EPP Loves the Hexagon. Why?

 

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Beginning a ‘Grandmother’s Flower Garden’, l979

I have never been drawn to the hexagon as a shape but like most English Paper Piecers, it is the shape I started with. The above picture shows my first attempt at ‘Patchwork’, which is what we called it then, this circle of hexagons around another in Laura Ashley fabric which was so popular at the time, the late 70’s and early 80’s. I have not sewn a hexagon since and, as you can see, the above practice piece never developed into anything. It languishes in a box with other practice pieces. I moved on to the diamond, which became my first completed quilt in 1982 and then I stopped.

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‘Tumbling Blocks’, a finished baby quilt for my daughter, 1980

It was to be more than 30 years before English Paper Piecing returned to my life. I went abroad, got involved in the lives of my children and in writing. Then after the death of my parents and my brother and a move to Scotland, I felt I needed to find something slow and healing to do in my spare time. Short Story writing was about other people’s, often dismal, experiences. I wanted to replace it with something more joyful and to learn a new skill.

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‘Tulips and Roses’ in simple squares, 2016

I didn’t return to the hexagon or the diamond. This time I began with simple squares and rectangles but found, in time, that I was less drawn to patterns than to pictorial quilts, though these might have a pattern as a background. I was hungry to learn as much as possible about EPP, everything that could be achieved, and yet I found only the hexagon over and over. I couldn’t understand why, when there are so many shapes to use. Books on EPP do cover a few more shapes but I have seen almost nothing on animals, human figures, pictorial themes, landscapes, or improvised modern shapes using this technique.

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‘Welcome’ – an experiment in making figures with EPP

I belong to an English Paper Piecing online group that brings piecers together from all over the world, many of whom enjoy working with hexagons. I asked the group what drew them to the hexagon (also known as hexie) shape in particular, when there are so many other shapes they could make using this technique. What follows is a selection of what they said, followed by their names:

“I discovered EPP when i found a quilting and patchwork magazine 2 years ago. It had 1000 free hexagon papers and that was the start of my journey. I have discovered that they are very forgiving and i am hooked. I am in very poor health and my attention span is very low so i find great pleasure in hexies. I have now made them in 3 different sizes and i use the method of drawing, cutting, basting and sewing together as mindfulness to calm my mind. They are soothing and enjoyable and personally i dont think it matters what shapes we choose. We are all at different skill levels and at varying times in our journey. I am in awe of members talent and dedication but for me, for now, hexies get me through each day. I EPP almost every day and i cant relax fully without them. Its a wonderful new hobby.” (Fiona keel)

 “It’s a very satisfying shape as all the sides and corners fit round without sticking out when basting. They fit together perfectly without thick clumps of backing at the corners. A bit of tradition, feeling you are carrying on a piece of history that goes back hundreds of years.” (Michelle Beard Pearson)

“For me, it’s the way the corners naturally tuck under. I can mindlessly baste hundreds without a plan and when the ‘perfect ‘ pattern comes up … I’m ready to join. I do the other shapes but my first love is the hexie.” (Irene Paulus)

“I’ve done lots of other shapes but there’s something very soothing and satisfying about hexagons. I particularly like doing them in modern fabrics and colours; traditional with a twist. ” (Pippa Wellard)

” I love hexies as there is so much you can do with them . . they fit together so well and because they can be based round the 360 degrees of a circle they can be made up of so many other shapes (hexies, triangles(equilateral, right angled, isoceles), squares, rectangles, kites, trapezoids/half hexies, diamonds/parallograms, jewel . . the list is almost endless) . . you only have to look at the new hexagon blocks :0)”  (Riva Mollison)

“One reason is that I can cut the papers myself. Some of the patterns are hard to cut and expensive to buy.” (Cindy Barratt)

“Fiskars has an extra large hexagon punch. It makes a one inch hexie. I make my own, from junk mail cardboard. We take long camping trips and if I run out, I can always grab a few brochures from the rest areas, etc. ” (Donna Becker)

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Photo via farmwifejournal.blogspot.co.uk showing Fiskars Hexagon Punch.

