Vintage sewing reads from the charity shop……

McCalls sewing book

After having both my head and heart proper turned over the past some months by the joys of knitting, the last few days have seen me pottering about in my work room, mostly it’s involved tidying up, sorting out, but there’s also been some sewing…..One area of tidying that needed to be taken in hand were my needlework books, they’d started to spread out around the house, a small pile here, another few there… so I tried to gather them up all into one place…there’s been a couple of new additions to the sewing reference library, they’re all oldies but goldies.

On Friday I saw 3 different editions in just one charity shop of this classic, it’s such a great book and was one of the very first sewing books I ever bought. There’s a few different printings but it’s pretty much the same information inside each time. It’s a really great book for beginners and it also has plenty of information for more confident sewers too.  As well as explaining how to draft (draw up and design) a pattern it then explains how the garment is put together, with chapters covering pockets, collars and a a very thorough easy to follow section on button-holes.

Clothes by Margaret G Butler

A little while back  I bought the More Dress Pattern Designing by Natalie Bray, I’d already bought the Dress Pattern Designing book by her years ago and had been on the look out for the sequel ever since but it’s one of those books that is hard to find or is really expensive…I must confess to a squeal of happy when I spotted it on the shelf of a local charity shop, an absolute bargain at £1.99…….it might seem a bit daunting to a beginner at first look but it’s certainly worth buying it if you see it cheap… all Natalie Bray’s books are so well written and as they were first written in the sixties there’s plenty of “vintage” lines/shapes to the pattern drafting.

Possibly a more easy to follow book for a beginner is Clothes by Margaret G Butler…(this is a 1975 copy) inside it’s full of helpful information about fabrics, threads, patterns, how to cut out, how to lay patterns on fabric….the chapter on zips and buttonholes is especially well written and has plenty of clearly drawn illustrations with easy to follow instructions….it’s handy to have if you’re working from a commercial pattern and aren’t really sure of some of the techniques…there is also a nice section at the back of the book about how to care for your clothes including laundering and repairs.  There’s no photos  so it doesn’t feel dated and the information inside is very sound.

vintage needlecraft books

Another two recent purchases (both bought for less than a posh coffee) was Mary Thomas’s Embroidery Book and Complete Needlecraft by Agnes M Miall.

The Mary Thomas book is such a wealth of embroidery know how, it dates from 1936.  The subject headings contain a bit of back ground information including some history and then the instructions on how to work the type of embroidery (it also includes quilting, patchwork and smocking) are very clear and easy to follow….there aren’t many photographs but it has lots of clean and well drawn illustrations.

Complete Needlecraft covers a much wider range of needlecrafts (including dressmaking, repairs, knitting and crochet) and has quite a lot of photographs (including a rather scary looking crochet bra) but no drawn illustrations. The copyright is 1945 and has a Book Production War Economy Standard brand inside, however it doesn’t read as make do and mend book in the slightest as there are suggestions for some rather swishy items inside.


Mary Thomas Knitting Patterns

Okay, I know this isn’t a sewing book but it’s another classic by Mary Thomas…..I nearly did a little dance of joy when I found this beautiful 1948 edition of Mary Tomas’s Book of Knitting Patterns…it’s very nicely written, pretty clear and reasonably easy to follow, but I must confess it was the charming illustrations that made me smile so much all the way up to the till with my money….my favourite and there are so many inside I love…( the stocking stitch /garter stitch illustration, the puppy with the un-ravelled knitting, the squirrels popping nuts into a stocking hanging onto a tree,the college professors having a quarrel over their knitting……) has to be this young girl winding her yarn off from the antlers of a reindeer…in real life it probably wouldn’t work but makes for such a sweet image…I’ve seen more modern day printings of the book for sale online but I don’t know if they have the illustrations in or not….

The knitting patterns are written out as well as having a little chart so if the instructions seem a bit complicated then the chart might make things a bit clearer….there’s also a very helpful texture index at the back which suggests some stitches which suit particular garments or knits..

zips and haberdasheries

One of my favourite past-times is having a nose around and poke about in odd corners and dusty boxes in charity shops or bric a brac shops, sometimes I come away all empty handed and that’s fine but other times I manage to pick up a gem, often for very little money and which becomes a much valued addition to my library or hoard of haberdasheries.  The above items were all sourced for very little money and generally I find the quality of older pieces to be a lot better than what I can  afford to buy new.

