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….

A Pre-Regular Post Update

Hi Everyone,

I thought I would write a quick catch up post before adding further ‘proper’ posts in the near future, about two things I am working on. One is how to create embroideries for tiny frames using English Paper Piecing and the other is a post on some ways of colouring your fabric, which I have been promising you for a while. However neither of them are quite ready yet and I realise it’s been ages since my last post.

There are two main reasons why I have not posted for a while, both of which have prevented me from sewing. The first is that we have decided to move house (this year, arrgggh!) and that has meant a flurry of activity both in the house and outside. The front of the house has been painted from cream to olive green (but not the back, as yet, so it is still two different colours!)

Two-tone house!

and we have had new carpets put through the dining room and study as well as new flooring in the utility room and cloakroom and I am certainly enjoying these changes. Moving the furniture out of two rooms at the same time so that the carpet could go all the way through both rooms was a nightmare. The other downstairs rooms ended up with bits of furniture parked here and there for a couple of days, and lack of room there meant that all the books from my study had to be carried upstairs. I started making piles in our bedroom and they stretched out into the landing, around the corner at the bottom and on towards the bathroom and then all the way back on the other side.

Some people in Scotland do actually have tartan carpets in their homes!

Hmm. I am beginning to think I have too many books.

The other thing that has got in the way of my sewing is toothache. I lost a crown and a filling after Christmas and can’t seem to find a dentist who will see me right away. My previous dentist closed his practice and moved away and other local dentists are not taking on new patients. I have registered with one a distance away but it seems I have to wait my turn, and with Covid still about, it could be a long wait. It’s very hard to focus on anything when your face hurts all the time and often your ear and throat as well. I am living on porridge and noodles because I can’t chew. It’s pretty miserable but painkillers are helping a little.

A group of sweet smelling Hyacinths around a birch tree but nettles are already making an appearance.

I also need to get out and deal with the garden now, as it alway needs a huge tidy up at this time of year. I usually have an audience while I am doing this, as you can see by the title photo above.

I do try to post once a month but is always difficult each Spring when there is much to do outside before the grass gets too long and everything explodes into flower. And now I have the added pressure of the house going on the market very soon which creates an emotion that falls somewhere between excitement and terror! I hope you will bear with me as I navigate my way through all this stuff. I will post as soon as I can, and if I can’t manage a long post I may do it parts.

On a happier note, while I was feeling unwell and rather low, I received an unexpected gift from a friend. I can’t remember getting a surprise from a friend in the post ever before. I mention it here because I think you might love this unusual gift too.

The photo above shows the outer packet of ‘Pigeon’, inspired by origami and intended for people who love to write and receive hand written letters. However, these letters have no envelopes. You write in them, fold them up, add a stamp and send them. I love how the stamp goes over the last fold. The come in a packet containing a set of six, each one a different colour and each one featuring sea birds created by the artist who sent them to me.

Her name is Lisa Hooper and and she is a printmaker, specialising in wildlife and bird art. Please do visit her website Hoopoe Prints at https://hoopoeprints.co.uk and see some of her stunning work. If you love these quirky letters as much as I do and would like some for yourself you may find these packs listed as ‘Hebridean Pigeons’ (because they are letters featuring oystercatchers, curlews, and ringed plovers found within these islands’ coastal habitats.) They are available online from Lisa’s website https://hoopoeprints.co.uk/product/hebridean-pigeons/ from ‘Pigeon’ and from ‘Down to Earth Cards’ who also sell some of Lisa’s greeting cards.

So, back to sewing. I have made a start on a quilt for children from fabric I bought years ago and no longer like but I want to get it done. It has sashing (the solid colour rows that run up and down and across between each coloured block)and I really don’t like quilts with sashing and have never made any before. However, I felt I should make one with sashing at some point because sashing is quite traditional and maybe I won’t be a proper quilter until I have done it.

I was auditioning the pieces on my bed here. The stripes behind are my winter bed sheets, not part of the quilt.

I am planning to add blue cats (and one red one!) at intersections to relive the dullness of off- white channels going between blocks and I might jazz it up with some coloured quilting stitches . Each spotted block with a clamshell patterned roof will be a house with windows and doors. Quilts never look like much at this stage but they liven up as they reach completion.

