Archive for the science fiction Category

With knobs on!

Posted in Embroidery, everyday life, science fiction with tags , , , , on April 17, 2019 by suetortoise

Just a quick one, as I am about to rush off to Heathrow for the annual Easter Science Fiction Convention in the morning. We are staying in a hotel near the airport. (The names of these Easter meet-ups vary from year to year. This year it is called Ytterbium.) As usual, I will be involved in the art show there. As I’ve already mentioned. I have been busy making bookmarks. In order to display them to good advantage on my fairly limited table space, I wanted to lift them up from the table a bit. Ideally, I wanted one stand, but long enough to take all five bookmarks in a row.


I spent a long time looking in Rymans, The Works and a couple of other likely shops here in Shrewsbury, but to no avail. Nothing suitable. Nothing long enough. Nothing light enough. It was frustrating. In the end I gave up and decided I would have to concoct something homemade with cardboard.

The rest of my shopping list that day was boring: groceries and household stuff, including loo rolls. I went into Wilkinsons homeware store for the loo rolls. On the way to the bathroom section, I passed through the toy section. Where my eye was caught by some large baseplates for building bricks (not Lego, but Wilko’s own budget brand, Blox). Hmm, those grey baseplates look as thought they might be about the right size, they are very light and they seem rigid enough. I wonder if it is worth buying one, and some blocks to make a ledge along the bottom, and trying it…?

To cut a long story short, I bought one and it was exactly the right size. Spot on. The bookmarks are a perfect fit. With an old folding bookrest of mine (at least 50 years old) to support the plate, what could be better? What is more, the plate is also exactly the right size to fit flat in the bottom of my big sports bag, so no problems with transporting it on the train tomorrow.

I do love serendipity!

Ytterbium, here I come…


To Talk of Many Things

Posted in Embroidery, everyday life, out and about, science fiction, Uncategorized with tags , , , on June 29, 2018 by suetortoise

So what has happened since my last post in March.

I went to the annual Sewing for Pleasure event at the NEC in Birmingham in March was well worth visiting, and an excuse to meet up with Rachel of Virtuosew Adventures. We enjoyed looking at the trade stands and the exhibits. Perhaps nothing as impressive as last year’s court costumes, but there were some fine old kimonos on show, and a display of embroidered panels that were a collaboration between European textile artists and Afghani embroiderers. Both of these displays were worth seeing – as was Rachel’s crochet bag on its first outing.

I managed to restrain myself fairly well. Here is my loot from the day:
The strange brown plastic thing is a lucet – an impulse purchase thanks to a very persuasive ‘luceteer’, Ziggy. My own attempts at making cord have not been very successful yet, and I suspect that this gadget will end up in the back of a drawer. I don’t seem to have the knack.

Easter was spent at the British National Science Fiction Convention, Follycon, in Harrogate. Appalling weather, endless rain, cold winds and even some snow, but I had a fine time. Some good talks, including Kim Stanley Robinson on Galileo and Nick Jackson on some female mathematicians. And we had an Easter bonnet parade at a splendid Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. A fairly successful art show for me, and my stitching workshop on ‘Darned Planets’ went surprisingly well. A dozen people learnt how to do some simple pattern darning to create a textured area on a card (one of my samples is at the start of this post), and I learnt how few people know how to thread a needle easily. (I could do a post on that if anyone is interested.) Here’s the group busy making their planets, in an unsettlingly-mirrored room in the Majestic Hotel.

Another highlight of that weekend was a concert by Jon Boden and two of his Remnant Kings, just for us. About a month later, I saw him on stage at Theatre Severn with the whole group. A fine noise they make, too! At the end of May I saw the excellent Celtic band Breabach there. Last weekend it was Ralph McTell and Wiz Jones getting amazingly complex sounds out of a couple of guitars. (The usual album stall outside in the interval seemed to be selling as many guitar-tab books as CDs.)