“Hexagons are considered the most efficient building shape in nature, which is why bees use it. Probably not why it was used all those years ago but it most likely was fashionable at the time. I use them because of tradition and they’re easy to find templates for.” (Brittany Duncan)

“I don’t know why I like them so much, but I have two quilts made. One is a GFG, and the other just random. I have hundreds of hexies completed and in boxes. Not sure why I keep making them, but it is relaxing hand work when I just don’t want to sit at the machine anymore.” (Sharon Dickman)

“I think it’s that it’s the most easily recognized and you don’t need to buy patterns or books and more templates, etc, so easier and more economical to do. After you get your feet wet, and the bug bites you, you can move on to another. Lack of materials available in some areas, too. Not everyone shops the web!” (Colleen Karels Barber)

“I have used many different shapes but always come back to hexies, hate the little ears e.g. diamond shape make.” Nicolette Mathee

“It’s an organic shape. Straight from nature and honeycombs. I always have hexagons on the go.” (Sue Morgan)

“Readily available as a starter and you can do a design such as grandmother’s flower garden with just hexies.” (Brit Staven Eddy)

“I’m in Australia, and the family I married into have made a load of EPP quilts, all hexies— so for me, I continuing the tradition” (Hayley Smyth)

A number of people said carrying on a tradition was an important reason, though I found it interesting that they appeared to be referring to an EPP tradition that had grown up within their own country rather than the original English tradition, which did include other shapes.

There were several references to the shape of the hexagon being common in nature (honeycombs, snowflakes, organic molecules, quartz crystals etc) as being a reason to find it attractive; someone suggested that I should Google Brian Cox talking about hexagons  ( https://www.youtube.com/watch/?v=kxDEcODUEP0); another mentioned the ‘The Honeycomb Conjecture’. This states “that a regular hexagonal grid or honeycomb is the best way to divide a surface into regions of equal area with the least total perimeter. The conjecture was proven in 1999 by mathematician Thomas C. Hales.” (Wikipedia)

“Ahhhh yes! The Honeycomb Conjecture! I’d forgotten that. I adore bees and hives and skeps and was drawn to hexagon EPP over the other shapes. Now I know why! 😃 (Viki Sprague)

So, in sum, people find the hexagon attractive for its natural shape, for ease of making because materials papers and patterns for it are more readily available. Moreover, it is easy to sew. The fabric wraps around a hexagon paper very neatly and leaves no protruding ‘ears’ as in many of the other shapes. You can get into a steady rhythm making them, while watching TV or travelling. And you can add many other shapes to them, if you choose to branch out a little eventually. It all makes perfect sense. So now I know, and you do too 🙂

On a slightly different subject (!), I have acquired a Mallard duckling.

I now have yet another time consuming thing to distract me from everything else. One of my cats brought it in and dropped it, unharmed, in my living room. It was too young to put back outside, so it has joined our family. My husband is busy making it a home and a run, while I wake at dawn fretting about whether it is eating or drinking enough and whether it is warm enough.

Until next time…..(perhaps there will even be some stitching done!)

 

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Inside, Outside and All Around the House

Hello Everybody,

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I love planted pots all around the house

There’s not a whole lot of sewing going on here at the moment but I thought I would check in so that you know I am still here; I haven’t fallen off the planet. I stopped sewing in April for my annual tidy up in the garden but rain prevented any decent progress for weeks, after which it suddenly turned very hot. Now the sun is fierce, the ground too hard to weed successfully and insects multiplying, so much of my time in the garden is spent watering. I am however, pleased to say that I have repotted all the plants in our courtyard and around the perimeter of the house, something that hasn’t been done in a while and a job that I was able to do in the shade.

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The stone wall between our courtyard and front garden, lined with small plants

When I haven’t been in the garden, I have been spring cleaning my house, re-organising my wardrobe, visiting family in England, buying (even more!) plants and enjoying some of the lovely outdoors that is on our doorstep.

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A walk around a nearby loch on my birthday in May

I love watching the farmers busy on their tractors at this time of year and the birds following them up the hill and down again.

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The view from one of my windows

I have made a few tiny things recently but just for family. I made another matchbox for my son and a small embroidery for my daughter. Unfortunately both were rather rushed as I left them until just before our trip down South and they took longer to finish than I anticipated. My son is head arborist at the Royal Horticultural Garden Wisley in Surrey, England, so my matchbox had to reflect his love of trees and woodland.

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My daughter is very happy at the moment but often has some spells of feeling low, so I made her a little bear to help her believe in herself and inspire confidence. The photo was taken before I stitched the edges and sewed all around it with a bright turquoise blanket stitch.

