Deja vu or haven’t I seen these blocks before….

new blocks for dear ethel


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

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

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


evening star for dear ethel


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

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


practical orchard


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

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

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

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


Morning shadows and patchwork piecing…………….

re-making a pin wheel block


The other weekend I had a bit of a tidy up in my studio/work room and sorted through the 120 some blocks I’d sewn for my “dear ethel” quilt……as I looked through them there were a few that I felt weren’t quite right…..a couple were a bit too brash and bold, and a couple I was no longer happy with the fabric choices I’d made….I know I could have just left them be…but this quilt is intended as something special for me and I know what I’m like, I’ll be in bed and won’t see all the blocks that are perfect and beautiful and which make me happy….I’ll just see those blocks that don’t sit right…even if I try to hide them in corners or edges I’ll know they are there, so decided to put to one side the blocks I wasn’t liking (they can be made into pot holders to use near the stove) and made a list of what needed re-sewing…..


piecing patchwork to re-sew a pin wheel block


The first block I’ve sewn is this little pinwheel…I love the bright combination of orange and pink, but I wasn’t careful enough when I cut out the gingham, the pattern doesn’t lay true across the block…I’m thinking to make the quilt a bit bigger than I had first intended (so I think I need to make another 24 blocks on top of the half a dozen or so I’m re-sewing) so will use the pink/orange combination again, maybe use a different pink rather than the gingham…..

For the new block I’ve used a couple of the fabrics I bought recently for the twins quilts….the tiny tulip fabric is so delicate, and I particularly liked how it combined with the more robust orange bow-tie print.


early morning shadows


Now we have the lovely light mornings, I’ve set my alarm a little bit earlier so I can get up and enjoy the soft light that floods my work room this time of year…..early mornings are my favourite time, the house is quiet and not yet woken, if Bernard is on the table there is the gentle sighing and soft snore of him sleeping…shadows cover my table and as the sun comes up they move across my work…..


re-sewing a pinwheel block for my dear ethel quilt


Later on I’ll put on some music, or listen to the wireless but before anyone else stirs and gets out of bed I prefer the quiet….I open a window and my room is filled with the early morning call and sing song of the birds in the garden… the distance there is the low rumble of a train……the gentle sighing as the day itself seems to wake up and stretch into being…….

This is the time I try to use for sewing for myself, no commissions, no sewing for shops or craft fairs, but simply sewing for myself whether it’s patchwork blocks for “dear ethel” or darning socks…..a cup of tea near my elbow and I’m eased into the day.


re-sewn pinwheel block


The new block is much softer in colour than the one it’s replacing but it doesn’t jar and it sits in well with the other blocks sewn…..a couple of the blocks I’m re-sewing I’ve un-picked because I liked one of the fabrics used in the block and didn’t have enough left to re-make again….maybe I’m being a bit precious but I want this quilt to be just right so am happy to spend the time it needs, unpicking, re-cutting, hand sewing……. slow stitching indeed.

Playing with patchwork and papers….


finished composition


After weeks of playing around with painted papers and tins full of colouring pencils, I’ve finally come up with a design for the second quilt.  Initially I had sketched out a little design where every other block would be a square of prettily patterned fabric but wasn’t sure if this would look a bit “cheaty” or empty next to the other quilt…..however after deciding that one patchwork would be made up of quite big blocks(10 inch wide squares) then I thought it would be interesting to use smaller sized ones for the next patchwork…..and I thought this might work quite well mixing in squares of printed cotton.

(although this design is shown as 4 x 5 squares it will in fact be made as 5 x 7….I don’t think I was wearing my Wurzel Gummidge maths head when I was dividing 30 by 42 into smaller amounts)


small painted squares


Like the design I made yesterday, I painted up a selection of 2 inch wide squares in my sketchbook in a variety of different colours.

I like to use gouache paint for this as it gives a good solid background, I like to use it quite watery.  And then once it’s dry it’s easy to just draw on top of it.


drawing the flower motifs


Then drew tiny floral motifs and patterns over the painted squares with a selection of colouring pencils….I tried to create different colour-ways and repeat of prints as that is what I’m planning for the actual quilt but mostly it’s quite random…


finished floral small square background


I really like how these look when they are all finished and am quite tempted to make a couple of fridge magnets with some of the spare parers I’ve got left over…..


playing with stars


Then the little stars were cut from papers I’d already painted up over the last couple of weeks…..before the stars were glued into position I had a little play about with how they are placed….if I was making the blocks bigger then I’d be happy to sew patchwork star blocks for every square, but as I thought small blocks would look quite interesting I then tried out the design at the top of the page.

