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…

corn beans and triplets 008

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…..

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…..

crochet colourwork 005

…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 have a lot of money to make a quilt.

For the most part, I’ve bought any special 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 a friend 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 also tend to quilt quite small stitches but I think stitch size is very much a matter of personal choice.

I don’t live in a particularly big house so there isn’t the space to store more than a couple of quilts.  If a quilt takes me a couple of years to make by hand 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…… 

But this is just what I like, what I find to be my essentials… What another quilter thinks will probably be quite different depending on the type and style of quilting they do.

green bow tie print star block

As I say, funds for quilts that are made for our home are quite limited…the biggest expense tends to be the wadding becasue I like to use a pure wool one, 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 more economical but it is still pricey……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….  I think a mistake people can often make is to feel that you need to buy everything all at once or everything has to be bought new.

I think it’s much better to buy slowly, repurpose where you can 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 myself and prefer a white chalk pencil.   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 use them although I only press very lightly,  but I do 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…personally I wouldn’t 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 supplies 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, ( I tend to buy big reels of it from a local Ironmongers as it’s cheap as chips from there)….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.)

I’ve also got a couple of hera markers which are made from plastic which you score on the fabric against a ruler. They look a bit like a butter knife (which you can also use though be careful there isn’t any chips or rough bits on the blade) and I used to have a lovely hera made from bone but managed to lose it. You can also get wooden ones and I’ve also used wooden tools that are used in clay work, again pressing the ‘blade’ against a ruler to score a line on the fabric. 

You may prefer to get fancy and want to quilt cables around the edges of your quilt, if so then you can buy plastic sheets that are A4 and 3 sized but you can also use plastic from yoghurt containers and certain packagings…. you can also use this to make  a bar for baptist fan quilting.

quilting wrap 012

Wadding or Batting

When I have the money I prefer to use a pure wool wadding by Hobbs…it’s expensive but it hand quilts beautifully, and when washed carefully gives the most wonderful drape and lightness to your finished quilt.   I’m happy to save up the extra money this wadding costs as it is such a delight to work with.  Wool wadding is warm in Winter but it is also light for Summer as it actually weighs less than cotton.  It only needs washing if it gets dirty, and then I bundle my quilt up in the washing machine, put it on a gentle wool cycle and allow it to dry outside draped over a rotary line.

I also use cotton and cotton/bamboo blend wadding.  Though I tend to use it more on smaller projects like wall hangings, book covers, project bags rather than lap quilts or big bed quilts but if you want to make a quilt and were on a bit of a budget then it is a good second choice.  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 and it has all been about the same so I think it’s quite generic.

I save all my pieces of wadding and regularly sew them 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. You can use these in smaller projects but I have also used them in a larger quilt. So basically you get to use every last bit of it and it doesn’t get wasted.

However if you don’t want to buy new wadding/batting you could always use an old wool blanket that’s worn thin for the wadding which will give you a lovely warm Winter quilt. This is also really good for pot holders and oven gloves. You won’t be able to make the smallest quilt stitches as the wool in a blanket is denser than that used in wadding so you might find yourself needing to use thicker thread like Sashiko or top stitch thread and a thicker needle (darning ones are good if you can’t find the Sashiko ones).  You can also use brushed cotton fleece like what is used for  sweatshirts or you could stitch together old sweatshirts and jogging bottoms that have seen better days, or old fleece sheets that have bobbled a bit to make a batting for lightweight Summer quilts that you can take to the beach or fling over the sofa.  Large wool cloth scarves/shawls from charity shops stitched together also make a good batting.

Generally I find synthetic waddings seem to resist the needle, and it’s harder to make my stitches.  If you’re constantly fighting with your needle then it becomes a chore not a pleasure to sit and hand quilt the stitches so I’d rather look for natural fibre alternatives at a car boot or charity shop than buy a new synthetic wadding from a shop.  But when my funds have been limited and I needed to use what was to hand then I’ve quilted with old duvets (between 1-4.5 tog), and used pieces of polar fleece fabric as wadding though I had to go up a few needle sizes when I quilted them.

Different battings/waddings will give different effects, some will plump up and be nice and lofty, some will drape and be nice and squishy, but never feel that you are doing something wrong just because you are using different materials to those you might see in books/blogs/quilt shows/social media etc.

I think it’s a good reminder to sometimes tell yourself that it’s up to you what you want to quilt with, no one is going to come round and stop you.  In the past, the majority of quilts were made with what was at hand and quilt shops that sell all the fancy stuff are relatively recent where as quilts have been being made for hundreds of years.



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….it tends to come in two colours, bleached and white or natural.  It’s not the prettiest fabric in the world and I know most quilts in more modern quilting books seem to use printed fabrics for their undersides (this is what I’ve done in the above picture) but I like how quilting stitches show up really clearly on a plain background… American muslin holds dye incredibly well so you could also dye some if you’d rather it a different colour

Generally I wash all my fabric for quilting before I begin sewing with it, and I make sure to wash the muslin/calico to soften it before sewing. 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 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 as the plainness of the fabric would really highlight and show off the pattern of your quilting.

You can also use old bed linens for the quilt back, the only downside to these is they are woven quite tight so they aren’t always as easy to quilt as the American muslin but it depends a lot on how small you want your quilting stitches to be. Charity shops and carboots are great for sourcing pretty vintage sheets and tablecloths for not much money.

But you can just as easily make the back from fabrics that have been pieced together in a patchwork effect. Having it made from bigger pieces will make it a bit easier to quilt than if you are making it from lots of very small pieces as the seams of the fabrics add an extra thickness that has to be sewn through.


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. 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.

(Updated to say that Star brand has possibly stopped being made, but YLI quilting thread is very nice as is the hand quilting thread from Empress MIlls)

If you’re quilting a patchwork top made with brushed cotton then you could also try using coloured button thread or top stitch 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)

I know a lot of people also like to use Sashiko thread for quilting and this is available nowadays pretty much everywhere.

vintage quilting needles
selection of vintage quilting needles

Quilting Needles

Traditional 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 preferred a longer needle to what I like to use now.

If you are using a thicker thread like the button hole/top stitch/Sashiko then you will need to use a larger needle.

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 though are excellent but again, expensive)…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

In an ideal world I would live somewhere where i could have a big old wooden quilting frame but I don’t so…. but I manage fine without.

If I’m quilting something small, anything less than a foot square I’m not likely to use a quilting hoop, I still like to 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 experience)…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 know a lot of people baste with safety pins and quilt their layers without a hoop so while I find I need one for my quilting, you may find otherwise. It does depend a bit on the type of quilting stitches you want to make.

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 manoeuver 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.

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 and mostly just use a regular metal one from nannys workbox that is a bit of a loose fit, I wrap a bit of  scrap cotton fabric around my finger tip to protect my finger nail and it also helps with the thimble sweating (I find the thimble gets warm which I don’t like the feel of)… My dad made me a couple of little leather ones which were really comfy but I managed to lose those in a house move. I’ve also gotten on well with shop bought ones, preferring the all leather ones to any with bits of metal in them, but they are a bit pricey.

I also have 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 no longer with us 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 breathtaking 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


Most important though, please don’t think you need to have a lot of money to make a quilt, at the end of the day all a quilt is is layers of fabric stitched together. It shouldn’t be something that only people with big purses and endless pockets are able to make.  I remember that I found it very daunting when I first started quilting, like I was the poor relation and felt ashamed that I wasn’t able to buy metres and metres of fabric brand new, but then I got to wondering why was I thinking like this and began to think of the possibilities and opportunities in using fabric and  fibres sourced from other places.

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…’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… 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…’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… 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… 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.

