“dear ethel”patchwork… finally a quilt for me

As anyone who follows my blog knows, I’m currently sewing a series of small patchwork mini blocks which I hope to make into a quilt I’m calling “dear ethel”. (You can see them all here)


water whel and others 011


I’ve been quilting for more years than I realised (um just over 15) and in that time family members and various friends have received quilts as presents, often when they have a baby…..but I’ve never really made a quilt for me (seriously even the cat has two quilts)


rebel patch 024


I’m very much a hand quilter….in fact I’m a hand patchworker too.  It’s not that I don’t have a sewing machine, I’ve got three, a Bernina 1008, a pretty basic Singer from the early seventies and a beautiful antique one (which must be due a telegram from the Queen anyday now) and on a shelf there is even a dusty overlocker, but I really prefer to quilt by hand.  I can sew patchwork on a machine , but I love to feel the fabric in my hands, and I’m happier sewing without the aid of a machine. So basically it takes me a fair old time to make a quilt, and yes, I could do them all on a machine, and if you like making them that way then that is great, (I’m really not knocking machine made quilts, I know they can be made much much quicker, and I’ve seen so many really stunning machine quilts which would have taken a month of Sundays if they’d been sewn by hand) but it’s not for me.



rebel patch 006


For me, the pleasure of patchwork and quilting comes in the constant touching,holding and handling of the fabric, and the slowness and time in piecing the blocks together.  The time spent is important, each stage takes time (such a precious commodity nowadays…. it’s a very guilty pleasure spending this much time on myself…..at this point I want to shake out my hair, turn and say in my best Catherine Deneuve voice “but I’m worth it”), and each fabric choice is carefully considered…. even colours and fabrics which clash do so by purpose.


mrs bryan and others 009


Some years ago I bought a book about a quilt made by Jane A. Stickle  and quite simply, I fell head over heels in love.  The quilt was made during the time of the American Civil war and is made up of over 200 blocks.  It’s a book I look at regularly and had been telling myself…one day I am going to make a “dear jane quilt” of my own.  One day last year for no particular reason, I sat down and started drawing out the little blocks the quilt is made up of,  I’d noticed that the blocks in the original quilt varied in size and I really wanted to do the same, however after drawing out about a dozen very small blocks I began to think about why exactly was I  making this quit….. I’ve never been keen to make someone else’s designs, I’m interested in how people put different colours together, but I like designing my own quilts, working with what fabric is available to me.  So I stopped what I was doing and thought it was time for a good re-think (I’d not cut out any fabric or anything, so it wasn’t a complete “aggghhhh” moment or anything).


patchwork pleasures 007


I’d seen an amazing reference book of quilt blocks (well if you want to get all picky, they are actually patchwork blocks) at our local library and I kept thinking about that book, and the ever growing pile of vintage reproduction fabrics I had, and the “dear jane” quilt…..and suddenly it all became clear.  I wasn’t going to make a copy of the “dear jane” quilt, that was hers, I was going to make “my quilt”.


silent star and illinois 002


I love how the main part of the “dear jane” is made up of small blocks, so I thought I’d use that idea, but chose my own blocks from the reference book.  So I went through that, noting down which blocks I really like, then I had to cross some of those out because I’d decided my blocks would be 6 inches square and anything that was smaller than an inch would make me go blind trying to piece together. (some of the triangles I’ve sewn are one inch wide on the sides, and there are more than a few one inch squares, but I know my limit.  After all, this is supposed to be enjoyable)


little blocks 005


Regarding fabric, my favourite ones seem to be reproduction ones of nineteen thirties feed sack fabrics, I’d also been given some vintage fabric from my friend Sylvia, really pretty fabric from other friends and sisters and car booty finds and I had some small treasured pieces from my Nanny… I’d also got some favourite fabrics that weren’t much bigger than the size of a postcard so it just seemed like the most natural thing in the world to work with them.


churn dash mini quilt block 001



I’ve bought a few fabrics recently to add a little more variety, these are also reproduction ones, and I’ve made a block in the same colour choices from a block in a quilt I made for a friends baby.  But I mostly wanted to use fabrics that I loved, or are precious for various reasons of sentimentality not cost…..


ednas choice mini blocks 003


This quilt is probably the nicest thing I feel I’ve made (and yes,  I know I said that about my grannies paperweight blanket, maybe it is it’s twin in the happiness I feel from making it)….some of the fabrics are so precious, tied up with such deep and happy memories, it’s a bit like looking at a photo album.


second set of blocks 021


As I mentioned at the start, I’m a hand sewer, and sewing these mini blocks at times is fiddly but it’s also very relaxing.  I read this post  yesterday by Sophie at The Woven Nest, and I think I know what she means, there are times when so much seems to be flying around in my mind, but when I sit and sew everything quiets down and seems calm.  Maybe my little blocks are my version of her field of clover…..


hexagons and ethel 002


There is a show on tv called Parks and Recreation, and in it there is a wonderful old lady called Ethel Beavers (she’s my favourite character), she is exactly the sort of old lady I’d like to be when I grow up… so as homage to her, and the original Jane A.Stickle quilt, I’ve started referring to my quilt as “dear ethel”.


mrs bryan and others 018


I’m not sure how long this quilt will take, I started it last Summer and I’ve now made just over 70 blocks.  At the moment I think I need about 122 (though that number seems to change…)  plus sashing and a border…. but all that is a long ways off….. it’s not a race, it’s just sewing.