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A Bear Hug from a pattern found on Pinterest via dubout.tumblr.com

Last Christmas, I had a spell of making little paper houses; four for my son, a few for my daughter and one of her friends and then a couple for a friend of my own, for her birthday. Finally I have made one for myself. The houses are so charming, just under two and a half inches tall, with an LED flameless candle light hidden inside so you can light them up at night. I used pale pink and blue tissue paper in the windows but dark colours show up even better. I love the idea of a whole street of tiny  paper houses lit up on my windowsill!

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Lit (below), and unlit (above) paper houses, on my bookcase.

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Most of the things I make are for other people, yet there are wall hangings and runners I would love to make for myself. This probably means buying more fabric to make them something I can’t really justify, given that I still have half a dozen unfinished quilts in various stages and quilts I bought both pattern and fabric for years ago but have not got around to starting.

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A Clematis in flower on the back patio

Then there is the itch to try more arty things, to experiment with styles that are new to me, like the American primitive patterns, or new techniques like needlelace and other surface stitching ideas. These blog posts of mine must often seem far from what is generally thought of as English Paper piecing especially when, for so many people, it centres around the hexagon. Not a hexagon in sight here, so far.  But it is all part of the same journey; to discover what I can do with English Paper Piecing, beginning with a  simple base, enhancing, adapting and pushing traditional boundaries wherever I can. And, if possible, giving it a little flavour of Scotland at the same time 😉

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A single Allium at the front door

 

If you ever have questions, please ask. Maybe thinking about the answer will lead me to further experiments.

I hope you are all having a warm and wonderful summer.

Till next time…..

 

 

 

Mini Quilts – What’s the Purpose?

IMG_0734Hello Everybody,

What is a mini quilt for? Well, I want to say it’s to bring joy but perhaps that’s not very helpful. So, I have been giving some thought to the matter….

I belong to a local group of women who like to get together, now and then, to discuss where we are with our individual projects – both art and business related – share information, and ask and answer questions.  I love the company of the members and always learn a thing or two; though I often leave with more questions than I had when I arrived!

At the last meeting, I was sharing my new idea for a series of mini quilts with a Scottish theme, in tartans or plaids. I had also brought several earlier finished projects with me, to show the changes in the direction of my work since I joined the group. One of the members held up a quilt I had made using Liberty prints and said “It’s lovely but what are you meant to do with it?” (or words to that effect). It had not occurred to me that anyone would wonder what my little quilts were for or what they should do with one. I couldn’t believe I had overlooked something so important. That their purpose wasn’t, and should be, more clear.

I think the difficulty of knowing instinctively what  you might do with a mini quilt may be largely due to the fact that we no longer uphold and pass on our quilt-making heritage here. Quilts are not a common sight in households across the UK, as they are in the United States. There, I imagine that the mini quilt is seen used in different ways quite often in different households and this inspires new ideas and uses.

The most common uses seem to be as table toppers (round, square,  hexagonal or rectangular) to decorate the centre of tables, or as long runners on dining tables. Someone once told me that they wouldn’t want to use them for such a purpose because of food stains. There are of course quilted place mats and mug rugs and tray cloths intended to be used for serving food (often with insulated linings) but I don’t see the mini quilt falling into this category. They don’t need to be used in this way.

Their use, as I see it, is primarily decorative:  A splash of colour on a wooden table, a pretty centrepiece for a vase of flowers, a scratch-proof base for a row of candlesticks.  They can be removed when the table is laid, if required. I have one on a small side table for drinks but it is under glass. It shows through but is completely protected from stains.

 

 

Mini quilts bring colour to the top of a tiny chest or small leather suitcase, a sewing chest, the space under or beside a table lamp on an occasional table, and warmth to a deep window sill.

mini quilt on chest

Image borrowed from Norma Whaley at timelesstraditionsquilts.blogspot.co.uk

Other uses are as a lining for an attractive or antique basket, a lining for a drawer (does it matter that only you see it?), a mat to display a old and much loved doll or teddy, a soft place to drop your keys when you come in the door…

 

And then of course there is the wall. And even here there are so many choices: The larger mini quilts bring life to an empty wall,  narrow ones look fabulous behind a sofa or above a fireplace, or a bed.

