Friday, 21 October 2016

Housekeeping 2 and a finished top

Hi all,
Hope you have had a good week.  I have been continuing to clear out boxes and trying to consolidate my quilting stuff which has migrated into every corner of our not-very-large house.  As we will shortly be having to store even more belongings from our almost grown up children I am trying to be creative in finding space.  Along the way I have made some discoveries...

Having triumphantly bordered and packed up my string quilt last week and sent it for longarm quilting, I found another stack of completed string blocks tucked away. If I didn't love string quilts so much, I might have been quite cross!

So now I have enough for a fourth string quilt, though I have had to find a substitute for the narrow black sashing as I ran out of the original fabric. Still, that's no bad thing for a scrap quilt, is it?

Though the blocks are together now, I haven't chosen the second sashing and borders, so this quilt will have to wait a little longer to qualify as a finished top even.

However I do have a finished top to share: Madras Star and Lattice.

I pulled out every box from under every bed and behind every sofa, and am ashamed to admit that I have at least 20 finished tops with backing allocated just waiting to be quilted. I really do have to prioritise quilting, starting next week, but I still have piecing on various projects to do, which I love so much more.

As a compromise, I made myself put borders (inner one 1 3/4" plain calico, outer one 2 1/2", strip pieced from Madras cotton leftovers) on this almost finished top which must be at least 10 years old.

I also pieced the backing from the large pieces I had set aside for that purpose: who knew I was so organised way back then?!

So this is my finish for Finish it up Friday and a link to Crazy Mom Quilts, as it is a definite lurch towards a finished quilt - I've moved to the next level anyway.

Aren't windy days great for photographing quilts?

Hope to get this one layered and quilted next week.  Good luck with your own UFOs/WIPs this weekend.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016


OK, so after last post's two small finishes, I have been encouraged to tackle some of my WIPs - seriously. No distractions. It really is time. No excuses.

I have got back in the groove with some chain piecing: I love the 365 Challenge but I have missed the rhythm of pushing fabric pieces through the sewing machine and generally being able to disengage the brain for a while. The chain piecing is purposeful and in order to finish genuine WIPs. I promise I haven't started any new projects, and I will show more in coming weeks.

My efforts yesterday, however, focussed on getting a top ready for longarm quilting. I made another string quilt a while ago.  My carrier bag of scrappy scraps was overflowing, I used my favourite technique which involves stitching the scraps and strings on to very lightweight vilene squares - this gives stability and you don't need to rip out the paper, hooray.

The top had got as far as blocks joined with double sashing, but then I needed a backing.  I have made two string quilts like this in the past (says something about the scraps I generate), and I favour a snuggly brushed cotton for a country style quilt.  So while on holiday in Cornwall I went to Cowslip Workshops and bought the backing.

Yes, I know that was back in August...  Yesterday I decided the time had come.  I wanted to border the quilt blocks, so I worked out the maximum size the finished quilt could be with the backing I had bought, and worked out my borders based on the amount of fabric I had (chosen from stash) for the borders.

Then I cut and stitched the borders, joined the two backing pieces, pressed everything and delivered all to my friend Chris at The Quilt Room this afternoon.  Job done.  You won't see it for a while but I will do proper photos when it is quilted and bound.  I can just about justify the longarming on the basis that, apart from the vilene foundation and the backing and wadding, the quilt is entirely from stash or scrap bag. It will be one of those quilts it is easy to be comfortable with. Not precious, just cosy.

While in the mood for a turn out, and looking for some calico (muslin) for another project, I tipped out all my boxes and was appalled not only by the amount of fabric I seem to have squirrelled away, but by the number of WIPs, including some I had completely forgotten.  

Many of these are at the finished top stage and I had even parcelled away backing and binding: it is just the quilting which is holding me back.  I don't know whether I can even bring myself to count up and admit just how many are waiting for attention. All that work counts for nothing unless it is actually finished and becomes a quilt someone can use.

But that's for another post.... Thank you for reading and sharing my quilting life. Hope you make progress with some of your WIPs.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Two small Friday finishes

Well, it's something, I suppose! Despite all my best intentions expressed in the last post, still too much to do on the home front and sewing has had to be set aside for a few more weeks. Now finally I have a little more time and I have decided to take a short break from the 365 Challenge to clear one or two of my WIPs.