Edna’s Choice and other blocks…

ednas choice mini blocks 009


After having fun sewing the Churn Dash mini blocks for Ivo’s quilt, I’ve been sewing some more mini blocks for my version of a Dear Jane quilt.  I’ve started calling it my Dear Ethel quilt (partly because it isn’t really a Dear Jane, and also I love the name Ethel)…..

This block is called Edna’s Choice.  The blue fabric is from a rather tatty car booty vintage apron, I fussy cut the central square so the bright posy of flowers would be shown off nicely.


ednas choice mini blocks 012


This green and blue block uses some of my favourite floral green fabric.  It was on sale at a local sewing shop so I bought enough to make a frock for Summer which I’m currently drafting up at the moment.  The spotty fabric was from eldest sister’s fabric clearout.

This block is called either Prairie Queen or True Blue (which now has me humming  that eighties classic)……


ednas choice mini blocks 007


This bright and cheery block is called Morning Star…. when I sew the sashing around the blocks I’m thinking to use a plain yellow so keep it citrusy.


ednas choice mini blocks 010


This used up small scraps of one of my favourite fabrics of all time… the red fabric with the tiny flowers… there really was only a tiny amount left which was just enough to sew this block.

It seems to have quite a few names…. Pennsylvania, Criss Cross Quilt, Simple Cross and Single Irish Chain…….

Fig Leaf mini block….

fig leaf 002


While I was waiting for the wool wadding to arrive for Olive’s quilt, I made a new block for my Dear Jane inspired quilt.   I’ve used two of my favourite fabrics of which there are just the smallest pieces left.  The pink fabric was a pillowcase which was about 20 pence from a car-boot and the green fabric was from Sylvia’s stash.  There is a little discolouration of the pillowcase, partly from where some of it has faded, however I quite like that as I think when the patchwork is all finished, little bits like that will all add to it’s charm.

The block measures 6 inches square (like all the other ones) so those “large” squares above are 2 inches square, and the tiny ones really are tiny… 1 inch square.  I’m using some vintage brown silk thread to sew the patchwork, it’s very fine like spider’s silk, and it’s strong so my patchwork won’t fall apart.  Although I like sewing small I must confess I wouldn’t really want to be sewing patchwork much smaller than this, those triangles were really fiddlesome.

Names for this block include Broad Arrow, Arabic Latticework and my favourite….Fig Leaf.


Boy’s fancy patchwork…..

little blocks 001


I finished a couple more little blocks for my Dear Jane inspired quilt.  I love the yellow fabric with the tiny elephants on it, and combined with the bright pink polka dots it made me think of circus tents and fancy costumes.  This block has several names, my favourites are Johnie Round the Corner and Squirrel in a Cage Wheel…


little blocks 005


And this block also has a few names including Boy’s nonsense and Boy’s fancy.  I’ve chosen 3 different purpley colours so the finished block makes me think of a patch of lavender.

I think I’ve made about 30 of these little blocks and when they are all laid out on the carpet they look so lovely and bright, and as much as I’m enjoying making them, I can’t wait when they are finished so I join them all together, just the thing to banish the winter doldrums though I’m not expecting to finish the blocks anytime soon.


Eastern Star and a Calico Snowball

more mini blocks 001

Another four patchwork squares for my Dear Jane  inspired quilt.   Actually it has really become it’s own quilt, with eye achingly bright combinations of  colours and patterns.  I did worry (for about 5 minutes) that I was going too far away from my original source of inspiration, but then figured I am making this quilt for me and as long as I like what I am making then it really doesn’t matter.  After this quilt is made I would like to make one more in keeping with the Jane A Stickle quilt, with each block just being of one colour, but for now I am quite happy to use all the colours in the rainbow (and my fabric stash)

more mini blocks 003

This citrusy coloured block is generally known as Patience Nine Patch, although I am calling my little block “St Clements” because this colour way makes me think of the nursery Rhyme “Oranges and Lemons”.

more mini blocks 009

I’m finding that I keep using variations of the yellow and pink combination.  They aren’t colours that I would normally use together but they seem to work really well here.

This block seems to have a list of names as long as your arm including Ohio Star, Lone Star and Eastern Star.

more mini blocks 006

Another yellow and pink patchwork block.  I needed a really busy pattern for the central octagon and I thought this print of The Three Little Pigs was perfect.  This block has a few names, Calico Snowball, Hour Glasses and Octagon amongst others.

more mini blocks 007

This block is called Roman Square.  It doesn’t look particularly exciting by itself, but when it is worked all over as a repeating pattern it really does come in to it’s own as a design.  After making a good dozen blocks I have started laying them out on the bed so I get an idea of what colours need to be added, and I  noticed the quilt top was sorely lacking in the greens so decided to address the balance by making this block a solely green coloured one.

