Your Fabric Stash – Does it Serve You Well?

Hi Everybody,

I’ve been thinking about fabric stashes and what makes a fabric stash useful and worth having. I’m quite organised with my stash. A local sweetshop owner doesn’t like to throw away the plastic boxes that the sweets are delivered in, so he gives them away to people like me who like to hoard things in boxes. I keep them all on the shelves of a bookcase.

Most are square boxes organised by colour, fabric type and theme. I have boxes of blacks and greys, whites, cream, pinks , reds and so on for colours. These are mainly prints though I have a single box of solids and one for charm packs which include a good range of shades. I have boxes for muslin, linen, white cotton, batik, double gauze, grunge fabric, organza, Liberty prints, plaids and tartans.

I also have boxes based around the themes that crop up most often in my work – kids,  cats and dogs, birds, skies (clouds, rain, snow etc), Celtic themes, Christmas and novelty fabrics like text.  Then I have a few long thin boxes for threads, trims and embellishments, paper templates and that sort of thing.

What I don’t really have enough of are spots, stripes, grids,  tone on tone blenders and the sort of broad striped fabrics that make interesting borders and bindings. I notice over and over how useful it would be to have a choice of these and yet I never buy them because, if I am going to spend some money, I want to spend it on something I get excited about rather than something useful. This is a bit silly because these fabrics lift and enhance work in interesting ways.

I also don’t pay much attention to tones. I am always looking to have dark, light and medium tones in my work, only to find most of my stash includes prints that are much the same.  This is where charm packs can be useful because they do ensure you are buying a range of tones.

Moda ‘Boat House’ Charm Pack with a typical range of light and dark fabrics.

I began my stash because I wanted to create appliquéd fabric pictures and embroideries, so I bought various background fabrics in natural linens for that purpose but I didn’t really have the skills at that point. There was much to learn, so I put those aside and starting quilting because I had done some of that years before. I thought it would be fun to make baby quilts so I spent many happy hours designing cot quilts and buying the fabric for them.

Fabric bought years ago for a baby quilt with a dog theme.

As I made  one I planned more and bought more fabric for them.

Fabric bought years ago for baby quilt with a cat theme.

I also bought fabric that I thought would be fun without any real idea of what I was going to do with it.

Novelty Fabrics: I have too many.

I bought too far ahead and without clear purpose. I am now faced with having to start those USO’s (unstarted objects) soon, to get them done and out of the way, reducing them in size or adapting them in some way,   using the fabric for different things or selling it. It’s feels wasteful and and is holding me back, as I now want to do more ‘arty’ things with fabric – to  print and paint my own fabric, add layers, surface stitches, explore needle lace, fabric weaving –  and that is a long way from where I began.

So, now I am going to interest myself more in a range of tones and textures: stripes, grids, solids, linen looks, and tone on tone blenders and before I buy  will consider their purpose in relation to the project I am doing next or the possibility of them having multiple uses in the future. Now and again I might splurge on something if I see the perfect fabric for something I plan to make soon but I won’t do that often. Buying way ahead of time wasn’t a good idea. I had no idea how much making and exploring fabric and design would change me. But maybe it’s not like that for everyone.

In hindsight, I think the thing to do is to buy bearing in mind what you are into at the moment and not too much of it. Know that you may change your mind and ideas in the not too distant future. There is often a feeling that if we don’t buy a particular fabric now it  will be gone, and often it is, but we should be able to let it go. There will always be something that will work, if not today then a little later, and it might even be something better. I found this to be true.

I wonder how you manage your stash. I bet you’ve been more sensible than I have.

Strangely the fabric I most want to buy plenty of I can’t find, and that is genuine tartan in a medium weight cotton. I can find polyester cotton but I don’t like to  mix that with my cottons (am I being too fussy? I feel that the cotton will shrink whilst the poly-cotton will not) ; I can find brushed tartan which is too fluffy;  wool tartan which is too thick for EPP;  cotton shirting which is too thin and floppy; and plaid which, though lovely, is not authentically Scottish and can’t really replace a genuine tartan. So, if you know of anywhere I can buy medium weight cotton genuine tartans (not fashion tartans) please let me know. I would like so many of my designs to include tartan but it seems it’s not to be. Instead I have to concentrate on Scottish themes, incorporate a broader variety of  ‘tartans’ and plaids  occasionally and tell myself that not everyone loves tartan, so maybe it’s ok.

Acorn classic fabrics kindly sent me some swatches but they are shirting material and may be too thin. The swatch in the photo is the Gordon tartan

This week I have been working on the top of a new quilt which I have called Hill and Heather. The design is an altered version of a traditional quilt block called Purple Sage. I may add more embroidery to the trees on the far right and left, as they look a bit sparse. Then I can set about turning it into a little quilt.  Making this has taught me to think twice about using circles in little patches because if they don’t match up, it shows.

‘Hill and Heather’ (mini quilt to be). It’s a bit crumpled from being in a hoop to do the embroidery in the centre but it will come out all right eventually, I hope.

My husband is away, sailing on the tall ship ‘La Malouine’  to the Isle of Man, so I have a week to myself with fewer interruptions and I’m hoping to get plenty of new work done.

Tall ship ‘La Malouine’

Till next time……


Books on EPP – Worth Having?



I love nasturtiums and I’ve got a bit crazy over red at the moment. I’m sure you will see it showing up in my quilts very soon.

So, is it worth buying books on EPP?  The short answer is yes, for various reasons, but some are likely to be more useful to you than others, depending on what you are looking for. But let me give you the l o o o n g answer too:

As EPP has become more and more popular over the last few years, a rash of new books have become available. These fall into various categories:

  • There are those all about the hexagon (and in many people’s eyes EPP = hexagons ) One book all about hexagons and the shapes that join together to make hexagons, is:

Hexa- Go-Go: English Paper Piecing by Tacha Breuchern(Stash Books)

Promotional photo from

I don’t own this book as I am not much of a hexagon fan but I have seen it recommended over and over. It contains 16 quilt  projects and I’m told it has a great resource page and   author website worth a look.

