My quilting essentials……

translucent patchwork and quilting

Last May I wrote a rather lengthy piece about what I’ve found to be really essential when I make my patchworks…I hate that a lot of people seem to think you need to be super rich to make a quilt, okay, it would be wonderful to have big pots of money and to just buy everything all in one swoop but that’s never been a situation I’ve found myself to be in. For the most part, I’ve bought the pieces I use slowly, in dribs and drabs…some fancy shmancy pieces of equipment (like gridded rulers and fabric shears) were bought for me for my birthday or Christmas (which makes using them extra special), but most of my quilts were made without a lot of flashy stuff.

I had a message the other day from Buttercupandbee regarding my quilts, and well, you know what I’m like, there’s never a short answer with me (I see it as being thorough)….but it reminded me of my original post and thought it was time for a follow up.

hand quilting on the diagonal

This is a break down of what I use to make my quilts once I have a patchwork top ready to work with…first up I’m a hand quilter and while I have made one quilt using a machine, I really do prefer to use my hands..(but if you like making them on a machine  then that’s great, I’m just saying it just wasn’t for me).  I don’t live in a particularly big house so there isn’t the space to store more than a couple of quilts.  Nor do I have the funds to make an unlimited amount so the fact each one takes me a good while is a positve thing to me….If a quilt takes me a couple of years to make then that’s okay, I’m fine with that….obviously the ones I make for commissions don’t take as long as that but there’s still a lot of hours in all those stitches…the real pleasure for me is in the handling of the fabric, finding an inner quiet time in those tiny stitches….the rhythm and motion of the needle passing through the fabric, joining pieces of patchwork into a whole and then later embellishing with quilting……

green bow tie print star block

As I say, funds for quilts that are made for our home are quite limited…the biggest spend after fabric for the patchwork top tends to be on the wadding but I’ve found that buying wadding in bulk (I buy a kingsize pack of wadding and then cut it down into smaller pieces) works out excellent value for money… comes fabric for the backing, then thread and needles and a quilting hoop, something to mark your pattern out with and something to draw around like a template….anything extra is just that…extra.

I try to keep all my quilting/patchwork tools and equipment together though there are bits and bobs that cross over from one sewing box to another…but while you’re making your patchwork top you might like to keep an eye open for the items you’ll need later to make your quilt…it’s surprising how often I’ve seen a quilting hoop in a charity shop or beautiful vintage needles at a flea market….and if you’re making a quilt for you or for your home, then vouchers for your birthday to spend at your local quilt shop will help toward the costs of wadding and backing fabric.  I think a mistake people can often make is to feel that you need to buy everything all at once…I think it’s much better to buy slowly, and if you’re lucky enough to have friends that quilt they’ll probably be happy to lend you things so you can try them out first.

a rippled baptist fan

Marking your quilt

You can buy special silver pencils or chalk pencils from quilt shops to mark up your quilting design.  Both of these wash out really easily.  I don’t get on so well with the silver pencils myslef and prefer a white chalk pencil.  When I’ve made very small quilts I’ve marked the quilt in wash out blue pen but I don’t recommend this for larger projects as the pen can become permanent if left for a long period or is exposed to sunlight….regular HB pencil isn’t generally suggested to use as the graphite rubs off against your hand which then brushes against the fabric making the quilt become rather grubby..however, I’m not going to say I’ve never used it because I have, but I do need to wash all my quilts as soon as they are finished (this also helps the fabric scrunch up and look a bit “time softened” rather than something I’ve just made as well as sprucing it up)…..Not that long ago I read in a recently published book to mark up your quilt using tailor’s chalk…seriously I would not suggest this as tailor’s chalk is waxy and it doesn’t always wash out properly.  I’d also suggest getting a top quality pencil sharpener from an art suplies store to keep the pencil tips sharp (cheap ones always seem to chew up the “silver lead”/chalk  inside).

morning sunshine through patchwork

Depending on your quilting design you can also use strips of masking tape, (although I tend to buy big reels of it from a local Ironmongers as it’s cheap as chips from there, you can also buy skinnier versions from quilt suply shops)….you just stick this to the patchwork and quilt either side of the line and then it just whips right off, you should be able to use it a couple of times before all the sticky has gone….it’s quite handy for quilting squares or diamond shapes in the middle of feathered circles….and you can stick it diagonally across the quilt, and quilt along like that, though you’ll need a sturdy ruler to guide you so the line is kept super straight (or spread your quilt out flat, and tie and pin across a piece of thread across the corners, then run the tape along the thread line.)

You may prefer to get fancy and want to quilt cables around the edges of your quilt, if so then I’d suggest buying some quilter’s plastic, you can buy this in A4 packs or in A3 size sheets ( I buy the sheets as they work out better value for money and last me ages)….but you can also use the plastic to make a bar for baptist fan quilting.

quilting wrap 012

Wadding or Batting

I prefer to use a pure wool wadding from the Tuscany Collection by Hobbs…it’s not cheap but it hand quilts beautifully, and when washed carefully gives a wonderful drape and lightness to your finished quilt.   I’m happy to spend the extra money this wadding costs as it is so wonderful to work with.

I also use cotton wadding and find that quilts up really well.  I tend to use it more on notebook covers and small projects rather than bed quilts but if you wanted to make a Summer quilt and were on a bit of a budget then that would work beautifully.  Most quilt shops sell this on a big roll so I don’t know a brand name, however I’ve bought cotton wadding from 3 different places as it’s all been about the same so I think it’s quite generic.

I don’t use synthetic waddings as I find the fibers seem to resist the needle, and it’s much harder to make my stitches.  I think it’s a bit of a false economy to skimp on a good wadding, okay I know you don’t see the wadding but the time you spend working the quit, if you’re constantly fighting with your needle then it becomes a chore not a pleasure….I also find it doesn’t really “flop” like a wool wadding (I like a quilt that flops over the edge of the bed, corners forming soft folds)….instead it sort of just sits there

Also because I’m a cheap skate and don’t like to throw anything out….I often sew small pieces of wadding together to make a larger piece…when you make your quilt you get left with strips from the side, rather than throw these away I just save them until I’ve got a few and then just slightly overlap the pieces and then sew them together with a slanted tacking stitch.

rumpled and puckered hand quilting

American muslin/quilting calico

For the most part this is what I’ve used to back several of the quilts I’ve made…it’s available in really generous widths so you could buy a couple of metres to back a quilt with it without having to join the fabric and have any distracting seams….it tends to come in two colours, bleached and white or natural.  It’s not the prettiest fabric in the world and I know most quilts in more modern quilting quilts seem to use printed fabrics for their undersides (this is what I’ve done in the above picture) but if you’re on a budget then using this will help save a fair bit of money, also your quilting will show up much clearer on a plain background…it also holds dye incredibly well so you could also dye some and just wash it a few times before basting your quilt together.

