inspired by flowering herbs in my garden

 

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks catching up on Spring time sewing and embroidering these little lavender sachets……mostly I’ve been inspired by all the little bursts of unexpected colour that have been dotting up around our raised vegetable beds and sometimes by the vegetables themselves once they start to flower…..rosemary blossoms and chives flowers get sprinkled into sandwiches and over salads, as do yellow rocket flowers……broccoli flowers though are left for the bees as it’s somewhat stinky.

 

selection of botanical embroideries

 

When we go for walks over the marshes or up to the woods, I quite often take a pocket sized bundle of blotting paper (torn and folded into small pieces) and snip little samples of wild flowers and blossoms, placing them between the leaves to use later when I’m home…..

Though the weather has been a bit temperamental the last week or so (heavy showers of rain, hail, wild winds followed by sunshine which makes me then wonder did I dream the hail earlier) and thermals are still being worn as it’s gone proper chilly again, I’ve found working on these botanical embroideries really relaxing, pulling out strands of vintage embroidery silk and making small stitches, trying to imagine how the flower would look fallen, scattered across the fabric…….

 

wild mustard embroidery

 

The sachets themselves are made from some beautiful Irish linen, soft but with an almost rough weave, it was originally a shirt made by my friend Anne (Queen of knitting and dressmaking too) but after she’d finished it she decided she wasn’t so happy with it so she gifted it to me as she thought I’d be able to do something with the fabric….. I carefully cut around the seams and cut the shirt down into 7 pieces (sleeves, fronts, back and 2 pieces for the yoke) then hand dyed it as the linen originally was cream in colour…I like this slightly darker oatmeal colour more, it’s a good base to work colour against.

 

embroidered lavender sprigs

 

The sachets are all hand sewn, the raw edges are basted under a few milimetres (a bit like when you’re sewing needle-turned applique) and I found it easier to do this without using any pins as they just seemed to get in the way…..there’s a slight variation in size but on average the sachets measure 13 x 11 cms and lay comfortably in the palm of your hand…they’re lovely to hold, the combination of textured, slightly biscuity coarseness of the linen, smooth silks and raised stitches with the scent of lavender make them highly tactile and a pleasure to touch…….

 

botanical embroideries inspired by my garden

 

I took some of the sachets with me to the Glory Days Spring Fair * at the weekend and they proved very popular, I think it’s the smell of lavender, people seem to make a beeline for it…..sachets were picked up and held, stoked and coased like kittens… I’ve also put some sets into my Folksy shop, each selection of botanical embroidery different.

*several times on my blog I’ve mentioned my friend Sasha, she makes the most gorgeous and wonderful creations from vintage fabrics, car boot and flea market finds….Ruth (who owns Glory Days) has now got a whole load of Sasha’s toys and bunting in stock (a selection of which are now on Ruth’s instagram page) including for the first time Sasha’s clouds and some completely smile inducing cloud bunting (Bernard bought me the very first one of these she made as a mother’s day present some years ago)…contact Ruth at Glory Days for what is still available….Sasha’s toys are all one of a kind and unique, because of the materials used no two pieces are ever going to be quite the same. Sasha doesn’t sell on-line and I don’t think she has any fairs lined up over the Summer, so a trip to Holt is seriously recommended…. it’s always worth a trip to Holt and popping in to say hello to Ruth, she’ll always greet you with a smile and you can’t help but feel happy in her shop.

floral sewing set

 

I’m all in a pickle trying to get things ready in time for tomorrow’s Spring Fair at Glory Days in Holt…I’ve hurt my wrist (actually it’s been painful for a while and the sensible thing to do would have been to rest it but oh no, I kept sewing and now every stitch is at tortoise speed) so I seem about two weeks behind where I really wanted to be…..at the moment the air is all lavender scented as I’m filling little hand sewn sachets with lavender…I’m keeping an eye on the door as Bernard loves lavender and keep expecting him to jump up and scatter lavender everywhere……

Everywhere round the house are dotted small piles of items I’m planning to bring along with me…I don’t know if it’s a really good business plan but I only really make things that I’d like to have myself….I love pincushions, and find I can never have enough…..these ones are stuffed right full of tiny snipped pieces of fabric scraps and hold pins really tightly, they’ve also been hand pieced together over papers.

 

group of small needlecases

 

Each time I make a batch of needle-cases I always end up falling a little in love with them and find myself popping one into my work box for myself (I now have needle-cases for every type of needles under the sun)…these ones are patch-worked with some hand embroidery detailing over top…

 

yellow peg bag

 

I’m also bringing along some embroidered peg bags…..these are all fully lined with vintage fabrics.