An Encouraging Thunder award and a right old waffle…….

encouraging-thunder.png (300×300)

Last week I had a lovely comment in my email box from one of my regular comentators Sharon (you can find her over at Creativity and Family) ….. she’s nominated me for an Encouraging Trumpet award which recognizes blogs that encourage and inspire. I was quite amazed as I know I talk a lot of old piffle at times, so to think at least someone thinks I’m inspirational has chuffed me to bits no end….thank you so much Sharon….often when I’m writng my posts about ambling over the marshes or de-tangling myself from hedgerows (all in search of crab apples or the glint of some ripe blackberries) I do think of you, your thoughtful comments to my misadventures in hedgesrows or coping with my cats windy bottom (he can empty a room pretty quickly) have often made me laugh in return x

Ideally the award is then passsed on to other blogs but as I’ve mentioned before the main blogs that I follow all seem to have been going for a fair while and are pretty busy people and I’d be….shrugging shouldrers as I’m trying to think of the right word….a bit nervous I think about approaching them….so instead, and I’m hoping this is okay to do, I thought I’d just write a piece about some of the blogs that I do love reading and then if you’ve not heard of them you can go and have a look for yourself and see why I like them so much….over the years my tastes have changed rather… sometimes blogs I love stop (yes I’m looking at you miss dottie angel…the instagram glimpse of what you are pottering about with isn’t enough..)…..sometimes my interests just change…I think my blog list at the side is a pretty small one and I like reading them all but these are my favourites of who I’ve been enjoying reading over the past year really…..

knitsonik book

First up is twins really….The Domestic Soundscape and Knitsonik are both written by the amazing Felicity (Felix) Ford….this woman has so much energy…she’s completely and utterly awesome.  The Domestic Soundscape covers a whole range of subjects, sometimes it’s something happy and nice for your tummy, sometimes her writing is poignant and makes me feel sad but always it’s wonderful to just stop with a cup of tea, and read what she’s posted…like making the perfect salted caramel tart, and what sounded to me like the best children’s birthday party of all time, and the wonderful and heartbreaking to read “the love“… of my favourite posts she wrote was about her relationship with her partner Mark ……and while I don’t care about celebrity ons and offs, reading about what are just lovely relationships just between people like you and me never fails to make me smile…..Mark often makes the sweetest comments on Felicity’s blogs and they never fail to either make me smile or laugh out loud…..(Shetland 0 Mark 1 a possible favourite)……Felicity’s Knitsonik is a slightly different read but is no less wonderful as it’s mostly about knitting and colour stranded knitting (or what I used to just call “Fair-isle” til I knew better)….if you’ve not been there please head over and listen to her sing a brilliant song about Shetland Wool ….or she’s writing about sound and textiles the history of textiles and wool… she’s totally one of my knitting heroines and her book Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook is such an inspirational treat…..When she really gets going then reading her posts can be so exciting, her enthusiasm comes across like some sort of exciting non stop page turner adventure story….at the end I often want to fan myself and go “phew”…..I’m still only beginning with my knitting but when one day I reach the lofty heights of attempting a fancy piece of coloured knitwear it will be with her book in my hand to guide and steer me true with my colour choices and combinations. Woooh, You Rock Felix.

soporific blues

One of my favourite artists is Ann Wood…she lives in America and I’ve been reading her blog now for some years…it’s always a nice touch down and among pictures of what she’s working on (often including the didn’t work out quite rights) there’ll be pictures of bundles of beautiful old and worn textiles and walks in the woods…she’s also written some lovely tutorials and her print outs for paper horses and big tea cups are put together so nicely……the creatures that Annn creates don’t just happen, hours upon hours of work are involved, tweeaking patterns, making up testers, tinkering some more until what she creates is exactly what she was wanting….no giving up at the first attempt if something goes wrong….

A blog which I do always enjoy reading (but often I have to try and find it as it’s had a few name changes in the past) is Hetty Brown…..(up til very recently it was called The Woven Nest)….now this isn’t going to sound very complimentary but whatever “name” Sophie writes under reminds me somewhat of the smell of my cats tummy…warm, comfy, safe…a waft or too of weetabix in Bernard’s case, lavender and beeswax and Autumn apples in Sophie’s…whether she’s knitting socks or sewing frocks, making cake (her recipe for her grandad’s fruit cake one is so good, nice and simple and perfect with a mug of tea…..) it’s a nice quiet little oasis…a calm in a big sea of crazy…..a place where ideas have the peace and still time to develop.

eyelet twigs sampler

The other blog which I really like is the one from Kate Davies…..I like the way she writes so much, generally it’s about wool or knitting (I love her designs and am lucky enough to have a very kind friend who knitted me one of her pieces the other year…)…this shouldn’t define her blog but I think this is interesting to know, some years ago Kate had a stroke, she’s no age so this came completely out of the blue, at a time when I would think she’d be feeling completely wretched she kept pretty positve…rather than let it stop her from doing things she loved…knitting and plaiting her hair she learnt how to do these things again….the pictures of her riding her bike in a jumper she’s just finished knitting , beaming from ear to eat were so uplifting and positve…along with the knititng she writes about other textiles, and her dog Bruce, walks, planting things in her garden….just recently her and her partner Tom got married…the pictures were so full of warmth and happiness…no fake “Hello” magazine bling and forced smiles…even Bruce was there…..if you read my blog you’ll know I’ve pretty much just learnt to knit and Kate’s gorgeous and beautiful designs are part of the reason I’ve kept persevering because one day I want to cast off one of her yoke detailed tops, slip it over my head and think…I did this….

embroidery silk strands

The second part of the award is to write a piece about why I blog….if you had the time and patience to read my Liebster award post then I’m afraid you may be in for more waffle and such like though I’ll try hard to keep it as short as I can…..

Why I blog…..actually it’s not something I’ve really thought very much about.  Although I’ve been reading other people’s blogs for years I’ve only began writing my own over the past 2 and a bit years.  I didn’t start before because I didn’t know how to and always thought I might break the whole internet or something if I did something wrong.  I didn’t have a lot of computer access growing up and while I learnt to shop and look at cute cat videos on-line (cutest one being just here….and is the reason I’m not allowed kittens) I wasn’t able to do a whole lot more…., I’ve always been a bit frightened of them (the woman who turned into a computer in the Superman film is never that far away in my thoughts and I’m still rather wary of them….I always think I’m going to break something)…..I’m not very good with technical things (this makes my boyfriend despair as he writes computer programmes or does something like that and sighs when I ask how to do, what to him seems, something so easy….however in case you’re thinking “well he sounds like an absolute bounder, he isn’t he’s very lovely and has been so encouraging with my new found knitting prowess…and recommends my quilts and other work to friends all the while…once he even took in a selection of Valentine cards I’d made  when he worked in an office of all guys….he came home with just a couple of cards left and lots of money so lets give him a little cheer…horrah!!!)

river view

Another cheer should go to my youngest sister because if it wasn’t for her patience and ability to count up to ten and then some when I ask her dumb computer questions I still wouldn’t have a blog…….this is an example of how I don’t “get it”…a few years ago I rang her up as I was trying to download pictures from my camera onto my computer (it was the first time I’d tried to do this by myself)…and she slowly talked me through each step of the way..but then something went wrong…there were too many pictures to download….my sister asked “Well how many are there”……”One thousand, six hundred and eighty four* I replied… could almost hear her cup of tea get sprayed around her kitchen…..there was a pause and then she said, “Oh. WelI I think that’s a few too many for your computer to cope with at once, you’ll need to go through and delete some off the camera manually first I’m afraid”….. no exclamation of “seriously, are you a complete thicky” or “ughhhh uggghhh ughhhh” noises made at me down the phone…..she also helped me set up my website and edited loads of photos for my folksy shop as I didn’t know how to do that either……the day I sent her an email showing a variety of photos of some things that I’d made and had edited all by myself….brightening,cropping, bringing down the saturation (I was tending to go for the setting my Nanny used to have her television at where everyone is so orange they all look like an Oompa Loompa) and bringing up the temperature to a nice soft and warm hue, she rang me up and said how proud of me she was, it was the phone call equivalent of a big warm hug……so a huge huge Horrah for Becky.

bluebell bliss

Sorry for waffling……anyway so really my blog came about because I was already selling various things I had made (tea cosies, and notebook covers, baby blankets,hot water bottle cosies, brooches….cat toys*….things that were fabric based with hand worked embroidery and applique on them….I started selling them at local craft fairs and then in some shops around Norfolk and Suffolk and people used to ask if I had a website…then I did a business course and I was told “you must have a website and you need to get your name registered” so I registered my name (well my boyfriend did it for me) I still didn’t have a website…then my sister very patiently helped me get the website working (it’s held with a different company than one she was used to working with so it wasn’t the easiest of things for her to do but she never once got grumpy with me…instead I’d get asked if perhaps I thought it was time for a cup of tea …) …while she was working on the website she did say “look, you know next you’re going to have to do a blog…..” and I was rather hesitant because I didn’t know how to do it or what would I write……but we agreed to meet up again and patiently she went though helping me set up my blog….looking at themes and layouts and stuff that I was really rather overwhelmed by…. (you can understand now why she deserves that cheer).