Generally I wash all my fabric for quilting before I begin sewing with it, and I make sure to wash the muslin/calico too as it does shrink up a bit.  There isn’t a particular brand of calico I favour, I just ask for American Muslin at my local quilt shop, however don’t ask for English Muslin as that’s cheesecloth and isn’t suitable to back your quilt.  American Muslin is also a lot softer than dressmakers calico so I find it’s best to buy it from an actual quilting shop.

If you wanted to make a wholecloth quilt (a quilt which doesn’t have a patchwork top but instead is a single piece of fabric which is then beautifully quilted) then this is the fabric you’d want to use.

quilting wrap 018

When I’ve had a long break from quilting I find it can take an hour or so for me to get my rhythm or quilting mojo back…I’ve always have a play/sampler quilt to feel my way back in to the motion of the stitches…this is often just a couple of pieces of American muslin with some cotton wadding inside (this is a perfect way to use up those wadding scraps you’ve saved and sewn together), basted together and which I can just randomly stitch until my fingers become familiar to the motion of the needle again.  It doesn’t have to be very big, mine tend to be about 18 -24 inch square “quilt sandwiches”.  It’s not meant to be a work of art or anything, the stitches aren’t made to be perfect, it’s all about you finding that needle,fabric, fingers rhythm again…..and when you feel your stitches are nicely consistant, then you start back on your quilt project, tucking the scrappy sampler away for next time…they can end up getting pretty heavily quilted, and in the past when I feel I can’t quilt them anymore I chop them up for cushion stuffing….like I say, they aren’t pretty, and aren’t designed to be admired or anything, it’s like scribbling with a new pen on scrap paper, encouraging the ink to flow….

threaded quilting needles

Quilting threads

I really like using Star brand hand quilting cotton, it’s incredibly well priced and makes for very nice quilting.  It’s a bit thicker than regular quilting cotton so is a bit hard to thread really tiny needles (such as Clover Black Gold)  It’s quite hard to source in the UK and I’ve only seen it available in a few colours (although mostly I prefer to quilt in an ecru shade or grey) but I’m told it’s widely available in the US and Canada.

However, I also like Gutterman hand quilting cotton.  It’s finer than the Star brand so it’s easier to thread your needles, but is a bit more expensive.  It’s available in a really wide range of colours.  I always use proper hand quilting cotton and don’t touch the synthetic threads.

If you’re quilting a patchwork top made with brushed cotton then you could also try using coloured button thread by  Gutterman, it’s thicker but the brushed cotton isn’t woven so tightly as regular quilting fabric so it doesn’t damage the weave.  This is what I used on a very early quilt I made (actually it was a pair of quilts for two of my nieces, just large squares of brushed cotton hand sewn together and then I quilted rows of heart/star motifs on them…)  it’s also what I use when I’ve made quilts for the cats…(which were made from an old pair of pyjamas and some plaid shirts)

vintage quilting needles
selection of vintage quilting needles

Quilting Needles

Quilting needles are often called “quilters between” but sometimes it just says “quilting” on the packet.  The needles are short, and slightly stubby.  They need to be nice and strong to go through all the layers.  (unlike the straights or applique needles you use for the patchwork, those are super skinny and a bit longer.)

Depending on what I’m quilting I go on and off different brands of needles, mostly I prefer the tiniest little needles imaginable, the sort you’d expect the mice in The Tailor of Gloucester to have used on those buttonholes…but I appreciate these aren’t for everyone. Some brands sell little packets with a selection of quilting needles in them, and while you may not end up getting on with all the different sizes, it gives you the chance to try out and find what feels comfortable for you ….also, don’t expect to find the teeniest needle comfy the first time you quilt…like most things, it takes a bit of practise and when I started quilting I prefered a longer needle to what I like to use now.

rebel patch 003

Millward and John James are both good basic brands, you get about 20 needles for around £2.00, you really want to store them in-between sewing in a needle case as the quilting needles are so short they’ll soon disappear to be forever lost if you push them into a pin cushion.

I’ve also used Clover Black Gold which are very very tiny and skinny, they probably aren’t so great for a beginner and they are very pricey, the last ones I bought were £4.50 for 6 needles, but they are super sharp. (their applique needles in this range are excellent)…from time to time in brickety brac/flea markets I’ve been able to pick up Blue Dorcas vintage quilting needles, these are my all time favourite and never cost me much.  Always check for rust though if you look to buy vintage needles for your sewing (I like using them as I find they are stronger and sharper than modern needles)

needles in action

Quilting hoop

If I’m quilting something small, anything less than a foot square I’m not likely to use a quilting hoop, I still baste it the layers with thread but find I can handle the fabric better without a hoop, but when I’m working larger than that I find using a hoop makes things a lot easier…and there’s much less chance of you quilting yourself to your work (it’s incredibly easy to catch a dress or skirt fabric on to your quilt when you don’t use a hoop…I speak from exprience)…a quilting hoop is bigger than an embroidery hoop, it’s also fatter, generally about an inch thick.

A hoop will help give the right amount of tension to your work as you quilt it…some people like their work to be held super taut like a drum, I prefer a bit more slack, but there isn’t a right way or wrong way, it’s what feels right for you.

dresden plates 006

I’ve got 2 different sized hoops, a couple that are 14 inches wide which I tend to use for most of my quilting, and a bigger one that is 18 inches wide and which I don’t use quite so often, even though I’ve got what I think must be freakishly long arms (cardigans and coats never seem quite long enough to my liking and cuffs often sit well above my wrist bone) I find the 18 inch hoop quite hard to manoeuvre when it’s in my lap….I imagine it would be perfect for quilting feathers and cabling when you need lots of space to maneuver and perhaps I’ll do some fancier quilting like that again when I quilt up “dear ethel”.

Some years ago when I made a huge sampler quilt that my mum now has, each of the blocks in the centre was quilted with a different pattern, cabling ran along the sashing and a double or triple cable ran over the flying geese border.  Using the hoop helped me focus on each block as I quilted it without being distracted by what was happening in other parts of the patchwork.  It’s nice to do fancy things like that for other people but I rarely bother for myself though I’m thinking “dear ethel” deserves it.

quilt books 013

Suggested reading…

My favourite hand quilting book is The Essential Quilter by Barbara Chainey….it was recommended to me by the lady who taught me to quilt and I’ve not found better for the basics….it’s very clearly written and easy to follow.  The only downside is that the quilts in it are a bit dated and fuddy duddy looking in my opinion but the workmanship is amazing. In the back of the book are some simple shapes which you can trace or photocopy to make templates to quilt around.

