She Knew The Names of Flowers

I’ve finished the Granny quilt.  It is in the washing machine as I type.

I’m really pleased with it.  I had intended to shadow quilt across the diagonals but, as I’ve mentioned before, the strips of memory fabric were uneven widths, and so the diagonals didn’t quite line up well enough.  So in the end, I’ve shadow quilted down the columns of lemony sashing.

I worked in phrases which have occurred to me, as I was putting it all together.  I worked them in yellow thread, which shows clearly on some rectangles, and less clearly on others.  My clever friend Faye (@poppypurple) suggested it was rather like I was whispering secrets to Granny, and I like that idea very much.

The quilt is formally called “She knew the names of flowers” which always used to impress me as a small child – she could be relied on to identify a lady’s slipper from a cow parslip at the drop of a hat, which always seemed to me to be a bit akin to witchcraft (well, maybe not those two specifically, but you know…)  Some of the memories are quite general – like watching Val Doonican together (the deal was if I watched Val Doonican with her, then she would let me watch The Professionals *and* the Dukes of Hazzard!).  Some are very specific, like watching her brush her hair (it was long, very long, and blonde) and plait it ready for bed.

There are her addresses, artefacts I remember from her houses (an elephant’s foot stool, some beaded tribal stools, a tiger skin rug).  There are things we used to do: going to church on Saturday to arrange the flowers for Sunday’s services (which we never went to) and then going to the sweet shop on the way home.  Some things we did together  – knitting, crochet, walking her dog, Honey, in a field littered with bomb holes near my mother’s childhood house.  And in the border, at the foot, her name and dates.

The back is made from the lemony sashing fabric, and the green Lotte Jansdottir pictured above. The batting is a really soft bamboo – I’ve not worked with bamboo before and it worked incredibly easily both by hand and in the machine.  I marked up the locations for the memories by scattering safety pins across the surface of the quilt, and pinning them where they lay.  Each pin got a memory.

The memories were free machine stitched.  I had to take the presser foot off the machine in order to be able to watch what I was doing which did, inevitably, result in a stitch through my finger.  Inevitably.  They’re useful things, those presser feet… Unless you need to see what you’re doing!

The children have watched the quilt grow with interest.  Every so often they come and pick over it, and find a phrase, and ask me.  Some of the questions are quite funny: “Mummy, who’s David Soul?”  Funny what they don’t know… (She liked David Soul, but not David Essex!)  Freya’s favourite is the “little yellow mini”.  Josh’s is “Evelyn Nightingale and Tutenkhamen”.

The binding is a blue fabric with white dragonflies scattered across it.  It seemed appropriate.  I’ll take some photos when it comes out of the dryer.  But tonight, I’m going to take my granny quilt to bed.  It’s going to be lovely and snuggly warm!

Granny Quilt

So.  Today I am dusting off the sewing machine, and returning to the granny quilt.  It’s now all marked up and ready for quilting, if I can only find where I’ve hidden the thread!!

 I was talking to my Dad about this quilt, the other day, and a few days later I came home to find an envelope, stuffed full of photos of my Granny, dating from the late 1940s, early 1950s.  Turns out she was quite the glamourpuss!  (if you click on the pictures, you can enlarge them)

I am going to try to work some phrases into the quilting.  I’ve compiled quite a list – the addresses around Kent and East Sussex where she lived.  Names of her friends.  Some of the things I used to enjoy doing when I visited.  The dinners she used to cook for me (when I was very little, I told her roast chicken with chippolata sausages and apple crumble was my favourite.  She made it for me every visit for the rest of forever.  It’s still my favourite.)

Putting together memories which are meaningful, and will make me smile when I spot them, has been quite a long job.  I’m sure I will be prompted for quite a long time to remember more things, things I wish I’d included, things I’d forgotten about and come flooding back suddenly.  But I’ve decided it doesn’t matter if the list is incomplete.  What matters is that there are *some* lovely things about Granny in the quilt.  And if those lovely things trigger other lovely things, then so much the better.

So, eyes down!  I will post photos later…

Cats and Short Cuts

 So.  I have finished the memory quilt top.  No, not the whole quilt.  Just the top!  It has evolved a little, as it’s gone along – although to be honest, by my usual standards it’s remained fairly true to the original idea.