The zips were a real bargain, although I only bought one at first as I wanted to check for rust (because the zips were all in their original packaging it wasn’t possible to check without  undoing and tearing the cellophane) but it was all fine so the next week I went back and bought a few more….the zips are metal and the teeth are nice and strong.  They also run nice and smooth (which I was a bit concerned about at first)…the colours of the fabric are very nice…peacock, glen green, sage green are just some of the ones I ended up buying.

I prefer to do a lot of my sewing by hand and mostly use vintage Sylko Dewhurst thread as it’s such good quality, it’s brilliant for both hand sewing and machine sewing, the thread slips through the eye of a needle so easily.  While the above threads aren’t that brand, they are all still nice to use, and I’ll often use a finer cotton to use as a tacking thread….I also prefer using vintage needles as I find they are a bit stronger and seem to be finer, and sharper….

I love little packets of vintage bias binding, sometimes it comes with thread in a matching colour (not something companies tend to do nowadays)…depending what I’m sewing I might carefully wash and then press the binding before using it as sometimes it shrinks and then will make the seam it’s sewn to pucker up a bit…if what I’m making isn’t going to be washed then I don’t worry….

butons and trimmings

As well as having umpteen charity shops nearby I’m also lucky enough to have a wide circle of friends and family who’ll gift me bags of buttons, threads and sewing what nots…even my accountant has given me small bags of leather thonging and embroidery silks, bindings and lace trimmings…..I’d like to say everything is tidied away and is in it’s place…hmmm, for the most part that’s probably true but there are still little tins and and suitcases that hold an assortment of haberdasheries from all over….From time to time I like to empty a box of notions and doo dahs out onto my work table, more often than not I’ll find something I’ve forgotten all about and which can get me thinking about who these little treasures used to belong to…inspiring me with thoughts of a new dress or skirt….




Red Salmon and Iced Orange inspired patchwork pot-holders…….

sylko threads

It’ll be no surprise to read that my favourite stall in the St.Gregory’s Antique Centre is a haberdashery stall…..often I just put my head round the door to see what’s new and come away with a handful of tapestry wool, a little bag of embroidery silk, a packet of vintage needles……well the last few weeks there have been boxes of beautiful and bright Dewhurst Sylko thread in as many colours as you could want……gorgeous and so affordable I’ve had to really stop myself from not just buying every single thread there……

I love sewing my patchwork by hand and generally I use grey, brown or a light pink thread as I find those blend in really well with other colours…..however I do like using vintage threads and Dewhurst Sylko is my favourite….firstly it’s what I remember from my nanny’s sewing basket, it’s what my great aunt used to sew with…and also what my mum used on her sewing machine….and then there are the names…..unlike thread nowadays which uses numbers, Dewhurst Sylko also gave their thread a name….Red Salmon, Elephant, Gay Kingfisher, Iced Orange, Straw, Coco,Chartreuse, Fiesta Pink, Frivolous Pink, Erin Green…..gorgeous and beautiful names that make me smile reading them much more than a number can.

I’ve probably got a whole set by now but there’s times when you just don’t see them and then whooo….a big box full and only 50 pence each……..

handsewn patchwork squares

Inspired by the bright sunshiney colours of my most recent purchase of a handful of rainbow bright threads (reminding myself as I queued up to pay of when I little and I’d stand at one of our village shops with a white paper bag filled with bright penny sweets) I’ve sorted out some patchwork squares and sewn them together to make some new pot-holders for the kitchen……..these ones aren’t very big, just large enough to use to lift the lid on some big enamel pots rather than use to lift the pots themselves…..

These would have been easy to sew up on a sewing machine, but we had a couple of sunny afternoons so it was nice to just sit out on the back door step with a pot of tea and Bob from next door as company and sew the squares together by hand…..

layers pinned together around the edges

The finished squares are just over six inches wide so when I came to quilting them I just pinned the three layers together….I didn’t use anything really fancy for my batting, just what I had left over from other projects, I think it’s a cotton/wool blend but certainly is all natural…I only used one layer of batting but if I make these for oven hot dishes to sit on then I use two layers and in the past have used a couple of layers of an old vintage blanket.