And as I mentioned in my patchwork essentials piece, I’ve also got a book which was like 25p or something from a car boot simply called Patchwork.  It’s part of the traditional needle arts collection and is written by Diana Lodge……it covers a nice range of patchwork designs and although some of the colours and fabric choices aren’t really my cup of tea, the information inside is very sound.

I wrote some more about my favourite patchwork/quilting books just here

And to be honest that’s it, little extras like fabric grips have only come much later in my quilt making.  I do use a thimble but just a regular sewing thimble… I’ve seen fancier ones in shops but I get on fine with the one I have.  I also a little velvet strawberry needle sharpener that was from the Royal School of Needlework, this was bought with birthday money from my dear friend Joyce so now she’s psssed away it’s become very dear…but a cheaper one filled with emery will work fine to keep your needle tips sharp. (note, if you do buy the Clover Black Gold then don’t sharpen them, the emery removes their black coating)….for me a quilt is all about time, slow stitches rather than a fat purse in which to go wild at a local fabric store with.

If you ever get the chance there is a fantastic collection of quilts at The American Museum just outside of Bath…the collection regularly rotates what’s on display.  There are some really breathraking quilts on show and may of them incorporate scraps and would have been made with what was to hand.

Other posts you may find useful…

My patchwork essentials

Making a quilt sandwich

How to baste a quilt not a turkey….

Baptist fan quilting

A slow wave of wobbbling hand stitches


Creating a slow wave of wobbling hand sewn stitches….

quilting wrap 018

It seems like a very long time since I’ve wrote anything on here about my quilting…I’m afraid my head has been rather turned by an appreciation of all things woolly.  Bags of sheepy scented wool is tucked to the side of the sofa and the dining table has had to make room for my blocked swatches.  Knitting needles of all sizes and varieties while not quite yet being found in between the sofa cushions do seem to be breeding and I find them in odd places (mainly because I pick them up and then put them down again in a silly place before they are tidied away properly.)…even Bernard has gotten in on the act, half clambeirng into my lap while I knit, he likes to smell the wool as much as I do.

However, quilting and patchwork will always be my first love…taking a little break from sewing has made me appreciate them that much more and I know I’m not alone.  Some of the most looked at/referenced pages on my blog is a little series/tutorial I made showing how to baste a quilt and to mark it up and quilt it using the baptist fan pattern…’s a very traditional pattern and while it is a bit more timey to work than just squares or diamonds, I think the finished effect is always worth it.

baptists fan quilting 001

It’s easily my favourite quilting pattern and while I would like to incorporate some feather quilting into a top piece at some point I’m not sure about quilting a whole quilt that way..unless I make a wholepiece quilt, which is made from a one very large piece of fabric, no patchwork is really involved, just quilting. If you live near Bath then I’d suggest a visit to  The American Museum as they have some wonderful quilts, including some very beautiful wholecloth quilts….it’s lovely to go there in the Summer as their gardens are stunning and by all accounts their tea rooms are good too.

When you make a patchwork top, the more pieces that are in your patchwork the more little seams there are, it’s really easy to not take this into account when you then go to quilt it….it’s another reason really why I like the baptist fan pattern so much, it’s very forgiving to little bumps in the fabric created by the folds and seams of the patchwork, and it helps blend the patchwork underneath together….harsh lines of patchwork seem to soften and blur under the gentle curve of the repeating arc.

Even if you’re a beginner to quilting this is such a lovely pattern to sew, any little wobbly stitches (which are what makes hand-made so full of charm and becomes so dear when it’s passed down) are soon lost as your hand grows confident and your stitches become more regular in size.

The brown patchwork is part of a big quilt that I made for my boyfriend’s 40th birthday (though he was 41 when he got it)…the fabric for the patchwork is Japanese linen and cotton, the weave is quite loose and isn’t really ideal for quilting as it frays like the devil. I knew I wouldn’t be able to cut the fabric into too many pieces as it would just fray away, so kept the patchwork very simple and kept the cutting of the fabric to a minimum. However, I went to town somewhat on the quilting, each arc is about 1 cm apart so it’s nice and dense.  In all I spent about a year quilting it, and it used nearly a mile of quilting thread……the little ripples in the fabric are formed by all the tiny hand stitches which I think helps to soften the curves….they make me think of water ripples.

baptist fan quilting

I also used a variation of the baptist fan pattern when I made the quilts for Peggy and Pearl. When you’re working with the arc it’s a very natural movement for your hand to make and after a while I sort of drift off while quilting…not falling asleep but I can get completely mesmerized by all those tiny stitches….it’s very relaxing and time can pass by very quickly.

I find it a bit easier to thread up a whole load of little quilting needles before I begin and then as each thread finishes there’s a new one to take it’s place….it stops the “flow” of my quilting from being too interrupted and it also helps me keep track of how much thread I’ve used in any period of time.

As well as looking lovely I really like the feel of the quilting, all those ribs in the arc feel wonderful when you rub your fingertips over them…it’s like the fattest corduroy.  All the tiny gaps between hand sewn stitches pucker and helps your finished quilt top to drape and flopse.

translucent patchwork and quilting

One of what I think has been my nicest photos of my quilts was this view of the quilting and patchwork pinned up on the washing line…Spring sunshine coming through and the seams of the patchwork are more like faint ghosts, like old building lines and earthworks that you can see when you look down from a plane….the gentle lumps and bumps, curves and wobbles become very sensual, a slow wave of stitches rippling out across the quilt.

baptist fan quilting on quilt two

There’s several variations on the design but they can all be worked using the same easy to make plastic guide (I’ve found these before in old sewing boxes where they’d been made from metal and like a fool I’ve put them into charity shops as I didn’t know what they were….) and you use the same back and forth movement with your hand to quilt…..

When I finally get around to quilting my “dear ethel” quilt (she’s just having a rest at the moment, though I’d like to get all the patchwork completed on her this year…as to whether that’s achievable with this new found love of knitting we’ll have to see) I fully intend to quilt her with a baptist fan design……I’d really like to piece together a flying geese border for her and then cable quilt the edge (I’ve done that before in a big quilt that my mum has, it looks really nice and is lovely to run finger tips over and trace the cables.)

ivos finished quilt 008

When our friends in Norway had their little boy Ivo I made him a quilt from scraps that one of my sisters gave me (I say scraps but there was enough fabric to have opened my very own fabric shop….she’s very generous and I was right royally spoilt).  Both the patchwork block and the quilting were very traditional but the colours were bright and modern, a combination I’ve seen a lot in Scandinavian design books.

