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”.
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.
(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)…
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…..
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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)
Other times the contrast is there both in tone and pattern…a mix of delicate floral print combined with bold brighter hues…..
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…..
…with swift changes that flitter back and forth…..
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.
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.
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……
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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….
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)
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
It’ll be no surprise to read that my favourite stall in the St.Gregory’s Antique Centre is a haberdashery stall…..often I just put my head round the door to see what’s new and come away with a handful of tapestry wool, a little bag of embroidery silk, a packet of vintage needles……well the last few weeks there have been boxes of beautiful and bright Dewhurst Sylko thread in as many colours as you could want……gorgeous and so affordable I’ve had to really stop myself from not just buying every single thread there……
I love sewing my patchwork by hand and generally I use grey, brown or a light pink thread as I find those blend in really well with other colours…..however I do like using vintage threads and Dewhurst Sylko is my favourite….firstly it’s what I remember from my nanny’s sewing basket, it’s what my great aunt used to sew with…and also what my mum used on her sewing machine….and then there are the names…..unlike thread nowadays which uses numbers, Dewhurst Sylko also gave their thread a name….Red Salmon, Elephant, Gay Kingfisher, Iced Orange, Straw, Coco,Chartreuse, Fiesta Pink, Frivolous Pink, Erin Green…..gorgeous and beautiful names that make me smile reading them much more than a number can.
I’ve probably got a whole set by now but there’s times when you just don’t see them and then whooo….a big box full and only 50 pence each……..
Inspired by the bright sunshiney colours of my most recent purchase of a handful of rainbow bright threads (reminding myself as I queued up to pay of when I little and I’d stand at one of our village shops with a white paper bag filled with bright penny sweets) I’ve sorted out some patchwork squares and sewn them together to make some new pot-holders for the kitchen……..these ones aren’t very big, just large enough to use to lift the lid on some big enamel pots rather than use to lift the pots themselves…..
These would have been easy to sew up on a sewing machine, but we had a couple of sunny afternoons so it was nice to just sit out on the back door step with a pot of tea and Bob from next door as company and sew the squares together by hand…..
The finished squares are just over six inches wide so when I came to quilting them I just pinned the three layers together….I didn’t use anything really fancy for my batting, just what I had left over from other projects, I think it’s a cotton/wool blend but certainly is all natural…I only used one layer of batting but if I make these for oven hot dishes to sit on then I use two layers and in the past have used a couple of layers of an old vintage blanket.
I’ve used the heat resistant batting before but I didn’t really get on with it, I found it sewed up very bulky and stiff so don’t tend to use that anymore, though if I was making oven gloves or pot holders to take things out of the oven then I think I’d use that…certainly not a polyester wadding though.
The quilting was really simple, I drew some diagonal lines across the squares using a wash out blue pen, and hand quilted along those, then once the diagonals were all quilted, I quilted along the edges of the patchwork (in the ditch)…I found this made the pot holder even more pliable and soft (I hate hard pot holders that you can’t grip anything with)
Amongst my hoard of vintage sewing notions is a box full of bias bindings, while most are age softened in colour there are a few surprises…this incredibly bright turquoise binding looks as fresh and eye popping today as it must have done when it was new….the packing was getting on and I’m pretty sure it’s from the early sixties….it’s English so the binding folds are only 1/2 a cm…..the Dewhurst Sylko turquoise thread was an exact match (as an aside, I’ve got a few old packets of binding which actually come with little paper spools of thread in matching shades….it’s such a brilliant idea)
I’ve hand sewn the binding, starting at the top right corner……
I pin a side and then sew it in place using little back stitches before pining the next side…the corners are mitred which is a bit fiddly but is good practise for when you’re sewing them on bed size quilts….once most of the front binding was sewn in place, I flipped it over and whip stitched the back binding, checking my corners as I go……..
I’ve sewn the sides of the tail together before sewing it into place on the back to make a hanging loop……I’ve given this one a couple of test runs and it’s perfect, just the right size to lift up pot and pan lids and hanging up in the kitchen it makes even the most grey and miserable morning seem a lot more jolly and bright.
