Quiet moments while the morning wakes……

crocheting shadows

Quiet moments outside while the morning is just starting to wake is one of my favourite times of the day.  Generally I’m up and out of bed by six, even at a weekend*, I head downstairs and put the kettle on to make tea then I sit for a while on the back door step or get out a small table and chair that we keep in the garage, and make myself comfy and hoof up a rather weighty never ending project onto my lap…..I’m slowly getting round to sewing in the many hundreds of woolly tails on the back of my grannies crochet blanket, it’s pretty heavy and by mid morning is too warm to have on my knees…..I especially love how it looks in the morning sunlight, the colours in the tapestry wool seem alive and really glow.

the blanket inspector

And even though it’s early I still have a little assistant who’ll  wander over to help me….

No-one else is up, though often I can hear my neighbours starting to stir, one chap potters around his garden and the sound of him filling water-cans from a water butt is a regular early morning sound, sometimes I hear a coax of lip squeeks and a rattle of cat food as kitties are called in for breakfast….mostly it’s windows opening, and a waking up cough……it’s too early for any traffic, so I can often hear a distant rumble from one of the trains leaving the railway station, one of my friends has to leave Norwich early to work in Cambridge and I often think of her being on one of the trains I can hear….the railway line runs across the common and marshes just down the road, it’s not a noise to disturb, just a low soft rolling sound.

Then there are the birds, blackbirds seem to have the most to say though the magpies make more noise, raspy chuck chuck chuck’s sound down from the sycamore tree behind our garden and then one, two or more magpies swoop out of the branches and fly off over the roof tops….sometimes there’s as many as 8 or 9 and how anyone can sleep through the racket they make is quite beyond me.

Often there’s a loud series of shuffles from our laurel tree, sounding exactly like someone struggling with a particularly stubborn umbrella, this is followed by a long lulling almost cuckoo coo coo coo and I know the wood pigeons are awake too.

tumbling and bumbling on meadowsweet

There’s always the soft droning buzz of bees to be heard at any time of the day, we’re really lucky and have so many bees visit our garden, white bottomed, orange bottomed, small, skinny and some so fat I fair  wonder how they can even fly, all tumble around and roll deep in the flowers, until they emerge all dusty and pollen drenched.

Bernard amongst the strawberries

The garden is full of soft shadows, raspberries scent the air and there is almost a haze around the rosemary bush, it catches the first sun of the morning and perfumes the air on our patio for the rest of the day.  we’ve let the garden get a bit wild this year and a bindweed has appeared in the middle of the raspberries and rosemary, and yes, I know I need to remove it but it has the prettiest trumpetty milky white blossoms which the hover flies seem to love, each bloom resonates with their low buzz.  (Bernard has made yet another den under the raspberries, it’s a bit cooler here and he’s very well hidden from my grabby “who wants a cuddle” hands).

comma butterfly As the morning becomes day and the sun comes out it’s the buddleja that will scent the garden, there’s nearly always butterflies on it especially after lunch when they seem to bask in the sunshine, wings slowly opening wide to show off dusty velvet delights.  I never fail to be amazed at their long spiraled tongues, drinking, sipping up nectar before flitting off to the next flowering burst of purple.  Mostly we get comma butterflies, red admirals, tortoiseshells and peacocks, from time to time I see orange tips and smudges of blue flitting amongst the undergrowth and shadow…..

paperweight crochet colour planning 008

My work room is East facing so those soft morning shadows that dance over the garden also flood my work space, they flit and flicker across different craft projects, and if I start the day in there then I’m more like to sit in a semi daze, not really working just taking stock of chores to be done, scribbling or daubing with paint ideas and sketches for futute makes.

morning shadows

I pinned up a piece of patchwork I was working on to soften the light in my work room a bit, crochet garlands which are strewn across the window cast their shadows, they appear in different shapes and sizes like something from a lantern show and gently rock back and fro in any most welcome breeze…….my poor old neglected patchwork…too much knitting and not enough sewing means another year is going to go past without this being quilted, but on a morning when the sun seems a bit too scorchy, and I need some shade then I’m more than a little thankful that I’m a slow quilter and have half forgotten about this work in progress………

*I’m also annoyingly chipper and sing little good mornings to Bernard much to his general disgust that I’m dawdling at getting him fed!)

 

Combining colours and when opposites attract….

selection of coloured grannies

Some time ago now, I wrote a post about how I go about choosing colours when I’m making quilts, crochets and embroideries…I always find it easier to go back to basics, and to think about the primary and secondary colours before giving any thought to how and why some combinations work and how others are a bit hmmppphh rather than “wow”.

colour wheel

Often before I start a project I make a colour wheel from all the  pieces of fabric using bits from the nearest scrap bag to hand…..with a couple of extra colours to the red,orange,yellow, green,blue,violet/purple…and that’s teal (bluey green) and pink…you wouldn’t normally get either one on a colour wheel as they’re tints  (pink being made by adding white to red, teal being created by adding white to bluey green) but pink is a tint/colour I find that I use a lot and personally think it combines well with most other colours.  I also like teal a lot as well.

green bow tie print star block

(Pink and yellow is a pairing I find myself using time and time again, but I also like pink with green for my patchworking, embroidery and even my wardrobe)…

mosaic 2

Thinking about it I like pink with just about every colour, about the only pink pairing I don’t like is with purple…..though orange can be a bit hmmm but it depends on the colour pink I use…..

contrary wife and others 011

I found by having a bit of a play emptying out a scrap bag or getting out a big selection of fat quarters* and making a colour wheel on the carpet, helps you to understand why certain combinations can look so good…it also helps you think about putting other colours together that you might not first think about.

variable star

I also like working with shades of the same colour,  especially where there’s lots of pattern in the fabric to compliment….the above block uses 3 different red prints….one is a bright lipstick red, one is a pinky red and one has red and pink together with highlights of blue…..while the pinks and reds used are different, they’re equal enough in tone to be pleasing to the eye…(if you took a black and white photocopy then the pinks would be one grey and the reds another)

garden square

Another example of using shades of the same colour is this little block….4 different fabrics are used, 3 which are blue based (one dark and two mid tones) then the other fabric which although has blue and pink in it is a “white” colourway of the print…..all the fabrics used are prints rather than solid colours as I prefer to work with those and often pick up tiny dabs of colours from one print and then work to match that with a contrasting fabric.

tulip print star

Analogous colours are when you pick colours that sit next next to each other on a colour wheel (such as red and orange, blue and green, blue and purple)…. There’s no jarring when you use them together, and they’re generally pleasing to the eye.

I tend to pick one stronger colour to be the main focus and then another to compliment it….the yellow print above is quite an intense colour, there are flecks of it in the floral print but the orange tulips are what the eye wants to focus on first.

gnarly tree bark and bluebells

You often find analogous colours together in nature which may be why they seem more restful to the eyes than colours that bounce off each other….(yellow and green daffodils or primroses…blue and green bluebell woods or forget me nots….)…when a blue and green look this stuning in real life then you know that when you pick these colours for embroidering or knitting or patchwork (or even a wardrobe choice) then that will look equally beautiful.

knitsonik book

I’ve mentioned the Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook several times before on my blog and it’s such an excelllent reference book for understanding colour choices, looking at depth of colour, lights and dark, creating movement that is needed for knitting (but which I find essential for patchwork too)…..and while I’ve yet to create any stranded knitting yet of my own (also known as Fairisle knitting) I’ve found it an incredibly helpful book to read regarding how I pick and chose colours for my patchworks….as an inspirational starting point it’s so good….it’s not a random book of pretty pictures (though many are really beautiful) Felix can see the beauty in patches of tarmac on the road or in Victorian brickwork, everyday things that often are overlooked……it’s the enthusiasm and encouragment that are found within the pages along with the colour theory and thoughtfulness about colour choices that help make this such a great book.

love in a mist

I know from past experinces that if I’m making ice-creams or am out picking blackberries and scarlet coloured haws, the colours I see in my kitchen or in the hedgerows (which then stain my fingers) soon crop up in my fabric choices…

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Sometimes my colour choices are suble, gentle tones that blend into one another… “the quilt police” would no doubt frown upon these as there’s not enough contrast, all light and no shade but I love that sun faded look these soft prints give…(generally speaking for a succesful patchwork, one where there’s a good overall balance, you do need plenty of contrast but time and time again I find myself favouring those lights…..and I’m never a great stickler to rules)

quarterfoils

Other times the contrast is there both in tone and pattern…a mix of delicate floral print combined with bold brighter hues…..

springtime inspired 002

I’ve not yet tried this with my knitting but I’ve enjoyed experimenting and playing with colour with my crochet…..I like using combining subtle shifts in colour and tone…..