This quilt is half rectangle triangles.  Or isosceles triangles, as the more mathematically minded amongst you will call them.  Why does this matter?  Well, it doesn’t particularly, except that an isosceles triangle cut on the grain of the fabric will have its longest side on the bias.  Which means you’re more likely to pull, stretch and distort it in the stitching.  Really, in order to sew two isosceles triangles into a perfect rectangle, you are best not to guide the fabric *at all* as it goes under the needle.

Anyway, above and right are pictures of the finished top.  I have to say, I’m really pleased with it.  There wasn’t enough fabric to have made it all rectangles, and that would have been far too busy.  So I found some lovely lemon print fabric for the inbetween stripes.  It works well – the colours play gently with the rest of the quilt: it calms it down; allows the prints to sing; and hangs onto the nostalgic vibe I was trying to capture.  Most importantly, Buto likes it.  I haven’t actually stitched her into the quilt – she is fascinated by sewing and sits and watches closely as I pass things through the machine.  She insists on helping arrange blocks, by batting them up and down the bed, and examines every edge and corner closely at all stages.  This one passes her test!

One of my lovely Twitter friends commented that it had gone together quickly, and it has – no more than about 3 days work, in fits and starts.  I didn’t start it until 31st December, and it was finished on 7th January.  In between times, I’ve gone back to work, fettled around with kids and friends, and generally got on with other stuff too.

 It went so quickly because I used a technique called Stack ‘n’ Whack.  This is essentially a production line approach to piecing.  First, you pile up your fabrics, ensuring you’ve aligned selvedge edges, so you can be sure that they are all on the grain.  This is easiest to do on a cutting mat with a ruler grid printed on it. I had made a plastic template for my triangles, but the plastic was only thin, so I simply used the template to line up my cutting ruler, rather than actually to cut round.  (Actually, that’s not strictly true.  I did cut round it for the first few goes, but it wasn’t strong enough to withstand the rotary cutter’s blade and as I didn’t have a spare blade, I didn’t want to blunt the only one I had.  So I lined up the proper ruler…)

 I had 8 different fabrics in this pile, and once I’d flick-flacked the template over two or three times, I had a goodly pile of ‘neutral’ triangles to form the base of my rectangles.  That’s when it’s time to go to work with the pretty patterned fabrics…

 So again, here you’re just lining up your fabrics.  Remember, these were scrap strips of different lengths and widths, so it’s not as neat as the bigger pieces of the neutral fabric, and on some of these fabrics I’m forced to use the unprinted selvedge in order to get a big enough triangle out of the fabric I have.  Note how I’ve used the grid printed on the cutting mat to make sure my fabrics are ‘square’.  That way, I know I’m cutting on the grain.

Just pile the fabrics on top of each other, making sure they all line up at the end you’re going to start cutting from, and not worrying if the far end doesn’t line up.  You’re not bothered with that, at all.

Next, overlay your template.

 Butt your ruler up to the template… and cut!  I couldn’t take photos of cutting, on account of needing two hands to cut and another to take the photo.  But if you’re using a rotary cutter (and you really need to for this method), hold the ruler down firmly with one hand and press the rotary cutter hard into the fabric (to make sure you get through all layers) and roll it along the ruler’s edge.  Two golden rules:  1) MIND YOUR FINGERS and 2) when you’ve finished cutting, retract the rotary blade to its safety position.

Pile your patterned fabrics and your neutral fabrics together, so that the long edges of the triangle (which you’re going to seam to make the rectangles) are together.

 To sew the rectangles, simply pick up the top triangle, and lay its long edge face down over the long edge of the bottom triangle, exactly as they lie in their piles.  So now you have two triangles, right sides together, each with its pointy end at the other’s blunt end.

Using a 1/4″ presser foot, put the fabric under your needle, and lower the presser foot.  Lower the needle into the fabric.  Slowly sew the seam, guiding it gently through the needle with your hand, but being careful not to pull against the needle and feed dogs, or there is a real danger that you’ll distort the seam – remember that you’re sewing on the bias, where the fabric is most flexible (and most vulnerable).

So keep your pace steady – slow enough that you can see what you’re doing and be in control – and your touch light!

When you reach the end of the seam, do *not* move the fabric.  Leave the presser foot and needle down.

Prepare your next rectangle to be sewn, in exactly the same way as before.

This is simply another view of the photo above: if you click on the image to enlarge it, you can see that the needle is all the way down.

 With the first rectangle still in the machine, gently insert the tip of the second rectangle seam under the presser foot.  Be careful not to overlap the two; you do want a *little* bit of space between them.  But not much.