I wanted to write a round up piece about the two quilts I’ve recently finished making…a little journey of Peggy and Pearl’s quilts…….I’ve put in links to where I’ve waffled on about a particular part of the quilt before so I’m hoping I won’t be repeating myself too much.
The quilts were a commission by a very proud dad for his beautiful twin daughters Peggy and Pearl. The hardest part of the commission was planning the design and overall feel of the two quilts….the design brief was one of those oh it sounds so simple until you try it kind of things…the quilts needed to be different but also similar (the girls will be sharing a bedroom so the quilts needed to compliment rather than clash). I’d also made big sister Olive a quilt the other year and I needed to bring in a design element from her quilt too……
After lots and lots of pots of tea, and many hours spent drafting out designs and colouring them in (even going so far as to paint up papers to create my own little paper patchworks to help with giving the work a sense of the fabrics) I arrived at two designs which I felt happy with….this was in fact helped by a few text messages with their awesome Aunty Ally who said their mum liked stars. So I played around with different star blocks and incorporated one of the star designs with large squares to tie in with the quilt I’d made Olive.
Then I set about choosing fabric. I had a good idea of the sort of prints I was after, but I was seeing so many that I just couldn’t keep track so I made a pinterest board of all the fabrics I thought suitable….once I felt I had a really good selection of designs and colours, I went back through the boards and picked out particular favourites.
I also tried to limit myself to the amount of shops I was going to be purchasing from…it wasn’t an easy task and sadly I had to miss out a few gorgeous prints because perhaps that shop only had one print I liked, or only sold it by the half metre. (Because I wanted to use lots of different fabrics I had to limit myself to only buying fat quarters)…..Anyway I whittled down some hundred different prints to about 20 that made my heart leap from three different shops.
I never stick to just one designer or company, (though Whistler Studios at Windham fabrics is a firm favorite of mine, and the Aunt Grace range from Marcus Brothers is very nice too)….I just prefer to really mix up the prints and colours for a better contrast.
I also ordered prints in different colour combinations as I always think that seeing the same print but in a different colourway adds extra interest to the overall look of the patchwork.
Once the fabric arrived it was all hand washed and hung on the line to dry. (I wash all my patchwork fabric, it still wrinkles and looks lovely and “antiquey” when it’s been quilted, but it’s also much easier to hand piece together when it’s had a wash first.)
Then I spent a while combining the prints together to see which worked together the best. This is a lot of fun because it means I get to spread out fabric everywhere, and can spend a coupe of days adjusting and moving prints back and forth until I’m happy and I feel the colours really sing. (this blue and pink combination is a real favourite)
I made a note of the fabrics which were being used and pinned tiny swatches to a work board so I could keep track of what was being used where. Then the blocks were cut and I began to piece them together.
All the patchwork was sewn together by hand, it’s my preferred method of working as it means whatever I’m sewing is nice and portable so if it’s sunny I can move my work basket out of doors, and it’s quiet so I can listen to music.
The clocks changing and the sunshiney weather made a big difference to the light in my work room, several times I was treated to beautiful shadows dappled across the patchwork while the small squares were pinned on to a design board.
Once the “evening star” blocks were finished for the second quilt, I then had the challenge of arranging them so the prints and colours would sing and compliment rather than sit uneasily and grump. (trust me, if fabric isn’t sitting happy then it looks proper grumpy)
When the joined blocks are all finished it feels lovely….and I can begin to see the patchwork tops as quilts…I really think all the time spent playing with papers and painting them up to make the little paper patchworks paid off. When I’ve explained to friends what I’ve been doing I could see them thinking “she’s off her rocker” but it was hard to imagine how the patchwork would look when you only use a solid colour…..the finished patchwork has come out just right, and captures for me…. sunny days, ice creams and lollies, day trips to the sea side…..an overwhelming feel of happiness and smiles.
I’d bought just enough of the back fabric to be able to use it as a border for the front of both quilts, this was carefully cut (one of the only times I used a rotary cutter while making the quilts…the other time was when I was making the binding)…and then pinned and sewed around the tops and sides.
Once the binding is in place, it’s time to baste the quilt. It’s a bit like making a huge quilt sandwich but instead of using bread you’re using fabric with the wadding as a soft and puffy filling. I like to do this on our carpet and I also like to thread baste my quilts as I find this holds the layers together more securely. A quilt this size takes a few hours to baste securely, so it’s not too bad, though you might want to get up and have a shake about every 15 minutes or so as it’s a bit hard going on your knees and back.