It’s not a quilting design that works too well on anything very small, I’ve tried it on notebook covers and you couldn’t really see it clearly, but I made a case for my computer (which is what I turned the quilted squares into that I used for the tutorial) and that was about 24 inches by 15 give or take a little…but really it’s a design that works best if it’s allowed a bit of space to spread and ripple out, and a bit of time to allow you to sew it… I’ve mentioned before when I’ve written about my hand sewing (and I’m going to repeat myself here from an earlier post so apologies if you’ve read this before)…..for me, the absolute pleasure of hand sewing patchwork and quilting comes in the constant touching,holding and handling of the fabric, and the slowness and time in piecing the pieces together.  The time spent is important, each stage takes time, which is such a precious commodity nowadays but it’s often overlooked when the quilt is all finished…. it’s a very guilty pleasure.


Every stitch by hand………the journey of two little star quilts.

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… 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.

My patchwork essentials……or quilting on a budget part one….


When I first started quilting I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing, I’d watched a 15 minute program on telly showing how to make a log cabin quilt and I thought “oh, I think could do that”….and while I didn’t then make a log cabin that day, I tried my hand (badly) at quilting a cushion cover…..luckily before I’d had enough of my new hobby I was lucky enough to meet a lovely lady called Alison Farmer who took me under her wing who gently showed me where I was going wrong…..

My first trip to a specialist quilting shop with her was a revelation…the shop was stacked to the ceilings with more fabric than I’d ever seen in such a small place, and all of it the perfect weight for quilting…..then there was a wall of equipment that I had no idea what it was for, including an array of the widest rulers I’d ever seen …(why on earth did they have what looked like a pizza cutter? )….not forgetting all the different threads and different needles….at the time I was on an incredibly tight budget (and some things never change) so there was no way I could buy everything that I was being shown…..I bought some fabric and because the first quilt I made was a sampler quilt of my own design, I bought some quilters template plastic, and a packet of very fine “sharps”.


Over time I learnt what the other things were for (the pizza wheel or to use it’s proper name …the Rotary wheel, was a real eye opener) and some items I saved up for, other pieces of equipment I’ve had bought for me when it’s been my birthday or Christmas….not everything I’ve bought has been used….the tiny 1/4 inch seam allowance disc sits un-used in a work box along with a skinny 1/4 inch ruler…silver quilting pencils linger there too……. other items have been used more times than I believed possible.  My rotary cutter is a bit of a death trap but I find it really comfy to use compared to some of the skinny ones nowadays, my first transparent gridded ruler has barely any outer markings left but I like the size to much to part with it…….some of the leftover fabric scraps from that first quilt still crop up and get used in smaller projects.

piecing triangles

Anyway, after finishing the star quilts I thought I’d write a list of some of the things I use when I set about sewing a quilt (from piecing the patchwork to quilting the layers together)…..writing this post is the result of a couple of conversations I’ve had with different friends, we’ve talking about quilts and patchwork and a couple of friends felt even though they would like to take it up as a hobby, quilting is a rich woman’s hobby and they couldn’t afford it….I disagreed because I don’t think that is true.

It’s all too easy to go a bit crazy to begin with and to feel you need every gadget out there.  If you are careful how you spend your money then I don’t think it’s a hobby or past-time that should really break the bank.

stack of fabrics

Really to begin with you need fabric, sewing cotton, the correct needles, some pins and a pair of fabric scissors.  It also helps if you have a small pair of scissors to cut your thread with rather than keep using the larger fabric shears.  Those are your essentials and I’d guess the pins and scissors you’d have if you already sew….

Next would be something to make your templates for your patchwork with or something to cut them out with.  Then comes the wadding or batting, backing fabric, quilting cotton and appropriate needles.  It’s only after you’ve had a go at quilting would I suggest you buy anything more expensive or “specialist”…if you really don’t get on with it then it will be money wasted.

quilt books 003

There are loads of books now about patchwork and quilting, and the choice available can be a bit overwhelming….when I first started making quilts I thought a lot of the books on offer were a bit fuddy duddy (too many pictures of overtly fussy 1980’s style prints for my liking) luckily things have changed and a trip to your local library will nowadays reveal shelves heaving with books full of brightly coloured quilts.

I wrote a piece the other year about my favourite resource books, the Barbara Chainey one and the Maggie Malone book are both in the Norfolk Library system so you can take them out on loan…..I’ve also got a book which was like 25p or something from a car boot simply called Patchwork.  It’s part of the traditional needle arts collection and is written by Diana Lodge……it covers a nice range of patchwork designs and although some of the colours and fabric choices aren’t really my cup of tea, the information inside is very sound.

dresden plates 016

It’s a good idea to know what sort of quilt you intend to make,  this is going to sound rather odd but it’s actually easier to start off making a decent sized quilt than something too small…….my first quilt took me cough cough…five years to make, but in that time I also made and finished other smaller quilts.  Working on the larger quilt allowed me to gain my confidence as a quilter, and also become a more accomplished sewer….

holiday sewing 006

One of the easiest types of quilts has a patchwork top made up out of different coloured squares.  I recently bought fabric from Pretty Fabrics and Trims and they sell smaller cut pieces of fabric that would be ideal for this sort of patchwork (25 x 35cm rather than the regular 55 x 50 cm in a fat quarter).  There is also a block called Nine Patch which looks really effective repeated over in an array of fabrics.  I’ve mentioned before on my blog that I am a hand sewer, and sewing squares by hand is pretty easy, and it’s nice and portable…however if you prefer to use a sewing machine then that’s fine (I just have a tendency to go a bit doo lally when I get on a machine.)

When you first step into a specialist quilting shop then it’s like an Aladdin’s cave, there’s so much choice of fabric and notions that it can be pretty over whelming, which is why it’s a really good idea to know or at least have a good idea of what it is you want to make. (a few hours spent at your local library looking at quilts will really pay off later)

The fabric you buy to make your patchwork top will be the biggest expense so it’s good to have a really long think about your fabric choices.

pinks and red


In my opinion the fabric can make or break the quilt.  I always try to buy good quality fabric that is 100% cotton….don’t scrimp on buying mixes or poly cottons. Always look for “quilting cottons”, it’s lightweight and is ideal for sewing, it doesn’t fray too badly and It gets softer and softer as it’s handled, washed and slept under.  Money well spent in my book.  Only buy fabric you really love…if you’re undecided and not sure in the shop you aren’t going to be suddenly falling in love with it and wanting to sew it when you get home… (I speak from experience)

Recycled or re-purposed fabrics

In the past I’ve bought clothing from charity shops to use in patchwork but it’s getting harder and harder to find really good quality fabric in a lot of them, after a few washes the cotton on shirts just bobbles and looks tatty….  By all means if it is fabric that has sentimental value then use it, but sadly it’s a fact that much fabric used for clothing nowadays isn’t of a very high standard so anything made from those fabrics will need to be treated with that much more care.  At the end of the day, I’m not the quilting police, and you should always use fabric you love but at the same time it’s best to know what the fabric may do a few washes down the line.  (however if you’re making a quilt for your cat or dog then flannel shirts from charity shops are generally pretty well priced and your pet isn’t going to mind a bit of post washing bobbling)

les soeurs anglais 002

Vintage fabric

Vintage cottons are generally a safe bet, they’ll already be soft from years of washing and being worn.  However some other fabrics don’t cope so well.. silk disintegrates or “shatters” and becomes almost like dust, some old velvets bleed colour non stop, so don’t cope with being washed.  Both of these are more suitable for crazy quilting with lots of embroidery to support the fabric.  (Certainly with vintage silk I’d use a piece of lightweight American muslin underneath for support)….old tweeds and woollen fabrics will quite often shrink so again they are best used in items that aren’t expecting to be washed.

vintage quilting needles

Needles for patchwork

The needles you need for hand sewing patchwork are called “sharps”.  They are a bit skinnier than regular sewing needles and have very sharp points.  They also have quite a small eye to thread the sewing cotton through.

