Thursday, 26 September 2019

Holiday sewing and a finished quilt top

We have recently returned from a week's holiday in Somerset, in an area designated AONB (area of outstanding natural beauty) called The Quantocks which is to the north of Taunton and the Somerset Levels.  We stayed in a beautiful 17th century cottage and pottered about, enjoying the peace and quiet.

As our dog is getting on in years (he will be 12 years old next week, so he is an elderly gentleman now), I managed to wangle a couple of days staying in the cottage sewing while the other family members went further afield.  What joy to be able to sit and handsew for several hours without the sound of traffic and all the interruptions of 'normal' life.

I made good progress on Arlington Square:

and I also managed to work on Robin's Nest which I have hardly touched since last summer holiday...

We visited several gardens: Hestercombe (below)

and Lytes Cary (below) where there was still so much glorious colour, even at the end of the season:

Enough holiday snaps, before I went away I had a mad week of sewing to make up for the previous dry spell.  I chainpieced madly, laid out and joined my bright Log Cabin variation blocks together:

The laundry rack came in handy after stitching and pressing the long rows:

And here are a selection of photos to give you an idea of the size of the top and variety of fabrics used:

Lots of seams but they sit quite neatly - always press outwards, from the centre to towards the edges of the block.

I didn't fussy cut on this occasion, and I'm not a great collector of novelty fabrics, but sometimes the centre block worked out with something interesting to look at:

Using up scraps, especially in such narrow strips, had a surprising effect: it has made me REALLY look at some of these fabrics and appreciate them in a way I didn't when I used the same fabrics in other quilts in much larger chunks.

And at Hestercombe there was even a Log Cabin made from tiles on edge in the paving!

Enjoy a gorgeous autumn wherever you are, and some sewing contentment too.

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Log Cabin variation: brights

I've had such a great week, back at my sewing machine at last: chainpiecing and using scrap fabric, my absolute favourite way of spending time!

I am teaching this little Log Cabin variation later this year, and having made a country version (blogged here) I thought it might be useful to make one with bright scraps. 

So having spent an evening cutting out pieces for my Arlington Square project (see my last post), and rotary cutting squares from the same fabrics towards another Emma Newman design, I had lots of new scraps to add to my bag of bright bits.

I sliced the scraps into 1" strips and some 2 1/2" squares, and then was able to chain piece, press and repeat over several days.  The lovely thing about a project like this is that once you have the pieces cut out you can sit and sew for short or long periods when you have a little spare time.

As I used up strips I went hunting for more scraps to chop up: it is a great way of spring cleaning your stash.  All sorts of bits and pieces were included in this pile, my only criterion being that the fabrics should be in bright clear colours with a white base, rather than cream.

I found that I made about 20 - 25 blocks a day and by the end of the week I had a pile of just over two hundred 5 1/2" blocks (I did burn the midnight oil a bit...).  However I note from my previous post that my earlier version of this design was made with 255 blocks, so maybe I still have a little way to go....

The eagle eyed among you may spot that the previous version I made was based on a centre square of 2" (cut size) so those little blocks finished at exactly 4 1/2" (5" unfinished).  I made this bright version from memory and started with a 2 1/2" centre square: this means my finished block will be slightly larger at 5" (5 1/2" unfinished).

Another batch waiting to be pressed.  I like to work on blocks at a variety of stages - I find it keeps the process interesting and I don't get bored as there are always new combinations of colour to try out.

The only problem is that making these little lovelies is slightly addictive, so I really need to stop now, clear the decks and put my remaining scraps to one side.  Not sure I am going to make this quilt quite as big as the last one, so maybe I will lay out what I have so far...

The other thing I did last week was long overdue: I spent part of a day updating my Pinterest board with photos of the quilts I have finished since I started this blog six years ago.  The previous pictures didn't always have effective links back to the relevant blogpost, which is so annoying.  Hopefully it is all OK now and will work properly.  I have also added a few more recently finished quilts.

Here is the link if you fancy a look:  For me it was a stroll down memory lane, and I was amazed at how efficient I was for a while in finishing off some longstanding WIPs.  As you know, my productivity has fallen off a cliff recently, but I am hoping to put that right over the next few months.

I have also been busy sorting out my store of fabric and associated sewing detritus as I have taken over my older son's room.  This is now set up as a sewing storage room - I won't actually sew in it until my younger son has moved out his computer etc next Spring.  

However it is a huge step forward to have almost all my fabric stored in one easily accessible place.  It will hopefully discourage me from buying too much more while I use what I've already got!  The storage units are Kallax from IKEA in Oak effect which tones well with the existing wardrobe.

Here's the old Singer treadle machine which has been in my mum's family for over eighty years.  I learned to sew on this machine (then powered by an added on electric motor).  A little while ago we had it converted back to treadle powered and re-polished.  So I will still be able to sew if the electricity is cut off!

The final thing I want to include in this post is a mention of the lovely handpiecing and applique workshop I did with Emma Newman's mother Judy Newman on the Friday before I met Emma.  Again the workshop was at Pincushion Pantiles in Tunbridge Wells.  As you probably know, I am not as confident with applique as I am with piecing, so I was a little apprehensive, especially having seen the wonderful quilts featured in the beautiful book Judy has recently had published by Quiltmania: Quilts for Life made with Love.

