This is my church. This is where I heal my hurt. God is a sewing machine.

I am, as ever, hugely lucky in my friends.  In times of difficulty (and this is such a time), people have rallied around and supported me, and I feel very loved.  My hugely wonderful friend Penny (who runs Rats as Big as Cats here, and here) invited me to visit her family in Hereford.  Last time I spent more than a day with them was when I began quilting the Japanese quilt.  Which, as it turns out, was over 5 years ago.  On that occasion, I ran out of time to finish the quilting, and so hastily basted what hadn’t been done and brought it home to do in my machine.

Only, that never happened.

So I took the quilt back to Hereford with me, and spent a wonderful (frustrating) day in Penny’s studio, finishing the quilting.  Wonderful, because I finished it.  Frustrating because…. oh, the thread wouldn’t run through the machine without fraying and snagging.  So we went to Doughty’s, who are conveniently just down the road, to get more thread.  I had originally been working in a Gutterman Sulky variegated thread, which worked with the whole colour scheme.  But Penny had offered a Gutterman plain embroidery thread, which worked with the sewing machine (I think I was using Penny’s own machine, five years ago).  And that had run out.  So we went to get more.  I took the empty thread bobbin with me, and they didn’t have *quite* enough.  I needed to change colour.  My eye got distracted by a lovely variegated thread.  Penny very gently suggested it was the same as the one I’d already given up on, but I was insistent.  Magpie-drawn to the pretty colours, I wouldn’t listen.  I spoke to a lady who’d never seen my quilt, or my thread, or my sewing machine.  She was a very nice lady.  She assured me the thread would work perfectly.  So I bought a lot of it.  And we took it back to the studio, and I unrolled the back roller of the quilting frame, manoeuvred the machine out of it, wound some bobbins, threaded up, manoeuvred it all back in again, rolled up the back roller and…. it was exactly the same as the thread I’d already rejected, and frayed and snapped in (predictably) exactly the same way.

I did what any rational adult human would do, and gave serious consideration to burning the whole fucking thing.  With fire.

Luckily, snuggles with Baby A are very soothing, and Penny is very gentle, and the quilt survived my stupidity.

So I got up early(ish – this is a relative concept) in the morning and headed back to Doughty’s to exchange the wrong thread for the right thread.  And whizzed back to Penny’s and repeated the whole unrolling and manoeuvring shenanigans, and set off again.  Bingo!  The right thread worked perfectly!  Within two (maybe three) hours, the quilting was done.

There were some pre-existing challenges with quilting in Penny’s frame.  I had originally, five years ago, made the quilt as a full-size double.  The frame is a queen-size.  So there was always a fit issue.  Over the past five years, the quilt has not shrunk and the frame has not grown.  So I was only able to quilt *most* of the surface.  The original plan was to finish the quilting in my machine, but I had, in the intervening years, made a couple of attempts to manoeuvre this beast by hand, and it was just too heavy to be able to do the density of free machine quilting I’d achieved in the frame.

So yesterday, when I’d done as much as I possibly could in the frame, I simply chopped off the bits the frame hadn’t reached.  So it’s a cut-down quilt.  Apart from the link above, I don’t have any images of its pre-cut-down state.  The link above has images before the borders went on.  And the borders have come off again, now.

When I got home, last night, I whizzed up some binding from the chopped-off borders, and stitched them on in front of the TV.  Then I threw the whole thing in the washing machine.  It’s not perfect – and it was once going to be a technically astounding piece (that’s how I planned it, anyway).  The backing has wrinkled by dint of being taken off the frame and then stored and then put back on the frame in a fairly approximate way.  It’s shorter and narrower than I planned it.  It’s a different quilt in practice than it was in my head.

But this is part of my healing.  Much of my life is suddenly not as I’ve been planning it, in the five years it’s taken me to finish this quilt.  It was all going to be one thing, and now it’s going to be another thing entirely.  I’m sad about the lost borders and different dimensions of my quilt, and I’m quietly devastated about the wider changes.  But the lesson this quilt delivers is twofold: first, a change of plan doesn’t render everything else useless or redundant.  You can work successfully with what’s left, and still end up with something lovely.  Secondly, the love and support of friends makes pretty much anything possible.


Beat me to it!

