Retrospective: 1998 Castle Wall

Welcome to the sixth in my more-or-less monthly series of quilt retrospectives.

Castle Wall Hanging
Castle Wall Hanging

Size: 90 cm / 36″ square (approx)
Design: traditional blocks, in my own arrangement
Batting: unknown, low loft
Pieced: by hand (blocks) and machine (sashing and borders) July 1988
Quilted: by machine (Janome MemoryCraft 8000) August 1998

In 1998 I underwent an operation that I knew would entail several weeks’ convalescence, during which time I would not be able to do anything that required upper body strength, incudling lifting or machine sewing. I decided to embark on a hand-piecing project, which resulted in this wall quilt.

The centre is a Castle Wall variation in burgundy, green and gold, with the colour placement emphasising the star shape. Sewing this together took me only a few days, so I did the Kaleidscope blocks as well. By the time I had finished the blocks I had recovered enough for light machine work (that is, capable of sewing, not of lifting the machine), so I got one of my friends to set up the machine and then I sewed the border strips and set the top together.

It was machine quilted by me, mostly in the ditch but with a star in the centre octagon (formed by extending the seam lines) and some free-motion work in the strips. The binding is attached by machine and sewn down by hand.

I never did get around to putting a tube on the back, so the Castle Wall wall hanging has never been hung. (!)

Lessons learned:
1. Plain strips are plain.
2. Free-motion quilting is difficult and I need to practise more.
3. Hand piecing is much more fun than I had anticipated.


Retrospective: 1998 Four Ts in a Maze

Welcome to the fifth in my more-or-less monthly series of quilt retrospectives.

1998 Four Ts in a Maze
1998 Four Ts in a Maze

Size: 160 x 220 cm (63″ x 87″)
Design: Traditional blocks in an arrangement by Mary Ellen Hopkins
Fabric: all cotton
Batting: Hobbs Heirloom 100% Cotton
Backing: plain muslin
Pieced: 1998 by machine (Janome MemoryCraft 8000)
Quilted: 1998 by machine in monofilament

In 1998 I did a workshop at Truly Lois (a quilt shop in Canberra, now defunct) on quick-piecing techniques by Mary Ellen Hopkins, one of which was the “Four Ts in a Maze” pattern. The instructions said to bring two sets of three coordinating fabrics, so I made my choices in burgundy and green.

The block itself is a very simple rail fence with three fabrics per unit — the T pattern arises from the way the units are arranged. The blocks were cut and stitched together in only a few hours.

Once I had finished the maze section I had to work out how to finish the top — the maze is only 36″ x 60″ so borders were required. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time on a detailed pieced border and my original plan was to use the dark burgundy print, of which I had about a metre and a half left. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite enough to bring the top up to the size I wanted, so I bought an unrelated print that didn’t clash too badly and used it for a 3″ inner border and binding, and the burgundy as a 9″ outer border. It was machine-quilted by me using invisible thread — in-the-ditch for the centre section and parallel lines in the borders. It was bound in yet another multicoloured fabric.

When I had finished, I found that I really didn’t like it (I still don’t). In the maze section some of the fabrics blend too well, others are jarring. The border is far too plain in comparison with the central section and that one extra fabric sticks out like a sore thumb. Until I got my cats it was only ever used under something else, and most of the time it sat in the linen cupboard. Since the cats arrived, though, it sits on top of a box beside a window and has become one of Verya’s favourite spots.

Lessons learned:
1. I don’t have a problem with colour, I have a problem with contrast (I ought to try a colourwash quilt one day, I think I’d do well).
2. Don’t let your desire to finish quickly lead you into bad border choices.
3. Cats love ugly quilts.

En Bourgogne — Glamour Shots

Today the weather was back to Canberra-normal (cold but sunny), which is a lot better than it was earlier in the week, so I took En Bourgogne out to Lake Burley Griffin for some glamour shots. Unfortunately I forgot to take any photos of the lake itself — you’ll just have to accept that it was there behind me.