Maybe it is having to empty my mum-in-law's flat to prepare it for sale that is making me twitchy about the amount of fabric and unfinished projects tucked away in odd corners, but this week I went through some of my boxes and dug out some half finished items. Needless to say they only took a short time to complete - so why hadn't I tackled them before? Probably the siren call of new fabric and patterns....

Anyway, here is a blast from the past, and two tiny finishes for Finish it up Friday - it's been a long time since I have been able to type those words....

First is a small table runner made from coral coloured fabrics in a sort of Bargello layout. It measures 15" x 25" and the rectangles are 1 1/2" x 2 1/2" finished. Most of the fabrics are from a range by French General for Moda quite some time ago.

The story behind this small patchwork piece is that about 6 years ago I was asked by a friend to make her a quilt for her bedroom, to co-ordinate with a rug and an upholstered chair in a soft coral pink. I don't usually take on 'commissions' as I always seem to be short on time and it is not always easy to judge whether what you are making is quite what your friend had in mind.  

However, for various reasons, I agreed, on the basis that my friend would buy the fabric, and pay to have the quilt long arm quilted. I knew her bed was a large double and she wanted the quilt to drape to the floor so there was no way I felt up to quilting what would turn out to be a king size quilt.

I was also anxious that we might not be able to find fabric to match the colour scheme of the bedroom and explained that we quilters are at the mercy of the fabric manufacturers and that the quilting industry is as much at the mercy of fashion when it comes to current colours as the clothing industry.

Anyway as it turned out there was this range in precisely the colours required, my friend chose Trip around the World which was nice and straightforward for piecing, and the top went together like a dream. Apart from her shock at having to buy 9 metres of backing fabric (I said it turned out kingsize, didn't I?) it was generally a happy experience for us both, and my friend Susie Green made a fantastic job of the quilting.

Apologies for the slight colour cast on these photos of the finished quilt - back in 2010 the camera decided to use flash and I guess I let it. The true colours are as for the table runner below.

I had very little fabric left over but just enough to make two pillow shams, and then I thought that was that. Until I opened a box which had not been unpacked for some time, and found just enough fabric scraps to make, back and bind the table runner. I shall be delivering this rather belated surprise next week!

My second finish goes back even further, to a time when I was asked to contribute to a series of basic quiltmaking books. I had made a baby quilt in soft blue and pink Shoo Fly and Nine patch blocks, and found amongst my fabrics that I still had six blocks  which I had at some time in the past sashed into a very small top.

So this week I layered and quilted (hardly a very onerous task!) and bound with a bias strip, so as to have the plaid on the cross - horribly stretchy but just about OK and worth doing for the look of it.

This is a tiny quilt, measuring just 13 1/2" x 19 1/2" (the blocks finish at 4 1/2" square), so I think it is destined for a local premature baby unit. Still, it is nice to have finished it, rather than it being yet another UFO.

So I can, with a clear conscience, link to Crazy Mom Quilts for Finish it up Friday, though I admire Amanda Jean's finished WIP far more than my feeble efforts. Must do better next week!
Hope you all have a happy and productive weekend!

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Sewing again at last - 365 Challenge updated

It is well over two months since I last blogged - apologies to anyone out there who may have been kind enough to stop by, just to be disappointed. Such a lot has been happening that I am not sure how (or whether) I am going to recap it all, but I will concentrate in this post on what I have managed to do in the past two weeks.

After no sewing at all for two months I managed to get back into my 365 Challenge (see this post) and first of all caught up with a few 'missing' blocks from earlier months. By 'earlier' I mean March and April (!) - I confess I had skipped one or two of the more difficult blocks and needed to go back and fill in the gaps before embarking on the new stuff.

These months were mostly the small (3") blue blocks which will form the first border of the medallion. I now reckon I am up to date and should probably lay out and sew the border together or I could get into a real muddle. I have about a hundred blocks sitting in a box so it's probably time...

Next up though was May: large, ie 6" finished, light blocks which will form the next border of the medallion - here's the link if you'd like to see what I mean.  

