Disaster, Darling.

Version 2Hi everybody,

I don’t know about you but it seems to me that so many craft books are only part full of how-to’s and the rest are projects to try. What’s more, the projects are often very similar and rarely anything exciting or unusual; I mean how many drawstring bags, needle cases and pincushions do you need to make? I have never done any of the projects, always preferring to do my own thing, using the appliqué, patchwork or stitching techniques I have learned from the earlier part of the book. Maybe that’s because I’m a dreamer and not much interested in practical things. I can’t bear to spend time on a needle case when I could have a much less useful fabric house sitting on my book shelf.

IMG_0378However, recently, when I bought a book entitled ‘Stitch, Fabric and Thread’ by Elizabeth Healey, I discovered several interesting short projects were offered as ways of experimenting with a variety of stitches and textures. I had wanted to do some Kantha stitching for a while and thought I might give this project a try. Kantha is an Indian sewing technique which employs the humble running stitch in such creative ways to realise a huge variety of intricate decorative motifs and patterns.  This project, called ‘Kantha Fishes’ required only the basic running stitch to create a small picture. I mean how hard could that be? IMG_0251To begin, I needed two pieces of linen measuring 13 1/2 x 10 (34 x 25 cm). As I don’t much like working with linen, I used two pieces of cotton, in two shades of neutral, with a linen texture to them and tacked them together around the edge.

Then I had to cut out some fish shapes from organza. I didn’t have any organza so I bought some small organza party bags in two different shades (gold and green) and cut them into different sized shapes. Although this was not in the instructions, I cut the the shapes out in card first, to see how they would look. The idea was to suggest a shoal of swimming fish.

IMG_0255To make them look more realistic and pleasing to the eye,  I was told I should use an odd number of fish and that some should overlap others. Then I should sew around the edges of the each fish with a running stitch, using gold metallic thread (the metallic thread was almost impossible to thread through the needle, the fibres kept separating). After I had sewn the fishes onto the background fabric, I was unhappy with the shape of the whole piece. I wanted the background to be narrower to give the fish more sense of movement, so I folded the bottom section under to see if I like that better. I did.

IMG_0259 The next step was to “sew around the outer edge of the shoal of fish with tiny running stitches” using a matt cotton Perle thread, which is much thicker than the metal thread around the fish. I chose gold and green but later unpicked the gold and stuck with the green. It was suggested that it was best to “avoid making increasingly longer stitches as you work outward to the edge of the frame. ”

That was it. No further instructions were given. And the only picture of the finished piece was a not very helpful close up of a single section:


I had seen running stitch used as echo stitching around a single image but that would only enclose each set of fish in a circular bubble. And if I was to use wavy lines, how could I “sew around the outer edge of the fishes” as instructed without stopping and starting or leaving uneven gaps which would not be characteristic of Kantha stitching?

I ended up with this (below) after some unpicking and restarting. The small blob of glue I used to hold the fishes down and stop them sliding around while I stitched them, showed through the organza in places. Not a good look. A red line appeared on the top of the green fish in the centre. I think I must have use the wrong pen when I drew around the shapes to remember where I wanted them placed. I didn’t want to pin them as instructed, in case the pins left holes in the thin organza. A spritz of water removed all the other lines (which were blue) but not that one. Also the puckering, which is one of the features of Kantha, is quite uneven. In some places it is too tight, in others it does not show at all. Yuk. Yuk. All in all, it was all a bit of a disaster.

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I can’t help thinking I would have had more success finding my own way with some invented Kantha project of my own, than following instructions that took me in a prescribed direction. Or maybe that’s just an excuse to make me feel better.

This early part of the year has not gone well from a sewing point of view. I made two hanging fabric ‘Paper Dolls’ from fabric panels, which I sold for much less than they were worth, because I was disappointed in them, too, and they were so very fiddly to make.

All those curves and sharp corners and the backs that didn’t match up perfectly with the fronts.. I won’t be making any of those again.

That said, I have some brand new (Scottish) English Paper Piecing ideas that I am very excited about. Is that an oxymoron? I have bought the fabric to realise three of them, so with a bit of luck they will turn out well and I will be able to share them with you soon.

Till next time…







A Matchbox Made in Heaven

Hello Everybody,

The Front: Made with permission from homemadecity.com

Am I the only one that finds there is as much to do right after Christmas as before it? Extra clothes to wash from days spent away, hunting for things stuffed hurriedly in the wrong places and all those Christmas decorations to pack and store. More often than not, when they are all back in their boxes in the cupboard under the stairs, I find a piece of plastic holly on a lampshade, or a Christmas coaster under the sofa.

It’s usually the middle of January before the house is back to normal and I can relax and think  about the year ahead and what I want to do with it.  And I have found there is nothing better to do when you are musing over this and that, than to create something easy and fun – like a decorated matchbox.