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…with swift changes that flitter back and forth…..

oooh my aching eyes....

Some combinations aren’t always so succesful but they only take seconds to rip out and start again…

A little exercise I find quite useful to do is to paint up a series of the same block (something simple like a churn dash or star), trying out one colour (or tint) with all the others……pink with red, green, blue, grey, orange and so on….different blues with purple,green,yellow,grey…..some you’ll love, some you’ll hate but I’m sure you’ll see some that you hadn’t thought would look all that but which are a very pleasant surprise….

*you could of course use wool, embroidery threads, tapestry wool but you might want to put a clean sheet down first as those tend to pick up carpet fluff a lot more than fabric.

My quilting essentials……

translucent patchwork and quilting

Last May I wrote a rather lengthy piece about what I’ve found to be really essential when I make my patchworks…I hate that a lot of people seem to think you need to be super rich to make a quilt, okay, it would be wonderful to have big pots of money and to just buy everything all in one swoop but that’s never been a situation I’ve found myself to be in. For the most part, I’ve bought the pieces I use slowly, in dribs and drabs…some fancy shmancy pieces of equipment (like gridded rulers and fabric shears) were bought for me for my birthday or Christmas (which makes using them extra special), but most of my quilts were made without a lot of flashy stuff.

I had a message the other day from Buttercupandbee regarding my quilts, and well, you know what I’m like, there’s never a short answer with me (I see it as being thorough)….but it reminded me of my original post and thought it was time for a follow up.

hand quilting on the diagonal

This is a break down of what I use to make my quilts once I have a patchwork top ready to work with…first up I’m a hand quilter and while I have made one quilt using a machine, I really do prefer to use my hands..(but if you like making them on a machine  then that’s great, I’m just saying it just wasn’t for me).  I don’t live in a particularly big house so there isn’t the space to store more than a couple of quilts.  Nor do I have the funds to make an unlimited amount so the fact each one takes me a good while is a positve thing to me….If a quilt takes me a couple of years to make then that’s okay, I’m fine with that….obviously the ones I make for commissions don’t take as long as that but there’s still a lot of hours in all those stitches…the real pleasure for me is in the handling of the fabric, finding an inner quiet time in those tiny stitches….the rhythm and motion of the needle passing through the fabric, joining pieces of patchwork into a whole and then later embellishing with quilting……

green bow tie print star block

As I say, funds for quilts that are made for our home are quite limited…the biggest spend after fabric for the patchwork top tends to be on the wadding but I’ve found that buying wadding in bulk (I buy a kingsize pack of wadding and then cut it down into smaller pieces) works out excellent value for money…..next comes fabric for the backing, then thread and needles and a quilting hoop, something to mark your pattern out with and something to draw around like a template….anything extra is just that…extra.

I try to keep all my quilting/patchwork tools and equipment together though there are bits and bobs that cross over from one sewing box to another…but while you’re making your patchwork top you might like to keep an eye open for the items you’ll need later to make your quilt…it’s surprising how often I’ve seen a quilting hoop in a charity shop or beautiful vintage needles at a flea market….and if you’re making a quilt for you or for your home, then vouchers for your birthday to spend at your local quilt shop will help toward the costs of wadding and backing fabric.  I think a mistake people can often make is to feel that you need to buy everything all at once…I think it’s much better to buy slowly, and if you’re lucky enough to have friends that quilt they’ll probably be happy to lend you things so you can try them out first.

a rippled baptist fan

Marking your quilt

You can buy special silver pencils or chalk pencils from quilt shops to mark up your quilting design.  Both of these wash out really easily.  I don’t get on so well with the silver pencils myslef and prefer a white chalk pencil.  When I’ve made very small quilts I’ve marked the quilt in wash out blue pen but I don’t recommend this for larger projects as the pen can become permanent if left for a long period or is exposed to sunlight….regular HB pencil isn’t generally suggested to use as the graphite rubs off against your hand which then brushes against the fabric making the quilt become rather grubby..however, I’m not going to say I’ve never used it because I have, but I do need to wash all my quilts as soon as they are finished (this also helps the fabric scrunch up and look a bit “time softened” rather than something I’ve just made as well as sprucing it up)…..Not that long ago I read in a recently published book to mark up your quilt using tailor’s chalk…seriously I would not suggest this as tailor’s chalk is waxy and it doesn’t always wash out properly.  I’d also suggest getting a top quality pencil sharpener from an art suplies store to keep the pencil tips sharp (cheap ones always seem to chew up the “silver lead”/chalk  inside).

morning sunshine through patchwork

Depending on your quilting design you can also use strips of masking tape, (although I tend to buy big reels of it from a local Ironmongers as it’s cheap as chips from there, you can also buy skinnier versions from quilt suply shops)….you just stick this to the patchwork and quilt either side of the line and then it just whips right off, you should be able to use it a couple of times before all the sticky has gone….it’s quite handy for quilting squares or diamond shapes in the middle of feathered circles….and you can stick it diagonally across the quilt, and quilt along like that, though you’ll need a sturdy ruler to guide you so the line is kept super straight (or spread your quilt out flat, and tie and pin across a piece of thread across the corners, then run the tape along the thread line.)

You may prefer to get fancy and want to quilt cables around the edges of your quilt, if so then I’d suggest buying some quilter’s plastic, you can buy this in A4 packs or in A3 size sheets ( I buy the sheets as they work out better value for money and last me ages)….but you can also use the plastic to make a bar for baptist fan quilting.

quilting wrap 012

Wadding or Batting

I prefer to use a pure wool wadding from the Tuscany Collection by Hobbs…it’s not cheap but it hand quilts beautifully, and when washed carefully gives a wonderful drape and lightness to your finished quilt.   I’m happy to spend the extra money this wadding costs as it is so wonderful to work with.

I also use cotton wadding and find that quilts up really well.  I tend to use it more on notebook covers and small projects rather than bed quilts but if you wanted to make a Summer quilt and were on a bit of a budget then that would work beautifully.  Most quilt shops sell this on a big roll so I don’t know a brand name, however I’ve bought cotton wadding from 3 different places as it’s all been about the same so I think it’s quite generic.

I don’t use synthetic waddings as I find the fibers seem to resist the needle, and it’s much harder to make my stitches.  I think it’s a bit of a false economy to skimp on a good wadding, okay I know you don’t see the wadding but the time you spend working the quit, if you’re constantly fighting with your needle then it becomes a chore not a pleasure….I also find it doesn’t really “flop” like a wool wadding (I like a quilt that flops over the edge of the bed, corners forming soft folds)….instead it sort of just sits there

Also because I’m a cheap skate and don’t like to throw anything out….I often sew small pieces of wadding together to make a larger piece…when you make your quilt you get left with strips from the side, rather than throw these away I just save them until I’ve got a few and then just slightly overlap the pieces and then sew them together with a slanted tacking stitch.

rumpled and puckered hand quilting

American muslin/quilting calico

For the most part this is what I’ve used to back several of the quilts I’ve made…it’s available in really generous widths so you could buy a couple of metres to back a quilt with it without having to join the fabric and have any distracting seams….it tends to come in two colours, bleached and un-bleached..so white or natural.  It’s not the prettiest fabric in the world and I know most quilts in more modern quilting quilts seem to use printed fabrics for their undersides (this is what I’ve done in the above picture) but if you’re on a budget then using this will help save a fair bit of money, also your quilting will show up much clearer on a plain background…it also holds dye incredibly well so you could also dye some and just wash it a few times before basting your quilt together.

Generally I wash all my fabric for quilting before I begin sewing with it, and I make sure to wash the muslin/calico too as it does shrink up a bit.  There isn’t a particular brand of calico I favour, I just ask for American Muslin at my local quilt shop, however don’t ask for English Muslin as that’s cheesecloth and isn’t suitable to back your quilt.  American Muslin is also a lot softer than dressmakers calico so I find it’s best to buy it from an actual quilting shop.

