The Charming ‘Saltbox’ House

Today I want to tell you about a design of house that I love. The Saltbox house! This quaintly named type of house is an example of American colonial architecture and they were first built around 1650 in rural New England, but such was the strength and simplicity of their design that modern versions of them are still being built today.

Saltboxes were wooden frame houses with two stories at the front and one at the rear, under a steeply sloping roof that gave the house, with its two unequal sides, a uniquely asymmetrical appearance. It had a flat facade often several evenly placed windows and a transom (horizontal beam) and/or a set of small windows above the front door. There was usually (though not always) a sturdy, brick chimney in the centre of the roof. A textbook example of saltbox architecture is Pettengill House in Freeport, Maine. Here is the front of the house:

Here is the back:

and the side:

Photos of Pettengill House borrowed from Wikipedia

Perhaps the most famous Salt box house is in Massachusetts where the second president of the United States, John Adams, was born. It now stands in a Historic Park.

Photo borrowed from Wikipedia

Salt box houses were so called because their shape resembled the salt containers that people used in their homes during the colonial period. They were often hung on the wall near the fire for drying out lumps so that it flowed more freely. This made it easier to use for cooking and for preserving food. They were popular in the UK and Europe in colonial times but whether the design went to America from there or the other way around, I don’t know.

Antique French salt box – sold by ‘FrenchCountryMaison’ on Etsy

The earliest Saltbox homes probably began by adding a lean-to extension to the rear of the original house for extra room, often a kitchen (referred to as a “keeping room”), with smaller rooms either side, one for storage and one reserved for childbirth or illness. A number of people lived together in one house in those days, so this design was an easy and far less expensive way to add on more living space. Although this may have been the original intent, by 1680 houses were built with the sloping roof and additional space integrated as a single building. Old accounts suggest that the unusual shape of this house may have proliferated because of a tax on houses larger than one storey. As the rear of the roof was as low as a single story building, these houses were exempt from the tax. You may be amused to hear that the roof was nicknamed ‘a cat slide’ roof.

Their design had other advantages. Rural saltbox house dwellers were usually farmers who had to withstand harsh weather conditions on a regular basis. The sloping roofs of these houses deflected strong winds, prevented the build up of snow and allowed rain to slide off slid off. It was easy to climb on it to make repairs and the large central chimney gathered the family together and warmed the core of the house.

Saltbox houses were always most popular in New England and though a few did spread further across the United States and as far away as Newfoundland, by 1880 interest in them had begun to decline. There are still some second generation one-and-a-half storey settlers homes in Newfoundland referred to as Saltbox houses but many were enlarged and modified and are now more likely to be referred to as ‘Biscuit Box’ houses.

Over time, as people found the unique shape of these saltbox houses aesthetically pleasing, they began to appear on the quilts, country samplers and embroideries made by the rural communities who lived in and among them.

A ‘Pumpkin Patch Primitive’ Runner featuring two Saltbox houses – photo borrowed from Pinterest

I, too, found the shape of this old house charming and wanted to make a runner, something like the one above, for my blanket box at home. After some discussion with Nancy Ademek of we came up with a design and she cut the paper pieces for me. Perhaps this will be the first English Paper Pieced Saltbox house.

While I am decide on the fabrics I want to use for my Runner, I thought I would make a practice one. And here it is:

I think I need to work on the design a bit more to get the perspective right, at the side of the house particularly, but I guess, as with many of these folk art designs, it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t look exactly like the real thing. It’s always a personal interpretation.

Mine is made from several paper pieces but you could make a simpler one for yourself from three large pieces; front, side and roof, appliquéd to a background. All he windows and front door could be appliquéd on, too, instead of just the front four windows in this case. I think I will try that next time. This house is temporarily stitched around the edge for now until I find a background that I want to sew it to. The blue fabric behind it in the photo is my ironing board.

Till next time…..

The flowers I got on Valentine’s Day. It’s so strange to have flowers like these when there is snow on the ground outside.

How to Add a Pieced EPP Border

Hi Everybody,

It’s SO cold and icy this winter

I’m posting much later than I meant to; somehow I have missed January altogether.

I began doing what I always do at the beginning of each year, going through each of my projects in progress, sorting them into piles and making a list of everything that is required before I can say they are finished. This year I ended up with a pile that needs more piecing, a pile for quilting, a pile that needs sleeves and/or labels on the back and a problem pile for reworking in one way or another. There were also some that were planned and waiting for fabric, and there were some that had all the fabric but hadn’t been started yet. And none of these included the projects I still had to do for my online textile course. I looked at them all and felt overwhelmed. So I took a small break.

In an earlier post’ Can EPP Go Abstract?’, we looked at the idea of finding EPP shapes in crumpled paper to create an abstract composition. Since then I have come across an artist called Bonnie Sennot who crumples fabric and follows the wrinkles with embroidery stitches. Not EPP this time but a similar idea; so simple and SO effective.

One of Bonne Sennot’s beautiful Wrinkle Embroideries

I do want to return to the Abstract theme of my last two posts at some point in the future but I think there are one or two more useful things to talk about in the meantime.

Today my post is about adding pieced borders or frames around an EPP textile picture or quilt. Quilting books describe adding strips of fabric for borders, one at the top and bottom and one at each side with mitred corners or without. But what if you want to piece your border; join a series of squares, or rectangles, together. What if you want to make irregular borders of short and long rectangles in different fabrics, or ones with interlocking triangles or one with fussy cut designs at intervals.

I thought this would be a lovely idea and decided to give it a try. I began at the bottom left hand corner and worked my way around joining them to my 6″ centre square as I went. But it didn’t fit. I ended up with a frame that extended beyond my central piece of fabric. I thought perhaps the six inch paper template which I had made myself was inaccurate. So I altered the centre to fit that frame. You can see the result in the photo below

NOT a good look. At the bottom you can see the line where the stitching was previously. Now the frame fits the centre square but the whole thing is wonky.

So, what causes this to happen?