Fall Quilts above Fireplace

This lovely image is borrowed from carriedawayquilting.blogspot.co.uk

The easiest and most inexpensive way to hang them up is probably the wire quilt hanger, quick to find online and available in a variety of sizes. There is a generally a small sleeve attached to the back of quilt intended for this purpose (see picture below), for the hanger to slip inside. However, there isn’t one and you don’t want to make one, you can buy hangers with small clips at each side to attach the quilts from the top. These tiny quilts lovely in porches and kitchens, and in tiny corners that won’t accommodate anything larger.

 

 

Mini quilts (sometimes called ‘Baby quilts’ which is a bit confusing as this refers to the size not the user) vary quite a lot in size from three or four inches square to three or four feet wide by four or five feet long. I assume the term really just means it is significantly smaller than the traditional, bed sized, quilt. The larger mini quilts look wonderful handing on a wall, especially in a nursery or child’s room, on poles or  wooden dowelling. Command Strips are used to fix them too, though I have never tried these.

 

Lately I have noticed two interesting ways of displaying a small quilt. Here is one, the image borrowed from http://carriedawayquilting.blogspot.co.uk. Do visit this site for her fabulous ideas on how to decorate with quilts.

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Another lovely image borrowed from carriedawayquilting.blogspot.co.uk

And this one: A quilt inside a wall mounted basket. Lovely for primitive designs. What are your favourite ways of displaying quilts? Have you seen any unusual ways of displaying them?

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Borrowed from Pinterest. Unfortunately no link to the source.

Then there is framing behind glass: There are quilters that do not believe in hiding quilts behind glass and those that are happy with it as long as the fabric does not touch the glass. I have tried framing my latest quilt and discovered a few problems I hadn’t anticipated.

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‘The Wind in the West’ mini quilt

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‘The Wind in the West’ framed mini quilt

I haven’t hung the frame on the wall, so the picture is a bit distorted with the camera looking down on it, and the unavoidable reflections, but can you see the problem? It is an 8 inch quilt fitted into an 8 inch cut out area but I haven’t accounted for the binding showing. I am left with a small border inside the mount. This creates a frame inside a frame inside a frame. I really don’t like this, especially as hand made quilts may look square to the eye but are rarely perfectly square and a mount will show this up. To avoid this a little I have offset the quilt so that the cottage sits against the left hand edge and the binding only shows on three sides but it’s not much of an improvement.

The other problem with frames and binding is this:

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Quilt in progress; just need to add some embroidered grasses

Where you have radiating points, the tips can be cut off by the binding or a frame; something to avoid in the future with a bit of forward thinking.

So I am experimenting with framing but it seems to me that the best way is say goodbye to binding and to wrap and sew the fabric around a piece of card or thin board inside the frame. I will post more on this as I experiment and find better solutions.

I have already discovered that, as mini quilts are often square (made up of quilt blocks are traditionally square), they don’t led themselves to many off the peg frames. It would be better to custom frame a quilt but this can be expensive and unnecessary when good quality, inexpensive frames are available both in shops and online. I am beginning to think I have to make a quilt to suit a frame, instead of the other way around, and to buy the frame first to make sure I can fit the quilt perfectly to it.  There is also the option of a box frame which comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. I will be tackling that in another post as this one is already much longer than I meant it to be.

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I have a number of Scottish themed quilts in progress right now but I am going to be taking a short break from sewing, as Spring has finally arrived and my garden needs work. However,  I can post short pieces about them when it rains – which is likely to be often around here!

Until next time, I wish you all  l o n g  sunny days….

 

 

 

This Tartan Seat is Taken

Spring seems to be springing this morning and, though the ground is a little frosty, the sun is shining, the daffodils and crocuses are out and look what I have just seen in my back garden!

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Over and over I have found that when I have finished piecing the surface of a quilt and I am ready to do some hand quilting or embroidering  I suddenly stop for a few days.  Part of that is about thinking how best to tackle it, letting my subconscious work on it for a while, but it’s also the fear of making a mistake and ruining what I’ve done so far. I have to gather courage and while this is all going on in the background, I make something else.

Recently I have made some more matchboxes. This one was for my husband for Valentines day:

 

Around the edge it says “There’s no Sunshine when you’re gone.” Those goggly eyes made him laugh!

And this was one for his birthday. The vegetables inside are edible cake toppers:

 

Each side has a different garden tool on it and around the inside it says, “Happy Birthday Special Gardener.”

I have also made some paper houses –  but more of those in a post coming soon.

