Paul Newman’s baby blues, sprouts, peas and lemon sorbet yellow…..

tapestry wool

Some while ago, when I was working on the star quilts for Miss Peggy and Pearl, I was asked about how I make my colour choices, picking out particular colours and teaming them together in unusual combinations….at the time I said I’d be writing a post about it.  I got about half way through writing one then realized that what I thought was going to be quite a simple piece really was becoming a bit of an epic post so I’ve taken my notes and have tried to break down and show how I work and chose my colours and team ups across the mediums I work in which is fabric, embroidery and crochet.

embroidery silk strands

I love using as much colour as possible in my work and although there are pairings that I’m not so fond of, colours that I’ll shy away from, on the whole I’m happy to use what ever is going…it’s a bit different when I’m using fabric as I prefer to use prints rather than a plain solid so other factors like print design then begin to creep in, but for the most part if I can put in a little bit of every colour under the sun then I’m happy.

To begin with I think it always helps to have a bit of a basic understanding of how colours work, even if later on you throw “the rules” out of the window, then it still helps to know what is being thrown out…..I find having a sketchbook for colour notes and playing really helpful, it doesn’t have to be huge, but I like them big enough that I can work bigger than just thumbnail sized swatches of colour.

I generally start any colour sketchbook with some colour wheels over the first few pages in a variety of mediums (colouring pencil and paint, snippets of fabric or tufts of yarn)

The first three colours to consider are what are called the Primary colours….these are red, yellow and blue.  They’re the most simple and basic colours and you can’t make them by mixing other colours together.

mrs millers favourite

Red is always a hot colour, whether it’s chilli red or cherry, fire engine bright, post box red.

soporific blues

Soft and soporific blue…never a warm tone but always cooling. (just the memory of a walk amongst the bluebells in April can cool me down and help me sleep in August when the nights are too hot and sticky…)

Ultramarine, and icy, sometimes almost grey…Prussian and inky and Paul Newman’s baby blues…..

yellow buttons

Sunshiny and bright, golden and mustard, most mellow and lemon sorbet tasting yellow.

The next colours are the secondary colours.

From mixing two of the three Primary colours together you create the secondary colours…..(I think they make the happiest albeit safest) pairings when you team them up with either of the two colours that make them.

green moss on wall

Yellow and Blue together make green…fresh and vibrant, forest pine and leafy glade, sprouts and peas, the smell of a greenhouse on a warm Summer’s day….

little blocks 005

Blue and red together create purple…….mauve and violet, lavender meadows and blackberry crumbles, wild violets and shiny aubergines.

orange tapestry wool

Red and yellow makes orange….. the brightest fruitiest hue, to soft coral and peachy, apricot tones, amber and persimmon, tangerine and henna.

cats and quilts 003

Caramel, ochre, chocolate, mocha, chestnut and sienna, mushroom tones all velvey soft……Brown is a composite or neutral colour…it’s made by mixing the primary colours together.

It can be thought of as being a bit drab or boring and although it’s not a colour I tend to go for straight away when I’m making any wardrobe choices, I’m quite happy using it in crochet (blends of a range of brown shades or mixed in with blue, pink, orange or yellow look particularly good)

nine patch star patchwork block

Pink is a bit of a where did that come from colour, it’s actually a red tint although it’s often seen as a colour in it’s own right, and I know some people really don’t like it but I don’t have any of their qualms (pink and yellow is a particular favourite combination that I find myself using and wearing time and time again).

Before I finish off this first post regarding how I use colour, I just wanted to mention what I have found to be two excellent resources for super good reading regarding colour.

Firstly is the always inspiring Uppercase magazine, in particular issue 22, it’s full of beautifully illustrated interviews and essays about colour.  Visually this issue is a real treat, and the magazine reads like a rainbow….. (if you’re like me and live in the UK then you can buy it mail order from Housekeeping)

Secondly is the utterly brilliant Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook by Felicity Ford.  It’s an excellent book about looking at where to get your initial colour inspiration from and how to translate it into a workable project. I’ve wrote about it before but I love it so much and it’s such a great book I hope you’ll excuse me repeating myself.   Although this book is probably of more help to knitters, I’ve still found it riveting to read and it’s made me really think about where my colour choices come from and how I can make them even better.


