How to Use your EPP Quilt – Let Me Count the Ways…

Deer in the Forest’

When people see me with my mini quilts I am asked, over and over again, “what are you supposed to do with them?” That question always takes me by surprise. What makes people ask that?

Is it because, here in Britain, fabric was historically quilted to use for warm clothing, or patched together for bedding, while the American tradition of quilt making passed down through generations, and continued into modern times, is not something we do here? Is it to do with our soggy climate? Do people think they will get damp or spoil? That a wall is not a place for fabric decoration? Is it because hand made items are not valued highly enough? Is it because they think quilts are not practical; that they need a lot of care? I wonder.

People ARE quilting here. Charm packs are being bought, droves of people are attending Quilt Festivals, paper pieces are being bought, quilt patterns are being followed and yet the only quilt I have ever seen in anyone’s house belonged to an American. So, what are all our UK quilters doing with their quilts? And why are non-quilters so puzzled about what to do with them?

I am assuming most quilts are still being made for adult beds and, given the time and cost involved in buying and making them, perhaps they are jealously guarded. Maybe a great many are never finished. I have noticed some being sold on ebay and Etsy but these are mostly baby quilts. These at least don’t take as long to make and are more practical to use but what happens to the quilt after the baby outgrows it? Is it valued and passed on, or put in the cat/dog basket, or (shock horror) thrown away?

‘Tumbling Blocks’

I made this Tumbling Block quilt for my first born when I was in my twenties and it remains of huge sentimental value. I don’t have grandchildren so I don’t know if I would part with it for another child in the family. I think it’s unlikely. Every stitch in the quilt was a tiny step closer to the day my daughter arrived. I made it in green because I didn’t know if my baby was going to be a boy or a girl. I made a floor quilt for my son two years later, also from Laura Ashley fabric. I decorated the rows of six inch squares with large letters that said, ‘Rock Abye Baby on the Tree Top” followed by a row of trees along the bottom. The letters and the trees were felt and couldn’t be washed, so the quilt didn’t survive. I didn’t know how to piece letters in those days. I think of it sometimes and wish I could see it again. Now I take photos of what I make, back then I didn’t even own a camera.

I didn’t start making quilts again for another thirty five years and the quilts I make now are mostly decorative. However, they are as long lasting as any picture on the wall and, unlike pictures, they are washable. We are so spoilt now with the information we have at our fingertips whether it be on Youtube or Pinterest, or from blog posts or in one of the many books on quilting.There should be dozens of ideas out there, suggesting what you can do with a quilt of any size.

Here are a few of my ideas in a brief attempt to answer that question, “What are you supposed to do with them?”

The most obvious is probably as a Table Topper, a term which means more than the way it sounds. For example, you could put your table topper on a deep windowsill:

‘The Hut on Butterfly Hill’

or use it to show off an object, or a vase of flowers on a small table, or lay it below a lamp, candlestick or other small seasonal display:

You could use it to display an antique doll or a much loved bear:

‘Chequerboard’ with Liberty Squares

You could add some interest to a plain tray:

Or put one in a basket:

A really effective way is to put one on a quilt hanger. This works for tiny quilts as well as much larger ones. Small quilt hangers are fairly inexpensive but the larger, more decorative, ones can be pricy here in the UK. They are sturdy and long lasting though and don’t rust, so perhaps they are worth the money for the elegance they can bring to a quilt:

Quilt stands are harder to come across in the UK, and take up more surface space, but make a lovely addition to a hearth stone by a fireplace. If there is a sleeve on the back of the quilt you can slip it onto the split metal bar at the top, if not, you can tie it on with ribbon as I have:

‘All Roads Lead Home’

Another lovely way to display a quilt is in a frame, either on the wall or propped up on a desk or cabinet.

A cheaper and fun, modern, way of displaying a tiny quilt is on an easel. These are easily found on Ebay in several different colours. They make wonderful gifts in a pair like this:


Another more modern idea is to attach your mini quilt to a framed piece of chicken wire. I found this one in raw wood on Ebay and painted it. It has two metal rings at each corner of the back for attaching to hooks on the wall. I haven’t hung mine up yet. It’s just leaning against my whiteboard. It’s a fun idea. As the quilt is tied on with ribbon (or could be secured with mini plastic pegs) you could have a seasonal change of quilt! A similar idea is to attach it to a tobacco basket but they are harder to find and quite expensive.

How much is that doggie in the window?’

Other ideas are the more obvious over-the-back-of something, a chair, bench or sofa, or the top of the staircase or just propped up on the mantelpiece. I know that in America you can buy purpose-built quilt stands and quilt ladders but I have never seen those for sale here.

I hope these ideas are useful. If you can think of more, please tell me me about it in a comment below. It would be great to hear of others I haven’t thought of.

Until next time…

A mini cacti flower, just opened in our sunroom

One (Slow) Step at a Time

Wigtown Bay, ten minutes or so from where I live.

Hello Everybody,

It’s early May and Spring is still struggling to bring us warmth and sunshine but small glimpses are beginning to show, here and there.

For this post I am moving away from saying any more about the early unfinished quilts that I have been hoarding for so long and trying to complete. I will work my way through them eventually. Today I have returned to more recent ones in progress, trying to get as many as possible finished before we move house.

You would never think we were supposed to be moving house this year. I am waiting for my husband to finish some jobs around the house and garden and to clear the barn of things he has accumulated over the years and I’m getting so frustrated with the time it is taking. This is a very busy time of year at work for him and he is so physically and mentally frazzled by the time he gets home late in the evening, there neither the time nor the motivation to do anything. Days off are spent recovering. I do understand and try to sympathise but months are going by and the delay is becoming a strain. My focus has been on readying the house for viewing, not making a mess anywhere, keeping stuff in place, selling and giving away things we no longer need and keeping some of the garden under control. This has been my goal since the beginning of the year and I’m ready to get this house sold. It doesn’t feel as if there is time to start any new or large project. Except now there is a delay. Sometimes I think the delay doesn’t really matter; that what will be will be and I can certainly work on a few little quilts now and then while I wait. Taking time out to complete these has definitley made me feel better.

Note to Self: Just deal with it one step at a time.

Before I show you these quilts I want to tell you about something I came across online by accident and if you have not heard of it before, perhaps you will be interested. I wonder if you have heard of Hari-Kuyo, the Japanese Festival of Broken Needles? It is celebrated in February in one region of Japan and in December in another region but there the difference ends. Hari-Kuyo (Hari=needle and Kuyo = memorial) brings women to shrines each year, to remember the sewing needles broken in their work over the year and to pray for better skills. The Japanese show great respect for objects and like to honour small things for the service rendered by them. This festival allows women to thank their broken needles for their help and service and to acknowledge the part played by these indispensable tools in their individual achievements. Isn’t that wonderful? I completely identify with this practice, having always felt respect towards the things I own, keeping them cleaned and polished in return for the pleasure they give me.