I got the matchbox bug a couple of Christmases ago when I made one for a friend. I made it using a template off the internet at first but, once I got the idea, it was easy to make other designs of my own. The finished matchbox is shown above, in coloured pencil, and here is the back of the same one:

The back: Made with permission from homemadecity.com

My friend lives alone and had made a comment about getting fewer hugs than she used to, so I made her this matchbox for Christmas and put a little person inside  to dispense hugs whenever she opened it.

It was such fun to make that some time later, when my daughter had had a bad year, I made one for her: This one shows her clinging to a mast in stormy seas. Around the inside walls it says ‘The Storms will Pass’.  When the matchbox closes the seas are calm again. The inside of this one is coloured using Sharpies.  I much prefer their vibrant colours but I didn’t have a pale blue one for the calm skies, so had to revert to using coloured pencil again on the outside. The clouds and the fish are made separately and added to the surface later. On the back there is a little boat in the far distance .

A week or two ago, a friend of my daughters had been admiring her matchbox and so I made one for her, too. I have just posted it to her, care of my daughter and she doesn’t know about it yet.  I can’t wait for her to see it. I hope she likes it. Here is the front:

The words around the inside walls say ‘Friends Make Everything Feel OK’.

Two of her ‘friends’ are her cats, a grey and a tortoiseshell, so I have tried to create them inside, dancing under the bunting:

Here is the back, and the sides:

The matchboxes can look quite rough close up but they are very small, just two inches x one and a half inches (or five and a half x three and a half centimetres), so you don’t really notice the flaws as you do in these photos.

They’ve turned out to be little comfort boxes, though that is not what I intended at first and of course they don’t need to be. They are a cross between a tiny gift and a card, suitable for occasions of all kinds: Christmas, birthdays, Valentine’s days, anniversaries,  or for sending luck or good wishes and can contain little gifts for children.

Blank white matchboxes (this size and larger) can be found for sale on Ebay. Free blank templates for inserts are available on Pinterest, or you can make your own. Then all you need is a simple idea, some sharpies or coloured pencils and some paper glue. Make a mock up of your idea first like mine (below), so you are clear about how you want it to turn out

The lid (left), insert (right), blank matchbox (top right)

You don’t have to do anything fancy. Decorate the box with a variety of patterns, add a folded note, a dried flower…. anything you like.

Go on…I know you want to…



Made With Love, for Christmas

Version 2Happy New Year Everyone! I had a great Christmas, one of the best ever,  with unusual food (Lebanese) and great company and as, for once in a long while, someone else was doing all the work (I think I dried some dishes), I had time to enjoy it.  Now I can reveal what I was making in the run up to Christmas. I couldn’t risk posting anything about it earlier, in case either of my children saw what I was making for them.

For my daughter I embroidered a Family Tree of sorts. It shows her as a little girl with her parents and brother at the bottom of the tree, while around the tree top are all the animals she has loved. It is deliberately primitive, so the ant is bigger than the turtle, arms and legs are a little stumpy and the tree is not very tree-like.

I chose a linen textured, neutral colour, cotton background to embroider onto and decided to stick to black and white thread, except for the figure of my daughter. She is in colour because this is her story. My husband didn’t agree that I should make this in black and white, and once I had started I thought he might be right. But I also worried that it might look garish in colour and would look uneven because several of the animals were black or black and white, others were brown, and then there would be a green turtle and a blue budgie among them. It didn’t feel right, so I persevered. Then a kind friend told me that black and white on linen was very on trend. In that case, I thought, maybe it will be OK. My confidence did falter from time to time but now I am glad I did it this way and my daughter loves it, so that ‘s all that matters.

When I finished the embroidery I backed it with a simple black and white print and added a label. Then I framed it for her, so she will never see the back or the label unless she takes it out of the frame. IMG_0270I always stitching on the label very hard as I rarely practise lettering and that is something I need to do. And with my eye sight these days, back stitch is a real chore. Just as well it’s not visible, eh?

I was fortunate in being able to find a grey frame with a distressed finish, that sets off the black, white and colour quite well. I finished the embroidery with only days to go before Christmas and worried I wouldn’t find a frame to fit, let alone match. I hadn’t done anything sensible like plan the size of the finished embroidery to fit an existing frame ahead of time, though I will certainly do this in future.

IMG_0289The idea for the embroidery is adapted from a drawing I saw online. I simplified the top of the tree, added more leaves, thickened the trunk and replaced most of the farm animals around it with beloved pets. I altered the horse though it remained in the same position and added a face to one of the cats. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI altered  the hair of two of the figures, so they would look more like the family my daughter would remember, and my daughters dress “of many colours”. I would love to say it’s all my own design but much of it is borrowed and inspired by someone else. So thank you, Rebecca, whoever and wherever you are. I want to acknowledge your significant part in this Christmas gift for my daughter. I hope you won’t mind, as it is for personal use only. There will never be another.