Sometime last year, I was looking at some illuminated manuscript illustrations online, and found one that I very much want to do as a piece of embroidery. It’s from the Aberdeen Bestiary and is the illustration to The Wolf. The photo on Wikipedia is HERE. It’s going to be a long-term project, preceded by several practice pieces. The first one is just the small wolf standing on the sheepfold roof. I started it before Easter but struggled with it. I could not get the shading on the wolf to look right. In the end, after a lot of unpicking, I left it for a month and came back to it fresh. This time it went much better. I was happy.

Until I took it off the hoop, that is. I used lemon-cream coloured silk dupion for the base fabric, tacked over Egyptian-cotton sheeting – the double layer was very easy to stitch through. The thread is all silk – a mixture of Chinese silk and Devere Yarns 06 silk. Despite having a heavy build-up of silk thread in the shaded areas, it had stayed very flat in the hoop. No puckering. I was very pleased. But as soon as I got the damp cloth and warm iron on it, ready to mount it – disaster. Between the legs, under the tail and head and below the roof – horrible puckers in the unstitched silk fabric. Pinning it out damp did not solve the problem. I was nearly in tears by this time. The next day I very slowly and carefully cut away the cotton backing outside the stitching area. (Trying to separate the layers between the legs was fraught, but I did manage to get my scissor-points through the cotton without damaging the silk – eventually.) Then I blocked the silk and got rid of most of the puckers. A second firm pinning out, pulled tight over the foamcore mount board, and it looks okay. Well, okay-ish. (I resorted to gluing the fabric down on the back of the board before removing the pins, just to be extra sure it woud stay put.) I am very glad that this was only a sample, not the whole piece. I guess I’ve learnt a lot in the process!

Now I am looking forward to starting a new small project. I think it will be counted thread for a change, before I go back to another silk piece. I found some light grey 32 count Zweigart linen in a charity shop last month, and it keeps waving at me and asking to be used. I shall consult my books and resources and ponder….

One final thing: the WordPress stats tell me that I get a lot of visitors to this site, but very few visitors leave comments or ask questions. I do like to get some feedback on my blog posts. Otherwise it feels like I am just talking to myself and the one or two (very welcome) regular comment writers, and I get discouraged. And, as always, if there is something you would like me to write about – embroidery techniques in particular – let me know and I’ll see what I can do.

Eight-Point Woven Star

Posted in Embroidery, everyday life, Needlework, out and about, science fiction, Stitches with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 22, 2016 by suetortoise

Here’s another interlaced stitch for you to try – you might find it handy for Christmas decorations and cards.


The instructions look daunting, and the first few may seem very tricky to work. But once you’ve got the idea, you’ll find the stars quick to stitch. I suggest practising on Aida fabric with a fairly thin thread until you are confident, then you can try working on other evenweave fabric or just using a circle of 8 holes made in thin card. Continue reading

A Long-Delayed Update

Posted in Embroidery, everyday life, Family and Friends, science fiction with tags , , , , , on November 14, 2014 by suetortoise

Dreams of Empire Stitched Box

My apologies for so long a gap between blog posts. My Dad went into Hereford County Hospital at the beginning of October, came out a week later, was doing well, and then ended up rushed back there again on the 8th of November. So I’ve been doing too much tearing around and organising things to do a coherent post.

Anyway, he’s making a good recovery at present, and yesterday he moved to Ludlow Community Hospital. He’ll be there for a few days, until he’s quite ready to go home. My sister is now taking over phone and visiting duties for a while, as I am off to Nottingham this morning for a weekend at Novacon 44 – the annual science fiction convention there. The box in the picture is one for the art show, as is my version of Tanya’s dragon. I’m quite pleased with the finished result now he’s mounted on a board.Tempest, a Sea Dragon

I hope life will get back to somewhere near normal soon, but I’m not counting on it….