However, the book is very expensive at the moment due to the huge popularity of hexagons but if you love hexagons, there is plenty of free information and tutorials online and  free patterns too. Check out Youtube and Pinterest.

  • Then there are  the books that give you the tools and techniques you need to make a number of shapes beyond the hexagon.  These also include a variety of projects that you can make with the techniques you have learned:

My favourite for this category is:

 ‘Quilting on the Go – Paper Piecing. Patchwork you can take anywhere: techniques, patterns and projects’ by Jessica Alexandrakis. (Search Press)

EPP is not mentioned in the title which is a bit misleading especially since Foundation Piecing is often referred to as Paper Piecing,  but  this book is only about EPP.

What I love about this book is that it covers everything you need to know at each stage from choosing your tools and joining your shapes, to adding edges and borders and then binding and quilting. There is plenty of information online about assembling a quilt by machine but it’s good to see someone showing you how to do most of it by hand. We don’t all own sewing machines.

There is also useful information about working with fabric colours and patterns, something many beginners struggle with, and information about being a quilter in a digital age.

The book includes ten different sized projects to master, ranging from a photo frame to a throw, and, in addition,  pages with suggested patterns for some of the most popular English Paper Piecing shapes with templates in case you prefer not to make any of the projects.

EPP is a celebrated here as portable hobby, so guidance is given about making a travel kit and working with scraps. The Resource page includes links to online UK supply companies

You know what though? I really wish all these books were ring bound. It makes it so much easier to work with a book alongside you that opens out flat. Quite a few embroidery books are appearing ring bound now, so maybe we can look forward to this in the future.

  • Fussy Cutting is all the rage at the moment and one of the first books to include this, in addition to EPP basics and a range of projects, is:

Quilting on the Go: English Paper Piecing by Sharon Burgess.

Promotional photo borrowed from

It is unfortunate that this book has a similar title to the one above as it makes it easy to confuse the two. This book includes a large and varied number of  practical projects including a runner, a mini quilt, bunting and placemats.

Burgess has published two other  English Paper Piecing books:

Promotional photo borrowed from

‘English Paper Piecing: A Stitch in Time‘ which is essentially another project book.

and a more comprehensive book:

Quilting Bible for Beginners: English Paper piecing.


Promotional photo borrowed from

In this book, in addition to a new series of projects, she gives guidance on a broader range of subjects such as hand and machine sewing and using digital photography when planning a quilt.

Although it suggests that it is essentially for beginners, most EPP shapes are not difficult and I would say that Jessica Alexandrakis’s book above and Dianne Gilleland’s book below are equally useful for beginners and will take you beyond beginner stage when you are ready.

  • Then there are the books that I love best, the ones choc full of tips and techniques, so you can make make and fit together a variety of shapes to create designs of your own, and which don’t  include any projects to make. I don’t seem to be inspired by projects in books, preferring to come up with my own (much less practical) creations. For this reason my favourite EPP book of all is:

‘All Points Patchwork – English Paper Piecing Beyond the Hexagon’ by Diane Gilleland

Much of the same important advice is covered in this book but the emphasis here is on encouraging you to build your own designs, either by computer or hand drawn, rather than copy someone else’s. However, ‘Project Inspiration’ photos are included to show you the sort of thing that can be done with a shape once you have made it.

Nowhere else have I found step by step advice on how to tackle basting at very narrow angles. Triangles drove me crazy until I found this book. You are also shown how to appliqué your shapes if your prefer not to piece them. I feel that the absence of projects has allowed the author to include many more pages of tips and techniques for us to apply in our own way. There is an interesting resource page including books on basic quilting, EPP bloggers (not me, sadly), online tutorials and online supply companies.

  • Published recently and something different from all of the above is:

‘Flossie Teacakes Guide to English Paper Piecing (exploring the Fussy Cut World of Precision Patchwork’  by Florence Knapp

This is the newest addition to my EPP library (How delightful is the name Flossie Teacakes? I loved this name so much I named one of my ducks Flossie after I got this book. I’m not sure Ms Knapp would be flattered).

What this  book offers us, over and above the other books, is a sizeable amount of the history and background to English Paper Piecing,  the work of some well-known modern EPP’ers such as Sandra Cassidy (below). NB: Not all the featured modern quilters are fussy cutters.

It’s only right that I should showcase a Scottish EPP’er!

Here we get an in depth look at what’s needed to create beautiful fussy cut quilts.  Included are tips about design, the best  fabric to choose, how to make rosettes featuring a range of patterns from symmetrical to conversational, and in the last pages you are invited to bring these techniques together to make the ‘Ripple Effect quilt  top that the author has designed.

  • From Australia comes a book that teaches basic EPP skills alongside needle turned appliqué.

‘New English Paper Piecing. A Faster Approach to a Traditional Favourite  by Sue Daley’.

Promotional photo borrowed from

This is a book offering 10 different designs using hexagons  squares, circles, pentagons, that fit together to  create these and further designs.  We are shown how to piece shapes using EPP and then apply them to a whole cloth background. There are some great videos of hers on Youtube if you want to explore her way of working.


  • Two English Paper Piecing books  that would suit people who like traditional designs with added embellishments are produced by ‘That Patchwork Place. These are :

‘English Paper Piecing: Fresh New Quilts from Bloom Creek’ and

‘English Paper Piecing II’ ,  both by Vicki Bellino. 

The photo shows the first book but both include a series of quilt patterns for you to copy,  with links to a website to download patterns.

There are so many patterns and ideas online, especially on Pinterest these days and, given that you don’t need  pattern instructions for EPP as you do for machine made quilts (unless you want to make the specific quilts or projects included in some books), you only really need one or two books that tell you as much as possible about technique.