I’ve used the heat resistant batting before but I didn’t really get on with it, I found it sewed up very bulky and stiff so don’t tend to use that anymore, though if I was making oven gloves or pot holders to take things out of the oven then I think I’d use that…certainly not a polyester wadding though.

hand quilting on the diagonal

The quilting was really simple, I drew some diagonal lines across the squares using a wash out blue pen, and hand quilted along those, then once the diagonals were all quilted, I quilted along the edges of the patchwork (in the ditch)…I found this made the pot holder even more pliable and soft (I hate hard pot holders that you can’t grip anything with)

hand sewing some vintage binding

Amongst my hoard of vintage sewing notions is a box full of bias bindings, while most are age softened in colour there are a few surprises…this incredibly bright turquoise binding looks as fresh and eye popping today as it must have done when it was new….the packing was getting on and I’m pretty sure it’s from the early sixties….it’s English so the binding folds are only 1/2 a cm…..the Dewhurst Sylko turquoise thread was an exact match (as an aside, I’ve got a few old packets of binding which actually come with little paper spools of thread in matching shades….it’s such a brilliant idea)

I’ve hand sewn the binding, starting at the top right corner……

turquoise blue vintage binding and matching thread

I pin a side and then sew it in place using little back stitches before pining the next side…the corners are mitred which is a bit fiddly but is good practise for when you’re sewing them on bed size quilts….once most of the front binding was sewn in place, I flipped it over and whip stitched the back binding, checking my corners as I go……..

little patchwork pot holder

I’ve sewn the sides of the tail together before sewing it into place on the back to make a hanging loop……I’ve given this one a couple of test runs and it’s perfect, just the right size to lift up pot and pan lids and hanging up in the kitchen it makes even the most grey and miserable morning seem a lot more jolly and bright.

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 (okay-ish) at quilting a cushion cover. and a couple of other pieces though my stitching didn’t really look too much like pictures i was seeing in a book (this was all before the internet so didn’t have You-tube or anything like that to watch or get help from….luckily before I’d had enough of my new hobby I was fortunate enough to meet a lovely lady called Alison Farmer who took me under her wing who gently guided and showed me that bits I wasn’t quite understanding…..

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…..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)  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” but that was it.  It didn’t look very much when I laid it on the counter but when it got rang through the til it still made me wince.


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 pricey items such as the big rulers I either saved up for or I’ve had bought for me when it’s been my birthday or Christmas and 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 too 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 persons’ hobby and that they couldn’t afford it….I disagreed because I certainly don’t think that is true although I think it can definitely seem that way on first appearance. I really hate that because much of the history of quilting and patchwork has come about by making something out of nothing, people from the poorest communities creating patchwork quilts that are rich in colour, texture and self expression.

At the end of the day, patchwork and quilting is all about joining fabric together with stitches. Fabric doesn’t have to be bought new, you don’t need a sewing machine, you can sew by hand, and scissors cut fabric fine.

stack of fabrics

Really, all you truly need to begin with is fabric, sewing cotton, 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…. It’s great if you have access to a sewing machine, but that isn’t truly an essential, but it does make sewing patchwork a lot faster.

Next would be something to make the templates for your patchwork with (you can use cereal box card) or if you aren’t using templates or papers, something to measure and cut your fabric.  Then comes the wadding or batting (an old wool blanket that has worn thing will suffice, or you could sew together things like old jogging bottoms and sweat shirts, big wool scarves from charity shops), backing fabric (you can make this out of smaller pieces of fabric sewn together if you want or use an old sheet), thread for the quilting and needles.

quilt books 003

There are loads of books now about patchwork and quilting, and a trip to your local library will nowadays reveal shelves heaving with books full of inspirational quilts.  Most of my quilting and patchwork books are second hand, picked up from charity shops and car boots.

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 personally I think it is 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 (it was a really huge one), 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….

If you are looking to make a very light weight quilt for summer or to throw over the sofa then you could use an old flannel sheet as the batting, winter quilts would benefit from something more substantial. And then you have quilts that are for the wall or small pot holders so it’s good to have a think about the purpose of what you are making.

holiday sewing 006

One of the easiest types of quilts has a patchwork top made up out of different coloured squares.  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.)