A Meridian, Giant Swans and Someone Else’s Dragon

Posted in books, Embroidery, everyday life, out and about, science fiction, shrewsbury with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 7, 2014 by suetortoise

Tanya's Dragon - started

So was Loncon 3 a good World Science Fiction Convention? Did Kevon and I have a good time? Was the art show a success for me?

Loncon 3 was a lot to take in, a bit too much at times, but overall we enjoyed it. The convention was huge, full of people and with a massive programme of events. We could only get to a small fraction of the things on offer. Some interesting discussion panels, a very good talk by Lord Rees the Astronomer Royal, among other talks. Kevon and I took part in an academic experiment on our initial reactions to real and constructed  languages – which languages sound friendly, aggressive, etc. Fascinating food for thought.

Kevon and I went off to Greenwich early on the Saturday morning, and ate breakfast sitting in the sunshine by the Cutty Sark, before walking past the National Maritime Museum and through Greenwich Park to the Observatory. (Kevon was most put out that the Greenwich Meridian was not at exactly zero according to the GPS on his mobile phone.) This pleasant outing was the only bit of sightseeing we had time for in London, as we didn’t want to miss too much of the convention.

The art show was huge, with artist talks, tours and demonstrations and well-attended workshops as well as the display of artwork. This made the show a lively, friendly place, and we art exhibitors were encouraged to be there at lunchtimes , so people could chat to us. (It also gave us a chance to chat to each other. I met some old friends and made some new ones there.) Plenty of buyers, too. I took nineteen pieces and came home with only four, so I’ve no complaints.

The Excel Centre staff were friendly, the loos were clean and there was plenty of space to sit and talk and numerous food places, serving affordable meals. And we got plenty of exercise walking from the hotel at one end to the convention area at the other – it’s a massive place! On the downside, Kev had an upset stomach the first night and I started a heavy cold on the Sunday evening.  (Then Kevon started it a few days later. It got a large number of convention attendees.) So we didn’t feel like  doing as much as we might otherwise have done.

I was very good, and didn’t spend too much money, despite the tempting bookstalls and dealers selling everything from flying drones and animated Tribbles to T-shirts, pearls and pyrogravure. On the Thursday evening, I’d gone to an entertaining talk on medieval spinning and weaving by Katrin Kania of Pallia and A Stitch in Time blog and later I bought a couple of metres of linen band from her stall. Trust me to go to a huge SF con and come back with no books, but with yet more embroidery material!

I bought a book on Thursday last week. A very new book. Children’s author and Shrewsbury resident Pauline Fisk produced her My Tonight From Shrewsbury blog in 2012 – a year in the life of the town from January to the end of December – people, places, events, history, little known facts and hidden corners.  I’ve mentioned it before. It’s an excellent piece of journalism. The heart of the blog has now been condensed down to a book: Behind Closed Doors in an English County Town. On Thursday I went to the launch party at the new museum. It’s a good book, and I think it will do very well as there’s plenty to appeal to locals in it as well as plenty to interest visitors to the town.

For the launch, Pauline made a big cake and iced it with a picture of Shrewsbury as it is shown on a Tudor map: complete with the castle, old streets, walls, fortified bridges, houses and churches  – and the swans on the Severn larger than most of the buildings. The light was poor, so I couldn’t get a very good photo, but here it is:

Pauline Fisk's Book Launch Masterpiece

The multi-talented and amazing Tanya Bentham of Opus Anglicanum blog, is doing a ‘stitchalong’ project on the blog as an introduction to medieval laid-work embroidery. The first design is a little dragon, based one from a 12th-century church pillar. I’ve wanted to have a go at this type of work for some time, but I’m allergic to wool and this is a technique that won’t work properly with threads without a bit of spring in them. After considerable experiment, mine is being worked in acrylic yarn on linen rather than hand dyed crewel on wool. (I’ll talk about where the yarn I am using came from next time I write on this project.) If you want to join in, Tanya’s instructions start with the materials list here, and she also has kits for the project for sale on her Folksy site.