A couple of the books in this post were  reviewed earlier on my Book Reviews Page on this site.  Why not check it out if you have a moment. It includes other low cost titles that were not intended for EPP but are perfect for beginners,  as well as other related subject area like appliqué embroidery and hand quilting. I will be adding to it from time to time.

And, wonder of wonders, I have a new, tiny mini quilt in progress, which I hope to show you in my next post.

Until next time…..


A Near Relative called Appliqué

The owl I made for an artist friend, Lisa Hooper. It is a copy of her driftwood sculpture.

Appliqué comes from the French word ‘appliquer’ meaning to ‘put on’ or  ‘apply’ one piece of fabric to another, either by hand or machine. The raw edges of the pieces being applied can be turned under and sewn or simply covered with decorative stitching.

Appliqué has been around for thousands of years, all across the globe. It began as a useful  way of repairing small holes and tears in clothing that was passed down over generations until it became a useful way of decorating textiles for a myriad of uses, from wrapping infants to shrouding the dead.

This was a small experiment in Crazy Quilting. The heart can now be appliquéd onto something.

Traditional variations  include bonded appliqué, broderie perse, cut away or reverse appliqué, shadow appliqué, fabric collage and Mola work. It’s worth finding out more about each of these.

Very recently, appliqué has had a massive revival as the boundaries of these older techniques have been stretched to encompass experiments with colour and texture,  layering and overlaying  and incorporating a range of materials such as jewellery or metal, with new and exciting results. Contemporary appliqué has now come to be regarded as an art form in its own right and it  forms a huge part of surface decoration in modern textile design.

The swallow I made for another friend, who ran ‘The Swallow Theatre’ close to where `I live..

But what does that have to do with EPP?  Well, it’s this: There are some simple and easy appliqué techniques you can use to aid or enhance your EPP work. I think of appliqué as a near relative that it’s fun to visit from time to time, for a bit of fun.

1. A group of shapes that have been used to complete a  pattern in English Paper Piecing  can be appliquéd onto a larger fabric background,  rather than adding more pieces to form a quilt. For example you could appliqué this ring of  pieced hexagons onto a cotton carrier bag, or a row of smaller ones onto a pillow case . This technique works well when you want to try out individual blocks or designs and finish them quickly, and when you are not ready to try something larger.

A group of hexagons flowers in blue Laura Ashley fabric, made so long ago and now languishing in a box.

2. If you want to give your shapes a slightly raised look you could appliqué, say, a single hexagon flower in the centre of each patchwork square in a mini quilt. Appliquéing them on will allow the flowers to  pop forward because they sit a  little proud of their  background. If you like, you could even stuff the flowers with washable wadding. In this cot quilt ‘Pastel Bows’, I appliquéd on  the centre of each bow and   stuffed it.

‘Pastel Bows’ with stuffed centres.

3. Paper inserts inside shapes to be appliquéd  give the shapes body and keep corners sharp and neat.

The basket and the bunny were appliquéd on after the patchwork was completed.

After your  fabric shapes are completed and pressed, the papers can be removed and the shape easily stitched to a background fabric without losing its definition.

4. EPP shapes have edges that are already turned under, making  it easy to hand appliqué using invisible stitches.

A rectangle of fabric tacked/basted to a paper insert. I usually use white paper but any colour will do.

5. Appliqué is a way of adding complementary colours, fabrics and designs to embellish what could otherwise be rather plain. In this quilt pattern ‘Over the Orchard’ by Kajsa Wikman (from the book ‘Quilts Baby!’ by Linda Kopp), you can see that without the appliqué in the centre panels, it wouldn’t have nearly as much personality.


I am part way through making a version of this quilt which I have called, ‘Over the Hills’. The edges are done and I have hills, groups of conifers, a farm cottage and some birds ready to add to the various centre sections. Just the appliqués to sew down and it will be ready to assemble and be quilted.  Here it is in progress:


6. Appliqué can be used as a means of adding a border (or multiple borders) to your finished quilt top or if you want to enlarge a small quilt, to display inside a larger picture frame for example. When I put the binding on the ‘Dog Log’ below, I found that the folded edge sliced off a piece of each of the images at the sides. I have now unpicked the binding to appliqué  a narrow border onto all four sides. These will  butt up against the squares with the images without any overlapping and allow them to be seen clearly. Then I will re-attach the binding to the new border.

‘Dog Log’ mini quilt.

7. Appliqué is a perfect way to create a pictorial quilt.  Appliquéd shapes don’t have to be geometrical because you are not piecing them together. This means you can use any shape you like. This mini quilt ‘Down in the Glen’ shows how you can use appliqué on a patched background.

Appliquéd house and trees using squares, rectangles and conical shapes, on a patched background.

I always use paper shapes inside my appliqué in true EPP style because I find the paper acts as a stabiliser but you can make shapes without papers. If you do use papers, don’t forget to remove them before you sew your shapes down! Otherwise you end up with a crackly project that you can’t wash (yes, I have done that on more than one occasion!). You can use a fine stabiliser like Pellon and leave it in if you don’t plan to wash your work, or you can use wash-away appliqué sheets in place of papers but they are thicker and I find them harder to work with.

8. Here,  a ” A Song of Eggs and Feathers’,  shows the focus is entirely on the appliqué rather than part of an overall design. Pictorial elements have been applied to square of printed cotton rather than a patched background.Each separate piece of the birds has been made using a paper shape wrapped with cloth before stitching it down and embroidering over it. This is more exacting than patchwork but also more fun.

‘A Song of Eggs and Feathers’, made for a poet friend, Ann Gray. Multiple shapes appliquéd to a printed cotton background.

‘Murmuration’ (below) is a  mini quilt that I am working on at the moment, where I have taken a fabric print that I love and added a little appliqué to suggest dusk in Scotland with a sky full of birds.

The border is pieced but I have appliquéd on the cottage, the smoke from the chimney, the hill  and the fence using paper inserts that were removed after pressing. I have starting adding some embroidery but there will be more to come and of course the hand quilting and binding.