So the blog was set up and then what to write……it’s like an essay at school, being told to write about whatever you like….your mind suddenly goes all of a blank…where to begin or what to write….to start with I wrote about making Christmas Stockings and baby quilts as that is what I was doing at the time……it always seems very daft to be sitting out in the garden on a hot scorchy Summer day embroidering snowflakes or hand sewing tiny currants on Christmas pudding motifs…and it’s hard to feel Christmassy when the sun is all sun-shiney…at least come November I can play some Christmas music but in July or August I suspect that my neighbours would think I was off my trolley……and then I wrote about favourite things I like to use when I’m sewing as I often get asked about stuff like that when I do fairs…but pretty soon I started writing about other things…trying to get fit and working out to a Mister Motivator DVD and doing myself a bit of a mischief in the process, then our cat Bernard was poorly and he refused to wee in his tray so I stood out in my garden at something like 3 in the morning, with him on a little harness and lead, feeling every part a crazy cat lady…….

In case you’re wondering these are the things people seem to look at the most on my blog….

finished baby bibs 007

I wrote a tutorial for making baby bibs…..this is something that gets heaps of people looking at, I used to make the bibs to sell but they were a bit timey to make if you are selling them, but I love making them as gifts for friends who have babies….it may seem a bit of a waste of time hand sewing the bibs but it doesn’t really take all that long over using a machine, I think hand sewing looks neater and the bibs do feel ever so soft…also the new mum and dad are like “really, you sewed this by hand”…and then they are so full of smiles that you’d go to “that much bother” for their baby….

churn dash mini quilt block 009

About this time I started making a quilt for myself…I’ve only made quilts in the past for other people even both my cats have had hand quilted quilts made from old shirts and a pair of my sister’s pyjama bottoms….and I’ve wrote about that quite a bit, share pictures of each of the hundred and some different tiny 6 inch blocks…I’ve still got a fair way to go with what I call my “dear ethel” quilt but just writing about it has really helped me see it better in my head. It also gave me the space to write down why I like handsewing patchwork and using up scraps….I know “slow sewing/lifestyles/whatever” seems to be all the range nowadays but myself I find it very hard to go fast….I’m okay for a few days, maybe a couple of weeks pre-Christmas fairs when I’m sewing almost every hour of the day, but even then most of the stitching is done by hand, and by that I mean with a needle and thread in my hand not using a sewing machine …(of which I do have two, I used to have three but in the Summer one bang pop whizzed and produced a smell and then lots of smoke began to waft out of it’s bottom.)…

nine patch star patchwork block

I like my fabrics to have a bit of a story behind them, a bit of meaning to them, even if it’s just  “I saw this in a shop and lost my heart to it” but more heart felt is the fabric I have that was left over from when my Nanny was too old/too frail to go up her stairs to bed anymore. All her bedlinen had been for a double bed so when she had a single bed moved into what had been her little front parlour, I took up the sewing machine from home and made her sheets smaller.

Some of the fabric was used to make her new pillowcases but the small offcuts and I took home, kept in a sewing basket…’s almost twenty years now since she died and I haven’t got much of it left, but I love using little pieces of it in things I make, each time I see just a scrap I’m filled with memories of her (bah…I’m getting all daft and teary now..)….fabric brought in unlimited quantities without a care in the world can’t make my heart ache the same way….and other scraps, brightly coloured pieces gifted from friends and family, left over snippets of fabric used in my first “proper” quilt, purple stars for a little girl who wanted so much to go to Hogwarts., blue floral prints from Alison who taught me to quilt……blogging has allowed me to give a voice to how I feel about all these….I get quite emotional about my quilts, they take me a fair while to sew as each stitch is sewn by hand, sometimes it’s hard to talk about them without getting a bit sentimental which if I’m just talking face to face makes me get all’s lovely having a space where I can stop typing (go blow my nose) and return a little better composed. I hope that makes sense.

dresden plates 006

During one of my studio/work room tidy ups I found a whole load of Dresden plate patches I’d begun sewing over papers, and during a little stop for a quick cup of tea, I found myself sewing together some of the plate sections…before I knew it, piles of fabric were all over the floor and I’d started cutting out more sections (tidying up had pretty much gone out the window at this point)….I then went on to write up a few “how to do’s” or tutorials on how Imade my plates and sections….I really do like hand sewing, and yeah it is a bit more fiddly but I think the results can look so nice and it’s what gives me pleasure….I’ve probably gone a bit overboard with the amount of pictures explaining how I sew the fabric round the plate sections but sometimes if you don’t know how to do something then it’s nice to have every stage shown…..and different people do things differently…

baptists fan quilting 003(1)

My favourite “quilting” pattern is the baptist fan pattern, it looks a lot more comlicated than what it is to do and I wrote a series of tutorials on how to do it the other year….this was probably my favourite tutorial I made…..I love the feel of hand quilting and I made a quilt a few years back for my boyfriends birthday….it was only a year late (which is very good going for me)…and at the end of each day when my quilting was done, I’d stroke my hands over the quilting ridges, the soft curves feeling like cordaroy ….textile pleasure for my fingertips… does take longer than the standard straight lines or diamonds and squares but the results are always worth it.

it looks like he is flying

Just before I started blogging I began making myself a crochet blanket ….like “dear ethel” I’ve written about it loads, from where I was inspired (oh Andamento I love your blanket so much), and where I found the nicest tutorial I found on making that particular pattern…..while the blanket isn’t quite finished (too many woolly tails still to sew in) we’re able to use it and generally it’s where we can find Bernard.

flower brooch 21

So where at first I thought I was just going to write about pieces I was sewing or embroidering to sell,, I very soon started writing about things I was making for myself and then things I was baking or cooking in the kitchen…and then my camera started coming along on my walks and jaunts over the marshes and meadows behind our house…..I’m incrediby lucky to live on the very edge of a city but within a matter of minutes I’m in a field, on a good day there are cows….or blackberries waiting to be picked, chittering squirrels or sqwaking crows hop skip jumping along, Spring and Summer sees the meadows transformed in a yellow then pink coloured pastured, with a haze of meadowsweet and soft blue tufted vetch around the edges….Autumn and Winter are rather more bleak, but just being out of doors, well wrapped up in scarves and mittens, the cobwebs and mopes get blown away…..I enjoy writing and talking about where I live so much and I know that there are some people who read my blog who aren’t as able as they once were to get out and about so it’s nice to share what I am able to do and see…this includes picking wild fruits and berries from the hedgerows (where I’ve looked something like Catweazel as I come clambering out of a hedge, with twigs and tangles in my hair and clothes) and making jams and jellies and syrups…..

beth 003

(this is me made by my friend Beth Morrison..)

I’ve gone so far off subject….so why do I blog….to share, to have a place where I can write and record what I’m doing or making, whether it’s baking or stitching…or learning to knit…..once again a very big thank you to Sharon for the award….

*I can’t remember the exact figure but it was just under 2,000 pictures on my little camera…I’d just never deleated any.

