‘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.

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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:

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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.

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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….

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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!”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

An Asian Experiment

Today’s post is a departure from quilting to run something quite different ‘up the flagpole’, something I have been wanting to try for a long time, an image using a piece of manipulated fabric. I decided an Indian woman wearing a sari might be a good idea. First I drew her, deciding that a simple profile would be best, no eyes or ears to detract from her sari. Then I traced my drawing and transferred it onto a piece of neutral coloured fabric.

I had intended to use the wrong side of the fabric, so that the design on it would be very faint, but I forgot and the image ended up on the right side (mistake number one).  For the sari I chose a five inch square of purple/red/pink batik fabric because I felt it was important that the fabric was a vibrant colour and that the pattern suited an oriental theme.

Once the image of the woman was transferred to fabric, I decided to paint her face and hand using a mix of white and burnt umber fabric paint, to create a soft brown complexion. I thought that the fabric paint would cover the design on the face and hand but it didn’t, (mistake number two). Perhaps if I had used the wrong side of the fabric the design would be at least be more muted. It wasn’t worth worrying about it at this stage, so I went ahead and started to outline her hand and profile with brown embroidery thread. In the pic below I have just completed her hand and her chin.

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Then, with the outlining done, it was time to add the sari. I folded the batik fabric scrap around the shape of the woman’s head and stitched it down, allowing folds to occur as I worked. As I stitched I realised there were three other sections that would need sari fabric too, the areas either side of her hand and above her thumb. These were areas that would have gone unnoticed if I had left them out of my drawing/tracing, instead of giving myself some very fiddly work to do, (mistake number 3).  I decided to use the English Paper Piecing technique to create those pieces as they were so small. Before I tackled them, I pinned a decorative trim along the edge of the sari, sewing it down only after the two small patches above and below her thumb were added, as they needed to be tucked under the trim.

There is still some more to do before it’s finished, but here is the result so far:

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The background needs something, so I am thinking about what to do with that. I quite liked how it looked in the hoop so perhaps I could set the whole thing in something circular. What do you think?

It was just an experiment, so I don’t mind the mistakes too much and I have certainly learned from them.  I hope to show you the  finished pice in my next post.

So, until next time…..

 

Running it up the Flagpole

IMG_9363Hi Everybody,

It’s been a while since I posted because I have been out gardening in our lovely weather. Now we are back to rain, rain, rain, it’s a good time to let the garden take care of itself and sew, sew, sew.

I had a friend once that worked for an American company and was always coming up with new sayings he had heard at work. One of them was to ‘run something up the flagpole’, or just give something a try. I love the idea of metaphorically offering something to the winds and letting it unfurl, even if it has to come down again. So this post is about new experiments; giving one or two more unusual things a try.

About a year ago I bought some fabric panels from a line called ‘The Sweet Life’ by the designer Cori Dantini.

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I’m not a great fan of panels because it feel like some of the work has been done for you, but I wanted to experiment with how big I could go with English Paper Piecing. Would the technique still work using very large pieces of paper? And if I had to butt several pieces together would the block be stable enough to keep its shape?   I also wanted to make a quilt that could be seen from all sides. Perhaps panels could be used effectively in this way. I laid the panels out on the carpet to see how it would look:

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I chose a co-ordinating piece for the back of the quilt, made up of similar, smaller panels, and auditioned some fabrics for the centre square. At first I thought I would use the blue floral design but opted for the green stripe because it blended in better and because it was called ‘Field of Joy’.

 

I didn’t have any very large pieces of paper, so I used three overlapping sheets of A4 paper stapled together, slightly smaller than the panels, and basted the fabric over the paper.IMG_9287

Then I sewed them together, sewing the centre square last. Unfortunately I attached the last panel facing the wrong way.  Can you see, the two girls with wings are facing the same way?IMG_9334

 

I left the quilt like that for over a week while I wondered whether to leave it alone, or unpick the panel and reverse it. Eventually, I decided to unpick it and change it, for two main reasons: 1) If it was to face this way, it would make sense for the two panels that have writing on to be facing you but they were sideways on, so you couldn’t read them easily. 2) This  started out as an experiment with a ’round and round’ design. If I left it this way then every time I looked at it I would be disappointed that I didn’t do that, that it didn’t work out. The mistake would shout at me. So I unpicked the panel, put the paper piece back in, re-basted the edges and re-sewed it on the right way. It seemed to take AGES. The other paper panels had been taken out (I didn’t want to have to put them all back in, so it lacked some stability which meant going slow). However, the good news is yes, the English Paper Piecing technique is do-able with large pieces of paper, just as it is with small ones.