It’s because as you sew, every  vertical seam along the horizontal edge will add a millimetre (or so) to the total length (same goes for Horizontal seams and vertical edges). So if you base your ‘edge piece’ measurements on the pure ‘paper piece’ measurements, the chances are that they are not going to fit.

If your project is not too large, like this one, the solution is to start piecing in the middle of the long edge and work with clips or pins to keep things aligned. This would have definitely have been a better way but as my unpicked border was already sewn into strips, I went for sewing the strips back on from the mid point, working left and then right and then adjusting each end to fit. I did the top and bottom and then the two sides. This is what it looks like now.

It is better but the whole thing has been pulled apart and restitched so many times, I don’t think it will ever look as good as if I had done it right in the first place. If you have a few ragged edges or the corners are not quite right like this, adding binding can hide it, but if you have fussy cut designs like my hares in the photo above, the backing fabric will have to end in what is called a ‘knife edge”, right behind the outer edge, with no way of hiding ragged edges. (NB it is tacked roughly around the outside edge temporarily because all the papers have been removed)

If your project is larger with longer edges, you first need press it well (no steam!) and then measure the length of the edge and make paper(s) to that measurement. Then sew again from the middle to the outside with lots of pins or clips. This is what I should have done with the example below:

This example shows another possible problem with a pieced border. Sometimes you get waviness to your borders when you are piecing them along the edge of your project, as I did with this small runner for my wooden sewing box. I wanted to use two different fabrics on each long and short edge and wrap them around rectangles of different lengths, to add interest and detract from the uniformity of the Rail Fence pattern in the centre.

The bottom border of this runner is much too wavy. It should sit straight and flat.

So, what causes this to happen?

  • It could be that the strips are too long (as they are in this case)
  • Or it could be that your fabric is wrapped too loosely around your paper pieces
  • Or it’s possible that the edges simply look wavy if you have removed the papers from the middle section because the fabric is no longer under the same tension and relaxes. Check to see if this is the case by pressing the piece (without steam and on the reverse/the paper side, if possible)

The way to avoid this particular problem is to begin by pressing your project first (no steam!) and then measuring the length of the edge and making your papers fit that measurement. Then sew from the middle to the outside with lots of pins or clips.

I am indebted to Nancy Adamek of for these suggestions and solutions after our lengthy discussion on the subject . Now I think about it, it seems obvious but it hadn’t occurred to me to do it this way before. I hope it helps you, too.

Sometimes a pieced frame can just be appliquéd on. It’s certainly much simpler:

‘House in the Country’ in steel grey cotton with Liberty fabrics for the inner frame

A few people have joined us this month. Welcome! Please feel free to comment and ask questions. I love when people get in touch.

I am now going to make a start on one of those piles of ‘Works in Progress’ and see if I can shift a few into my ‘Projects Completed’ box!

Till next time……

Abstract EPP – Another Way

Hi Everyone,

This post comes to you from a dull, wet and windy Scotland this week which means the cats are huddled up on the sofa and the ducks are gleefully stomping around in mud. Eeeew! Lovely weather for ducks it may be but not for duck owners!

Today I have another, perhaps easier, way of achieving an abstract type design in EPP than the one in my last post. The idea came from a workshop with the textile artist Richard McVetis but I have adapted it for use with English Paper Piecing.

The first thing you need to do is to select an image with some striking lines, like a building taken at an unusual angle. I chose this photo of a castle in central Scotland that my husband and I lived and worked for a year. You can just imagine Rapunzel at one of those top windows, can’t you?


Try cutting out two L shaped pieces from scrap paper to use as a viewfinder and move them around your image to find a suitable composition. I am told that this gets easier with practice; that you know eventually know what to look for.

Now edit and reduce your image to a few basic shapes. If there is some play of light and shadow in your image, so much the better. It will help you add tone and value when you come to choosing your fabrics. For this experiment aim for a finished piece of about 8″ square, which may mean you have to enlarge the chosen part of your image

Homing in on a section of the whole photo

Next, put a piece of tracing paper over your image and trace the shapes you want to work with. Keep them simple. You don’t want a whole bunch of complicated shapes. Leave out shapes like windows if it suits you to do so. Or appliqué them in later. You may want to use some low tack masking tape to keep your tracing paper and card steady.

The traced image

Now put a piece of card under the paper and some carbon paper in between them to transfer the image. Alternatively, pencil over the lines on the reverse of the tracing paper against some scrap paper and then flip back to the right side and go over them again on top of the card. The pencilled lines should be visible on the card. If they are very faint, pencil over them to make them clearer.

Mark each piece with F for Front if you like your image this way round. You will see that I marked mine with B for back because I decided I would prefer to flip mine over to create mirror image of the design. (The dotted lines are the battlements, which I thought I might outline later with running stitch. Or not.)

All the pieces cut out and reassembled

Now is the time to cut out all the pattern pieces from the card and reassemble them into your original image. The image below is what it looked like when I flipped it over. I preferred the way the viewers eye is taken from the bottom left to the top right which didn’t work the other way around. (The letters specify front left, front right or front middle, so that I wouldn’t get my pieces confused.)

I like the mirror image better

Now choose your fabrics and wrap each piece of your puzzle in your chosen fabric, reassemble them, and stitch them all together.

I used all cotton fabrics but you can use other types of fabric as long as they are not too heavy. If you limit your colours to just a few and make sure they are not too contrasting you will get a more modern, cohesive look. The same thing applies if you plan to so some surface stitching. Keep it simple.

This is what my English Paper Pieced, mirror imaged, section of the castle looks like now that the pieces have been wrapped in fabric, basted and reassembled. Some of it has been stitched together but I still have a bit more to do (the solid turquoise panel needs stitching to the striped area) before I can take out all the basting/tacking stitches.

Ok, so it’s nothing amazing; like looking up at the wall of a lighthouse. But it’s just an experiment, a learning exercise. There is a certain skill in choosing an image that lends itself to an interesting combination of shapes and in choosing just the right fabrics for those shapes. And that comes with practice. I have seen some fabulous work created using this technique, especially one of a spiral staircase, but those pieces were fused to a background rather than English Paper Pieced. Of course you could do it that way, too.