The fabric you buy to make your patchwork top doesn’t have to be bought new, you can easily re-purpose items such as shirts or outgrown childrens clothes. Personally I find stitching stretchy fabrics like t shirts quite difficult so I tend to avoid using those, but shirts and summer dresses, light weight trousers and skirts are all good.  Pieced together t-shirts can be used as a batting though if you are looking to make a lightweight quilt as the patchwork and backing seems to stop any stretch. and it’s nice to sew through. You can also use fleece fabric as a batting, that gives a bit more of a quilty pucker when it is quilted.

pinks and red


Specialist quilting shops will sell  fabric called “quilting cotton”, this is lightweight and is perfect for patchwork, it doesn’t fray too badly and It gets softer and softer as it’s handled, washed and slept under. You can buy it in smaller quantities such as fat or thin quarters so you can pick and mix lots of different colours and pattern.  Linen is another option for fabric, while not being the easiest fabric to work with, it has a wonderful texture and wears really well.  My main piece of guidance here with buying “new” fabric would be to only buy fabric you really love…if you’re undecided and not sure in the shop then you aren’t going to be suddenly falling in love with it and wanting to sew with it when you get home… (I speak from experience)

However, both quilting cotton fabric and linen are pricey and can easily be out of a lot of peoples budget which is where using recycled/resalvaged fabrics can come in.

Recycled or re-purposed fabrics

Clothing from charity shops and carboots can be ideal to use in patchwork.  Things like cotton shirts are good as there is lots of fabric in them though I’d just advise checking that the fabric is strong enough and not too lightweight as you don’t want it to start tearing as you start sewing it. Old pillowcases and duvet covers, sheets and tablecloths are also good. The only down side is that they might be woven quite tight so can be a bit harder to sew through than the shirt cotton.  I think you should always use fabric you like but at the same time it’s best to know what the fabric may do a few washes down the road.

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 brilliantly with being washed.  I think both of these are more suitable for crazy quilting with lots of embroidery to support the fabric.  (Certainly with vintage silk I’d go so far as to use a piece of lightweight American muslin underneath for support even with crazy quilting and embroidery)….old tweeds and woollen fabrics will quite often shrink so again they are best used in items that aren’t expecting to be washed in anything other than a very cool wash.

Really old, vintage fabrics which you think will be fine can often be a bit frail so you might want to check they haven’t been damaged by sunlight if you are buying them for patchwork (I once bought some lovely old curtain material to use in a quilt. It was folded up and tied off in a parcel so I didn’t get a chance to properly check it, when I got home it pretty much shedded apart when I shook it out as it was so fragile).

I would also say here that it’s always worth mentioning to friends and family if they have any spare fabric or do they know anyone who sews.  I’ve been extremely lucky and have been gifted heaps of lovely old sewing things from friends and family having clear outs.  Pretty much all the quilters and sewers I know have a bag or box of scraps that they are more than happy to share some of.  It might not be the fabrics that sets your heart on fire but it you never know….

vintage quilting needles

Needles for patchwork

The needles you generally use for hand sewing patchwork are called “sharps” or applique needles.  They are a bit skinnier than regular sewing needles and have very sharp points.  They tend to have quite a small eye to thread the sewing cotton through.  I’d also recommend milliners or straw needles. They are similar to the “sharps” but are slightly longer and finer needles, very sharp and again excellent for sewing patchwork and applique or sewing patchwork over papers.

When I’m piecing or sewing my patchwork 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)…Brands I tend to use the most when buying new are John James, Milward and Newey Craft.  All of these are very good and have nice sharp tips. I like a number 10 needle myself but packets with a variety of different sizes in them are really good..

vintage threads

Sewing thread

Although I like to use a lot of vintage thread in my hand 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 a 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.

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 really beautiful scissors and I’ve got a pair of their 8″ Tailor’s Shears……mine were a Christmas present, they get used loads, and when I’ve finished using them they get put away in their box.  But I also bought a pair of craft scissors from our local market which were well under £5 that I only use for fabric and they are still super sharp ten years later.

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) but 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 persons past-time” …. I’ve never had much that is 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.)