When I’m piecing or sewing my patchwork I tend to sew it by hand, I like a nice sharp needle and where possible favour vintage “sharps” as I find the older needles somewhat stronger than modern ones. (Norwich has loads of great antique/junk shops and many of them seem to sell vintage haberdashery items)…if you’re buying new then Clover Gold Eye are very good “sharps” for hand sewing patchwork, their number 10 is a very nice needle to use.  Slightly cheaper are John James, Milward and Newey Craft.  All of these are still very good and won’t break the bank.

If I’m sewing over papers (which is how I make sew hexagons together) then I really do like to use Clover Black Gold applique needles.  They aren’t cheap (an eye watering £4.50 for 6 the last time I bought a pack)..however they really are incredibly sharp and super fine (even skinnier than a regular “sharp”), while being nice and strong.  They make sewing patchwork or any other fine stitch sewing a real delight.  If I didn’t think they were worth the price then I certainly wouldn’t mention them…if they are too much for your budget then you could always put them on a Christmas present or birthday list.

vintage threads

Sewing thread

Although I like to use a lot of vintage thread in my sewing such as Sylko Dewhurst, I’m also quite happy to sew with Gutterman 100% cotton thread.  I don’t like their polyester thread though, I find it tangles too much.  It’s fine when I’m using it in a sewing machine, but for hand sewing I prefer their 100% cotton thread.

Generally when you’re sewing patchwork, if you use grey thread you’ll find it blends in really well with most other colours, especially if you are using prints of more than one colour, and your stitches won’t be so noticeable when you turn over your seam.  When I’m using the Gutterman thread I like the grey in shades No. 40 and No. 5705

cream blanket inner needlecase

Something to cut your fabric with

Obviously you need something to cut your fabric with, a good quality pair of fabric scissors will last you a life time as long as you don’t use them to cut anything else with.  (If you live in a household where you think someone might “borrow” them to cut wallpaper or hair then hide them.)  Merchant and Mills make beautiful scissors and I’ve got a pair of their 8″ Tailor’s Shears……mine were a wonderful Christmas present and get used loads.

And a small pair of scissors or thread snips to cut thread with makes life handy.

Regarding rotary cutters….I didn’t buy one for quite a while, because I just didn’t need one. My first quilt was a big sampler and each block was unique, so I would cut out the templates for a block, and then draw round and cut with scissors the shapes required from my fabric.  And even if you are making a patchwork top with squares then you can quite happily draw round templates and cut your fabric with scissors.

Rotary cutters combined with a thick ruler, and a cutting mat can make life much easier however ( I’ve lost count of the times I’ve sewn up tiny little patchwork log cabin squares where I’ve had a stack of ironed fabric and have cut the fabric in strips before sewing together on a sewing machine) if you’re on a tight budget and are really new to patchwork and quilting, I’d wait a while before investing in any expensive equipment.

ruler and template plastic

Quilter’s Template Plastic and cutting mat.

This can be bought in A3 sized sheets or in packs of A4.  It’s available gridded, plain or with an isometric pattern (which is good for cutting hexagons and diamonds. It depends what you are drawing or cutting as to which you’ll need.

You can buy templates already pre-cut.  Personally I like to make my own as it’s a lot cheaper, but you do need to be accurate in your cutting and drafting.

I have a small plastic square ruler by Creative Grids, (it measures 4 1/2 inches each side) and it cost me under £10.00 and I really don’t know how I managed without it.  Now I’m not saying you definitely need to go out and buy one of those, I make a lot of small patchwork and find this really handy as it’s small and I find I can be more accurate.  I also have a couple of bigger rulers but for me my small ruler is worth it’s weight in gold.

When I made my first quilt I bought a pack of gridded Quilter’s Template Plastic.  As it was already gridded I just had to very carefully cut out my templates along the pre-printed lines.

Cutting mats can be bought from art supply stores and a small A4 sized one is really handy even if you don’t have a rotary cutter, I use one I bought from a cheap stationers, and save it for tucking under my fabric to lean on when I’m drawing round my templates onto the cloth.

dutchman's puzzle 009

I think this pretty much covers what I think are the basics for sewing patchwork.

I really hope this helps anyone reading to see that quilting (and patchwork) doesn’t have to be a “rich woman’s past-time” …. I’ve never had much worth watching in my purse which is why I probably favour hand sewing over machine sewing, it does take longer but then it’s lots cheaper…I’ve tried not to let what’s not in my purse prevent me from enjoying what has become one of my favourite past-times.  (And when you’re making something for yourself or someone  you love, it’s nice to be able take your time.)

Finished quilts and embroidered name tags…..

Peggys quilt


To the sound of an imaginary trumpety fanfare (and not one supplied by the cat’s bottom)..after many weeks spent in designing block patterns and choosing fabrics and soaking pricked fingers in cups of cold tea….may I present the finished star quilts for Peggy and Pearl.  Sadly it was really overcast when I took these pictures so the quilts don’t look quite as colourful as when I photographed them the other week on the washing line.

This post has seemed an age in coming…..and I must confess the quilts have taken me somewhat longer to make than I had first thought or expected…in part because I got a bit stuck I suppose at the start when I was designing them.  The brief was deceptively simple…”make them different, but the same, and maybe something to match Olive’s quilt“…….hmmm and then the rest of the design was left up to me, including colour and fabric choice.  At times I felt I was running round in circles and was worried lovely Darren (who is the owner of the best coffee shop in Norwich) who had commissioned the quilts may well end up sleeping in the coal shed if his wife didn’t like what I came up with…. once I’d designed a pair of patchwork tops I then spent more time than you’d believe looking at suitable fabrics to use for the quilts…….