 

flower brooch 21

 

These tiny flower posy brooches are one of my most favourite things…I’ve made them to match most of my wardrobe, and last year “hunky Hugh” (a big burly policeman who wears the most brightly coloured socks) commissioned me to make him one to match a beautiful tweed coat…..each posy brooch is crocheted with the backs being covered in pure wool felt……

 

tea cosies 007

 

I’ve still got a couple of bird tea cosies left, these have been hand appliqued using pure wool felt.  They’re double lined with some extra thick vintage blanket used as wadding….these cosies keep your tea super hot…I’ve also got some cup cake ones which I’ll be taking along too.

 

cosies for glasses 006

 

I made these glasses cases out of some beautiful vintage tweed fabric, and they’re lined with lovely thick velvet to help protect your spectacle lenses.

 

bunny faces and hangers 009

 

Some of the most popular items I’ve made have been these bunny faced child sized coat hangers …the hangers are made from beautifully soft vintage blankets filled with local Norfolk lavender…the bunnies are hand sewn using pure wool felt and even those little pink cheeks are sewn on by hand.

Along with the above items there’ll be some new embroidered items which I’m hoping to write about in the next few days.

Time for a cup of tea and back to filling linen sachets with lavender and roses.

My friend Sasha will also be at the Spring Fair where she’ll have the most colourful stall full of beautiful handmade toys, cushions and general gorgeousness.  She doesn’t sell on-line and all her pieces are unique and one of a kind so it’s well worth the trip to see what she’ll have there this time.

through the trees

 

On Friday I wrote about our walk up to the UEA…it’s a bit of a trek so we only do it when we’re feeling particularly energetic, however this time of year it’s always so beautiful and there’s a real treat once we enter the woods….most of the walk we were surrounded by the brightest sun-shiney flowers, dandelions, buttercups, marsh marigolds and the most vivid yellow tree bark……and then we saw the bluebells…..

 

a bank of bluebells

 

The colour is incredible, in fact after a while my eyes almost ache from seeing so much blue.

 

the scent of blue is overwhelming

 

The very air itself is heady with the scent, and it makes me feel sleepy, I always find this shade of blue particularly soporific….

 

a sea of bluebells

 

We walked up here last year so while I knew what to expect I still found myself surprised by the abundance of blue flowers….it’s quite overwhelming to just stand or sit, surrounded by blue as far as your eye can see…….

 

the air is a haze of blue

 

There’s pathways through the flowers so you can walk right though wide swathes of blue blossoms, the scent intoxicating and making me feel drowsy…..

 

as far as the eye can see

 

It feels like a fairy tale, where you’re waiting for something magical to happen, any minute a wolf or witch, a talking bird or a house on chicken legs suddenly appearing…..as far as I’m concerned this is one of the most beautiful places on earth….

 

bluebells and nettles

 

Everything is so lush and so full of energy….new leaves on the trees, big banks of dark green nettles, some waist high already and it’s not yet Summer…..

 

bluebells

 

Everywhere it’s the same soft and intense blue….from a distance it’s a haze, an artists smear of pigment along the bottom of a canvas…..breath taking every time I come here.

 

bluebell bliss

 

I’m sure there’s even more flowers than when we walked up here last year…it’s just incredible, the bluebells seem to go on forever…..

 

gnarly tree bark and bluebells

 

I love the gnarliness of the tree bark next to the soft blue flowers…..blue blue blue….even my wardrobe has felt it’s pull this week, I’ve been wearing blue dresses and green cardigans and now long for a pair of shoes or boots this exact intense shade.

 

in the bluebell wood

 

Whenever we go for a walk I take some folded pages of blotting paper and carefully snip blossom tips, pressing them between the leaves, fastening them with fat elastic bands ….the window sill in my workroom is cluttered now with little stacks of papers, slowly drying flowers hidden amongst them.

 

sunlight and shadows in the bluebell wood

 

Looking at the blossoms always gives me new ideas for embroideries and in a round about way this has inspired me with planning my workshops at Glory Days in Holt….Ruth asked if I’d like to teach some this Summer (I’d already taught a couple of patch-working ones when she had her shop in Norwich) and initially I was wondering what I could teach…

I don’t have a car so travelling by bus with a sewing machine wasn’t really appealing…but then after looking back through some sketchbooks and journals jotted with some of last years walks and meanders over the marshes and through the woods, I began to think about a botanical embroidery workshop…hand made stitches inspired by delicate wild flower blossoms.

The workshops will be held over the Summer at Ruth’s shop Glory Days which is in the North Norfolk town of Holt (her shop is conveniently near The Folly Tearoom) …exact dates are still to be confirmed but I’ll be able to post those details in the next couple of weeks.

golden buttercups

 

Last Sunday really lived up to it’s name, glorious sun-shiney weather all day long.  Thanks to a certain someone waking up at the crack of dawn, mewing and demanding tummy rubs, we had an early start to our day (so much for a nice long lay in)….as it was such a nice day we decided to head out and go for a good long walk, and wandered up to the UEA as it’s really beautiful there this time of year.