If you wanted to make a wholecloth quilt (a quilt which doesn’t have a patchwork top but instead is a single piece of fabric which is then beautifully quilted) then this is the fabric you’d want to use.

quilting wrap 018

When I’ve had a long break from quilting I find it can take an hour or so for me to get my rhythm or quilting mojo back…I’ve always have a play/sampler quilt to feel my way back in to the motion of the stitches…this is often just a couple of pieces of American muslin with some cotton wadding inside (this is a perfect way to use up those wadding scraps you’ve saved and sewn together), basted together and which I can just randomly stitch until my fingers become familiar to the motion of the needle again.  It doesn’t have to be very big, mine tend to be about 18 -24 inch square “quilt sandwiches”.  It’s not meant to be a work of art or anything, the stitches aren’t made to be perfect, it’s all about you finding that needle,fabric, fingers rhythm again…..and when you feel your stitches are nicely consistant, then you start back on your quilt project, tucking the scrappy sampler away for next time…they can end up getting pretty heavily quilted, and in the past when I feel I can’t quilt them anymore I chop them up for cushion stuffing….like I say, they aren’t pretty, and aren’t designed to be admired or anything, it’s like scribbling with a new pen on scrap paper, encouraging the ink to flow….

threaded quilting needles

Quilting threads

I really like using Star brand hand quilting cotton, it’s incredibly well priced and makes for very nice quilting.  It’s a bit thicker than regular quilting cotton so is a bit hard to thread really tiny needles (such as Clover Black Gold)  It’s quite hard to source in the UK and I’ve only seen it available in a few colours (although mostly I prefer to quilt in an ecru shade or grey) but I’m told it’s widely available in the US and Canada.

However, I also like Gutterman hand quilting cotton.  It’s finer than the Star brand so it’s easier to thread your needles, but is a bit more expensive.  It’s available in a really wide range of colours.  I always use proper hand quilting cotton and don’t touch the synthetic threads.

If you’re quilting a patchwork top made with brushed cotton then you could also try using coloured button thread by  Gutterman, it’s thicker but the brushed cotton isn’t woven so tightly as regular quilting fabric so it doesn’t damage the weave.  This is what I used on a very early quilt I made (actually it was a pair of quilts for two of my nieces, just large squares of brushed cotton hand sewn together and then I quilted rows of heart/star motifs on them…)  it’s also what I use when I’ve made quilts for the cats…(which were made from an old pair of pyjamas and some plaid shirts)

vintage quilting needles
selection of vintage quilting needles

Quilting Needles

Quilting needles are often called “quilters between” but sometimes it just says “quilting” on the packet.  The needles are short, and slightly stubby.  They need to be nice and strong to go through all the layers.  (unlike the straights or applique needles you use for the patchwork, those are super skinny and a bit longer.)

Depending on what I’m quilting I go on and off different brands of needles, mostly I prefer the tiniest little needles imaginable, the sort you’d expect the mice in The Tailor of Gloucester to have used on those buttonholes…but I appreciate these aren’t for everyone. Some brands sell little packets with a selection of quilting needles in them, and while you may not end up getting on with all the different sizes, it gives you the chance to try out and find what feels comfortable for you ….also, don’t expect to find the teeniest needle comfy the first time you quilt…like most things, it takes a bit of practise and when I started quilting I prefered a longer needle to what I like to use now.

rebel patch 003

Millward and John James are both good basic brands, you get about 20 needles for around £2.00, you really want to store them in-between sewing in a needle case as the quilting needles are so short they’ll soon disappear to be forever lost if you push them into a pin cushion.

I’ve also used Clover Black Gold which are very very tiny and skinny, they probably aren’t so great for a beginner and they are very pricey, the last ones I bought were £4.50 for 6 needles, but they are super sharp. (their applique needles in this range are excellent)…from time to time in brickety brac/flea markets I’ve been able to pick up Blue Dorcas vintage quilting needles, these are my all time favourite and never cost me much.  Always check for rust though if you look to buy vintage needles for your sewing (I like using them as I find they are stronger and sharper than modern needles)

needles in action

Quilting hoop

If I’m quilting something small, anything less than a foot square I’m not likely to use a quilting hoop, I still baste it the layers with thread but find I can handle the fabric better without a hoop, but when I’m working larger than that I find using a hoop makes things a lot easier…and there’s much less chance of you quilting yourself to your work (it’s incredibly easy to catch a dress or skirt fabric on to your quilt when you don’t use a hoop…I speak from exprience)…a quilting hoop is bigger than an embroidery hoop, it’s also fatter, generally about an inch thick.

A hoop will help give the right amount of tension to your work as you quilt it…some people like their work to be held super taut like a drum, I prefer a bit more slack, but there isn’t a right way or wrong way, it’s what feels right for you.

dresden plates 006

I’ve got 2 different sized hoops, a couple that are 14 inches wide which I tend to use for most of my quilting, and a bigger one that is 18 inches wide and which I don’t use quite so often, even though I’ve got what I think must be freakishly long arms (cardigans and coats never seem quite long enough to my liking and cuffs often sit well above my wrist bone) I find the 18 inch hoop quite hard to manoeuvre when it’s in my lap….I imagine it would be perfect for quilting feathers and cabling when you need lots of space to maneuver and perhaps I’ll do some fancier quilting like that again when I quilt up “dear ethel”.

Some years ago when I made a huge sampler quilt that my mum now has, each of the blocks in the centre was quilted with a different pattern, cabling ran along the sashing and a double or triple cable ran over the flying geese border.  Using the hoop helped me focus on each block as I quilted it without being distracted by what was happening in other parts of the patchwork.  It’s nice to do fancy things like that for other people but I rarely bother for myself though I’m thinking “dear ethel” deserves it.

quilt books 013

Suggested reading…

My favourite hand quilting book is The Essential Quilter by Barbara Chainey….it was recommended to me by the lady who taught me to quilt and I’ve not found better for the basics….it’s very clearly written and easy to follow.  The only downside is that the quilts in it are a bit dated and fuddy duddy looking in my opinion but the workmanship is amazing. In the back of the book are some simple shapes which you can trace or photocopy to make templates to quilt around.

And as I mentioned in my patchwork essentials piece, 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.

I wrote some more about my favourite patchwork/quilting books just here

And to be honest that’s it, little extras like fabric grips have only come much later in my quilt making.  I do use a thimble but just a regular sewing thimble… I’ve seen fancier ones in shops but I get on fine with the one I have.  I also a little velvet strawberry needle sharpener that was from the Royal School of Needlework, this was bought with birthday money from my dear friend Joyce so now she’s psssed away it’s become very dear…but a cheaper one filled with emery will work fine to keep your needle tips sharp. (note, if you do buy the Clover Black Gold then don’t sharpen them, the emery removes their black coating)….for me a quilt is all about time, slow stitches rather than a fat purse in which to go wild at a local fabric store with.

If you ever get the chance there is a fantastic collection of quilts at The American Museum just outside of Bath…the collection regularly rotates what’s on display.  There are some really breathraking quilts on show and may of them incorporate scraps and would have been made with what was to hand.

Other posts you may find useful…

My patchwork essentials

Making a quilt sandwich

How to baste a quilt not a turkey….

Baptist fan quilting

A slow wave of wobbbling hand stitches

Creating a slow wave of wobbling hand sewn stitches….

quilting wrap 018

It seems like a very long time since I’ve wrote anything on here about my quilting…I’m afraid my head has been rather turned by an appreciation of all things woolly.  Bags of sheepy scented wool is tucked to the side of the sofa and the dining table has had to make room for my blocked swatches.  Knitting needles of all sizes and varieties while not quite yet being found in between the sofa cushions do seem to be breeding and I find them in odd places (mainly because I pick them up and then put them down again in a silly place before they are tidied away properly.)…even Bernard has gotten in on the act, half clambeirng into my lap while I knit, he likes to smell the wool as much as I do.

However, quilting and patchwork will always be my first love…taking a little break from sewing has made me appreciate them that much more and I know I’m not alone.  Some of the most looked at/referenced pages on my blog is a little series/tutorial I made showing how to baste a quilt and to mark it up and quilt it using the baptist fan pattern…..it’s a very traditional pattern and while it is a bit more timey to work than just squares or diamonds, I think the finished effect is always worth it.

baptists fan quilting 001

It’s easily my favourite quilting pattern and while I would like to incorporate some feather quilting into a top piece at some point I’m not sure about quilting a whole quilt that way..unless I make a wholepiece quilt, which is made from a one very large piece of fabric, no patchwork is really involved, just quilting. If you live near Bath then I’d suggest a visit to  The American Museum as they have some wonderful quilts, including some very beautiful wholecloth quilts….it’s lovely to go there in the Summer as their gardens are stunning and by all accounts their tea rooms are good too.