Singing while sewing (or music I love to listen to)

piecing tiny triangles


I’ve now finished sewing the eighteen little six inch star blocks for “quilt number two”…..this was the last one, mixing a new fabric with some of the Ikea jumble sale duvet cover (it really must be the best bargain I’ve ever bought and I feel quite sad that there’s barely a metre now left)……

While I’ve been hand piecing I’ve been listening to some of my favourite music, no distractions like when I think watching Pride and Prejudice doesn’t slow me down…it does, I’m just too easily distracted by Lizzie Bennet and Mister Darcy…..also I am a bit of a pin dropper so just sewing in my work room instead of all over the house is a bit kinder on my boyfriend’s feet.


piecing triangles


Listening to the same cd’s most of which I’ve had for ages helps me fall into the familiar rhythms of sewing, my mind can just wander and drift off…..and then I look up and often surprise myself with my progress and the pile of pieces sewn.

Possibly my favourite singer/songwriter to listen to is Vashti Bunyun….her voice is easily one of the most beautiful sounds I think I’ve ever heard…she’s only made 4 albums but each one is wonderful. Her songs are gentle and somewhat melancholic but I don’t mind that….As much as I like her first album (Just Another Diamond Day) I heard her latest one (Heartleap) recently and it’s possibly even more loved…which I didn’t think was possible.  One of the 4 albums is a singles and demo selection which is nice as you can hear her talking.


pins and piecing


Following very closely is Kate Rusby….I first heard of her because she sang the title music in a wonderful and funny series called Jam and Jerusalem (wish they’d made a fourth series..)….she’s made loads and loads of albums but my favourite would be a tie between Little Lights…The Girl who Couldn’t Fly and Awkward Annie….possibly Little Lights wins it because it features my favourite song by her called My Young Man…it’s a song about her grandparents and it just breaks my heart listening to it…it’s so beautiful and sad and even though it always make me cry when I hear it, it’s one of the most moving and tenderest songs I can think of.

A Kate Bush cd is never very far away from my cd player……Wuthering Heights is my all time favourite song…when my little record player was still working I used to like playing the actual record I had from the seventies and generally dance along, fling myself around the living room to it (I’ve got quite long hair so in my head I really could be just like Kate Bush… Babooshka dance is a thing to see indeed!)…..nowadays I just have it on a cd, the sound doesn’t seem quite so warm, so alive, but it’s my desert island disc I’d save from the waves.  I love listening to her 50 words for Snow album (I could listen to Stephen Fry listing words for snow all day long) but possibly The Red Shoes owns a bigger piece of my heart……


patchwork piecing


Other favourite artists include The Webb sisters, their melodies and harmonies are just amazing….I do sometimes just have to put down my sewing and close my eyes and listen…I can’t sing for toffee so never fail to be overwhelmed by the absolute beauty of their voices….

Another singer who I love to listen to is Enya….my boyfriend isn’t such a fan (generally there is a deep sigh and “is that Enya you’re playing” followed by an eye roll before he walks off…so I tend to play her music while I’m at home in the day time….I particularly like “Paint the Sky with Stars” which is a best of album….I can still remember hearing Orinoco Flow for the first time, it’s still one of my favourite pieces by her.


pink and green patchwork


I also like Emmylou Harris, mostly her work from the early seventies.  I first heard of her because I like a singer called Gram Parsons and she sang a lot with him before he died in 1973.  Their duets together are just wonderful to listen to…time stands still while they are singing.

A bit of a change in pace…..I can always listen to Johnny Cash, I’m happy to hear those Sun recordings, songs sung with June or his later “American recordings”……and that brings me to June Carter and The Carter Family, Bluegrass music, Nancy Sinatra (especially the music recorded with Lee Hazlewood…..Their Nancy and Lee album is one of my favourites)

Lastly another singer I particularly like is Jackie Oates….her version of Lavender’s Blue never fails to lift my heart….and the little film she made for Young Johnson made me laugh out loud the first time I saw it, and it still makes me smile each time I watch it.

Patchwork and pin cushions…….

blocks pinned and ready to sew together


Possibly the only part about piecing and sewing patchwork for a quilt top is when I have to join the strips together…..I try to limit how many pins I’m using as I can go a bit overboard, and then it feels too much like handling a wriggling hedgehog and inevitably end up with pin pricking my finger tips…and although I know I could pin just one block in at a time, I always seem to end up pinning the whole length of joined blocks.