Here are the quilts I have completed in the last week or two, Fittingly the first one has a Japanese theme. I have called it ‘Evening in Japan’ as it is made from Japanese Shibori patterned cotton from a charm pack and some off-white cotton. I wanted to use quilting stitches to have the ‘moon’ shine down on a little group of houses but I am not sure if the quilting stitches around the houses works. What do you think? Would the houses look better plain, without an ‘aura’ of stitches?

‘Evening in Japan’ 10 1/2″ x 19″

This is the back; little bursts of light with a mix of navy and white quilting stitches, as on the front:

Moda Shibori ‘Karamatsu’ for the back of ‘Evening in Japan’

The next one is ‘Once Upon A Chicken’. This was made to raise a smile but also as a celebration of all the chickens rescued from battery farms lately that have found good homes. Most of them had never seen grass before. Another question though. Would the quilt look nicer without the hen in the centre octagon?

‘Once Upon a Chicken’ from a Moda charm pack with some other added fabric.

This is the back. A whole space full of happy chickens.

‘Once Upon a Chicken’ is 15 inches square. My quilts are always odd shapes because I don’t think ahead to how big I want them to be when they are finished. Their size tends to rely on the size of paper pieces I have available at home and whether I then add borders and/or binding. Then later when I want them to fit in a frame, or on a tray, or in a basket, or on a sewing box, I wonder why I didn’t make them to fit.

Note to self: Make your quilts fit something more practical!

After these two larger ones, which both need a label and a good press before I put them away, I completed a couple of smaller ones. The first, ‘Scottish Country Garden’ and is an 8 inch square textile picture. Our gardens in this part of Scotland are visited by rather too many deer and hares.

‘Scottish Country Garden’. My garden is just an outdoor salad bar for wandering families of deer and hares.

I am not too pleased with this one. The smaller ones are always harder to piece. The next one is one of a series of ‘Guardian’ quilts I made during Covid. This is ‘Wishing Star’:

‘Wishing Star’ – 9″ square mini wall quilt

The back is the same black, white and gold plaid as the binding. Bindings always need a good press when they are done because folding them over the edge of the quilt edge to stitch them down makes them buckle slightly. Pressing gently flattens the binding to the even measurement you have allowed all the way around. I was so glad to get these finished I didn’t think of pressing them before taking the photo.

I feel another note to self coming up!

Finally, here is a quilt I have been battling with for some time, ‘ Frost in the Forest.’ This quilt was promised to someone more than a year ago (you know who you are!) but has given me more headaches than any other quilt I’ve tackled. This is one of the problems that comes with experimenting with something you have never done before. Sometimes it works and sometimes you have to find other ways to make it work. So, a little about this as yet, still unfinished quilt:

I thought it might be fun to cut out trees and superimpose them on fabric for a lacy look. The challenge was how to stitch them down in an unobtrusive way and how to stop their thin ‘branches’ fraying and falling apart as you stitch.

The answer is you can’t. I don’t like to use glue, so I decided just to stitch them down the best way I could with small stab stitches to keep them in place and that perhaps some embroidery stitches, used in a creative way later, would make the holding stitches less obvious. The photo above shows the tress stitched down. The white area will eventually have white batting behind it. This will allow both the visible seam allowances and transparent areas to disappear from view and become evenly white.

I had a small square of the blue fabric left to use for the back of the quilt. And then one day I laid the front of the quilt down onto the blue and was amazed how a slim blue border around the quilt transformed it completely. It was as though you were looking through a window to the forest beyond. I loved the difference it made.

Frost in the Forest’ – eventual size about 14″ square

I decided to stitch the quilt onto the blue piece of fabric to allow for a border all the way around, and to just use white on the back. However, putting the white front directly onto the blue caused the blue to show through. It turned the white inner areas pale blue while drawing attention to the thicker inner hems that remained stubbornly white.

The only way to solve this problem was to replace the blue fabric with white fabric behind the front layer and cut up the blue fabric to create the borders. That raised yet another problem. If I cut strips across the fabric the trees would not all be facing same the way up on each border. I would have to cut around the edges but the fabric wasn’t a true square. I wasn’t sure the borders would fit as I had only had a small piece to work with and EPP necessitates larger seam allowances than regular quilting.

It may seem a bit odd having a row of tree stumps around the bottom but all that is left now is a 9″x 3″ rectangle and I can’t do anything with that. I tried to buy more of the same fabric but it was no longer available. It would have been nice to match the fabric at the each corner of the bottom border so that the top of the trees fitted with the bottoms. Even now I am not sure all the borders will fit the quilt. I have left a generous seam allowance at each end as a safety measure. Otherwise, making the side borders narrower might help. We will soon see.

On the plus side I know how I am going to quilt it and I have some lovely matching blue thread. I have found a white fabric with minuscule white tone on tone dots, like falling snow, for the back. Now I have to do something with those two trees in the foreground and get the borders sewn on. Then perhaps I can get it sent to the person who has been waiting so long and so patiently for it.

I have begun three more quilts while I am thinking about this one. This stops me getting too anxious about it and allows thoughts and ideas to percolate.

There is so much more I want to show you than my stash of quilts in progress – from how to make 3D pieces using EPP to how to make fabric bead embellishments – but it will have to wait a little longer.

Until next time….by which time I hope we are all enjoying wonderful weather!

A posy of Spring flowers from a friend as a thank you for letting her help herself to anything from my garden to make her wreaths last Christmas. A lovely thought and so appreciated. They smell heavenly.

A Flurry of EPP Along With the Snow

Hello Everyone,

We’ve had snow! It didn’t hang around for long though and now we are have rain and more rain. However Spring is not far off and we need to hang on just a little longer.

Since my last post I have been continuing to work on the patterns and fabrics that have been hanging around my sewing room for years. I am determined that the tops of these, at least, are going to completed this year. After the ones I have to show you today, I am down to the last half dozen, each of which need more papers or more fabric or something else I don’t have, though this doesn’t include the pile of more recently begun Scottish themed mini wall quilts, each of them about eight inches square. There are quite a few of those but, for now, I am pretending they don’t exist and have hidden them in a drawer.

While I was checking through my pile of work in progress, I came across these. I quite like tiny tumbler shapes and may have thought they might make attractive rings in Liberty fabric. I have an idea that I might use them to make a meandering path from somewhere to somewhere else, like those games we moved our counters along when we were children.

Talking of children, there are just two more of my Children’s quilts left to put together. One is called ‘Winners Circle’ and features rows of horses, each one different from the other. I made one of the blocks but have now decided to make the horses smaller. The paper pieces I bought for the design between each block are now the wrong size so this quilt will have to go to the back of the queue for now.

The other is ‘Calico Cats’ and here it is, ready to piece together:

The cat fabric on the right will be used for the surrounding border and the fabric at the bottom is for the back of the quilt.

Stashed away in a plastic box I had a Moda Mini Charm Pack that needed using up and a fat quarter of fabric from the same line, which resulted in these two mini quilts:

This is ‘Circle of Friends’ (above) and ‘Mixed Bag’ (below). They both look rather wobbly but that will come right once the pieces are sewn together and a spot of multi coloured big stitch quilting will jazz up the flat grey around the little creatures.