Salmon and lemon patchwork.

Practical Orchard mini quilt block 001


This is the second of the six inch square blocks I am sewing for my Dear Jane inspired quilt.  This particular block is called Practical Orchard….. (I’m often both intrigued and puzzled by the names of quilt blocks.  Not quite sure why this would in anyway be thought of as “orchardy”… oh well)

I liked the playful mix of the yellow gingham and the salmon coloured  floral print and have a preference  for those fabrics which are reproductions of 1930’s prints.


Practical Orchard mini quilt block 004


I wanted to just show some of the stages in putting the blocks together, I was taught to work in rows, and to join the separate pieces in that row together, making triangles into squares first rather than sewing a triangle edge on to a square.  (Hope that makes sense)


Practical Orchard mini quilt block 005


The picture above is an example of what I mean about sewing the triangles together first.  So you sew the opposite triangles together.  The squares are  2 inches wide with a scanty 1/4 of an inch seam allowance.  I tend to make my own templates from plastic, draw around them on the back of the fabric and then when I cut the shapes out, add a little seam allowance.


Practical Orchard mini quilt block 008


So here are the four triangles all sewn together which form the central square in the block.  I could have made a template which looks like a little house with a roof so the side triangles would have been joined to the side squares but I’m trying to use up some of my fabric scraps (also I didn’t think of it until I’d made the finished block, however when I sew a similar block again I think I may make a template like that).


Practical Orchard mini quilt block 010


Now we have the three rows joined together.  Because I’m hand sewing I tend to use lots of tiny glass headed pins to pin the rows together, pinning first the central seams, then the corners, and then plenty of pins in between.  You can see from my post yesterday I am a bit pin happy.   Also I check that the pencil line I drew around the template is level either side.


Practical Orchard mini quilt block 014


This is the finished block.  It doesn’t really matter which way up you have it but I like it with the yellow going across.   I prefer sewing my patchwork by hand as I think the patchwork feels softer, and the seams don’t look quite as harsh (to my eyes anyway) than using a sewing machine.  Also hand sewing is really portable, you could easily pack the small pieces in a little freezer bag and sew a block together over a couple of lunch breaks, or on a train journey…. and it is lovely to sit outside and sew when it is sunny.

Churn Dash quilt block

churn dash mini quilt block 001


For years I have wanted to make a Dear Jane quilt.  I’d bought the fantastic book by Brenda Manges Papadakis from my favourite quilt shop years ago, and had poured over the pictures pretty regularly (is there such a thing as quilt porn?) but it’s never seemed the right time for me to make one myself.


churn dash mini quilt block 006


I think part of the reason was I don’t buy quilt kits, and have always prefered to design my own quilts  rather than use someone else’s idea, (um actually I did buy a pattern for a quilt I made years ago for one of my nieces but then I didn’t use a border as I preferred it without)  for me,  designing and planning the quilt is  a really big part of the joy of making a quilt in the first place.  I know some quilters who prefer to make the patchwork (are they Patchers?), and I know others who can’t wait to get quilting, but I pretty much like both equally.


churn dash mini quilt block 009


Anyway, I’ve recently been looking at The Jane Stickle quilt book again and then I found this picture on Pinterest and slowly the clogs started moving in my head…. I love the Dear Jane quilt so much, and my hat is tipped at quilters everywhere who make the baby Janes…… but I know that way isn’t for me.  Instead I am going to make my own Dear Jane inspired quilt.


churn dash mini quilt block 011


One of the things I love about the original quilt is the disparity in sizes of the blocks, I think some are 5 inches square with no or very little sashing, and others are as tiny as 3 inches with an inches wide sashed edge.  I can’t decide whether that is something I want to incorporate in my quilt  (I still can’t decide whether to sash with natural quilting muslin or just join all the blocks together for a huge riot of colour).


churn dash mini quilt block 015


But sometimes you need to put your foot out of the door for the journey to happen.  So today I have made my first little block.  I know it as Churn Dash, but I’ve noted that it is also called Ludlow’s Favourite, Hens and Chickens,  and Puss in the Corner  amongst others.


churn dash mini quilt block 018


I’ve gone for a slightly larger size block (a “whopping” 6 inchs!!), and straight away I’m using two colours together rather than each block being of one colour .  These two colours were on my sewing table and they just looked so right together that I decided to just go with it.


churn dash mini quilt block 019


Apart from sewinging it all by hand, I’m only going to make one rule for myself with this quilt….to enjoy it.  So there will be much pouring over books for the blocks that I really like, and deciding which  fabrics compliment others from an ever growing fabric stash  (though I am going to try really hard not to use the same fabric twice).