And here is a sneak peak of my mini 5 cm square embroideries, so far from finished, as well the mini brass frames that they fit into. They would make lovely gifts for friends and family, too, but more of how to do them in a later post.

What will he be looking at in the frame next to him?

I hope you are all well and happy and enjoying some sunshine.i

Until next time…

Storm Drama + New Ideas for EPP

Hello Everyone,

This photo of a robin was taken by a friend of mine, Jane Carlton, who takes wonderful photographs of our local wildlife.

Drama

It’s a cold grey day and we have an amber warning here in Scotland as we await the arrival of storm Dudley, followed by closely by storm Eunice. Let’s hope these don’t bring any more of the drama that we had in last week’s wind and rain.

In the past few years, any very wet weather with strong winds seems to have brought down at least one tree. They are always old, tall, beautiful trees and though they may each provide us with firewood for years to come, I grieve for the loss of them and it takes a while to get use to the empty space they leave in our garden. Last week it was the tall confer that I used to watch swaying outside the window when I was in the bath. It had been beginning to lean a little for some time and we knew we would have to reduce the size of it soon, or it would hit the house when it came down. We had my son here at Christmas taking the tops off several other trees that were close to the house or had heavy branches interfering with the growth of others but by the time these were done, it was getting dark and the conifer was left for another time.

It did come down. And it did hit the house. 

I am thankful I was not in the bath to see it coming towards me. I was at the other end of the house and didn’t hear it, though I did wonder why the kitchen was so very dark when I walked into it and why the windows were a mass of smooshed branches.  

It takes a while to believe your eyes. Thankfully there was no structural damage, just a broken sill and a gouge out of the frame to one window, upstairs. We were so lucky.  

Now we have yet another tree to chop up and remove the heavy chunks of wood, burn all the spindly useless pieces and clear away the mess of the wood chip made by the chain saw.

a long, tedious job that takes us away from other things we want to do at this time of year like move more snowdrops into our snowdrop area.

Mini Quilts:

Since my last blog post I have managed to finish the commission I received before Christmas – two mini quilts featuring sheep. Here they are:

This is what they look like on a wall, preferably with a thin pin through the metal loop rather than a picture hook. I took down a picture to show it to you.
This was my first attempt at a drystone wall in stitch – it took forever!

An Experiment:

I have also tried some simple transfer printing of ferns from my garden onto paper, after an online workshop with artist Monique Day Wilde who is based in South Africa. This was my first attempt:

Garden ferns onto paper using acrylic paint, tissue paper and matte gel medium.

I am about to iron some fusible interfacing onto the back of the paper to stabilise it so that I can add some stitching. Then I will try the same thing on fabric. This would be such a wonderful idea for making your own fabric for EPP, using old sheets, instead of needing to buy commercially printed fabric. I was so taken with this idea that I bought myself a Gel Printing Plate though I have not used it yet.

Pinterest seems to have a lot of tips on ways of using these, so I am going to check some out.

Something for You to Try:

Here is a different idea for you to try with paper which will also work with fabric. It would be great for designing your own blocks for English Paper Piecing (it could be done with any shapes that fit together) or as a interesting background to appliqué or embroidery

To try it out on paper, find a small pad of sticky notes. I used a dozen 2” x 1 1/2”  sheets from a yellow Post It pad, like this:

but you can use an even number of any size and as many as you like. Stick them down onto a piece of paper, (not glued, just using their sticky strip so that you can move them around later) butt them up together like jigsaw pieces.

Now get out your paints, markers, inks, coloured pencils or crayons and make marks all over them. They do tend to curl a bit with the wetness of paint, so you can use bits of Blu Tack underneath to keep them down if necessary.

Once you have done that, let them dry and then move the pieces around to make different patterns until you find one that you like. Here is my first attempt, using acrylic paints in blue green and purple: 

1. First marks

Then I moved the the sticky sheets around:

2. Fragmented and Rejoined

I painted on more green leaves and tried again:

3. Repainted, shuffled about and joined again

After a few tries you may find what kind of marks are most interesting when re-arranged. I don’t think the single fat purple line worked as well in my sample (too intrusive) as several more slender lines may have done but perhaps it depends what you plan to do with afterwards.