I also had two of the larger Moda Charm Packs hanging around and thought I might use them to work with shapes I haven’t tried before. So, here is the beginnings of ‘A Musical Affair’ in octagons, which I think will become be a runner.

And here is ‘Zen Chic’, a small table topper in elongated hexagons. I have some matching fabric that I could use as a border (shown below) but I think it’s too fussy. I think I will use a solid or tone on tone fabric that matches one of the colours in the quilt instead, perhaps the purple.

Another charm pack I had was’ Country Life’ (shown below). I am a bit obsessed by circular patterns at the moment, so I have used it to make a ‘Circle of Country Friends’ who are scattered around this silver grey fabric. I expect that it will not have escaped your notice that I like to use shades of grey as background fabrics, ha ha. I think they allow lighter or brighter colours to pop forwards. The square in the centre looks a bit lonely, doesn’t it? Perhaps the quilting will liven it up.

I have five more charm pack quilts in progress but as this post is getting rather long, I will show you those in my next post.

Below is a pattern I really love and another of my favourite circular patterns. I have quite a few shapes in paper templates so I laid the pattern out on my desk. It is worth having a few packets of different shaped papers to be able to move the pieces around and design your own patterns. It’s less tedious than drawing them.

I want to fussy cut a hare, or rabbits or birds into each of the house shapes that rotate around the centre and add in other coordinating fabrics that will lend it a woodland theme. This will be quite a large quilt (about 36 inches square) and actually a size I am beginning to like more and more. Room for a little more drama!

I have collected fabrics for three different variations of this quilt and I like them all so much, I am tempted to make three versions of the same quilt. I haven’t done that before. Here they are, Winter Hare, Spring Rabbit and Little Birds. Which one do you like?

I think these are quite enough quilts for one day, or I will risk boring you to death. If you ever have any questions, please ask. I will try my best to answer them.

I hope that by the time my next post is ready, the sun will be shining and warming us all up. Until then, keep cosy and keep stitching!

What looks like white roses, in the photo above, are just blobs of snow that happened to collect on the top of our azaleas. They melted away within half an hour of taking this picture, so I caught them just in time

The EPP Coverlet, 1718. Making a Replica

Hi Everyone,

Imagine someone sitting with a needle and threads and an idea for a quilt, wrapping papers with fabric and sewing 182 blocks together, hour upon hour, until the quilt was complete. Imagine that this was long ago, before the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions, before there was electricity, when travel was arduous and shopping for fabric was difficult. Imagine the quilt was made mainly in silk and the maker added a block just above centre, initialed and dated, E H 1718. Imagine if you were this person. Could you conceive for one moment that your quilt would survive, albeit a little frail, to appear at auction over 300 years later and be revealed to the world as the oldest known, dated, piece of patchwork in Britain?

Sadly, despite extensive research, it has not been possible to discover who EH was but what a wonderful gift it is for us to see today, with its mixture of sixty nine geometric and figurative patterns; a man and a woman, a variety of animals, some heraldic designs, hearts and flowers – and all the papers still left in it!

The coverlet was bought in early 2000 by the Quilters Guild of the British Isles, who proceeded to conserve the quilt as best they could. However, because its delicate condition meant it had to be kept in the dark, in humidity controlled storage, and could not withstand being on display, the conservation process gave rise to the making of a full size replica of the original quilt. It was completed in 2004.

The replica project also inspired a book, released in 2014, which allows people like us to replicate the quilt ourselves if we choose to do so, or even just part of it – our favourite blocks – via the original hand stitched method or by machine, using modern fabrics of our choice.

It is perhaps worth remembering that the the maker’s original technique, now often referred to as English Paper Piecing, used to be called Mosaic Patchwork. It only became known as English Paper Piecing once the technique became popular in America very much later. Also it should be noted that the ‘quilt’ is referred to here as a coverlet because it doesn’t have any wadding between the decorated front and the backing fabric.

So, why am I telling you all this? It’s mainly because I noticed this book on Amazon a while ago and thought it was just about the history of an old quilt, followed by instructions on how to copy it. And of course it is, but when I eventually bought it, I discovered there is so much more of interest between its covers and it’s not just for lovers of Mosaic Patchwork and EPP

There are chapters of a few pages at the beginning outlining the history of the coverlet; the conservation process; the means used to replicate the quilt; a layout and numbering system for each block; the fabrics and materials originally used and what you would need to consider if you wanted to use the closest equivalents available.

Later chapters cover a variety of techniques in detail, both original and modern (so you can use your rotary cutter and sewing machine if you prefer) and the adding of the usual backing, borders, label and so on that might be needed. Then there is a numbered directory of every block accompanied by a coloured picture, followed by a separate page of instructions for every single block showing both the original and modern methods of completing it. All the block diagrams are given in their actual size.

The points I think are important to take away from this blog post are:

  1. You don’t have to be an English Paper Piecer to learn from this book. There is a huge amount of guidance here for making a various types blocks by hand or machine.
  2. You can choose any number of blocks to make your own quilt or wall hanging. Look at the banner below! This banner, inspired by the coverlet is called ‘Cantata’ and was made by Maureen Poole.
  3. I am not sure there are any EPP books that tackle figurative work as comprehensively as this one. Books on EPP generally cover only geometric patterns.
  4. I had previously only seen people or animal blocks for quilts made out of geometric shapes but this book shows you how to tackle unusual shapes, curves and points and incorporate them into a block in a way that I would previously have thought too difficult to piece. I think it could teach experienced English Paper Piecers a thing or two.

Just to clarify what I mean by this last point, here is a page from one of Gwen Marston’s early books, ‘Twenty Little Patchwork Quilts’ featuring four ‘girls’ alongside the ‘Woman’ featured on the coverlet. I love how much more realistic and natural looking the second pieced block is.

I will back soon with more of my quilts in progress. I just felt that this book needed to be celebrated for the less obvious and special information that it contains.

So, until next time…

Toppers and Logs

We have had some misty mornings lately at Forest Moor

Hi Everyone,

I once read that, in quilting circles, Toppers are people who enjoy all the designing and piecing of tops of quilts and then leave them to languish, incomplete , while they go on to make another top. It’s true that quilting and binding a quilt is not as much fun but that’s when you really see it coming together and beginning to look like a proper quilt.

Lately, I have been working very much as a Topper, going through each of my fabrics and patterns-in-waiting, cutting out the shapes of fabric needed and wrapping all the paper pieces. Then I put them back in their respective boxes. The idea is I can pick any box and begin piecing; all the bits are there, ready to sew. I managed to do all but two of the medium sized quilts because the last two need either more fabric or more paper pieces.

I’ll show you some in this post, the ones that are predominantly about working with strips of fabric, whether long strips for sashing or shorter strips like those found in log cabin blocks. The others will keep for a later post as I don’t want to overwhelm you! I have photographed the tops on my desk, laid out in their pattern but not yet sewn together:

This post mostly concerns working with strips of fabric, very long strips for sashing (the strips of fabric between quilt blocks to space then out) and shorter strips like those found in log cabin blocks

For anyone who might not know, the log cabin is much loved traditional quilt block that is built from the centre outwards, adding longer pieces as you go. The centre represents the hearth of the home, often shown in a red fabric, while the logs represent the wooden walls of the ‘cabin’. There are many variations in the number and size of logs and blocks can be short and fat or tall and thin. Some quilts are made up of a single large log cabin block, while others might use multiples of the same block.