I had made a start on the light blocks before my life was taken over by organising village events and my mum-in-law had a series of health crises.  I had managed to do about half the May blocks so was pretty much on  schedule, when real life got in the way.  I shouldn't grumble, patchwork is a hobby and needs to take second place sometimes. At least fabric doesn't go 'off' and it will still be there waiting for us when other things are less pressing.

So, back to business and I have made progress: May is now complete and I am into June. Here are the blocks I made last night, not yet pressed.  I don't know whether any of you are doing the Challenge but I have found that because the pieces are so small it is usually OK just to finger press the seams as I sew them.  If I had a mini iron set up next to my sewing machine I guess I would use it, but my ironing board is in the next room and I just want to keep sewing...

Once our village fete was over and we had tied up all the loose ends, we had a week's holiday in Cornwall.  I will save our holiday snaps for another post but will share some of the fabric I bought at Cowslip Workshops which I shall use in this quilt. I do love blue...

And I will leave you with a glimpse of my sewing room (aka dining room when we can squeeze on the end of the table). Another good thing about the summer is being able to eat outdoors as I don't have to push my sewing to one side so we can eat!

Thanks for visiting my blog - I shall try not to fall so far behind again.  Hope you make progress this week on all fronts!

Friday, 17 June 2016

Bargello Wedding Quilt

It's been so long since I had a finish to link to Finish it up Friday at Crazy Mom Quilts.  As I said in my last post, I have hardly sewn at all recently, but I can now show you the quilt I made for the couple whose wedding I went to on 2nd April.  I previously posted about it here and here.

I don't like to reveal wedding quilts until after the big day when I know the bride and groom like what I have made, and what with honeymoon and returning to work and settling into their new life together, I hadn't heard from the happy couple for a while.  I totally understand, I can remember that newly wed time really vividly; I am just explaining the reason for keeping all of you hanging on waiting for the big reveal!

So I hope you think it worth the wait - I am pretty pleased with this one.  I adore the colours so it was an easy quilt to work on; as the bride has the same birthday as me, maybe we are aligned in our colour preferences - has anyone out there done any research on this phenomenon?!  The starting point for the colour palette was the burgundy in the centre of the quilt which was a close match to the bridesmaids' dresses.  There are ten fabrics in the top, and the binding is the same as the backing fabric.

I sort of made up the cutting plan for the Bargello effect.  I looked at lots of other Bargellos in books and on the internet, but I wanted a more contemporary look, not  curvy, more angular, crisp, dare I say modern?  The flow is all determined by the intervals and spacing of the steps.  I never have the patience to draw a design out on graph paper so I fiddled about and made up some strip sets based on 3" WOF strips.  

It was pretty much trial and error to get the right combination of steps: I couldn't risk cutting too soon as I only had a half metre of each of the peppered cottons and that determined the size of the quilt. Anyway I made my widest section 2" finished (cut 2 1/2") and the narrowest 1/2" (cut 1"). Increments were 1/4".  I think it is the very narrow sections which give the design its punch. Pressing in opposite directions helps to ensure neat intersections and the top went together surprisingly easily.

Every last piece of the fabric went into the cushion - even the sides and back were from the spare pieces of backing from the quilt.  Below you can see how the central panel of the cushion was made by chopping up and joining the remaining sections into 1" widths, finishing at 1/2".  The firm texture created by all the seam allowances pressed behind meant I did not have to quilt the panel.

All fabric was from stash apart from the backing, though the peppered cottons were relatively recent stash. The bride and groom are on the scientific side in their areas of work and I don't like to do anything too flowery for a wedding quilt so the chap doesn't feel excluded.  So I chose mostly plains and not any very definite florals for this quilt.  The patterned fabrics were needed to fill in the gaps in the run of colours but I think that they do enhance by contrasting with the plainness of the solids.

The quilt was professionally longarm quilted by my friend Chris at The Quilt Room - she did a great job and the flowing linear design was just what I was looking for to enhance the modern feel.  I chose a variegated pink/purple thread and I think it worked a treat.

I can't remember exactly what size the quilt measured, it's a large lap quilt so maybe 60" x 75", but I will have to get back to you on that one.  The cushion is about 16" square.