The other year I made Miss Olive a simple quilt, made up of an array of small reproduction and vintage prints sewn into patchwork squares, so I wanted to use if not the same fabrics from that quilt, but ones which would compliment it.  The only real specification I had on colour was “not too pink” and I think my overall rainbow choices have made up for the few splashes of pink I’ve popped in there.

I used a beautiful pale grey floral print by Lecien for the backing of Olive’s quilt, and although I couldn’t source enough of the same again this time, I found this floral print by Tilda and thought it echoed the grey/rose bud combination rather nicely.


A star quilt for Pearl


I wanted something that was really soft in hue and colour for the back and pretty much fell in love with a dainty yellow print from Pretty Fabrics and Trims.  I also bought some beautiful feedsack inspired prints from them as well for the patchwork blocks.  When I was choosing fabrics I found it easiest to create a pinterest board of all the fabrics I really liked, and then I had to whittle it down to real favourites….I tried to limit myself to buying fabric from as few shops as possible (it didn’t make sense to only buy two fat quarters from umpteen different shops)… some fabrics didn’t get chosen this time, but I’ve made a note of where I saw them.  The other two shops I purchased from were Sew and Quilt, and Tikki. All three shops were lovely to order with and had a great selection of fabric so I’ll definitely be shopping with them again.

For the binding, I used wool wadding from the Tuscany collection by Hobbs.  It’s not a cheap wadding but as I hand quilt I find it the nicest, it doesn’t stick to or resist my needle so it’s lovely to sew, and it has a great drape.  I’ve used this wadding for nearly all my quilts and it’s well worth worth it (just because you can’t see the wadding doesn’t mean you should forget about it and scrimp on the quality…….I’d rather put a patchwork top to one side for a while and just save up for the better quality wadding than use something cheap and synthetic).  I find it works out a bit cheaper if you buy a king size bag and then you can cut it to the size you need.  And as for all the little off cuts of wadding, I’m somewhat thrifty so they get saved, and I’m happy to overlap them a little and sew them together, perfect for doll quilts or for very small projects.


handwriting for Pearls tag in water erasable blue pen


On the back each quilt has a hand embroidered name tag.  I’ve tried to keep the tags small so I just used my regular handwriting and wrote something very simple in a blue water erasable pen on a piece of cotton fabric.  (I’ve written about this striped fabric before and it’s more precious to me than gold…where possible I try to incorporate a small piece into most quilt projects that are very dear to my hear)


Embroidered using back stitch


Some years ago I bought a huge reel of grey thread from a charity shop and it’s a lovely weight for embroidering writing, I’ve used a little back stitch for Pearl’s name, for Peggy’s name tag I used a stem stitch….I wanted to incorporate as many different details in the quilts as I could, but at the same time appreciate they may well be sharing a bedroom so the quilt tops compliment rather than clash.


pinned into place and slip stitching along the edge


The last stage….finishing off with tiny stitches.  I always feel a bit sad, saying goodbye to something that’s been part of my life for the last few months.  But sitting sewing, my work table dappled in sunlight and shadows makes for a happy parting.

Both quilts have now gone to their new home, but if you would like to commission one for yourself or someone precious then both styles will soon be listed in my folksy shop or you can contact me directly if you would like something even more bespoke.

Easy to make binding in whatever print you fancy……

Making your own binding for edging a quilt isn’t hard and it means you can chose exactly what colour and print you want rather than the need to rely on what you see available in the shops.

Although I use pre-cut vintage binding on many projects (such as trimming the sleeve and collar edgings on dresses) I always prefer to make my own binding for quilting.  I’ve got a couple of those brilliant little binding gadgets that you slide the cut fabric through (all the time my fingers seem to be attempting the dance of death as they avoid steam from my iron) and use that when I’m edging pot holders or tea cosies….but I don’t use them for bed or lap quilts because I prefer my binding for those to be doubled.

The edge of a quilt can get a lot of wear and tear, and if you’re making something that hopefully will be treasured and passed on through the family, then over the years it’s going to have a lot of hands touching it (quilts by their very nature are such tactile things that you need to imagine all the scrunching and cuddling it’s going to get).  Doubling the binding means you have an extra layer of protection around your quilt (it’s always possible to re bind a quilt but that isn’t the easiest of chores and I think it makes more sense to use a little more fabric in the first place.)

Anyway, I thought I’d show how I make my binding (this was the way my friend Alison patiently showed me many years ago)…you don’t really need any fancy equipment, though if you have one of those long transparent gridded rulers and a rotary cutter and cutting mat, hoorah…but I’ve made binding with a wooden ruler, pencil, and a pair of fabric shears before and it came out fine….


cut strips of fabric


First of all measure the top and side of your quilt, then double that measurement.  The binding has to go all the way around your quilt.  Then add another 15 inches for turning the corners and to make sewing the two ends together a bit easier.

Press your fabric so it’s as wrinkle free as possible, and then with a long gridded plastic ruler or yardstick , draw a straight line from top to bottom.  Measure along the width of your binding 2 1/4 inches (it’s about 5.5cm….most quilting equipment comes from America and so is marked up in inches which means it’s easier to think in “old money” rather than new) and then either cut with a rotary cutter or draw another line (and cut later with fabric shears)….cut and draw as many lengths of binding as you need.

For my example, my quilt is 30 inches wide and 40 inches long, so that is 30 + 40 x 2 (140) plus the extra 15 inches, which is 155 in total.

The fabric being used for binding is 45 inches wide so when I cut my strips they will each be 45 inches long (and 2 1/4 inches wide) so 1 strip is 45 inches, 2 strips will be 90, 3 strips will be 135 and 4 strips will be 180 inches.  So I need to cut 4 strips. It seems like there is going to be a lot of binding left, but each time you join the binding lengths you are using up some of that extra length allowance before you even begin to work any corners.


place at right angels and mark up corners


When the strips are all cut, lay one right side up and then lay a second one on top at a right angle.  (I have a little 4 1/2 inch square gridded ruler which I find invaluable* for measuring small pieces like this)……..then draw a 2 1/4 inch square on the top fabric and a diagonal line running from bottom right to top left hand corner)


pin the pieces together


Pin the two pieces of fabric together.

(I always seem to use a lot of pins but it’s important the fabric doesn’t shift around)


sew the two pieces together


Sew along the diagonal line, starting and ending with a couple of over stitches.  I rarely make a knot when I’m sewing patchwork and find a couple of over stitches makes for a neater and secure start and finish.



open out and gently press the seam flat


Open out the two pieces of fabric and gently press open with a hot iron.


open and gently press out


When you look at it from the front you will have a nice straight edge top and bottom to the joined binding.


trim the sides


Trim the sides of the binding to a generous 1/4 of an inch.


press the seam about quarter of an inch


Now with a hot iron (and avoiding steaming your finger tips where possible) press over the top edge of your binding about 1/4 of an inch.  If you don’t want to judge by eye then by all means draw a line 1/4 of an inch away for the top edge and then carefully press along that.


now press in half


Now bring the bottom edge of the fabric up to the pressed over top edge, and then carefully press along the bottom.