I have had four log cabin ideas waiting to be made for about a decade now. It makes me cringe writing that; realising how long it’s been. One is a long panel, a lovely ‘ Princess and the Pea’ print that I want to make into a log cabin design but haven’t decided whether I will, as all those logs arranged around the centre make for long and tedious sewing time. The panel would sit in the space numbered 1 in the diagram below and logs of various widths of fabric would work outwards from there.

I also had two log cabin quilt ideas for children but I have given up on the design I originally planned for these, just to get the quilts done faster. In the first one below, I have done away with layers of ‘logs’ in favour of a Framed One Patch design, taken from ‘Quilts for Baby’ by Ursula Reikes, using a fun safari fabric. The green fabric you can just see on the far left will make a wide border around the centre frames. This is now much more do-able and not nearly as much sewing time.

The second child’s quilt has morphed into a pattern called ‘Barney’s Block’, using the same safari fabric but in a different colour way (more browns and rusts, fewer yellows and greens and with shorter logs and squares.

It looks rather dull at the moment but will be framed in fabric of the same bright orange yellow squares as the giraffes you see here, so that should brighten it up quite a bit! This pattern is from ‘Even More Quilts for Baby by Ursula Reikes.

My next quilt top is a variation of the Log Cabin design, called ‘Courthouse Steps’. In this block the logs are arranged differently, as in the diagram below:

I have been avoiding this one for years, even though I had all the fabric, because of the amount of sewing involved (even cutting out all the logs takes ages) but now I have begun I am rather pleased with it. I have called it ‘Temple Window’ because it reminds me of one I saw once, in Nepal. All the pieces are wonky in the photo below but once they are all sewn together, I think it will look nice. I don’t really need that second strip of red and blue that runs between the top and bottom two blocks, but I quite like it, so I am leaving it like that for now. In fact I have decided to add another five blocks to make it a much larger square for the wall, except that means even more cutting and sewing (sigh).

Once upon a time I bought four or five Charm Packs, and as many Mini Charm Packs, all so easy to fall in love with and buy. But then you have to use them. This one was a charm pack by Moda called ‘Sphere’ and the pattern is ‘Amanda’ from ‘3 Times the Charm (Book II)’ by Me and My Sisters. In the early days I bought books and followed patterns which I don’t do anymore, but I want to complete these quilts as far as possible in the way I intended them because they were part of that time.

The original pattern has a series of larger rectangles in the same fabric that frame the pattern above but that makes it look VERY busy, so I have decided to add a border of blue between the pattern the outer row of rectangles, to soften the overall brightness a little.

In addition to many the toppers I began this January, I also added to earlier incomplete quilts. Do you remember this mermaid, ‘Attic Window’ design? The first photo shows all the completed blocks sitting on my desk, the second shows the paper pieces that will make up the sashing and the third shows the fabric sashing in place.

You will notice that the sashing strips are a little too long. This is so I can adjust them to the right size later. Strip lengths have a habit of shifting slightly when you are sewing and if you have cut them too short you’re in trouble!

Another thing you might notice is that the paper sashing in the middle picture is made up of lots of short pieces. All kinds of shapes are available from sellers of English Paper Piecing papers but no long strips. It took a while for it to dawn on me that I could make my own by sellotaping pieces together. If I need an 8″ strip I could sellotape two 3″ pieces and a 2″ piece together or two 4″ pieces. Later they can be cut apart again and re-used.

So that’s it for today. More to come soon and then all I have to do is sew all the pieces together. Hmm, I think that could take a year or two! It’s time; they have been hanging around far too long and I have so many, very different, ideas of my own that I am itching to get to.

I hope you are all well and keeping cosy. Spring is not far away!

Till next time….

Back to The Beginning

Happy New Year, Everyone!

Last year seemed to whizz by and I can’t say that I made the most of it. I am hoping this year will be different.

Here in Scotland we have the tradition of the First Foot at New Year. The first foot is the first person to cross the threshold of your home in the New Year The first foot should come with a gift, which used to be a lump of coal for your fireplace but, with modern heating, this has given way to something more practical like food or a new calendar. The first foot should also bring a bottle as it is not the responsibility of the householder to have a drink ready for you. However, they may have something welcoming to offer, perhaps some oat biscuits and cheese, or some soup. It is considered an honour to be someones first foot and is particularly auspicious if that person happens to be tall and dark. I wonder if there is a similar tradition in other parts of the world. When I lived in Singapore, we would exchange gifts of oranges at Chinese New Year because they symbolised gold and therefore good fortune.

So this New Year, my immediate goal has been to complete as many quilt tops as possible from projects that have been sitting around for years, waiting to get done. When I started my EPP journey about a decade ago, fabric was fairly inexpensive and I planned to make quilts for children. I found designs I liked, bought the fabric to complete the pattern and boxed them all separately. As time went by and my tastes changed I didn’t want to make quilts for children any more. I was more interested in wall quilts, mainly small wall quilts that read as textile pictures and larger wall quilts for bedroom walls. I know I could just put these patterns and the fabrics up for sale on Ebay and get on with what I most want to do in the present, but that’s not me. If I decide I am going to do something I will get it done, even it might not seem remotely sensible to anyone else. So, I have made a start on the first lot of these quilts. I have reduced each of the patterns, so they are not crib or bed sized but small enough to hang on the wall. This should mean I will have the satisfaction of seeing them finished more quickly.

Over Christmas and New Year I began cutting out all the fabric pieces I would need for the first few quilts and collecting the paper shapes required. The plan is to do that for each quilt, so that I can just pick a box and start sewing. This post (rather photo heavy I’m afraid!) is about these first few quilts and where I am with them now.

In addition to these I also have quite a few small quilts (8in/20cm square) sitting about unfinished, the ones I make from scraps, and I finished piecing the top of a few of these over Christmas. The first one is a spring quilt featuring a hare. Isn’t he charming? I think I will embroider him, so that he stands out more. The pattern is a variation of an American block called Prairie Queen.

The second one is a block called Lady Luck, featuring a Great Dane. Unfortunately, the pattern didn’t allow me to lose the cheeky face of another dog peeking in the top left hand corner. I have an idea of how I might disguise this but it needs some thought.

The third was this unicorn quilt. I have a number of unicorn scraps, in blue and in lilac, and I like to find simple patterns to place around them. This block pattern is Salt Water Taffy and is only part pieced, so far. I will probably embroider the unicorn.

Of the children’s quilts the first pattern is ‘Children’s Delight’, from a book by Ursula Reikes called ‘Even More Quilts for Baby’. You will see from the middle picture that I have put a torn paper frame around the upper section to reduce the patten. On the left are the four dogs that will form the larger patches, as well as the fabric I will use in the quilt. The picture on the far right shows the pieces cut and ready to baste around paper shapes. The fabric with bones may become the large outer border.