First, the obligatory flat shot. I held the camera as high as I could but it’s still at a bit of an angle:

En Bourgogne quilt on grass
En Bourgogne

If you look closely you can spot the two out-of-place blocks. If you can’t spot them, I’ve circled them in the next shot:

En Bourgogne quilt showing misplaced blocks
Misplaced blocks

I tried to take a couple of “artsy” pictures but it was pretty windy and the corners kept turning. This one was nice, though:

En Bourgogne on a park bench, with blossoming trees behind.
En Bourgogne Bench

You can see the blossom on the trees in the background — and it’s only half-way through winter! I couldn’t resist taking another couple of close-up photos as it was so beautiful:

Pink Blossom
Pink Blossom
White Blossom
White Blossom

I also caught a couple of black swans who came out of the lake and wandered across the grass. I didn’t want to get too close (they can be aggressive) but I got a couple of zoom shots:

Two swans at Lake Burley Griffin
One swan at Lake Burley Griffin

It was too cold to stay out for long so I packed up and came home. It was lovely to get a little sunshine, though, and it was a pretty good place to take photos so I’ll go back there later in the year.

2019 Finish-A-Long Q2 Finish: En Bourgogne

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Here is my second FAL finish for the year. As usual I’m linking through Sandra of Sew Of Course in Ireland.

En Bourgogne top
En Bourgogne top

My nomination for this quarter was “En Bourgogne”, my version of Bonnie Hunter’s En Provence, done in caramel, brown, green and burgundy. I pieced and assembled the blocks in late 2017 but never got any further.

The main stumbling block between then and now was the difficulty in choosing fabrics for borders. I was a little concerned that creams and caramels would blend too much with the outer edges of the blocks, but I didn’t want to go much darker as it would be too heavy. Bonnie had added a border of neutral four-patches, so eventually I decided to stick with a light inner border but to use a fabric that hadn’t been in the blocks. I chose to cut up an old cream-on-cream pillow case which had been part of a Sheridan 100% cotton set I had given to my parents in the early 2000s. After they died and we were cleaning out the house, I couldn’t find the sheets but I did find the pillow cases. One portion of the fabric is slightly stained from hair oils and sweat but to me that’s a bonus, since it means a little part of my parents will be in the quilt forever — the fabric is perfectly clean and sound, and the stain gives the border an subtle ombre effect.

I auditioned about 25 brown and green fabrics for the second border:

En Bourgogne border tryouts
En Bourgogne border tryouts

I chose the medium green eucalyptus leaves fabric as it picked up on the greens in the quarter square triangles and was neither too bland nor too overwhelming. I think it came out well.

En Bourgogne borders
En Bourgogne borders

My big mistake for this quilt was misplacing two of the B blocks, which had centre and edge variations — I still don’t know how I managed to miss it but I put a centre block on the edge and an edge block in the centre. What’s more, I even photographed one of the errant blocks after doing the borders and still I didn’t pick it up. It wasn’t until I was halfway through the quilting that I noticed it, and by that time it would have been far too much work to fix it, so there it stays.

I had run out of Matilda’s Own cotton batting when the time came to baste this and my usual shop was out of stock so I opted for SewEasy 100% cotton instead. Unfortunately this is a much denser batting than Matilda’s Own and made the quilt a lot heavier than I had anticipated. It’s a sturdy batting and it certainly held up well to being pushed through the machine but the sheer weight of it means I probably won’t buy it again. It also has a polyester scrim, which I discovered when I came to iron out the creases on basting day — if I’d realised that beforehand I’d have thrown it in my tumble dryer with a couple of wet flannels. Ah well, I’ll know better next time.

Given the complexity of the pattern, I knew that there was no point in trying anything fancy for the quilting. The additional weight meant that it was going to be difficult to manoeuvre, even given the Janome 9400’s large harp space and my sewing table, so whatever I chose to do had to be simple and could not require frequent turning. With that in mind, I opted for a diagonal grid down the four-patches and the cream squares with additional FMQ.

For the tall triangle stars in block A I drew a 6.5″ circle and went around it with the feed dogs down (which is why the circles are a bit wobbly). I would much have preferred to do this with the walking foot, but the quilt is much too heavy for all that shifting.

As I wrote a few weeks ago I tried some ruler work on the B blocks but it was an abject failure. Instead I did FMQ diagonal lines through the corner units and a vague oval / leaf shape in the hourglass units for blocks B and C. I’m a firm believer in the adage “every piece needs a quilting line”, especially for quilts that will be used all the time.