Painting the sky with stars……..

painting up background papers


When I was deciding on the patchwork designs for the twin’s quilts I kept coming back to this arrangement of different sized stars…..however I soon realized that it wasn’t going to look quite right at the small scale I’m currently working in (the baby quilts will be about 30 inches by 42) …trying to cram too much in I think will just look a bit messy and somewhat overwhelming…..but I didn’t want to give up on the design completely and thought it would be interesting to play around with it a bit more and use some up some of the painted paper scraps that were still scattered around my work table and studio floor….

I’ve found it easier to draw out a measured grid with a ruler rather than to do it by eye, it’s not so quick but you get a better idea of what the patchwork is going to look like….. then I’ve just blocked the squares in with colour (gouache paint) before working over them with colouring pencils to create a variety of different “fabric” patterns….(I’ve left some bits white on the big squares as I knew that was going to be covered by the painted up paper stars because I’m a bit slap dash at time….)


adding paper stars


I’ve drawn the little paper stars out in two different sizes, 1 1/2 and 3 inches (this was a pretty easy to divide measurement and it allowed me to repeat the pattern a bit in my sketchbook.) …and have cut them out of scraps of painted papers I’d left over from the previous paper quilt designs.


paper stars added


It’s been really interesting for me to play around and try out different combinations of print and colour…and although these paper experiments have taken a bit of time, they’ve still been heaps quicker than if I’d tried sewing them.

I’ve  found the designs were all much easier to visualise in fabric once I’d made these little testers, they’ve been a good way in helping me decide which size to make the blocks for the patchwork…..painting them up and drawing the floral motifs has been a bit time consuming, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be hard to paint up some papers, scan them and then print them off for future use……however that is somewhat beyond my limited computer skills (and to be honest I found it quite nice and relaxing to make them…but I guess it wouldn’t be too tricky to do if you wanted to make some up for yourselves).


glued down paper stars


With the stars being separate I’ve been able to play around with colour combinations, see which worked and which bits needed adjusting before gluing them down on top of the painted up squares……(something I’ve become very aware of from all of this has been how much I still love playing around, trying out new ideas and versions of something before I finally make up my mind on “the one”.)

I’m now quite smitten with this design …and am seriously considering making this patchwork up for real….however I have about 4 other patchwork projects for the home* already on the go so think it would be best to get those finished before starting anything new….but at least working it out already in papers I can see how it fits together and works, which is what has slowed down a couple of the other projects. (Well that is my excuse…in reality I know it is because I pfaff and fuss and fanny about, rather than just getting on with the job in hand.)


added central small squares


I was curious about adding more stars to those big blocks so made some more of the little ones….I think they work best when the central star is similar in colour and tone to the larger square, (I like the purple and blue star and the peachy and pink star.  They seem to work better than the pink and green one, and the mustard and lemon one….)


grey floral border added


I wanted to try out an edging, really more for curiosities sake then anything else, I’ve just used a strip of grey paper with a floral motif along the bottom…..and although I’m quite happy to not add a fancy border along the design, (and by fancy I’m meaning beautifully pieced flying geese) at the same time I find myself being drawn to the simplicity of a strip of just something to allow the main patchwork a little space, a little room to breathe.

*I say “home” but really they’re all pretty much for me…..

A multitude of patchwork stars….

finished arrangement


Finally after weeks of playing around with different designs and painting papers so I could visualise the patchwork a bit better I’ve finally come up with two different but similar patchwork patterns for Peggy and Pearl’s quilts.  This one at the moment is called “quilt one”…it’s a mix of star blocks and will be sewn in a selection of reproduction feedsack prints…….