After working with fine threads on a small scale for so long, my first reaction is how surprisingly fast this piece is growing. Just a few stitching sessions, and I am over half-way through the first stage. I’ve never taken part in a ‘stitchalong’ before, so it’s all new to me. The entire project is for a small bag with a silk lining, but I will probably only do this one dragon.

One other piece of good news to end with: I had a hospital appointment yesterday, for them to see how my bladder is doing, after the removal of a small malignant growth earlier this summer. And the camera showed that all is well in there. That was a great relief. I will get another check-up in six months, but it looks like they’ve not left anything behind and no sign of anything new. Thanks for a job well done, Royal Shrewsbury Hospital.




Art Show a-Go-Go

Posted in Digital Art and Fractals, everyday life, out and about, science fiction with tags , , , , , , , on August 10, 2014 by suetortoise

ready for Loncon3

I’ve been busy. I’ve now got nineteen pieces ready for the Art Show for Loncon3 in the Excel Centre – which is all set to be the biggest ever World Science Fiction Convention. (A scary thought, as I don’t enjoy being in large crowds.) There will be far too much going on for me to see everything, I’m spoilt for choice. Somewhere among those nearly 10,000 people will be  lot of good friends that I am looking forward to seeing again. And an Art Show.

For my fractal artwork, I have splashed out on good, ready-cut mount boards. The framer around the corner from me here in Shrewsbury retired a couple of years ago, and I miss his selection of ready-cut frames. So I tried Cotswold Mounts, online at I’ve not used Cotswold Mounts before, but I will certainly use them again in future. My order arrived a few days later: securely packed, clean, sturdy and flawless. I added some of their precut backing boards and cello-bags to my order, too, which made mounting the pictures a brief pleasure rather than the usual long, slow chore that I dread. Most importantly, the black-cored mount board gives the fractals a lot of added ‘oomph’ and brings out the colours. Now I just have to show the finished pieces next weekend and – with luck – sell them.

I’ve not been doing much stitchery. Apart from finishing that art show stuff and the day job, I’ve been engaged in furious housework. The flat has been getting a long overdue tidy up, spring-clean and sort out, ready for my Australian friend Kevon, who is coming over to London for the convention and who will be coming back to stay with me for a week afterwards. I’m just about ready now, so we can relax in civilised surroundings.



I am still around!

Posted in Drawing and Painting, everyday life, Family and Friends, science fiction with tags , , , on June 30, 2014 by suetortoise

My apologies for a long delay since the last post. Life’s been a bit busy.

4-leaf clover

My father’s health started deteriorating in April. By Easter he seemed to be failing fast. We thought it was something connected with his stroke at the end of January – the stroke he seemed to have survived so well. It wasn’t. While he was in Hereford, the hospital doctor had stopped one of his usual medications. Once his GP restarted the tablets, he started improving mentally and physically. He’s pretty much back to where he was before the stroke now, and keeping busy with various projects. But April and May were a bit of a blur as a result. I also had a few hospital visits of my own, so my spare time has been a bit limited.

No further news of the death watch beetle (no more click-click-clicks in the quiet, as the mating season is over), and no more news of getting the leak in the ceiling by the window fixed. So that side of the living room is decorated with my hi-fi speakers in a tower, topped by a piece of chipboard, topped by a spare plastic washing up bowl. Not an elegant piece of sculpture, but effective. Fortunately, there hasn’t been enough heavy rain to start the leak again recently. I will be very glad when something is done about the roof.

Hungry Martian

Thank you for your comments on choosing a third flower for my set of silk pictures. I am definitely planning to do daisies now. I haven’t done more than look at daisies very carefully, make a few sketches and do a couple of small samples of petals to see how to go about them. That project is on hold. I’m trying to get work done for the art show at the World Science Fiction Convention, Loncon 3, in August. The deadline for finalising what I will put in the show is fast approaching, so I dare not start any other embroidery projects until I’ve got the show pieces done and mounted. I’ve made a start – you can see a couple of the coloured drawings here.