The walk from ours is pretty sheltered, we avoid the bigger roads where possible and once we get to Waitrose it’s just a turn off the road and suddenly we’re walking along the riverbank and across the wetlands and marshes that lay either side.

I love seeing buttercups and always do the “do you like butter” test…it seems like a really good Spring for them this year, everywhere there’s golden yellow blossoms, like a scattering of sparkling sunshine across the ground.

 

dandelions in the sunshine

 

Maybe it’s a good year for yellow flowers in general, along with buttercups I couldn’t help noticing the abundance of dandelions that have sprung up everywhere this year…we’ve had loads more than normal in our garden and I’m seeing them on verges everywhere I go…..grassy banks almost covered in tiny suns, yellow and sunny and instantly smile inducing…..the walk to the UEA was no different, the dandelions were everywhere……

 

fallen tree with fungi underneath

 

It seemed to be a day of yellow…we walked past this lovely fallen tree, bark all gnarly and covered in moss, and we were struck by the amazing and vivid coloured fungi that was growing underneath….

I clambered through some rather vicious nettles to get closer for pictures…the fungi looked like yellow spray cream, or insulation foam…..it was an amazing colour and it looked almost velvety…I’ve no idea what it was but it looked jolly impressive.

 

wild flowers in May

 

The ground round the UEA changes no end, so one moment it’s quite wet and marshy, and then you get what I think of as heathland or common land, where it’s all dry and scrubby and there’s gorse and broom growing. Low down though were huge areas of what looked like a variety of red dead nettle,but it smelt quite minty….not sure what it was (and realize how lacking my knowledge of local wild flowers was…last year I tried to learn the names of the wild flowers growing on the marshes behind where we live).

Scattered around it was some Birds-eye Speedwell…..we’ve had quite a lot of this growing in one of the raised beds this year and it’s also sprung up near the compost bin.  It’s such a beautiful and delicate little flower, a gorgeous blue with tiny striped petals.

 

view across the lake at the UEA

 

This is a view across the UEA lake….it looks like a little island but it’s just the other side of the river bank…..it’s a lovely walk and we ended up strolling all the way around it……in the Summer it’s nice to pack up a lunch and take a breather on one of the benches dotted around…..there’s often lots of ducks in the water, however on Sunday the world and his wife had taken their dogs for a walk and they kept jumping in the lake so the ducks were keeping out of their way.

 

green catkins

 

The catkins on the trees are looking amazing right now….these ones look spikey but actually felt soft and rubbery….I love their piney shape.

 

catkins losing their fluff

 

Other catkins are moulting, blossoms all whispey like dandelion clocks…..tiny birds were flying up and away from them, gathering the softest of linings for the insides of nests…….

 

flowering catkins

 

The word catkin is old dutch for “kitten” or “puss” so the fact these tiny kitties are surrounded by fluffy bits makes me think of our own furry puss-cat at home (he hates being brushed and while I’m holding him trying to sort his coat out, my boyfriend will be shovelling cat treats into Bernard’s mouth…it’s a bit like the engine driver shovelling in coal on a steam train)

 

horse chestnut blossoms with a fat little bee

 

It only seems a couple of weeks ago that the horse chestnut trees were bare, branches tipped with fat sticky buds, glistening and shiny like hot cross buns…..all of a sudden the leaves burst open and the huge blossoms appear like a magicians trick…as if by magic….one moment nothing and then …tah dah…a bouquet of flowers……the blossoms on this old tree were so beautiful, tiny flecks of pink amongst the milky white petals….a few fat bumble bees were buzzing softly, nestling into each part of the flower before tumbling off all dusty and pollen drenched.

 

marsh buttercups

 

And more yellow flowers, this giant buttercup like plant is in fact a marsh marigold, lovely and golden yellow.  A couple of ducks were nibbling away at something underneath it in the water but as we walked by they quacked and swam away……This was definitely a day for buttery yellow flowers.

glorious blossoms

 

Sadly the apple blossoms have now all faded and blown away….I took these pictures back at the end of April and then squirrelled them away on my computer, forgetting about them til now….they looked so beautiful, all soft and billowy.

Creamy white blossoms tinged with pink, stunning for just a few says, a week or so if the weather is kind, and then their moment of perfection is over and the petals get bruised by harsh spring chills and winds…….

 

new blossoms appear daily

 

But the day I took these was stunning, really sun-shiney and warm too…a day for flip flops in the garden and sitting outside with a cup of tea and a book……….looking up from time to time to see what the birds are doing, the soft drone of bees buzzing around the borders, nuzzling and tumbling over fruit blossoms.