One of my oldest friends became a grandmother, in the wee small hours of this morning.  She will be the best granny! [edit: I’d just like to point out that ‘oldest’, in this context, refers to the longevity of the friendship, NOT the age of the friend! Erk…]

I thought the occasion marked a quick and dirty tiny person quilt.  I happen to have bought a jelly roll of rainbow coloured strips from Doughtys, the last time I was visiting Penny in Hereford, and it was just perfect for a baby sized knock-up.  I used up some of the background fabric left over from the wedding quilt‘s early drafts, and backed it with a piece of flannel that’s been in my stash roughly forever.  In fact, it may well have come from a co-op organised by the new granny, since that tends to be where I bought flannel from in the olden days…

Anyway, since I don’t think the recipient will be reading this, I’m putting up photos before the parcel has been received.  Here’s my rainy Sunday, “You Beat Me To It, Granny” quilt for the new little person in that family.  I hope they all enjoy it.

Beating the deadline…

When I say beating the deadline, you have to understand I mean it very much in the “deadline passed, this is the new deadline” kind of way…. But I have finished the wedding quilt!!

This quilt is my sister’s wedding present.  My sister’s wedding is 3rd July, so you see how the deadline reference creeps in.  However, I am not blogging the quilt from the wedding reception. Oh no, that would be rude!  My sister’s wedding is (was) 3rd July 2004.  (Not that I behaved entirely impeccably at her wedding reception anyway, but that’s a *whole* other story….)  So I’ve beaten the 10 year deadline.  Just…

There is, of course, a story which explains perfectly why this quilt has taken so long.  In fact, there are several stories.  May I give you some tasters?  No spoilers.  Just snippets.

Sissy and her lovely husband got engaged in New York.  So when I set out to make the quilt, I thought it would be good to make one which combined a double wedding ring design with a New York Beauty design.  In 2004, this wasn’t an *entirely* stupid idea.  Mostly, but not entirely.  I had spent the last 4 years being a stay at home mummy, and I was used to having the time to implement my technically complex, ambitious ideas.  However, in January of 2004 my marriage had ended, and in May I began working full time again.  Which made the idea *almost* entirely stupid.  Because these are both technically difficult, time consuming blocks.

Not one to acknowledge my own stupidity, I ploughed on for a couple of years, trying to get New York Beauties to work.  Trying to integrate them with Double Wedding Rings.  I must have cut up, stitched together, and thrown away about £200 worth of fabric, trying to get my almost entirely stupid idea to work.  Eventually, my then boyfriend went to work and made me some templates.  It just so happened that my then boyfriend worked at Bentley.  So the templates were cut from steel left over from making Bentleys.  Kind of the Rolls Royce of quilt templates, then.  Except, more the Bentley of quilt templates.  And so, eventually, I made a successful New York Beauty.  And there it is, on the right.

Unfortunately, by this time, I had done two things.  The first was to run out of the fabrics I had intended to make the quilt out of.  Still… I’ve never been one to let a small thing like that defeat me! So I spent almost the entire holiday one Christmas, tracking down the world’s last remaining fat quarter of one particular Michael Millar grape coloured fabric.  It was in some remote and Christian part of the US, and it wouldn’t ship for almost eleventy billion weeks, but it meant I could carry on with my New York Beauties.  So I bought it, and paid over a kidney and two small children in shipping, and waited…

The second thing I had achieved in all this time (about 4 years) was to recognise that I would never have the time in my new life to make a quilt out of New York Beauties and Double Wedding Rings.  Still, I thought I could use the NYBs I had already made.  Singular.  NYB.  I wasn’t sure how, but I knew I could.

So I thought about it for a couple of years.
And a bit longer.

I might even have made another couple of New York Beauties.  Maybe.

But they wouldn’t ever fit together quite right, and I couldn’t make a coherent narrative out of them.  So eventually I abandoned that plan, rare fabrics and all.

Then I decided to return to triangles.  I hadn’t made a triangle quilt since the decidedly leary quilt I made my mother, right at the beginning.  So I made the granny quilt, and then thought I’d try a traditional triangle block.  I wondered about flying geese, and I began experimenting.  If you scroll back to 1 January 2013, you can see the story unfolding…

Anyway, I came up with a flying geese design, and built it around a theme of cream on white roses which echoed Sissy’s wedding theme quite well.  And piece by piece, block by block, it began to take shape.

Once I’d finished the top, I needed to get some backing fabric.  I found some in Hereford, on a visit to my lovely friend Penny.  And then I had no more excuses, so I basted the quilt.  And then it sat around for a month or two.  Which, in the great scheme of the journey this quilt has been on, was virtually no time at all!

This weekend, conscious of the looming deadline, I sat down to quilt it.  This quilt is 8′ long by 7′ wide.  Ish.  It’s big and it’s heavy and it was bastard hard to manipulate through the throat of a sewing machine.  But goddamit! I had a deadline!