A Liebster award and some awfully long answers……


This week I had a nice surprise as I was very kindly nominated for a Liebster award so a huge thank you to Zeens and Roger for that.  Now according the “rules” as they are, I’m supposed to nominate a selection of other blogs to now pass it on to, however as I explained to the lovely Rosina, I think all the blogs that I follow are more likely to have some thousands rather than the 200 followers a nominee is supposed to have and they’re all pretty busy people who may not have the time to answer my questions so I thought I’d just break the rules and open my nomination to anyone who reads my blog and would like to answer my questions which you’ll find at the bottom.

If you don’t want to answer then that’s fine too, or if you only want to answer one question then that’s fine too…all I will say is some of my answers to Zeens and Rogers’ questions are rather long, if you regularly read my blog then you’ll know I’m a chatterer and can happily talk the back legs off a donkey, so go pop the kettle on for a pot of tea and grab the biscuits as I think by the end of this you’ll be needing them……

The rules can be found here on Zeens and Rogers’ blog.

As well as answering the questions she asks I’ve also included a couple of the ones she was asked by Buttercup and Bee as I thought that they tied in rather nicely and also I figure, hey, if I’m going to break the rules then lets break them.

spelt and seed sourdough

What did you have for tea last night?

What are you having tonight?

(and she was asked What is your favourite meal to cook?)

Okay, well last night the boyfriend cooked (he does weekends and I cook during the week) we had a selection of steamed green vegetables and a fat wadge of Spanish omelette made with roast peppers and goats cheese.  Being a Friday (which counts as the weekend) we also had cider, half a glass of a Somerset cider, no more than that though or I’d be sliding off my chair under the table (seriously I am the world’s cheapest date)…what was pudding..oh yes, super sweet and juicily ripe nectarines from a vegetable stall on Norwich Market (we’re so spoilt, there are two fantastic stalls where we buy most of our fruit and veg from, Mike and Debs which is on the front (stalls 46 and 47), and then there is an organic stall called Folland Organics (stalls 40 and 41) owned by the lovely Robb who wears nice jumpers. The beloved one also had a pastry from…The Norwich Providore (stalls 44 and 45 on the market)…their pastries are really good and it makes me super grumpy that I can’t really eat things like that anymore.

Tonight he’s cooking again, and it’s Quorn veggie burgers with a couple of fat slices of halloumi cheese on top..I love these so much. It used to be a bit worrying as Bernard also liked them and he’d jump up on the table to try grab a bit (nothing worse than eating something that the cat is trying to pinch as it goes to your mouth…but luckily he’s stopped doing that.)..I’ve also got half an avocado and a handful of tomatoes from the garden….as it’s a weekend there may well be wine, but just the one glass.  We’re as bad as each other, and a bottle lasts us two nights if not we’d just be asleep on the sofa by nine.  Will there be pudding, yes, don’t ask a silly question. (Basically there’s pudding every night)…tonight it’s raspberries from the garden which will be hiding under an avalanche of thick cream.

While I’m happy to cook a meal, more than anything I love to bake bread.  For the past year or so I’ve been baking bread using a sourdough starter my friend Daisy gave me (she’s a wonderful cook and is off to Leith’s School of Cookery in a week or so…she made the most amazing chocolate truffles flavoured with masala spices and when we’d finished them I felt very sad.) and I’ve found it’s helped my bread making skills no end.  Mostly I like to tinker about and add different things, last loaf I made had spelt flour, oats, grated apple, sunflower and sesame seeds and honey in it and I think there’s barely enough left for his morning toast.  Even though I can’t really eat bread anymore (well I can but it leaves me feeling utterly wretched) the pleasure I get from making it for my boyfriend is immense.


What are you doing at the weekend?

(she was asked What do you do to relax and un-wind?)

Very little.  The weather has been nice today so we went for a gentle stroll across the pastures on the marshes that are just across from where we live.  We’d been hoping to forage for blackberries for the freezer (the rain has made them a bit squishy for jam) but we didn’t get as many as we’d hoped, so some are currently drowning themselves in brandy and the others will make a crumble for tomorrow night alongside a dollop of cream.

Probably the best way I can clear my head if I’m feeling all fraught and fed up or I’m feeling achy and shoulder crampy from sitting sewing to long is to get out, and head across the meadows, an hour outside and I’m back feeling brand new.  Even if it’s nippy I’ll happily wrap up and go for perhaps a shorter walk but just getting out of doors always does me the world of good.

Recently the pastures were so full of wild flowers, it was just like the old flake advert, and the flowers I see on my walks go on to inspire me so much with my work.

We came out here in the winter just after Christmas and a lot of it was all flooded so some parts weren’t cross able, however it felt like a proper adventure walking where the water allowed.  When the frosts came and the floods froze it was so beautiful, especially where the weight of the ice in the river pulled away from the bank.

inspired by flowering herbs in my garden

As a child, what did you want to be when you were a grown up?

Honestly, I have no idea…probably because I’m still deciding that.

I grew up in a lovely little village, it was quite rural being surrounded by fields and farms.  But it wasn’t a dead village, there were 4 or 5 little grocery shops including a post office and two busy village pubs. We had an excellent bus service there, buses on the hour which would bring us all the way to Norwich. If we missed one bus then our mum would just put the kettle on, and we’d have a cup of tea while we waited for the next one to come along….very different to when I then later lived in London and would get all grumpy if I missed a tube train and had to wait a whole 5 minutes for the next one.

My primary school in the village was really nice, and it makes me incredibly sentimental to think how 4 generations of my family have gone there…my dad’s dad, my dad, me and my 3 sisters and even one of my nieces have all been taught there.  My teachers there were always really encouraging so I can’t think they’d have been dismissive if I had some rum career choice ideas, but in all honesty, I really can’t remember what I wanted to be.

if you listen carefully you can hear him snoring

Mastermind Subject?

Blank face….pass…….seriously I really don’t have any specialist subjects and don’t think I particularly know much about anything.  I really love Jane Austen’s Novels (Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park not so much but the other 4 never seem to stray that far from my bedside table) so I think I’d be okay on those.

Failing that it would have to be the shenanigans of my cat Bernard, I can happily tell you all about his little adventures and what he gets up to…mostly this involves stuffing his face with chicken which he seems to flick all over the kitchen floor, playing with Bob from next door (a cheeky little black and white cat who has a pink nose,) napping in various different locations around the house and having wind.  For a little cat there is a lot of smell.

In the picture above he’s having forty winks on the quilt I made for my boyfriend’s birthday, the fabric is quite loosely woven so every so often I have to repair when he’s been plucking, and also on the crochet blanket which is taking me forever to make.

Buttercup and Bee herself was asked What is your favourite crafting project to date? and I’d have to say that mine would be this blanket…even if at times it feels like an albatross around my neck, sewing in the woolly tails on the back is never ending but it looks nice when a hexagon is completed. Each hexagon took around an hour to make, choosing the wool, crocheting the hexagon, joining it in and then sewing in the tails, there’s about 400 hexagons so it’s not a weekend make and I’m probably daft letting Bernard sleep on it but I never have the heart to move him.  The blanket has been made form tapestry wool that has been mostly sourced form antique/junk shops, car boots, jumbles, gifted by very kind friends, and some I’d kept from my Nanny’s work basket.  It weighs an absolute ton and is so wonderfully warm and cosy that the wildest winds can blow and bluster outside, if I’m snuggled under this then I just don’t care.

vintage threads

What do you collect?

I love vintage haberdasheries and am as happy as Larry when I find some tucked away in a forgotten box in a dusty corner of a junk shop….I love buying vintage sewing threads and my favourite brand is Dewhurst Sylko, I’m not fussed if they are on the wooden reels or the plastic ones, the colours are the same and are just gorgeous.  What I particularly like is when thy have the paper circles on the ends with the name and number of the thread, who can resist a purchase of Fiesta Pink,Jasmine Yellow, Cambridge Blue…..I try not to hoard them and use them a lot in my hand sewing, mostly when I’m sewing patchwork as I tend to sew most of that by hand, but recently when  made one of the dottie angel frocks I ended up using a vintage thread in my machine as it was the perfect match to the vintage fabric I was using.