Borders were quilted with the walking foot. I did my customary serpentine stitch in the first border and diamonds in the outer border.

Delhi by Jinny Beyer
Delhi by Jinny Beyer

Since the border was green, I chose brown for the binding. After auditioning several fabrics, I chose a Jinny Beyer fabric I’ve had for a couple of years — it’s mainly a pinky brown but there are subtle patches of yellow-green that pick up the border colours beautifully. I stitched it down using the HP2 walking foot, which produces a great edge.

Running out of thread
Running out of thread

Of course, things couldn’t go smoothly even for that very last step — I ran out of thread with a side and half to go. I had the same thread in a bobbin, but you can’t use a bobbin as a spool because the thread comes out backwards and is much more likely to shred. Instead, I wound the thread onto a second bobbin so that it was right way around and then finished the binding.

Bobbin re-winding
Bobbin re-winding

So, the quilt is finished. Well, actually, I still need to bury a few thread ends and sew the label on, but it’s quilted, bound and photographed. I don’t have room to lay it out and it’s too big for the curtain rail but I’ll try and get an outdoor photo sometime in the next few days, weather permitting.

En Bourgogne finished
En Bourgogne finished

Size: 230 x 230 cm (about 90″) square
Design: “En Provence” by Bonnie K Hunter
Fabric: scraps from the stash, all cotton
Batting: Sew Easy 100% cotton
Pieced: by machine (Janome HMC 9400 QCP) October -November 2017 (blocks); April 2019 (borders)
Quilted: by machine (Janome HMC 9400 QCP), April-July 2019
Bound: July 2019

Lessons learned:
1. Pressing to one side may make it easier to create quarter-square triangles, but it produces very bulky seam allowances.
2. It would be a good idea to take a photo of a layout before you stitch it together so you can pick up silly mistakes like swapping edge and middle blocks.
3. SewEasy cotton batting is denser than Matilda’s Own

Retrospective – 1994 Queen Anne Star

Welcome to the fourth in my more-or-less monthly series of quilt retrospectives.

1994 Queen Anne Star
1994 Queen Anne Star

Size: 228 x 275 cm (90″ x 108″)
Design: Queen Anne Star by Holice Turnbow
Fabric: Pre-printed wholecloth top
Batting: low-loft polyester (I think it was Fairfield but I’m not sure)
Quilted: by hand, April 1993 to November 1994
Bound: by machine & hand 1994
Valuation: $1745 (1995)

While in San Diego in 1992 I purchased a 29″ Hinterberg maple wood quilting hoop. On being posted to Canberra in 1993 I wanted to do a hand-quilting project but the prospect of either drawing my own wholecloth or piecing something that had plenty of room for quilting didn’t appeal to me. Instead I bought a pre-printed wholecloth kit from the US. I used the lowest-loft polyester batting I could find (to facilitate small stitches) and a plain cream cotton backing.

I started in April 1993 and it took me approximately eighteen months to do the quilting, finishing in November 1994. I remember working on it during the evenings and weekends, listening to audiobooks or music as I sewed. I was living in a ground floor flat at the time, and it was cool enough to quilt even in the summer (it was frigid in the winter and I was very glad that my legs were covered while quilting!).

1994 Queen Anne Star centre detail
1994 Queen Anne Star centre detail

In this early progress shot (scanned from a film print) you can see that I altered the pattern a little — I left out some small embellishments in the centre and added a second row of lines to the plain diagonal grid.

1994 Queen Anne Star border detail
1994 Queen Anne Star border detail

As I neared the finish, I embroidered my name and date in the border cable at bottom right, though I’ve redacted it in this photo. I couldn’t find the strip of the top fabric that had been supplied for binding, so I used a similar fabric which has, unfortunately, become darker with time.

The quilt was exhibited at my local guild show in 1995. It was valued, as part of the submission process, at $1745.

Although it was a kit, I like the design and I like the quilt. I have used it as a bedspread or light summer cover from time to time and it’s very comfortable. Unfortunately the supplied top fabric is of a slightly poorer quality than the backing, and has started to pill.

Lessons learned:
1. If purchasing another pre-printed top, use a light box to transfer the design to a better quality fabric to use as the top (my stitching isn’t good enough to use the backing as the front).
2. When hand-quilting a large project, turn up or wrap the edges to protect the fabric and batting.
3. Use the same fabric for top and binding when doing a wholecloth quilt.