 

pollen laden centres

 

The apple blossom starts as buds of bright pink and then as they open they reveal their milky complexions with centres all dusty with pollen.  Beautiful orange tipped butterflies have been dancing around the blossoms, followed by fat and round bumble bees wearing polleny pantaloons.

 

soft and creamy coloured blossoms

 

The scent of the blossoms isn’t strong, you have to really stick your nose down into the flower to capture it….just a whisper of something fresh and sweet……the wallflowers growing almost underneath tend to overpower any other perfume and this part of the garden is quite heady with their scent.

 

the softest most delicate pink

 

I like the shapes the trees cast on the fence behind, bold blocks of shadow such a contrast against the sunshine.

I’ve been working on new embroideries and I’m sketching and scribbling little blossoms, small flowers from the garden, trying to keep a permanent reminder of the garden in Spring……

The craft fair at Glory Days in Holt is just over a week away so I’m busy sewing and embroidering small botanical inspired pieces, matching threads to the petals outside and sewing small stitches, hoping everything will be ready in time.

white broccoli

 

Although I don’t think I have a favourite time of year (I pretty much like all the seasons as they all have their good points) there’s something about this time of year which makes my heart sing, unexpected sunshiney days that seem as warm as July, plants in the garden sprouting up full of growth, tree branches full of fluttering fledglings and vegetables we’d forgotten about suddenly springing into life….

A case in point was this white broccoli, it’s been a bit slow growing though that’s probably because the wood pigeons kept nibbling at the leaves, but then for some reason or other they left it alone and within a few weeks it perked up and began to grow again.  A bit of lazy gardening meant it was overlooked and forgotten about and then when we looked closer it was full of tiny broccoli heads.

To begin with they look like doll house sized cauliflowers but as they get bigger they push up and open and become paler versions of regular sprouting broccoli. It’s really hard to buy white broccoli as the colour puts people off (it’s a creamy pale yellowy green so looks like it’s gone over) but it tastes lovely, lighter than the darker green variety, and very good in cream or cheese sauces.

 

bright green raspberry shoots

 

As we’ve had a good mix of sunshiney days and rainy days, the plants have all had growth spurts so everything looks very different now to these pictures which were taken at the end of last month….

The autumn raspberries were pruned down to about a foot in height in the early Spring (then Bob from next door had a chew and nibble of some of the stalks…his owner said she doesn’t think he’s very bright and after seeing him chewing on a very prickly raspberry cane I found myself agreeing with her) but the new growth seemed rather slow in appearing (not sure if the plants were sleepy or Bob and his nibbling were the cause) finally though we began to see those first incredibly bright almost acidic green shoots and leaves, most growing in our fruit bed, but as anyone who grows raspberries know, they like to spread to now we have them both sides of our garden path, and also under the window in what was meant to be a herb garden……….

 

feral raspberry plants

 

The raspberries have also gone rogue under the apple trees, bursting up along side the ground cover of alpine strawberries…..some we try to take out but mostly we’re happy to let them grow where they want, that way it’s a nice surprise to find a nice patch of fruit.  The year before last a mystery tomato plant began to grow amongst the raspberries, it was a cherry plum variety and we think it must have germinated from the compost…it was a voracious grower and we had a massive crop from it, over 2 kilos of beautiful bright red and sweet tasting tomatoes.  They didn’t last long as I kept picking them to eat as snacks while I was sewing out in the garden.

 

delicate blueberry blossoms

 

Along with the raspberries and strawberries we also have a couple of blueberry plants, last year wasn’t the greatest harvest but the year before was amazing, I even had enough to grow jam (just two jars that were delicious)…..right now the blossoms are like tiny paper lampshades, almost translucent when the sun is shining through them…..the blossoms are so delicate and fragile looking that I can’t help worrying and fretting when it rains or is windy but they’re stronger than they look….

 

the first of the blueberry blossom

 

As soon as the berries begin to form, both plants are then swaddled up in white fleece and an old lace curtain and pegged closed…..while the birds leave the raspberries alone, they love the blueberries, and an uncovered bush is stripped clean within minutes………one time a couple of pegs came loose and the net blew back exposing the berries, even while I was putting shoes on to go and sort it out two blackbirds came down for a fruity treat, and even when I was outside, just feet away they turned to look at me before quickly eating another few berries…..so I learnt my lesson and make sure the covers are nice and secure.  Once the plants are all bundled and swaddled they remind me of Edwardian ladies in motor cars, with masses of netting pinned to their hats.