I really try not to be precious about any of the haberdashery items I have, I’ll happily use turn of the century sewing needles (they were made so strong and sharp back then that they really do the job much better than modern needles) and my work box is half full of vintage pieces that I love to use (and which I’ve seen behind glass in more than one museum).

little bear and wee stocking assortment

Other things I can’t resist buying are bags of tapestry wool if I see them at car boots, junk shops, charity shops and jumble sales.  I ‘m not buying them for hoarding so much as for my work as i prefer to use them when I’m embroidering my Christmas stockings, the soft palette of colours the wools often are seem to suit my work and give the stockings that hint of yesterday I’m trying to create.  Vintage tapestry wool is often slightly fuzzy (Lady Penelope is my absolute favourite, it’s perfect for embroidering) and just blends into the wool fabric so perfectly.

button tin

And I can’t forget buttons, I just can’t help myself when I see a tin full of them (I have to sink my fingers in amongst them like Amelie and the sacks of beans and lentils…)

I’m incredibly lucky to have a wonderfully kind friend called Sylvia (eighty years young) and a couple of years ago she gave me a hoard of haberdashery and fabrics that I couldn’t believe…one tin was full of smaller tins, each filled with incredibly old sequins and beads, hooks and eyes…opening each tiny tin to see what was inside I knew exactly how Howard Carter felt with Tutankhamun’s tomb…”Can you see anything?”….”Yes,wonderful things”…

Amongst the treasure from Sylvia was a huge collection of beautiful vintage buttons, many of them glass ones which sparkle and catch the light, along with plastic and resin ones, bakelite and wooden toggles from children’s duffle-coats.

Holt 006

Along with collecting haberdashery pieces, I also love little china dogs.  It started off with some sulky faced Staffordshire singles in a wide variety of sizes but now my collection has grown to include small terriers, dachsunds and a chalk spaniel whose face has almost worn away but I love him all the same.

As much as I love cats I’m really not a lover of cat things (though I own the most awesome cat umbrella), most of the cat figurines I’ve seen are frightful but I think there’s something so lovely and friendly about china dogs.  I’ve never owned a dog (growing up we always had a house full of cats, rabbits and a very shrill squealed guinea pig) but I’d love to have silver and black cocker spaniel, I can just imagine us heading out for a walk on a windy day, all bundled up in a tweed skirt and headscarf (me not the dog)…however I’m all too aware the reality of a wet, muddy pawed dog jumping up onto one of my nice crochet blankets shatters that illusion pretty damn quickly…so the china dogs fill the gap of my dream dog.*

*I even have a name all ready in case the day comes I own one (having been a girl guide I know the importance of being prepared!)

house cosy

Adventure Time Yes or No?

Hmm…I’m probably have to say no as I’m pretty boring and am rather a stick in the mud and like to stay at home.  Me and my boyfriend couldn’t help laughing as I was recently stopped and asked by some teenagers doing a suvey if I liked Extreme Sports……if you know me this will also make you laugh, extreme for me is going out without a hankie or a bag of Werther’s Originals tucked into my handbag.

I guess I was a bit wilder when I was younger though, when I was nineteen I traveled by myself to Italy and when there took a night train from Pisa (a friend’s mum suggested I pin my passport and money to my knickers in case my bag got pinched so I by doing that  felt quite safe, not a care in the world…) which traveled all the way down the left hand side of the country, the train then came apart at the “toe” and went onto a ferry then it all joined together again before journeying on to Palermo. This was all in the day before mobile phones nor did I speak particularly good Italian, just the very very basics, please, thank you…enough to buy the most amazing tasting cheese and ham roll and a coffee on the ferry for breakfast….When I think about it now I can’t believe I did it, what was I thinking…probably not much….but I had such an amazing journey, the people on the train were just wonderful and incredibly kind to the silly English girl with her little dictionary and very bad sunburn….inquiring minds may be asking why I went, well I was all smitten with a boy so really all I was thinking about was going to see him. (the romance didn’t last but I had a beautiful holiday.)

charles de lint

Name a book that you read again and again?

My absolute favourite of all time book is The Ballad of Dr Richardson, it’s a graphic novel by Paul Pope and sadly it’s been out of print for a while.  I love pretty much everything that Paul Pope does (he writes and draws) and this was pretty early in his career.  It’s a romance about daring to disturb the universe and I love it…sadly I’ve now read my copy so many times the pages are one read away from falling on the carpet like Autumn leaves so I just keep it on the book shelf and touch it from time to time.  Paul Pope’s artwork is always so inky and black, like that oily sheen on top of espresso coffee and this book is his inkiest.

Other books (or graphic novels/collected comic books) he’s written include Batman Year One Hundred.  It’s set in the future (a lot of his books are set some years ahead of now) and in it Batman wears a ribbed jersey and leather gloves, there’s one scene where you see the gap between the jersey and the glove, a brief glimpse of Batman’s wrist and all of a sudden the “mythology”, and “mystery” of Batman seems to disappear and you are left with just a man, his human-ness is on show and I love that. (being a bit of a geek I even bought the little statue that came out to coincide with Paul Pope’s interpretation of Batman…and no, it doesn’t sit alongside my dogs.)

He also wrote a book (see above as yes, it’s a book with pictures!) called 100%.  Again it’s set in the future and is a collection of stories about a group of people who’s lives all connect.  My favourite part is where this girl is just laying on her bed, one leg bent over the other and wiggling her foot.  The way her foot wiggles is so perfect and beautifully drawn.

He’s possibly most well known for creating a series called THB which he began to self publish back in 1994.  It’s set in the future and is about a teenage girl called HR Watson, she lives on Mars, her dad is a robot designer and the Mars government is after him.  He’s made HR a bodyguard which is THB, it’s a small rubber ball but if placed in water explosively expands to become a huge purple (rather pointy headed and eared) naked man..with no genitals because he’s not a real man and ugh ..this isn’t Watchman with Dr Manhatten flapping his wing wang doodle about everywhere), they have to race across Mars to one of the safe cities where her step brother and his friends are, including The Jiggler (sigh) who is a Martian that HR has a huge crush on….along the way there’s coffee drinking, code rings, getting kidnapped by comic book publishers, letters home to her friend Lottie whose dad is an opera singer and who has  a little…pet? Pet isn’t the right word, anyway she has a thing called Mister Pig Dog, he’s got a moustach any hipster would go green with envy for, he likes chocolate milkshakes, oh yeah, the girls also get to have  bumble hip-shakes at a local gansgter’s night club when they fix a gangster car….phew….there’s about 15 issues of this in various sizes and it’s completely and utterly brilliant.

I’ve even bought a Spiderman comic (Tangled Web of Spider-man number 15) that he drew (I love comics but I just don’t like Spiderman) which happily didn’t involve too much of the old webslinger but focused more upon the teenage daughter of a crook who’s planning a big robbery.  When he goes into her bedroom (which captures perfectly all the mess and clothes strewn everywhere-ness of my own teenage room and makes me want to apologize to my younger sister for having to put up with my slumicky teenage ways) and she’s all bouncing up and down on her bed with a huge poster of Spiderman on the wall he gets all cross because he’s a robber and doesn’t like Spiderman, so he tears it down and she gets all sad, then he goes out and she listens to the radio after re-taping up the poster (it’s sort of funny because it’s all torn and she’s mended it so badly) and while she’s painting her toes in a chaos of pots and jar and mess on the carpet, hears about a robbery that has just taken place and Spiderman has been spotted nearby, so she sneaks out and actually see the robber (though he’s masked so she doesn’t know who it is) then Spiderman turns up and can’t find the robber but she points him to where the robber went and then sitting there all huddled up she realizes she’s seen the huge bag full of cash the robber was lugging along somewhere before…..didn’t her dad have one the very same…the expression on her face is so heartbreaking.

I guess you can tell i really like Paul Pope.

A book without pictures that I love about as much is called Memory and Dream by Charles de Lint.  I’ve wrote about this before here and it gets re-read very regularly.