Carefully and gently insert the new seam under the presser foot, and begin to sew – remember, keep your pace steady – slow enough that you can see what you’re doing and be in control – and your touch light!

Try not to guide the fabric too much – if your pace is steady and slow, the feed dogs should feed it under the needle in a straight line and you need not exert much more pressure than a watchful eye…

Keep going like this, feeding one rectangle after another into your machine.  You’ll amass a satisfying little pile of stitched rectangles on the table behind your needle.  You can keep going until you run out of fabric, or run out of space, or run out of coffee, or run out of patience.  Whatever your stopping point, when you’ve finished, you’ll have a happy little bunting of folded-in-half, stitched-up rectangles, joined by short runs of thread.

Pile your rectangles up, and cut their joining threads.  Give them back their individuality.  No, that’s getting silly.  But you don’t want a spiderweb of joining thread, so simply snip your rectangles apart.

Now you’re going to press your seams.  I’m not a huge fan of ironing.  It rarely happens to my clothes.  But I promise you, 9/10 of a good sewing project is in the cutting and the pressing.  Very little of it is how well you actually sew.  So press your seams.  It makes your work look professional, and only you will know about the mistakes, then!  In patchwork, we don’t press seams open like you do in dress-making.  To one side or the other… They’re much smaller than a dress maker’s seam, and this makes your work more durable.

Once they’re pressed, you want to trim them.  The finished piece will work much better if all the rectangles are the same size.  I came unstuck at this point, because my printed fabrics were not of an even width to start with, if you remember, but even so I was going for as close as possible to 5 1/2″ x 2 1/2 “, which would give me a finished 5″ x 2” rectangle.

And here it is.  Stitched, pressed, and trimmed.  And because you’ve stacked, whacked and chain pieced them, you’ve done about 40 in the time it would take you to do 5 if you cut, stitched, pressed and trimmed them individually.

Square One

Well I only nearly forgot, didn’t I?  I was just getting ready to put my feet up and succumb to the fluey thing that’s been threatening to engulf me all day, when my phone pinged.  An email.  From the stats monitor which looks after this place.  Telling me about my page views for the New Year Resolution(ish) post… Bum.

So, no sofa until I’d done a square.  Right?

Right.

So here it is.  Square one.  Made from the remains of a ball of acrylic.  It’s a crochet square, to get us started.  A popcorn square, no less.  Popcorn is a technique which makes bobbles out of triple crochet stitches, by gathering a row of them together through the top.  The corners are popcorned, the sides are plain ol’ triple crochet worked through the back of the stitch below (I think this is called “round the post” but I spend so much of my crochet time working out for myself how to do things that I kind of lose track of the formal way of doing things and what they should be called).

 I’ve also been working on the quilt.  I’ve put together 268 isosceles triangles, to make 134 rectangles.  I need another 88 rectangles in order to have 6  columns for the final thing.  I laid out 30-odd rectangles together, to see how the thing would look if it was *all* rectangles and, as I feared, it was rather too busy.  In order to appreciate the fabrics, the eye will need something calm to rest on, and none of my ‘plains’ are reading quite plain enough to give that unity to the final thing.  So there will be columns of rectangles, and columns of a single fabric, making a 12-stripe quilt, roughly 6’5″ x 5’2″.

I have some Lotte Jansdotter fabric which I was going to use to back it with, which may make the unifying stripes if there’s enough of it.  Otherwise, I shall have to go fabric shopping.  Oh, woe is me!

I’d also like to do an irregular sawtooth border, but that’s because I have a triangle obsession going on at the moment.  I may be sick of them by the time I get to the border.  Let’s see how that goes!

New Year’s Resolution (ish)

I have started making my memory quilt.  There are many ways to approach a memory quilt – you can use scraps of fabrics associated with what/whoever you’re making the quilt to remember.  Or you can use a block design or, indeed, design your own block to incorporate your particular memory theme.  I’m not doing that, however.

Some time ago, I bought a roll of Moda end of roll scrap strips.  These are (although I had forgotten this crucial detail in the intervening time) strips of uneven width and length, comprising roll ends of various patterns of fabrics.  The fabrics I got are lovely, pastelly, 50s-ish patterns.  About a year later, I bought a selection of cream and near-white prints which may (or may not) read as plain over a surface area as big as a quilt.  My intention was to make a quilt built of rectangles divided diagonally, with a 50s-ish print on top and a plain-ish print on the bottom.  I will then machine shadow-quilt in diagonal rows just inside the plain half of these rectangles.  Most of the quilting will be straightforward stitch.  But some of it will be words.  Phrases.  Memories of my grandmother.