On sunny mornings I take a cushion outside and sit on the backdoor step with a pot of tea and hand sew or embroider, from time to time one of the Robins hops up close, pecking at any bird seed that’s been shaken loose by the pigeons…all the time keeping a close watch on where I am…..blue tits and goldfinches fly back and forth, beaks full of fleece and fluff from the garden….then a noise makes me jump, and Bob or Izzy form next door jump over the fence onto the water butt, then creep round the side of the shed, peeping round to see what I’m about before they stretch out and wriggle in the sunshine…..

a riot of bright pink blossoms

 

When our little cherry tree fully blossoms I’m always amazed at how bright it is …I’m not sure how I forget but each year I’m surprised all over again by the intense pink flowers that cover it from head to toe…..I took these photos a couple of weeks back in April, we had some days when it was really hot and super sun-shiney (more like Summer than Spring)….

The past week has had the top branch lined with tiny Robin fledglings, wings all a tremble and flittering, calling for their parents to feed them….to begin with we only saw one (and he was a bit wobbly in flight, crashing into our kitchen window and giving himself a bit of a headache, Bernard went over to investigate and was promptly brought indoors, a parent Robin soon appeared on the door step and within minutes baby had caught it’s breath and was back up in a tree.)  Then within a day or so, two more fledgling Robins appeared, and life in the garden is centred on getting them fed.

(the feeder at the top was a present and such a clever idea, it uses an old plastic bottle and the piece that dispenses food and allows the birds to stand just screws on where the cap used to be….the smaller birds really seem to like this in part I think because it’s too small for the pigeons.)

 

orange pink yellow and red

 

I love this little back corner of the garden, it’s a bit messy at the back under the Laurel tree…along the back fence is a huge patch of comfrey which we add to the compost to help speed it up.  When the tulips and cherry blossom are both out then its so colourful, red, pink, orange wallflowers and tiny pin-pricks of yellow from the cowslips.

To the left are our apple trees , blossoms like prom corsages adorn each branch.  Underneath is one of the strawberry beds, what started out a few plants has become total ground cover..tiny wild and alpine strawberries have over time cross pollinated and form different tasting fruits around the garden.

 

pink and orange flowering blossoms

 

When the blossom covered cherry branches reach down to the wall-flowers then the mix of bright pink and orange flowers is a feast for my eyes…..combinations of colour are scribbled down in sketchbooks to use later for patchwork, embroidery and crochet.

 

the brightes blossoms

 

All year round we hang bird feeders off the branches, it’s too sunny now for the fatty ones so instead they get cleaned and are filled with sheep fleece for nest making….all the tits seem particularly keen on the fleece and a pair of gold-finches have been most entertaining as they pull at it, wrapping the fleece fibers around themselves like candy floss….

We’ve also got a feeder closer to the house but this one is opposite the kitchen so washing up dishes never seems a chore when all I have to do is look up and see the tree covered in blossom and birds….most days the tree is a feeding station to at least half a dozen different birds…

We get a lot of tits (little blue tits and the super sized great tits, coal tits, and long tailed ones, march and willow tits….) then gold finches, black birds, robins, tree sparrows, dunnocks,chaffinches, collared doves, starlings…these we see pretty much everyday so each morning starts with a top up of food, generally while one of the Robins sits in the tree a foot or so away waiting so he’ll be first in line.

 

weighted down branches

 

I love the shape of the blossom, big wide open petals and the tiny stamens inside, a mix of pink and yellow.  Even the leaves have a pinky green hue.  If left alone then the branches grow too long, draping down and taking over the garden so we regularly keep them trimmed just off the ground.

A few times I’ve gone out and found Bob from next door in the tree, I’m not sure how he’s wriggled himself in amongst the branches, it’s a pretty tight fit and it takes him a minute or so to untangle himself….he’s seen by the birds and they all wit on the top of the fence or in the Laurel tree staring down at him and crossly chirruping…I’m never sure if Bob has been egged on by Bernard, he just sits on the door step or on the path watching Bob being naughty, then when I go out to see what is going on, Bernard runs over, tail in the air and rubs round me, purring and looking as if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth…Bob meanwhile is still tangled up and is frantically trying to make his get away.

ever expanding forget me nots

 

We’ve had a very restful weekend, nothing too strenuous, a little pottering around in the garden, making bread, a walk to the woods to see the bluebells and some scribbles and jotting downs for new embroidery ideas and workshops (I’m doing a fair on the 23rd of May in Holt organized by Ruth of Glory Days and want to take some spring inspired pieces along to that…I’ve also been asked if I’d like to teach some workshops there and am thinking about some botanical embroideries inspired by tiny flowers in my garden and that I see when I’m out walking…..)

 

bruschetta with sheeps cheese and rosemary flowers

 

Saturday lunch was a very simple affair using up leftovers from the past day or so…I made some bruschetta using an easy peasy homemade tomato sauce* then topped it with some local sheep’s cheese from Norwich Market… (I wasn’t sure about sheep’s cheese until I tried it but it’s gorgeous. Soft and creamy, not so robust flavoured as goat’s cheese, it’s easily become my new favourite food.)  Then a drizzle of olive oil and it’s under the grill until the cheese slightly bubbles.  I noticed the rosemary bush in the garden is adorned with pretty blue flowers so scattered some of those on top for aesthetic purposes (although the flower also has a nice herby taste……I’ve used the flowers before as a last minute addition to sauteed leeks and lemon and also in risottos.