When you make a patchwork top, the more pieces that are in your patchwork the more little seams there are, it’s really easy to not take this into account when you then go to quilt it….it’s another reason really why I like the baptist fan pattern so much, it’s very forgiving to little bumps in the fabric created by the folds and seams of the patchwork, and it helps blend the patchwork underneath together….harsh lines of patchwork seem to soften and blur under the gentle curve of the repeating arc.

Even if you’re a beginner to quilting this is such a lovely pattern to sew, any little wobbly stitches (which are what makes hand-made so full of charm and becomes so dear when it’s passed down) are soon lost as your hand grows confident and your stitches become more regular in size.

The brown patchwork is part of a big quilt that I made for my boyfriend’s 40th birthday (though he was 41 when he got it)…the fabric for the patchwork is Japanese linen and cotton, the weave is quite loose and isn’t really ideal for quilting as it frays like the devil. I knew I wouldn’t be able to cut the fabric into too many pieces as it would just fray away, so kept the patchwork very simple and kept the cutting of the fabric to a minimum. However, I went to town somewhat on the quilting, each arc is about 1 cm apart so it’s nice and dense.  In all I spent about a year quilting it, and it used nearly a mile of quilting thread……the little ripples in the fabric are formed by all the tiny hand stitches which I think helps to soften the curves….they make me think of water ripples.

baptist fan quilting

I also used a variation of the baptist fan pattern when I made the quilts for Peggy and Pearl. When you’re working with the arc it’s a very natural movement for your hand to make and after a while I sort of drift off while quilting…not falling asleep but I can get completely mesmerized by all those tiny stitches….it’s very relaxing and time can pass by very quickly.

I find it a bit easier to thread up a whole load of little quilting needles before I begin and then as each thread finishes there’s a new one to take it’s place….it stops the “flow” of my quilting from being too interrupted and it also helps me keep track of how much thread I’ve used in any period of time.

As well as looking lovely I really like the feel of the quilting, all those ribs in the arc feel wonderful when you rub your fingertips over them…it’s like the fattest corduroy.  All the tiny gaps between hand sewn stitches pucker and helps your finished quilt top to drape and flopse.

translucent patchwork and quilting

One of what I think has been my nicest photos of my quilts was this view of the quilting and patchwork pinned up on the washing line…Spring sunshine coming through and the seams of the patchwork are more like faint ghosts, like old building lines and earthworks that you can see when you look down from a plane….the gentle lumps and bumps, curves and wobbles become very sensual, a slow wave of stitches rippling out across the quilt.

baptist fan quilting on quilt two

There’s several variations on the design but they can all be worked using the same easy to make plastic guide (I’ve found these before in old sewing boxes where they’d been made from metal and like a fool I’ve put them into charity shops as I didn’t know what they were….) and you use the same back and forth movement with your hand to quilt…..

When I finally get around to quilting my “dear ethel” quilt (she’s just having a rest at the moment, though I’d like to get all the patchwork completed on her this year…as to whether that’s achievable with this new found love of knitting we’ll have to see) I fully intend to quilt her with a baptist fan design……I’d really like to piece together a flying geese border for her and then cable quilt the edge (I’ve done that before in a big quilt that my mum has, it looks really nice and is lovely to run finger tips over and trace the cables.)

ivos finished quilt 008

When our friends in Norway had their little boy Ivo I made him a quilt from scraps that one of my sisters gave me (I say scraps but there was enough fabric to have opened my very own fabric shop….she’s very generous and I was right royally spoilt).  Both the patchwork block and the quilting were very traditional but the colours were bright and modern, a combination I’ve seen a lot in Scandinavian design books.

It’s not a quilting design that works too well on anything very small, I’ve tried it on notebook covers and you couldn’t really see it clearly, but I made a case for my computer (which is what I turned the quilted squares into that I used for the tutorial) and that was about 24 inches by 15 give or take a little…but really it’s a design that works best if it’s allowed a bit of space to spread and ripple out, and a bit of time to allow you to sew it…..as I’ve mentioned before when I’ve written about my hand sewing (and I’m going to repeat myself here from an earlier post so apologies if you’ve read this before)…..for me, the absolute pleasure of hand sewing patchwork and quilting comes in the constant touching,holding and handling of the fabric, and the slowness and time in piecing the pieces together.  The time spent is important, each stage takes time, which is such a precious commodity nowadays but it’s often overlooked when the quilt is all finished…. it’s a very guilty pleasure.

 

A most marvellous year with a somewhat crappy ending….

homemade mincepies

I hope you all had lovely Christmases, most festive Yuletides, Winter celebrations warm and merry, in the company of loved ones be they family,friends or furry and fluffy ones (and by that I mean animals rather than anyone particularly beardy)…

I can’t quite believe it’s the end of another year, this year more than any other I shake my head and wonder where on earth the time has gone….and I think that is one of the really nice things about keeping a blog, you have the chance to look back, not just skimming over notes,scribbles  or entries in a written diary (mine always end up looking like they’ve been written by Prince Charles with his spidery old scrawl), but you also have the picture prompts and straight away I’m remembering how cold we were that day going for a walk, the smell of the horses in the field, the taste of that elderflower cordial….

I always enjoy looking back at what I’ve been up to, not in a maudlin old way but remembering the high points, the happy times, the taste of jam made from hedgerow fruits and finding the kitchen invaded by the kittens from next door…….

So I’ve put the kettle on, made a pot of tea and am happily looking back and remembering the past 12 months……

January was all cold mornings, we had some pretty heavy frosts where the broccoli and herbs looked quite other worldy covered with a delicate silvery frost, and the marshes down the road flooded which was quite exciting when we went out for our Boxing Day walk…..I was determined to sort out the sides of my granny’s paperweight crochet blanket and made umpteen half hexagons to fit in the gaps on the top and bottom, actually I got right carried away making them and had enough to fill all the sides for a scarf I’d also been working on….another walk saw three graceful swans which were making no end of row as they were eating and snuffling about in the river, then bottoms tipped up, one, two then all three at once…

I got into my head to make a couple of cushions using the same crochet pattern and made two fronts….a year later they’re still waiting to be finished so that’s somethng on the New Year’s to do list….I also had a good tidy up in my work room and found some old floral embroidery testers I’d made a couple of years back.

I spent some Christmas money and bought Felicity Ford’s excellent Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook which is a wonderful and inspirational resource, it’s really to help you plan and design stranded colourwork but I found it a great read for patchwork planning too…

The first part of Februarysaw me still tidying up my work room, it never seems to take long to get all pickly and this time tidying I tried to make sure all the tins and boxes were opened to see what treasures were hidden away…and I found more embroidered samplers, some inspired more by beautiful fairisle jumpsers and tank tops than traditional embroidery samplers….the weather was still cold, we had some proper heavy frosts and the marshes seemed constantly half hidden under a low laying mist…baking cakes for Sunday afternoon tea and pack up is always part of my routine of a weekend, and never more so than in the Winter where a fat slice of cup seems much more appreciated with a cup of tea.

I bought a huge bundle of beautiful coloured tapestry wool, the little skeins were 10 pence each and the happiness a huge pile of them turned out on my worktable gives me is priceless., and some new to me vintage sewing needles, these what I prefer to use when I’m hand sewing, they seem to bend less and the points keep sharper……I also un-ravelled a whole load of crochet squares, I’d trimmed them with white originally but I decided I’d rather a blanket to match my granny square crochet scarf….

My boyfriend’s birthday is in February and one of the presents I made him was a tweed cycling hat, the pattern is by The Little Package company and both styles of hat are so nice to make….

For me the most exciting part of February was being asked to design a pair of baby quilts for one of my friends….lovely Darren who has The Little  Red Roaster (Norwich’s best coffee shop) is having twins and he wanted two quilts made for the new arrivals….

 

At the start of March new neighbours moved in next door and within a few days we met their two little cats, Bob and Izzy soon became regular visitors in our garden and although at first Bernard was a bit wary of them, he soon became great chums with Bob…most mornings start with a nose rub greeting, quick bottom sniff then Bernard and Bob wash each other….Izzy gets the odd look in.