I had, however, forgotten that the strips vary in width.  My intention was to do rectangles of 5″ x 2″.  Indeed, it turns out this is a lot smaller in actual *fact* than it is in my imagination.  But because the strips vary in width, I can’t guarantee the 2″ dimension – only the 5″ one.  In order to cover a double bed, I’d have to make 288 5″x2″ rectangles, and that’s a lot of rectangles.  Potentially a very busy quilt indeed.  So far, I’ve made 80 odd.  When I’ve got to 144, I’ll lay them out and see just *how* busy it looks.  If it’s too painful to behold, then I’ll convert the quilt into a strippy – one strip of rectangles against a strip of something – probably the fabric I’d intended for the back.  That way, I can preserve the quilting idea which was, rather the point of the thing.

All of which is more of an excuse to post some photos of messy fabric, rather than a coherent post.

So here’s the New Year’s Resolution.  Like many people, I suspect, I’m not much of a one for resolutions.  Which is to say that I’m no slouch at coming up with them.  I’m just considerably bad at sticking to them.  So don’t expect this one to be any different.  It’s not even a *real* resolution.  More a statement of consideration of intent.  The possibility of a perhaps, if you will.

I’ve seen a number of Granny Square a Day blankets, recently.  And that’s where my idea starts.  I don’t want to do a granny square a day – much as I love a good granny square, even I think 366 of them might be overkill!  But I do think it might be interesting to do a Square A Day – not necessarily a crochet square – sometimes knit.  Sometimes maybe even sewn.  But a Square A Day.  If it is crochet it will explore different blocks.

Acknowledging that life is busy, and commitment variable, though, mine will be a Square A Day Ish blanket.  If commitment is *really* variable, it might be a Square A Day Ish drinks coaster – let’s see!

I’ll start tomorrow.  Maybe.  There will be pictures.  Definitely.  If I do it.

Creating Christmas

I wanted substantial parts of this Christmas to be home-made.  And the bits that aren’t homemade are, by and large, vintage.  It just chimes beautifully with the way this year has been, for me.

So inevitably there has been a flurry of crafting activity which I just haven’t been able to photograph and blog, for fear of giving many games away.  However, since a number of you are asking about the Tank Girl quilt, which I have *just* finished (and since I’m bursting with pride at it, and pleasure at having finished it in time) I thought I’d put some pictures up…

 I can’t remember if I mentioned it, but this quilt had no central layer, and is backed with microfleece.  It’s heavy and dense and snuggly warm – just as well, as my son’s bedroom is one of the coldest rooms in the house.  Instead of simply tying the quilt, which was my first thought, I decided to outline quilt each square, using sock yarn.  I wanted it uneven and hokey looking – nothing too polished, in keeping with the ‘upcycled’ nature of the whole quilt.  So I didn’t mark the quilting lines.  I didn’t even baste it – I just pinned it with malenky great big quilting safety pins…  Which meant that the back wouldn’t stay flat by itself, and so in order not to end up with a blocky, wrinkly backing, I laid the whole thing out on my draughty wooden floor, and quilted it in situ.

Normally, when I’m hand quilting, I use a size 10 between quilting needle which is, tip to tip, slightly smaller than 1″ long, and very fine.  For this quilt, I used a size god-alone-knows yarn darner, which was about twice as long and four times as thick as my normal quilting needle.  My normal quilting needle is the top one in the picture over to the right.  For scale, that’s a cat hair it’s resting on!  The needle I used for this quilt is the threaded one just below it…  Ordinarily, you insert a needle in the tiny gaps between the threads of a fabric.  Microfleece doesn’t have any such gaps being, essentially, melted plastic and not woven at all.  So it required some force to get the needle through, and it often landed on the thumb knuckle of my non-needle hand.  Resulting, I have to admit, in a fair amount of swearing and a totally unreasonable amount of Twitter whingeing! 

Still, I persevered bravely, ignoring the pain in my knees from crawling over the floor, and the bruising in my left knuckle (pity me, interwebs!!)  And I think I *did* achieve the kind of uneven, ‘homespun’ effect I was looking for, as evidenced by the back of the quilt…

 A substantial amount of this had to be done while my son was at home, which involved locking myself into rooms in the wee small hours of the morning, and the long dark evenings, with threatening signs taped to doors… And then being very tolerant when the animals wanted to get involved.  The dog is a very old lady, and likes to snuggle up under a blanket.  She is the biggest fan of my knitting/quilting activities!