 

the blanket inspector strikes again

 

It wasn’t just us having an easy weekend, the blanket inspector decided he was going to sleep his weekend away….he jumped up on the bed early Saturday morning just before I got up, and then spent the next 8 hours or so sound asleep.  To begin with he was all snuggled up alongside my boyfriend,but even when he got up and covers were pushed back, Bernard decided to keep napping….to be fair he’d been up at 3 then 5 then 6 so was probably quite tired (I know I was…..)

 

blankets and quilts are regularly tested for comfort by Bernard

 

Every so often I went in to check on him and he’d barely moved….I’m sure if you listen carefully you will hear him snore…he never used to but now he’s getting on a bit, we’ve found snoring and trumpety fanfares from his bottom are all part and parcel of life with Bernard.  I love watching him sleep, all snuggled down amongst blankets and quilts, when it’s too bright and sunny, a fat paw comes up and squishes down and covers his eyes…..I love the smell of his tummy, it’s all warm and weetabix-y…his snoring trembles and vibrates along through his body and tickles my face.

You can just see some of the tails still to be sewn in peeking out underneath the blanket….

 

if you listen carefully you can hear him snoring

 

Hopefully you’ll click on this picture (it should come up really nice and big…) his face is so content and happy….anyone who is crocheting or who has already made one knows how long these grannies paperweights takes to make, so I quite understand if you think I’m daft to let him sleep on it….but I can’t resist this little face

I wasn’t really feeling the cat love last week…I got mugged by a cat on my way home.  There’s this lovely tabby that runs up to me and rubs round my legs and purrs and chirps and likes a bit of a fuss.  I had a basket full of shopping with me and didn’t really want to stop so just spoke to it instead, obviously that wasn’t good enough because it then flung itself in front of my feet (almost tripping me up) so I crouched down and coased it, then it stretched out and I still was stroking it with the cat really rubbing it’s head into my hand……then the next thing I knew the damn thing had hold of me and was really sinking it’s claws into my thumb and fingers.  Finally got my hand away (and yes there was blood thank you very much) and the cat looked really put out at me *what did you take your hand away for”  expression on it’s face….but it didn’t stop there, while I was trying to get away it kept laying down in front of my feet, I’d step over it and then it would run along side me and then fling itself down again, finally grabbing hold of my laces and trying to undo them…..bah, bad cat.  Anyway, I’ve had a really sore hand since.  My boyfriend says he hopes I’ve learn my lesson regarding touching strange cats but I had to admit to him this is now the third time I’ve had a run in with this cat so I guess I’m a very slow learner.

*it’s just a very finely chopped onion sauteed in butter and a can of cherry tomatoes allowed to simmer and gently bubble for 15 minutes or so… a pinch of salt and it’s good to go.

new blocks for dear ethel

 

A couple of weeks ago I had a bit of a tidy up in my work room (and looking around at the wobbly piles dotted round me which include crochet cushion covers, patchwork quilt tops, a half finished ironing board cover, tins of darning wool, and general sewing clutter, I can see I need to tidy up again)…..and mid tidy I thought to go through the little blocks I’ve been making for my “dear ethel” quilt.  Most of the blocks made me so happy to look at but there were a few that I wasn’t so pleased with, they were just a bit lacking.  I probably could have used them in the quilt and they would have been fine, but I also know what I’m like so I decided to just re-sew the blocks I wasn’t so keen on.

The old blocks have been put to one side to make into pot holders (although one was completely un-picked so I could use the fabric in two new blocks)….I had some odd shaped pieces left from making the star quilts so I was able to use up a lot of fabric destined for the scrap bag (I call it a bag but it’s more like a hoard).  Actually it was while sewing the patchwork for the star quilts that I began to think again about the “dear ethel” blocks. some of the fabric picked for those quilts is just so pretty that I wanted a few keepsakes of my own.

The blocks in the top picture are an evening star variation (called square and points), a nine patch block, friendship star and then cat’s cradle. I’d already re-sewn the evening star before but as it’s such a simple but striking block I felt it wasn’t really looking quite right until now.  I’ve highlighted the original blocks so you can compare the “before” and “after” of each block if you want.

 

evening star for dear ethel

 

This “evening star” block was a particular favourite combination used in the star quilt for Pearl…I can’t decide which print I love the most.  My original choice was a bit too brash and modern when placed with some of the more subtle choices.