I have always loved animal quilts so after the dogs I decided there had to be cats. This pattern is ‘Catawampus’, out of a book of children’s quilts called ‘Tuck Me In’ from the editors and contributors of Quiltmaker magazine. The featured fabric is rather a muddy looking design and the cats are bunched together so not very easy to cut out or very clear but I hope it will have a painterly look. Again I have reduced the pattern so that it is just twelve blocks. Photos show the pattern, the cat blocks chosen and the cut pieces along with their papers, ready to sew.

There are more children’s quilts but I will attack them in small groups of three or so, rather then overwhelm myself with too many.

Another of these is ‘Our Neighbourhood’ from a Charm Pack by Moda called Neco. I have mentioned this one in an earlier post as it was about me trying out the use of sashing in a quilt, not easy with English Paper Piecing. Accuracy with long straight strips is difficult, so here I have broken up the long strips into a series of shorter rectangles and squares. There has only been a little more progress with this one, mainly the addition of more cats as cornerstones between the sashing! A delay was caused by having to buy more fabric because I had forgotten that that sashing goes all the way around the outside as well. My dining table is over three feet wide, so this quilt will be about 3 ft x 3 ft 6″ when complete.

Below is a long wall quilt or runner that I started at the end of last year, that I call ‘Little Bothies’. For anyone who is not familiar with bothies, these are small buildings used as shelters, (once used for workers on an estate) left unlocked and available for people to use free of charge, and found in more remote areas of Scotland. You can see from this little quilt how my tastes in fabric have changed from the bright cheerful colours in the children’s quilts to darker, more sophisticated, patterns and shades. All except the top row has been pieced and after I have sewn this on I will add the fabric doors, shown here with bits of white paper and embroider a window either side of it. This quilt will have a double border, a thin solid green one followed by a wider one in a similar fabric to the falling leaves here that represent the skies beyond the rooftops.

Whew! Well that’s it for the moment but there are at least another fifteen quilts to go! What I hope you will take away from the post is: Buy fabric for only one or two projects at a time, however tempted you are, because goals and tastes change and it’s no fun being stuck with fabric and ideas that don’t inspire you anymore. Record what you buy (thank goodness I did this), so if you have to buy more fabric, you can easily look for a match. I was lucky that the ivory solid fabric I was using for ‘Our Neighbourhood’ is always available and that I had just enough cat fabric, otherwise I would have had start again with new sashing.

I am sewing as much as I can this month because our house will go up for sale very shortly and while I show potential buyers around it, I won’t be able to have quilt pieces strewn all over my desk and dining table. They will all be tidied away and I will have to focus on getting us out of here to somewhere new. There will still be time for more posts before I disappear offline for a few weeks, I am sure, and of course I will let you know.

I wonder what you are all doing out there, during the long grey rainy days we have been having this January. Today we have sun and there are signs of snowdrops in the garden, so Spring is not far away!

Til next time…….

The photo at the top of this post is of winter trees in our back garden and beyond. The photo here, at the bottom of the post, is the view from the side of our house across the fields to the hills. These are views I will sorely miss.

And So it is Christmas….

And what have I done?

Well, over the last few months, probably since my last post, I have been selling things on Ebay, partly to get some extra money for Christmas presents but mainly just to pass unused things on to people who will enjoy them more. I have sold 56 items since I began in the autumn and from the huge pile sitting in my spare bedroom, waiting to be sold, only two little toys are left. I think that was pretty good going.

I don’t know if any of you sell much on Ebay but it can get pretty relentless, the cycle of photographing something from every angle, listing with plenty of description, collecting plenty of packaging, wrapping and labelling, dashing to the post office to post a pile of packages and than starting all over again. It seemed that every time I’d settle down to do something, another item would sell and with the number of postal strikes we have had here in the UK, I had to start arranging courier deliveries online to get things to people faster. A surprising amount of my earnings went on postage and courier deliveries. Sometimes in my efforts not to overcharge, I didn’t charge enough and had to add money from my own pocket. Buy hey, the whole point was to send the items on their way and have happy buyers. Any earnings were a bonus. And only one person complained about the late arrival of her package and asked for a refund. I am sure that once we have moved house in the Spring there will be more to get rid of, particularly as we are (supposed to be!) downsizing, but I am glad it’s over for now and I can think about other things.

While I was run off my feet doing all this it turned very cold, colder than I remember it being here. The little heater in my study was having a hard time coping with the cold air seeping into the house. I started wearing three or four layers and making soup. The picture below shows the frost, like eerie botanical sketchers, on my front windows.

We are back to green grass and clear skies now but it is still fairly cold and snow and ice are forecast in the next few days. My cats are ready for it, tucked up in their bed like sardines, with two hot water bottles underneath them.

I have not been sewing at all. My textile course online has offered stitches masks, mandalas, maps and lettering on fabric with transfer paints but I haven’t attempted any for months. I feel a strange mixture of being desperate to sew something but not feeling that I can focus on anything in particular, a strange jumpy feeling as if I don’t have enough time, or will be interrupted if I begin. However, I have been thinking, as I always do at this time of year and into January, about where I want to go with things.

Fabric is getting so expensive and with prices of batting and thread rising too, I don’t think I can continue making quilts. Luckily I have everything I need for several already at home, so I can finish those but it’s time to make something a little less expensive. I bought a pattern from SharonBlackmanArt on Etsy, to appliqué and embroider a cottage, partly because it’s good to support other makers (even though obviously I could create something similar myself) and because I want to see how I feel about simple pieces of fabric stitched to a background fabric with no batting between, and with appliqué and embroidery being the prominent features rather than patchwork and quilting. I think someone else’s design it’s just what I need for now, to get me back into the groove.

I like surface stitching quite a lot and would love to do more of it but, as always, I am more drawn to the pictorial than the patterned. I know that I want to so something with animals. I haven’t finished my hare runner yet (pictured below with still the quilting and binding to do), but working on this made me realise how much I want to put more animals onto fabric. Perhaps birds, too.

I still want to experiment with taking English Paper Piecing in new directions, like using transparent fabric, perhaps trapping small fabric talismans between sheer layers and I am not sure I can pull myself away from American block designs entirely, as I love so many of the designs and the stories behind them. Perhaps they will become softer background designs in my work now, to support an animal in the foreground. Soon I am going to start making sketches and see where they lead me. I am sure there will be some ducks as they are often on my mind. I wonder how mine are doing now in their new home. If they have managed to stay clear of Mr Fox.

We are not doing Christmas in the same way this year as we have no family visiting until Spring. So no tree, no decorations, just the two of us exchanging gifts and enjoying some of our favourite food. No chores for me this year as my husband is doing all the cooking – well, perhaps some washing up. I posted gifts off to my family at the end of November this year, ahead of the postal strikes and cards have gone off to people who matter. I notice more and more people are not sending cards at Christmas. Some say they make a donation to a charity instead but there is nothing having cards from your favourite people all around you at Christmas and I aways buy charity Christmas cards. I have friends and relatives that live alone and I want them to feel thought about.