To finish I am going to add some surface stitching to the design and perhaps a little appliqué and see what difference that will make. I might even flip it on its head and see if it I like it better upside down. My husband and I are on our own this Christmas, so I am sure there will be a little time for stitching. I’ll catch up with you in a few weeks and show you how it turned out.

In the meantime, Happy Christmas Everyone! Take care of yourselves. Bye for now and see you in the New Year.

A paper glove I made using clipped photos of leaf works created by the artist Jennie Ashmore at

Can English Paper Piecing go Abstract?

Hi Everybody,

I love the shapes of trees and shrubs when the leaves have gone

The answer is yes, of course it can!

I am going to write this post in a two parts, this first part will be some thoughts on what I mean by Abstract with reference to quilting and to show you one way in which EPP can indeed be used to make an abstract pattern. A second post will include other examples and experiments.

First I want to explore what is meant by Abstract when applied to art and related artistic endeavours like quilting. I don’t have an art background or any training, so I am feeling my way along here. Please feel free to leave comments in the comment section below, if any of what I have said is incorrect, or unclear, or just to add something that’s good to know.

Looking closely at traditional English Paper Piecing or “Patchwork” (as the surface is known without the back and centre wadding that makes it a quilt) it is made up of a combination of shapes. But isn’t abstract art a combination of shapes, too?

Yes, but the really important difference is that, in traditional quilting, those combinations of shapes form Patterns; areas, units or ‘blocks’ of repeated and regular shapes, or decorative designs, arranged in some kind of order across the surface of the quilt. Most quilts showcase a pattern, not an abstract design. Abstract is not about pattern.

Something looking a bit more Abstract are the traditional, English Paper Pieced, “Crazy” quilts; the Art quilts of the Victorian Age that became popular in the 1880’s through 1890’s. Interestingly, like Abstract art, Crazy quilts have the same characteristics of flattened geometry, lack of perspective and planes intersected by strong diagonal lines and both have their roots in Oriental art.

However, although Crazy Quilts are made up of the juxtaposition of many irregular shapes they too are, to a large degree, planned arrangements that simply look haphazard, and still rely on areas of repeated colour, pattern and stitch to create unity. Crazy quilts tended not to contain batting and were tied to a background fabric rather than quilted with a running stitch. This is because they were made mainly for show, often to commemorate an occasion, and never meant to be functional. Crazy Quilting was very popular in North America in the 1890’s, too.

In its broadest sense the term Abstract means to take away or pull away from trying to imitate or represent something we recognise as real, like a person, dog or tree, (though the deviation from reality can be whole or just partial). Only a handful of traditional quilt blocks are representative in the pictorial sense but many are symbolic, in that their patterns use repeated motifs that stand for something and imbue the quilts with meaning.

Let me show you an English Paper Pieced (and stitched) project of mine that incorporates a mixture of what I have said above.

A Combination of Shapes and Stitches

The piece above is made up of haphazard English Paper Pieced shapes sewn together and attached to a painted background fabric. I stitched over the seams in stem stitch and filled a few areas with other decorative stitches. Gaps were left in three places across the centre showing the painted fabric behind. (where the little crosses and rice stitches are). The result is a combination of shapes. I can’t say it is abstract because it contains something that is recognisably a flower (representational), the repeated use of the same patterned fabrics, the repeated use of colour and repeated stitches. What was a random collection of shapes on paper has resulted in a carefully planned pattern.

BUT, what if you turn it over onto the back? Ha ha, I know this is weird but I hope it illustrates my point.

An interesting map of shapes

Here the piece comes closer to abstract with its random shapes and mark making. Each of the uneven shapes in the centre can be (are, on the reverse) English Paper Pieced shapes and the lines going off from the centre can be created by running/quilting stitches that extend outwards from the centre, like a map with a network of rivers.

I find that it’s quite hard to create random shapes. My brain keep wanting to create a pattern. But here is one way to create an EPP abstract pattern without that problem.

Get a piece of paper. Try different papers but something sturdy rather than hard works well. I used handmade Khadi paper, about an A5 size but Cartridge paper may be just as good. Crumple the paper up tightly in your hand. Open it and you will see that you have creases with smooth areas between. Pick up a pencil and draw lines over the creases. The idea is to use the shapes to cover with fabric, EPP style, so you may have to blend two shapes together on the paper if that works better. I merged numbers 13 and 14, together, as well as 16, 17 and 18, because the shapes felt too small and bitty (the small shapes don’t matter if you are going to leave them blank, or fill them with stitching). Do you like the look of it now? Then cut out all the shapes as I did, or just some of the shapes in the centre (as in the photo of the reverse of my piece). You can add gaps and/or lines in later.

This is how the project above began – with a piece of crumpled paper!

Choose your fabrics carefully (solids will work better for this experiment), decide which shapes you will wrap in fabric, baste/tack around the edges of the shapes to secure them and whipstitch them together according to your drawing. You may find Ladder Stitch works better on the pieces that curve away from each other when folded back to back.

These are the English Paper Pieced shapes stitched together and appliquéd onto a piece of blue background fabric, before I added any surface stitching

Then press your shapes on the reverse to create sharp edges, remove your paper inserts and stitch your combination of shapes to some background fabric (like Calico/Muslin in the USA) . Remove your basting stitches and then, if you like, quilt around and away from your shapes.

Of course you could just draw a mass of shapes, cut them out, wrap them in fabric and join them together again but I love how much more random and unexpected the result is when done in this way. It’s your call.

I turned the whole thing around when it was finished. I like it better this way!

I have kept this post fairly general for simplicity and clarity and referred mainly to traditional quilting. That is not to say there were not exceptions to the rule even then. More of that later. As well as some modern abstract quilts. And an experiment or two….

Until then….

Happy Thanksgiving to my followers overseas. It may be a much smaller affair this year but there is joy to be found in small, simple, quiet, moments. And hope.