If you are a patchworker or  English Paper Piecer, have you given appliqué a try?

till next time…

(PS  – apologies for using photos from earlier blog posts but I don’t make things fast enough to be able to show you new things as examples.)

Oh, Those Duckling Distractions!

This Plum at just a few days old. She is a Cayuga duckling and will always be all black. She looks as if she is wearing Barbie scuba diving flippers.

This post is just a quick note to say I haven’t disappeared, I’m still here and itching to be sewing, but have had to take some time out lately. A few small additions to my family have made sewing impossible, indeed have made most things impossible for a while.

You may remember in my last post I had just got two Runner ducklings, Flossie and Phoebe. And now I have Plum, a Cayuga duckling. Isn’t she a cutie? That completes my family of six ducks as I don’t think I can manage, or afford to feed any more. Here are my adult three, enjoying a swim in their pen.

Ducks in a Row: Lovely photo taken by a friend, Jane Carlton, on a recent visit to my home

Today, the ‘Twins’ are coming up to five weeks old. They are beginning to feather up, their yellow fluffy patches are turning white and their brown patches are becoming more speckled. Plum is just over 2 weeks old now and has tripled in size since her arrival.  If you have had children you may remember that when they were babies you would feed and change them and by the time you had put the washing on and tidied up a bit, it was time to feed and change them again. This is what it has been like for the past few weeks: A long round of feeding and watering, cleaning pots and pens and then more of the same, over and over, as well as fitting the needs of the adults ducks in between.  A lot of cheeping and whistling, a lot of mess and a lot of pleasure. But not a lot of sewing. I am exhausted at the end of each day.  A few more weeks to go and it will get easier, the weather will get warmer and they can go outside for a longer periods which will buy me some sewing time.

The ‘Twins’ are so much bigger than they were when I last posted. Here they are in their ‘play pen’, enjoying the garden for a short while.

Before I go on, I want to say hello to my new followers who have joined me at this awkward time when nothing seems to be happening on my blog. Welcome! Please bear with me for a little longer. And feel free to comment, ask questions and tell me about your experiences. I love to hear from people.

I have actually tried to work on a project in snatched moments here and there but I have rushed it and it has not turned out well. I am still trying to repair it and then I will write a post about the problems and what to do when things go wrong.

The Twin ducklings were a birthday gift but I also received a few books and I can’t wait to tell you more about them and to try out some of the projects suggested inside.

Two of the books I received for my birthday. I also received two others which I will tell you about in my next post.

The weather in Scotland is dire at the moment;  so much rain and quite cool even when the sun comes out for brief intervals.

More rain on the way – photo by Jane Carlton

It is the coldest June I can remember.  The rain is making everything grow profusely but it is too wet to go out and do anything about it. There are so many  flowers about and the bees are busy as ever, despite the rain.

So until next time, hang in there for me…… I will be back with some sewing just as soon as I can.

A bumble bee on a Geranium – photo by Jane Carlton

Gifts in Spring


Bluebells carpet the floor in the wood behind our house

Spring came early this year and I wasn’t ready for it. Most surprising were the bluebells arriving two weeks ahead of time and a hydrangea in flower in May rather than in mid to late summer. The Rhododendrons look amazing this year, better than ever:


We have a whole range of colours in bloom from vibrant reds and oranges, to soft creams and luminous whites:


I haven’t shown up here for a while and I have missed writing my posts. Not only do I enjoy chatting to you all but it feels good to see my thoughts on paper. Often they’re not clear until I see them in black and white.

I’ve been busy gardening, trying to transform new areas of the garden, buying a few new plants, replanting things in bigger pots which I neglected to do last year, and having my grown up children to stay for a while. It’s been lovely to catch up and feel close in ways that aren’t possible by email.


My favourite perennial, bought this Spring, Podophyllum ‘Spotty Dotty’

I have done SOME sewing,  for a friend’s birthday. I found an embroidery pattern that said just what I wanted it to say . It suited her perfectly, in that she tries to live her life to the full every day.

For Kriss

It’s not my own design but I find that when you sew something different for the first time, someone else’s design is often hugely helpful. It’s a bit like a children tracing letters with their fingers before they write them. I have not made any embroidered messages like this before, but now that I have done it by following in someones else’s footsteps, I feel more confident about creating my own design and I have a clear idea of what I would do differently.

Embroideries like this are not quilted, so there is the issue of them not being fastened to the background fabric in the same way. The embroidery is only on the surface. It doesn’t go all the way through to the back because the reverse of the stitches are not tidy in the way that quilting stitches are. You wouldn’t want them to show. I did use an iron-on fusible interfacing between the front and back fabric but some ‘puffing’ is still visible in the centre area, as you can see in the photo. Anyone know how to avoid that??  I think next time I will try a double sided fusible interfacing and see if that works better.


I made it in the colours of her living room and popped it in a frame. I hope it will remind her to keep doing what she does already. I think that these simple embroidered appliquéd or quilted messages are a great idea for a personal gift and are not too time consuming or difficult to complete.

Now we come to the real reason no sewing has been done. It’s the arrival of two, three-day-old, Runner ducklings, a birthday present from my husband They are such a delight (and a constant distraction).  Here they are, my two little girls, Flossie on the left and Phoebe on the right. I am smitten. They will be fawn and white when they are fully grown.


I did ‘complete’ the Third Plus project I was working in the last couple of posts and ended up calling it ‘All at Sea’. I found that once I washed away the appliqué sheet behind the face, and quilted the design onto a backing, the initial puckering that had worried me seemed to disappear. I say ‘complete’ because I still intend to remove the paper boat, change the stitching on it and sew it back on with waves enveloping the sides. At the moment it sits on top of the sea and I don’t like that. Whether all this is possible at such a late stage, I’m not sure but I’m going to give it a try.