Anyway, the quilt is, eventually, finished.  I decided not to bind the edges – again, to preserve the ‘homespun’ look, but also because just overlocking them seemed to preserve the masculine flavour of this quilt.  So I ran them up in the overlocker.  Time will tell, I guess, how durable this edging is, but it looks good for the time being…

 Here is a final photo of Tank Girl in her setting.  As I type, the whole thing is going round the washing machine and my heart is, slightly, in my mouth.  I had originally planned to boil wash it and allow the blocks to felt variably.  But that was before Tank Girl who is on a fine mohair patch which I don’t want to shrink so radically that it distorts her.  So I’m washing it at 40 degrees, and will dry it slowly in a coolish tumble dryer… 

Other Christmas crafting has included knitting.  I decided late on that my mother needed an additional something under the tree, so I threw together a cowl using an aran weight wool yarn that I’ve got lying about (who hasn’t…).  I’m quite pleased with the result, although it’s a *bit* big for me: being new, it’s quite stiff, but I’m hoping it’ll soften down with wear.

The pattern was an online freebie, from f.pea, and knitted up very quickly.  I may do it again, in a lighter yarn, and see if that makes it lacier.  I prefer my own cowl, I have to say…!

So that’s Christmas about done, I think.  I hope you all have a lovely time!  

Silent night…

The problem with this time of year is that there are so many calls on my time, and so many secret projects, that it becomes difficult to find time to make anything that it’s safe to show you!

My father came to stay for the weekend, which was the first time he’s visited this house for a long time, and we’ve changed a good deal of it since last he was here, so it was nice to show him the new things – and to put him in the spare room, which has the crochet zigzag blanket in it.  It’s his favourite of the blankets I’ve made, so I wanted him to have the opportunity to use it (this isn’t entirely an open-spirited or generous gesture, since what *he* really wants is to take it home with him!!)

One thing I *can* show you is this monster, which I made for my nephew’s birthday a couple of weeks ago.  I also gave him some story blocks, painted by my friend Siobhan, who is not only an award winning journalist for BBC Coventry and Warwickshire, but is also a very talented artist.  She makes things under the name Matilda’s Mum, and really ought to have a website of her own, to link to.  Anyway, she made the story blocks (which I foolishly didn’t photograph) and I made the story monster.  The deal is, when my nephew can persuade the story monster to sit down and be quiet (with his mouth zipped, see?) then Mummy or Daddy will make up a story for them… The monster was a huge success.  Mummy and Daddy weren’t so sure about their ability to spin a yarn on demand, but there you go!

The monster is standing on a box of tissues in my workroom.  I took a couple of pictures of that, too, for a friend on twitter.  It’s a custom built work room, in my garden.  It’s effectively a *really* smart shed – with fully plastered and decorated walls, two double glazed windows and a front door!  It has full electricity (obviously) but no water.  I dye indoors!  It looks like chaos, but it is, in fact, quite tightly organised.  The cutting/design table is just visible (under a cutting mat) in the lower lefthand corner.  That’s at waist height, and has storage boxes underneath for fabric and some yarn.  It also has drawers with all my dye stuff – chemicals, fixatives, and salt.  In front of the cutting mat is a miniature ironing board, with a big bundle of felt on it.  The hanging basket to the left of the zigzag shelf is full of zips, elastic of various types, and binding tapes.  The sewing machine sits on a Horn cabinet which also has storage for thread and various notions.  The zigzag shelf contains boxes of thread, dressmaking patterns, and my own design patterns all filed away.  It also has dyed wool tops and a felting block for needle felting.  The walls are stuck all over with postcards, favourite pictures and various design inspirations, which I refresh from time to time!

This is the other end of the shed.  The  net bag in the lower left hand corner hangs from a bookcase, above the end of the Horn cabinet.  It is stuffed with usable sized scraps of fabric from several years’ worth of projects.  My friends delight in raiding the scrap bag – and Penny (from Rats as Big as Cats) has made beautiful things using my scraps!  There are two bookcases, in an L configuration.  They hold quilting books, surface design books, dressmaking books, various art and textile magazines I’ve subscribed to over the years, drawers of fat quarters (quilting fabric), drawers of buttons and beads and embellishments, index cards of dressmaking notes dating right back to my youth and all sorts of useful oddments – freezer paper, dissolvable stabiliser, tracing paper, and so on.  They also hold some of my art equipment.  The blue bag is a roll of interfacing.  The back of the door has a hanger of pockets which hold any number of embellishments – ricrac, chord, braid, ribbon, decorative yarns, and so on.  And then we’re back to the cutting table.