I wanted to free machine an excerpt from the reading I read at the wedding.  It’s a beautiful reading – an American Indian blessing – which, because of my own recent separation, I found ridiculously hard to read, on the day.  The whole blessing reads:

“Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be shelter for the other. Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be warmth to the other. Now there will be no loneliness, for each of you will be companion to the other. Now you are two persons, but there is only one life before you. May happiness be your companion and may your days be good and long upon the earth.”

Obviously, I couldn’t get all of that on the face of the quilt, so I chose selectively…

After I’d wrangled that through the machine, my back and shoulders and hands were tense and sore, and I wasn’t wild about the idea of doing much creative wrangling, so I finished the quilting in a stitch in the ditch grid, across the sashings of the flying geese blocks.

And then, dear reader, THEN I discovered I’d run out of that lovely Everton blue, and couldn’t do the binding.

Buggery bollocks.

So I traipsed all the way round Oxford (via Google) and I found Masons in Abingdon (which I had found before via said famous Penny) and I found a blue fabric of very nearly the same shade and type.  Very nearly, but NOT BLOODY QUITE.  So I bought an elegant sufficiency and took it home, to work out what in the name of all that was holy I was going to do next.

I hit upon a very elegant solution, if I say so myself.  A very elegant solution indeed.  I bound the quilt entirely on the reverse, as you can see here if you squint very carefully.  Here I am, demonstrating the reverse of the quilt in the grounds of my very lovely workplace, and coincidentally pointing to the reverse binding.  And the New York Beauty.  Both of which are worthy of your attention.

So I took an emergency afternoon off work, and I stitched the binding on, on the 1st July.  And here I am, still in the very elegant grounds of my very lovely workplace, showing you the front, with it’s eternity-pool style, unbound edges (and I shoe-horned the ‘eternity’ word in there because although you can’t see him, the quilt is being held aloft by an extremely accommodating Professor of Mathematics who is the tallest person in the world and who doesn’t believe in numbers.  Particularly big ones, and double particularly eternity).  If you look carefully, you can just see his red shoe poking out from the bottom of the quilt.

Then, on 2nd July, I bundled quilt, children and all into my car and I drove like a demon to my sister’s house, and I handed over the wedding quilt.  And Sissy duly shed a tear, and the children played football with their small cousins in the garden, and we went to Wagamama for dinner, and later in the evening, my sister sent me a picture of her wedding present, in its new home.  (I say she sent it to me.  Really, she posted it on her Facebook and I have stolen it from there…)

And that, dear readers, is the gripping tale of how I delivered my sister’s wedding present in less than 10 years.  Comprehensively beating the deadline, as I’m sure you’ll agree. 

The moral of this story is: never let over-ambition and the unattainability of your goals prevent you from spinning a good yarn to explain away your own persistent crapness.  It’ll all come right in the end!

The brutality of basting…

So. Today I have basted the wedding quilt.  This, you remember, is the quilt I’m making my sister as a wedding present.  It’s taken a little while to do, but I’m confident of having it finished by her tenth anniversary.  Which is in June…

Basting is a brutal exercise on many levels.  For one thing, you need a space that’s big enough.  This is part of the wedding quilt’s problem.  It’s 8ft x 6ft, so it’s really quite big, and in the old house there wasn’t a bit of floor large enough to spread it flat.  Here, I could do it in the living room.  I had to take the rug up and move half of the furniture, though, so it had to be done in a day.

The back, all taped down

Once you’ve got the space, it’s quite physical work.  First, you spread the back of the quilt, right side to the floor and smooth it flat.  Then you tape it down at the edges so it stays put.  Then you lay the batting (quilt wadding) on top, so that the edges more or less match, and then you smooth that out.  On such a large surface, the smoothing is quite difficult to achieve, as you have to crawl over the piece in order to make sure there are no wrinkles or crinkles. Wrinkles will be exaggerated in the quilting process, so it’s worth taking some time to get this right.

When you have the first two layers laid out, and flat, you need to put the quilt top on.  Because (as usual in my quilts) the back of this quilt is partly pieced, I needed to match the centres and make sure the top edges were aligned.  Centres were simply pin more-or-less matched, and the top laid on top of the other two layers, and smoothed out.  Again, this is difficult to do while crawling over the assembled layers, and so it’s best to start from the middle and gently smooth towards the corners and outer edges.