I have ordered some tools for printing some my own designs onto solids as I want to give that a try before dying my own cloth. I hope to do a post on that in due course, if it’s not a complete disaster (or even if it is).

I find myself wanting to move away from the traditional patchwork designs to explore other things but I need to use up quite a bit of my stash of fabrics first.  And I have been wanting to open an Etsy shop for so long, as I really don’t want to hold on to everything I make, especially if some of it can bring some pleasure to someone else, but find it is not only complicated and time consuming (I can cope with that) but expensive. You really need your own website and some set up to allow card payments, you need to pay for listing your items even if they don’t sell, for labels, for inner and outer packaging and so on. I’ve come to realise that I can’t afford to do it right now, though next year is a possibility. On the plus side, I’ll have a whole lot more variety of stock available by then.

In a few weeks my ducklings will need a little less care and attention and it will be too hot to garden. That is the time I will get back into almost full time sewing but for now I will just look at my patterns in waiting and see what grabs me and make a start.

Enjoy the rest of Spring…

Bye for now….

Third Plus Revisited – and More

Purple Rhododendron coming into flower in our front garden.

Hi Everybody,

Signs of Spring have come to western Scotland at last. It’s feeling warmer and, although it is still disappointedly wet, there is so much colour appearing the garden.

Much of my time has been taken up caring for my new family of ducks over this winter. I had no idea they would be such hard work, not so much the ducks themselves, but being outside every day cleaning a pen and pond in all weather, the snow and the constant rain being the most challenging.

This pond was fresh, clear water only hours before. Hard to believe!

I can’t wait for drier weather when I am not sliding around in mud and my ducks return to being pure white again.

Yuk Yuk

I have been working on my ‘Third Plus’ experiment that I spoke about in my last post. However,  it has not been as successful as I had hoped.  I began by deciding to try using a wash away appliqué sheet,  as I had been given some for Christmas and had not tried them out.

I cut the face shape I wanted out of one of the sheets which, thankfully, was thin enough for me to trace my pattern through it. I then cut out the shape and covered it in fabric, folding the edges over the shape and gluing them down using a Sewline fabric glue stick.

The appliqué sheets are fusible on the shiny side. I chose to fuse the shape to the background fabric afterwards to stop the shape moving rather than fuse the wrapped fabric to the shape. Next time I might try it the other way around.

I thought the seam around the face looked ugly so I decided to cover it with stem stitch, using a variegated blue thread. I cut a boat out of paper to help me decide where I might place it,  though later I made it smaller. I wanted it to look a bit like a boat and a bit like a hat. You can see some puckering beginning at this stage. I have not had this happen when I have used ordinary paper inside a shape, though it could be just that I pulled my stitches too tight. I probably should have stopped and investigated but I thought it might iron out eventually. It didn’t.

This is the embroidery and appliqué completed. If I was pleased with it I probably would have added more to improve the shape of the lips and brows. The puckering seems worse now but it is possible that it will improve when it is quilted with some wavy lines. We’ll have to see. I haven’t washed out the appliqué sheet inside the face yet either and I wonder if that will make any difference. Apparently you can choose to leave it in, which may give the shape some depth, though it feels a bit hard and inflexible. This doesn’t really matter for a picture but it might matter if you were using it on a cushion, for example.

Although it is not finished as yet, I put the project in a frame to give you an idea of how it would look, proportion wise, but it was after five in the evening and so the picture looks quite dark. You’ll get the idea, though.  I do like the idea of a two-tone background, so I will definitely try that again.

‘Lady of the Lake’ 8 x 8 inches

The only other thing I’ve completed this week is ‘Farm in the Hills’, which has been equally disappointing.  I thought tossed cows in the ‘fields’ around the farm would be fun but now realise I should have fussy cut them all the same way up. Most of them look upside down. So, I’m not very happy about this one either. I can’t believe I finished it before I even noticed!

‘Farm in the Hills’ 8 x 8 inches

I ran over my index finger with my rotary cutter as well, so I was sewing wearing two plasters and a surgical glove so that I wouldn’t bleed on anything.  Not a great week for sewing, then.

In progress, despite all this, is ‘All Roads Lead Home’, which looks a bit more promising.

‘Al Roads Lead Home’ 12 x 12 inches

I have yet to add a window, perhaps  some vertical lines on the roof to suggest slates, and I want to put some hens or geese or something suggesting movement in the bottom, right hand, square. Then there is the quilting and binding to do.

As soon as the weather changes I shall be taking a break to go out in the garden as there  is stacks to do before everything  leafs up, explodes into flower, and the grass starts growing again. I also have to embroider something special for a friend’s birthday in April.

Next post? I have the embroidery bug at the moment, so I am thinking of attempting some Paisley Birds as a complete change from appliqué and design guides, though my Scottish themed EPP quilts will be chugging along, in between, as usual.

So, until next time, take a moment to enjoy the flowers….

A pink Camelia bud in the back garden.

‘Third Plus’ A Design Guide

Chenomeles, not often put in a vase and yet it looks lovely.

Sometimes it’s difficult to make a start. You wonder how to begin to organise a design on your blank canvas, whether it’s paper or fabric.  But help is at hand. Deborah Boschert has taken traditional elements and principles of design and condensed them into a series of eight Design Guides, that go a long way to help us with that process in a friendly, non-academic, way.

‘Sketching with Silk’ by Ellen Linder.

You may remember that several posts ago ( October 2017: ‘Design, Composition and Play’) we looked at another of Deborah’s design guides: “One Amazing Line” and  I made an English Paper Pieced snake with some embroidered ladders. Here is another, much more proficient, example of  what a simple line can do, ‘Sketching with Silk’, a 9 x 36 ” piece  by Ellen Linder.

Today I wanted to talk briefly about another of Deborah’s Design Guides, one that she calls ‘Third Plus’ and to see what I can make of it with some simple EPP and appliqué.