I also sew some spare fabric (old calico or American muslin or curtain lining) round the corner sides and edges where the quilt doesn’t really have a lot of room to fit in the hoop. I find it much easier (and get a nicer quilting stitch too) if the section of my quilt I’m quilting is sitting in the middle of the hoop rather than right at the edge. Sewing the extra fabric round means you have a bit more room to move your hoop about, and it makes sewing those stitches easier as the needle isn’t being forced in a cramped little space.
Once you’ve basted your fabric layers together, your patchwork top suddenly changes…you’re now holding a quilt, okay the basting stitches are rather big and unsightly, but it’s definitely quilty looking.
There are different ways to mark up your quilt, it depends a bit on the pattern you’re wanting to stitch. For these quilts I thought a baptist fan pattern would help soften the edges and seams of the fabrics and different blocks.
In the past I’ve used silver quilter’s pencils and ordinary hb pencils. I’ve used a water erasable blue pen for these quilts as I knew they were going to be quilted relatively quickly and the pen wouldn’t be on the fabric for a long time.
When I’m quilting the baptist fan I like to thread up a load of quilting needles all at once and then i can just keep quilting rather than keep stopping and starting threading up needles…also I find working a curve with several needles on the go at any one time helps give the arc of the fan a nicer, more even curve.
When the quilting was completed, I lightly spray the patchwork top with water to remove the blue pen, and allow them an hour or so to dry in the sunshine outside….I loved how translucent the patchwork looks, and the quilting is just ghostly and barely noticeable.
Finishing a quilt always makes me sad….something that has been a big part of my life for the past some weeks (or more often years) is coming to an end.
Slowly sewing the binding around the edges allows me my goodbyes, and generally I get a bit teary which I know is really daft. It’s very hard to actually present someone with the quilt when it’s completed…so much of yourself has gone into it….you hope good things for it…to be held tight by sticky warm hands …to be loved and snuggled and cuddled ….night time reads when it’s made into a tent and books are quietly read by torchlight…poorly beds on the sofa where it helps someone feel better……maybe it will be wrapped round favourite bears and dolls when they need their “nap time”……off on it’s adventures…a reminder of home and family……one day looked at and a voice asking “did someone really sew this all by hand?”…………………
If you would like to commission one for yourself or someone precious then both quilt designs are now listed in my folksy shop or you can contact me directly if you would like something even more bespoke.
To the sound of an imaginary trumpety fanfare (and not one supplied by the cat’s bottom)..after many weeks spent in designing block patterns and choosing fabrics and soaking pricked fingers in cups of cold tea….may I present the finished star quilts for Peggy and Pearl. Sadly it was really overcast when I took these pictures so the quilts don’t look quite as colourful as when I photographed them the other week on the washing line.
This post has seemed an age in coming…..and I must confess the quilts have taken me somewhat longer to make than I had first thought or expected…in part because I got a bit stuck I suppose at the start when I was designing them. The brief was deceptively simple…”make them different, but the same, and maybe something to match Olive’s quilt“…….hmmm and then the rest of the design was left up to me, including colour and fabric choice. At times I felt I was running round in circles and was worried lovely Darren (who is the owner of the best coffee shop in Norwich) who had commissioned the quilts may well end up sleeping in the coal shed if his wife didn’t like what I came up with…. once I’d designed a pair of patchwork tops I then spent more time than you’d believe looking at suitable fabrics to use for the quilts…….
The other year I made Miss Olive a simple quilt, made up of an array of small reproduction and vintage prints sewn into patchwork squares, so I wanted to use if not the same fabrics from that quilt, but ones which would compliment it. The only real specification I had on colour was “not too pink” and I think my overall rainbow choices have made up for the few splashes of pink I’ve popped in there.
