never knew a way to explode those diagrams.

Until now.

Those clever people at EQ have provided tutorials for using two different programs to explode EQ blocks. The first tutorial is for use with Adobe Illustrator, a software program available for purchase.

The second tutorial is for use with Inkscape, a free software program. This is the option I'll be using and I'll download Inkscape to play with its possibilities.

What do you use to explode block diagrams? Do you have a different method?

13 February 2017

In the studio with Ali George

It's always a privilege to write about quilters' studios. I think we can learn from the ways other creative people set up their work spaces; we can see how they organise their materials and consider whether some of their ideas may suit our own studios.


For issue 83 of Quilters Companion magazine, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ali George, who lives on a five-acre property in Queensland. Her descriptions of her two studios (yes, two! How jealous does that make me?) and the surrounding landscape tempted me to move there immediately.

This is part of the joy of writing about creative studios and their owners - it allows me (and eventually you, the readers) to learn about places we may never visit in real life.

Last week I discovered that Ali and her husband are selling their property in Tarome so, if you are tempted, you can move there and allow the stunning scenery inform your textile work, too!

30 January 2017

Three things I like this week

I haven't written one of these posts for a while but it's a regular subject I want to revive. Staying positive and looking for the good things in our lives can be challenging sometimes, can't it? 


1. Being Australian

Australia's not a perfect place but I'm thankful I was born here. With all the scary things going on around the world, I'm so glad to live here in our small part of the planet.

2.  Technology

It allows me to stay in touch with you all; to have electricity and all the benefits that brings with it; and to learn from the collective wisdom of others. For that, I am thankful.

3. My garden

It's nothing special, just my own little patch of earth. Currently struggling in the summer heat, it needs a lot of tidying and maintenance but every time I potter around in it I am happy.

What do you like this week?

23 January 2017

My book of the month: January

My favourite novel this month is The Woman Next Door. I cherish Liz Byrski's novels because she shows the rich lives of older women. There's so much to learn about how to live a fulfilling life from her characters and I can imagine them living next door to me. That's a sign of a good writer - creating believable and likeable characters - isn't it?

It's not all beautiful sunsets and happy days, either. That's another aspect of Byrski's novels that draws me in - these could be real people. The characters are so well-drawn and the author's empathy is evident as she portrays their feelings, frustrations, disappointments and loves.

Read more about The Woman Next Door on Goodreads.

09 January 2017

So much advice!

The beginning of a new calendar year brings a flood of articles and blog posts offering (mostly unsolicited) advice. Do this, don't do that, set goals, choose a word, make lists.

So much busyness!

Does anyone take any notice of these things? Are they written simply because someone, somewhere, decreed that, while in the midst of holiday lethargy (a period that bears no resemblance whatsoever to the real life we lead for most of the year) people want to hear how to organise their lives?


In the meantime, I'll continue to meander through my life in my own way, enjoying the moments along the way, adopting the philosophy of this Tibetan proverb:

"The secret of living well and longer is: eat half, walk double, laugh triple, and love without measure." 

Sounds perfect.

02 January 2017

Playing with Prisma

If you follow me on my Facebook pages (Erica Spinks and Creative Dabbling), you may have seen that I've been having fun on my tablet with an app called Prisma. I've shared some of the altered images I've made on those pages but here I want to show how different a single photograph can appear once it's been processed with various filters.



This is my original photograph. I took this picture last January at a workshop with Sophie Munns, held at the Australian PlantBank at The Australian Botanic Gardens, Mt Annan. I love the shape of the seedpod, as well as the textures - smooth on the inside and rough on the outside. I wondered how the Prisma filters would alter the colours and look?


This is the 'Illegal Beauty' filter. I like the subtle colours - a pink and yellow combination is one of my favourites.



This filter is 'Composition'. It makes the photo graphic and dramatic. Quite striking, don't you think?


'Mosaic' is one of my favourite filters. Not all photos translate well with this filter because some of shapes fragment into too many pieces but I like this result.


This is the 'Electric' filter, where the waving lines add an element of movement to the seedpod shape and background.

Prisma is available for Android and for iOS, so you can download it from the usual places. The filters are fabulous and the app is free! Have you tried it yet?