Pushing the needle in and catching it – surprisingly physical

Then you begin to sew.  Basting works from the centre of the quilt, with a very large needle taking huge running stitches through all three layers.  You work from the middle out, so you only sew half a horizontal or vertical length at a time.  The needle needs to be sharp, to get through all layers, and thin, and you rock it through the fabric, against the floor, and up again.  Obviously, your bottom layer is taped down, so you can’t get any lift on the fabric at all, so getting the needle back to the top layer really does depend on the rocking motion.

The problem is, the needle is sharp and thin, and specially designed to pierce multiple layers of things.  And *it* doesn’t know the difference between quilts and skin.  So it’s a good idea to wear a thimble on your pushing finger, because the eye end is almost as sharp as the piercing end.  For me, the pushing finger is the middle finger of my right hand.  But then as you rock the needle up, you need to ‘catch’ the sharp end with the forefinger of your other hand, so it’s a good idea to have some kind of protection on this finger, too.  For me, a thimble on the ‘catching’ finger is too clumsy.  It gets in the way, and on those occasions when I have to grip the needle between finger and thumb and pull it through, the thimble prohibits that.  So I have a little metal circle that I glue to the very tip of my ‘catching’ forefinger, just over the top end of the nail.  So that’s a thimble on the middle finger of one hand, and metal disc on the forefinger of the other hand.  Once the needle is ‘caught’ on the metal disc, you grip it between thumb and forefinger of the pushing hand, and pull it through. You can use a rubber disc to help you get a better grip of the needle here but, while I always have a couple of discs handy, I prefer just to use my fingers. 

Getting to the end of the grid

Working from the centre, you stitch enormous, rocking stitches up the vertical and across the horizontal centre lines.  From the middle to the top edge.  Back to the middle, down to the bottom edge.  Back to the middle, over to the left.  Back to the middle, out to the right.  You work from the middle because you’re pushing the layers in the direction your needle travels, and you want to smooth out any wrinkles you create, not work them *in*.   Having made a big cross through the centre of the quilt, you go back to the middle and begin working the diagonals – from the middle and up to each corner in turn.  And that’s your basic foundation baste: a big union jack shaped star across the front of your quilt.  You can just make it out in the photo below – radiating out from all the little knots of thread in the centre of the blue square.

Working from the middle

Once the foundation baste is in, you begin to work a 6″ grid vertically and horizontally across the quilt, working from the mid-point of whatever line you’re stitching, out to the edges.  This quilt top is conveniently organised into a grid, so I simply quilted through the centre of each sashing strip.  Then, once that’s done, you work the edges of the quilt, from the middle of each edge to the corner.

In total, it’s difficult to get this job done in much less than four hours, and often it takes more like six. It’s physically hard work – despite the thimbles and the accoutrements designed to make it easier, this method takes it out of your fingers.  The forefinger on my pushing hand is blistered and tender, and I won’t be able to put pressure on it for a day or two.  The forefinger on my catching hand, despite the metal disc, is stabbed and a bit raw, and missing a layer of skin from where the glue patch pulled off.  I’ve snagged and torn a couple of fingernails on the thread.  My knees are bruised, and my back is hunched and aching.  I feel about 20 years older than my actual age…

Once the basting’s done, you need to trim the backing and batting to about 1″ outside the quilt top – you don’t want to trim them even with the top’s edges – you might find that the actual quilting “shrinks” them in a bit, and you need the play; particularly if you’re planning to quilt densely.  Then remove the tape from the back, pick the whole thing up and you’re DONE!

Here it is – slightly blurry, but all ready for quilting.  Finally!


Well, yes. It’s been nearly a year, hasn’t it? In my slight defence, I’ve moved house and been preoccupied with other forms of creative expression – there’s been a lot of decorating, some mural painting (below left), a little bit of curtain-type bodging, a new sewing area created – indoors! (below, right), some gardening and a lot of silliness involving – sometimes – making stuff. But not really sewing.

And there’s been some other stuff – the end of Mr P, and a return to singledom.  Lots of work wrinkles. And some life stuff – a child’s wedding; a parent’s fairly significant health issues; a funeral; a difficult and dangerous teenager.  All of which have produced a new tattoo and a fresh piercing – it’s like a grownup way of dealing with my issues.  All of which has meant that I haven’t really had time to do much in the way of creating things.  All of which has meant I need, desperately, to regain some of the inner calm and peace that creating things typically brings me.
And now, it’s Easter.  The house is largely decorated – apart from the very small places that I haven’t been bothered to do because it’s hardly worth taking the time to move the coats out of the porch and living with the clutter, because painting it will take *no time* (yes, there is some logic in there somewhere.  No, I’m buggered if I can find it either).  And the very significant places that I can’t afford to do because bathroom suites and tiles and all that crap so I need to save up.
At Easter, I take time off work and I sew.  It’s what I do. I typically knock up a quilt.  This easter, though, I have lost my mojo.  I really just want to sit on my sofa and drool a while.  But then I have this lush new sewing area.  Indoors! It would be silly to have spent the time making it, and then not use it.  Wouldn’t it?  Why yes, it would.
So I am tackling the wedding present quilt.  I say tackling the wedding present quilt.  So far, I am 2/3 of the way through making a (very simple) back for it.  Then I will baste it.  Then I know exactly how I want to quilt it. Problem is, I’m not sure I can actually sew, any more.  Not sure at all.  So mostly my tackling it involves a series of displacement activities, including this, and middle distancing while contemplating the cure for singledom.
Oh well.  Here goes nothing.  And hello, by the way.  It’s (kind of) nice to be back…