My son is head arborist at the Royal Horticultural Society at Wisley in Surrey, so it seemed appropriate to embroider a Green Man for him. For those unfamiliar with The Green Man, he is a Pagan nature spirit that frequently appears carved, in wood or stone, in places of worship both in the UK and abroad. Again, this pattern was adapted from a drawing I came across. I very much wanted to stitch it with ‘Glow in the Dark’ thread, so it would glow in his room when the lights went off. However it was not to be. The green Glow in the Dark thread  (Gutermann) was too expensive and the slightly cheaper one (DMC), was white. I did buy this and began using it but realised my Green Man was going to end up looking more like Santa and that was NOT what I wanted. Also, the Glow in the Dark thread was extremely hard to sew with. The strands kept separating and bending away from the eye of the needle when I tried to thread it. So I gave up on that idea and began using variegated thread instead.


You can see the Glow in the Dark thread used for the start of his moustache here, later removed.  

I wanted the top of his head to look as if it had been caught by sunlight, and for the colour to  merge slowly into olive green leaves around this face and then into a darker green for his beard. IMG_0272I planned to add some of the darker green to the top and more olive green to the bottom, so the whole thing would be more cohesive, but it didn’t work out that way. I also planned to stitch in a wood effect background, to suggest that he has emerged from a tree but lost confidence in the idea, feeling that  introducing another colour and pattern would produce an overly fussy result.  As Christmas grew nearer, I worried that any more decoration might be too much and I might ruin the whole thing. There was no time to start again.

At first the outer edges were turned in with quite a generous hem and tacked down. I am glad I did this, because it gave me the opportunity to enlarge or reduce the edge later to fit the frame, before I cut it to size and sewed the back and front pieces of fabric together and removed the tacking stitches.

I had chosen to add a thin, low loft, batting between the front and back of my daughter’s embroidery but for my son I simply added a green cotton backing without any batting. I felt this sat better in the frame, flatter and less prone to dimpling. I add a label (which I forgot to photograph) printed with ‘Especially for You’ and then stitched ‘Love from Mum 2017 x’ onto it, as before. It is an 8 x 5 inch image in a 12 x 14 ‘Rustic’ frame. I didn’t mean it to be so large but that’s how it turned out.


He looks more like Herne the Hunter to me than a Green Man. Herne is associated with Windsor Forest and Great Park in the English county of Berkshire,  a ghost who is said to wear antlers upon his head. I hope my son likes it. It is not as personal as the one for my daughters, so something more personal would be a better idea for the future, I think.

Here we are at the start of a new year and I feel refreshed and full of new ideas. However, I have an EPP quilt and a Indian Kantha experiment part done, abandoned in December in order to get these embroideries done for my children in time for Christmas. There are to be no UFO’s (unfinished objects) languishing in boxes this year, so, onwards!

Until next time…..




A Garden Quilt, Like No Other

IMG_0165In my last post I talked about experimenting with Deborah Boschert’s Design Guides and trying out her “One Amazing Line.” I have now completed this project: Snakes and Ladders anyone? It was certainly a fun way of using up scraps. I might add some French Knots down the centre of the snake’s back though it’s probably unnecessary to spend any more time on a simple experiment.

Soon I will start on the second Design Guide which is “Third Plus” and I am excited about the idea I have in mind for it. But first, it’s time for me to start making Christmas gifts for my family. I would love to tell you about them but can’t risk them seeing this post and spoiling the surprise. So that will have to keep for now.

In the meantime I want to tell you about an adventure I had once and how it led to a desire for a quilt that would preserve it for ever. DSCF0249I once lived in a castle in central Scotland.  It had been inherited by a young family after the older inhabitants had passed on and they were working hard to refurbish it. My husband worked as gardener and handyman and I helped to sort, pack and store belongings that would make room for the changes the family had in mind. These were   temporary jobs for us while we waited for our house in England to sell, so that we could buy a place of our own in Scotland. It was a bad time to sell, so we lived in the castle for almost two years.

It was summer when we arrived and the extensive grounds were full of  flowers. IMG_0255I had a lot of free time to explore the  gardens and began to record the areas that were special to me. I am certain that this garden led us to choose the garden in which we live now. It has the same wild and sheltered feel to it; a world removed from the real one. We have a long drive leading to our house too, though not quite as long as theirs!DSCF0321

It wasn’t a very big castle as castles go but it had a medieval cobbled courtyard that was breathtaking when you saw it for the first time.



a walled garden that trapped the sun,  DSCF0243and so many charming ornamental additions that I came across in unexpected places, like a sundial, or a dog statue or a little house in the woods, built for the children.


There were animals too: Dogs, a horse, rabbits and a family of peacocks that filled the air with their exotic cries.  Best of all they came to our windows and tapped on the glass. Unfortunately, they also liked to sit on the roof of my car and it still bears the scratch marks to prove it.

I began my interest in patchwork and appliqué while I was living in the castle and bought this book by the much loved needle turn appliqué artist, Janet Bolton.