May Achievements and June goals

May goals:

1. AHQ: Four laundry bags for Townsville. Done. I just have to add the cords and print the letters and they’ll be ready to post on Monday. They are being posted directly to Townsville and won’t be on the AHQ blog, so here are the photos:

Laundry Bags for Townsville 1
Laundry Bags for Townsville 1

Laundry Bags for Townsville 2
Laundry Bags for Townsville 2

I’m especially pleased that I was able to sew the linings shut by hand without any thumb or wrist pain, so I should be able to resume hand-sewing in the evenings.

Memo to self: never sew by hand for more than three hours a day in future.

2. Personal: Assemble the Oriental Stained Glass top. Not done. When I started to lay out the top I found that I had managed to make some of the A blocks incorrectly, which was annoying and a little upsetting, so I set them aside to let me think about what to do. Having thought about it, I’d have to disassemble the blocks almost completely to fix the errors but I’m way too lazy for that, so I’ll have to work out a layout that minimises the errors. If anyone asks, it’s a design variation *wink*.

3. FAL: finish the quilting on EB. I’ve made progress but the quilting isn’t finished. I have another five weeks or so before the FAL due date so there’s plenty of time yet (and at least three more Stanley Cup Final games to go).

No additional work this month — partly because of my hands, partly because I was very disappointed that neither of my ice hockey teams made it further than the second round.

June goals:
1. AHQ: I’m not setting one this month — I need a break from deadlines.
2. Personal: Finish the last two Hawaiian blocks. The fabric is stiffened already, so as soon as I trace around the pattern I can cut it, glue it down and stitch it. They are both being done by machine so it’s two days’ work at most. [If I manage that early in the month, I’ll have another crack at the Oriental Stained Glass layout.]
3. FAL: finish the quilting on EB and bind it. No difficulties anticipated.

Retrospective: 1992 Double Irish Chain

Welcome to the third in my more-or-less monthly series of quilt retrospectives. I apologise for the quality of the photos — they are scans of old film prints. [And thereby hangs a tale — I had to find the laptop that has the software to run the scanner, then charge it (because I haven’t used that particular laptop in months), then I had to connect the power and USB cords to the scanner, which took much huffing and puffing and scrabbling under the desk, and then after I scanned the prints and edited the scans I found that all my huffing and puffing had managed to dislodge the power cord for the router … cue more huffing and puffing and trying to work out which cord is the router (they are all labelled, but the ink had faded on some of them — time for a re-do) and then waiting for the internet connection to re-establish. Phew!!]

1992 Irish Chain quilt
1992 Irish Chain quilt

Size: 30″ x 80″ (approximate)
Design: traditional Double Irish Chain
Fabric: all cotton
Batting: low-loft polyester (I think)
Pieced: by machine December 1991 (Janome MemoryCraft 8000)
Quilted: by hand, early 1992
Bound: July 1992

Just before Christmas 1991 I bought the brand new Janome MemoryCraft 8000 sewing machine — it was the first domestic sewing machine with embroidery function and I was completely in love with it. I made several Christmas-themed napkins for the family and decorated some T-shirts and pillow cases. I also started a machine embroidery/appliqué quilt that never got further than a few blocks, but that’s a story for another day.

I was in the RAN at the time, with another long overseas deployment coming up. I wanted a hand-sewing project to keep myself occupied as well as a bunk-size quilt to brighten up my cabin. I found black, pink and grey fabrics that coordinated, and I sewed the top together without any issues (quarter-inch seams are easy with an adjustable needle position!). I bought backing, batting and a tapestry frame that was wide enough for the quilt and took it all back to the ship with me.

It didn’t take me long to quilt it — a few weeks at most. I did basic diagonal lines through the grey squares and border, and a simple eight-petal flower in the pink squares. I used a blue pencil to mark the flowers which was hard to see at times and one of the petals ended up being a lot larger than its fellows (I can’t find it in the photo so it probably wasn’t as glaring an error as I thought it was).