Wedding Quilt – progress

 So, just before I went back to work after Christmas, I finished all the wedding quilt blocks.  I had made some amendments to the design, while I was sewing – I always do this.  Sometimes the design only exists in my head, so I don’t have to admit to having changed it.  This one, however, had actually been drawn out.  And I did actually change it on the drawing – by simply over-drawing in a different colour, rather than any more formal, complex, or complete method.  But still…

So the central row of blocks in this picture are the new design, where every corner is made up of four large half square triangle blocks.  At this point, I wasn’t sure if they would be arranged in a diamond, or in a pinwheel to echo the smaller, triangle blocks.  But they were done.

The white half of the corner blocks, if you look carefully, is made of a print of cream roses on a white background.  This quilt is a wedding present for my sister.  I know my sister pretty well, and I can confidently predict that, should she ever get married, she will theme her wedding around cream roses.  I bet they’ll feature on the invitations, the room decoration, her bouquet, the table favours*.  A cream rose wedding would be just her style.  So when I found a fabric featuring cream roses, it seemed ideal to use in a quilt which will, one day, be her wedding gift.  The centre of the quilt is made up of solid squares of the cream rose fabric.

Today, I laid the blocks out, and stitched them into rows.  There’s a number of ways of treating triangle blocks.  If you put them together, edge to edge, you create interesting repetitions, and new shapes in the negatives.  In my design (which is actually drawn out, remember, so I kind of have to stick to it.  Or overdraw it again – which would just look scribbly), I had decided to put a 3″ sash between each block.  Which creates more space, and makes the quilt more of a white quilt – or a shades of cream and white quilt.  In my head, anyway.

Having laid the blocks out, I’ve joined the rows of blocks.  I’ve inserted the vertical 3″ sash between the individual, triangle blocks.

Next, I need to make the horizontal sashing rows.  Each triangle block will have a 3″ sash above and below it.  Where the sashing meets, there will be a 3″ square, in as close to Everton blue as I’ve been able to find.  I predict that, should my sister ever get married, she’ll marry an Everton supporter – so that’d be a good colour to use…**

Once the sashing rows are assembled, they can be inserted between the block rows.  The Everton blue squares will act like a hearth square in a log cabin block.  I like this idea of domesticity in the busyness of the triangles.

If there’s enough of the cream fabric I’m using for sashing left, then I’ll also put a 3″ border all the way round, with a blue hearth square at each corner.

Then I need to make the back.  There is a lot of the sashing fabric, but because I bought it 9 years ago, I can’t remember *how* much there is.  I hope there might be enough of it to make the back.  The centre of the back will have a New York Beauty, which I happen to have made when I first thought of making my sister a wedding quilt.  Because I imagine she’ll probably get engaged in New York.  And so that’d be a kind of cool thing to work into the quilt somewhere, wouldn’t it??  But this is kind of bright and funky, and doesn’t tie in with the front of the quilt, particularly, so the back seems a good place to put it.

I have kind of a cool idea for the quilting, too, but it’s nice to keep a surprise element to a gift, isn’t it? So I’m not going to write about that, in advance.  I’ll show you what it is when I’ve given the quilt to Sissy.  If she ever gets married, that is…

*I’m kind of right.  She got married nine years ago.  She did have the cream roses.  The gift is a little overdue.  We don’t mention it.

** Guess what team my lovely brother in law supports??

Wedding Quilt – dimension distress

It took two days of fettling with calculations to get the triangles right.  Two long, dispiriting days.  My own fault: I know I have my own instructions for measuring and cutting triangles, up in the attic somewhere.  But I couldn’t be arsed to rummage around for them, so I tried to work it out.

First I used a triangle ruler (pictured right), overlaid over the template I drew, to work out what size to cut my triangles to.  At the bottom of the green and white sketch, you can just about make out my original calculations.