I saw that her Patchwork Garden also had a summerhouse, a fish pond, animals statues and topiary just like the one I walked in every day, and I began to think I could translate my castle memories into a quilt of my own. But I didn’t have the skills. I read the book, took notes, started to collect fabric and began to learn.  And this is how my adventure began. Now almost seven years later, I think I am ready to make this quilt.

Janet Bolton’s book encloses templates so that you can make her pattern, a wall quilt in a T-shape to suggest a Japanese kimono. However, the templates could also be used as a guide for your own garden quilt. I don’t think it would take much to adapt the drawings, though I would choose to arrange them in a more traditional  square or rectangle. And it’s perfect for English Paper Piecing and appliqué lovers.

So this is my project for next year, or the next few years of fitting it in among all the other projects I’m itching to try. Perhaps you have memories of a particular garden, or series of gardens you would like to  preserve in fabric?

Till next time……

Design, Composition and Play

IMG_0075Hi Everybody,

I have lots of English Paper Piecing works in progress but nothing finished as yet, probably because I am trying to do too many at once. Why can’t I just finish one thing and then move onto the next?

The main reason for this post is to begin a series of experiments inspired by a book I have, entitled Art Quilt Collage by Deborah Boschert. In her third chapter she talks about design and composition and offers eight Design Guides to use as templates and a checklist to help “strengthen your composition skills” once you have completed them. She also suggests combining some designs and offers variations on a  theme.

The first one I decided try is One Amazing Line.


Deborah’s example of a possible line. Could it be a profile?

She convinces me that I can make a whole mini quilt by focusing on a single line. It can be placed anywhere in my piece of fabric, can be wiggly or not, can represent words, or suggest a profile.

I made my line using a variety of square and tumbler paper-wrapped shapes (to take me around corners) from fabric scraps, and joined them together to make a wriggly line.


my little pieced sections of the snake – all numbered

I thought it looked rather snake like, so I gave it a head and the suggestion of a tail. The collection of browns and greens made me think of a grass snake. I didn’t have as much of the background fabric that I wanted to use, to allow it to move from one corner to the opposite corner as I had originally planned. However, that would have made the whole thing quite large. It was meant to be an experiment using scraps after all. It didn’t make sense to use more fabric than I needed, or to buy more. So I appliquéd my snake onto a long, narrow strip of olive green fabric that I liked. It’s much more olive than the picture below suggests.


Snake in progress. Only one ladder so far but you can see another drawn on. 

The snake looked as if it needed more definition on this background so I added black embroidery (stem stitch) between the pieced sections that make up its body, around it’s head and all along the bottom of it’s body, to suggest shadow. I didn’t do it at the top because I didn’t want to outline the snake. It would look too heavy.

I began to think of the snake as a metaphor for life, how people start at one end and work their way to the other, moving on through each ‘stepping stone’. This reminded me of the ‘Snakes and Ladders’ board game I played so often as a child, so I decided to add some random ladders and the suggestion of a snake appearing and disappearing at the top corners. And to use a grid to quilt the whole composition, as in a board game.

I found some leafy fabric (where I felt my snake would feel right at home) to back my quilt, and I chose Vilene VLH630 fusible fleece to use as batting. This is a low loft fleece suitable for medium weight cottons and for top stitching  and it felt as if it would keep my project thin enough to frame as a mini art quilt if I liked it enough.

When it is complete, Deborah suggests rotating your composition because often it can look better another way round: So, what do you think? Will this turn out to be better?

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I never like my creations while I am making them. They look so ugly when they are tacked/basted, with lines drawn on and none of the colour and texture they will turn out to have. It’s amazing to witness their gradual transformation. We’ll see how this looks when it’s all done, in a later post.


Another project that is not far from completion is a soft-toned mini quilt of a bunny and a basket. Why I am putting bunnies and baskets on quilts in the run up to Christmas is anybody’s guess. I just wanted to use up some scraps of pastel fabrics.  I thought it would make a pretty nursery picture but maybe it is too suggestive of Easter.


I have finished the piecing but it is still basted (tacked) and the appliqués are not sewn down. The bunny has no tail, but he will have, eventually (you can see it pinned on to the top right hand corner of the backing fabric. The backing fabric has stags on it. So pretty. I love it, even at this part-done stage, but then it’s not my design. It is closely based on one by Merumo from https://www.pinterest.co.uk/source/pleasentreeus.blogspot.com/ that I found on Pinterest, which is in turn based on a traditional quilt block.


‘Antique Fair Basket’ by Merumo

I am working on another of Deborah’s Design Compositions called Third Plus (post coming at some point in the not too distant future) as well as a second long and narrow composition which will make use of organza fish, metallic thread and Kantha stitching, none of which I have used on a quilt before. But more of these two projects later.

So, till next time….

‘Over the Orchard’ & 5 Lessons Learned

The Glen

One of my saved projects, a small quilted wall hanging called ‘The Glen’ with Scottish themed fabrics from Lewis & Irene.