1992 Irish Chain quilt (detail)
1992 Irish Chain quilt (detail)

I can’t remember if I bound it prior to or after the quilting, but I’m fairly certain I attached the binding by machine and stitched it down by hand, and I have a note that says it was completed in July 1992. Of course, shortly thereafter I was posted to a different ship where the bunks were wider and the quilt barely covered the mattress, but I still appreciated having something colourful in the cabin. On leaving that ship in December 1992 I decided that it wasn’t worth taking it home (it was much too narrow for a normal single bed) so I sold it for $25 to one of the stewards who had often admired it — my one and only quilt sale. I hope it had a long and useful life.

Now that I make quilts for other service people it amuses me to fake an old woman’s quavering voice and say “In my young day I had to make my own bunk quilt!”

Lessons learned:
1. Use a quilting marker that will remain visible until washed.
2. A tapestry frame makes a perfectly adequate quilting frame for a narrow quilt (or portion thereof).

2019 Finish-A-Long Q1 Finish

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Welcome to my first completed project for the 2019 FAL. I’m linking up through Sew Of Course in Ireland.

I only nominated one project in January: this 25-year-old tumbling blocks miniature.

tumbling blocks top

Stream pattern by Sara Nephew
Stream pattern by Sara Nephew

Piecing was done in 1994 in a workshop with Sara Nephew at the Australasian Quilt Convention. This particular design is called “Stream”, and features three different heights for the blocks, making a sinuous curve rather than a straight line.

I did all the in-the-ditch stitching with MonoPoly clear thread in the needle and Invisafil 100 wt polyester in the bobbin, and had no issues once I’d adjusted the bobbin tension. I intended to practice my ruler quilting using the same threads, but unfortunately I had significant problems with the ruler foot not permitting any fabric movement. I’m not sure if it was connected to the timing issues I discovered last week but I don’t think so. When I have some free time I’ll make up another sandwich and see what I can do with normal thread.

Fabric bunched up in front of the ruler foot
Ruler foot problems 1

I eventually decided to do a little more quilting in the largest blocks with the walking foot, which went well but I don’t need any more walking foot practice. I also considered doing free motion quilting in the “top” diamonds, to hide the seam allowance, but I ran out of time due to issues with another quilt. There’s enough quilting to hold all the layers together and it’s destined to cover the cutting mat or to cushion cat bottoms, so I decided that enough was enough and put the binding on.

Tumbling Blocks binding front
Tumbling Blocks binding front

As you can see, matching points with binding is not a skill I have mastered yet (which is why I usually add a border, even it’s only a narrow one). To be fair, though, my piecing wasn’t exactly great either, and seams were pressed to one side rather than open, resulting in some bulky intersections and a rather less-than-square top. If I had pieced it this year I think I would have done a better job.

Tumbling Blocks mini back
Tumbling Blocks mini back

The backing is a very old Cranston VIP print, roughly the same age as the top. I didn’t set the top squarely on the backing, as you can see, but then the top isn’t quite square anyway so I’m not fussed. I didn’t have any of the original dark green solid left, but I had another that works well, and in fact is an almost exact match for the green in the backing fabric.

Tumbling Blocks binding back
Tumbling Blocks binding back

The binding was stitched down by hand using Superior Threads Kimono 100 wt silk thread. I love using this thread for appliqué and binding — it seems to melt into the fabric and is barely visible even in close-up.

Tumbling Blocks mini finished
Tumbling Blocks mini finished

Name: Tumbling Blocks
Size: 80 x 80 cm (31.5″ x 31.5″)
Design: Stream (tumbling blocks variation) by Sara Nephew
Fabric: Cotton
Batting: Matilda’s Own 100% cotton
Pieced: 1994 by machine (Janome MemoryCraft 8000)
Quilted: January-March 2019 by machine (Janome HMC 9400 QCP)
Bound: April 2019

Lessons Learned:
1. Seam allowances matter!
2. Pressing to one side causes too much variation in thickness and contributes to uneven edges.
3. It’s hard to attach a binding to a pieced edge.

February Achievements and March Goals

I had three goals for February:

Homeless 3 web

AHQ: Finish and bind three AHQ quilts. These were used for demonstrations in the HandiQuilter booth at the Sydney Craft & Quilt Fair last year, so were partially quilted. When I saw them at Jan-Maree’s place a couple of months ago I offered to finish the quilting and bind them, so that they can be given to a charity for the homeless. I finished two and gave them to JM when I saw her earlier in the month, but forgot to take any pictures. This is the third. There is actually a fourth one as well but it’s a bit different and more difficult so I’ll talk about that another time.