I wanted something that was really soft in hue and colour for the back and pretty much fell in love with a dainty yellow print from Pretty Fabrics and Trims. I also bought some beautiful feedsack inspired prints from them as well for the patchwork blocks. When I was choosing fabrics I found it easiest to create a pinterest board of all the fabrics I really liked, and then I had to whittle it down to real favourites….I tried to limit myself to buying fabric from as few shops as possible (it didn’t make sense to only buy two fat quarters from umpteen different shops)…..so some fabrics didn’t get chosen this time, but I’ve made a note of where I saw them. The other two shops I purchased from were Sew and Quilt, and Tikki. All three shops were lovely to order with and had a great selection of fabric so I’ll definitely be shopping with them again.
For the binding, I used wool wadding from the Tuscany collection by Hobbs. It’s not a cheap wadding but as I hand quilt I find it the nicest, it doesn’t stick to or resist my needle so it’s lovely to sew, and it has a great drape. I’ve used this wadding for nearly all my quilts and it’s well worth worth it (just because you can’t see the wadding doesn’t mean you should forget about it and scrimp on the quality…….I’d rather put a patchwork top to one side for a while and just save up for the better quality wadding than use something cheap and synthetic). I find it works out a bit cheaper if you buy a king size bag and then you can cut it to the size you need. And as for all the little off cuts of wadding, I’m somewhat thrifty so they get saved, and I’m happy to overlap them a little and sew them together, perfect for doll quilts or for very small projects.
On the back each quilt has a hand embroidered name tag. I’ve tried to keep the tags small so I just used my regular handwriting and wrote something very simple in a blue water erasable pen on a piece of cotton fabric. (I’ve written about this striped fabric before and it’s more precious to me than gold…where possible I try to incorporate a small piece into most quilt projects that are very dear to my hear)
Some years ago I bought a huge reel of grey thread from a charity shop and it’s a lovely weight for embroidering writing, I’ve used a little back stitch for Pearl’s name, for Peggy’s name tag I used a stem stitch….I wanted to incorporate as many different details in the quilts as I could, but at the same time appreciate they may well be sharing a bedroom so the quilt tops compliment rather than clash.
The last stage….finishing off with tiny stitches. I always feel a bit sad, saying goodbye to something that’s been part of my life for the last few months. But sitting sewing, my work table dappled in sunlight and shadows makes for a happy parting.
Both quilts have now gone to their new home, but if you would like to commission one for yourself or someone precious then both styles will soon be listed in my folksy shop or you can contact me directly if you would like something even more bespoke.
In the last of my posts about binding a quilt, I wanted to explain how to mitre the corner…..it seems really fiddly and okay, it is a bit, but a neatly mitred corner looks so nice that any fiddlesomeness is well worth the effort. It’s just important not to rush it.
Once the binding has been sewn into place on the front, fold the binding over along the 1 inch pressed seam so you have a nice folded edge to sew along. The corner neatly folds up and sits on top of itself.
Turn the binding over, it pretty much rolls over the edge of the quilt, and will reveal the neatly folded corner that you made when sewing the binding to the front.
Pin or clip the corner on the back. (I like to use Wonder Clips made by Clover) When you were sewing the binding to the front using a back stitch, a row of stitches formed on the back. This is the guide for sewing the binding to the back. It’s important that you’ve clipped enough away from the corner so that the corners can be mitred neatly, so I like to check this by seeing if the corner pulls down comfortably enough to the corners of the sewing guide (where the two lines of back stitches meet). Sometimes I have to clip a little bit of wadding away if it is still a bit bulky.
Now clip or pin the binding over the edge of the quilt into position. You can remove the corner clip or pin at this stage as it’s no longer really required.
Nudge the bottom binding right up into the corner, and give it a bit of a press with your thumbnail to stay in place (you can pin or clip it if you like.)
Using a slip stitch (in some books it is called a whip stitch) sew along the folded edge of the binding, securing it to the back of the quilt just above the sewn guide line. Sew the binding in place along into the corner.
With the needle just tucked out of the way, bring the next side of the binding over and check that it forms a neat edge. You may need to very slightly tuck the diagonal edge underneath with the point.
Once the seam has been tucked under and the binding edges meet exactly and form a neat diagonal, pin the top binding down into position.
Turn the quilt over to check that it looks neat from the front. Sometimes the corner is a bit lumpy, you may need to unpick it and re-sew to neaten it. This can be caused if enough care wasn’t taken when the binding was sewn onto the front.