I bought stacks of fabric years ago for quilt patterns that I was longing to make but wasn’t brave enough to start immediately, as I didn’t have the knowledge, skills or even the tools that I have now. In a sense I’m glad I did buy the fabric then, because it costs twice as much now but, at the time, I couldn’t imagine a day when these patterns would not seem challenging enough, or that I might want to create my own designs.


My plastic box of multiple saved ‘To Do’ projects  

Now I am playing catch-up, trying to make up to twenty quilts in traditional designs (Attic Windows, or Courthouse Steps blocks for example) when I really want to be experimenting with a whole range of new approaches and realising my own ideas .( Lesson 1 – Don’t plan (and buy) too far ahead).

I suppose I could disregard the patterns I bought and use the fabric for other projects but I am not drawn to the same types of fabric anymore, either. Now I might select more solids than prints;  choose more muted shades as backgrounds for appliqué and embroidery;  buy linen and linen blends, tone on tone or textured fabrics;  work with layers (perhaps of muslin or cheesecloth); try new approaches to quilting like Bengali Kantha and Japanese Sashiko; experiment with vegetable dyes, create my own prints and incorporate paints, coloured pencils, inks and crayons into my designs. And I find that I am moving away from mini quilts and table toppers to fabric pictures and wall hangings that tell my own stories. (Lesson 2 – Realise that your tastes will change as your knowledge base grows.)

I don’t want to waste any of those early projects and fabrics that I have set aside (I still like them and can learn from them) so I have decided the best way forward is to tackle  one traditional quilting project, followed by one new experiment, until all the saved fabrics and designs are gone but I have also reserved the time to try new things. I am certain that I will come across a quilt pattern that I am desperate to make from time to time but I will never buy for the future to the same extent again.

In my last post I was playing with embroidered faces. In this post I am re-creating most of a pattern from a book called ‘Quilts Baby!’ by Linda Kop. It’s called ‘Over the Orchard’.

I will incorporate more or less the same colours but I plan to add different appliqués and give it a different title. Maybe it will end up being called ‘Over the Hills’ or ‘Across the Fields’, though that doesn’t have the same ring to it, somehow.

I was so busy following the pattern that I didn’t look at the picture very closely and after I cut out all the pieces from my saved fabrics, I wish that I had. The pattern tells me to gather “1/2 yard of at least six light-coloured cottons: light orange  light teal or blue, and off -white. And then 1/2 yard of at least six dark-coloured cottons: grayish blue, orange and teal.”  These are to arrange a frame of squares of varying value around the quilt. So this is what I started to do:


Beginning the outer frame of squares

However, when I looked at the picture again, there seemed to be many more off-white or creamy colours around the frame than suggested by the directions (Lesson 3 – Study the pattern and the accompanying picture together before you begin.) My frame of squares was much brighter, and though I had tried to put different values next to each other (dark light, dark light, all the way around), the end result was more vibrant than I wanted it to be, and with nothing like the same difference in value suggested by the picture in the book.

My squares were basted around paper pieces but not sewn together, so at this point I could have removed some of the colours and put in more off-whites, creams or pale yellows, but I didn’t really want to cut up more fabric when I couldn’t be sure if it mattered hugely, or not. I decided to run with what I had.

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The inner border is now sewn to the squares except at the lower right hand corner, and the horizontal strips are sewn together but not to the frame.

When I had sewn all my squares together, I started on the inner border. Some of the long brown rectangles should be 15″ pieces. I didn’t have any paper that long, so I had to split the measurement into two pieces. I think that works OK because there are other smaller sections in the same border.

When I started to put the horizontal strips in place, I decided to remove the darkest shades I had originally placed there, to soften the look. I am hoping this means I can add the odd dark colour to my appliqués without feeling I need sunglasses to look at whole thing. It is still going to be a bit over-bright though, don’t you think? (Lesson 4 – Think more carefully about differences in value when you begin to gather your range of fabrics and colours)

The next step is to sew in the solid inserts between the horizontal strips. The pattern suggests using linen but I imagine that will look far too heavy against the surrounding medium weight cottons, so I have gone for a similar weight of cotton with a linen texture. I think this will give a better result.

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My appliqués will all be different from the quilt in the book: a different design of house, a different range of trees and a different flock of birds (yes, they are supposed to be birds). It’s fun to be able to follow a pattern and to put your own spin on it. It helps you to maintain what you loved about it but it’s not an exact replica.


Possible appliqué shapes from my stash of Tree templates

One idea might have been to use plaid fabrics and use the appliqués to suggest a Scottish landscape. (Lesson 5 – Give some thought to making possible and potentially more interesting variations on the same theme, instead of rushing to replicate the original.)

Anyway, we’ll see how it turns out. There are plenty more projects in that plastic box for future lesson learning.

Till next time….