Then I ran something else up the flagpole: I decided to embroider some of the surface design before I quilted the panels. I knew this would make the quilt totally impractical buy hey, this is about learning and have fun. I didn’t want to go too crazy or the stitches would interfere with the quilting, so I decided to embroider the girls hair and eyes and embellish their dresses a little. What a fun way this is to practice stitches! I can see myself doing much more of this surface stitching on fabric.

 

Now it’s time to sew the front and back together with a piece of cotton batting in between and start quilting. In the first picture above you can see I have drawn some turquoise parallel lines across the panel. These are to guide my quilting stitches and will wash out afterwards. In another post, I’ll let you know how it all turns out.

I am also experimenting with a small piece using fabric paint, applique and surface embroidery. More of that next time too….

 

 

Spring Things

IMG_7539The bluebells were out early this year and there seem to be more of them than usual. I love seeing the haze of blue in the wood behind our house and how they have spilled into much of our garden.

June is not far away and it feels too hot to work hard in the garden now and soon the buggy things will be out and about and ready to feast on me, so apart from a couple of hours in the early mornings, I’m taking a break from all-day gardening until September.

I have dragged some old planters chairs that were in our cellar into one of our greenhouses, so that I can sit and enjoy the garden whenever it is very windy or when there are too many biting insects to risk sitting still outside.

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Last year I spent so much time trying to generate stock and meet deadlines for a shop and craft stall that the summer disappeared while I was looking out of the window and wishing I could be out enjoying the good weather. I decided that wasn’t going to happen this year, that I would spend every lovely day outside from March until May and then some of every lovely day outside after that. Everything else would have to fit in between. This is what I have done, so there has not been a whole lot of sewing going on since my last post.

Last week I trawled through my fabric stash and unearthed my ‘works in progress’, or more accurately, my ‘works planned’. Hmmm, I seem to have quite a few of those. I found patterns I liked years ago and bought the fabric to make them, which is good in that fabric is much more expensive these days, but not so good in that my tastes have changed and I am itching to do more challenging things now.  I guess I need to get on and get them finished, perhaps alongside something new that is smaller.

There are some new ideas that I have been dreaming about; a project that involves a series of images that use folded and manipulated fabric stitched in place. I have made some drawings and now, although I have no idea if this will work the way I want it to, I can’t wait to try it out.

I also made this drawing, as a free embroidery design for you, if you want to give it a  try.

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Last week I had a complete re-organisation of my fabric stash. I found that a sweet shop nearby has stock of Haribo sweets arrive in square plastic boxes and that the owner is happy to let me have the boxes as they are emptied, rather than throw them away. This means I can sort, subdivide and store fabric to my hearts content, and it stays clean and easy to find. I have scrubbed the insides of the boxes but I love that when I lift each lid a sugary, sweetie smell still wafts out.

The only trouble is my study/writing space is turning into a craft room. There is hardly any leg room left under my desk because the space is full of stacked, fabric-filled sweetie boxes and my bookshelves are gradually being taken over.

I also managed to complete a couple of mini projects during April and May. The first mini project was a small embroidery ‘sketch’ for Mental Health Awareness week. It was to flag up the problems caused by depression/anxiety/agoraphobia and how sufferers are often housebound, trapped by their own fears.

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The second is a tiny wall hanging for an artist friend, Lisa Hooper, which is a copy of a driftwood sculpture she made, of an owl. Here is her lovely driftwood piece, on the left, and my fabric variation on the right. I just have to pop a label on the back and then it is ready to post out to her, to wish her luck when her studio opens its doors to the public later this month.

 

This blog  started out as a journey in English Paper Piecing but I see that it is gradually turning into much more as I explore the different aspects of working with fabric that interest me. I am certainly on a journey and learning all the way, and although my love for EPP will always be a part of it, I can’t resist the desire to experiment and maybe surprise myself.

Until next time….

 

Escape to the Garden

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The completed English Paper Pieced top, still tacked around the outer edge with the papers inside. No batting, backing or quilting.

 

With all the fine weather we’ve been having over the past couple of weeks, there hasn’t been a whole lot of sewing going on. Some dreaming but not much action. I began this year deciding to complete the three unfinished quilts I have lying around, as well as experiment with some new ideas. It’s now March and I have made a start on one of them, my ‘Bows’ quilt.IMG_9111 I have added the backing and batting layers and begun quilting (with the tacking still in place), just simple running stitches around the squares with pink, blue, yellow and green embroidery thread. It’s the largest quilt I have tackled so it’s got a bit crumpled as I try and quilt the centre. I tried a quilting frame but couldn’t get on with it and decided to quilt it on my lap instead.  Not sure if that will turn out to be a mistake. I think I will have to quilt around the bows as well, so it’s going to take a while. Here’s the quilt, over a chair, to give you a better idea of size. IMG_9112You can clearly see the three layers of back, front and centre batting (a low loft cotton wadding) and how I have begun quilting the top half but still have the bottom section to complete. And here is a close up of the backing fabric.:IMG_9114I LOVE text on the back of a quilt.