You can use this idea for EPP by wrapping and basting your paper shapes with white cotton fabric and adding a dab of fabric glue behind them to keep them still on a cloth background. Mark them in any way you like and, once dry, move the pieces around to find an arrangement that you like. Then whipstitch the shapes together to form your patterned piece. Take the papers out and sew the piece to some backing fabric, quilt or bag, or stabilise the back with a fusible stabiliser if you prefer, and it is ready to embroider and make into a book cover or a decorated piece for a frame.

You can use fabric paints, fabric markers, Inktense pencils, inks, water soluble coloured pencils or fabric crayons. Using stencils might be fun, too. Some of these marks will need to be heat set if you want them to be permanent but do use some baking parchment between your marks and your iron to protect it from damage.

I want to leave you with two photos of the snowdrops in our garden this month. They tell us that Spring will soon be here. We have been adding more to these areas each year and we still have spaces to fill. Till next time…

From the garage to the potting shed…
and beyond…….

2022 Is Here – But Where Am I?

Hello Everyone!

This bird stand was one of my Christmas presents from my husband. Less than a week after it was set up, two of the baskets are empty and the rest nearly empty!

I wish you all a happy and productive year ahead but most of all a healthy one.

I am sorry I have disappeared for so long. In late November I travelled up to central Scotland to see some friends that I’ve known since I was twelve. I had a wonderful time but started to feel unwell almost immediately I got home. It had been years since I had a cold or any flu symptoms but these were so severe and went on so long that I had a PCR test, afraid it might be Covid. The results came back negative, so I seemed to have some kind of mega cold. Perhaps I had self isolated for so long that I had no defence I against what was waiting for me outdoors. I was not completely over it by Christmas Day, and though much better by New Year’s Day, a persistent cough still kept me up at night.

My kids came up for a visit on the 4th and stayed until the 7th which I had long looked forward to, but it is only now that I am able to put the whirlwind of Christmas and New Year behind me and relax and try to recover some of the energy I had at the beginning of November.

I wrapped all the presents for my family in fabric this year.
You will see that some of these have been wrapped/tied using some Japanese Furoshiki methods.

I feel curiously dislocated from everything, as if the world has zoomed on without me and I can’t catch up. The last sewing I did seems so long ago. I felt too unwell to read at first but then suddenly had a huge desire to read and bought a rash of books. I bought a couple of second hand novels (I don’t know how long ago it was that I read a novel!) I am a short story reader usually and my favourite authors are a group of American writers, writing mostly during the eighties and referred to as the ‘Dirty Realists’ (Jayne Anne Phillips, Raymond Carver, Larry Brown, Richard Ford, Richard Yates and lots more!) I have read most of their short stories so I thought I would make a start on some of their novels.

I also bought three books on Abstract Art . The two below both explore shape and colour, line, tone and size, texture, composition, and more, as well as secondary elements like contrast rhythm and balance, which I don’t know enough about. ‘Realistic Abstracts’ (my favourite kind!) goes more into how reality and illusion can be combined

I want to learn more about abstract art but also about design and to see if I can transfer any of what I learn to my quilt making. I bought a third book on Kindle, called ‘Creating Abstract Art’ by Dean Nimmer, which is much more formulaic, with a series of exercises to work through. I bought this one for fun and for practice in loosening up a little, something I have always found difficult.

I bought two textile books ‘Textile Folk Art’ by Anne Kelly and ‘Sketchbook Explorations’ by Shelley Rhodes and these have been hugely inspiring. I am fortunate to have joined each of these artists in online workshops, as part of my textile course.

Another book I bought fairly recently was Barbara Brackman’s Encyclopaedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns.

Older copies had become rare and expensive but this new edition has brought the prices down and made copies readily available. I am fascinated by American blocks and their origins and names and, although I keep saying I want to stop making them and move on to different things, I am constantly drawn back to them. I have a perpetual calendar of these blocks on my window sill.

With regard to EPP I was delighted to receive a commission in November from someone I met recently; to complete two mini patchwork quilts for a wall, that featured sheep. They were supposed to be finished by Christmas but are barely begun, so I shall be getting back to work on those in the next few days.