Although their dad has left all the colour choices and overall look of the quilts up to me (which is quite as honour as these will be heirloom quality quilts which in my head will be kept and handed down to dollies if not their own teeny treasures…though I do appreciate they may well end up as cat or dog blankets), the one criteria he did say was for the quilts to look different but have something in common.


large painted squares


I decided the easiest way to achieve this would be to use the same fabrics for both quilts, and I’m also using a few pieces that were used in their big sister Olive’s quilt the other year….but then each quilt will also have a couple of fabrics unique to that one.  Fingers crossed it will all work out okay.  But the main motif or block repeat would also be the same or at least similar in each quilts…..

To help me plan the final designs of the quilt I decided to use the painted papers I’d been making over the past week, but rather than paint up more pieces I worked directly into a sketchbook and painted up big squares (well 4 inches wide)……


drawing in the background patterns


After painting up the squares (I like to use quite watery gouache paint) I then drew little floral motifs and patterns on top using a selection of colouring pencils….it’s a bit pfaffy and fiddly but also very relaxing and nice to do.  This method of working really helped me see the patchwork designs better, and I was able to draw out the quilts that were there in my head.


finished background patterns


I really like how pretty this looks once all the little squares have been decorated…..this is probably a bit more fanciful than what was required but to be honest I just liked doing it.

Then the pre-painted papers from a couple of days ago were  cut and glued (I used mod podge glue as that sticks to pretty much anything) and arranged into place.


planning out the patchwork stars


Rather than use the same star block over and over again I decided to use three different variations of the same basic 8 pointed star. I’d already made little six inch blocks of each one for “dear ethel” and they sew together really nicely.  Also using blocks of the same division means the patchwork won’t have any weirdly placed seams.

Olive’s Quilt was about 30 inches by 42 inches and I’m making the ones for her new sisters the same size…..Crystal star is a bit of a fiddly block so I’ve decided to make this quilt with blocks 10 inches wide (12 in all)…that way the fiddley blocks won’t take me forever to sew up…I’ll probably need to sew an inch wide strip for a border once the patchwork is completed but I’ll wait ’til that is sewn before a final colour choice at this stage….then once all the patchwork has been sewn by hand there’ll be lots of hand quilting on top.


I'm a bit of a messyworker.


I had a lovely comment recently about being so organised…..which made me laugh as I am very messy worker….I leave little piles of papers or fabric or wool wherever I’m working or when I move to a different seat …this is just part of my sewing table at the moment, covered in tiny snippings and snippets of painted papers…for once there isn’t a big fat cat sprawled out over it all.

Quilt two will be tomorrow…….

Paper patchworks and a musical bottom……

sandstone pattern


As I mentioned a few days ago I’ve been painting up papers to help me plan out the patchwork blocks for the quilt commission….. with hindsight it may have helped more if I’d reproduced the fabrics that I had seen and thought yes to, however I quite liked just painting and colouring while listening to some quietly playing music in the background.


sandstone and lemon floral motif


For the backgrounds I used water downed gouache paint and then worked motifs and patterns on top with a variety of colouring pencils……when I was painting up some of the patchwork block patterns I felt some of the patterns were looking a bit flat and then I realised it was probably because I’d painted them with plain areas of colour, and generally all my patchwork tends to be sewn using lots of prints.  I also found myself repeating the same block pattern and feeling a little bit like I was stuck in a rut and somewhat daunted by the scope of the patterns and colours available, having a little break (and painting up papers) my mind seemed to be able to wander about quite happily and new ideas began to form.


sandstone and blue floral motif


I was really inspired to paint up some papers to help with my patchwork planning after seeing some papers that Phoebe Wahl had painted and cut out to make her beautiful collages…Phoebe is one of my favourite illustrators and I love her work so much…she captures those lovely quiet moments of everyday life that we all know and which seem to pass by so quickly but which remain in memories….she also does the best illustrations of textiles and quilts so thought this technique would be perfect for helping me cope with the jumble of ideas that was going on in my head.