The weather is getting nicer, blossoms and catkins seem to be out earlier that usual, and on days when it’s not too cold we head up to Little Tinkers, a small horse and donkey sanctuary which is just up the road, we tend to go the long route which is over the marshes so we’re generally quite out of puff and rather muddy when we get there.  I love the donkey’s and would one day dearly love one of mine own, but for now I’m happy to cuddle this gorgeous one, so friendly and loved being scritched behind the ears.

I found an old copy of Cold Comfort Farm in a local charity shop, it’s been on my must read lists for the longest time…..it’s so funny and very good reading.

Bread gets baked a couple of times a week and I use a natural starter that my friend Daisy gave me, it makes for a good, robust loaf which isn’t heavy and which smells so nice and homey.  I even used the natural starter to make hot cross buns which came out perfectly….the kitchen always smells wonderful on baking day.

Most of the month has been spent working on the quilts, designing the patchwork tops and choosing fabrics…sometimes having free rein is a bit overwhelming so Auntie Ally said Kate (Mrs Darren) liked stars…after that the designing was much easier.  To help me with the patchwork I painted up a series of patterened papers so I was able to make little paper patchworks…..playing really with moving the papers around, but I was able to see the designs much clearer than with just plain coloured shapes.

Spring has most definitely sprung, everywhere in the garden there are bursts and pops of bright colours….the cherry tree is a riot of gaudy pink, the raised beds are edged in soft blue smudges of forget-me-nots and cats eye speedwell….golden dandelions grow up alongside alpine strawberries through the cracks on the the patio paving and garden path….sitting out on the back door step often seems the nicest place to be.

Early morning sunshine is streaming in through my work room window and I pin up some patchwork as I prefer the softer, muted light this gives…I also like the shadows that some crocheted garlands cast.  Work on the quilts is progressing nicely, all the patchwork piecing and quilting is sewn by hand, so these were never going to be weekend makes…..holding the quilted tops up in the sunlight and the pieced fronts show through, all ghostly and reminding me of stained glass.

The bread proves and rises outside now, covered with a tea towel and placed in a warm spot, a few loaves get the odd poke from a curious paw but then cats are curious…..Izzy likes to hide up under our sprouting broccoli, she runs and sits there as soon as I open the back door, some days she lets me tickle her, stroke her face and ears, other days she’s back over the fence in a flash or peeps at me from around flower pots and watering cans.

One of my favourite walks each year is up the road to our local university, the woods that edge it’s grounds are a fair treat for the eye when the bluebells are in flower…the air becomes heavy and fragrant, and the scent of the bluebells soon has me all heavy eyes and sleepy…..I never fail to gasp as we turn the corner and our eyes are just flooded, overwhelmed with the most intense blue…….truly breath taking.

The forget-me-nots fill every spare bit of ground in the garden, huge swaithes of blue cover path and step edges.  Occaisonally a cat darts out from under it’s floral bower, disturbing any bees that may be taking their breakfast.  Flowers in the garden inspire me to embroider  lavender bags, made from an old linen shirt from Anne that I’ve tea dyed and weathered.

The quilts are finished, as the binding is carefully stitched into place, I say my goodbyes, wish good things and so much happiness for the twins…and I can’t help but wonder about how these quilts will journey, become snuggle blankets and sleeping comforts, toy beds for their favourite dolls, maybe be taken away to university, and one day get tucked around their own sleeping babes…….I’m a daft old thing and get very sentimental about my quilts.

I finally find some skinny coat hangers in a “tat” box at a charity shop so I can make dottie angels happy hanger tutorial….it’s nice for my fingers to work now with yarn and a hook rather than a needle and thread…..

Bernard is enjoyng the sunshine and warmer weather, he tends to nap upstairs, snuggling then stretching out on the quilt and blanket we have on our bed…..often you can hear him snoring while he sleeps, from time to tie his paws twitch….what do you dream of little trumpster.

Sadly this month I lost one of my oldest friends, my dear Rupert who was in his eighties and who I’ve known for some thirty odd years…him and his wife have been like grand-parents to me and my sisters and he had the best sense of humour of anyone I’ve ever met….their kitchen all pipe smoke and warm, a place of comfort with the kettle on for tea and a plate full of biscuits produced before your coat is barely off……

June sees the first of the hedgerow harvesting, baskets filled to the brim with billowy white clouds of elderflower blossom to make the sweetest cordial…even Bernard is half intoxicated by the sweet scent (picked while the blossom is all powdery and pollen rich, and before it begins to smell like tom cat pee)…the cordial it makes is so refreshing, and the bottles I make don’t last us 5 minutes.

The sourdough bread swells and grows enormous in the Summer, often looking more like neolithic fertility figurines than a loaf of bread….

The tiny wild strawberries in the garden are growing up everywhere, tiny berries which seem to taste different from plant to plant are scattered over yoghurts or are tumbled over puddings in the evening.

A plate of sausage rolls are made for my pastry fiend with tiny little leaves on top…

The meadows and pastures over the marsh are so abundant and full with flowers, and the colours seem to change from week to week…..one morning the fields are all golden with marsh buttercups and yellow rattle, a few days later a fine spread of ragged robin and rose bay willow herb….the wild flowers I’m seeing continue to inspire me with my botanical embroideries, generally I use vintage silks sourced from a local antique shop which sells all sorts of truck…most days see me head out for a slow amble over the marshes which are now sucha feast for the senses, the colours are glorious, the smell of the blossom is lovely and the sound of bird song and buzzing bees very soft and lulling …..

I also become somewhat obsessed with paper piecing hexagons…no piece of scrap fabric is safe and some thousand odd of tiny fabric wrapped papers are made and are sewn together with a series of small stitches… numerous cushions begin to appear on the sofa.

July was hot, a proper scorcher….. by mid-morning I felt all drowsy and and slow, cold drinks and sitting somewhere shady with Bernard seemed to fill my days.

The chives in the garden all flowered at once, huge purple pompoms of blossom which I used to flavour sandwiches or sprinkle on top of goats cheese pizzas.

Just down the road there are huge marchmallow plants, each year they get taller and talle and this year they were taller than me, huge blossoms of the softest lavender.

I bought a bag of the most brilliant blue threads, shiny silks that sew through linen like butter.

Last month I made hexagons, this month I can’t stop making ice-creams, slowly stiring egg rich custards and mixing in cherries from the wild trees just down the lane, or gooseberries from Jan’s allotment…..I made a lovely raspberry sorbet with last years berries I found lurking in the back of the freezer and even a small handful of the wild strawberries make an ice-cream so good I close my eyes and remember Summers spent down at the beach in Southwold.

We bought some little panibois “tins” to bake smaller loaves of bread in….oh my goodness, these are so nice to use and I felt all “artisan” and proper bakery when I opened the oven door and saw such pretty loaves baking in them.

Everything in the garden is green and growing, the beans almost grow while you watch them, and the lettuces are coming up as fast as I can eat them.

August too was hot and humid, nights were spent feeling all frazzled under a sheet and hoping that Bernard wouldn’t jump and cuddle leaving me feeling all sticky and sweaty when I woke in the mornings…..

The headgerows are fair heaving already with ripening harvests, most saunters out see me return with a basket filled with something to cook with….mirabelle plums and blackberries are picked and slowly covered with sugar and vodka to make warming Winter tipples…..

This was also the year I tried my hand at pickling walnuts …..I picked the walnuts too late so they weren’t a great success but I’ll have another go in 2016…..the Autumn Bliss raspberries in the garden are coming on a treat, already they are swollen and deep red, delicious picked all warm and popped straight into my mouth.

August also saw the start of my dress making obsession…I think I made about 7 dresses in around 3 maybe 4 weeks, I used the dottie angel pattern by Simplicity…..I tinkered a bit with the pattern so it fit me better, I guess I’m a bit of an odd shape as I have quite wide shoulders and a broad back but I’m a bit hollowed chested and the original pattern wasn’t doing me any favours…however post tinker and I’m very happy and every time I wear one of these dresses it gets a compliment.  Where possible I’ve tried to use vintage threads and notions when I’ve made the dresses (my darling boy bought me some vintage dressmaking tools for Christmas 2014 so I got to use those while drafting the pattern) and two dresses have been made from silky feeling sixties prints.