So that’s where I work.

And the final thing to show you this post is actually not my work, at all.  This wall hanging was made by Pat Nicholls. I bought it at an exhibition in 2002, or 2003.  It’s a lovely redwork angel surrounded by a variety of red and blue borders.  I love it.

Hung Parliament

Ha!  Do you see what I did there?!  I’m a little bit pleased with myself :-))

So, these are two little owls.  They’re made of commercial felt, based on a picture I glimpsed on a website somewhere, and I genuinely can’t remember where, but I think the person who posted them had taken the idea from the Christmas edition of Prima magazine, because I’ve seen something very similar there, too.

Apart from it being nice to sit and sew something cute(ish) in front of the TV of an evening, these have been an experiment in hand embroidery.  The blue one was my first attempt, and not terribly satisfactory.  The purple one has, I think, got a little better…. I will probably make a few more, since they only take a moment or two.

And, of course, it’s Christmas.  This year, we have unearthed our advent calendar.  The children and I made this when they were really very small.  The background is a log cabin quilt: a number of ‘shades’ of white log cabins built around a traditional red centre, with the tree made up of green log cabins.  The hanging has 24 star shaped gold buttons, and the numbers are either baubles, stars or Christmas stockings, cut out from red felt. 

I sat the small children – Dan and Daisy – down with some squares of white felt, and a red fabric pen, and let them draw Christmas pictures.  I guess they were two years and one year old, at the time – possibly three years and two years, but whatever.  Then I cut the shapes out of red and decorated white felt, and stitched them together with a decorative machine stitch.  And Moo, who would have been eleven or twelve, wrote the numbers on, in gold silk paint.  We used it every Christmas from then until we moved to this house, when it got lost and I thought I must have thrown it out by mistake.  I was heartbroken to think I’d lost such a treasure.  But it was unearthed when I emptied a storage crate, earlier this year – I think we’re all very happy to see it, and it certainly feels more like Christmas, to have it hanging in the living room.

 It’s Daisy’s birthday at the beginning of December, and so we can’t start Christmas until that’s safely over (apart from the advent calendar!)  So on Sunday, with birthday festivities firmly behind us, we put up the Christmas tree.  It’s a plastic one – but the children wanted a recyclable tree (in fact, they wanted to recycle last year’s cut tree, which is behind my shed in a very brown, dead condition, but I drew the line, there!) 

Every year, I practise letting go of my control freakish design prejudices, and absent myself from the tree decorating.  Left to me, it would be themed and minimalist – perhaps no more than lights and some angel hair – but the children still enjoy loading it with the baubles we’ve accumulated over the year.  So I poured myself a gin, and left them to it… They haven’t done badly, I have to (grudgingly!) admit.

I think the fact that I’d spent the weekend on a meditation retreat at a buddhist centre in Derbyshire definitely helped with the letting go, too!

I’ve finished off the decorations, this year, with some heart-shaped fairy lights over the fireplace.  I quite like these, actually – they may stay.  I might even make more owls to hang amongst them, in the manner of bunting.  Although, of course, when I finally get round to ordering some more firewood it will probably be way too hot there for anything so meltable.

And that’s it for Christmas decorations, chez nous – I’m not a big fan of the season, and we’re the wrong faith for the celebration.  I will bring some mistletoe in on the 21st as part of our solstice celebrations (not that we’re that faith, either, but why would you miss an excuse for mulled wine and sausages cooked on the barbeque??). 

But Christmas *is* an excuse for Christmas markets.  On Sunday, I found myself with some time to kill and so I headed to the Manchester Christmas market.  We lived in Manchester for – oh, about 20 years, and so it’s a bit like homecoming to wander around the city centre.  The market there is much bigger (and better) than the Birmingham equivalent, and has German, French, craft and art sections, as well as the obligatory gluhwein and nyummy continental food!  I grew up in Germany, so always enjoy the opportunity to stock up on German delicacies – lebekuche, and gluhwein and bratwurst – just scrummy!  This year, I found a fabulous stall (from Hebden Bridge of all places) selling Polish earthenware pottery.  The shop is Polkadot Lane, and I really defy you to click on that link and not want to buy *all* of it!! I constrained myself to the mug above, and a glorious earthenware yorkshire pudding dish, decorated with forget me nots.   Tomorrow is my first morning at home since I bought the mug, and I’m sure my coffee will taste extra delicious, drunk from such a beautiful vessel!!