Your binding should now measure 1 inch wide, and have a 1/4 of an inch flap inside one edge only.

When you use binding gadgets they create a flap on both sides and that is not what you are going for here.

Carefully wrap your binding round your hand and fold it up (secure with a piece of ribbon or wool) and you are all set now to start sewing the binding to your quilt.

If you need to calculate how much fabric to buy to make your binding then I’d measure the quilt and write out the length required on a piece of paper.  Generally speaking fabric bolts are about 45 inches wide (which for your binding is measured as the length), and you know the binding needs to be 2 1/4 inches each section.   So for my example I’d need a piece of fabric that was cut wide enough for 4 x 2 1/4 inches (which is 11 inches).  Depending where you are buying your fabric from, some shops may happily cut a piece 12 inches or a foot wide for you, however, if you’re buying on line then this won’t be an option so you will want to buy a piece that is about 20 inches wide (this is sold as either half a metre or as two joined fat quarters**)…’ll have some leftover but as all quilters know, leftovers soon find new homes in other projects.

* and I’m writing down all the pieces of equipment that I find really helpful when I’m sewing patchwork or making a quilt so will post that in a few days.

**if you’re buying on-line you might want to check how the fabric is sold, a few companies only sell fat quarters which is great for patchwork but bit wasteful if you are making a lot of binding.  For smaller projects, like a cat quilt,  then a thin quarter (10 inches wide) may well be enough.

Quilts in shadows and sunshine…..

baptist fan pattern


I’m just finishing off the binding on the two star quilts but thought you’d like to see the two quilts hanging out in the sunshine once all the quilting on them was finished.

The baptist fan pattern has come out really well in the pictures of this quilt, the pattern was worked from left to right starting  at the bottom left corner.


quilt one in the sunshine


I’m particularly pleased with how the edges of the patchwork are softened and the different colours blend and almost merge together as the fan crosses over them.

I love how the sunlight really catches the tiny ridges and ripples formed by the hand quilting……


translucent patchwork and quilting


From the back the patchwork is almost translucent in the sunshine…the light flows through the fabric and wadding to reveal seam folds where fabric is doubled up, and the quilting appears fainter, almost ghost like.


rumpled and puckered hand quilting


Moments later the light shifts and the spectral quality is lost, the hand quilting ripples and puckers  are revealed again.

This pattern is showing clearer in the pictures, one strong curve on top of the arc and then three almost apple bites beneath as it fits into the two fans below it. (I hope that makes sense)


baptist fan quilting on quilt two


The pictures of the quilting in the second quilt haven’t come out quite so strongly, the fan was worked slightly differently, starting in the right hand bottom corner, and placing the curves centrally.  This was the pattern I used for my boyfriend’s quilt and I like the bottom of curve better…it seems neater to the eye.  It’s a bit more tricky as you diagonally upwards rather than straight along and it’s harder to keep the pattern true.


second star quilt with hand quilting


I’m pleased with my choice of fabric for the border, a softer floral print than the yellows used in the main patchwork.  Initially I wasn’t planning on a border but then thought it would show off the pieced stars better and allow the quilting design to flow over the quilt better.


hand quilting puckers in the sunshine and shadows


However I love the pictures from the back, the quilting shape is much more defined, and you can see more clearly now the difference in the bottom edge of the fan pattern…the design seems a little softer and the top arc of the fan seems wider although I don’t think it is, a trick of the eye perhaps.


hand quilting on the back


I’ve used a soft yellow floral print on the back of them both, when I bought it it was more because I liked the print and general overall softness of it rather than thinking about how it sat with the fabrics chosen for the front…..however when it came to picking fabric for the border I felt it combined with the pieced patchwork really well….luckily I’d ordered a bit extra so there was just enough to use.

Both quilts were marked using a blue water erasable pen and although they’ll both be washed once the binding is all sewn in place, I’ve gently sprayed and patted over with some folded over white fabric to remove as much of the blue now.  I’ve never had a trouble with removing it myself, though I know people who have had some problems in the past.  (it’s possible that if you leave it on fabric for a long time then it may not be water erasable, so I try to remember to remove it once a section has been quilted).

lumpy and bumpy and the joys of hand quilting……

baptist fan quilting


Before it’s all finished I wanted to share a few pictures of the latest star quilt being quilted……I’ve used a baptist fan pattern for each quilt although I’ve used the pattern in slightly different ways (in the other quilt, the fan goes from right to left and is spaced differently too)…..

I love the baptist fan pattern, it’s quite an old quilting pattern and you often see it used on old timey scrap quilts……(for some truly gorgeous examples I’d wholly recommend a trip to The American Museum which is just outside of Bath…they have a wonderful collection of quilts which is regularly rotated and their other exhibitions are always really interesting too).  It looks a lot more complicated than it actually is (if you’d like to know how to draft it then I’ve written about it here)…..for the star quilts I’ve made the fan rings 3/4 of an inch wide and that seems to be working out fine, however in the past I’ve set them smaller (the quilt I made for my boyfriend had the rings set at 1 cm gaps, starting at 2 cm up to 15 cm’s so the arc was nice and wide as well as being super skinny which makes for a lovely ripply feel for your fingers to brush over)…..


baptist fan hand quilting


The pattern goes off the side of the quilt somewhat abruptly but once the binding is sewn on it isn’t noticeable (though if you want to be really particular then you would need to measure the width and length of your quilt and mark your fan pattern out to fit that…as an example, if your quilt measures 40 by 50 inches, you could mark your fan guide at 1 inch notches, starting at 1 inch going up to 10 inches.  Then your fan would fit width ways  x 4, and lengthways x 5……though that is being pretty fussy even for me)….I’ve not measured widths and lengths before to make a fan marker and the ones I’ve previously made have all looked absolutely fine and dandy.

If you click on the images they should come up pretty big and you’ll be able to see the drawn lines of the baptist fan along with the stitches….I’ve marked this out in rows as I go along, and I’ve used a blue wash out pen (it’s one I’ve tested out before and it’s fine, but I don’t know what it would be like if it was left on the fabric for a long period of time)…..


a rippled baptist fan


When I’m quilting the curves of the fan, I like to use a few needles at once, stitching a section of the fan, before unscrewing and moving the hoop along before finishing the curves and arches.  If you are using a big hoop then you can move back and forth easier, but I find this method suits me fine, my fingers follow the curve and my quilting looks neater (to me at any rate) when I do it like this.  It’s not so necessary when I’m working on something small (such as the computer cosy) but certainly once I’m working at this size I prefer to move my hoop rather than keep turning the whole quilt back and forth.