Pink Ray-Gun


















I’d never found a four-leaf clover before this summer, but I have found a clump of white clover, quite near where I work, which has a tendency to put out the occasional quatrefoil leaf among the usual three-leaflet ones. In fact I’ve found four of them on that group of plants so far. I picked a few of the dead flower heads this week, and I have put them into some soil in my Dad’s garden – in the hope that some of the heads have viable seeds and that some of the seeds carry the four-leaf trait and one or two of them will germinate. You never know, I might be lucky!

Meanwhile back in the UK…

Posted in everyday life, Family and Friends, out and about, science fiction, shrewsbury on November 26, 2010 by suetortoise

Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about this blog, or about my visit to Australia. I’ll be telling you about the next part of the trip shortly. Life, meanwhile, has been rather busy. So here’s an update.

Fruit and veg shop, Ludlow
This photo was taken on a dull November morning in Ludlow. I was there with ten of the Shropshire Community Flickr Group. The light was not very good for photography, but we saw salmon leaping up Dinham Weir and had a pleasant walk along the Bread Path by the River Teme to Ludford. We then walked into the town for leisurely and delicious lunch in the Church Inn. More pictures on Flickr, here.

My new job is going well. It’s a maternity cover, through an agency, and should last until spring, at least. Three days a week – Wednesday to Friday, as an accounts clerk at a large solicitors’ practice. The have two offices in Shrewsbury and one in Whitchurch. The one where I work could hardly be handier – just six doors down the road from my front door! No bus fares and no waiting at cold bus stops over the winter. And it’s nine-to-five with a whole hour for lunch.

Of course, there’s a lot to learn – names, jargon, initials (they use initials constantly), all the various office proceedures and a different accounting system to any of the others I’ve encountered in my working life. (This is the first time I’ve done legal accounts work.) So I have been very tired and not very creative outside of work, which explains the delay in continuing this blog. But, much more to the point, I am really enjoying the new job and like the people and the place.

I also really enjoyed the science fiction convention I went to in the middle of November. Novacon 40 was a big anniversary party for my favourite, friendly annual convention, and we were lucky to have so many well known authors there, and some interesting talks and discussions, including two interesting scientific talks, and Geoff Ryman showing clips from early silent films when the spectacular effects were all done the hard way. Brian Aldiss and Iain Banks were the guests of honour, and were highly entertaining. Harry Harrison, the third invitee, was too frail to attend in person, but sent video greetings. As usual, I helped with the art show, and displayed some of my own work.
Novacon 40 Programme Book Cover
I was very honoured to be invited to provide the cover art for the convention’s Programme Book and the three Progress Reports that proceeded it. Turning the three guests into my trademark Martians was quite a challenge, but I was happy with the final result.

So there we are. It’s a month until Christmas, I’m behind with everything, the flat is in a pickle and my computer is suffering from extreme old age. But I am happy, very happy. Life is good.

Melbourne in September: Part One

Posted in Australia, Family and Friends, out and about, science fiction on October 24, 2010 by suetortoise

Arrival and Worldcon

Melbourne city lights
My journey to Australia started well, in glorious sunshine. Apart from getting stung on the thumb by a wasp (while climbing into the Rail Replacement Bus at Wolverhampton), it was a painless journey to Heathrow. I’d expected delays as it was August Bank Holiday Monday and the end of the Reading Festival. Reading station was crammed with muddy youngsters, surrounded by baggage and tents, the floor coated with a pale brown carpet of dried mud. But traffic was moving steadily and the airbus got me to the airport ahead of schedule. I spent a long time sitting outside in the sunshine, peoplewatching.