Five EPP Things to Remember + Work in Progress

Hi Everyone,

This is Tay, wondering if there is a duck hiding in the little coop. Since this photo was taken, he has begun to sit in there and then all ducks come to the opening and stare at him.

I have been working on a post about whether (and how) we can create Abstract works using EPP, as opposed to traditional ways of making patterns but I don’t have enough sample pieces finished to show you yet. I want to do a few different ones and hope to have them finished by the next post.

In the meantime I have been working on several other pieces these past weeks and making good progress. One is ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’ which has been spread out on my dining table for most of this year.

“Over the Hills and Far Away’. Can you still the little birds in the top right hand corner?

I now have the binding to do, (which will cover that running stitch around the edge), a label to add to the back and a sleeve to hang the quilt on the wall – then a good press and it is done. Hurrah! I will be glad to have my dining table back, at least until the next large project.

Here is the binding, all ready to sew on.

It will be only the second quilt I have made large enough to attach binding. On the tiny 8-12″ mini quilts that I usually make, I simply fold the backing fabric over the front edge to create a narrow frame that doubles as binding. Larger quilts get more wear and need a proper sewn-on binding to protect the edges.

My ‘Building Blocks’ quilt top is almost done. The unattached piece of grey fabric sitting at one end is for the border I want to add to the top and bottom – a narrow one at the bottom and a wider one at the top.

‘Building Blocks with Hare? The coloured fabric is ‘Simple Marks Summer’ by Malka Dubrowsky for Moda

I hope to appliqué something onto the top piece; perhaps a hare, picking out one of the colours in the quilt. Maybe the turquoise blue? What do you think? It is intended for a trendy baby’s Moses basket.

My ‘Criss Cross’ quilt top has just a few more spaces to fill in the centre and down the edge before I add a gingham border at the top and bottom (I am experimenting with borders solely on tops and bottoms – you may have noticed that… ). I’m not sure what this one will become; perhaps a table topper. It has been made from left over 5″ squares from a Moda Charm Pack (‘One for You and One for Me’).

It makes me think of Tick Tack Toe. Did you know the game appeared in the UK in 1880 (when it was called Noughts and Crosses) but was first played by the Romans in the 1st Century BC! It was renamed in the US in the 20th Century.

One thing I want to say about this one is that I made it hard on myself sewing in a fairly zig zag manner. I did lines of crosses and squares and then joined them to lines of beige squares. However, if you tilt your head to the left you can see that it could have been stitched in straight lines, one long strip at a time, especially if you were to use all squares, rather than the single rectangle I have used in the crosses. Hmmm.

The last one is a departure from my usual ‘thing’. I call it ‘Evening in Japan’ It is going to be a wall hanging, using a Japanese traditional navy and white Shibori (a manual resist dyeing technique) patterned fabric, with a landscape of a sort in the centre – a moon shining down on two rows of houses. I plan that the eventual quilting stitches will radiate from the moon out over the rest of the quilt. Maybe. The piece of fabric on the left of the picture is Moda Boro Sodenaski in Indigo, which will be on the back. I can’t decide whether to remove the side strips to the left and right so that the white landscape area in the centre doesn’t feel enclosed. What do you think?

‘Evening in Japan’ using a Moda Shibori Mini Charm Pack

This post is mainly about what I have been working on lately, in addition to the abstracts I am planning for the next post and the projects set by the Stitch Club I have joined online. The Stitch Club is varied and interesting. Last week we were making charms. This week we are making a sketch book for textile pieces and samples and for recording ideas. If you are interested in that sort of thing, please check out where you will find a huge textile community to join, courses to complete and oodles of information about individual textile artists and their work.

And those 5 EPP things to remember? Here they are:

  1. When joining a light fabric piece to a dark one, choose thread that matches the dark one (which is not what you would expect).

2. Keep paper pieces that you use in your project, consistent. All the pieces should be the same weight of paper. Don’t mix shop bought templates with ones you have made yourself even if they look the same. I did this once and they wouldn’t join up evenly.

3. Fabric wrapped around shapes adds bulk, so sometimes small adjustments are needed as your work progresses. This is not unusual so don’t panic if it happens.

4. Make sure that the fabric ‘dog ears’ that appear on the corners of your wrapped paper pieces all face the same direction. This means that they will nest comfortably with other dog ears when the shapes are pieced.

5. Don’t be tempted to cut off the dog ears. They are needed to keep the corners sharp and stop fraying later.

I will post more of these tips now and then. There is always so much said about the big stuff when what we really want to know are all the little tips and strategies that can help so much. Does anyone have any questions or things they wonder about? If I don’t know I will try and find out, or add a link to information that will help.

It’s gone very quiet lately. Not as many people are posting and seem to be writing fewer posts. Perhaps not as many people are reading them either. It’s as if we are all holding our breaths, treading water, conserving energy. We all need to do what we need to do. Let’s hope better days are just around the corner.

Sending kind and caring wishes out to every one of you, till next time…..

Early morning sun through the wooded area of our garden

An Easy Way to Label Your Quilt (And Some Useful Pens)

Season of Mists….

Hi Everybody,

We are into autumn proper now here in Scotland and we have had smattering of mist, rain, wind and glorious sunshine this week And although October began with a cold snap, it is surprising mild today, warm enough for gnats to be hovering about in clouds outside and my ducks to be enjoying a prolonged pond party

Our firewood all stacked and ready for winter

Today I want to talk a little about labels and ask, do you add a label to what you make? It seems to me that a surprising amount of people don’t. I have to confess that I don’t. Or haven’t until now. Why? I think it is because I am so relieved to have finally finished my project that the last thing I want to think about is yet another stage in the process. Does that sound like you, too? Or is a label not something you think about at all. Why is that?

An English Paper Pieced quilt (or any other hand stitched or embroidered project) takes takes many painstaking hours to complete, so why would we not want to add our name to our work? I love to think that in decades to come, someone will come across something that we are making now and love it. How much more wonderful would it be if they could turn it over and see an attached label that tells them the name of the maker; you, perhaps? And where it was made, and when.