Quilting needles are either labelled as Quilting Needles or Quilter’s Betweens, they are both the same thing.


needles in action


A fleet of industrious little quilting needles, sharp and fat.  I go through stages of which needle I prefer to use, when I’m quilting a big piece of fabric with no seams then I use the tiniest needles imaginable, something like a 11 or 12, John James brand are very good and very favourably priced for all pockets…but when I’m stitching over patchwork that has lots of seams, I prefer a slightly larger needle, one that is a little plumper and robust enough to cope with the bulk of seams,  a number 8 by John James is ideal…last year I was lucky enough to buy a couple of packets of vintage Blue Dorcas quilting needles in a number 7 and they are wonderful and strong.  (they are the same brand as those pretty little blue tins of pins found at the bottom of every Nannys and great aunts sewing baskets)….I often use a variety of needles in the same quilt, tiny needles where I’m quilting over a large u- cut piece of fabric, and then the slightly bigger needles where the patchwork is denser.

My favourite thread for quilting is a brand called Star.  I don’t think it comes in a massive array of colours, I’d only seen it in cream and then my sister bought me some in grey….but it’s nice and strong and doesn’t tangle, and it’s pretty cheap.  I also like Gutterman but that is a bit dearer, though slightly finer I think than the Star brand (so it’s easier to thread).


fan quilting helps to soften the seams in the patchwork


I mentioned to Sharon in a comment before that certain quilting patterns such as the baptist fan really soften the seams and colour change edges of patchwork, and thought the above picture was a good example of what I meant.

Although the patchworked star is still very visible, the background is softened and blended because of the tiny ripples and puckers in the quilting, the curve of the pattern helps as well.  I think this is what makes hand quilting so interesting to look at, the quilting lines aren’t so harsh as machine quilted rows and the overall look is a little hazy.

Once the binding has been sewn on the quilts will be gently washed on a cool wool wash in the washing machine and then left to dry flat between a couple of towels (no doubt Bernard will plop himself down on them but the towels will protect the quilts)…once the quilts are dry the tiny puckers of the hand quilting will be even more concentrated which gives that nice “old timey” look to a quilt.  I’ve been told a similar result can be achieved with machine quilting if the fabric used isn’t washed first, that way it shrinks a bit when it is washed, so if you don’t want to spend the time hand piecing and quilting (and I do understand it’s not for everyone) then that is a thought.

Preparing your patchwork for quilting……


secure waste fabric to the sides of the piece to be quilted


Although I’ve nearly completed the quilting on the star quilts, I thought I’d share some pictures of how I work the the edge of the basted layers before quilting. Once I’ve pinned out the three separate layers on top of each other (it’s just like making a big quilty sandwich on your carpet) I then baste the layers together with a cheap cotton thread.  I know some people use quilting safety pins but I prefer to hand baste with thread as I find it gives me the best results.  It’s a bit hard going on the knees and back when you are basting anything big but these quilts are quite small so the only pain came from trying to remove Bernard who insists on stretching out and doing paddy paws whenever fabric (or a blankets) is laid on the floor.

For the star quilts I marked out my pattern in sections as I went along, once the patchwork and layers had all been basted together, for smaller projects I find it is easier to mark the pattern out first.

If you’re interested, this is how I marked out a baptist fan pattern when I made a little cosy for a new computer last Summer.

Anyway, once all the layers are held securely together, I then chose where I am going to begin my quilting.  Most quilting works best if you start in the middle of your basted layers, the layers and lumpy bumpy bits smooth out as you work outwards.  However, when I am quilting a baptist fan style pattern, then I find the design flows better if I work out from one corner.  So the based layer sits comfortably in my quilting hoop, the edges of the quilt need to be extended, and for this I use a couple of strips of old curtain lining or calico.  Using reasonably small stitches, the calico needs to sewn to about a cm (or just over 1/4 of an inch) from the edge of the top patchwork.  Sew the calico through the wadding and the back fabric.  Personally I like to then sew another line of tacking to hold the edge of the backing fabric in place, it makes the edge of the basted fabrics a bit more secure to work with.

As the star quilts aren’t huge (30 by 42 ish inches) I’ve sewn the extra calico along the bottom and also along the left side of the quilt (I’m starting at that side)…if you are making a big quilt then you may prefer to only sew the extra fabric along half the bottom and half the side, making sure the corner is supported by fabric on both sides.  (Then as the area is quilted you can un-pick the calico and move it along to the next area where you are working….when I’m working big myself, I like to baste the calico the whole length of the bottom but then secure it only to half a side at a time.)

I’ve sewn spare fabric along the right side too but only once I’d sewn a couple of layers of quilting, I stopped about 8 inches from the right hand edge and then made sure the layers weren’t bunching up before basting on the extra calico.


fit the layers into the quilting hoop


Once you’ve sewn on the extra fabric to the bottom and side,  you can place your basted layer into your quilting hoop and you’ll find it much easier to quilt the edges and corners now that they are supported by the additional calico.

The quilt hoop I like to use is 14 inches wide (as most quilt supplies are from America they are all in inches rather than cm’s but this is comes in at about 35 cm’s)…….I’ve got a bigger one but I just find it’s a bit bulky and prefer to use this smaller hoop.  I try to only quilt in the central section of my hoop, it’s always tempting to try and work as much as you can, but the fabric is likely to pucker and your stitching will get too tight, so once you are within an inch of the hoops circumference, stop, undo the hoop and move it along so you can continue quilting.


all ready to quilt


The spare calico sewn to the sides needs to be a decent width, at least 8 inches, and I think mine is about a foot, it makes for much easier quilting, and the basted layers sit better in the hoop when there isn’t only an inch or so of fabric peeping out the edge of the hoop.

Some books I’ve read suggest that the basted layers sit in the hoop taut like a drum, I like a little give myself, but I don’t want it all saggy either.  I was going to say “a few years ago” but when I stop and think about it, it’s more like 15 and I’m thinking now where did all that time go…….anyway, I used to quilt at a friend’s house on a Wednesday morning and as she was in a quilting group elsewhere as where, a couple of those ladies would from time to time come round and quilt as well…..each of them had their own way of putting a quilt in a hoop, some liked it super taut, others a little less so, some ladies would push their hands underneath and give the basted layers a bit of a wallop so it pushed up.  No way is really right or wrong, it’s all about finding what is comfortable for you to make your stitches when you quilt.  (I find if the layers are too tight it’s a bit hard for my needle to glide along in and out through the layers smoothly, when it’s too loose the needle seems to stick and ends up making my hand and fingers proper ache at the end of a quilting session…getting the tension of the layers just right is similar to setting the tension right in a sewing machine, although with hand sewing the tension is what is right for you rather than a machine…hope that makes sense)