Moda ‘Grunge’ fabrics

Her first directions is to “fill one third of the space with one fabric and the remaining two thirds with another fabric.” I chose an 8 x 8 inch space and two shades of fabric that complemented each other, for a sea theme.

These are Moda Grunge fabrics ‘Crystal Sea’ (the lighter fabric on left) and ‘Cabana’ (the darker fabric on right) which are perfect for background interest. They come in a HUGE range of colours and shades.

The next step is to put ” something interesting” on the line dividing the two fabrics. You can put this slightly above, below, to the right, or the left of the line, whichever suits your idea better; and this is a composition that works in portrait or in landscape, which is another thing worth exploring.

The “something interesting” that you add can be a shape, like a cloud; or a symbol, like a plus sign; it can be a line that works across the composition; or an arrangement of small things, like flowers or sea shells. You can play with texture and colour, too. So, there are stacks  of options that can take your initial idea different ways.

As I am an English Paper Piecer, I begin with paper shapes, so I drew my design out and placed my “something interesting”, a face, just  a squeak below the centre of the line. I drew it out as a grid first because I considered a patchwork background, but changed my mind and stuck with simply joining the two pieces of fabric.

‘Third Plus’ design sketch

The item of interest that you add to your line doesn’t have to be an appliquéd piece, like mine. Yours might be embroidered on, or  you might have a series of patches worked into the centre. My plan is to appliqué the face on the background, then embroider it (perhaps adding a little paint). After that I will embroider on the hair as a series of rolling waves and then appliqué a small boat riding the waves. I want to call my composition ‘Lady of the Lake'( though as I am in Scotland, perhaps I should be calling it the Lady of the Loch !

So here we go. The first step is to tack each background piece and then sew them together.  It will look something like this (without those horrible tacking stitches of course!)

‘Third Plus’ background shapes.

As the face is going to take me a while to complete, I need to leave you here and show you the finished item in the next post, where I will talk about any changes I make, and  about the surface embellishment.

Recommended Reading!

In the meantime, you have all the information you need here to make a start on your own Third Plus project and I will gladly post pictures if you send them to me. You may also want to check out Deborah Boschert’s book online. it is called ‘Art Quilt Collage :  a creative journey in fabric paint and stitch’. I can’t recommend it enough for when you want to take that next step into something more ‘arty’.

I also wanted to say something briefly about copying, today. I see that in the UK, copying is something very much frowned upon. As I see it,  here  we are encouraged  to separate ourselves from others and create something unique.  I grew up in the Far East where copying is encouraged and you would be thought very arrogant indeed to think that, as a beginner, you could just go off and do your own thing.  I attended Chinese Brush Painting classes where students would watch while the painting master created a painting in front of their eyes and then copy it.

‘Paddy Birds’

One day, after several years of copying, my painting master paid me the highest compliment (actually the only one he ever paid me). “Just like mine,” he said. Of course it wasn’t but it was his way of telling me that I was nearly ready to create my own compositions. The painting was Paddy birds (from the paddy fields), in a tree.

I agree that copying work and passing it off as your own is not acceptable but there are advantages to copying work as a learning exercise and I don’t think we should be afraid to embrace that. After all, didn’t Picasso say something like it took him a couple of years to learn to paint like Rembrandt and then the rest of his life to learn to paint like a child ?

The original ‘Antique Fair’ basket by Merumo at

We can learn things from copying that lead us to a better execution of our own ideas in the future. I often copy designs I am drawn to on Pinterest. Here is an example.

I copied this little quilt because it allowed me to try some small appliquéd shapes for the first time as complete something fairly quickly. Sometimes I adapt designs to suit myself. Here I changed the shape of the basket  because I liked this one better. I also added a tail and some whiskers to the rabbit. I am quite happy to say it is not my own design, or that I have improvised on top of someone else’s. It still makes me smile whenever I look at it.

My copy, ‘Spring Basket’

In copying I can inhabit the shoes of the maker, understanding a little of what it took to make that design, or use those stitches. Copying helps us experiment, gives us something specific to focus on: What would it be like to make a primitive design like one person, an embroidered landscape like another? Though copying we learn about what we most enjoy and want to go on and develop. Some people are so talented they can create something unique from scratch. Most of us have to learn slowly by trying out different things in a bid to find our own unique take on the world. Copying is a good way to start out. What’s not to like, as they say?

After ‘ Lady of the Lake’  is complete, I will return to some more Scottish themed ideas that are already in progress, with one or two especially for Spring. If  Deborah’s Design Guides give you useful food for thought, we could try out some more of them……let me know, ok?

Till next time…





Two Pieces of Scotland (And a Touch of Fake Trapunto)

Hello Everyone,

We have some unexpected mild and sunny weather here in Western Scotland at the moment, despite a few snow flurries a week or so ago. Spring really is beginning to feel closer and the snowdrops down through the garden look thicker and whiter than ever.

I have just a couple of pieces to show you today as I am trying to sort through a pile of unfinished projects. One or two went wrong, some just need a little tweak here and there, some need quilting and some need binding. After a while it gets annoying to have so many sitting about in various stages of unfinished, so it’s time to deal with a few at a time.

Even the two I am posting here have been in the pipeline for over a year. I am amazed how long it takes me to finish something. I think that it’s down to having too many pieces at different stages at the same time. However, I see from posts on an online EPP group I joined, that this is nothing unusual. We all seem to get excited about the next project and make a start on it before we have finished the one we are already working on. From now on I am going to start fewer projects at one time, with a view to finishing them more quickly – ha, well, that’s the plan.

‘Down in the Glen’

The first of my finished pieces is ‘Down in the Glen’ which I completed months ago but I wasn’t satisfied with how it looked. I thought that if the trees stood out a little more the scene would have more depth, and so I decided to unpick them and stuff them with some cotton fluff, of the sort that you stuff soft toys with. I couldn’t face unpicking all the trees and sewing them down again after after having just painstakingly sewn around each one, so I put the quilt aside for a while.

