Picture Quilt: a visit to the Bass Rock

Bass Rock from North Berwick Beach

Bass Rock from the shore

Earlier this year, I went with my pal John to visit the Bass Rock and look at the Gannet Colony. We went out by boat, on the Sula. As you approach the Rock, it looks white, then like velvet, ad then you see a cloud around it, like the electrons around the nucleus of an atom – if there is an atom with ten’s of thousands of electrons in its cloud. As you get closer, these resolve into thousands of gannets nesting on the rock and thousands more flying around it. John had recommended that I wore a hat. I’m glad I did.

On the boat, it looks smoother than it was

On the boat to Bass Rock

On the boat approaching the Bass RockHere is the view from the boat. I was finding it hard to stay upright. The sea was roughish, for a landlubber like me, and there was lots to catch the attention; puffins, seals, kittiwakes, gulls, gannets, the ever-changing sky and sea.

bass-rock-sketch-cropped

First sketch of the Bass Rock boat trip

The visit resulted in a design for and the execution of a picture quilt. I managed to work this on really quickly. I made a quick sketch of my impression of the rock and the boat trip:

I bought some materials in a fabric shop in Stirling, and sat on John’s dining room floor playing with the pieces. I had found materials in blacks, greys and blues, and in a range of textures and patterns that reflected the sea and sky colours, the white and black of the gannets, the specks of bright colour from swimming puffins, and the swirl and shift of the sea.  And then I played, pinned, stitched and altered. John showed me a website with a print of the Rock done in the 17th century; I was pleased to see the bird cloud.

first attempt at placing fabric to look like the rock and waves

Initial placement of fabric

Here is the first placement of fabric pieces: I had ruched some of the grey satin to give the idea of waves and billows, and also the black and gold material – a printed cotton in a pattern called flying cranes reminded me of the gannets, puffins and kittiwakes on and above the water around the boat. I used two shades of patterned grey to make the sides of the rock where the gannets nest. And the darker grey and black made the cliff on one side where the kittiwakes next. The top and side of the rock are white with birds and guano. Once I had placed those pieces, I started tacking them in place, and thinking about the eventual quilting. I used a piece of the black and gold to make the reverse of the quilt, and then a mix of hand and machine quilting to hold it together, indicating waves and bird flight paths.

work in progress - machine stitching part done

Bass Rock Quilt part way through machine quilting

Here is the quilt part way through machining it; you can see I have folded the backing to the front to make a border.

 

 

 

 

bass-rock-painting-crop

Watercolour pencil sketch of the Bass Rock

At this stage I also did another sketch, this time with watercolour pencils, to remind me of my initial vision.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, I stitched in the cloud of birds using pale grey running stitch in curves.

completed quilt, all hand stitching done to show the bird cloud

Bass Rock Quilt – completed

 

 

Here is the completed quilt, with hand stitching done, you can see the bird cloud around the rock, and the stormy, grey billows of the sea and foam.

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photos for July, August and September

Here are three more photos of water and reflections that I have taken over the years.

9 September San Diego Harbour

July, San Diego San Diego Harbour: the banana boat leaves

July: Here is a photo which, although not taken on July, signifies July to me for its memories of heat and colour.  Taken during a software testing conference in San DIego, USA, this is a photo of the reflection of a banana boa and its pilot boat and tugs in the water of the harbour. A group of software testers, myself included, were watching the boat leaving with one person knowledgeably explaining what would happen and the direction the pilot would go. When the ship and pilot went in the opposite direction an unhappy cry of “but they have gone in the wrong direction” signified that this was indeed a group of software testers, who are of course, always right…

August, Bangkok Garden

Reflected petals, Bangkok Garden

August, and the heat and steaminess of Bangkok comes to mind, as well as the relief of cooler, scented shade, water, floating petals and reflections in a garden.

My visit to Bangkok I treasure for the fabric shops, where I bought yards and yards of silks and chiffon in bright and delicate colours, as well as vibrant printed cottons with goldfish, that became part of the big quilt project.

The heat, the smells, the noise: all startling. And here, quiet. I saw an enormous lizard, maybe a metre long. When the garden attendant saw me looking at it, he ushered me away. Then gardeners drove it out. It looked safe, but maybe it was dangerous.

 

11 November Australia

Stream near Meribula

September: Stream near Meribula, Australia.

The heat, the dust, and then this stream in woodland, clear water bubbling across the brown stones under spicy air of eucalyptus. A waterfall nearby, and then sudden rain, and a dash for shelter.

 

Photos for April, May and June

Here are three more of the photos featured on the website and blogs.

4 April NZ

Stream bed New Zealand April

I used a crop of this on the website, on the Learn with Isabel page.

Garden in Bangkok May

Garden in Bangkok May

6 June Australia

Shallow sea bed Australia June

This one I cropped into three sections and used on the website on the About, CV and Blog pages.

Photos used on my website and blogs

I have used several photos on the website and blogs as backgrounds and features photographs, often heavily cropped. These have come from photographs I took for a calendar. Here the January, February and March photos from the calendar.

1 January Worcester

Icicles January Worcester UK

2 February Worcester

Canal Edge February Worcester

3 March Worcester

Lake in the Park – March Worcester

As you can see, I am interested in light, water and reflections. I have used cropped versions of the February and March photos on my website on the Home and Connect pages.

It really is soft ware, it’s very like IT…

I built a patchwork quilt. When I look back on that 10 years of work, it has been rather like an IT project. What I have built is literally soft, and very cosy. It is soft ware. The process of making it has taken me through decisions around unclear and changing requirements, design and prototyping, and a final delivery with some compromises and some surprises.