This is the first of two 8″ quilts in progress, featuring sheep for someone who has a several pet ones! It does’t look much at the moment but it will improve.

So, what of my plans for 2022? I want to vary my posts a little with some ‘how-to’s’ and ‘things to try’, (e.g. making some little fabric books) so that the posts are not just about progress with my quilts. I want to include some posts on colouring fabric with paints etc which I had intended to cover last year, I want to do some appliqué work with a Scottish theme, and I really want to try some fabric collage. And while I am working on those I want to learn how to layer fabric in interesting ways and how to do free motion embroidery. That should keep me busy most of the year!

I have 40, part-finished, mini quilts (yes 40!), sitting in a pile, waiting for me to find some backing fabric so that I can quilt them. Then I have more that I planned and bought fabric for, long ago, that I want to get out of the way. However, there is one large quilt I am itching to begin working on. I am going to call it ‘Houses and Dolls’. It is made up of blocks of patched houses and ‘dolls’ of different sizes which are all joined by improvised paths. It is based on a quilt design called ‘The Burbs’ by Sarah Fielke from the book ‘Material Obsession’. I have not seen any quilt top put together in this way before and want to give it a try.

Here is a section of Sarah’s quilt, so it will be something along these lines. I love it! I’ll probably leave off the appliquéd flowers that are dotted around, though. I find that I learn a lot from reproducing someone else’s quilt design now and again (though obviously the chosen fabrics will be different), especially if there is something unusual about them or I am intrigued by the way they are made. It’s the same with recipes for me. I follow the first attempt to the letter and from that I learn not only what is involved in the making but how I would definitely do it differently. And I won’t be selling this one so no need to worry about accusations of it not being an original design!

A close up of one section of ‘The Burbs’ by Sarah Fielke

I also want to re-open my shop on Folksy.com and finally open the one I set up over a year ago on Etsy.com. I have abandoned the idea of selling from this website because I can’t include enough large images to show detail and I can’t easily sell to other countries. It may be pricey to list multiple items on these Folksy and Etsy but there is a lot of support for beginner sellers and invaluable help with postal calculations.

I am surprised to find that this EPP post is mostly about books! In between my reading binges I have been thinking and making lists, trying to hone in on the nitty gritty of what interests me, what matters to me, what brings me joy, what I want to say, whether I want to go on making quilts or move onto making textile pictures. I have a book of lists. Making lists is fun to do and interesting to read back later. It reveals quite a lot about you and is strangely therapeutic. I can recommend it.

So, until next time……stay safe and well.

Larger EPP Quilts and Labels

A lovely photo of a dry bright day in our local area taken by a friend of mine, Sally Hinchcliffe.

Hello Everybody,

I have some great news! My work has been accepted to be displayed and sold at the Barholm Arts and Crafts shop in Creetown, not far from my home in south west Scotland and I am delighted! I took in four different pieces, two with Scottish theme, one humorous, and one Indian. All of them were in frames. On Friday I heard that there is an envelope waiting for me at the gallery and that means I have sold something but I don’t yet know what. I have wanted this for so long but couldn’t imagine anyone liking my designs enough to want to buy one and use it in their home. When I began this journey about nine years ago, my dream was that one day some of my quilts might decorate homes in different places across the country and bring people pleasure, or make them smile. This coming Thursday I am going to take a few more quilts into the gallery. This time none of them are framed, most are smaller and a few have a Christmas theme.

Since I was invited to take work to the shop I have been madly sewing labels on to my stack of quilts. There is a lesson here. Please add a label to the back of your quilt each time you complete one, because sewing on close to a hundred all at once is not fun. Labels look much neater sewn into the binding, rather than stitched on like an afterthought.

When something has taken you hours to make it is important to put your stamp on it as being your work and no-one else. Also, all of my quilts have names that make sense of the pattern on the front and give them personality. I want my label to display that name, where there were made, who by and when. Who knows, one of them could be discovered a century later and still bearing your name. I’m all for the immortalisation of quilts. That said, I still find myself wanting to avoid doing them.

I have made some observations about labels this week. I began by buying labels because I didn’t know how to make them. Some fabric designers do sets of them in panels though there is not often much room between the images to allow for a decent seam allowance. They are often black and white but sometimes they are coloured. Some have vines and flowers around the edges that you can colour in with a coloured marker.