I wonder if another reason (beside adding one more stage to the making) is that we are not sure how best to do it. There are several ways, some more fancy than others but this post is about just one way, an easy way as a starting point, with a few pointers as to what to look out for and perhaps avoid.

Ok, so all you need is a square, rectangle (or even a triangle), of plain white (or softly coloured) cotton fabric, large enough to hold a decent amount of information and small enough to fit discreetly into one corner of the back of your project.

NB: If you want to use a dark cotton fabric for your label, this chalk pen

made by Bohin makes clear lines on dark fabric and is worth adding to your EPP pen collection.

You can also buy labels from quilt sites and on eBay. I find that many of them, if pre-cut can be a little ragged and those printed onto fabric often have very little seam allowance between each of them. I used to worry about that. Take this one that I bought pre cut with a bunch of others of different sizes:

It’s quite large, much larger than I would use for my mini quilts (4 1/2″ x 3″) but will serve us fine as an example. There is also very little fold over space between the dotted line and the outside edge. But that’s ok in this particular case because the pattern will allow you to go in closer to the centre with your fold.

Now take a piece of iron on fusible interfacing – one that is suitable for stabilising lightweight cottons and is washable (like Vilene H250) – and cut it to a size slightly smaller than your label. Don’t panic if your stabiliser is creased for has a fold line on it like this piece. Lay the shiny side down on the back of your label and iron it on with a dry iron (no steam!). I ironed it on from the front of the label because the label was creased but if you want to iron it on from the back, to see what you are doing more clearly, place a piece of greaseproof paper over it to protect your iron.

It will now look like this:

The worrying fold in the centre has gone. Now turn each edge towards the centre around the stabiliser, like this:

You can use a glue pen to glue them down temporarily if you like this one:

A Sewline Glue PEN – Refills are available

There are several brands of glue pen on the market with different coloured glue ‘nibs’ (so you can see where you have glued) but they are much the same as each other, and all dry white.

Most of us are nervous about writing straight onto a label but there are ways to help with this. If your label is fairly see-through, you can draw lines on a piece of paper and slot it in behind your label. They may show through.

NB: If you are using thin cotton and want to embroider your words on, you can print out your words in a suitable size font, place the printout under your label, trace the words onto it and embroider over them. This is another option if you want fancier handwriting than your own.

If your label is not thin enough to see through, use a water erasable pen to draw lines across your label, like this:

To write, or trace words onto your label choose a permanent fine line ink pen, like one of these:

The numbers on these pens vary from 0.05 (very fine) upwards to about 0.8 (much thicker) I used 0.3 – I think you can also get them with coloured inks.

and the result will be something like this:

I favour the Pigma micron for writing on fabric but used the Staedtler pigment liner for this particular experiment.

When the ink is dry you can spritz the fabric with water to remove the lines.

Derwent spritzers are available from most art departments

Spritzers are invaluable for spraying erasable lines away in an instant. Remove the cap, fill the barrel with water and press down on button on top to release a fine spray. Dab with kitchen paper to absorb as much of the wetness as possible. Alternatively, spray water onto a corner of the kitchen paper and dab your fabric with that for small areas, or if it’s important not to wet your fabric too much.

The ink is permanent, washable, ink but you MUST wait a short while for it to dry completely. Let me show you what happens if you spritz it when it is not quite dry. The ink on the line that crossed the ‘t’ of Scotland was not quite dry and dabbing it with the paper towel smudged it..

When your label is finished, you can stitch it invisibly into the (usually) bottom left hand corner of your quilt, runner or other project. Some quilters believe that sewing the label into the corner before adding the binding makes the label close to impossible to remove.

I have decided it’s time I added labels to all the (dozens of!) quilts I have stored away (yikes), though I would normally choose something smaller and less obtrusive. I would probably add erasable marks at the top and bottom to help centre my writing, which I haven’t done here. And I like the idea of a triangular label that fits right into the corner. Why not join me and experiment a little with making some labels, until you find one that suits you. Practice on scrap pieces of paper and then fabric and next time you make something special, remember it deserves a label!

Till next time…..

The Much Loved ‘Little Red School House’

Hi Everybody,

An 1840 Restored Schoolhouse – image from Kathleen Tracy’s blog ‘A Sentimental Quilter’


If you have been following me for a while, you will know that I love houses and have spent the last few years making a LOT of house quilts, probably far too many. However, that is going to change in the near future. I think I have made enough houses. They will keep popping up for a while because I have some mini house quilts to finish and three or four large ones that I haven’t started yet. One is a hanging for the wall behind my bed, one a baby quilt size and the last one, the largest I will have ever made, is single bed size. The last one will be a way of working that I haven’t tried yet, creating pieced areas and then joining them with paths in a random way, rather like Gwen Marston’s Liberated Quilts. I am excited about getting started on that.

I can’t begin to leave houses behind, though, without a celebration of the charming little American School House, beloved of so many quilters. There are dozens of variations of the original now, in shape, size and overall design, from the old schoolhouse with a bell tower to a hut or log cabin design and from a simple one room house or cottage with a chimneys to something resembling a modern house.

School House design as modern townhouse: Readin’ and Writin’ and ‘Rithmetic Quilt Pattern by Roxie Wood of Thimble Creek Quilts.

Details vary enormously too: A longer roof, taller windows, shorter windows, more windows, one door, no door, one chimney or two, a path or strip of grass below, or none. And although most schoolhouses featured on traditional quilts were red, followed by a quite a number in indigo blue, today a whole variety of colours are used. It is fast becoming seen as a traditional ‘house block’ rather than the ‘Schoolhouse block’. I have been wondering when it all began. So I thought I would do some searching….

Apparently the house block began to proliferate in the late 1800’s (though I am sure there must have been quite a few made, here and there, before then because representational/pictorial blocks showing familiar things have always appealed to quilt makers.  Early house blocks depicting shapes not unlike the schoolhouse had a variety of names, such as Old Kentucky Home, The Old Homestead, Jack’s House, Old Folks at Home, Lincoln’s Log Cabin and Honeymoon Cottage. The red Schoolhouse, a variation of these, seems to have appeared between the 1870’s and 1890’s (though one or two antique school house quilts have been dated to the 1850’s and 1860’s.).