Incorporating whole squares (even though they are only 6 inches wide) will show off plenty of the print and design of the fabrics, some of the fabrics have jolly little pictures that get lost when they are cut up too small (that was something I learnt to take into consideration when I was sewing blocks last Summer for “dear ethel”).


I’m very happy with the two different patchwork designs, I think they’ll compliment each other when they are used in the same room but will happily stand on their own as a design.

I’ve also really enjoyed playing around with sketchbooks and paints and colouring pencils and papers…these have all helped me come up with my final designs, certainly using the painted papers really made the quilts I was imagining that much clearer and easier to visualise.

Now I’m all set for a day of cutting and arranging fabrics all ready to begin sewing…


Playing with colour and plotting out patchwork …

colouring blocks


Last Summer when I was going a little patchwork crazy hand piecing six inch blocks for “dear ethel”, I found myself repeating a couple of the blocks that I had previously sewn.  I’d planned (planned makes it sound like there was a method to the madness….there wasn’t.  I just picked blocks that I like in somewhat of a willy nilly fashion) for all the blocks to be different so rather than keep unpicking doubles I began to draw out and colour in blocks I’d made so I had a record of what I’d pieced so far…..


a record of dear ethel blocks


I’d bought the excellent 5,500 quilt blocks the other October (this is such an air punchingly awesome book….it’s often available second hand on numerous internet book sites and prices do seem to go up and down a lot, there is a paperback edition as well as a hard back, and if you live in the UK you should be able to rent it out from your local library.  It’s in the system in Norfolk, so if your local library doesn’t have it then they can order it in from Norfolk…it costs around £4 I think to do this but it’s worth it as it is a fantastic source of blocks)………

So I knew what I was doing and didn’t get confused by what is a very simple system, after making around some 40 or so blocks, I worked through the above mentioned tome and drew out any blocks that I thought might work well, writing down the number of the block underneath the block.  I’d noted down which blocks I had already made and drew them in numerical order so I could keep track of what I’d sewn so far.

(I used the numbers from the above book for my blocks)


coloured blocks for dear ethel


Most of the blocks I used are based on 9 square grid (3 x 3)….a few are 16 patches (4 x 4) but as the blocks are quite small being 6 inches square I thought that the 9 patch size would be the easiest for dividing and hand piecing.  I think the smallest square or half triangle is like 1 inch, which I felt was small enough for my patchwork (and my eyes).


dear ethel blocks


Something I did find by working in a book was how I was able to keep track of colours used….when the sewn blocks are laid out I am aware of some repeats of colour combination (pink and yellow just kept being made together again and again) but it’s more subtle as the shades change, the fabric patterns are different….when I was looking at the coloured blocks it was more noticeable and it made me start thinking about moving away from old favourites and to try out new palettes and blends.

While “dear ethel” is about using my favourite fabrics and making a quilt for me (it’s not for a quilt show or competition, it’s for me…there’s no deadline and if it takes how ever many years to make then that is fine….slow sewing indeed) I didn’t want it to be just a yellow and pink quilt or a orange and grey one….so some combinations of colours aren’t ones that I normally use…and I think it’s looking all the better for it.


dear ethel variations


Once I’d drawn out around 175 blocks that I felt happy with, I coloured in the blocks that I’d already made then began working through and sewing up the other blocks.  I made a note of how many colours each block had, and what they were called which sometimes made a colour choice very apt.

Mostly I just played around with a few fabrics before deciding on particular choices, fabrics that were appearing time and time again were kept to one side, it’s always hard with favourite fabrics to keep using them but I’ve got a lot of favourites and wanted them all to have their chance to shine….

Some favourites I realise are because of the fabrics used, they hold such a high place in my heart (the striped bed sheet from Nanny, the faded pink pillowcase from the car boot, the tiny scrap of red fabric of flowers in plant pots*), other blocks constantly make me smile, whatever the fabrics used (churn dash and variable stars particularly make my heart bet that much faster)


keeping track of blocks used


Some blocks once drawn were made and then coloured in but on reflection weren’t used, they get unpicked and are used in other blocks.  I noted which these were as a reminder for another time…..(you’ll see a couple of these if you click twice on the above picture…they just looked odd and jarring compared to the other blocks……even though I made other blocks all of one colour, these particular ones really weren’t doing it for me.)  But a couple of minutes unpicking, a press with an iron and the fabric is fine and dandy, all ready to try again in another block.