Making Faces

IMG_9829Why do I always think that summer is going to be a string of long sunny days with only a spot of gardening that has to be done, and oodles of time to fit in all the other things I long to do? In truth it’s a string of long rainy days, with some hot, buggy, ones in between and time flies faster than it does in winter. Last month disappeared in a flash because I was looking after two cats and six kittens for a friend who was abroad for a while. IMG_9866They need plenty of cuddles and playtime with humans as well as a clean environment 😉  And dancing in the litter tray is best discouraged! After they had gone, I had to catch up on things I hadn’t done while they were here, and put the furniture back into the room I had emptied to house them for a month. Somehow that led to a reorganisation of my books, so there were books all over the floor for a few days, while I did a tidy and a reshuffle. A reshuffle always leaves a few stragglers that won’t fit on the shelf, so there was a bit of squeezing going on here and there. It was worth the time and effort as now I have all my favourite books right next to my desk – my craft books, poetry, short story and writing books – and the ones I don’t use as much are on the other side of the room.  IMG_9869

Then there were online courses to complete, doors to rub down and bits and pieces to list on Ebay. There were windows to clean and packages to post. So, no big chunks of time for sewing. However, there was plenty of thinking going on and planing for all the things I want to try. I want to try working with water soluble stabiliser. I especially want to experiment with some Indian embroidery and quilting. And I want to create some embroidered portraits. So, as a start,  I have been making faces:IMG_9832

For a bit of practice I bought some inexpensive muslin and tacked it on to some lightweight Vilene interfacing. Then I drew on a variety of different faces (freehand with a water soluble pen) and embroidered them.



I didn’t find the muslin very easy to work with but I realised I was using a needle that was too big and pulling the stitches too tight.


In this black and white face, I was using variegated thread. I wanted her hair to be a intermixing of black, grey and white streaks but she ended up having a white streak on one side. It’s a bit disconcerting when the single colour sections in the variegation end up in places you don’t necessarily want a concentration of a single colour. If the variegated sections were much shorter, maybe the different colours would blend more evenly.  Or maybe it means the use of variegated thread requires more careful planning before you begin!


I would like to try embroidering on linen because I love the texture it brings to a small embroidered projects but I wonder if I will like its looser weave when I have got so used to cotton. If not, perhaps a cotton with a linen look would work.

Last year I made a series of sketches of heads wearing crazy hats and now I think I might enjoy embroidering them onto a neutral, tone on tone, cotton background. Here are some of them:


The first is my favourite. The last one is just a bit of fun.

Now that autumn is just around the corner, I would like to think my posts could be more frequent – but the Book Festival will be here soon, the shrubs need urgent attention, not to mention the weeds, and Christmas is looming.

So, until the next time….

Around and Around with Cori Dantini

IMG_9700Hi Everybody,

This post is not so much to tell you what I have been stitching, as what I have not, and why.

I have almost finished my most recent project with the blocks that go round and round the quilt. This is my favourite quilt so far, in that it was such a pleasure to make. The fabric is by designer Cori Dantini and is called ‘The Sweet Life’. I have really enjoyed following the the lines in the fabric with embroidery stitches and embellishing the dresses that the girls are wearing. I have used mainly running stitch and stem stitch.IMG_9702The quilting was simple enough, too, just double lines of running stitches about four inches apart.  These run at right angles to each other, following each of the blocks around (see pic below). The centre block is quilted more closely, down through the blue and green stripes, and I have added blue, green, yellow and pink French Knots at intervals along them.


Here is the back of the quilt (below). I have used a co-ordinating fabric, made up of small panels that echo the larger ones on the front, only this pattern goes from the top to the bottom of the quilt rather than round and round. I realise, as I write this, that I could have had it going round and round, which would have been fun and would have echoed the front rather nicely, but I didn’t think of it at the time.

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So, it’s almost done. However, I still have the binding to do and I have to admit I am avoiding it. Up until now my bindings have consisted of using the backing material folded to the front and stitched down. But, in experienced quilting circles this is not a ‘proper’ binding and I think it’s about time I learned to do one. I do think it’s important to learn how to do things the way received wisdom says is the best (ie most durable) way, even if you go back to doing it the easy way later on, to suit yourself.

My fears are manifold: I have no idea how wide to make the binding, how to cut the binding, whether I need to put the fabric through a bias tape maker and if so what size I should use. I see there are posts on Pinterest showing you how to cut continuous binding from a fat quarter but I am putting off trying this in case I ruin my fabric, as I haven’t got any extra. The thought of hand-sewing both sides of the binding, instead of just one side, does not excite me much either but at least that bit is straightforward. I know how to sew a seam down. It’s just going to take twice as long.


So what HAVE I been doing lately? Two weeks ago I offered to help out a friend who was going on holiday to the States for a month and hadn’t found anyone to look after her cats.

The problem was that one had just had kittens and the owner didn’t want her separated from her six-month old buddy. So I said I would have them all. I mean, how hard could it be? I already have four Siamese cats of my own.