So, what HAVE I been doing these past weeks? I’ve been escaping to the garden. Mainly I have been stripping the branches of fallen trees  and roughly sorting them into size order and stacking them, so that my husband can more easily create kindling and logs for our fire. IMG_9044I have also been arranging spring plants outside my study door, where I can see them from inside:IMG_9081

Max has been sunning himself in the meadow while Sweet Pea watches from a safe distance. )

Early Spring is my favourite time in the garden and I really want to make the most of it. Now is the time to prune and weed and dig and plant. Soon the the garden will explode into leaf, the ground will get harder and buggy things will appear in their hordes determined to feast on me.

Today the weatherman has said that rain is on it’s way, for a few days at least, (saving me a lot of watering) and that will certainly necessitate an escape back to the house and to sewing.

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So, until next time…

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Rings Around My Valentine

img_8990It’s hard to come up with something different to make your husband each year for Valentine’s Day, but he likes the more easy-to-see-firsthand love and care that goes into something I’ve made specially for him. This year I wanted to celebrate how many years we had seen together and how, despite the ups and downs we’ve had, nothing has changed. We are still best friends that love each other’s company and can talk to each other for hours, about anything.

I thought I might make something with rings and I wanted to try some mini piecing, so I bought the templates for a miniature Double Wedding Ring design from Paper Pieces. img_8997When it arrived my heart sank. Each piece was about 1 cm square. How was I going to wrap fabric easily around those and stitch them all together. I decided to make a larger pattern but after I had made several 5 cm pieces, I went back to the tiny ones. I wanted to showcase a wedding ring, not a lifebelt.

The pattern I bought was for six rings that entwine but I only wanted to make two. It was going to take far too long to make the whole thing and in any case I wanted a more modern take on the traditional design. img_8994I decided on two half-rings and numbered the parts I might use, so that I could separate out the right number of templates and accompanying pieces of fabric.

I decided on dark blue fabric for one of the rings and a lighter, more ‘feminine’ colour of turquoise for the other, to add variety in colour as well as tone. I chose a different pattern for each piece of fabric I used (which were repeated in each ring). The shapes were so small, I thought they would work together as there wasn’t much room for a colour clash.

I love that the range of dark blues I chose had tossed patterns of frogs and snails to suggest lines from that old nursery rhyme “what little boys are made of”..while the turquoise fabrics were flowers and paisleys “all things nice”.

 

 

I thought it might be fun to try working with linen but it looked rather dull by itself, so I put a brightly patterned fabric, also with a pattern of rings, behind it, allowing it to show through. img_8991Then I tackled the tiny pieces. I sorted out the three different shapes, the tumbler shapes that made up the curves and the two shapes that ‘edged’ each curve, which then met the kite shaped pieces. The holes in the shapes in the picture below show needle holes from the basting stitches I made to hold the fabric to the template and to minimise fraying.

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The two ring shapes didn’t come out quite as I had planned. I wanted one to be much shorter than the other and to cross  each other nearer the top. However I started in the centre with the kite and edge shapes. I did thins mainly because once covered in fabric they all looked very much like each other and I knew I would get confused. I wanted to get them done while I remembered what they were. The trouble is, that beginning in the centre set the pattern for the rest of the curve and I ended up with two horseshoe shapes.  There’s nothing wrong with that as they represent luck but the result was not what I originally had in mind and had got excited about making. As I completed the shapes I had to stick a pin in each one to stop it moving and adhere it to the background, hedgehog style, because pinning it in the normal way distorted the tiny shapes.

Once I had stitched down the tiny pieces, I quilted long utility stitches around the circumference of the rings with turquoise and yellow embroidery thread and added a couple of ‘sparks’ in the centre of each. Then I put it in a frame to sit on his desk.

I did make a piece of board to stitch the backing to, with a view to keeping the piece stretched and the linen taut in the frame but realised that, out of the frame, the piece would be always be stiff (unless I unstitched the back and took the board out); not quilt-like at all. I wanted it to be a quilt, in or out of a frame, so I left off the backing board. This means the centre does bulge slightly towards the frame but it just looks like two rings sitting on a little cushion. I can live with that.

He likes it and that’s the main thing, eh?

So here is the result:

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I didn’t have any suitable paper, so I wrapped it in bubble wrap and then in cloth, Japanese style, and added a tartan ribbon. I think I might wrap more gifts in cloth, it gives them a wonderfully soft and friendly feel.

So, until next time…Happy Valentine’s Day, People!