Remember this first picture of an empty tartan chair? It was on one of these blog posts about three years ago:

 

How time flies! Eventually I added a hook and put a cat on it. Now I’m thinking I might stuff the arms to match the seat cushion and put it in  a box frame. I want it to look more soft and comfy and protrude towards you in the frame:

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I have just laid the chair in the frame, to get an idea of how it might look. I definitely need a solid fabric background behind it though. Off-white like the cat, or white like the frame? Or another colour, a very pale mint green perhaps? What do you think?

I had always intended to make a series of these chairs with cats and dogs lounging on them, so I’ve made a start on a few more. I thought it might be fun to make a chair with a box pleat on the base like this one in progress:

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This is how I began the one above; with a drawing:

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In this drawing I made the chair too wide, so I folded in a middle section until it looked about right. Then I usually play with ideas of adding a button back or fancy arms, little stumpy feet, or a fabric cover over the back. And then I like to add a cat, or maybe a dog. I want them to look as if you would never want to disturb them in the chair.

I photocopy the drawing of the chair and in true English Paper Piecing style, I cut out each paper shape, place them onto fabric and cut around them (leaving a seam allowance) until it all looks like this:

 

Then the fabric is tacked around the paper shapes and they are all sewn together until they resemble the chair in my initial drawing. The chair has a back too, and this will be sewn to the front with interfacing between, to stiffen the chair slightly.

 

Here is my initial drawing of this chair, so you can see what it will eventually look like:

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I think I might add a cushion, in that space between the cat and the left hand arm of the chair. The cat looks adrift.

I have begun a third, that I think will have fancy corded curls on the arms and little wooden-ball feet, and perhaps a dog on it….?  I haven’t quite decided, as it’s very unlikely that I will get more than one or two of these chairs finished before I am drawn back to the pile of quilting that is clamouring for urgent attention.

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So, until next time….

thanks for visiting.  Comments, suggestions, or experiences you’d like to share, are always welcome!

 

 

Update – Work in Progress

Hi Everybody,

This is just a short post to show where I have got to with my Scottish themed quilts in progress. I’ve added little bits to three of them and they are now ready to square up, surface quilt and embroider and then bind. Seems like a long way to go still but they are looking a little more promising than when I last posted. These will be the first to be finished and then there will be another two to follow.

First up is my black and white ‘Wind in the West’ mini quilted picture:

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All I have done to this is to add a window and door to the cottage, appliqué  a strip of fencing around the edge of it and pop in a running rabbit (bottom right). I think its’s about ready to quilt now. I’m not sure whether to add a touch of colour or keep it all black and white, or grey . What do you think?

The second one has had a lot more detail added now:

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The cottage has chimneys as well as a door and window and a series of conifers have sprung up around it which I hope gives the scene more depth. I haven’t  decided whether to outline some of the ‘hills’, and continue the quilting lines from one hilly square to another, or to quilt tree shapes here and there. That might mean the quilt ends up being called ‘Into the Woods’ instead of ‘The Glen’

Then there is my mystery quilt. Are you any the wiser? The clue is probably in the crown:

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I shall probably outline-quilt the surrounding squares and rectangles and add some surface embroidery, especially across the seam in the heart and around the edges of the crown. I have stuffed the heart, so that it sits proud of the rest of the quilt because, for me a meaningful heart has to be one that is full.

Ok, time for the big reveal. Ta-da! This mini quilt is a representation of a Luckenbooth, that very old, traditional form of jewellery, usually a brooch and usually wrought in silver, that originated in Edinburgh in the early 1500’s. The design is a heart, or a couple of entwined hearts, sometimes with added gems and almost always topped by a crown. The brooches got their name from the stalls that popped up along  The Royal Mile (Edinburgh’s High Street), a patch of which become known as the “luckenbuiths” or locking booths out of which merchants traded. Although the  Luckenbooth was originally a brooch, as time went on the same motif has been used in various traditional and stylised ways, to fashion rings, pendants, charms, earrings and bracelets.

Here is a simple, inexpensive one I found on Ebay, sold by the jewellers Alexander Castle in Glasgow:

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As you might expect, the Luckenbooth was a love token, given as an engagement ring might be today but also presented to new-born babies to bestow love and protection. They were also handed down through families from mother to daughter. I found one among my mother’s belongings after she died, a gift from my father almost half a century before.