The flight out was crowded and rather turbulent. There was a stench from the rear toilets, someone near me was being sick. By the time breakfast was served, before we landed at Singapore, I was feeling decidedly queasy as well as shattered from the lack of proper sleep. The second leg of the journey was calmer and seemed to pass quite quickly. (Too quickly – I missed the end of the film I was watching: a dramatic life of Confucius, with English subtitles. I don’t like wearing headphones, so end up watching a lot of foreign films on planes.) I was near the back of the plane, so had a long wait to disembark, but I got through customs and baggage claim swiftly and there was Kevon waiting for me. It was so amazingly good to see him. We drove to his flat through the early-morning halflight. A much needed shower, some breakfast, a few hours rest and then a good walk to Acland Street for a late lunch followed by food-shopping at Coles.
Ship reflections, MCEC
The next day I felt a lot better, and ready for Aussiecon 4, the World Science Fiction Convention. We had to change trams at St Kilda Beach to get to the Melbourne Conference and Exhibition Centre, so we started a habit of breaking the outward journey with breakfast at Macdonalds, right by the tram stop. (While watching the mynah birds on the grass and the lorikeets in the palm trees.) The part of the MCEC used for the convention is a dramatic modern building with interesting angles and mirrored walls. It’s next to the river, and beside it is an old sailing ship, the Polly Woodside. I spent a fair while helping with the Art Show set-up that day, but at last it was done and I could hang my pictures and look at the rest of the convention.

Polly Woodside, mastsThe next few days passed in a blur of programme items and mooching around. One of the highlights was listening to artist Shaun Tan talking about his work and influences. His delicate pencil drawings and picture-books are enchanting. I had barely heard of him before Aussiecon 4, so they came as a delightful surprise. Kevon went to a lot of talks and panels on climate change and geo-engineering, I enjoyed meeting some old friends, including some I had never met in person before. But the MCEC doesn’t function terribly well as a friendly space for sitting and chatting, and there were lots of talks and discussions that I didn’t want to miss, so I failed to speak to some people I had hoped to meet up with. Staying out at Kevon’s flat meant we were not there in the evening, when most of the relaxing and nattering happened in the adjacent hotel.

But overall it was good. And I was very satisfied with my take from the Art Show, which went a good way towards paying the day-to-day expenses of the holiday. The last morning of the convention ended with a near-disaster as Kevon managed to fall on one of the escalators. (It was the teddybear’s fault.) Kevon came home two badly grazed knees and a pair of heavily bloodstained trousers. So that afternoon I was up to my elbows in gore, in the sink, scrubbing the stains out with salt (with complete success), while Kevon had very sore knees for the next few days.
Bear on a Melbourne Tram
In the next installment, I’ll tell you what we did after the convention. There will be pictures of dingo puppies.

Back to reality

Posted in Australia, Family and Friends, out and about, science fiction on September 22, 2010 by suetortoise

We're back from Melbourne

If you’ve been wondering about the lack of recent updates to Tortoise Loft – The Blog, it’s because I’ve been to Australia. Visiting my friend Kevon in Melbourne. We both attended the 68th World Science Fiction Convention, Aussiecon 4; we went to exhibitions, museums and galleries and interesting places; we rode trams and ate tasty food and met up with friends; we spent a couple of nights at Port Fairy on the Great Ocean Road; we saw wild seas, wildlife and even the occasional bit of sunshine. It was a good trip. Very good.

But now I am back in Shrewsbury, and the very first thing that I learn is that my part-time job has vanished for the time being, ‘purely due to the drop-off in work’. Not the best of homecomings. I also had urgent phone messages left by the housing association, worried about a possible leak in my water pipes – although an emergency visit from the plumber on Monday morning failed to find any sign of leakage. (It’s probably a problem in another of the flats.) My good friends Dez and Ali had looked after the place well in my absence, and had kindly left me milk and cheese in the fridge, bread and fancy biscuits – a very welcome sight. But I was feeling alone, missing Kevon very much, having to deal with the unpacking, the clothes-washing and all the other sad reminders that a good holiday is over. All this and jetlag too! 

But I am in too good a mood to feel down for long. I still have some more photos to process and upload, and then I’ll be writing about my visit to Australia, and showing you some of the sights. There will be wild koalas. Watch this space!