Bring the threaded needle out at the bottom of the folded seam.
I like to use Clover Black Gold Applique needles for sewing the binding as I find they’re really sharp and pointy, and are excellent for really fine stitches.
Carefully slip stitch the folded corner closed.
I generally find that tiny stitches make for a neater finish. When you get to the top, make an extra slip stitch to keep the fold secure, before moving your needle slightly and then slip stitching the next binding edge into place.
And that is your mitred corner finished. Once all the corners have been sewn, I turn the quilt over and then hand sew each of the front corner folds down using tiny slip stitches. I do this last in case any of them need un-picking to reshape in case they’ve come out a bit on the lumpy side.
I hope these posts have shown how easy it is to make your own binding and how to bind a quilt with mitred corners. At some point I do intend to cover other binding methods that you may not be familiar with.
Once you’ve sewn the binding in place around the front of your quilt, it’s then time to sew it into position on the back. Begin by trimming both the wadding and backing fabric to between 1/4 and 1/2 an inch over the raw edge of the binding. It depends a lot on the type of wadding you are using and the sort of binding you are sewing. For this quilt I’m using a double binding and the wadding or batting is pure wool, so I’ve trimmed to 5/8 of an inch (or what I like to think of as a generous 1/4 inch).
After trimming all the sides of the quilt, snip the corners across to about 1/8 of an inch. Removing the corners of the wadding makes the finished mitred corners sit flatter and look neater (my original pictures were really blurry so I made up a little sample edge…which as you can see has also come out a bit fuzzy looking, but hope you will be able to see what I mean about the clipped corners…..)
You can check that you’ve cut enough wadding away by turning over the binding. you don’t want to be able to see the wadding or backing fabric. It’s important not to cut too much away though, the edges of a quilt get handled a lot so the bound edge needs enough wadding inside it to keep it nice and plump.
You can also turn the quilt over to check the binding just peeps over the back. As the binding is sewn into place and rolls over the edge of the quilt, the wadding folds in on itself, doubling up and forming a strong edge. The tiny back stitches show you the guide line you will be wanting to bring your binding edge over to.
Up until very recently I used to secure both sides of the biding in place with pins, however, a couple of years ago I was sent a huge box of Clover Wonder Clips and although they took a bit of getting used to, I now think they are brilliant for holding the binding in place. (They’re also very good if when you’re sewing over papers or paper piecing, you don’t get the tiny holes like when you are using pins, and they keep the papers perfectly in place.)
Starting somewhere along the bottom edge, preferably just off from the middle, bring the folded edge of the binding over to the guide line of your back stitching. Pin or secure with a “wonder clip” into place. Repeat until you have secured about a foot of the binding into place.
When I used to use pins I’d position them pretty close together, the clips have a bit more strength so I place them about 3/4 of an inch apart.
Normally I never make a knot when I am hand sewing, instead preferring to make a couple of stitches on top of each other to secure the start and finish of what I’m sewing……however, when I’m sewing the back of the binding into place then I do make a small knot in the end of the thread, before slip stitching (or whip stitching) the binding into place.
Some books call this a slip stitch, others a whipped stitch. The needle only goes through a small amount of the backing fabric (not all the way through to the other side) and then through a few threads of the binding fabric. The stitches are worked along at a slight angle and it helps if your thread isn’t cut longer than 12 inches. (too long and it tangles).
You’ll get the best results if you use a fine applique needle or sharp for this. Clover make two excellent needles for this type of sewing, one is called Clover Gold Eye Applique Needles (at the time of writing they are about £2.50 for 15). The other ones they make are called Clover Black Gold Applique Needles…okay they are pricey…you may need to sit down at this point…..the last ones I bought cost about £4.50 for 6….. so yeah they aren’t cheap, but ohh, they are sharp, as skinny as a moonbeam and as strong as an ox.