Flicking through this has been really helpful while I’ve been planning the quilt’s for Olive’s sisters…it’s reminded me of blocks I particularly liked, and of blocks that I liked but for various reasons didn’t get chosen for “dear ethel”…I think (and I really do need to re-count them) that I still need one more block.


recording which blocks are used for dear ethel


I wasn’t fussed about trying to reproduce the fabrics I’d used, just noting the colour was more important…when required I show stripes or spots but that is as fancy as it gets….it’s really a resource for me to keep track of what I’ve made and which blocks I liked.

I find working in a sketchbook really does make a difference to how I come to an idea (it generally involves a lot less un-picking)…not everything is planned out first (and I’ve had more than my fair share of successes by just going with what feels right) but when I take the time to have a play around with some colouring pencils then I inevitably come up with something that I wasn’t able to see in my head….and often what looks shimmery almost dancing at the edge of my vision, but the best quilt in the world, looks completely pants once I start drawing it out and trying to understand how the pieces fit.

*being super cheeky, if you have any of this or know where I can get it then please please do let me know….I think I bought it about 10 years ago and it’s possibly a Lecien print but really I’m just guessing.

Gold and grey patchwork……

friendship block


I’ve just finished sewing two more hand pieced mini blocks for “dear ethel“, this one is a favourite colour combination of golden yellow and grey.  It’s called Friendship Block.  It’s very apt for today’s weather, bouts of glorious sunshine then grey and cloudy skies making everything dark and gloomy…..this morning started off really lovely and sunny, but now it’s really Autumny skied outside, I’ve put all the lights on in my work room as it’s so grey and gloomy.




And this little block (once again using some of that beautiful V and A fabric from Rowan) is called Honeymoon.  I used the pale blue because I wanted to combine something from both the red and pink fabrics, and thought using that colour worked the best (I also tried it with yellow and that looked good too but ended up going for blue)

This was block number 120 so only one more to make now…….I feel a bit sad that I’ve almost finished sewing them, however it’ll be nice to begin sewing round sashing fabric and then piecing them all together, but I probably won’t start that until after I’ve finished things for Christmas Fairs and the like.

I’m currently trying to get to grips with finishing the Granny’s Paperweight blanket, evenings when the light isn’t good enough for fine sewing or matching threads is spent sewing in tails and tackling those half hexagons and zigzagged edges, it feels like I’ve had my eureka moment and the blanket is finally coming together a bit better.

In the meantime I’ve also been working on a couple of other crocheted items which I hope to share very soon, but an eye infection and a crooky neck (I seem to have sat in a draught in my work room when the window was open) meant the weekend sewing and crocheting was quite literally, painfully slow.  Knowing I looked like Quasimodo with a semi closed eye and hunched up shoulder was a good excuse to stay inside and rest up on the sofa with a pot of tea.

It’s a mystery……..

mystery block


The colour scheme for this block was in part inspired by it’s name, reminding me of old murder mystery books (they all seem to have faintly yellowing pages and brown tea stains on the cover) …..this patchwork block is called Mystery Block.  I like the combination of yellow and brown, the yellow floral fabric was purchased at the start of the Summer and is a new favourite, I think it’s so pretty and delicately sunshiney.  (some yellow fabrics are a bit too yellow to want to wear, however I think this print is lovely and mellow, reminding me of lemony ices and sandy toes after a day at the beach)


variable star


This block is called Variable Star, it’s very similar to this one which shares the same name.  It’s also called Ohio Star, Star of Hope and my favourite name for it….Aunt Eliza’s Star (that’s because I have a niece called Eliza)

I like all the reds together, and especially that red V and A fabric in the centre…..maybe it’s the scattering of blue flowers in the centre…’s such a beautiful print.




And finally this grey and yellow block is called Eddystone….I like the mix of mustardy golds together with the grey, it’s a favourite combination that I just don’t tire of.

This is a great central block for using in a medallion patchwork….just keep working the rounds outwards. (Medallion quilts are great to make for doll’s beds)


The book I’m using for my block references is 5,500 Quilt Block Designs by Maggie Malone, it’s a huge tomb and weighs an absolute ton…..the block designs are split down into how the block can be divided which helps a lot when drafting them and deciding which works best in the size you are planning (“dear ethel” is being made up of 6 inch blocks, so I’ve been able to use blocks from the nine patch …3 x 3…..and the four patch ….2 x 2……both of those divide nicely into 6……..however some of the other blocks don’t divide as well when you are working small and it’s best to save those for larger planned pieces)    It also gives a list of the various names the blocks are known under, some blocks only seem to have one name, others are known under many various guises, and sometimes the same name is given to a variety of different blocks.