I wish you all a very enjoyable Christmas, have fun and keep cosy and I will be back in 2023!

November Already?

Hello Everybody. Happy Autumn!

I said I would take a break for the summer but it’s been a longer break than I intended. I stopped doing all my usual hobbies: My textile course, my poetry course, my language course and my EPP works in progress, all in favour of getting the house ready for sale. I thought I would feel as if I had oodles of time to do whatever I wanted and yet, strangely, I didn’t feel as if I had any more time than I did before.

It was a wonderful summer here in this part of Scotland, warmer, but most importantly, drier. It was so warm and dry and there were hardly any flies or ticks in the summer, though that might have been partly due to there being sheep in the fields next to us rather than cattle, for a change. I was outside much more than usual, weeding, cutting back bramble, planting the rockery, tidying the greenhouse and looking after new Hydrangea cuttings. As you can see in the photo above, I had company in the greenhouse!

My cats also found a new use for the duck box:

In late summer, I picked up a Swallow that had fallen out of its next onto the concrete floor of the carport. The bird was still tiny and so cold but it was alive. There were quite a few swallows’ nests in our carport roof, and I found it a distance from all of them, so I didn’t know which nest I should put it back into. It would have meant an unsafe climb to try, so I took it indoors, put it in a little box and it survived for quite a while on a constantly refilled warm hot water bottle and a nest of kitchen paper. I had to feed it about every fifteen minutes which was hard going and it was alway hungry.

I got up extra early and went to bed late to keep it warm for as long as possible. Each evening it was lively and chirpy but by the next morning it seemed close to death again. It took a hour or two to warm it back up again. After a few days, I managed to find a disc for pets that you could warm in the microwave and it would stay warm all night but by morning the bird had shuffled away into a corner and become cold again. I wonder if I had got up in the night as well, whether it would have made it. When I saw all the young swallow fledge, swooping in the skies around our house, I felt that I had let it down. It’s not a very sharp photo of the little bird here but I thought you would find it interesting to see how Swallow mouths are specially adapted for catching insects on the wing.

Apart from the work outside, a lot of tidying went on inside. We had new carpets laid and I began the long haul of selling more unwanted things on ebay. I am still selling now, into autumn, now passing on toys kept in an under stairs cupboard for grandchildren that I am probably never going to have, so they are off to new homes.

Look at these! Arn’t they cute?

Other things included extra Christmas lights and decorations, old vacuum cleaner attachments and a whole box of old CD’s. A stack of books went to the second hand book shop and two bags of mixed items went to the charity shop. It feels good to pass all these on to someone who will use them.

I also sold much of my mother’s vintage jewellery that I knew I would never wear. That was hard but I came to realise that my mother would prefer someone else to enjoy the collection, than have me holding on to it out of guilt. And when I am gone one day, it would all be sold anyway. I still feed sad and mean when I think of it but I hope in time that feeling will fade.

I have some quirky additions to my bookcase. My daughter gave me these two animals that you press out of card and put them together. I think they are a lion and a rabbit? I have ornaments from my travels all over the world in other rooms but the bookcases in my study are for quirky items that I come across, or little things my children or my friends have given me. They are all so different and make me smile.

I also bought a pair of vases with faces, so that I could give them little plant ‘hats’. There are men and women of all sizes available, made by a family in Poland. These are sisters, Lilian and Amelia.

So here we are now in autumn and I have done no sewing for months. The break has been good for me because I had become sick of sewing and just wanted to stop. Now I feel like starting again. I have a few months, before we put our house up for sale in early Spring, to think about what I want to do and any new direction I want to take. There will be time to complete a few works in progress and perhaps some UFO’s.

I have taken my work out of our local gallery with a view to selling it on Etsy. I have wanted to this for a few years but thoughts about how to begin, and how much it might cost to begin with, made me anxious and led me to avoid it but now it’s the right time to do it, I think. I just need to read up on the tips and advice on their site before I get started. I have already opened a shop but there is nothing in it yet!

As the garden is tidier now, it’s a pleasure to go out and walk around it, especially among the trees, as I know it may all be lost to us soon and I don’t think we will have the like of it again. It’s is a great privilege to have such a garden but it comes at a cost. We need a smaller garden now because we want to have time and energy for other things

Falling leaves are scattered over the grass as well as here in the courtyard, and they line the floor of the beech forest behind us

My Hydrangeas are turning into the muted shades of autumn, though one or two try and hang onto their summer colour.

I’ve talked a lot about myself in this post, about my garden and what I have been up to these past months but soon I will be back to English Paper Piecing and other random experiments with fabric. I will try not to be away quite as long.

Until next time….

English Paper Piecing With Coloured Pencils

Hydrangea serrata ‘Grayswood’ – my favourite, from last year’s cuttings.

In this post I am looking at how using both regular and water soluble coloured pencils can enhance your English paper piecing or appliqué . In spite of the length of this post, this is just an overview and if you want to learn more there are plenty of Youtube videos that go into more detail.

Why use Coloured Pencils on fabric?

If you want to add colour detail on an EPP block or piece of appliqué, or you don’t have the right colour fabric for a small piece you want to insert, or the fabric you do have is lacking a highlight, shadow or outline, you might find a solution in the use of coloured pencils. However, these are best used to accentuate small areas of your work rather than anything large scale and can, of course, be further embellished with embroidery.

Coloured Pencils

The Tools you Need:

Regular Coloured Pencils : You need only regular coloured pencils (though a big selection is worth having). Crayola works fine at the cheaper end or Prismacolour at the more expensive end. Prismacolour and Artesa have a softer lead which works well, as opposed to the harder leads in the Caran D’Ache and Rexel Cumberland that I have in the house. Rexel Cumberland are made by Derwent Studio (who also make Inktense Pencils). Regular coloured pencils allow you to control colour and intensity in a way that is more difficult with Intense pencils, which are ink rather than wax based. However colour pencils give a softer, less dramatic effect.

A Design on Fabric: It could be a black and white fabric with line drawings, or you could transfer a design onto fabric, or draw your own. To experiment I have made some white cotton English Paper Pieced fabric squares with a series of embroidery designs transferred onto them. I have used fabric that is slightly textured to show you that this is not necessarily an ideal choice because, as you will see, the texture shows through the colour. The colour goes on better is your fabric is smooth.

Cotton buds: to blend your pencil shading to a smooth finish.

A very small paintbrush: Size 0 to apply your Textile Medium.

Textile Medium: (also often called fabric medium or colourless extender). It will look white in the bottle and while you use it but it dries clear. Jacquard is one of the best brands. The Tulip brand gives a slight sheen, apparently, and you can also buy some that are iridescent, leaving a glittery sheen(which is nice if you want to paint a dragon-fly wing). Use very little and let it dry before adding more because it’s hard to get rid of the glitter if you add too much at first. There are a variety of textile mediums that create different effects so check out a few to make sure they suit your purpose. Below is the one I use:

A hot iron: No steam!