And finally, here’s an utterly gratuitous photo of one of the cats.  Because hell, it’s my blog and I can if I want to!!

Other stuff (odds and sods)

This is a kind of specious post.  I’ve uploaded pages about quilting, and knitting, and crochet.  Along the way, I found a handful of photos of other things, and since I’ve found them I want to put them up.  But these are things I made experimentally, just to see if I could, so I’m not going to give them a page of their own…

Back in 2003 (or somewhere around then), I did one year of a two year City & Guilds course in patchwork and quilting.  I didn’t finish the course for two reasons, both of which took equal weight (in my mind, if nowhere else..)  First, I went back to working full time and didn’t have time to spend Thursdays at college.  Secondly, the first year assessment package required me to design and make a box.  Out of fabric.  A box!  It’s not that I couldn’t, if I didn’t want to.  It’s just that I couldn’t imagine *why* in the name of all things sacred, I would *want* to.  I didn’t want to.  I designed and made just about everything else the assessment required – a wall hanging, an accessory, a quilt, a book of patchwork samples, another book of quilting samples, a cushion – oh, the list goes on.  But really!  A Box???  Anyway.  These three pictures I totally haven’t talked about at all are the City & Guilds wall hanging I made.  It’s based on a picture of a wave at Sennen Cove, and is made using the bargello method.  This is a brilliant, if slightly technical and complex way, of making waves in fabric, and I loved doing it.  In order to break the wave up and give a breaking water effect, I left the seams exposed.  I then couched some unspun merino top, woven through with silk waste, over the circle to give the crest effect of the wave, and adding some murano glass beads for the sparkle of the water.  So far, so good.  I then rather spoilt the whole thing by quilting it really crudely.  One day, I have it in mind to unpick the quilting and do something a bit more sophisticated.  But it’s been 8 years so far, so nobody should hold their breath…


 This is the accessory I made for the City & Guilds.  It’s a handbag based on a picture I found of a Moroccan mosque.  The fabrics are all hand dyed.  The blue edging is an upholstery weight linen, dyed using Dyrect dye from Omega Dyes.  The front and back are made from layers of cotton dimity, fine linen, silk, and silk velvet.  All were dyed in the same batch of Dyrect, but each fabric took the dye with a different intensity.  The fabric was stitched onto a linen backing, quilted into grids, and then slashed in different directions.  Each fabric, at a slightly different colour, breaks through the slashing, giving a depth and movement to the colour.  The velvet and silk also give a slightly chenille effect.  If I had slashed on the bias rather than along or straight across the grain, this chenille effect would have been enhanced by the way the raw edge would have frayed.

The edge, flap and handle are made from leather I got in a bag of scraps from Croft Mill, who used to do a marvellously eccentric catalogue selling roll ends and odd bits of stuff, which they now seem to do online: result!  You should totally read it – it’s full of treasures you’ll not find the like of elsewhere.  I never use this bag – it’s really not my thing at all, but every once in a while I stumble across it in a corner of a wardrobe, and I have a happy moment, simply stroking it.  It does feel utterly lush!

If my sister ever stumbles upon this blog, I am a dead woman.  In which case, it’s been lovely meeting you all – albeit briefly.  I’ll explain: this block is a New York beauty.  It’s a traditional American patchwork block, reputedly based on the Statue of Liberty’s crown.  The central and corner fabrics are Japanese geishas, and the zig zags are – um – something else I can’t quite see.  I must have made this block – and a few others like it – in 2004, when my sister got married.  Only it’s fiendishly technical (involving both curves and the points of triangles) and I moved jobs and houses and counties, and somehow that quilt never got finished, and Sissy never got a wedding present.  I am a *bad* sister!  But look!  Isn’t it lovely!  Wouldn’t it have been beautiful?? I’m sure I’ll finish it one day… maybe sometime soon after I unpick the wall-hanging…

This is a cushion I made for a very lovely friend.  We saw one a bit similar in a shop window, and he admired it.  So I made him one to celebrate a new job.  It involved applique, piping, machine embroidery with the feed dogs and free machine embroidery based on my own drawing – combining some of my favourite things with some of my least favourite things.  But that’s what friends are for, right?