I also was nominated in August for a Liebster award, this was my first blog award and I really was quite chuffed….Zeens and Roger who nominated me probably didn’t expect quite the lengthy old answers that I gave but while writing them I unknowingly planted a seed that would soon come to fruition……

It seemed the sunshine was never going to end, September had some really glorious days, and often I’d start the day with a cup of tea sitting on the back door step with Bernard and Bob from next door keeping me company.

The little crab apple trees just up the road seemed their fullest ever, and I made several trips with my shopping basket in hand to pick the beautiful coral and salmon coloured fruits….where as last year there was such a bounty here of blackberries I wasin danger of turning into one myself, this year hasn’t been no where near as good, but the silver lining has meant I’ve looked elsewhere for fruits to make jam…..the hedgerows round abouts where i live are so laden with wild fruits, rosehips, and haws, rowans, elder berries and wildling apples and crabby ones……all delicious in jams and jellies and syryps.

One of the first jellies I’ve made was an apple one flavoured with vinegar and herbs from the garden…this was used to make the nicest vegetarian gravies I’ve ever tasted…..the jellies using just hedgerow fruit are very citrussy and are ideal as breakfast preserves.

I finally finished two projects which had taken a little while to complete….first up a knititng bag made form no end of hand pieced hexagons….it’s nice and roomy and has pockets inside…..second was a grannnies paperweight crochet scarf which I’ve been working on for ,oh I don’t know how many years…a good few at any rate…..it reminds me of richly embroidered velvet coat collars by Paul Poiret and I love it…..I spent so much of this month secretly wishing for the weather to turn so I could start wearing it.

 

Oh October….you are my most favourite month…partly because my birthday is in October (yep, I’m that shallow) but even when it’s all wet wild and windy I love the changes this month brings…..the man with the roast nuts barrow sets up stall on London Street, the smell wafts all the way down to Jarrolds where you turn the corner and know Autumni s well and truly here…..

More jellies were made, this time using some foraged japonica quinces which I left in a bowl in the parlour to ripen up…opening the door each morning and the sherbety aroma was so uplifting and smile inducing…..I also made some soothing syrups as I always end up with a crocky old throat come Christmas….some of the foraged finds bought home possibly the teeniest weeniest little old snail I think I’ve ever seen…I know he’s just going to eat all our veg but I didn’t have the heart to squish him…but instead allowed him to “run” or slide free behind the compost bin.

Izzy from next door had babies in the Summer and her four kittens have been running amok in the garden…carefully planted seedlings have been upturned, chewed, covered with earth while the kittens themselves have been making most merry…poor old Bernard hasn’t known what to make of them, and often comes running down the path as the tiny tots are in full pursuit.

A little more tinkering with the dottie frock pattern, this time splitting the bodice from the skirt and inserting side pockets…. I’m so happy with this pattern and am finding a pocket to be perfect for my hankies.

The little seed planted back in August began to grow, and I picked up my knitting needles…I’ve been able to knit for a few years but only simple scarves, and dishclothes…nothing more fancy than that….but I kept thinking about wishing I could knit better and decided I didn’t need a fairy godmother ot wave a magic wand.  This was something I could do myself….so I began to practise, small samples/swatches with stitches chosen from an old Harmony guide…suddenly I was knitting, slipping stitches, passing them over, knitting two together…I even dabbled with cables…..and then I fell in love, completely hook line and sinker…I saw this gorgeous gorgeous shawl on Instagram and wanted it so bad…I was on the verge of asking a friend to knit it for me then thought no, I would do it myself……mistakes have been made, stitches un-knitted, full rows un-ravelled but oh how proud I have felt, watching the stitches slowly grow……thank you so much Zeens and Roger and Buttercup and Bee for those original Liebster questions.

Oh, and I got nominated for another blog award, this time by Sharon over at Creativity and Family.

 

November is suddenly upon me and all I can think of is my knitting….at the same time I find out about Wovember and a British Breed KAL over on Ravelry by Louise of Knit British … I’m setting my alarm earlier and earlier to enjoy my quiet time knitting on the sofa with Bernard all snuggled up next to me, often with his head on the wool. I’ve become a wool convert and love the warm scent of my sheepy Shetland wool.

I finished the shawl and when I attempt to fling it around my shoulders half near strangle myself to death…..I re-check the pattern and realize my gauge or tension is way off so if I want to wear the shawl without doing myself a permanent mischief I’ll need to unknit it and start again ……oddly this doesn’t make me sob my heart out, but instead I know I can do it…the feeling of knowing I can do it is just wonderful.

Then it’s a mad flourry as the Christmas fairs are now starting, work days start while the lark is still sleeping and commssions for stockings are posted off…..I start to make a toy for on eof my little nieces birthdays but realize it won’t be ready so will have to be a Chrtstmas gift instead…..

Just down the road there is a beautiful rowan tree with pale pink berries, even when I’m super stressed and have 101 things to do, stopping and looking at it never fails to make me smile and feel a little calmer.

And so the year is nearly over……December started with two busy craft fairs and then a series of commissions, family came to visit, a cat toy needed to be made (complete with teeny dottie angle frock and a green cardigan)and slowly burning the candle both ends began to take it’s toll…a prickly throat soon became a nasty cold and laryngitis but then worse of all our beloved Bernard (the trumpiest and sleepiest cat ever) had a nasty lump come up under his paw……an overnight stay at the vets and an operation has meant it’s all been a very fraught here.  Everyone’s kind comments when I wrote about him being ill has meant so much to me….the kindness of strangers and internet friends never fails to amaze.

Finding time to knit has been my escape from all the worry and fears*….the shawl has been un-ravelled, I did that Christmas Day afternoon, and it’s slowly being re-knitted on rather larger needles….(plenty of swatching for the correct tension was done before hand) the wool smells so sheepy and comforting, and where as in the past Bernard has pinched yarn or tapesty wool, he’s been very respectful of my shawl wool…I think he’s enjoying the scent as much as me and will happily rest the tip of his nose against the ball of wool….I’ve also started making plans for a second shawl, thinking about how I can change the cloverleaf pattern so I don’t have two shawls quite the same….

So I’m wishing you all a very peaceful 2016, with lots of good times and laughter and health and happiness….

*We got the results of the biopsy late Christmas Eve, and I’m afraid to say it wasn’t good news, the lump they removed proved positive and the cancer is the sort that will return…We have to go back to the vets next Thursday to talk over the options on future treatments so for now he’s being spoilt rotten like you wouldn’t believe.

Orange you glad to see me*

crab apples

While the hedgerows are bursting full of fruit (and lovely vitamin C) I’m trying to harvest what I can into jellies and syrups.

In a way I’m almost pleased the blackberries didn’t seem to do so well this year because if not I think I’d have over looked the rosy jeweled bounty that’s even closer to home.  Long hedges of hawthorn all intermingled with wild rose bushes, then small wildings appearing from all the prickles, branches full of apples in what seem to be 101 different varieties.  Although there are a few “true” crab or scrub apple trees near by (Malus pumila …very mean and grouchy looking little apples) I prefer to use these glorious almost oval shaped ones in the picture, all rosy and coral coloured though I’m not sure their full genus.

I’m very lucky in that when I’m foraging I’m completely away from any traffic, it’s all pedestrian areas so when I’m clambering around through a hedge looking somewhat like Catweazle, I often get stopped by dog walkers and people with children asking me what I’m picking, what I’m going to make.  I never mind telling anyone who asks and will happily offer plums and cherries to taste and advise good places to go.  I really love it when children look interested as I have lovely memories of going blackberry picking with my sisters and feel sad if children miss out on that.

Anyway, I seemed to spend most of yesterday chopping and prepping and cooking apples, rosehips (including hips from lovely fat and round apple roses), rowan berries and haws to make the most fantastic and bright amber coloured jellies and syrups, and while I was chopping and listening to the radio I began thinking just how much I like the colour orange.

tree in our neighbours garden

Last years Autumn leaf change was spectaular, persimmon and flame, marigold and tangerine, pumpkin patch orange and deep amber…..each morning’s walk either down to the post box, popping into the shops or just stretching my legs for half an hour or so over the marshes was a real treat….on a morning filled with sunshine, Autumn leaves come ablaze and those lovely bright orangey colours seem to be everywhere you look.