Honeymoon Cottage designed by Ruby McKim in 1935 (from 101 Patchwork Patterns by Ruby McKim)

I have found a few clues as to its first appearance, any or all of which could be a reason for how important it became in the lives of quilters. Settlers poured into the West for a better life, and part of that better life was education. The schoolhouse was probably one of the most important public buildings to be built in each community in the wake of compulsory education laws which made it mandatory for children to go to school. Moreover, For rural women of the time, teaching came to be both prestigious and lucrative work and the schoolhouse pattern may reflect the lives of the women who supported their families in this way.

Whatever the reasons for its first appearance, it was not until 1929 that the schoolhouse was officially named and immortalised in print by a woman called Ruth Finley who referred to it as the ‘Little Red Schoolhouse’ in her book ‘Old Patchwork Quilts and the Women who Made Them’.

Finley’s book followed a time of renewed interest in quilt making at the turn of the century and during the Colonial Revival (1910-1930), an interest which blossomed further with the coming of the Great Depression when making quilts from scraps seemed a prudent act of thriftiness. The trend continued well into the 1930’s and I imagine that it wasn’t much later before the old one room schoolhouses began to disappear from people’s lives and reappear in quilt blocks created by the mothers and daughters who remembered them with fondness.

Much later during the second World War, people paid to have their names embroidered on quilts that were then raffled as a way of raising funds for the Red Cross. The school house pattern was one of these. You can see that, by making a small separation between roof and walls, it could easily accommodate areas for stitching.

Little Red Schoolhouse quilt – image borrowed from

What is especially interesting is that whereas almost all modern House blocks face to the front, the traditional schoolhouse and it variations always face to the side, often with the addition of a bell tower or steeple to turn it into a church or town hall.

image borrowed from

I believe the depth of field suggested by this side view has added to its particular charm and, all these years later, has made it among the most loved of all the pictorial blocks and with the greatest number of variations.

I am told it that a schoolhouse block is challenging for quilters to create, since it means joining acute angles. It is also quite difficult to English Paper piece. I often use paper patterns printed off the internet when the shapes of paper pieces I need are not available for purchase. These can be flimsy and imprecise, making them difficult to use for piecing. This is particularly true of the Schoolhouse but as yet there are no English Paper Pieced papers available for this design.

One of my earliest house quilts ‘Hut on Butterfly Hill’ (schoolhouse design as hut)

However (and this is exciting news) yesterday I asked if she would make me an English Paper Pieced 4 x 12 inch schoolhouse blocks for a wall hanging I want to make, and she agreed. A short while ago she made an English Paper Pieced log cabin design at my request. A website where you can purchase English Paper Pieces custom made to our own designs – how wonderful is that? Do visit her website and ask question; she deserves to be more widely celebrated.

Modern takes on the Schoolhouse design can be made in all solids, all prints, or any combination of the two. It is a great pattern for using up your scraps. The background is often lighter but doesn’t need to be; navy blue and black make great back drops. There does, however, need to be enough contrast in value so that the house stands out against the background and the doors and windows stand out against the frame of the house itself.

I had intended to make several schoolhouses for this post but I have now decided to wait for my paper pieces which will, I hope, result in more accurate piecing and therefor more attractive blocks. This is where I am so far with my most recent one, and it’s not going well.

I have used a circus themed fabric for the house which will have a cream background and a border of stars.

Interestingly, Joen Wolfron once said, in ‘American Quilter’ magazine, “A finished quilt which has no imperfections, artistically or technically, is one that was created within the quilter’s comfort zone. No significant learning will take place when we stay in this safe place.”

That certainly makes me feel a little better about my unevenly pieced schoolhouse blocks, though I have decided that I am not a fan of the short roof top and closely placed chimneys and I want my next attempt to be something like this (below) without the patterned strips on the roof and wall.

A rough template for future use

So, it looks as if there will have to be a second post on the ‘Little Red Schoolhouse’ sometime in the future, when I have tried out my new paper pieced Schoolhouses and can how you how they turned out.

Whew, that was a l o n g post, so I hope you are still with me. Till next time….





Got Quilting Scraps ? Create Portraits for Fun!

Hello Everybody!

It’s been hectic here since early July and this is the main reason:

This is Bean (a Khaki Campbell) on the left and Angel (a Runner duck) on the right.

They are quite a bit bigger now but still need around the clock care and are not ready to go outside permanently until they are fully feathered. My previous ducklings were hatched in May but, because of Covid, these were hatched two months later when it was safer to go and collect them from the breeder. This means that they are facing cold weather before they are ready. Two to four weeks more and they should be have all the feathers they need to protect them and some decent sized wings. In the interim period they will have some playtimes outside for an hour or two when there is a bit of sunshine.

Bean is feathering up nicely while Angel is beginning to lose her yellow chick fluff and turning white.

I have a post on the American Schoolhouse in the pipeline but there is more sewing to do before it’s ready so, in the meantime, here is an idea for using some of your EPP scraps.

Begin by drawing a face with a soft coloured pencil or fineliner pen. I know that some of you will be saying “oh no, I can’t draw” (trust me, you can draw a simple face). It doesn’t have to be realistic, it can be a few lines, an abstract face if you like, and of course you can use a printed template of a face, dog, cat or armchair if you prefer, or even create your own quilting pattern. The point is to have fun and use up some fabric scraps at the same time.

I have been putting together a series of portraits over the last few days for my textile course and while I was choosing fabric scraps from my stash to create them, it occurred to me that this might be a great idea for quilters to try. We all have plenty of fabric scraps to spare, right?

So begin by drawing a rough face. Draw a large oval for the face, another oval for one eye, an eyebrow above the eye that extends into a straight line for the nose. Add a bow shape or straight line for the mouth, with a smaller straight line under it, like this. You can do this.