I also listen to two audio books time and time and time again…Jonathan Strange and Mister Norrell, and His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman.  Both are un-abridged (I really hate books that get chopped about, they always take out my favourite pieces and would much rather listen to a book in it’s entirety).

Jonathan Strange is all read by Simon Prebble and as far as I’m concerned he is the best book reader for voices in the whole wide world…I keep hoping he’ll read the Jane Austen novels as his ladies voices are lovely without sounding like David Walliams (who is being utterly wonderful in Partner’s in Crime on BBC.)

(she was asked Name the last book that you read?)

Well I’ve literally just finished “101 Dalmations” by Dodie Smith.  I’d read it years ago but hadn’t re-read it for over a decade…completely lovely and the bit with Sir Charles reminiscing about his dogs made me cry..I’ve just ordered a copy of “The Starlight Barking” which I guess I haven’t re-read for 20 some years.  I read “I capture The Castle” by Dodie Smith at Christmas and had just been waiting to find a second hand copy of “Dalmations.”  I recently finished reading “Cold Comfort Farm” by Stella Gibbons.  In between that and the “101 Dalmations” was “The Dark is Rising” sequence by Susan Cooper which I hadn’t re-read for ages but which I’ve loved for the longest time.

crocheted cosy

What was your first job?

I was 14 and it was as a waitress in a little seaside restaurant about 6 or so miles up the road from our village.  I used to work weekends in school time and then I worked during the week as well that Summer, with some evenings thrown in too.

When the weather was nice I’d cycle there and back but if it was very wet I’d get the bus, though on a Sunday when the service wasn’t running I’d often just have to cycle in a cagoule and hope I wouldn’t see anyone I knew.  My boss had an eye for the ladies and would spend most mornings sunning himself down on the beach, but not before drenching himself in vegetable oil and vinegar as he insisted this helped him tan and not burn and indeed he was the shade of a beautiful teak veneer but to my mind always smelt somewhat of a bag of chips.

I’ve got a scar on my right calf where he flung a broken coffee percolator into a rubbish bag I was holding, it smashed and a shard of glass slashed up through the bag and my leg…being the eighties health and safety wasn’t much of an issue and so my leg wasn’t stitched just some cheap sticking plaster that was about 10p from the chemists.

Apart from that, and oh the swearing, the air would very often turn an intense shade of blue, he was actually an incredibly fair boss, he always made sure I’d have my lunch and if he felt someone hadn’t tipped me properly he’d make me run up the high street after them and return their 10 or 20 pence and to say with my best Oliver Twist face “sorry sir, I think you left your change behind” and then he’d slip a couple of pounds himself into the tip jar.

I used to like it as we had canned squirty cream and I’d carefully squirt out the tallest wobbliest towers of cream on my coffee that you could possibly imagine.  To my 14 year self this was the very height of sophistication (and could never understand why my customers looked so horrified.)

After that I then went to work in a little fruit and veg shop, it was a lot closer and I’d mostly work there on a Saturday with the odd half term holiday thrown in .  I stayed there 3 maybe 4 years and it helped me loads with my maths as we didn’t have a proper till and I had to add everything up on a piece of paper .  We had a couple of “characterful” customers including a lady who would come in and want to weigh all the lettuces.  My boss was quite a serious chap but there were a few ladies who’d come in and give him what I think of as “Carry On film” sauce…”ohhh Christopher, can I feel your plums” …or “do these look like a nice pear Christopher”… when another lady came to work there called Sadie who herself was very cheeky, if she heard this being said she’d look at me and I’d have to just nip out the back as she’d make me laugh too much.

a day trip to bungay 004

And these are my questions if you’d like to answer them yourself then feel free…I’ve ended up answering them myself as well.

If you could have a fantasy date with anyone who would it be?

Peter Ustinov, ideally when he was in Spartacus but I think he was still lovely when he was old so I wouldn’t mind (duh…it’s a date with Peter Ustinov, I’m not going to get all fussy)…it would involve browsing the book markets of Vienna followed by coffee and an obscene amount of little Viennese pastries at some pavement cafe with Anton Karos serenading us in the background.  I think he was so wonderful and funny and love listening to his voice that I can’t think of a more delightful date.


What pieces connected with what you love to do, do you really treasure….

A red strawberry needle sharper made by the Royal School f Needlework. (it was bought with birthday money from a dear friend who sadly now is lost in a maze of dementia but when I use it I remember her very dearly)

A pair of Sajou embroidery scissors that my boyfriend bought me for valentines a few years ago.

A piece of cardboard that has been embroidered with bright woolly stitches which was in a gorgeous case of haberdasheries my beloved bought me some Christmas’s ago…it’s beyond precious.

quilts and crochet outside 019

What do you wish you were better at/could do?

I’d love to be better at languages, I can’t roll “r’s” and my pronunciation of anything in French and Italian is terrible…for anyone who can remember “ello ello” I end up sounding like the English Policeman that no-one could understand.

Possibly more achievable would be improving my knitting skills, I’m a very basic knitter, I can do dishcloths but only if everyone is quiet, and even the I need to be writing down what line I’m on, and often forget if I’m knitting or purling, but it’s something I truly wish I was better at as I’d love to knit myself a Prince of Wales jumper. (it’s what I’m wearing with my tweed skirt when I imagine myself out walking with my dog!)

I hope you’ve enjoyed what has become way more lengthy than even I’d intended.

Many thanks again to Zeens and Roger for the nomination.

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

new blocks for dear ethel


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

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

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


evening star for dear ethel


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

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


practical orchard


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

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

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

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

Every stitch by hand………the journey of two little star quilts.

finished arrangement

I wanted to write a round up piece about the two quilts I’ve recently finished making…a little journey of Peggy and Pearl’s quilts…….I’ve put in links to where I’ve waffled on about a particular part of the quilt before so I’m hoping I won’t be repeating myself too much.

The quilts were a commission by a very proud dad for his beautiful twin daughters Peggy and Pearl.  The hardest part of the commission was planning the design and overall feel of the two quilts….the design brief was one of those oh it sounds so simple until you try it kind of things…the quilts needed to be different but also similar (the girls will be sharing a bedroom so the quilts needed to compliment rather than clash).  I’d also made big sister Olive a quilt the other year and I needed to bring in a design element from her quilt too……

finished composition

After lots and lots of pots of tea, and many hours spent drafting out designs and colouring them in (even going so far as to paint up papers to create my own little paper patchworks to help with giving the work a sense of the fabrics) I arrived at two designs which I felt happy with….this was in fact helped by a few text messages with their awesome Aunty Ally who said their mum liked stars.  So I played around with different star blocks and incorporated one of the star designs with large squares to tie in with the quilt I’d made Olive.

fabric from Pretty Fabrics and Trims....

Then I set about choosing fabric.  I had a good idea of the sort of prints I was after, but I was seeing so many that I just couldn’t keep track so I made a pinterest board of all the fabrics I thought suitable….once I felt I had a really good selection of designs and colours, I went back through the boards and picked out particular favourites.

I also tried to limit myself to the amount of shops I was going to be purchasing from…it wasn’t an easy task and sadly I had to miss out a few gorgeous prints because perhaps that shop only had one print I liked, or only sold it by the half metre.  (Because I wanted to use lots of different fabrics I had to limit myself to only buying fat quarters)…..Anyway I whittled down some hundred different prints to about 20 that made my heart leap from three different shops.

fabrics from Sew and Quilt

I never stick to just one designer or company, (though Whistler Studios at Windham fabrics is a firm favorite of mine, and the Aunt Grace range from Marcus Brothers is very nice too)….I just prefer to really mix up the prints and colours for a better contrast.

I also ordered prints in different colour combinations as I always think that seeing the same print but in a different colourway adds extra interest to the overall look of the patchwork.