Eventually I felt ready to make the changes but found that the stuffing I intended to use gave a rather uneven, lumpy result, so I used a medium loft quilt batting/wadding instead. This gave a more even finish and it was fine for the house roof but gave a flatter look to the trees than I wanted, so I think perhaps a higher loft batting might have worked better for those. I didn’t want to start all over again with different batting so I will just keep this in mind for the next time I do a  project of this nature. It is now finished and the above photo shows it being ‘auditioned’ in a frame. It hasn’t been stuck down to the backing board yet, so it’s not evenly placed and tending to crumple towards the bottom as it tries to stand upright. I need to attach a label on the back before I stick it down.

‘Dog Log’

I have become increasingly unhappy with my bindings, which seem to chop off fussy cut piecing at the edge of quilts, as in ‘Dog Log’ above (also recently finished), or show too much of the binding inside a frame or mount. I have got around this with some quilts by altering the size of the centre space in a mount to hide the binding, but In future I am going to add a further pieced border around my mini quilts for the binding to fold onto, so that this stops happening. I have now unpicked ‘Dog Log”s binding to add a border and binding that will allow the dog house at the top to regain its rooftop and for the dogs and the fence to be seen in their entirety on the other sides.

The second piece I have to show you is the first ‘Luckenbooth’ design that I created, finished just in time for Valentine’s Day this year (see my 19 March 2018 post, ‘Update – Work in Progress’) for more about the Scottish Luckenbooth and its purpose). An online friend said the colours gave it a soft look. This was intentional. I wanted to get away from the hard reds and pinks we usually associate with hearts on Valentine’s Day. This love token is not about passion; it’s about  something quieter and more lasting.

‘Lavender Luckenbooth’

The heart and the crown have also been stuffed with a piece of low loft batting, cut to fit each shape – 3 triangles for the crown and a whole piece for the heart which was then embroidered down the pieced seam on the upper right with feather stitch. Again I think I could have got away with a higher loft batting, especially since I am going to put it in a box frame. A  good press and a frame and it will ready for someone to put on their wall. I would love to think this little quilt could represent a symbol of lasting devotion between two people. That would be so gratifying. There could be a secret message on the back.

The method of stuffing fabric as a decorative feature is called Trapunto quilting, from the French meaning ‘to stuff’. However, traditional trapunto is more complex in that it uses two layers of fabric and cutting and stuffing is worked from the underside, to create a raised surface on the front. My, much easier, fake Trapunto is more like a simple stuffed appliqué which can give fabric pictures a little more depth and interest in a fraction of the time.

It was my hope to open an Etsy shop this January but I have come to realise how much more I need to do, gather together and pay for (more frames and mounts,  perhaps my own domain, a way for people to pay easily, packing materials and lots more), if I am to be as professional as I want to be and offer a great service and I just can’t afford it all at the moment. Next year is probably more realistic. I am disappointed but I will go on adding a few pieces to my Folksy shop from time to time and of course I am always available for questions, which I will answer as best I can.

My next post is going to be a brief step away from Scottish themed quilts to something I have wanted to experiment with  for a while; a fabric picture based on one of Deborah Brochart’s design guides: Third Plus. I also want to talk about the value (or not) of copying designs and following formulas as opposed to charging off on your own path. And I’d like to know what you think about that, too.

So, until next time……


Scotland’s Unicorn

Did you know that the unicorn is Scotland’s national animal? It was adopted as our national animal by King Robert in in the late 13000’s.  It’s no surprise really when you think how steeped in myth and legend the country is. And, though it is a creature straight out of fable, it does represent ideals synonymous with those of Scotland: Pride and a fierce desire to remain unconquered. It also stands for wildness, masculinity, nobility, chivalry and dominance, qualities important to Scottish kings, centuries ago. 

And did you know that there were once TWO unicorns on the Scottish Royal coat of arms? The Unicorn first appeared in the 12th century under William 1 and when James III came to power in the 15th century, gold coins were added below the Unicorn. Much later, when Scotland and England unified under the reign of James VI of Scotland in 1603, the Scottish Royal Arms sported two unicorns, holding a shield.  However, when James VI of Scotland became James I of England and Ireland, he replaced the unicorn on the left with a lion (the national animal of England) to demonstrate unity between the countries.(I have always thought it ironic that the lion and the unicorn have been age old enemies in folklore, since Babylonian times).

If you look at the first picture, above, the Unicorn in the Scottish coat of arms is always shown bound by a gold chain that snakes around its body. Given that the unicorn was reputed to be the strongest of all animals, this seems to suggest that Scotland has the power and strength to ensnare a unicorn.

You may wonder at the meaning of  “Nemo me impune lacessit”, the motto of the kingdom of Scotland, which is written below the two animals. It translates as “No-one provokes me with impunity “. Translated into Scottish Gaelic, it is closer to “No one who harms me goes unpunished.”

So being a Scot, I thought that it was fitting that I should create a couple of unicorns of my own, though these are unchained, gentle animals romping through fields or at rest among flowers, as unicorns should be. This is certainly more in keeping with  how unicorns are portrayed as more benevolent creatures today.I read somewhere that a medieval cookbook had been discovered containing instructions on how best to cook a unicorn! That is if you could catch one, of course.

The first of my unicorns is a 8 inch square mini quilt with a simple pattern. I wanted a use for some lovely floral fabric scraps I found online, and the soft pink stars and  gold fabric that I couldn’t seem find a place for. They seemed to fit together here. The unicorn is embroidered entirely with stem stitch and the pink plants in the centre square are embroidered with chain stitch. I realise I have given him a white eye and so you can’t really see it. Somehow introducing such a hard colour as black didn’t feel right.

The second mini (below) is also 8 inches square but a bolder design in bolder colours. I tried a polyester wadding in this one, to see how puffy the result would be and whether I would like it. Hmm, I’m not sure, I think I prefer the flatter  one above. The gingham and check binding were a nightmare. I tried to keep the number of squares even all the way around but it was so difficult. At some points keeping the pattern the same would have meant a change in the width of the binding, which was not acceptable. Perhaps in a frame, with only a fraction of the binding showing, they would look ok but although bindings like these can look striking, I will certainly avoid them in future.