I always use plenty of pins


But aside from the tiny pin pricks it also makes me feel a bit sad in my heart….this part of the patchwork is now coming to an end, and soon it changes from a piece of patchwork to a quilt…….


pinning block strips together


Although the patchwork here looks a bit of a jumble, it’s now all sewn together and I’m really pleased with how it’s looking…it has that “vintage-hand me down through the ages-made by granny” look about it which is what I was after…..when ever I’ve been to see quilt collections in museums or exhibitions I always fall in love with the old quilts, ones where fabric seems to have been sourced from all over the place…..


pinning blocks together


To the side you can see part of a basket full of vintage threads, I love the Dewhurst Sylko brand, the quality is so good and I love the names of the colours… (at the moment I’m using Light Reseda and Spring Green….favourites I used in the piecing included Iced Orange, Japonica, Tangerine, Light Scarlet and Pale Rose……..)…using such an array of colours is one of the joys of hand sewing my patchwork…if I was doing this on a sewing machine I know I’d really need to limit myself to a few grey threads rather than the rainbow I currently have on my work table.


pinning patchwork


I always end up spreading out my patchwork, whether I’m piecing small blocks or sewing larger sections together, the patchwork seems to just take over and cover everything……


pin cushion collection


…and it’s not just the patchwork that seems to take over….the pin cushions seem to multiply as well…it starts out with just the one and then before I know it they are all out of drawer where they are kept… (I’m sure they are breeding in there.)


Sunshine and stars……..

first set of star blocks


As I said yesterday, the stars for “quilt one” have all been pieced together now but I thought you might be interested to see what they looked like before they’d been joined together…..(the pictures of them below aren’t arranged in any particular order, it’s just how they were arranged in the making pile) …in all I’ve hand sewn twelve stars using three different blocks using a variety of different fabrics……I don’t think I intended to make such a bright patchwork, it’s so sun-shiney and Summery feeling…like a packet of Opal Fruits (showing my age there)…..

It was nice mixing in the new fabrics with some of the ones I already had in my collection, it’s one of the things I like about the old style reproduction prints, they blend in and work with each so well.


second set of star blocks


A few times I’ve used the same print but in a different colour-way…I always think this adds a little extra interest to the quilt.  I really liked the Alice in Wonderland fabric, it’s been one of my new favourite purchases (I’d love to splurge on a couple of metres to make a dress..) and the blue cherry print by Lecien is rather nice too…’s such a great blue, really soft and opaque, almost powdery.

I mentioned before that when I buy fabric I prefer quantity of range than lots of any one fabric (I saw my friend Hugh yesterday who is a big hunky and handsome policeman, and to keep a long story of waffle to a minimum, he asked me “what on earth is a fat quarter”…he’d been on-line looking at fabric for something he wants me to make, and kept seeing it and just didn’t know what it meant, so while we were drinking the best coffee in Norwich I explained with a piece of paper the difference between a fat and thin quarter*) every-so often I fall so in love with a print I splurge and buy half metres in a a few colours, but generally my wallet doesn’t quite allow for what my heart would like.

While I appreciate that they aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, my favourite quilts are those that are made using a wide old variety of colour and prints…I’ve seen some beautiful quits made just using two colours, but they don’t tickle the tastebuds enough to make me want to piece and sew one myself.


third set of star blocks


I’ve fallen in love a bit with the top green star, the print was even nicer than I was expecting….a couple of metres of this and I’d be over the moon…..The orange and blue print was the only one where I really had to watch how I cut the fabric, the print looks much better when it’s all running in the same direction, with an all over, in any old direction print are on the whole much easier to work with, but when it’s just the odd fabric it’s not too much of a problem. (and even being careful I still managed to cut a couple of pieces out wrong so have put those into the scrap bag for a rainy day)


corner of patchwork with background fabric


I’m thinking to use some of the background fabric to create a simple and skinny width border around the patchwork before sewing the binding…’s quite yellow and is rather muted in tone to the rest of the patchwork, however I know once it’s all been quilted then colours blend in together more than you’ll realize or expect. (I’m thinking to quilt it using a baptist fan pattern but can’t quite make my mind up…it’s somewhat more time consuming so I’m really having to think carefully before I commit myself to it.)


