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…..an overwhelming feel of happiness and smiles.

all ready to quilt

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

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

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

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

needles in action

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

In the past I’ve used white chalk pencils or silver quilter’s pencils and ordinary hb pencils have been fine if I just press lightly.  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 sprayed the quilts with water and allow them an hour or so to dry in the sunshine outside, this freshened them up after they’d been on my lap and also allowed the fabric to crimple and pucker a bit more around the stitches….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.

A quilt for Olive

I’m currently making a patchwork quilt for Little Miss Olive of The Little Red Roaster fame.   Her mum and dad have chosen a simple square patchwork made up of a selection of vintage and reproduction fabrics.  As I hand sew all my quilts I thought it would be nice to show all the stages that go into making one of my baby quilts.  So this is sort of like a very simple tutorial in hand sewing patchwork.

To start with I always hand wash my fabrics first, I know some quilters don’t, but I find some fabrics have a slight coating on them which I am more aware of when I am sewing the fabric by hand, some fabrics shrink a bit, sometimes the dye runs a little, so I find it easier to just give them all a gentle hand wash before I use them.   I also press the fabric before I plan to use it as it makes it easier to cut the fabric and draw round templates.

For square patchwork I like to use a cutting mat, a small plastic quilting ruler , a rotary cutter and a H.B. pencil.   My quilting ruler is well over 10 years old and some of the outer lines have faded now but I can still just about see the measuring lines, and it works fine to cut against.

For other patchwork blocks I prefer to make templates from quilting plastic and draw each piece out separately, I appreciate this is a bit slow and isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but it the method I prefer.  And I also like paper piecing hexagons and diamonds which again, doesn’t make a quilt over the weekend but it’s nice to do on a wet afternoon.


olive's quilt 001


So this is where Olive’s quilt starts.  The quilt for Olive is going to be about 30 inches by 36 inches so I need to cut out 120 squares.

I measure 3 1/2 inches from the side of the fabric and cut along with the rotary cutter. This gives me a strip of fabric that measures 3 1/2 inches wide.


olive's quilt 003


Then I remove the spare fabric and place  the ruler on the fabric strip and measure 3 1/2 inches at a right angle to the cut line and cut again.  (One of things I find with using a rotary cutter and plastic ruler is that it makes a lot of scraps.  I try to be reasonably organised and make two small piles, one for use-able sized scraps, basically anything over an inch wide, and the other is for smaller pieces that I then cut up very fine and I then use this to stuff pin-cushions…… I really take after my dad and like to be thrifty.)


olive's quilt 006


This then leaves you with a square of fabric.  Carry on in this manner until you have enough squares for your project.  They are pretty quick to cut out using a rotary cutter compared to using a pair of scissors,  just make sure you are measuring accurately as it is all too easy to use the wrong measuring line…and I say this out of experience.


olive's quilt 011


This is just a small example of the range of fabrics that will be in Olive’s quilt.  I find it is easier to make little piles of fabric so I can see which fabrics are being used at one glance, and it can also lead to some pleasing combinations of fabrics working well together which I wouldn’t have first thought.


olive's quilt 007


Once the square has been cut out you need to draw a 3 inch square in the centre, the lines on the quilting ruler allow you to measure this accurately, and I use a regular H.B. pencil to do this.  You need to measure a separate square in the centre using your quilting ruler,  not just go in 1/4 of an inch from the sides just in case your cutting wasn’t quite accurate.  (I hope that makes sense)


olive's quilt 009


Time to join the patchwork together, I start to pin the squares together, placing two right sides together , making sure that the lines on both squares line up.  I pin the corners together first and then pin the centre section.  This may seem a bit fussy but I assure you it will make your patchwork match up a treat.  You can use long skinny quilting pins and these are much better if you are sewing your patchwork using a sewing machine, however for hand piecing I prefer to use small one inch needles with glass heads.  (my Arpette* finds these much easier to see when he is walking across the carpet!!)


olive's quilt 015


I don’t knot the thread, but instead make a couple of back-stitches at the start of my sewing and then finish off the same way.  I use a small running stitch for the sewing.

I prefer to use Clover brand applique needles to sew my patchwork together, they are super sharp needles and I find they make sewing patchwork so easy, especially when I am sewing small pieces of patchwork together.  If I don’t have a Clover brand needle to hand then I just make sure I am using a “sharp” needle, these are rightly named as they are very sharp.  Applique needles are equally sharp and are slightly slimmer.

(If you are lucky to find old vintage needles then check them first for rust but on the whole they are stronger needles and are incredibly sharp, they aren’t so easy to find nowadays but are sewing gold if you find some.)


olive's quilt 019


Once the pieces of patchwork are sewn together I turn the fabric over, smooth over the seams and press the seam firmly with my thumb. If you are hand sewing this seems to be strong enough to keep the seam flat.  If you are sewing using a sewing machine then I would suggest using an iron as it is more important then which way your seams are facing.


olive's quilt 021


I tend to sew the patches in strips of 4 before I go on to joining them in larger squares.  I like using thread in shades of brown as I find it blends in with the different colours of the fabric.  I bought some vintage Italian sewing thread in the Summer and although it is old it is nice and strong.  Some quilters prefer to sew their patchwork in grey as that also blends in well.

* Arpette  ….The young person who picks up the pins from the floor of the couture workroom…

I never see my dropped pins, however my sweetie always sees them, sometimes too late and then they stick out form his socks)