Once the fabric arrived it was all hand washed and hung on the line to dry. (I wash all my patchwork fabric, it still wrinkles and looks lovely and “antiquey” when it’s been quilted, but it’s also much easier to hand piece together when it’s had a wash first.)

lecien blue print star block

Then I spent a while combining the prints together to see which worked together the best.  This is a lot of fun because it means I get to spread out fabric everywhere, and can spend a coupe of days adjusting and moving prints back and forth until I’m happy and I feel the colours really sing. (this blue and pink combination is a real favourite)

I made a note of the fabrics which were being used and pinned tiny swatches to a work board so I could keep track of what was being used where.  Then the blocks were cut and I began to piece them together.

pinned star point pieces

All the patchwork was sewn together by hand, it’s my preferred method of working as it means whatever I’m sewing is nice and portable so if it’s sunny I can move my work basket out of doors, and it’s quiet so I can listen to music.

Once the stars for the first quilt were sewn I then set about pinning them together and joining them up to make the first patchwork top.

early moning shadows

The clocks changing and the sunshiney weather made a big difference to the light in my work room, several times I was treated to beautiful shadows dappled across the patchwork while the small squares were pinned on to a design board.

Once the “evening star” blocks were finished for the second quilt, I then had the challenge of arranging them so the prints and colours would sing and compliment rather than sit uneasily and grump. (trust me, if fabric isn’t sitting happy then it looks proper grumpy)

finished patchwork for quilt one

When the joined blocks are all finished it feels lovely….and I can begin to see the patchwork tops as quilts…I really think all the time spent playing with papers and painting them up to make the little paper patchworks paid off.   When I’ve explained to friends what I’ve been doing I could see them thinking “she’s off her rocker” but it was hard to imagine how the patchwork would look when you only use a solid colour…..the finished patchwork has come out just right, and captures for me…. sunny days, ice creams and lollies, day trips to the sea side… overwhelming feel of happiness and smiles.

all ready to quilt

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

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

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

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

needles in action

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

In the past I’ve used white chalk pencils or silver quilter’s pencils and ordinary hb pencils have been fine if I just press lightly.  When I’m quilting the baptist fan I like to thread up a load of quilting needles all at once and then i can just keep quilting rather than keep stopping and starting threading up needles…also I find working a curve with several needles on the go at any one time helps give the arc of the fan a nicer, more even curve.

translucent patchwork and quilting

When the quilting was completed, I sprayed the quilts with water and allow them an hour or so to dry in the sunshine outside, this freshened them up after they’d been on my lap and also allowed the fabric to crimple and pucker a bit more around the stitches….I loved how translucent the patchwork looks, and the quilting is just ghostly and barely noticeable.

Finishing a quilt always makes me sad….something that has been a big part of my life for the past some weeks (or more often years) is coming to an end.

then continue slip stitching along the rest of the binding

I prefer to make my own binding, it allows me to chose exactly which print or fabric I want, and not rely on what a shop stocks. Sewing the binding to the front, carefully joining the edges, rolling the binding over and sewing it to the back and then mitring the corners…tiny stitches all by hand…..

Slowly sewing the binding around the edges allows me my goodbyes, and generally I get a bit teary which I know is really daft.  It’s very hard to actually present someone with the quilt when it’s completed…so much of yourself has gone into it….you hope good things for it…to be held tight by sticky warm hands …to be loved and snuggled and cuddled ….night time reads when it’s made into a tent and books are quietly read by torchlight…poorly beds on the sofa where it helps someone feel better……maybe it will be wrapped round favourite bears and dolls when they need their “nap time”……off on it’s adventures…a reminder of home and family……one day looked at and a voice asking “did someone really sew this all by hand?”…………………

pinned into place and slip stitching along the edge

If you would like to commission one for yourself or someone precious then both quilt designs are now listed in my folksy shop or you can contact me directly if you would like something even more bespoke.

My patchwork essentials……or quilting on a budget part one….


When I first started quilting I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing, I’d watched a 15 minute program on telly showing how to make a log cabin quilt and I thought “oh, I think could do that”….and while I didn’t then make a log cabin that day, I tried my hand (okay-ish) at quilting a cushion cover. and a couple of other pieces though my stitching didn’t really look too much like pictures i was seeing in a book (this was all before the internet so didn’t have You-tube or anything like that to watch or get help from….luckily before I’d had enough of my new hobby I was fortunate enough to meet a lovely lady called Alison Farmer who took me under her wing who gently guided and showed me that bits I wasn’t quite understanding…..

My first trip to a specialist quilting shop with her was a revelation…the shop was stacked to the ceilings with more fabric than I’d ever seen in such a small place…..then there was a wall of equipment that I had no idea what it was for, including an array of the widest rulers I’d ever seen  (why on earth did they have what looked like a pizza cutter? ) not forgetting all the different threads and different needles.

At the time I was on an incredibly tight budget (and some things never change)  I bought some fabric and because the first quilt I made was a sampler quilt of my own design, I bought some quilters template plastic, and a packet of very fine “sharps” but that was it.  It didn’t look very much when I laid it on the counter but when it got rang through the til it still made me wince.


Over time I learnt what the other things were for (the pizza wheel or to use it’s proper name …the Rotary wheel, was a real eye opener) and some pricey items such as the big rulers I either saved up for or I’ve had bought for me when it’s been my birthday or Christmas and have been used more times than I believed possible.  My rotary cutter is a bit of a death trap but I find it really comfy to use compared to some of the skinny ones nowadays, my first transparent gridded ruler has barely any outer markings left but I like the size too much to part with it…….some of the leftover fabric scraps from that first quilt still crop up and get used in smaller projects.

piecing triangles

Anyway, after finishing the star quilts I thought I’d write a list of some of the things I use when I set about sewing a quilt (from piecing the patchwork to quilting the layers together)…..writing this post is the result of a couple of conversations I’ve had with different friends, we’ve talking about quilts and patchwork and a couple of friends felt even though they would like to take it up as a hobby, quilting is a rich persons’ hobby and that they couldn’t afford it….I disagreed because I certainly don’t think that is true although I think it can definitely seem that way on first appearance. I really hate that because much of the history of quilting and patchwork has come about by making something out of nothing, people from the poorest communities creating patchwork quilts that are rich in colour, texture and self expression.

At the end of the day, patchwork and quilting is all about joining fabric together with stitches. Fabric doesn’t have to be bought new, you don’t need a sewing machine, you can sew by hand, and scissors cut fabric fine.

stack of fabrics

Really, all you truly need to begin with is fabric, sewing cotton, needles, some pins and a pair of fabric scissors.  It also helps if you have a small pair of scissors to cut your thread with rather than keep using the larger fabric shears.  Those are your essentials and I’d guess the pins and scissors you’d have if you already sew…. It’s great if you have access to a sewing machine, but that isn’t truly an essential, but it does make sewing patchwork a lot faster.

Next would be something to make the templates for your patchwork with (you can use cereal box card) or if you aren’t using templates or papers, something to measure and cut your fabric.  Then comes the wadding or batting (an old wool blanket that has worn thing will suffice, or you could sew together things like old jogging bottoms and sweat shirts, big wool scarves from charity shops), backing fabric (you can make this out of smaller pieces of fabric sewn together if you want or use an old sheet), thread for the quilting and needles.

quilt books 003

There are loads of books now about patchwork and quilting, and a trip to your local library will nowadays reveal shelves heaving with books full of inspirational quilts.  Most of my quilting and patchwork books are second hand, picked up from charity shops and car boots.

I wrote a piece the other year about my favourite resource books, the Barbara Chainey one and the Maggie Malone book are both in the Norfolk Library system so you can take them out on loan…..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.

dresden plates 016

It’s a good idea to know what sort of quilt you intend to make,  this is going to sound rather odd but personally I think it is actually easier to start off making a decent sized quilt than something too small…….my first quilt took me cough cough…five years to make (it was a really huge one), but in that time I also made and finished other smaller quilts.  Working on the larger quilt allowed me to gain my confidence as a quilter, and also become a more accomplished sewer….