Well, I don’t know where the day goes. There’s feeding and cleaning (a LOT of cleaning) and tickling  tummies, and playing ball, and fitting in photo shoots. There’s trying to do all this without my own cats getting wind of it (which is early in the morning, at intervals while they are asleep in the day and after they are in bed in the evening). So far, it has been very busy and tiring, fitting all this in among my usual household chores, and I find I am thinking about their needs most of the time. Quilts are not getting a look in. Two weeks down, three more to go. And there is an extra bit to tackle soon: The weaning and the litter training of six little babies. I have no idea how all that is going to go but I am in touch with the owner via Facebook and I have my ‘Complete Cat Care Manual’ to refer to. Despite the worries and difficulties, these little visitors have already brought me so much pleasure that I wouldn’t have missed the experience for anything. I mean who could resist six of these?


After the 22nd August, when I have recovered, I will take another look at binding this quilt. Or I might avoid it a while longer and turn my attention to another new project while I muster courage. If anyone has any advice for me about binding this quilt, or a link to share, I’d be grateful. I really don’t want this quilt to end up as another UFO.

Until next time……


“Oh the Places You’ll Go!”


Completed ‘Owls’ four patch quilt (27 inches or 69 centimetres) square.

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…” ― Dr. SeussOh, The Places You’ll Go!

“You’re on your own. And you know what you know “. Well, sometimes neither is ideal, or quite enough, when it comes to putting a quilt together all by yourself.  Most of us learn best by doing, though we can learn more wisely if we are lucky enough to have a family member, mentor, or friend, to point out useful tips and strategies so that we aren’t falling at every fence.

I think to some extent that’s what we look for in other people’s blog posts, a guiding hand, someone who can help us avoid problems, see where we went wrong, in addition to ideas, inspiration and connecting with a like mind.


A simple four patch, English Paper Pieced and basted – and then abandoned

When I first started looking at quilting blogs I was coming across so many posts where a finished creation was posted in a Ta-da! moment, the blogger describing the fabric they used, or how excited they were, but nothing about how they got to that moment, or the challenges they faced on the way.  I used to think it was just me making these mistakes. Everyone seemed to be making amazing things, as if they knew instinctively what to do. I thought it might be an American thing, a quilting know-how passed down through families; something we don’t have here in the UK anymore.


The owls were quilted around the outline of their bodies and the four patches quilted with large and small stars

One day I was looking for advice on Pinterest about attaching some wavy braid (ric-rac or rick rack in the USA). I was finding turning corners with it tricky and wanted to understand how best to tackle them, but I found that posts either didn’t mention the corners, or if they did, the corners didn’t show in their photos.

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An imperfect corner, following a prolonged tussle with ric-rac.

After a while it began to dawn on me that people didn’t want to admit to mistakes, they didn’t want to show their ‘done, but not quite perfect’, corners. They wanted to appear capable, accomplished, professional and just have us admire their creations.

I do understand that. Who wouldn’t like to post something beautiful and have people admire it, but what if your posts could accomplish much more?

Eventually, I found a few blogs that did discuss process and discovered what is referred to as a “win-win” situation. The bloggers had learned from their mistakes but SO DID I. And I admired them for their courage and honesty and willingness to share what they had learned and struggled with on the way to their finished quilt. I realised I wasn’t on my own. I wasn’t the only one finding that my quilts didn’t quite match my expectations. There are others out there just like me, even in America, and it’s good to have each other’s help.

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The back of the owl quilt, showing the outlines of the owls and stars

So, I am happy to say that I have completed another quilt that was languishing unfinished in a box (Ta-da! drum roll!) but less happy with the quilt itself.  In a previous post I mentioned that this was a quilt I started as a beginner quilter and so it was not pieced as well as I would like, and the stitches show much more than I would like. I abandoned it after I had done the top because having made the quilt sandwich with backing and batting tacked on, I had no idea how to quilt it or bind it. Three or four years on I have learned enough to complete it, but, even now, some of the choices I have made I would be wary of repeating in future.

Here are the main things I learned:

Stars are not easy to quilt: I used stencils for the stars, tracing them on with pen lines that wash out and quilting over the lines. It was hard to get into a rhythm of stitches, getting the right number of stitches coming up to each spoke of the stars. I kept having to unpick my stitches, making them bigger or smaller to fit. The smaller stars were even harder. I realised, too late, that the larger stars effectively quilted all four of the tiny patches at the same time, which was SO much more helpful. The smaller ones took ages and only covered two patches, leaving me wondering what to do with the other two. Did they have to be quilted too? I wasn’t sure.  I decided on a small ermine stitch but felt all these made the quilt fussier and more labour intensive than it needed to be. I think in future I would have the whole quilting design thought out a bit better before I started.


Variegated thread may not be the best choice: I used variegated thread for the stars because I thought the softer colours would be better on  a quilt that was already so bright; that a soft blue moon and stars would be less obtrusive and would prevent the quilt from looking too cluttered.


The moon is quite hard to see on the quilt.