Labels cut from a panel. I don’t find them hugely exciting.

You can colour labels with markers, inks, crayons and coloured pencils but make sure it is colour fast if your quilt is to be washed.

I would avoid the more sentimental ones with ‘Made with Love Just for You’ or ‘To a Special Person’ type wordings if you want to sell your work and go for plainer ones, which are harder to find. Other designs available (often on eBay) have blank centres and coloured edging which can be useful but are often too large for mini quilts. They could be cut smaller though.

Labels from Ebay, thin enough to trace some printed out handwriting in a font you like

It’s taken me a long while and a lot of “meh” labels to realise that the best labels are ones you make yourself. The best fabric to choose for a label is the one that best fits the colour and style of the quilt it is attached to. The best fabric designs for labels are tone on tone fabrics that read as solids, or just simple solids in not too dark a colour, because these look good as well as clearly showing the writing on the label (either in permanent pen or in stitch). Embroidered labels are more do-able on large quilts; with smaller ones it is easier to stick to a waterproof permanent marker with archival ink that won’t run or fade. If you hate your handwriting you can trace a font that you like online. For more detailed information on the making of labels, see my previous post on “An Easy Way to Label your Quilt’ in October 2020.

Another very good reason to add your label before completion is that a triangle shaped label fits well into the the corner of a quilt with the ‘ears’ of the triangle disappearing neatly into the binding at either edge. If you sew the label on afterwards, it is a devil of a task to hide those ‘ears’ by folding them inside the triangle points. Too big and the point looks bulky, but cut away causes them to fray.

The photo below has been magnified so that you can see the difficulty with the corner on the left hand side, where there is so much bulk with the ‘ears’ turned in that the stitches struggle to close the gap.

In the photo below you can see how much better the label looks sewn into the binding (and it’s more difficult to remove, too). However, remember to leave enough space to add the binding at each side, or some of your writing may be covered up, as in the example below. Luckily this one is not for sale.

I think I may have another solution for the added-on-later label, an idea that popped into my head a few nights ago when I couldn’t sleep. I haven’t tried this yet but I think an EPP fabric hexagon with the print facing front, its backing fabric folded over the front and stitched down, and a slim piece of interfacing inside between back and front, would make an attractive label that could be appliquéd on and would avoid all the previous problems I have encountered. It is actually what’s called a Quilt-as-you-go hexagon and looks like the ones in photo below. The centre area would hold the writing, ideally on a paler background. I will give the idea a try and let you know how I get on.

Borrowed from raspberryspool.com to show as example only.

So, enough about sewing on labels. However, because I have had to sew so many lately, I have not managed to complete any EPP work in the past month. However I have made a little progress with the piecing of three separate quilt tops, all larger than my usual mini quilt size and intended for frames. I bought the fabric years ago when I was just starting out but wasn’t brave enough to try anything that big. I had just moved here and fancied some Scottish hand made fabric pictures on my wall.

They are both Lewis and Irene patterns and fabric. The first is ‘Country Life.’

‘Country Life’16 inches square

I really wanted to like this one but I am not a fan of triangles and getting a whole bunch of them to meet in the middle is asking for trouble. They are all supposed to nest together at the back and they do, sort of, but not very neatly and they are still uneven at the front. There are five pieces to each block and once these were sewn together to make four separate blocks, I then sewed one block to another going around the quilt in a clockwise direction. I think this is where the mistake occurred. It seems to me that sewing the top right and left block together first, then the bottom left and right, and then sewing the top and bottom strips together straight across the middle would have avoided this problem. I am considering picking it apart and re-doing it. Oh joy.

The second is another Lewis and Irene pattern and fabric, ‘The Glen’. I have joined the grey centre to the on-point red triangles and joined the smaller pieces that make up the large corner triangles,. Now I have to sew it all together.

‘The Glen’ – 18 inches Square

The third is a quilt that you will have seen in an earlier post when all the pieces were laid out on the table, ready to sew together. This is what it looks like now. I called it ‘Once Upon a Chicken’ at first but have changed that to ‘Once upon a Hen’, in memory of a much loved golden brown hen called Speckle that I once had as a pet.