I have never found a use for that triangle ruler.  Largely because most of my quilts are based on strips, not triangles.  And when I do use geometric shapes, I free cut them to make assymetrical, rough and ready finished pieces, like the Granny Quilt, where none of the finished triangles are *quite* the same as each other, or the Eye Spy Starz quilt.  I haven’t done a mathematically precise quilt since…. Oh, the Irish Chain, I think! Back in 2003! And that was squares…

Well, I’ve used the triangle ruler now. And probably never will again.  I’m not sure what it’s *for*, but accurate cutting and measurement of triangles doesn’t seem to be it.  Overlaying that on the template, and cutting to the requisite shape provided entirely the wrong sized, mismatched block (see left).  My finished block needs to be 9 1/2″ square.  The triangle template gave me a 10 1/2″ square.  Trimming that down would have meant losing roughly quarter of my beautiful, sharp points…

 After much experimentation, I can confirm that the way to measure right angle triangles is to treat them like half square triangles (which they are) and measure the length of the side either side of the right angle.  Then add 7/8″ for seam allowance, which gives you the central, diagonal seam allowance, and your 1/4″ all round standard quilting seam allowance.  So on that basis, all the small triangles are 3 1/8″ squares.  The big triangles are 5 3/8″ squares.  And the uncut squares are 2 3/4″.

Each patterned block (24 of) is made of 22 pieces of fabric.  Then there are 12 blocks made of two pieces each.  Then 8 plain blocks.  Then 72 sashing pieces, 44 hearth squares, and 4 borders.  That’s 680 pieces of carefully measured, cut, stitched and fitted together fabric to make one layer of a quilt.  Phew! I’ve been making blocks in groups of four, and machining them on a production line basis.  This works for me, as it breaks up the measuring and cutting time (which I don’t particularly enjoy) with the sewing time (which I do, as the logistics of the production line approach are quite complex and need me to concentrate, but the rewards are far greater!)

I’ve made the majority of the blocks, now.  Here’s a selection of entirely correct ones (four in each colour way).   I have 8 more of these to make, and 4 half square triangle blocks.  That’s a mere smear 96 pieces of fabric to measure, cut, and reorder.  Easy.  That should take no more than three hours of tomorrow, then.  And then I simply have to cut my hearth squares, and put the top together.  So there *should* be a photo of the completed quilt top by the end of the week, all other things being equal!

I’m enjoying my accuracy on this project (she says, taking a huge red flag and waving it defiantly in the face of the bull of fate…).  So far, my triangles all have points, which float correctly (there’s one in the top left corner of the left-most blue block pictured which is *slightly* blunted, but that’s the only one).  My pinwheel points match correctly.  The bad news for my sister is that, if this persists, I may feel the need to enter the finished article into the Festival of Quilts, this year.  It’s not as non-traditional a piece as I might have liked to enter (but I may also put in the Japanese Geek Quilt) but it’s a modern setting of a traditional block… or combination of blocks.  I don’t know.  Will consult with my friends at Rats as Big as Cats and nbnq to see what they think.   But if I do submit it, it will mean poor Sissy has to wait an extra month or two for her wedding present.  Still, I’m on track to deliver it within the first 10 years, so I can’t see she has *much* to complain about!!

Home Alone

The children have gone to their father’s for Christmas, and I am seizing the opportunity, greedily, for some ‘me’ time.  I got a rather fabulous new job this year, which has meant a lot more commuting than I did previously, and that in turn has meant that I don’t have a huge amount of time for sewing, knitting, crochet, relaxing.  So my creative synapses are beginning to feel a little furred up.  Underused.  The chance to spend a week by myself, relaxing and crafting seemed too good an opportunity to miss.

So far, I’ve added the border I mentioned to the Japanese Geek Quilt I made in August.  No pictures, yet.  I’ll wait until I’ve basted and quilted, for that.

But the main thing I want to do is a wedding quilt.  My lovely sister got married in 2004, and I promised to make her a wedding quilt.  I intended to do a combination of the classic double wedding ring and New York beauty patterns, but with the benefit of hindsight, that was a bit beyond my technical ability (or ability to concentrate!) back then.  So the quilt was started, but never finished.  I did some more work on it the following year, but by then I’d gone back to work and didn’t have the necessary time to give it.  So – long story short – I’ve never finished my sister’s wedding present quilt.  I intend to put that right.  I have, finally, abandoned the idea of an ambitious quilt, and intend to do something much simpler.  But until last night, I didn’t really know what.  I could knock up a variation on a strippy quilt in the blink of an eye, but I’ve done lots of strippies, recently, and wanted to do something rather different.  The thing I’ve most enjoyed making, recently, was the granny quilt, and so doing something with triangles rather appealed.  Technical enough to be interesting, but quick to put together.