On the whole I don’t really use a lot of “dark” prints, preferring mid and light tones.  I’m aware this doesn’t give my patchwork as much depth and interest as one using dark, mid and light but I like those softer colours.  Some of my “lights” are very pale so depending which mid tone print I use I can create more of an offset in contrast that way.  I think it’s really a case of personal choice.  I’d rather a patchwork top that I love than one that is “correctly balanced” but uses fabrics I feel are too dark for me.

 

practical orchard

 

I un-picked the original practical orchard block, I wasn’t happy how the yellow gingham was working but really loved the pinky/coral with yellow combination.  At least when something is hand sewn it doesn’t take too long to un-pick it, then a quick press with the iron and the tiny pieces are all ready to be used again.  I cut the yellow sections slightly differently this time (a few less seams to sew) and I think this gives a neater finish.  The yellow print form the original block was then used in the nine patch block in the top picture.  (and yes it’s another pink and yellow combination*)

After making these six new blocks I’m already wanting to make more so don’t think “dear ethel” will be finished this year (at the end of the day this is a quilt for me so there isn’t a time scale or rush to get her finished as quick as possible……however in my head I’m thinking it would be nice to have a vague time frame planned, if the rest of the blocks can be completed this year, maybe with sashing and then to allow next year for a flying geese border** and the quilting…..I’m thinking she may be ready for A Festival of Quilts 2017.

*of all the colour team ups used in the “dear ethel” blocks so far, this is possibly the one I’ve used the most…I didn’t realize how much I like this combination of colours but it’s fastly become one of my favourite pairings (both in patchwork and in my wardrobe…ooohhh for a pair of yellow Fly shoes to wear with pink tights!)

** I figure if you’re going to have a patchwork border then this is the one to choose…..I love it.  I know it’s fiddly but like Catherine Deneuve says in those L’oreal adverts as she flicks her hair…”I’m worth it”

finished arrangement

 

I wanted to write a round up piece about the two quilts I’ve recently finished making…a little journey of Peggy and Pearl’s quilts…….I’ve put in links to where I’ve waffled on about a particular part of the quilt before so I’m hoping I won’t be repeating myself too much.

The quilts were a commission by a very proud dad for his beautiful twin daughters Peggy and Pearl.  The hardest part of the commission was planning the design and overall feel of the two quilts….the design brief was one of those oh it sounds so simple until you try it kind of things…the quilts needed to be different but also similar (the girls will be sharing a bedroom so the quilts needed to compliment rather than clash).  I’d also made big sister Olive a quilt the other year and I needed to bring in a design element from her quilt too……

 

finished composition

 

After lots and lots of pots of tea, and many hours spent drafting out designs and colouring them in (even going so far as to paint up papers to create my own little paper patchworks to help with giving the work a sense of the fabrics) I arrived at two designs which I felt happy with….this was in fact helped by a few text messages with their awesome Aunty Ally who said their mum liked stars.  So I played around with different star blocks and incorporated one of the star designs with large squares to tie in with the quilt I’d made Olive.

 

fabric from Pretty Fabrics and Trims....

 

Then I set about choosing fabric.  I had a good idea of the sort of prints I was after, but I was seeing so many that I just couldn’t keep track so I made a pinterest board of all the fabrics I thought suitable….once I felt I had a really good selection of designs and colours, I went back through the boards and picked out particular favourites.

I also tried to limit myself to the amount of shops I was going to be purchasing from…it wasn’t an easy task and sadly I had to miss out a few gorgeous prints because perhaps that shop only had one print I liked, or only sold it by the half metre.  (Because I wanted to use lots of different fabrics I had to limit myself to only buying fat quarters)…..Anyway I whittled down some hundred different prints to about 20 that made my heart leap from three different shops.

 

fabrics from Sew and Quilt

 

I never stick to just one designer or company, (though Whistler Studios at Windham fabrics is a firm favorite of mine, and the Aunt Grace range from Marcus Brothers is very nice too)….I just prefer to really mix up the prints and colours for a better contrast.

I also ordered prints in different colour combinations as I always think that seeing the same print but in a different colourway adds extra interest to the overall look of the patchwork.

Once the fabric arrived it was all hand washed and hung on the line to dry. (I wash all my patchwork fabric, it still wrinkles and looks lovely and “antiquey” when it’s been quilted, but it’s also much easier to hand piece together when it’s had a wash first.)

 

lecien blue print star block

 

Then I spent a while combining the prints together to see which worked together the best.  This is a lot of fun because it means I get to spread out fabric everywhere, and can spend a coupe of days adjusting and moving prints back and forth until I’m happy and I feel the colours really sing. (this blue and pink combination is a real favourite)

I made a note of the fabrics which were being used and pinned tiny swatches to a work board so I could keep track of what was being used where.  Then the blocks were cut and I began to piece them together.