Personal: Cut black sashing for oriental stained glass quilt; put borders on another quilt. Not done. There was no deadline for these items and I was busy with other stuff so no regrets — they’ll keep.

Ruler foot problems 1
Ruler foot problems 2

FAL: Ruler work on the tumbling blocks mini. Not done. I’m having trouble getting the ruler foot to work properly on the Janome 9400 — the presser foot doesn’t lift at all while in ruler mode (I knew it wouldn’t move as much as the normal FMQ foot but I expected it to move a little bit), so I’m having great difficulty moving the quilt underneath and the fabric just bunches up. I’ve adjusted the pressor foot height to its highest point and the pressure to its lowest, so I don’t know what else I can do to get it to work. I think I’ll have to take it back into the shop, which is really inconvenient as I have more work to do this month (see below).

Additional work:

I finished my personal January goal (bind two minis) a little late and posted the quilts here.

I also completed another AHQ quilt (the landscape for which I was making the string blocks). The original due date was 11 March, so I was going to make this my AHQ goal for next month. However, I finished the quilt very early and I’m just finishing off the laundry bag now so it’ll be posted on Monday. Meanwhile, the AHQ request list grew rather large so I picked up two requests on 25 February that have a due date of 01 April, and they will be my March goals instead.

Here are some of the string blocks in the quilt (I can’t show the whole thing, sorry).

Strip blocks in AHQ quilt

As always, I worked on the Flame Rose quilt most evenings. I’m still on track for finishing the tier 3 rose in April.

March goals
AHQ: Make two quilts (one Navy, one Army)
Personal: I’m not setting one this month as I have two military quilts to do.
FAL: Bind the tumbling blocks mini (even if I have to finish the quilting with a walking foot).

Retrospective: 1988-1990 Autumn Mood

Welcome to the second in my series of posts showing quilts I completed in years gone by.

Quilt in dark green and brown, 80 by 80 inches

Size: 203 x 203 cm (80″ x 80″)
Design: traditional Duck and Ducklings and Shoo-Fly blocks in my own arrangement
Fabric: cotton
Batting: polyester high loft (from a roll, unknown brand)
Backing: cotton
Pieced: by machine (Janome Combi) May 1988
Quilted: by hand 1989/90
Bound: September 1990

This was the second top I pieced, and the first quilt I finished (for a rather odd definition of finished).

In 1988 I decided to have a second attempt at machine piecing. I chose the Duck and Duckling pattern, made cardboard templates and cut out all the pieces with scissors. I made 13 brown blocks, sewing them together using the presser foot of my sewing machine as a guide. The green blocks were supposed to be Duck and Duckling as well, but I didn’t like cutting out and sewing all those small triangles so used the simpler Shoo-Fly block instead.

Unfortunately, I still hadn’t worked out that the presser foot on my Janome Combi was approximately 5/16″ from the needle (and the needle position was not adjustable on that machine). Consequently, when it came to setting all the blocks together with sashing, it was extremely difficult, since the block edges were short by quite a lot in the corners. Not wanting to trim the blocks and lose my triangle points, I adjusted the seam allowance instead, from 1/4″ at the centre of each edge down to around 1/16″ at the corners (I reinforced them with nail polish). Despite this problem, I finished the top and it doesn’t look too bad, though some of the triangle points still aren’t where they are supposed to be.

I was living in southern Victoria at the time, in an old and poorly heated building, so of course I wanted the quilt to be warm. I bought the thickest off-the-roll polyester batting I could find, not realising that batting this thick is supposed to be tied, not quilted. I basted the three layers together and started to hand-quilt, in a bastard cross between in-the-ditch and outline. The thickness of the batting meant that I got only three stitches to the inch. By the time I had finished quilting the blocks I was exhausted and had no energy to contemplate quilting the borders. I bound the edges, put safety pins in the border and used it like that for the next twenty-five years (obviously it was never washed during that period).

Some of the seams are starting to give way, and some of the hand quilting is coming undone. I’ll get around to repairing it one day.

Lessons learned:
1. Know your equipment!!
2. Know what techniques are suited to each type of batting.
3. Quilts are very resilient even when shoddily made.