The Clover Gold Eyes ones are really good, and if you have a little emery sharpener then they are a good buy because you can keep them lovely and sharp. Sadly if you try and sharpen the Black Gold ones then the black coating will come off, but to be honest they won’t really need it (I just wanted to know what would happen if I tried to sharpen one)…….so if like me your purse doesn’t always stretch to such pricey items, you could let family know when it’s your birthday. (I’ve used the Clover Black Gold quilting needles as well, they are good but I know they aren’t for everyone…however the applique ones…..haberdashery heaven)
I’m still lucky enough to be able to regularly find vintage sharps in antique markets and they are also very good. Blue Dorcas is a particular favourite brand
If you’re worried you’re making your stitches too deep then you can just turn your work over and you’ll be able to see if any offending stitches are coming through. If they are then you can easily un-pick them and re-sew the binding in place.
Rushing this stage is so tempting because your quilt is nearly finished but you’ll get a much better result if you just sew slow and sew steady. Also, make sure you’re sitting with a good light source so you can really see your sewing.
I really do love these little clips. They are such a great colour so are nice and cheery to use, but they also are very good for holding the binding in position. I’m lucky enough to have a big box of 50, but I’ve seen them in smaller boxes at my local quilting shop. They are a bit fiddly to being with but as someone who still after many years of sewing still manages to prick herself all the time, they are very forgiving on sore fingers.
Once you’ve sewn the binding around the front of your quilt, you’ll need to join the two ends together before being able to sew the binding on the back. It’s a little bit more fiddly than when you joined the binding strips together but only a little bit.
Draw a 2 1/4 inch square with a diagonal line running through it on the wrong side of the left hand tail. I tuck a cutting mat or a sketchbook underneath the fabric so I’ve got a firm surface to draw on….just peeping at the top of the picture is the little 4 1/2 inch gridded square I use for small patchwork measurements, and it came in very handy drawing the square. Because it’s see-through you can check your square is nice and level against that pressed top seam which you’ve been using to sew along.
The diagonal line you draw this time is from the bottom left to the top right. (once you turn your binding over it rotates and the seam will run the same way as the other seams in the binding. You can always peep under the binding to check. When it’s been a while since I’ve sewn on any binding I think I’m doing this bit wrong, I check underneath and then think “why don’t I just trust my own notes”)
Checking that you are folding exactly along the drawn line, carefully fold the binding over and with your thumb nail press along the fold and then pin the fold together so it doesn’t wiggle about.
With the left hand side of binding underneath, carefully lay the binding from the right hand side over it, just smooth it out so it’s nice and flat. Carefully remove the pins keeping the fold in place and now put them along the top edge of the binding and one through the bottom edge. You need to keep the two pieces of binding in place.
Now this is the fiddliest bit (if I haven’t already got one I make a pot or cup of tea)…..when I showed you how to start sewing the binding in place I said to leave a nice sized gap about 10 inches wide. This gap means you can turn the binding in on itself and also position your hand in to move the fabric so you can see what you are doing.
Slide your left hand under the binding to support the two pieces of binding. The pins in the binding are holding 3 layers of binding together and you need to un-slide the pins from the bottom layer and secure them to just the folded over flap. Carefully so you don’t disturb the position of the binding, remove the top pin very slightly so it un-pins from the bottom layer of binding, and then just slide it back through so only the top layer and the flap are pinned together. I find putting the pin through the folded 1/4 inch seam helps a lot.
Now do the same for the second pin, I find it’s easiest to remove this one and then to re-pin it along the right hand side so it’s at a right angle to the top pin.
Now you should be able to turn the pinned flap of fabric over, and you’ll see your drawn diagonal line. Pin this carefully into place and remove the two pins from the other side.
Turn your work back and just check that it’s all laying flat and that the two pieces of binding are in the right position.
Turn the folded over flap back and sew along the pinned drawn diagonal line (starting and finishing with a couple of over stitches rather than a knot.) I always end up at this stage with the quilt in my lap all higgledy piggledy while I’m sewing this piece into place.
Open up the seam and finger press it open (again, putting a small cutting mat or sketchbook under the binding helps to get a nice firm press)….sometimes the wider pressed seam doesn’t quite match up (I think mine was out something like a 1/16 th of an inch), but as it’s just a tiny fraction, that really won’t show once the binding has all been sewn into place.
Trim the sides of the flap so you have a neat edge (1/4 of an inch or 5/8) and then continue to sew along the rest of the pressed 1/4 inch seam.
When you come to the open flaps, just sew them down wide open along the pressed seam. Sewing the flaps open makes for a less bulky edge when you turn the binding over.