green and pink pattern


I’ve ended up painting nearly two dozen different little prints in a variety of colours and different sizes, the floral prints are my favourite but I then like floral prints in fabric.  Favourite fabrics are the feedsack reproduction style ones which have been really popular over the last some years.  Though I like fifties style dresses I much prefer the fabrics from the thirties and favour a slightly more subdued palette (though I appreciate that when these fabrics were new they were a lot brighter than what we see today.)  I’m all for sun faded and time softened fabrics and find my patchwork choices reflect this.


floral pieces


This is a somewhat different way of working to when I was making the blocks for “dear ethel”….partly because that quilt is for me so I only had myself to please, where as a commission you are trying to please someone else, even harder this time was that the quilts are a surprise from “dad” and I have to try and remember which colours “mum” liked when I made them a quilt before.

Spending tme painting up papers, and colouring in blocks has meant the design process has lasted longer than I thought but it has helped me clear out “head clutter” like you wouldn’t believe, and has also made me think about and consider designs that I hadn’t even thought of when I was just colouring in a flat area of colour.


patchwork with papers


Now I’ve got a good old selection of “prints” I’ve started cutting them up to arrange into little paper patchwork blocks…these little squares are only an inch wide.  The blocks for “dear ethel” are six inches wide and one idea I thought about while cutting out the papers was to make the blocks for these quilts the same size as that, however that is going to take me quite a while, so I’m thinking that one solution would be to use six inch squares of patterned fabric every other block…..but then again I could just up-scale all the blocks, and make them ten inches wide instead.


paper patchwork


This is a mix of two different blocks, a very simple nine patch block and then “twin star” which I thought most apt as these designs are for quilts for twins.  One thing their dad did ask for was that the quilts are to to be different from each other.  I’d played about with using the same block but to use it differently, using other blocks around it or setting it out out on the diagonal…..

I’m thinking it would work even better if the stars were made from just yellow and orange fabric, then they’d stand out really well.  Both quilts will have lots of hand quilting so seam lines and colour edges will be softened and blended.


paper patchwork with scissors


Although the prints I’ve painted are quite different to the fabric I saw, the fabric I’ve actually chosen for the patchwork is quite similar to the colours above, I’m still very undecided about borders and bindings, for this paper patchwork though I’ve just glued down some painted grey paper to give a defined edge to the piece…..(I’ve got a pretty pink rose print on grey fabric which I thought might work well as a binding fabric.  It’s a bit too much by itself but I think just a little of it edging the quilt would be fine)


Bernard supervising


And of course the inevitable happened, I popped down stairs to put the kettle on, came back up with a pot of tea and found the “supervisor” inspecting what Id done….the floor was covered in small pieces of carefully laid out papers, and even tinier pieces were found stuck to his tummy where he’d stretched out on the sketchbook and some sticky scraps.

When I went to move him there was a trumpety sound form the musical bottom and a bit of a whiff so decided to take a tea break downstairs.

Painting patchwork papers …..

colourway planning


Slowly but surely ideas for the quilts are coming together, I always find it easiest to play out in a sketchbook first, trying out ideas and colour schemes….it’s never the same as working with fabric but it gives me a chance to jot down first thoughts…random ideas that may or may not come to anything…..


blue and yellow pattern


Working in this way isn’t for everyone but I find it quite relaxing, and can zone out somewhat, half listening to something soft and mellow in the background and just spread out paints and colouring pencils around me on my work table, a pot of tea at my elbow……something I’m very aware of though is that I much prefer to work with fabrics with prints rather than with plain colours.


grey and blue floral pattern


It’s quite hard to get a sense of what a pattern will work like when it’s just painted with one colour, but then I remembered seeing pictures on Phoebe Wahl’s instagram of her printing up and painting pages of texture and colour all ready to cut out to use in her beautiful collages….I love her work so much and she is easily my favourite illustrator of quilts…they always look so soft and handmade, whether they are hanging out for an air on a washing line or keeping children on sledges warm, or being sewn ….one of my favourite pictures of hers is this one…(actually this is probably one of my favourite pictures in the whole world ever)…who wouldn’t want a cosy bed like that…..