Add a second eye, and if you are worried that you can’t make them the same, stick a fabric patch over it, like this one:

Add some squiggles for hair like the ones above, or spikes like the one below. Add an ear or two.

Now you have a face. Begin decorating it with scraps of fabric or paper. Add cheeks, eye colour, eyebrows, lips, shadows, a scarf, earrings, whatever you like. It doesn’t have to look real. It’s a playful portrait. Think Picasso if you want to.

When you have finished adding fabric scraps, you can stitch over your portrait to add more depth of colour and texture. Simple running stitches and back stitches work, as well as stem stitch and chain stitch.

Try a whole series of different portraits, like I did. Try different looks. Add glasses:

Tissue paper for the glasses and clothing neckline. Stem and straight stitches for the hair.

Add a hat or a cap. Try faces from different parts of the world:

Three layers of fabric for the cap, green organza over one eye. French knots for earrings.

Try people of different ages:

A spotted paper bag for the hat, textured fabric for the lips, variegated grey/black/white embroidery thread for the hair.

Fantasy people:

Flowers cut from wrapping paper, Treasure Gold gilding on the body.

Or an exaggerated Selfie!

Straight stitch and colour pencil for the hair. Celtic patterned fabric for the ‘hat’

These A5 portraits have been done on handmade paper (Khadi paper) because it can be sewn through well, like fabric, but you can do the same thing on a fabric background. You can add fabric to paper and paper (as well as fabric) to fabric. Try both. Torn paper (tissue paper, old envelopes, patterned wrapping paper) and cut fabric (organza, cotton, thin textured fabrics etc) give different results and both can be either glued on, or stitched down. You can add water colour tints to the faces as I have, or try water soluble crayons, coloured pencils or even inks. Enjoy!

Until next time……

An EPP Keepsake – For Difficult Times


Hi Everybody,

My Siamese cat, Tay, is a comfort during long days.

This is a hard year. Events cancelled,  friendships put on hold, family kept at further than arms length, loved ones lost. It’s been a year of insecurities, of broken connections, of reflection; considering where our world is headed and what our place might be in it. It’s been a time of change, of changes of heart, of discovering what we need to stand up for, the things we want to say.

If you have a friend or loved one that you can’t be with right now, perhaps you’d like to send them a small English Paper Pieced gift that you have made. Something light enough to put in the post, something personal that you can’t buy in a shop or online, something that says what you want to say.

Or you could make it for yourself, to focus on what is important to you at this time; something you don’t want to lose sight of.

This post is about making a keepsake for a difficult time, a talisman if you like, for yourself, or for someone dear to you.

This keepsake is 3 inches (7 1/2 cm) square

For this you will need the following materials: 

  • Some white pillowcase cotton, or other solid colour cotton fabric, fine enough to be a little transparent, so you can trace words through it.
  • Some small scraps of printed fabric to cut out and attach like a collage.
  • A glue stick to temporarily hold the collaged pieces in place.
  • Strips of fabric, lace, trim or twine to hang your keepsake.
  • A EPP paper template in any shape you like but keep it fairly small, small enough to fit in a letter sized envelope. (Alternatively you can wrap your outer fabric, EPP style, around around some thin wadding, interfacing (fusible or not) or wash away appliqué sheet.  Anything goes as long as the shape inside is fairly firm but soft enough to stitch through easily.
  • A pair of small, sharp scissors
  • A  regular sewing needle as well as an embroidery needle
  • Ordinary sewing thread
  • Coloured embroidery thread – use 2 strands for the words – in cheerful colours that go well with your collaged pieces
  • A word or short message that expresses what you want to say.
  • A water erasable fabric drawing pen.
  • Something to back your shape: A piece of felt or thicker fabric cut to the same size as the shape, or another EPP pieced shape exactly the same to attach to the back. The front and back can be sewn together with a blanket stitch, or a less visible stitch like slip stitch around the edges of your shape, or secured with decorative embroidery stitches that show on the surface.

Make a start by choosing your words; You could have a single word like ‘Hugs’, or a short message like ‘Hold On’ or  ‘Miss You”. Keep it short so that it fits easily into the centre of your shape and is not too arduous for you to stitch over.

Print your words out in a hand writing style font, like Blackadder and select font size 48 pt, which is large enough to stitch. Alternatively write a word in your own handwriting and trace that.

Now you can trace your message by placing your printed out words under the fabric and using your fabric pen to trace them. (You can also trace the words, attach the tracing paper to the fabric and stitch through the tracing paper in the method I showed you in my last post).

Stitch your words using the stitch you prefer. Back stitch works well or stem stitch or even running stitch. If you don’t feel confident about stitching words you could cut words out of fabric or magazines and stick those on your fabric, securing them with some holding stitches.  Placing your fabric in a small 3″ (7 1/2 cm) hoop may make it easier to stitch the words.

When you have stitched your words, cut your fabric to have a seam allowance of about 1/2″ – 3/4″ larger than your template all the way around. I used a wash-away appliqué sheet as my template so that I wouldn’t have to remove it. I don’t plan to wash my keepsakes so it can stay in.  Fold the fabric around the template, making sure your words are placed correctly in front. Baste/tack or glue stick the fabric around the edges. If you have used a paper template inside, press your shape to keep the folds sharp, then remove the paper template and replace it with batting or other preferred material to give body to your shape.

Now you are ready for the collage. Cut out pieces of fabric to express what you are feeling. Fussy cut birds and butterflies, flowers – whatever you like – and arrange them around your shape. Glue stick them in place temporarily.

Each facet of this hexagon is 2 ins. It is 4 ins (10 cm) across the widest part, the centre.

Now add stitch to create texture and bring your little bits of collage to life. Your stitches will hold them in place on the background. Stitching around the edges tends to fray the pieces, so put some stitches in the centre, a few straight stitches or  French knots will be enough, or stitch right through the pattern.

Back your keepsake with another shape exactly the same and stitch all the way around,  closing both the folded in edges together, or add a piece of felt and blanket stitch all the way around. Remove your basting/tacking stitches once your edges are secured.