 

pinned star point pieces

 

All the patchwork was sewn together by hand, it’s my preferred method of working as it means whatever I’m sewing is nice and portable so if it’s sunny I can move my work basket out of doors, and it’s quiet so I can listen to music.

Once the stars for the first quilt were sewn I then set about pinning them together and joining them up to make the first patchwork top.

 

early moning shadows

 

The clocks changing and the sunshiney weather made a big difference to the light in my work room, several times I was treated to beautiful shadows dappled across the patchwork while the small squares were pinned on to a design board.

Once the “evening star” blocks were finished for the second quilt, I then had the challenge of arranging them so the prints and colours would sing and compliment rather than sit uneasily and grump. (trust me, if fabric isn’t sitting happy then it looks proper grumpy)

 

finished patchwork for quilt one

 

When the joined blocks are all finished it feels lovely….and I can begin to see the patchwork tops as quilts…I really think all the time spent playing with papers and painting them up to make the little paper patchworks paid off.   When I’ve explained to friends what I’ve been doing I could see them thinking “she’s off her rocker” but it was hard to imagine how the patchwork would look when you only use a solid colour…..the finished patchwork has come out just right, and captures for me…. sunny days, ice creams and lollies, day trips to the sea side…..an overwhelming feel of happiness and smiles.

 

all ready to quilt

 

I’d bought just enough of the back fabric to be able to use it as a border for the front of both quilts, this was carefully cut (one of the only times I used a rotary cutter while making the quilts…the other time was when I was making the binding)…and then pinned and sewed around the tops and sides.

Once the binding is in place, it’s time to baste the quilt. It’s a bit like making a huge quilt sandwich but instead of using bread you’re using fabric with the wadding as a soft and puffy filling.  I like to do this on our carpet and I also like to thread baste my quilts as I find this holds the layers together more securely. A quilt this size takes a few hours to baste securely, so it’s not too bad, though you might want to get up and have a shake about every 15 minutes or so as it’s a bit hard going on your knees and back.

I also sew some spare fabric (old calico or American muslin or curtain lining) round the corner sides and edges where the quilt doesn’t really have a lot of room to fit in the hoop.  I find it much easier (and get a nicer quilting stitch too) if the section of my quilt I’m quilting is sitting in the middle of the hoop rather than right at the edge.  Sewing the extra fabric round means you have a bit more room to move your hoop about, and it makes sewing those stitches easier as the needle isn’t being forced in a cramped little space.

Once you’ve basted your fabric layers together, your patchwork top suddenly changes…you’re now holding a quilt, okay the basting stitches are rather big and unsightly, but it’s definitely quilty looking.

 

needles in action

 

There are different ways to mark up your quilt, it depends a bit on the pattern you’re wanting to stitch.  For these quilts I thought a baptist fan pattern would help soften the edges and seams of the fabrics and different blocks.

In the past I’ve used silver quilter’s pencils and ordinary hb pencils.  I’ve used a water erasable blue pen for these quilts as I knew they were going to be quilted relatively quickly and the pen wouldn’t be on the fabric for a long time.

When I’m quilting the baptist fan I like to thread up a load of quilting needles all at once and then i can just keep quilting rather than keep stopping and starting threading up needles…also I find working a curve with several needles on the go at any one time helps give the arc of the fan a nicer, more even curve.

 

translucent patchwork and quilting

 

When the quilting was completed, I lightly spray the patchwork top with water to remove the blue pen, and allow them an hour or so to dry in the sunshine outside….I loved how translucent the patchwork looks, and the quilting is just ghostly and barely noticeable.

Finishing a quilt always makes me sad….something that has been a big part of my life for the past some weeks (or more often years) is coming to an end.

 

then continue slip stitching along the rest of the binding

 

I prefer to make my own binding, it allows me to chose exactly which print or fabric I want, and not rely on what a shop stocks. Sewing the binding to the front, carefully joining the edges, rolling the binding over and sewing it to the back and then mitring the corners…tiny stitches all by hand…..

Slowly sewing the binding around the edges allows me my goodbyes, and generally I get a bit teary which I know is really daft.  It’s very hard to actually present someone with the quilt when it’s completed…so much of yourself has gone into it….you hope good things for it…to be held tight by sticky warm hands …to be loved and snuggled and cuddled ….night time reads when it’s made into a tent and books are quietly read by torchlight…poorly beds on the sofa where it helps someone feel better……maybe it will be wrapped round favourite bears and dolls when they need their “nap time”……off on it’s adventures…a reminder of home and family……one day looked at and a voice asking “did someone really sew this all by hand?”…………………

 

pinned into place and slip stitching along the edge

 

If you would like to commission one for yourself or someone precious then both quilt designs are now listed in my folksy shop or you can contact me directly if you would like something even more bespoke.

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