How to Use Them:

The key to using coloured pencils well, is to use the duller side of the pencil. You want to shade not create harsh lines that do not blend. This is easier with a softer lead and if the pencil is not overly sharpened. Layer your colour, adding a light, almost transparent amount of colour, blend the colour gently with a cotton bud, and then add another light layer, until you get the depth of colour you are looking for.


Coloured pencils on an iron-on transfer added to a 2 1/2 inch English Paper Pieced square

Making it Last:

Although using coloured pencils can easily be used to enhance your quilts or drawings on fabric, the reason many people avoid using them is that in the colour is prone to fade with use, or wash out when laundered.

However, there is a way to make them permanent!

The secret is to brush on a colourless extender like the one pictured above. You only need a little on the tip of your paintbrush. Barely touching the fabric, spread a very fine layer of the extender over your colour pencilled area. As long as you add only a fine layer, the hand of your fabric will remain the same. It won’t stiffen the fabric so you will easily be able to easily stitch in more detail afterwards, if you want. Now let your work air dry. Once it has dried, heat set it with a DRY iron for about 5 seconds. Don’t forget to protect your iron with a piece a backing parchment between the iron and your work.

If you love colouring with pencils, I have come across this wonderful book that covers a myriad of techniques I have not seen before in a book. It is not intended for use on fabric but there is no reason why many of the techniques wouldn’t work on fabric as well.

Other Types of Coloured Pencil that work on Fabric:

Regular coloured pencils aren’t the only coloured pencils you can use on fabric but the ones that give the most dramatic colour are probably the water soluble Inktense pencils.

Inktense Pencils

Intense pencils are watercolour pencils with ink pigments which become lightfast as soon as water is added. The water intensifies the colour to something much more vibrant. They are useful for adding shadows, (for example under rocks in landscapes), for soft background washes, for adding more contrast to a solid colour in a single area, or as a filler between areas of embroidery. They allow an opportunity to add depth and texture that your fabric may not give you, to add more definition to appliqué, or for filling in black and white line illustrations on fabric.

These pencils come as single pencils (I bought mine a few years ago in a small blister pack of six) or in tins of 12, 24, 36 and 72. The bigger the tin, the greater the choice of fabulous colours but the larger tins are eye-wateringly expensive!

What Not to Do:

The picture above left shows Inktense pencils used as they are, without water. Here I have not used a blending pencil or Q tip to blend the colour and it shows. The rough texture of the cotton makes it easy to throw the pencil off balance around the edges.

The picture above right shows the same pencils used with added water. Here you can see how much more vibrant the colour is but the same picture also shows how hard it is to fill tiny areas adequately in a small design like this, or to stop the added water from causing the colour to travel outside your lines. Of course these small mistakes can be covered with outline stitches, if necessary but there is an easier way to control the colour.

Inktense Pencils

The Tools You Need:

Some Inktense pencils: These are available in a blister pack of 6 colours or in tins of 24, 36 and 72 that are eye wateringly expensive!

A sheet of freezer paper: to put under you work because moisture can work into the surface below.

A small paintbrush: A water brush can also be used

A small cup of water and/or Textile medium: to control the spread the colour.

A saucer or small palette: for creating puddles of colour and for mixing your colours

A white cotton scrap of cloth: to test colour and wipe up spills:

A sheet of freezer paper, or watercolour paper below your work: to stabilise the work and prevent colour seeping through.

How to Use Them:

Start with the lightest areas of colour because, once it is dry, you can darken it or add more details. Place a little colour on your work and then add a little water and guide the colour to where you want it. Or wet the fabric first and then add the colour. Another way is to wet your brush and take the colour directly off your pencil lead. You will get quite a bit of colour from a small amount on your brush.

Adding fabric medium is useful for small details or narrow areas, like plant stems, when it’s important that colour does not bleed into other areas, because it gives you much more control. The fabric medium thickens the colour and stays where you place it. Added water, on the other hand, causes the colour to travel and it is less easy to control where it goes. For fine, detailed work, you can even dip your pencil into the textile medium. I have read that using Aloe Vera as a textile medium, mixed in with the paint first, gives a more seamless blend of colour, though I have not tried this. Aloe vera can be thinned down with water, 50 50 water and gel, which gives you enough moisture to activate and control the colour without any bleed. The aloe vera doesn’t have to be anything fancy, not pure or organic, just clean.

You can Inktense colours when they are wet, or, if you leave a first layer to dry, you can then add more detail or shading on top, without fear of affecting the layer you put down previously. You can use a hairdryer to dry the layers more quickly.

Dewent studio also make Outliner pencils which are not designed to blend. They will hold their line but the effect is quite a soft line. If you want a harder line to define petals on flowers for example, a permanent micron pen would be the better choice.

The Inktense blocks pictured above (on the left) can be used in much the same way as the pencils. You will see in the photo above that I have lifted the colour directly from the Inktense pencils (on the right) using a brush and then applied it to my fabric.

Making it Last:

Heat set your work with a scrap piece of cotton over the area and use the cotton temperature on your iron to press it. Heat set 1—15 secs.  If you need to use an eraser to remove any details do this before heat setting. It is also possible to heat set your work between each layer if creating multiple layers of colour. None of the colour will spread by applying heat.

Alternatively use textile medium to set the colour. The medium allows colour staining to bond with the fibres of the fabric and make it permanent. Spread it on after your work is dry.

Testing on scraps of fabric is always a good idea to try out any of these suggestions.

Adding Inktense Colour around Completed embroidery:

You can coax colour toward the the raised line of your embroidery. Add a little colour up to the line and then draw your colour in towards the centre of the area. This will prevent colour staining the embroider while creating shadow at the edges and a lighter tint towards the centre where the light falls.

Aquarelle Pencils:

Another way you might colour fabric are with water soluble pencils, which behave very much like regular coloured pencils but create a painterly look once water is added. They are useful for pastel shaded embroideries, for wall decorations for a baby’s room, indeedPP for anything requiring a soft, romantic colour palette.

The Tools You Need:

Water Soluble Pencils: There are various brands like the one above.

A fine paintbrush and small jar of water: to intensify the colour

A sheet of freezer paper: or something similar, to protect the surface under your work.

A blender stump : to soften your colour and pull it across tiny areas of fabric. If the tip collects too much colour, this can be filed off with an emery board.

How to Use them:

The use of these pencils share many of the same techniques as regular coloured pencils. The effect they create, though brighter than coloured pencils, is much less intense than with ink based pencils. You can lighten a colour by adding water and deepen and mix colours by layering more colour on top or next to the first colour and adding water to blend them.

What Not to Do:

The above pictures show the Aquarelle pencils used, on the left, without water and on the right, with water. I have not tried to blend the colours and the textured fabric did resist my colouring, tending to snag and ruck up as I coloured. It might be worth putting fabric in a hoop to keep it taut or pinning it down at the edges to minimise movement.

Making it Last:

Once the area is dry, heat set it with a dry iron for approximately 5 seconds and it will be permanent. Don’t forget to protect your iron and your work by putting something like baking parchment between them!

It is my hope to write further posts on the use of crayons, paints and inks on fabric but with a house move on the horizon, it might not be for a while. In the meantime I will aim for shorter posts on simpler things. I hope you will try(or have tried) some of the pencils I have mentioned above. Please let me know what you think or have discovered.