Even though I was the customer and the maker for the quilt, I still managed to have unclear requirements. At each stage I did not know what I wanted until I saw it, my requirements and expectations have changed. In fact when I started collecting fabric, I did not know that I wanted a quilt. And, I certainly didn’t expect I would up with something so large.

It’s a software project that got out of control, but still, it delivered, and the ending is beautiful and used every day. Uncertainty was part of the story – uncertainty drove the creativity. The User eXperience (UX) for the quilt is excellent – the journey to get to that UX was at times terrifying. At each mistake and uncertainty I had to think “do I unpick or stop or do I go on?” How much more difficult UX is when you are not your own customer. Be aware that uncertainty is natural.

The pre-history of the quilt

Over the years I have travelled to many places for work and for pleasure. I started to buy fabric and patchwork squares in different places, and to make small patchwork projects.

The first project was done with my friend Susan, when I visited her in California. She is very good at patchwork and quilting so it was natural for her to take me to her local fabric shop, where I was overwhelmed with the deliciousness of the fabrics on offer – the colours, the designs, the possibilities…. we got fabrics with patterns of things like chillies, sweetcorn, wine, cartoons, woodwork tools… and Susan helped me make a patchwork curtain for my artist husband’s studio door.

On a technical note,  using a small number of very big fabric squares to make the curtains made learning easier. Susan encouraged me to concentrate on a small number of new skills, for example using an overlocker machine (serger) for the first time, and to keep the project simple.

back home, the next project was to make some more curtains in patchwork, this time for the Kitchen cupboard instead of having doors.  I got myself an overlocker machine for making patchwork, to use alongside the sewing machine. They are both good little machines, but I get myself in a tangle when using them; slow and steady work is best or I end up in a flurry of broken threads and confusion. The interlocker is particularly difficult to rethread and some sessions with it I seemed to spend more time puzzling over how to set it up than actually using it.

For the kitchen curtains, I decided to make the pattern more complex, still square pieces but smaller, using symmetry to build the patterns in the piece placement. Also it seemed important to make the symmetry imperfect so that the curtains were similar but not identical. I needed 3 curtains.

The method is to decide on the placement of the materials, looking at colour and pattern, then cut the squares all to the same size using a straight edge, set square and cutter blade. Then place the materials again to recheck the pattern. Press the pieces and sew into strips, then press again. The strips are joined together, press again. And voila! Curtains.

If only it was that easy in reality… Well, it is easy, I just made it difficult for myself. I made several mistakes such as sewing the piece in the wrong order, putting the pieces together and realising I had seams showing on both sides, not managing to do a straight line on the sewing machine and interlocker… These mistakes were caused by a mix of absent minded carelessness, not rechecking at every stage, inexperience, gung-ho overconfidence and misunderstanding instructions / guidance gleaned from the internet and books. All the mistakes required me to unpick the seams and start again. Each time the lessons were the same: slow down, check every step, don’t try and skip things. Eventually I got the curtains made and hung. They have lasted well and survived the washing machine too.

Those early projects gave me confidence to start on the big quilt.

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Simple “four pieces a side” patchwork cushion cover

 

 

UX? What about TX for Test Automation?

Test automation is intended to increase speed and accuracy of information about the SUT partly by allowing engineers to improve the speed and usefulness of their communications.

The best possible interfaces and user experience for the person testing are required to support this otherwise the use of automation will decrease rather than increase velocity of projects.

If the speed and accuracy of test information provided to teams is lowered, with poor test reporting and inaccurate decision making, engineers and managers will become frustrated. It may even lead to disaster.

Good automation tools will help us make good decisions about the SUT and maximise the value of the limited time we have to deliver software products to market. Poor automation tools will delay decision making, increase the likelihood of errors of judgement, and they frustrate both engineers and managers.

Current practices (agile, build pipelines, devops) arise from a need to address delivery speed and accuracy as well as engineering quality. But automating the tests and then forcing people to spend time inaccurately and slowly interpreting the outcomes simply is not cost effective or helpful.

There are many examples of poor interfaces and tools contributing to, or even forcing, humans to make bad, even fatal decisions. Examples such as the London Ambulance Dispatch system (http://bit.ly/1tr2TJZ), and the EU Farm Payments online application system (http://bbc.in/1xEoUE3) show us that poor interfaces can be time wasting, expensive and dangerous.

This matters for test automation because, although automation tools are written and serviced by engineers, the people who use the automation can be non-technical for example user acceptance representative, product owners, business sponsors, managers or end users. Does the information they get from the automation and provide to engineers improve in speed, accuracy and usefulness as a result of the automation or not? What will maximise our ability to get the most from the test automation? What will maximise the accuracy and usefulness of the information provided to engineers, managers and others?

There is a need for TX for Test Automation: that is, the Test Experience for those people who will request, design, and review the results of the automated tests and monitoring. This requires information design and delivery (arguably the purpose of our industry).

Attention to detail “front of house” for the UX for customers and end users can be extended behind the scenes to TX for the engineers, benefiting all. TX can be improved, by consideration of the UX for the automation tool and the tests so that methods and lessons from User Experience Design (UXD) and User Experience Testing (UXT) may be applied to test automation.

We need to consider human factors (as the engineers are human too) as well as the support of improved decision making around quality, speed and accuracy of responses to issues.

My three key points?
– Test automation requires consideration of the UX for the tool and the tests;
– People who use automation might not always be technical but they are always human;
– UXD and UXT for test automation supports improved decision making and quality.