Uppercase patchwork


And I completely forgot to mention a purchase made a few weeks ago now, it really did feel like a delivery of sunshine through my letterbox….I was so excited about this publication ever since I knew this issue of Uppercase was going to be about textiles and quilts…..when I opened it, it really was like opening up Summer…page after page of beautifully photographed patchwork and articles that I actually wanted to read.  Some quilters I’d heard of but there were a couple of new ones to me in there too.  Each page was just a real treat to read and even going through it again now I’m still being inspired and thinking “oh, what about if I do…” or “I’ve not tried doing that, perhaps I’ll …”

There’s a great interview in there with Denyse Schmidt , and a really good piece by Cheryl Arkinson about scrap quilts…and a wonderful article about feedsack quilts (be still my beating heart….a couple of pages of pages of tiny feedsack prints) then there are pieces about tattooed artists and weavers and a very useful piece about how to fit creativity into our daily lives by Christina Crook…. and a lovely piece about darning (yes darning can be lovely) anyway, it’s a brilliant read and I like it so much because it’s not all one thing, the magazine always ends up covering a few other things as well as it’s main issue subject…totally worth the price as it’s something I’ll keep coming back to to get my creative batteries charged up.

I bought my copy from Housekeeping (their mail order service is excellent)



Another hat for my push biking honey…….

cycling hat and vintage threads


On Saturday it’s my boyfriend’s boyfriend and as his big present* won’t be published til maybe Summer I thought to make him another little cycling hat.

I’ve made him a couple of Winter weight ones recently (one for Christmas and one last weekend for Valentines which he’s been wearing each day this week and looks right posh as he cycles off to work)….I’d been saving this fantastic raspberry tweed for a Radclyffe Hall inspired waistcoat but then thought it would suit as a cycling hat as it’s really bright (so nice and noticeable to car drivers).


inside seams


As always I used one of the patterns from The Little Package company, this style is the three panel hat.

The fabric was from Sylvia, it’s a lovely soft tweed, and is pretty thick.  It was very prone to fraying though so even though I cut it out with pinking shears(which is supposed to help with that) I then covered the inside seams with some fantastically shocking pink bias binding….the binding was from a great little vintage clothes shop on St Benedict’s Street in Norwich which sadly wasn’t open for long, it was a tiny little shop but as well as some nice clothes they also sold packets of binding, sewing threads and buttons for repairs in keeping with the age of the item.


raspberry cycling hat


To begin with I was going to sew this on a machine as I’ve got a pile of other sewing that is currently taking up a lot of my time……

I’m working on two new quilts (Miss Olive of the The Little Red Roaster is soon to get the best present in the world ever……sisters! Her mum is having twins and her dad has ordered two quilts for the soon to be arriving twins.  I made a quilt for Olive the other year and the ones I’m working on now will have more of an old timey feel to them……once I’m totally happy with the designs then there will be pictures)

I’m also designing a new dog coat (one for a whippet this time so quite a different shape to the ones I’ve been making…’s a bit like trying to design a dress for Mae West, all chest and then tiny waistline and hips.)

…..however I ended up sewing it by hand, I just love the soft feel of hand sewing, and yeah, it took me a little while longer, but as it was for my sweetie I certainly don’t begrudge that time spent.  I’m very fortunate as although he doesn’t sew himself he can tell when something is hand sewn. The Dewhurst Sylko threads are, as always, a joy to use, in part their names are lovely and smile inducing (frivolous pink never fails to cheer) but the thread has such a nice feel, it’s really silky and strong.  In my experience it rarely tangles and is my go to thread for handsewing.


( I’ve got sisters so can only say for me how great it is to have them however I’m sure brothers are just as nice)

* the big birthday present will be the new Cyclecross book by our favourite photographer Balint Hamvas.  In case you don’t know what it is, Cyclecross is like cross country but on a bicycle.  Now when I was at school cross country was just the worse thing ever (I didn’t like PE at all and would have much preferred to spend my time reading)..however watching other people get cold, muddy, wet is just fine……to begin with I wasn’t so fussed but then I looked up from a book and said “oooh who is that” and promptly fell in love a bit with Niels Albert (who sadly had to retire due to heart problems….he was an amazing cyclist and very easy on the eye)….so thank you Niels for first turning my eye to the charms of Cyclecross……there is also women’s Cyclecross which is even better in my book (Sanne Cant is my absolute favourite cyclist…..) Balint is an amazing photographer, he goes to all the races, gets as cold, wet though maybe not so muddy as the cyclists and takes the most fantastic pictures.  So a huge huge huge thank you to him.