If you are looking to make a very light weight quilt for summer or to throw over the sofa then you could use an old flannel sheet as the batting, winter quilts would benefit from something more substantial. And then you have quilts that are for the wall or small pot holders so it’s good to have a think about the purpose of what you are making.

holiday sewing 006

One of the easiest types of quilts has a patchwork top made up out of different coloured squares.  There is also a block called Nine Patch which looks really effective repeated over in an array of fabrics.  I’ve mentioned before on my blog that I am a hand sewer, and sewing squares by hand is pretty easy, and it’s nice and portable…however if you prefer to use a sewing machine then that’s fine (I just have a tendency to go a bit doo lally when I get on a machine.)

The fabric you buy to make your patchwork top doesn’t have to be bought new, you can easily re-purpose items such as shirts or outgrown childrens clothes. Personally I find stitching stretchy fabrics like t shirts quite difficult so I tend to avoid using those, but shirts and summer dresses, light weight trousers and skirts are all good.  Pieced together t-shirts can be used as a batting though if you are looking to make a lightweight quilt as the patchwork and backing seems to stop any stretch. and it’s nice to sew through. You can also use fleece fabric as a batting, that gives a bit more of a quilty pucker when it is quilted.

pinks and red


Specialist quilting shops will sell  fabric called “quilting cotton”, this is lightweight and is perfect for patchwork, it doesn’t fray too badly and It gets softer and softer as it’s handled, washed and slept under. You can buy it in smaller quantities such as fat or thin quarters so you can pick and mix lots of different colours and pattern.  Linen is another option for fabric, while not being the easiest fabric to work with, it has a wonderful texture and wears really well.  My main piece of guidance here with buying “new” fabric would be to only buy fabric you really love…if you’re undecided and not sure in the shop then you aren’t going to be suddenly falling in love with it and wanting to sew with it when you get home… (I speak from experience)

However, both quilting cotton fabric and linen are pricey and can easily be out of a lot of peoples budget which is where using recycled/resalvaged fabrics can come in.

Recycled or re-purposed fabrics

Clothing from charity shops and carboots can be ideal to use in patchwork.  Things like cotton shirts are good as there is lots of fabric in them though I’d just advise checking that the fabric is strong enough and not too lightweight as you don’t want it to start tearing as you start sewing it. Old pillowcases and duvet covers, sheets and tablecloths are also good. The only down side is that they might be woven quite tight so can be a bit harder to sew through than the shirt cotton.  I think you should always use fabric you like but at the same time it’s best to know what the fabric may do a few washes down the road.

les soeurs anglais 002

Vintage fabric

Vintage cottons are generally a safe bet, they’ll already be soft from years of washing and being worn.  However some other fabrics don’t cope so well.. silk disintegrates or “shatters” and becomes almost like dust, some old velvets bleed colour non stop, so don’t cope brilliantly with being washed.  I think both of these are more suitable for crazy quilting with lots of embroidery to support the fabric.  (Certainly with vintage silk I’d go so far as to use a piece of lightweight American muslin underneath for support even with crazy quilting and embroidery)….old tweeds and woollen fabrics will quite often shrink so again they are best used in items that aren’t expecting to be washed in anything other than a very cool wash.

Really old, vintage fabrics which you think will be fine can often be a bit frail so you might want to check they haven’t been damaged by sunlight if you are buying them for patchwork (I once bought some lovely old curtain material to use in a quilt. It was folded up and tied off in a parcel so I didn’t get a chance to properly check it, when I got home it pretty much shedded apart when I shook it out as it was so fragile).

I would also say here that it’s always worth mentioning to friends and family if they have any spare fabric or do they know anyone who sews.  I’ve been extremely lucky and have been gifted heaps of lovely old sewing things from friends and family having clear outs.  Pretty much all the quilters and sewers I know have a bag or box of scraps that they are more than happy to share some of.  It might not be the fabrics that sets your heart on fire but it you never know….

vintage quilting needles

Needles for patchwork

The needles you generally use for hand sewing patchwork are called “sharps” or applique needles.  They are a bit skinnier than regular sewing needles and have very sharp points.  They tend to have quite a small eye to thread the sewing cotton through.  I’d also recommend milliners or straw needles. They are similar to the “sharps” but are slightly longer and finer needles, very sharp and again excellent for sewing patchwork and applique or sewing patchwork over papers.

When I’m piecing or sewing my patchwork I like a nice sharp needle and where possible favour vintage “sharps” as I find the older needles somewhat stronger than modern ones. (Norwich has loads of great antique/junk shops and many of them seem to sell vintage haberdashery items)…Brands I tend to use the most when buying new are John James, Milward and Newey Craft.  All of these are very good and have nice sharp tips. I like a number 10 needle myself but packets with a variety of different sizes in them are really good..

vintage threads

Sewing thread

Although I like to use a lot of vintage thread in my hand sewing such as Sylko Dewhurst, I’m also quite happy to sew with Gutterman 100% cotton thread.  I don’t like their polyester thread though, I find it tangles too much.  It’s fine when I’m using it in a sewing machine, but for hand sewing I prefer a 100% cotton thread.

Generally when you’re sewing patchwork, if you use grey thread you’ll find it blends in really well with most other colours, especially if you are using prints of more than one colour, and your stitches won’t be so noticeable when you turn over your seam.

cream blanket inner needlecase

Something to cut your fabric with

Obviously you need something to cut your fabric with, a good quality pair of fabric scissors will last you a life time as long as you don’t use them to cut anything else with.  (If you live in a household where you think someone might “borrow” them to cut wallpaper or hair then hide them.)  Merchant and Mills make really beautiful scissors and I’ve got a pair of their 8″ Tailor’s Shears……mine were a Christmas present, they get used loads, and when I’ve finished using them they get put away in their box.  But I also bought a pair of craft scissors from our local market which were well under £5 that I only use for fabric and they are still super sharp ten years later.

And a small pair of scissors or thread snips to cut thread with makes life handy.

Regarding rotary cutters….I didn’t buy one for quite a while, because I just didn’t need one. My first quilt was a big sampler and each block was unique, so I would cut out the templates for a block, and then draw round and cut with scissors the shapes required from my fabric.  And even if you are making a patchwork top with squares then you can quite happily draw round templates and cut your fabric with scissors.

Rotary cutters combined with a thick ruler, and a cutting mat can make life much easier however ( I’ve lost count of the times I’ve sewn up tiny little patchwork log cabin squares where I’ve had a stack of ironed fabric and have cut the fabric in strips before sewing together on a sewing machine) but if you’re on a tight budget and are really new to patchwork and quilting, I’d wait a while before investing in any expensive equipment.

ruler and template plastic

Quilter’s Template Plastic and cutting mat.

This can be bought in A3 sized sheets or in packs of A4.  It’s available gridded, plain or with an isometric pattern (which is good for cutting hexagons and diamonds. It depends what you are drawing or cutting as to which you’ll need.

You can buy templates already pre-cut.  Personally I like to make my own as it’s a lot cheaper, but you do need to be accurate in your cutting and drafting.

I have a small plastic square ruler by Creative Grids, (it measures 4 1/2 inches each side) and it cost me under £10.00 and I really don’t know how I managed without it.  Now I’m not saying you definitely need to go out and buy one of those, I make a lot of small patchwork and find this really handy as it’s small and I find I can be more accurate.  I also have a couple of bigger rulers but for me my small ruler is worth it’s weight in gold.

When I made my first quilt I bought a pack of gridded Quilter’s Template Plastic.  As it was already gridded I just had to very carefully cut out my templates along the pre-printed lines.

Cutting mats can be bought from art supply stores and a small A4 sized one is really handy even if you don’t have a rotary cutter, I use one I bought from a cheap stationers, and save it for tucking under my fabric to lean on when I’m drawing round my templates onto the cloth.

dutchman's puzzle 009

I think this pretty much covers what I think are the basics for sewing patchwork.

I really hope this helps anyone reading to see that quilting (and patchwork) doesn’t have to be a “rich persons past-time” …. I’ve never had much that is worth watching in my purse which is why I probably favour hand sewing over machine sewing, it does take longer but then it’s lots cheaper…I’ve tried not to let what’s not in my purse prevent me from enjoying what has become one of my favourite past-times.  (And when you’re making something for yourself or someone  you love, it’s nice to be able take your time.)