Decide on the function of your keepsake. Will you add a loop to the back so that it can be hung, or attach a pin so it can be worn, or is it to be sewn to a tote bag or book cover?  Or will you frame a series of them in tiny embroidery hoops to decorate a wall? Actually I think these would make wonderful little lavender sachets that can be put in a drawer to scent linen or underclothes.

The rectangle is 4″ x 2″ (10 x 5 cm), the small hexagon has 1″ (2 1/2 cm) facets all the way around, the circle has a diameter of 3″ (7 1/2 cm) and the star is 7″ (18 cm) across from point to point.

Why not make someone’s day?

Till next time…..




The Power of Three


Hi Everybody,

It’s been cloudy in western Scotland these past two weeks, with a bit too much rain and wind for July but there is the promise of some sunshine this afternoon and tomorrow.

Three of my pretty duck eggs.

In the past I have written posts about American textile artist Deborah Boschert’s ‘Design Guides’, which are so useful for makers of small textile quilts and wallhangings like the ones you find in this blog. Her Guides offer a series of ideas for what we might do when faced with our blank piece of fabric, canvas or paper, and allow us to create simple but successful compositions – without worrying  too much about formal standards of design  – and to which we can then further surface detail or embellishment as we think fit.

Deborah offers useful information on eight Design Guides in this book

In earlier posts I looked at ‘One Amazing Line’ (See the post ‘Design Composition and Play’ on October 31st, 2017) and ‘Third Plus’ (A post of the same name on March 9, 2019). Today I want to say a little about the Design Guide she calls ‘Magic Three’ . You can see part of one of her examples of Magic Three called ‘River Gathering’, the three fishes on the front cover of her book in the photo here. In the book she tells us that “groups of three are pleasing to the eye”.  I have certainly always found that to be true. Whenever I am arranging groups of ornaments or pot plants around the house or even in the garden, a group of three (usually in varying size)s just look right together somehow: modern and interesting, not too busy or cluttered, not even and yet balanced. Pythagoras called three the perfect number.

It’s an interesting thing, the proliferation of threes within our culture and beyond: in the Holy Trinity and other biblical references, where the number three refers a to divine wholeness; in  the mathematical rule of three; in literature and children’s stories such as the three little pigs, or Goldilocks and the three bears, or the three witches in Macbeth; how good things come in threes; the three stages of life and the three act play. You can probably think of lots more. With regard to speaking, writing (whether literature, film scripts or advertising) as well as in music, the rule of three asserts that anything presented in threes is  liable to be more interesting, enjoyable and memorable. Three is the smallest number you need to create a pattern and patterns are easier to absorb and remember.  And then there is all that clever stuff about triangles…

The Three Billy Goats Gruff? Not quite

For her ‘Magic Three’ composition, Deborah Boschert suggests that we create our three shapes (of anything we like) in different sizes and arrange them at different levels within the space we are working in. And this arrangement applies to any format, horizontal or vertical, (portrait or landscape) and from a tiny composition to something quite large.

I thought I would try the Magic Three idea along with another experiment in Strip Weaving. Instead of embellishing my strip weaving project with English Paper Piecing motifs as I did last time, I wanted to try transferring a line drawing onto the woven background. (For more of the detail of the method of Strip Weaving, please see my earlier post on Strip Weaving  – June 2020)

I set myself the challenge of three different coloured fabrics, three different coloured threads, three different decorative stitches and an image made up of three shapes of different sizes. My shapes were joined in a single image but they needn’t have been. I could have spaced them individually across the background area if I wanted.

I chose two solid colours in different tones to add interest without looking overly busy and a piece of multicoloured striped Indian cotton,  and wove strips of varying widths of fabric together, vertically and horizontally to create my background.

I don’t like raw edges so I pinked the edges of the strips to discourage fraying. If you don’t like raw edges either, it has occurred to me that this project could be done, EPP  style, with the fabric wrapped around strips of paper which would give them neat, turned in, edges.  You wouldn’t need to do many, three to five horizontal and vertical strips would be plenty, and shouldn’t make them too long or the papers would get too floppy to work with.

I was careful to retain a decent sized square of solid colour which could accommodate my drawing and to make sure none of the horizontal strips would cover this area and interfere with the image. Then, once I had sewn down all edges and added a bit surface stitching, I was ready to transfer my line drawing.

The original sketch had a grandfather and a baby in it, so I had to remove them to have the group of three that I wanted (photos 1 and 2, below).


I transferred the image by tracing my drawing onto dressmakers tissue paper (photo 3, above), then pinning the traced drawing onto the fabric in the area where I wanted it to be,  pinning along the edges to keep it from moving, and stitching over all the traced lines.

When the drawing was completely covered by stitches, I gently tore away the tissue paper, leaving the stitched image on the fabric. Any tiny details like spaces between fingers or between waves in hair, are best added  in later, because it’s quite difficult to tear tissue away from tiny details like these, without pulling up the threads. It can however be accomplished quite successfully with a good pair of tweezers and a fair bit of patience. It’s a great technique.

IMG_5905 2

I wasn’t intending to write another post about strip weaving at first, so I haven’t photographed each of the stages but, as it was a development of my earlier strip weaving experiment, I realised that you may find aspects of it interesting.

This was how it turned out – at first:

Take One – not super successful.

Hmm. There was lots wrong. I had made a couple of mistakes filling in bits that shouldn’t be filled in and the checked strip under the image was not straight enough to match the one above. And I hated the long strips below the image that I originally thought would add interest if left dangling.

So, back to the drawing board.

I thought about turning all the bottom strips under, like the other three sides, which would put the image in a kind of square frame, but eventually I just shortened them.  I added some dark red to the women’s lips, gave her some gold earrings and straightened the wonky coloured strip as best I could without having to remove all the vertical stitches as well as the horizontal ones.

It looks a little better now:

IMG_5904 2

There’s still room for improvement and I know what I would do differently next time. It took just over half a day to finish, so it would be an easy project for you to try over a free weekend.

Till next time….