I’ve been watching Homeland, this last few weeks.  Last night was the season two series finale, much of which was set in a cabin in the woods.  Hanging on the living room wall was a quilt.  A flying geese quilt.  And I thought, hmmm…. I could do something like that.  I quite like the idea of flying geese.  But they’re a bit busy, organised the way they are in the link.  Sissy and her husband are more, um, subdued and restful than that.  So I got to thinking.  And then I did a bit of drawing.  And I reckon something built around a 9″ square block like this one might be interesting.  But with lots of plain white.  Or at least, lots of white on white.  Different whites, I think – not all one, plain and calm fabric.

And then I wondered how they might be arranged… because technically this is more like half square triangles than flying geese.  And I wanted to avoid the busy-ness thing.  And, you know, it’s good to have a plan before you start.  So I did some doodling.  I think the squares will be arranged in blocks of 4, separated by a 3″ sashing, at each corner of which will be a (probably single colour across the face of the quilt) 3″ square.  The blocks of 4 triangle squares will be in different fabrics, but follow a muted green/blue/purple colour scheme, and the little squares which, in my head, are anchors, will be bright.  This (on the left) is my design sketch for this.  The shaded big white squares are my triangular blocks, the plain ones are my white on white blocks, and the red squares are my anchors.  Which may or may not be red.  I don’t know.

Anyway, it’s a lot of thinking and quite a bit of calculation.  And inevitably, there will be an error in it, somewhere, which will mean the design has to be adapted on the hoof.  But I’ve measured and made templates for my triangles, reminded myself how to make quick and easy flying geese, and will try a test square in the morning.

Tomorrow, I’m planning to take the dogs up to the peak district, whether permitting.  But this should, hopefully, be well under way by the time the kids get home.

I’ll keep you posted!

Japanese geek work

So.  There’s been some stuff in the news and all over Twitter that I wanted to get away from.  And I’m on holiday, and the kids sleep all day on account of being adolescents and overrun with unmanageable hormones.  And the obvious solution to all this is to spend some time in my shed.  Mental health sewing.

There are a number of quilts bumbling around in my head.  I’ve started re-working my sister’s quilt, which has been on the back burner for a number of years.  I originally started it as a wedding gift and for one reason or another – largely due to the technical complexity of the original design idea and the fact I went back to work and didn’t have time to execute it – it’s been languishing.  But I finally have a way of simplifying it, which means unpicking quite a bit of what’s been done, and starting again from scratch.  Which I have now done.  The unpicking part, anyway.  The starting again is for next week!

In the meantime, I’ve been wanting to do something with the Japanese designers.  I love the fabrics produced by Kokka, Echino, Melody Miller.  They are things of utter beauty, and for a long time I’ve wanted to make a quilt wholly out of some of their more graphic pieces.

At the Festival of Quilts, last weekend, I decided to sate this particular ambition.  I told myself that I would spend *all* my FoQ show money on Japanese fabrics.  I would visit the Eternal Maker, and fill my boots.  And so I did.  I intended to sit on the fabrics for a while, and see what happened.

But as I say, there’s been all kinds of stuff that I’ve wanted to hide from.  And there’s been an idea brewing in my head about how to honour these beautiful fabrics.  How to ensure that the prints were *seen* on the face of whatever I made, rather than cut up small and pieced in a traditional way.

So I decided to make a strippy quilt.  I thought if I did stripes of uneven width, I could ensure that the fabrics were represented properly, and the art of them could be admired.

Actually, this did pose some difficulties.  The strippy is easy to put together – no cutting fabric into teeny tiny pieces and re-joining them into bigger blocks, to be joined together to make the quilt top.  But despite this, the overall effect risks looking very busy, and reading incoherently.  But aha! I had thought of that.  I got a plain.  A real, actual plain (where usually, if you scroll through my quilts, you’ll see I normally go for fabrics that ‘read as’ plain).  And I decided to put a bit of plain in every row.

Half a dozen rows in, it became clear that a piece of plain in every row wasn’t going to work – perversely, that just made the plain read as though it was another pattern.  I needed some rows of *mostly* plain, in order to create spaces for your eye to rest as you look at the thing.

Anyway, I cut lots of bits.  Uneven widths.  I didn’t even measure – it was all totally guided by the print on the fabrics.  And I put them together.  And I laid them out on my bed to guage the size, and then I went and made some more strips.