At the time it inspired me somewhat with my wardrobe and made me covet a pair of orange shoes after spotting a pair in a local shop.

orange floral print dress

And while I haven’t bought a pair of orange shoes quite yet (thought I still want a pair to wear with the brightest blue tights so I think it’s only a matter of time) over the past year or so there’s been some orangey additions in my wardrobe, the latest being a “dottie angel” style dress I made in the Summer with fabric from John Lewis (it was in the sale and with the alterations I made to the pattern I only needed a metre and a half so felt very happy).

I like wearing it with either an orange cardigan or a pale blue one as orange and blue has become one of my favourite colour combinations.

more nine square patches

Generally when I’m crocheting it’s never long before little bursts of orange begin to creep in amongst the other colours, though I’m quite fussy about the particular orange I like….the orange in the picture above was on a cone in a charity shop and was about a pound if that, I have to double up the yarn when I use it as it’s a bit skinny, but I don’t like the other acryllic oranges that I’ve seen and find this is bright without making my eyes hurt.

orange tapestry wool

But mostly when I’m crocheting I now prefer to use tapestry wool, although I really only tend to buy it second hand ( a bag here, a bag there from junk shops and charity shops, jumbles and car boots, I’m often spoilt for choice when I tumble all the wool out together on the table…) the wool makes those tangerine and marigold tones somewhat softer, warmer, colours that seem at first a bit on the bright side, blend quite happily.

oh Bernard what big paws you have

Probably the best example of colours working together, blending in and not taking over is my Grannie’s Paerweight blanket (and yes I’m still sewing in the woolly tails on the tail…) bright golds and salmon tones, pumpkins and carrot oranges are all there but seem to mingle in quite nicely amongst warmer browns and fawns.  Along with the orange and browns I’ve also used orange and blue together, and orange and grey, using a few different shades of both to add plenty of depth and interest.There’s even a few fiery orange and vermillion and scarlet hexagons.

I’m not sure if Bernard is a fan of orange himself but once it starts getting chilly, he’s never far away from the blanket.

wool

I bought this wool last year, in part to make a scarf inspired by Autumn leaves, but must confess it was the colour more than anythng else that made the wool choice although the wool is so soft and is one of those ones where it is very hard not to just stand in the shop and keep squidging or rubbbing it against your face….I’m still working out the best pattern for it and although I’ve got 3 skeins am thinking perhaps I will need to buy more.  I like a nice big scarf, one that can be flung around my shoulders so I’m all bundled up nicely (and will happily sit like this on the sofa and not turn the heating on)…but I love this particular colour so much that I feel it’s almost going to be the colour itself I’m all bundled and wrapped in.

new album

Although I haven’t worked very much on the patchwork for my “dear ethel” quilt this year, it’s never very far from my thoughts, odd patches are pinned up on a board above my work table (in part because the little blocks make me smile, and also if they were tucked away until the quilt gets completed I’d be going a long old while without seeing them…and also having them there makes me think I need to crack on and get more sewn )….

When I look back at them I see certain colour combinations turning up again and again, although each block is different and each combination of print is different, certain colours  just make me happy so much more than others and although I think pink and yellow is possibly the most used combination, there are also a lot of pairings with orange.

swamp angel

I know that some of my print and colour choices aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and if it was an all over quilt then I’d be right there with you, but in a six inch block I think you can get away with what looks like picking things from “the dressing up box”.

I don’t know why but I’m always drawn to orange prints in my local quilt shop or if I’m looking on-line…when I was chosing fabrics for the quilts for Peggy and Pearl in the Spring I really had to rein my love of orange in, knowing that it’s not for eveyone.

selection of mini blocks 005

I love the opportunities for mixing colour in patchwork…small and tiny flecks of colour in one print (the little orange flowers on the floral print) can be picked out and used on a larger scale. This is also how I get dressed in the morning, picking out a colour from a dress print no matter how small to then wear as the accompanying cardigan.

mrs bryan and others 025

The same colour combination of orange and blue but in different fabrics.  I find the use of orange stops some patches looking a bit cold and pale.

hexagons and ethel 002

Orange and brown just makes me think of my tummy…chocolate and orange cake, toffee apples, orange creams, Jaffa Cakes and Terry’s chocolate oranges (which I only seem to see in the shops at Christmas for which my waistline should be thankful)…..

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Even when I was making my dresden plate patchwork I couldn’t help myself and there’s barely a “plate” sewn together that didn’t have at least one orange section.  Whenever I up-turn and empty out a scrap box there’s always pieces of orange fabric that seem to be at the front of the queue waiting to be used in whatever patchwork I’m sewing.

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A few years ago my friend Beth (who is the most incredible artist and who I’ve mentioned before on my blog) made this little doll of me, she sits on one of our bookselves.  At the time Beth made it she said she knew I didn’t have an orange scarf but that was the colour wool she just had to hand….and now I’m thinking…it’s just the same orange as the wool I’m waiting to knit up into a scarf.   There have been days when I’ve left the house and my makeup has looked just like this (my excuse is that I was in a rush).

Now I’m back to the kitchen to bubble up and boil amber coloured juices with sugar for syrups (we’re both a bit sniffly so hope it’s not the start of a cold)…downstairs smells lovely, soft fruity aromas from apples and roses with the faintest spicey hint of star anise and clove.

*possibly the best Knock knock joke becaue it’s so rubbish.

A vintage style patchwork knitting bag…….

a vintage style knitting bag

At the start of the Summer I had a brief and rather passionate fling with hexagon paper piecing, sewing them seemed to fill every moment and I became somewhat obsessed and after umpteen cushions had been sewn then thought to make myself a big, fling it across my shoulders tote bag, sadly what in my head looked amazing, in reality was rather pants, so after some colourful language I unpicked the pieces and thought about using the patchwork for a granny style knitting bag (I’ve already got 3 but I really like this type of bag and the ones I have are all full with different works in progress that will one day maybe get finished……)

I wanted to make a nice big bag that along with whatever I was knitting, would also accommodate a book, and a few sewing/knitting supplies.

lay the pattern on your patchwork

After drafting up what I felt was a decent size bag I then set about making sure the hexagon patchwork  I’d already pieced would be big enough, and then sewed together hexagons for a back to match.

I had some striped fabric that was possibly mattress ticking (no doubt car boot treasure which I’d been saving to one side), which I thought would be nice and sturdy for lining, and which would give a bit of weight to the bag.

To stop my paper pattern from flying about I use large washers that I bought from my local ironmongers, they’re about 20 pence each and are surprisingly heavy, they’re about 2 inches square so aren’t huge but do the job (and super cheap to boot).

hand pieced patchwork for a knitting bag

You’ll need to cut two pieces for the outside of the bag and then two pieces the same size for the lining.  I included a half inch seam allowance in my pattern.

pin the pocket section to the lining

Because I’m always losing stitch markers and those rubbery things you stick on the top of knitting needles to stop them poking you in the eye or whatever, I thought I’d include some pockets in my bag…..this is pretty much what I do when I make a tote/market bag else I’m constantly having to delve down in the bottom of my bag and feel rather like James Herriot.

My pockets are about 8 inches deep, along the top of each I’ve hand sewn some grey binding so it looks a bit neater than just turning the seam over. (though I could have done that and then sewn binding along the back)

One of the pockets I’ve divided into 3 and the other by 2, just pin equal distances along from the edges and sew up  from the bottom to where the binding is sewn.  I followed the lines on the fabric but if you use a non striped fabric then maybe you’ll want to pencil in a sewing line. (I also just pinned the fabric around the outside to stop it wiggling about too much while I was sewing.)

pin the lining sections together

Lay the 2 lining section together with the pocket sides facing each other, pin them together, and measure up about 12 inches.  This is how far up you’ll want to pin your sides. (if you click the picture to make it bigger, you’ll see that there is a pin placed horizontally along the side where your sewing will need to start and end.)

measure up about 12 inches from the bottom

Now do exactly the same for the main fabric of your bag, right sides together and pin around the outside edge.

cut out notches from around the edges

Once both pieces have been sewn you’ll need to cut little notches around the sewn edge, this gives the edge a smoother and neater look when you turn the bag inside out.

It’s not really necessary to do this for the lining although I found because my lining fabric was quite heavy it needed it but if you’re using a light weight fabric then I don’t think you’d need to do it.)