However Judy was absolutely lovely, very kind and encouraging and she started off with good advice about choosing fabric: to paraphrase her words, if you buy what you love it will always work with other fabrics you have bought, because you love them and you are drawn to the fabrics you feel comfortable with.

So here are the fabrics I am hoping to use for the quilt I will one day make from Judy's pattern, Sugar Plum.  Some recent Tilda fabric and some old Robyn Pandolph spots plus assorted fabrics collected along the way for no specific project.  I guess that fits Judy's prescription.

So far I have only managed to hand piece the centre of one block, but I learned such a lot from Judy about hand piecing curved seams, and the templates available made the cutting out and marking for piecing very easy and accurate.

Lots to do but all very inspiring so I only hope I can keep the momentum going and actually use these fabrics to make something lovely.  I will keep you posted...

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Renewed enthusiasm - Arlington Square

(Arlington Square quilt by Emma Newman)

Hi all, and thank you for reading this after a deplorably long absence by me from blogging - and indeed from sewing, alas.

'Never apologise, never explain' someone once said: that always seemed to me to be quite rude, and as annoying as 'Love means never having to say you're sorry', which really irritated me even as a naive teenager watching the film of Love Story which had just come out (that dates me!).

So I will apologise as I had made a sort of commitment to blog regularly, and I will explain - briefly -
that since January my life has been overtaken by heaps of admin, principally the organising/co-ordinating of our village show.  This is not an annual event, it usually happens every other year, but the last one was in 2016 and there were some changes this year which meant more work.

It is all run by volunteers and I was happy to do it, but it did end up being rather more complicated and time-consuming than I had anticipated.  However the good news is that it all went off very well on Saturday 6th July: everyone came, helped and had fun and we raised £6,300 for our small local charities - church, infant school and community nursery.

Since then, over the past month there has been a certain amount of post-Fete admin, a LOT of catching-up-on-all-the-jobs-which-weren't-done-at-home admin, my younger son's graduation, the decorators painting two bedrooms (more in a later post) and a number of fun outings including some sewing related ones.

And because you are really (and quite understandably) only interested in sewing matters rather than details of my domestic circumstances, I will crack on.

Yesterday I had a splendid day out at Pincushion Pantiles in beautiful and historic Tunbridge Wells.  It rained all day but we didn't care as we weren't there to enjoy the beauty or the history of the town, but for a workshop with the lovely Emma Newman of Emma Mary Designs and owner of Queen of Fabric, a quilt shop in Melbourne, Australia.

I went with my friend Sylvia and as ever Jenny, who set up Pincushion almost exactly a year ago, made us incredibly welcome. This is the most gorgeous shop and if you are anywhere near Kent in the south-east corner of England (but easily accessible by train from London), I urge you to visit. You will not be disappointed.

Jenny has organised some star quilt makers and tutors from Australia to come and teach - I am so lucky to have been able to attend some of the workshops.  I met Susan Smith (author of a lovely book, Quilts Somewhat in the Middle) in April and Emma's mum Judy Newman for a class on Friday last week, but yesterday was Emma and we were hand piecing her Arlington Square design which was featured in Quiltmania issue 130 a few months ago.

I am so much more comfortable with hand piecing than with applique (which Judy was teaching on Friday and which I will post about separately) and I really enjoyed the class.  Emma did a great job sharing tips to improve our skills and her actual quilt is fabulous: bursting with colour and lots of interesting quirky fabrics - you just see something new every time you look at it.  I'm afraid my photos don't do it justice.  The hand quilting with perle thread is simple and functional and keeps the quilt lovely and soft.

We all made good progress and completed one block and were well on the way to finishing a second.  This wasn't bad considering the amount of chat going on and the regular pauses for coffee and cake and the fabulous lunch which had to be allowed for.  Emma has plastic templates available to buy with the pattern which made cutting out and marking the sewing lines and registration points really easy, so the block was straightforward to put together once we knew the order, and very accurate.

Pressing is important too to minimise bulk where the seams intersect.  There are 17 pieces in each 10 inch block (finished size) but leaving the seam allowances free to rotate means you can adjust the layout on the reverse and press as suits best once the block is complete.

Below is a selection of the blocks we made in class: although we did not butt the blocks up close, you may be able to see from the photo that when the blocks are put together a secondary four-pointed star is created which adds to the overall interest and complexity of the design.  The last picture in this post which is taken of Emma's quilt features that star.

I have come home and sorted out another stack of fabrics from my stash which, together with the ones I bought at Pincushion, will, I hope, make this quilt suitably scrappy, if not as gloriously vibrant as Emma's.  My intention is to cut out and mark lots of patches so I can take them on holiday in September and spend evenings piecing quietly by hand.  What could be nicer?

To make the cutting process even better I treated myself to a pair of Karen Kay Buckley's Perfect Scissors as they came so highly recommended by Emma and Jenny and I had a chance to try them out - fantastically sharp and precise, a joy to use.  I also bought a small grippy design mat which helps to keep all the pieces in place and feels a lot nicer than a sandpaper board. (Both items and Arlington Square pattern and templates are available from Pincushion Pantiles).

So thank you Emma and Jenny for a great day with excellent company too.  I am inspired to get back into the quiltmaking saddle and really try to organise my time to make space for sewing every day if possible.  I hope you too all find time to enjoy your own sewing.

(Arlington Square quilt by Emma Newman)