‘Once Upon a Hen’ 15 inches square

The octagon in the centre is not right but it will be easy to redo that. It’s just appliquéd on. I have found some fun fabric for the back, with more hens!

I have found some fun fabric with hens for the back of my quilt,

The clocks have changed overnight and now, at not quite three o clock today, there is very low light and it’s beginning to rain. Despite the wetness though, there is some lovely colour in the garden. Many of our trees are changing, tor red and gold, there are still a few flowers lingering in the greenhouses and some black grapes coming along. For October it is surprising warm and but a very long dry spell, there is now a lot of rain. I am hoping to spend next week in the garden pruning trees and shrubs, weather permitting. Covid is still lurking about the place in Scotland but there is always plenty I enjoying doing at home so I’m happy to stay home.

If you have any ideas for posts you would like to see here or have a question, please leave a comment. If there is anything you want to ask about specific quilts or something you want to say that you prefer not to share in the general comments, you can reach me via the ‘Got a Question’ page on this site or via my business email address lesleyjackson@forestmoordesigns.com

So, until next time….

Taking Stock at this Stage of the Journey

Two little boys playing footsie in the grass.

Hi Everyone,

I have been doing a lot of thinking this past month; of the where am I, where am I going and why, variety. I’ve been looking at what I have done, what went well and not so well and wishing there was more time in any day for what I want to do. I’ll come back to this in a moment, but first, a little of what I have be doing since my last post.

I have finished ‘All Roads Lead Home’, quilting it and adding what I call a ‘proper’ binding:

‘All Roads Lead Home’ (with geese to fend off intruders!)

I have decided to add bindings like this to all quilts of this size and larger, from now on. I used to just fold the backing fabric to the front because it was cheaper and easier, and it works fine on 8 inch quilts or smaller that go on the wall and don’t get a lot of wear. However, adding your own separate binding gives a more professional look and wears better on larger quilts such as table toppers, runners and bed quilts that are going to handled and washed more often.

I added embroidered details onto a couple of mini quilts that seemed to lack something. Both took HOURS to do and I am not sure I like them any better. Both need binding, so perhaps that will improve how they look.

The first is ‘Daffodils in the Garden’ which I had hoped to complete before the end of Spring:

‘Daffodils in the Garden’

The stem stitch on each of the trees does give them more texture. I love how they feel to the touch but they took HOURS to stitch, so I won’t be doing that again, anytime soon. It might be nice for a more special quilt though. Embroidery does tend to pucker the fabric, so I usually dampen and stretch it a little. The binding will straighten up the squiggly edges.

The second one is ‘A Home in the Hills’:

The embroidery on this took ages, too, and though I am happy enough with some of it, the house and the tree behind the house in the centre square, are not straight, and this makes the rest of the quilt look wonky. I could have removed the whole centre square and rotated it a little at an earlier stage but this is not really possible once it is quilted. This is why you need to keep standing away from your work and looking at it from a distance. When you are hunched over it, with your focus on the tiny bit you are stitching, you can lose sight of the whole picture until it is too late to change it.

I have a whole pile waiting to be quilted. I like quilting. It’s quick and easy once you have decided how you are going to do it. I don’t mind adding binding either. There is something very satisfying about seeing your quilt slowly reach completion, with this last step in the process. I notice that there is not a single Pinterest ‘how to’ on sewing both sides of the binding on by hand. It seems that everyone resorts to a machine at this point.

The weather is sunny and warm but I have been avoiding the garden because I came out one morning to water the plants that I have been nurturing all year, to find the deer have been feasting on them, biting the heads off flowers, and chewing the leaves and stems off shrubs,. Some are now no more than a couple of blunt stalks.It’s heartbreaking. The deer visit from time to time but it’s never been this bad.

This used to be a Hosta!

But they did miss this one, thank goodness. Too close to the front door for their liking, maybe:

A lovely red Dahlia

Each year I look at all my boxes of fabric and quilts done and in progress, and all the ones unfinished for one reason or another. I usually decide I don’t like any of the ones I have done, haven’t finished any of what I planned to do and haven’t got any closer to what I have wanted to do. So what is the solution? A change of plan to start with, I think.

The bookcase where I keep my stash and quilts waiting to be quilted.