I really enjoyed making this quilt and would like to make another when I am not so busy.  I may even try and write a tutorial if anyone out there is interested, but I have to get the fete over first: three weeks' to go!

Hope you have a great weekend, whatever you have planned.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Apron strings and pretty things

Tried for a Friday finish last week, even took the photos, but just no time to write a post. So here is what I would have posted had there been more hours in the day: utility sewing, nothing fancy but still with that great sense of achievement that sewing, any sort of making really, gives.

I LOVE being able to make useful things and not having to buy everything ready made.  It is a power (OK maybe not a superpower, though I could make my own cape if it was a superpower) but it makes me feel powerful in a small, domestic way, to be able to make a few tablecloths and aprons for our Street Tea Party last Saturday.

So what was that all about?  Well, even those of you who live further afield may know that our Queen, Queen Elizabeth II, is 90 years old.  She has a real birthday, 21st April, but she also has an official birthday in June when she attends the Trooping of the Colour ceremony (that happens every year and it is the same for other monarchs, going back to 1748 according to Wikipedia).

This year, because she is ninety (and incidentally our longest reigning monarch at over 64 years and counting, beating Queen Victoria) there have been celebrations of various sorts organised in London and also at a local level throughout the country.  In our small village it was decided we would have a Street Tea Party (amongst other events) and guess who got asked to 'pour the tea' aka organise the teas side of the whole thing (which at a tea party is most of it...).

Anyway despite a bit of grumbling in the planning stages, mostly generated buy anxiety at not knowing exact numbers for the catering, it was a fantastic day: the weather was kind, everyone mucked in and lent a hand, lots of people came and ate heartily so there was enough food but not too much left over - such a relief! - the kids had fun on the bouncy castle, and it was a real community event with all ages and across all groups.

And the T-team wore matching pinnies in Cath Kidston style florals from IKEA (£5 a metre, get it before it's gone) made by yours truly.  I had the same fabric quite a few years ago and made three large tablecloths which I have used and used many times for all sorts of occasions.  These are at the bottom of the pile in the photo below.

I rushed to IKEA a couple of weeks ago to get whatever cheap fabric I could for aprons and to my delight, the florals have been reissued (though if I'm honest, not quite such good quality fabric) for a limited time.  I scooped up enough to make six simple aprons with contrast pockets and straps. I just copied the pattern from a favourite apron; very simple sewing, speedy but satisfying.

I also bough some grey/white gingham (much better fabric, a bit thicker but also brilliant value at £8 per metre, 150 cm wide) and made eight small tablecloths for card tables.

Now it is on with the remaining organisation for the fete in three weeks' time so I can't see myself doing any more sewing till August at this rate.  I will have another quilt to post about shortly though - remember the Bargello wedding quilt?  Stay tuned for photos soon.

Have a great weekend if you are celebrating anything at all - my daughter will be home for her birthday and her two brothers also, so I shall be very busy and happy catching up with all their news.

Monday, 30 May 2016

365 Challenge - update

Nearly a month since I last posted - my apologies.  Life here has been complicated and consumed by unavoidable domestic responsibilities.  I am sure I am not alone in having to shelve sewing from time to time to attend to more immediate (can't really say 'pressing'!) concerns.

However there have been some highlights in amongst everything else: I ran a successful Plant Sale in aid of our village playground (the equipment needs replacing after 15 years) and raised lots of money; now busy organising the village fete which is in less that six weeks' time, still much to do.

Best of all was a free ticket to the Chelsea Flower Show on Friday last.  Such an unexpected  treat, and such an amazing show.  The weather was perfect, sunny but not too hot, the gardens were beyond perfect and there were so many interesting plants displayed with art and imagination. Watching the coverage on television just does not compare with seeing it all close up.  

We spent over 8 hours there, and probably could have spent even longer but our feet had just about had enough.  As at the French quilt show, I feel my reserves of colour and inspiration have been topped up for the next year at least.  I hope you all manage to get your fix of creative stimulation somewhere this summer.

So you will understand perhaps why I have not been sewing recently, but I wanted to get another post written before we are into June.  Nearly half way though 2016 - how did that happen?  Before it all got quite so crazy here I was managing more or less to keep up with my 365 Challenge.  I had almost done all the 3" blue blocks, had pieced the middle and first borders, and started on the 6" light blocks.