Bye for now…

Tiny Portraits, EPP Style

Hi Everyone!

We have beautiful cacti flowers in our sunroom at the moment.

Here (at last!) is the promised post on portraits that will fit inside a 2 inch (or 5 cm) square, adapted for EPP from a workshop I had with the textile artist Saima Kaur. These portraits really have more to do with embroidery, appliqué and paint than EPP, but I have wrapped them around a paper template or piece of iron-on stabiliser, EPP style, and always stretch my idea of what constitutes EPP a little further than most people!

Tools Needed:

  • A tightly woven piece of white or off-white piece of cotton about 20 x 24 inches or 50 x 60 cm – or solid coloured cotton if that’s what you prefer.
  • A ruler
  • A glue stick
  • A piece of paper and pencil to doodle on and work out your designs
  • Fabric paint and small brushes, or water soluble coloured pencils.
  • Tracing paper and pencil, or a water soluble fabric pen, to transfer your designs or draw them directly onto the fabric
  • Up to a dozen 2″ square EPP paper pieces to use as templates
  • Some iron-on fusible webbing (optional)
  • A hand embroidery needle and some sharp scissors
  • Some stranded embroidery cotton in up to four contrasting colours of your choice. Use just one or two strands of embroidery thread. An embroidery hoop is useful (but not necessary) to keep your work flat and to prevent puckering while you sew.

How To Begin

Use the soluble fabric pen to mark out a grid with 9 to 12 squares, each one measuring 4″ or x 4″ or 10cm x 10cm, on your cotton fabric.

Draw smaller squares (5cm x 5cm / 2″ x 2″) inside each of these larger squares. You will create your designs inside this smaller area. You could place a 2″ EPP template inside each larger square and draw around it if you like, to save measuring it out.

Here is part of my grid showing the designs that went wrong or I didn’t like. I forgot to photograph it before I had finished and started cutting it up. It is a good idea to iron your fabric before you begin, which I did but it became crumpled with use. Don’t iron it once it has soluble marker lines on it, or you may not be able to remove them.

Create Your Designs

Now try doodling nine to twelve designs on a piece of paper. Here are some almost finished pieces to show you how some of mine turned out. Try a few profiles with different eyes and noses and hair styles.

Here is simple profile. Faces are fun to do

Introduce movement, or around play with scale.

I cut out a scrap of fabric for a dress and went around the edge with stem stitch here

Add background pattens, more colours, small details to suggest context and so on. You don’t have to do a face.

I tried using different coloured threads here and adding more detail.

Look over your doodled designs and choose a few of your favourite ones to transfer into the smaller squares in the grid marked on your fabric. Draw them on directly with water soluble fabric marker, as I did in the photo below, or use tracing paper or dressmaker’s carbon paper to make the transfer. Then put one of the designs into a small hoop, if you prefer to use a hoop, or just begin sewing one section at a time. Don’t cut out anything until you have finished sewing all the ones you want to do.

Doodled armchair cat

Embellish Your Designs

Explore a variety of ways of stitching and presenting your pictures. Add patterns or shapes to backgrounds,

I tried adding a mini border and using Inktense pencils for colour but spritzing the water-soluble pen marks caused the colour to run.

Experiment with a variety of stitches to outline and embellish. Outline or fill in small areas with paint or stitches, sew on scraps of fabric for clothing and dream up interesting hair styles. All these help to add interest, movement and texture.

I used needle weaving to create a cushion for my armchair cat

When you have sewn and embellished as many designs as you want to do, cut each one out along the outer lines of the grid, so that you have your 2 inch square with a border all the way around it. Fit your 2″ EPP paper piece behind and wrap each fabric border around it, folding them to the back. You can secure these temporarily using pins, or a small stitch from corner to corner without sewing through the template, until you are ready to press them. Or turn them over straight away and press the fabric from the back to create sharp creases at the sides and nice crisp corners.

If you prefer, you can remove the paper piece once the turned border is firmly folded and creased to the back, and replace the template with a 2 inch square of iron-on fusible stabiliser. I used medium weight Vilene H250 iron-on interfacing. The decision to do one or other of these may depend on how you want to use your designs.

To Frame or Not to Frame

If you want to frame your designs, the stabiliser protects the threads, prevents fraying when borders are much reduced in size, is thinner where fabric bulk could be a problem and makes the back look tidier in frames where the back of the stitching is visible. The paper template will hold your design firm but may not fit all tiny frames. However, it will be needed you want to use your designs in a larger patchwork/ EPP project. In each case you now need to trim away some of surrounding fabric to about a half inch border, perhaps less if it is going in a frame.

A square of iron-on fusible stabiliser has been stuck onto the back of the design in place of a paper template
These two faces were sewn onto a loose weave dish cloth fabric and backed with iron-on stabiliser

The frames I have used are Indian brass frames from a company called Nkuku. They are sweet but rather expensive. Other, less chunky ones, are available on Amazon and also come in other shapes like hexagons, which would be fitting for an EPP design. Those are a little less expensive but I am not sure of the quality. All of these frames have glass on both sides, so your stitching is visible from the back.

The photo showing the back of the design, below left, shows fusible web added AFTER stitching with the fabric border wrapped over it. The one, below right, shows the fusible web added BEFORE stitching, to stabilise the very thin fabric I used on that occasion. The stabiliser allowed me to cut the borders away completely. If you hate your stitching showing at the back, it should be possible to add an iron on stabiliser, cut away the borders and glue on a separate back using some thin fabric. Choose the fabric carefully though, as it could show through to the front.

Using Your Designs for Patchwork

Each of your designs could be basted onto the paper template instead and treated as regular EPP patchwork squares for a larger project. You could create a small wall hanging or runner with these sewn designs interspersed with solid white squares. Perhaps they could suggest a narrative?

“Here’s Looking at You, Kid”

What I have learned from this experiment:

  • Using pale cloth with dark stitching means threads show through from the back, so cut away all stray threads, or better still, use paler threads or coloured cloth
  • If you spritz soluble pen with water after you have added paint, the paint will run. If you do it before, you lose your design! Tracing a design would be better if you plan to use paint. Or embroider it all first, spritz with water, let it dry, then add paint.
  • Although my frames are 2″ (5 cm) square, the size inside the frame is only 1 3/4″ (4 1/2 cm) square. So fit your design to the measurement of the glass, not the outside frame.
  • Allow enough space around your design for it to be cut smaller. If you embroider right up to the edge you can’t do that.
  • Iron-on stabiliser is worth using for so many reasons, if you want to put your design in a frame.

Today’s post was intended to be a short post!! as I seem to have less and less time for sewing and posting at the moment. There is so much to do, that I am going to have to take a short break over the summer to manage our house sale and subsequent move which seems to be dragging on. If I do get any sewing done, I will post mini updates but I know that I am unlikely to pick up a needle over the next month at least.

I had to cut off her pigtail because there was no way it would fit in the frame!

Back before too long I hope. Wishing you all a happy, sunny, summer….