Whenever I’m cutting notches I use a pair of button hole scissors from Merchant and Mills…these are totally brilliant scissors which have a fat and stubby blade so you can’t get carried away and cut out huge pieces from your work.  Honestly, as far as I’m concerned these scissors are worth their weight in gold, I use mine all the time.

pin around the edges

Turn the main fabric “bag” inside out and pin the edges out around where you’ve sewn, some of the patchwork may be a bit on the stiff side so you’ll need to shove your hand in and nudge out the edge with your fingers.

For the top where you haven’t sewn, fold over about half an inch and pin the edges over.

tack around the edges of the bag

After the edges have been pinned you’ll want to tack or baste the sides and edges.  I prefer to use one colour for the edge where I’ve sewn and then a different colour for the top edges.  (if you click on the image you’ll see I’ve used pink for the main body and then blue thread for the tops…this just makes it easier when I un-pick the stitches.)

Cover the patchwork with a cloth and give it a press.  (my fabric was a proper jumble, wool, cotton, silk, synthetic, covering it with a cloth just protected the fabric and also my iron.)

One the bag is pressed, un-pick the tacking from the main body (the pink thread.) but leave the thread in place that is keeping the top sides in position.

pockets

You also need to pin and stitch the top sections of the lining but don’t turn it inside out.  Make sure you pin and tack the sides so the raw edge is sewn against the back.  The pockets will be facing forwards.

If you squish the lining bag out a bit you’ll see how the pockets form.

pin the lining in place

Place the lining in to the main fabric bag, line up the edges and where they meet pin into place (I’ve used a pin horizontally in the picture)….. then pin the top sides together, working upwards from the horizontal pin.

If the sides don’t quite match and the two top edges of the bag don’t lay flat together you may need to un-pick the turned sides of the lining and just adjust them so that the top section lays flat.

pin some binding over the patchwork edge

Along the edge of the patchwork I like to just sew a piece of binding to protect the edge.  In part it’s because the patchwork is hand sewn and where it’s cut to form the shape of the bag it’s easy for the stitching to come un-done, it also gives a bit more security to this part of the bag (it’s where it goes through the slit in the handle).

hand sew the binding over the patchwork edge

And then just sew the binding in place.  You don’t need to sew in a big piece, maybe 4 inches at most.

I’ve not used it on the lining fabric as that is proper sturdy being a type of mattress ticking.

feed the fabric through the handle

Slide the top of the outer fabric through the slit in the bag handle.

I find it easier at this point to lay the washers or weights on top of the handle to keep the fabric in place.

You can also see where the binding is supporting the edge of the patchwork.

pin the lining into position

Fold over the lining and pin it in place along where the main fabric is folded.

If it’s a bit wiggly it doesn’t matter at this stage, you can adjust it so it looks neater once both sides are pinned.

pin around the lining inside the bag

Pin the pieces all together and check that everything is laying straight and that the bag is hanging right before you begin sewing.

I find it’s easiest to un-pin the two sides of the back (or front) before sewing the handle section, that way my hand can slide in and I can check I’m not sewing through too many layers of fabric.  I use a small whip stitch like when I’m hand piecing over papers.

check it sits neatly before sewing

Once both handles are sewn and I’ve checked that the bag is hanging nicely, I then whip stitch the sides together, sewing up from the centre where I placed the horizontal pin up to about an inch from the wooden handle (this allows the handle a little room and the bag will swing nicely when filled with wool.)

ready to fill with wool and needles

Once the sides are sewn together you’re all ready to fill your bag with wool and needles (and a packet of Werther’s Originals will fit nicely into one of those pockets).

These are a few of my car boot needles, lovely wooden needles that make a calming and resonant clickety clack when I’m knitting with them.

The wool is from my lovely local knitting shop and is a wonderfully soft blend of alpaca and Peruvian highland wool, which I’m planing to knit up in to a nice big scarf as soon as I can make my mind up on a suitable pattern (I’ve got three skeins in an aran weight  and am thinking I may be needing more as I prefer a scarf that really can be wrapped round that one extra time.)

Patchwork, pockets and double blast when it all goes wrong…………

Over the past month or so I’ve been busy sewing together lots of small hexagons using the English Paper Piecing method, this has kept me well and truly out of mischief as it’s not the fastest sewing in the world, but it’s nicely portable… sitting on the back door step with a pot of tea one side and a basket full of little hexagons to sew together the other is a perfect way to spend a Summery afternoon…and if Bernard comes along and stretches out over my feet, well so much the better.

The only downside to these little hexagons is that they’re mightily addictive and as I’d already sewn bunting with them, and a notebook/ringbinder cover ,pincushions and numerous cushions I was wondering what else to make when a little light bulb switched on overhead and I thought to make a big tote style bag for when I go into town and get our vegetables.

At this point I think I’d better say what the bag looked like in my head and what it looked like in reality was very very different….”dream” bag looked beautiful and wafted granny chic goodness…the bag I made looked too fussy and made me want to cry because I’d spent so long making it…..even when I showed my boyfriend I could tell from his expression he didn’t know whether to laugh or to console my tears…..anyway, the bag is now about halfway through being un-picked and before you say “but it looks fine” in real life I think you’d be mumbling to yourself “goodness if I say I like it she might gift it to me and then she’d expect me to use it…I think I should have used the patchwork to make a granny style knitting bag, and a large piece of the patchwork is proving to be salvageable.

So what went wrong….I think I tried to do too much with something that was already a bit fussy.  A couple of years back I bought some old dresser cloths from a car boot that were a bit tatty and stained in the middle but which had beautifully crocheted lace edges, I’d cut out the offending middle but had kept the crocheted lace.  In my head this was going to look really delicate as a side detail, the lace peeking out between the two sides…..on a pin cushion or needle case, maybe even a book cover it would look really good, but it was too much on the bag…then I cornered in the bottom of the bag so it would have a deep gusset (shudder…I just hate that word) and instead of looking all neat like other bags I’ve made, it just looked bulky because of the crocheted edging hunching all up underneath.

Anyway, I did want to just show how I did a couple of things that I’ll use again but for different projects….

sewing on vintage trimming

First up is sewing along the vintage crochet trim….from sewing the cushions I had a pretty good idea of where I needed to sew along the hexagon edges to join them, (sadly you do get a bit of wastage when you sew squares out of hexagons)….I cut the linen that the crocheted trim was worked on to about 1/4 of an inch and then used this as a guide to pin then tack into place the trimming…I didn’t want any of the linen itself to poke out between the side, but only the crochet lace.  When the patchwork was turned over this gave a nice straight line that was good to have when I sewed the two sides of the bag together.

And while this really was too much on a bag, I think it would look nice on the side of a much smaller project.

fold over twice and pin down before sewing

In the big bag I use at the moment I am forever having to rummage around in the bottom of my bag for a pen or for my phone, for the “dream bag” I thought I’d be all fancy and make a pocket with an elasticated top to hold small things that would be nice and near to hand.

My pocket shape was pretty generously cut, about 10 inches or so across, then I folded over about a 1/2 inch and then another 1/2 so the raw edge was tucked right under in the middle.  A few pins to keep all in place and then sew along both the top then bottom edge of the seam.

thread through and secure elastic

I find this to be the easiest way to sew in elastic…

Don’t cut the elastic, just use it as is straight off the cardboard….poke the elastic through the seam until it pops it’s head out the other end and then pin it in place.

Sew over the end a few times on the sewing machine.

gather along elastic then secure end

Now gather the fabric along the elastic, runching it up until the top[ of the pocket is as wide as you’d like it to be.  I left mine about 61/2 inches wide.  Pin the elastic through the fabric at the end and then sew over the edge a few times so that the elastic is held nice and secure in place.

Now you can trim the reel of elastic away.

fold edges over and pin before tacking

Pin the raw edges of the pocket over, about 1/2 an inch.  I prefer to tack or baste the pocket, press the seam then pin it into place on my bag.  I find this makes the pocket edge look a bit neater.

Sewing the elastic in while it’s still on it’s cardboard reel seems a bit odd at first but I now find it a lot less fiddly and also you end up using only the amount of elastic you need.

finished bag

And this was the finished bag……it’s not the worse thing I’ve ever made but it really didn’t come out how I wanted it to so I was rather disappointed.  (I think my boyfriend felt the time wasted on it could have been spent more wisely on doing house work!)

It’s not the end of the world, as I say I can still use most of the patchwork and the un-picked pieces can be made into another bag, it’s just double blast annoying as I spent quite a lot of time pfaffing and fannying around getting it all right only for it to look rather pants.

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….

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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.

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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.