I wanted to celebrate this lovely Scottish emblem and the sentiment it has carried with it for so long. Maybe my little quilt can be yet another means of sending love down through a family.

Till next time……

 

 

 

 

Tartan or Plaid? What’s the Difference?

Hello Everybody,

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I’m back on familiar ground now after a run of difficulties with recent experiments. I’m back to using English Paper Piecing, this time for a series of small quilts with a Scottish theme.

I only work with 100% cotton and finding cotton tartan is becoming increasingly difficult. The few online shops I have come across prefer to sell in metre lengths which  is crazy when I use less than a quarter of a metre of each fabric and need to buy a range of fabrics for each quilt. Moreover, cotton tartans are limited to about half a dozen different patterns for some reason, which is so disappointing. How many Dress Stuart or Blackwatch tartan quilts would you want to make?

What about plaids or faux tartans? What’s the difference between them? All tartans are in fact plaid, though not all plaids are tartan. Both are a mix of stripes woven in a criss crossing and overlapping pattern of stripes, meeting at 90 degree angles. However, tartans have an identical pattern of stripes running vertically and horizontally, resulting in overlapping square grids, while the stripes in plaids may vary in direction colour, size, and pattern.In Scotland, the word “plaid” comes from the Gaelic word for blanket, which refers to the long piece of fabric worn over the shoulder as part of the Highland costume, rather than to any pattern in the fabric.

So, using checkered plaid, or faux tartan fabric, isn’t authentic and therefore not quite right for Scotland but what if you don’t like tartan much? Not everyone does. The patterns are often obtrusive and rarely work well with each other. I wondered if using plaids with a Scottish theme could create a more modern look and appeal to people who feel traditional tartans have a limited use or are not for them.

So, as an experiment, I  have made a start on a series of mini quilts, one with a touch of tartan, two with faux tartan, two with plaid, two using true tartans and one that simply reflects the kind of landscape that surrounds me, using no tartan at all.  None of them are finished. They are all pinned, tacked and works in progress for now.

In addition to using plaids, I had the idea that it might also be fun to adapt a traditional American quilting block for my Scottish theme. To begin with I took the old quilting block ‘West Wind’ (shown on the right, here)

West Wind

Borrowed from Pinterest

and removed three of the triangles to make a quilted picture that I have called ‘The Wind in the West’.

In my new version, the three black/purple triangles represent the fierce winds, that we experience from time to time here in the west of Scotland, buffeting a small cottage on farmland. I have used black, white and grey patterned fabrics with Celtic crosses, raindrops and windblown plants.

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The Wind in the West

 

It is still to be quilted and I may add some surface embroidery and appliqué. It measures about 8 inches square.

The second block I have begun is a traditional ‘Sawtooth Star’ block but I have used it to represent the twilight time in Scotland that we call ‘The Gloaming.’ The quilt uses faux tartan and two different patterns featuring Celtic crosses, all in shades of blue, to suggest that bluish/mauve light that softens the landscape as the sun sinks in the west.  I remember my father singing,  “Roaming in the Gloaming, wi a lassie by my side”,  when we lived far away on the other side of the globe.

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‘In the Gloaming’

My third experiment has no tartan. It uses an adaptation of a traditional pinwheel block to suggest a remote glen (narrow valley) in Scotland. A cottage sits among the hills and windblown leaves, while hares run around untroubled by traffic.

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‘Down in the Glen’

 

I may add some appliquéd trees or quilt it with tree shapes. I’m still thinking about what might would be best.

What my fourth project represents, I am going to keep a secret for now, though if you know anything about old Scottish traditions, you may be able to guess. As I add to it, it will become clearer.

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Mystery Quilt – title to be revealed in due course!

In a future post I will describe the remaining projects in this series, two of which will use true tartans and the last a mix of plaid and embroidery. We’ll see how they go.

What do you think about using plaids and faux tartans? Does it feel completely wrong for a Scottish theme?

Until next time……

 

Disaster, Darling.

Version 2Hi everybody,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Till next time…

 

 

 

 

 

A Matchbox Made in Heaven

Hello Everybody,

The Front: Made with permission from homemadecity.com

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

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

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

The back: Made with permission from homemadecity.com

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the back, and the sides:

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

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

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

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

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

Go on…I know you want to…

 

 

Made With Love, for Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time…..

 

 

 

A Garden Quilt, Like No Other

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Till next time……