I have  embroidered the body, mane and tail of this unicorn in stem stitch again, but this time I have used a variegated thread to introduce some of the colours that are in the background fabric. The hoofs are satin stitched.

Amazingly, the unicorn was believed to be real, all across the world, for thousands of years, until in 1825 scientist Baron George Covier suggested it was hardly feasible for an animal with a split hoof to have a single horn emerging from its head. By 1900 it was thoroughly disproved by Dr Dove’s and his experiments with a male calf.

You wonder how something that didn’t exist could hold so much fascination and power for so long. Merchants used to sell ‘unicorn horns’ for huge sums of money, or they were given as gifts to kings because were said to have the power to purify; to provide an antidote to poisons.

We would still like to believe in them a little, I think, especially as in our culture they have long been depicted as beautiful, noble, creatures. This was not the case everywhere. The Greeks and Romans thought they were more like antelopes and in some other countries they were perceived as smaller, goat like animals.

They are very popular among children these days. I know a little girl or two who dreams of unicorns and loves to see them galloping across her duvet or keeping watch over her from the wall.

I wonder how long the Unicorn will stay with us in this new, kindly, form.

Till next time….




New Year, New Work in Progress

Happy 2019,  Everyone!

January 2019

We are already steaming through January, snowdrops are out all over the garden, and it seems pleasantly warm for this time of year. Spring is not far away but no doubt we will be in for some nasty cold spells before it arrives.

Lily’s first egg.

Since the arrival of my three ducks last summer, my sewing has suffered mainly as a result of a massive change in routine. It’s much harder to get a good run at anything without some kind of interruption. It’s clear that I have to change the old routine and work differently. I had my first duck egg appear four days ago which was quite exciting and have been collecting one each day since.  I hope she will sit on some in Spring and give me some chicks.

I haven’t been able to settle on exactly what to do this year. I had wanted to dye and paint my own fabric and do something more ‘arty’ but looking at my stash tells me that I really need to use that up first. I am unlikely to go back to it.  That said, I am sure I am going to be tempted to buy a few bits now and then. And there is no reason why I can’t be a bit more ‘arty’ with scraps. At some point.

I have begun January with some experiments and some UFO’s that needed to be completed. That said, all of them are still in progress and need a good press, which was not my ideal for this post. My first experiment was with Liberty fabric. I have usually used just small pieces of it against a neutral background and that has worked well. The prints are so bright and busy, I wondered if they could ever work if you put them all together, so I thought I would try something and see. This is ‘House with Love in It’ using reds, greens and navy blues. It still needs some surface embroidery on the house and some binding. I went for a mix of sizes of print and one that reads as a solid to see if you could mix prints in this way. Does it work? I’m not sure.

‘House with Love in It’

Liberty fabric is quite hard to work with as it’s so fine, pins and needles make holes unless they are very skinny ones and its floppiness makes it hard to keep square. An online friend suggested spraying it with starch first and I think that’s a great tip to try.

The second little quilt is one I started a while back but have now managed to finish the top. I took an old traditional American block called ‘Farm Friendliness’

‘Farm Friendliness’ bock, borrowed with thanks from via Pinterest

and altered the pattern slightly to give me me more large triangles to suggest hills. On reflection I think I should have make the squares at the corners into half square triangles but it’s too late now. At the time I thought half a hill would look odd.

‘Farm in the Hills’

I’ve also added tossed cows and a farmhouse. I’ve photographed the quilt top against a piece of black and white striped fabric because I think that might make a fun binding. I still have to quilt it to suggest fields, which may make the squares look more appropriate, and add some doors and windows to the farmhouse.

Another experiment is this house in a frosty wood:

My idea is to extend the trees, or a single tree, beyond the image, out into the frame. I want to cut between the branches and sew it on a bit like this:

‘Frosty Morning’

I’m not sure how I will manage it. Perhaps use some wash away interfacing, I don’t know. We’ll see.

‘Over the Hills and Far Away’

I am working on some appliqué to complete the top of this, larger quilt, ‘Over the Hills & Far Away’ which was mentioned when I started it, in a post long ago (See ‘Over the Orchard and 5 Lessons Learned’, October 2017 ). I still can’t decide whether to place the house on the bottom row where the trees are (they will all have trunks), or in the next row up, as in this photo. I have kept away from true greens as there are none in the border.

There is more appliqué to sew down to put the finishing touches to this fabric picture ‘Down in the Glen’,  which also featured in an earlier post (‘Tartan or Plaid, What’s the Difference?’, September 2018). It has been sitting around waiting for me to decide what to do with the trees. I have finally decided to unpick them all, as well as the roof of the house, and insert some batting. I am hoping the slight puffiness will give more depth to the picture.  Then I just need to bind it and put it in a box frame.

I am also in the working on several mini ‘house’ quilts and fabric pictures  to use up scraps, like this one, still in progress:

‘House Under a Wishing Star’

All of them need to be squared up and given a good press. Finishing touches need to be added, then they need backing batting and binding.  So, not even half way through, really (sigh). I never like showing my work like this, half finished, but maybe it’s helpful to see things in progress, to see that they can look pretty awful until they are finished.

So that’s it for now. I have the binding to finish on two Unicorn quilts for a Unicorn post shortly, as well as some more Scottish themed pictures and a couple of ‘House Angel ‘ and ‘Garden Angel’ pictures.

All of these are 8 inches square but I am planning a move to 12 inches square. ‘Down in the Glen’ above, is 12 inches square and I like it better. I used to think this was too big but have had a change of heart. I think very small removes some oomph from the picture. What is your favourite size of wall quilt? Do you you like small squares, long and thin, poster size? And why?

Till next time…..