I have used variegated thread before on quilts to good effect but it was as surface embroidery or in lines along borders and edges. On this quilt it caused some images to appear to be only partly there, when seen from a distance. I think using only large dark blue stars would have have maintained the simple, bold look of the rest of the quilt.

Using very dark fabrics can be risky: I used a very dark fabric for the border. I did prewash the fabric and it did run a little. I rinsed it until the water ran clear but I am still worried that when I wash this quilt the colour may run a little. Version 2I no longer buy very dark fabric for projects that will be washed and always avoid cheaper cottons where this could be a problem.

So, “the places you’ll go” may not be quite what you had in mind originally,  but they may well lead somewhere more satisfying eventually, especially with the help of others who have been there before you. And if you are lucky “you’ll know what you know” because they helped you get there. I want to say thank you to those quilters out there who have opted to talk about the problems they faced and the mistakes that they made. You know who you are. Bravo!

Till next time….

Arrgh, Those UFO’s!

IMG_9480I have come to realise an uncomfortable truth and I suspect I am not alone in this; I accumulate UFO’s; not the flying saucer soaring through the sky kind but the UnFinishedObject lurking in a box kind.

I have an idea for a quilt and get excited. I find the fabric and decide on the pattern; all things I love doing. I piece the top, loving how the idea comes to fruition. Then I make the quilt sandwich (top, back and wadding/batting in between), tack the layers together….and then start a new project. Why?

It’s partly to do with needing a bit of time to decide on an appropriate quilting design and partly to summon the courage to start quilting, or embroidering , on the surface of something I have taken days to piece, knowing that I risk ruining the whole thing when I am this far along. So I put it away for a while, (chicken out ) and forget all about it. I have about five or six unfinished quilts. I say that in a whisper, eyes downcast, as if I am at a Quilters’ Anonymous meeting. My name is Lesley and I have more than FIVE unfinished quilts. And, (mumble, mumble) a few other smaller projects.

Last week I dragged them all out of their boxes,  laid them out on the dining table, and realised another uncomfortable truth. UFO’s that hang about lose their shine. I don’t like them much anymore. The thing is that UFO’s stay the same but you move on. You have new ideas, learn new ways of tackling problems, grow more experienced. And then you look at your UFO’s and realise they scream Old You, a You that you don’t want to be anymore. A much less experienced you, and it shows.

I am an English Paper Piecer and the quilt police have put it about that modern English Paper Piecers are not expected to have stitches showing. My stitches don’t show anymore, but in these quilts, the first few I  did before I learned how to hide them, before I learned to quilt designs on the surface, before I learned to match thread more carefully to the background, they SHOW.

Of course if I was to hang the quilts on a wall, so I am looking at them from a distance, I  the stitches holding it all together are no longer visible. But I know how they look. These quilts no longer meet my expectations. They make me feel unprofessional. All I can hope is that there are people out there who doesn’t give a hoot about stitches showing, that they know every one is sewn by hand,  over many hours, and love them for that. Thank heaven for those people! Are they any?

So here is the first completed UFO. My ‘Bows’ quilts from the old, traditional, Bow-Tie pattern, in summery Moda fabrics. It measures  24 x 32 inches (or 61 x 81 centimetres).

I am now a reformed being. I have set myself the goal of finishing these quilts (well, as many as I possibly can) over the next month, so that I can get on with new ideas that I am itching to start. And because my box is full and I am NOT going to start another one.

The Moral of this Post:

Start very small, so there is more chance of finishing what you have started.

Don’t try and quilt before you can stitch. Create little samplers that are not so important and try techniques out on those.

If you are like me and can’t do sensible things like that, don’t put your UFO away. Leave it lying around where it bugs you, so that you tackle it at intervals until it’s finished.

Plan a reward:  ‘When I finished this quilt I can….’ Maybe get a friend to help. When you’ve finished it you can do something together that you’ve both been wanting to do.

And if you really hate it, unpick it (shock, horror!) and begin again. It might be worth it in the end.

Here are two of my other offending UFO’s: a Burgoyne’s Quilt made during the last Olympic Games in the UK (still no idea how best to quilt it – any suggestions? ) and an Owl Four-Patch which I am working on next. I’ll post them when they’re  finished. It could be some time….

and THIS ONE, below, (more shock, horror) I began in 1981 !! I thought it would be nice for my daughter to have a quilt when she moved from her cot to a single bed. I didn’t attempt another quilt until 2014.

This was as far as I got: A pieced, appliquéd cottage on a plain background with a single border, in pink and blue Laura Ashley fabric. A few trees are still waiting to be appliquéd on. There are curtains in one window and not in another. I don’t like how incongruous the flower patches look. I can embroider my own on, now. And I hate the stitches. They are WHITE. I probably only owned white and black thread then. This one is going to be taken apart completely and I will start again. Maybe I will finish it before her 40th birthday.

Do you have any UFO’s languishing somewhere? Quilts? Paintings? Poems? Drag them out into the light, get the pesky things finished and, who knows, maybe they will fly!