These are the blue blocks for the month of March (though I think I did most of them in April).

This is the 18" centre medallion and first borders roughly pinned to my design board.  You can see that I have used the same fabrics for all four borders although they are different designs: I am now thinking that as it is a very scrappy quilt I should have used a greater variety of fabrics in the borders. So that will probably need changing in due course.

For the time being, though, I had decided to press on with the 6" light blocks and I had managed to do about half of May's blocks before grinding to a halt.  I was managing about two of the 6" blocks in an evening, so should have been able to catch up.  Unfortunately though, I have not sewn anything for a couple of weeks and there is no prospect of any sewing for the foreseeable.

Despite the recent lack of progress and being constantly behind, I have absolutely loved making these blocks and would not hesitate to recommend the challenge to you.  Each new block is a new adventure and it is so satisfying to get the block together satisfactorily.  Some blocks are harder than others, but those are often the most rewarding and attractive blocks.  And of course there is the endless fun of playing with colour and pattern, which is what we all love about patchwork in the first place.

We are not quite half way through - if you fancy joining in, the downloads are available here, and the series will be repeated next year, I believe.

Monday, 9 May 2016

French Quilt Show 2016 - Part 2

Hello again.  I hope you enjoyed yesterday's quick tour of some of the inspiring quilts from the recent Pour l'Amour du Fil show.  If so, there is a further treat in store as I will now post photos of the gorgeous quilts designed and/or made by Yoko Saito featured in her new book Scrap Valley, which is published by Quiltmania.

This post is going to be heavy on photos, light on text, so feast your eyes!

I know I've said before that I am not mad keen on hexagons in the traditional Grandmother's Flower Garden arrangement - well, this is a glorious exception, just look at all those wonderful taupes.

This was a cushion cover: tiny quilting stitches.  Look how randomly she has cut from the striped fabric, and yet it works brilliantly.

This one is called Blazing Sun.

This is a small section of a beauty called Checkerboard, and before you start thinking about quick ways to strip piece it, you need to know that the squares measure about half an inch and they are all pieced over papers and whip stitched together with tiny stitches!

These are not the hands of Yoko Saito herself but of her assistant who was patiently sewing together the tiny squares into rows.

This quilt is titled 3955 pieces! It almost looks like a crocheted blanket at a distance with the dog tooth borders to the blocks.

The close ups show the exquisite hand quilting which overlays the piecing, different for each block.

Next is a wonderful bed quilt, entitled Kindness, which is in a soft palette.  Meticulous applique and perfect feathered stars enhanced with beautiful hand quilting and embroidery.

And the piece de resistance, to my mind, was this quilt in a rather unusual palette of greys and blues, not at all what I expected from Yoko Saito, but totally stunning in terms of its design and execution.

This was quite a large quilt and, so far as I could see, the design did not repeat: all the applique flowers are different and they are embellished with a variety of embroidery stitches.  There are birds and insects worked into the layout too, and then the whole thing is quilted freely.  Exquisite.

I think that a number of these astonishing quilts may be designed by Yoko Saito but made by other Japanese ladies.  You would need to look at the book to be sure.  Certainly I would need a number of lifetimes to be able to make all these beauties, and of course a massive transfusion of skill and Japanese sensibility!

I have also included a few random pics of other quilts which took my eye for one reason or another; most of these are by Japanese quiltmakers showing the same devotion to their craft.

Apart from the intricate piecing and applique, one of the striking characteristics of all these diverse quilts is that they are hand quilted, which gives them the most wonderful texture.  I am now seriously reconsidering handquilting one or two of my pending quilts....

And here are a few quilts from Linda Koenig's stand which were rather more within my reach and skill level.

And to finish, three quilts from recent issues of Quiltmania or its sister publication Simply Vintage which I might even think about making one day...

Well done if you made it through to the end.  I hope you don't have visual indigestion.  As you can probably tell, I had a totally wonderful time at this show.  I have posted only a fraction of the photos I took, and those photos recorded only a small part of all that there was to see.
The stalls of the vendors were beautiful too with lovely samples to tempt us.

 I have put next year's date in my 2017 diary.