If I’ve called a block a different name to what you know it as, then please do let me know, it’s interesting to learn how names change from region to region.

Melanie from Catbird Quilt Studio said she knows the two previous blocks I’d made as Variable Star and Sawtooth Star.  Do you know them by any other names?

A cluster of patchwork stars……

evening star


The other week I wrote how just changing the placement of tone in a block can change it’s name.  The example I used was this patchwork block…however on reflection I felt there wasn’t really enough variation in the tone of the fabric I used so I unpicked it (not the first block I’ve unpicked for this quilt, but fingers crossed it’s the last one) and used the fabric to create two new blocks with greater contrast.

So this above block is the all new razzle dazzle version of Eight Point Star, it’s also known as Square and Points.  Basically it is a darker toned star on a lighter toned background.  Both fabrics are in my top ten of favourites, I’ve actually bought enough of the green floral fabric to make a frock, sadly the turquoise fabric is quite old (it’s from Sylvia’s stash) so what there is is what there is…..I think they look pretty fine together.


square and points


And when you reverse the tone (so a lighter star on a darker toned fabric) you have the block named Evening Star, which is also called Cluster of Stars….I love that name…….it’s the perfect name for a star patchwork.

It’s a beautifully simple block, and whether you chose this or the Eight Point Star variation, it always makes for a beautiful patchwork top.  It’s quite a traditional pattern but looks so fresh.


block selection


And this is a round up of some of the last few finished blocks that have been pieced for “dear ethel”.

I particularly like the bottom block using the daintily striped pink fabric, and also the central block.  Both use the gorgeous V an A fabric by Rowan…….quite simply I’ve lost my heart to it.

Patchwork blocks and The House of Elliot

four crowns


Another two little hand pieced blocks for dear ethel, not many to go now….this block is called Four Crowns, I just can’t get enough of that red floral V and A fabric, I just love it…..

I’m slowly drafting a dress pattern with this fabric in mind (I keep seeing rows of tiny fabric covered buttons) and I’ve got some hazy ideas for a blouse which seems to be flitting around the edges of my imagination……sometimes I find it hard to sketch out a design, it needs to sit (gather dust), slowly just be and grow before I’m able to put it down on paper…all the attempts at this blouse have been terrible so am letting it take it’s own time (am watching lots of House of Elliot for suitable creative inspirations……if you’re not familiar with it, The House of Elliot was a BBC TV costume drama which was set just after the First World War, it was about two sisters who set up their own couture house…it’s absolutely brilliant, the costumes are gorgeous, and there is more lovely sewing inspiration in it than you can shake a stick at, it’s also got the most danceable theme tune which I have to do a little dance to when I hear it….around the same time as it was on telly, French and Saunders did a wonderful pastiche of it which still makes me laugh out loud…it’s very naughty but very very funny)

Perhaps The House of Elliot was a subliminal inspiration….the peacock feather fabric is very 1920s looking.




And this rather patriotic coloured block is called Homegrown…. it makes me think of 1940’s forties home front pamphlets, keep the home fires burning and general patriotic rousing….. the blue floral print is a Lecien fabric, it’s a rather heavy woven cotton which frays like the devil, however it’s so soft, and is lovely to sew.

I think there are a few red,white and blue coloured blocks set aside for dear ethel, not that I’m particularly patriotic, it’s just a colour combination that seems to crop up by itself.

Love and kisses patchwork……

love and kisses


I’m still all enamoured and head over heals with the V and A fabric (it’s made by Rowan fabrics) and thought it was the perfect choice to use in this block.

The tiny blue flowers in both prints make me think of forget me nots which I thought was most apt for a block called Love and Kisses.  Although it didn’t really matter which way up the deeper red fabric was placed, the striped print looked best running from top to bottom, so when I pieced the patchwork together I made sure no pieces were accidentally sewn horizontally.


state fair


This coraly green combination is called State Fair, it’s another nine patch block and was pieced in sections, mainly working on the diagonal…sometimes it’s a bit like putting together the pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, it’s easier to make small sections before fitting them together.

The green floral print is a Lecien fabric and is….one of my favourites, it’s a slightly heavier weight to sew but the quality of the Lecien fabrics is so good this isn’t a problem.

Think I’ve now sewn 112 mini blocks for “dear ethel“……just nine more to go………