And the next two pictures are… well… pictures.  Painted pictures.  These are recent – made within the last month.  I’ve never really done painting before, but after a stressful meeting, I found myself at home, drawing on the hall wall in precisely the manner which would have earned any of my children a resounding, heartfelt scolding!  I was making a mural.  When you’ve never done anything before, tackling it for the first time without thinking about it, in a place where it’s immediately visible to anyone who walks through the front door, isn’t necessarily the best plan… but once I’d started, I rather had to carry on until I’d finished.  And I have to admit, I like this tree.  A couple of people have commented that the colours are very Orla Kiely, and I guess I see that – but it wasn’t intentional at the time.  I don’t think it’s startlingly original, but actually I quite like the finished piece.

This painting is a canvas.  Which I bought, and left lying around in the hall until I was so irritated with it I had no choice but to throw it away, or bloomin’ well paint it.  So I painted.  Using a mixture of textured acrylic gesso, dulux matt emulsion, Windsor & Newton acrylics, embossing powder, silk paint and…um… no, I think that might be it.  Mixed media, then, I guess.  Again, this isn’t necessarily something I’d buy in a shop – it’s a bit twee – and about a fortnight after I finished it, I noticed that the gilded cage is wonky.  I’m going to pretend  that’s deliberate.  It’s a metaphor, you see, for the assymetrical injustice of entrapment.  Or something.  Anyway, what do I like about this?  The effect of light on the hanging heart.  The gold of the cage.  The sparkle on the wings of the flying heart.  Some of the density of movement and light on the background.  I’m not sure, yet, whether I like the whole thing, but it fills a gap on the spare bedroom wall…

And that’s it.  My forgotten photographic discoveries.

And now I’m going to make some felty things based on some half remembered pictures I saw while browsing for links to  put on some of the other pages.  There will be pictures…

Jumper Quilt

My son has decided he wants a quilt for Christmas.  Only, he wants a jeans quilt, and I’m more than a little bored of making jeans quilts, having made two or three, now.  So, having flicked through issue 7 of Mollie Makes, and seen a jumper quilt, I thought I’d give that a go.

I didn’t quite trust the Mollie Makes method, which was simply to cut jumpers into squares and stitch them, leaving edges unfinished.  I’m sure they’re right that the edges *wouldn’t* fray.  But what’s the point in owning an overlocker, right??

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. My first challenge was to find jumpers.  I asked colleagues, friends and even Twitter to donate old, wool jumpers.  I got two remnants of jumpers from an old friend.  And I trawled charity shops in Hereford, Rugby, Coventry and Birmingham.  It’s surprisingly hard to find woollen jumpers – acrylic, or cotton, or nylon aplenty.  But pure, unadulterated wool?  Dream on…

Eventually, I found enough jumpers, in enough non-girly colours, to put a quilt together.  I whizzed the squares up in the overlocker, using a cherry red woolly nylon thread, to contrast.  I deliberately arranged the jumpers so that some were displaying the right side, and some the wrong side (the reverse of cable knit is often quite interestingly textured).  I have included seams, pockets, buttons, cuffs, ribbing from edges and cowls.  Some are hand knitted, some are machine knitted.  Some are thick, some are thin.  Some are harsh and scratchy like jumpers from my childhood.  Some are luxuriously soft and strokable.  As I stitched them together, I left some seams on the reverse, but exposed some on the right side of the quilt, where the red thread provides some necessary brightness to the otherwise masculine colour tones.

I was trying to think of a theme to embellish – my son is at an age where he enjoys video games, but little else, and I don’t know enough about video games to be able to reproduce anything other than pacman, or perhaps Sonic the Hedgehog – neither of which would be greeted with more than a blank.  I was rescued by a wonderful colleague who suggested Tank Girl, whom my son adores.

So I copied a Tank Girl image onto a nappy liner, pinned it to a pale grey cashmere block and carefully stitched round it with plain, polyester sewing thread, leaving a faint outline on the wool.  Then I tore the nappy liner off, ironed some fusible facing to the reverse of the block, put some dissolvable stabiliser over the top of my design, dropped the machine’s feed dogs and let rip with the embroidery threads.

I’m really pleased with the result!  The expression isn’t quite the same on the quilt as it was on the drawing, but it’s a credible expression, nonetheless, and there are, if you scroll in close enough, individual eyelashes, and a little frown.  And look at that ear!!!

The quilt will be backed with white microfleece, and each block will be loosely hand quilted with a red sock yarn. 

Finished images to follow, at some point, hopefully.  I hope he likes it: but if not, it will no doubt find a home on the back of a sofa…