turqoiuse and rose print


So being totally and utterly inspired by Phoebe I’ve been painting up papers (nothing fancy, just cheap cartridge paper from a local art supplies shop) with watercolour and gouache, then once it’s dry I’ve been working on top drawing out little motifs and patterns pretty randomly……if I’d had more sense then I’d have tried to illustrate pictures of fabrics I’ve noted I have liked, but then I’ve quite liked just drawing freely….


blue floral motif


I’ve painted up a selection of papers, maybe 15 or so in a variety of patterns and colours, and plan to start cutting them up to make little quilt collages as soon as they’re all dry.

I’m sure if you are all technical then you could just scan fabric in to your computer and do something all future science-y and whizz kiddy, cutting and pasting and whatever it is you’d need to do…..I’m not sure if it would be as much fun but I bet it’s do-able.  I’m just not very good with computer things and find working with paper and paint and a sketchbook a whole lot easier……

If you’re at all interested, you can in fact buy a whole range of fabrics from Spoonflower which is printed using some of Phoebe’s beautiful designs.  Her fairy fabric is just adorable and I’d love to buy some in every colour for a whole series of fairy tale dresses…..

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.

Painting and Patchwork

sketchbook and patchwork 003


I’m really enjoying sewing these little blocks.  At the moment my sewing table seems to be a riot of colour with open sketchbooks and stacks of brightly sewn blocks of fabric.


sketchbook and patchwork 006


Before I start randomly cutting out patchwork shapes, I draw out which blocks I find most appealing in a sketchbook where I then play about with colour to see which combinations work better.


sketchbook and patchwork 005


Drawing out the blocks a bit ahead of myself helps me not to sew up the same block twice.  I’m trying to stick to Nine patch blocks (there are over 1000 different nine patch blocks so I’m not really limiting my choice).   But it also helps me think about which combinations of colour I enjoy working with and why, and also is an easy way to try out combinations I wouldn’t turn to as a first choice.


sketchbook and patchwork 012


I liked the combination of orange and grey but when it came to cutting it out in fabric, it didn’t suit that particular block, so I used those colours together in a different pattern, and plan to make that block now in a grey fabric and a black/white patterned one.


sketchbook and patchwork 013


It’s interesting for me to see how the drawn painted block then turns out in fabric.  Originally I’d wanted this quilt to be blocks of plain American muslin and then one colour, but actually I’m really happy that the blocks have become their own little colour party.

Crocheting with colour

paperweight crochet colour planning 002


Last week I was showing a friend the Grannie’s Paperweight blanket, we spread it out on the carpet and she said that she couldn’t believe the amount of jewel-box like colour the blanket had.  She asked me how I had put the colours together and mostly I play about with the tapestry wool to see which colour way compliments another.


paperweight crochet colour planning 004


But I also paint up a few hexagons first in a sketchbook,  sometimes I reproduce the colours that I’ve seen together on a piece of fabric or in a print or painting.   This is also how I work when I’m designing patchwork for a quilt, often trying out umpteen different variations on a particular colour scheme for each block.   Sometimes I play around with just the wool or the fabric, but it’s also nice to just play with the paint and see where that takes me.


paperweight crochet colour planning 008


If I’ve woken early and no-one else is up I try to work quietly in my studio , my desk is dappled with first light shadows which by mid morning have gone.


crochet colourwork 002


Using tapestry wool for this type of crochet pattern allows me to play about with an incredible variety of shades and tones of  any one colour.  This helps me to keep each hexagon looking different.  But I think using wool also allows the colours to blend together really well.


crochet colourwork 005


I know I have favourite colour combinations and I have to stop myself constantly wanting to mix yellows… the lemony, custardy colours with cream, and I love teal and apricot together too, so I try not to make too many of those.  I think painting down some other colour combinations helps me to steer away from groups of colour that I’m more naturally drawn to.