It flew together.  Obviously.  Big pieces, see?  I started it yesterday lunchtime, and by this afternoon Freya and I were laying it on the dining room floor, auditioning rows against each other to determine the final layout.  I find it impossible to look directly at a quilt top and decide whether I like it, at this stage.  I have to work from photos, which means that there are inevitably a lot of photos of potential layouts, and then Freya and I shuffle rows about, and try to make sure there aren’t too many similar pieces too close together.  She usually declares herself satisfied a good while before I do, but I’ve bought her some new Vans this week, so she was obliged to humour me, and persevere!  This is the layout we (I) eventually decided on.

Stitched together, trimmed up and on the bed it looks like this (click on the pictures for a bigger, clearer view)

I love the graphic, stylised nature of these fabrics.  Doing this piece has allowed me to gorge not only on Japanese fabrics (which are coarser than their American counterparts – like a lightweight canvas rather than a dress cotton.  Or perhaps more like a coarse shirt linen…) but it’s given me some 50s gloriousness and speaks to my whole Mad Men obsession. 

I still need to put a border on.  I have an olive green fabric for this, with pale pink polka dots – it’s more in keeping than it sounds.  I think there’s going to be a fairly narrow border at the sides, and a deep one at top and bottom.  The back may well be plain (I’ve never done a plain back before), although I do want to pay a geeky homage to the fabric I’ve used, and work the selvedges into the back.  I’m not sure how to quilt it.  Perhaps I can work out a martini glass design, if I can get access to a longarm machine… not sure I would have the strength to manhandle this through the throat of my machine.  But we’ll see.  Stranger things have happened!

Despite the fact it’s being modelled on a bed (for size) I suspect this might become the living room quilt of choice for this winter. 

In any event, once the border is on, this will go back on hold for a bit I think, while I work on Sissy’s overdue wedding quilt.

In the meantime, can I just pause to point out that this is the first time I have shown you work in progress quilt photos without Buto in them?  Poor little kitty cat.  I do miss her quilt inspection talents!

Festival of Quilts

I love the Festival of Quilts.  Usually.  I come home with hundreds of pounds worth of fabric (and sometimes machinery) that I perhaps didn’t totally need.  I have literally thousands of photos taken at festivals over the years which I still regularly draw on for inspiration.  I meet friends there.  We laugh.  We point.  Sometimes we point *and* laugh.  Honestly.  The quilted bags and waistcoats have to be seen to be believed!

This year, I met up with two friends – lovely Penny from rats as big as cats, and nbnq, who has written a far better review than I’m about to.  We had much to talk about, and we were looking forward to seeing some gorgeous stuff.

We *did* see some gorgeous stuff.  Well.  We saw one gorgeous stuff.  It was Penny’s quilt, which was utterly beautiful and incredibly well executed.  Go and look at the final piece series on her blog and you’ll see snippets of it.  It is jaw-droppingly stunning.

And we saw some other gorgeous stuff, in that there was a Pauline Barnes exhibition.  And her work is amazing.  But it was a professional show, and not part of the Festival, as such.

And the festival? Well, we spotted one *really* odd piece which was clearly made a couple of years ago (I thought it was a rule that entries had to be made within the year?) – and what’s more there was a book on sale at one of the stalls detailing its creation…  We spotted one piece which was clearly made to a pattern from a Jane Brocket book although not, from what we could gather from the catalogue, submitted by Jane Brocket herself (I thought it was another rule that entries had to be original?).  We spotted a number of pieces which were just simply ill advised from almost any conceivable design point of view. 

There was, don’t get me wrong, an awful lot of technically accomplished traditional quilt-making on show.  And I’m sure if traditional quilts were my bag I’d have had a ball.  But they’re not.  And so I really didn’t. 

Perhaps it’s my bad.  Or at least, perhaps it’s the bad of people like me.  People who are technically accomplished but not traditional.  I did mean to submit ‘She Knew the Names of Flowers‘, but I got busy and the deadline got away from me, and one thing and another…

But really.  If this is the future of quilt making then I despair.  I know there are other, better and more dedicated modern quilt makers out there.  I know (from experience) that the judges of this festival don’t speak our language and it can be frustrating submitting entries only to have them dismissed, over looked, or critiqued on the basis of no understanding of the concept whatsoever.  But unless we enter, unless we try to make our views and our styles known, we can’t ever expect any different, can we??

I’ve been joking for some years about making a 3-D quilt.  Quite a graphic one.  I might actually do it, this year.