Winter weather sewing…..

green hot water bottle


I’ve been busy sewing more hot water bottle cosies which will be listed in my folksy shop in the next few days.

It’s hard to want to sew them when the weather is nice and sunny, but as soon as it begins to turn chilly, and the clocks change then it’s a completely different story. All the wool blanket fabric comes down off the fabric shelves and I set about cutting out pattern shapes for cosies, stockings and tea pot covers.


pinning branch


Although I sew the main body of the cosy together on my Bernina (thank goodness for the walking foot, there is no way I’d be able to sew these on the beautiful Dorothy….)  all of the wool felt applique is pinned in place and then sewn by hand.  Generally, I use a mix of embroidery silks and vintage threads and small sharp needles.


embroidered bird


I love my little birds.  I always give them a tiny crown and teeny pink cheeks (and if you click the picture you should just be able to see the stitches around the edge of the cheek)…this little chap also has an embroidered breast which I don’t tend to do on the other coloured birds but the brown one reminds me of the song thrushes which live behind our house so I get a bit carried away when I’m embroidering those.

When I’m making a lot of cosies in one go it can feel a bit like a conveyor belt, over time I’ve found it easier (and quicker as there is less getting fabrics out and tidying away) to cut a stack of cosy shapes out first, and I also cut out the linings then too (all my cosies are fully lined so the seams are nicely hidden away), then I cut out branches, leaves and birds.  Once I’ve pinned and sewn the branches in place, I play around to see which bird looks best on the cosy, before sewing it in place and then arranging the leaves and sewing down the applique crocheted flowers.

I tend to work on about half a dozen of them at a time, more than that and I feel a bit swamped and lose track of smaller pieces, often misplacing piles of crowns and cheeks.


One man’s tatty is this girls’ treasure.



When I saw this array of vintage coat hangers in one of my local charity shops I could hardly believe my eyes…..49 pence a pair!  I checked with the lady at the till who referred to them as “what those tatty old things”….. and yes, they were priced right… bought as many as I could carry home.  (12 wooden hangers for the price of a latte….that’s got to be a bargain) I love hanging nice frocks on a fancy coathanger, and although these smelt a bit foisty (the fabric will be removed) I’m thinking they’ll look quite the thing with little knitted or crocheted covers.

A few years ago the Arpette’s parents kindly bought me the Jane Brocket knitting book and there is a lovely pattern in there for flouncy bloomer-esque coathangers, I’ve since made several covers for myself and it always makes me smile to see them when I open the wardrobe door.  There is also a nice crocheted shell pattern in Tif’s book, which is also on her blog  with lots of nice pictures here on her ravelry page.  I’ve not made it yet (I can’t believe I’ve been in love with this pattern for so long and not yet tried it out)….during one of the work room tidy ups I found a horrendous amount of cotton yarn I’d bought some years ago in the sales and I’m thinking once the Christmas fairs are all done with I can spend some happy, wild and wintry evenings making crocheted covers for these hangers.




The charity shop gods must have been smiling down on me as I also picked up these gorgeous vintage threads (okay not from a charity shop but one of the many bric-ity brac-ity shops that the fine city of Norwich is full of.  As always it is the names that make my heart beat that little bit quicker…..fiesta pink, dark ruby, geranium, marina green, flame……..past purchases have included periwinkle blue, gay kingfisher, elephant and possible my new favourite……sable squirrel.

All my patchwork for quilts is sewn by hand, and yes, I know I could do it by hand, but for me part of the pleasure is the sewing of small pieces of fabric together  by hand, the repetition of each stitch, the time to enjoy what I’m sewing…….and I nearly always use vintage threads…they are generally finer than new threads, and the colours seem to blend in nicer.  Certainly when I sewed the Harris tweed coat recently for Ruby, it was the vintage threads which matched the closest.  Some girls like fancy jewellery, others have huge shoe collections, but it’s colourful vintage threads for me everytime.