When I started out I wanted to make children’s quilts. I no longer want to do this but I have collections of fabric that I bought, for specific patternsTh that are still waiting to be made. I still like the patterns and the fabrics but somehow they belong to a different me. I also have fabrics for two quilts of single bed size and fabrics for several traditional patterns I wanted to try at the time, like Courthouse Steps and a Log Cabin. I also wanted to make a quilt using a Jelly Roll and to try some ‘liberated’ quilting where there was no set pattern. At that time everything was new and I wanted to try a bit of everything that I saw. Designing something for myself never occurred to me.

I love American quilt blocks and their evocative names, and at some point I realised that I could either manipulate the shapes in a single block to create a different design of my own, or I could add something pictorial to a block to give it a more personal meaning. I could add birds to ‘Return of the Swallows’, a farmhouse to ‘Farm Friendliness’ and so on. And I could make them about Scotland because we have farms and swallows, too. I made mostly 8″ size mini quilts because that was the largest pattern that my printer could cope with, and I cut out the paper shapes to wrap them with fabric because I couldn’t afford to buy the paper pieces (and there weren’t as many available a decade ago).

‘Farm Friendless’ Block, re-imagined.

My brain is always ahead of my hands so it wasn’t long before I had a situation where I wanted to move on, and do something completely different, but was stuck with all my quilts-in-progress and there were so many to do before I could get there. Does this happen to you, too?

Eventually I found myself juggling four separate strands of quilt making – the early quilts that I never completed, dozens of Scottish mini quilts in progress, the new ideas I want to try with English Paper Piecing and the constant pull further closer to textile art where I could take the time to design things of my own. I feel there is so much more to discover about English Paper Piecing and where it might fit into textile art rather than quilting. There are so many ideas I can’t get even begin to get close to right now.

I called this blog ‘A English Paper Piecing Journey’ because I think I realised, even then, that my experiments with one thing or another would eventually lead me far from where I began.

So, I have made some decisions:

I do not want to sell or give away those early quilt fabric and patterns, so the only solution is to get them done and the sooner the better. So, I am going to make a start, right now. There are about 17 of them, so I won’t be done with them this year.

I do not want to make 8″ mini quilts anymore, but want to make some slightly larger ones for the wall. These might be between 36 and 48 inches square, so not huge, but bigger. Having said that there are about fifteen Scottish mini quilts still in progress but I am going to put these aside for a while.

When you are making tiny quilts it is entirely possible to have something different to share in each blog post. Making larger ones could mean lots of posts about progress on the same quilt. Although I plan to work on a couple of them at the same time, I don’t want my posts to be like watching paint dry. So, I have decided to intersperse the making of these with some ‘how to’ posts that you might find useful. I want to start with colouring English Paper Piecing; how to add paint, coloured pencils, markers and crayons to your work. And then, if time allows, I want to experiment with using English Paper Piecing in non-traditional ways, such as using tulle to trap objects and so on.

Having made my decision, I spent much of August going through each box of fabric, sketching out the pattern, deciding on the size I want to make it and the paper pieces I would need. I am now buying the paper pieces and cutting out the shapes. The idea is that every box will contain everything needed to complete each quilt (no more procrastination because I don’t have all the paper pieces, or I haven’t decided on the right pattern, or size). It should now be possible for me to take any box I fancy off the shelf, and begin.

A ‘Neighbourhood’ quilt waiting to be made with Moda Neco

I always buy my paper pieces from https://www.linapatchwork.com because she has such a great range of simple shapes that allow you to reproduce any block pattern in any size you like, or design your own. Of course she also stocks the shapes for the hugely popular Passacaglia and other such patterns and kits, as well, but I have never been interested in those. She will also custom make paper pieces for your own design if you ask. I really want to ask her to make me the ‘Storm at Sea’ pattern in EPP one day. Have you seen it. It’s made up of straight lines that look like curves.

Some Paper Pieces that arrived this morning. She always includes a few complementary shapes to try, too.

HOT TIP: I have discovered that when you want a size that is not generally available, you can join paper pieces together to make the size you need. For example, you can join four 4″ squares to make an 8″ square centre, or join to 4 x 1″ rectangles for the 8×1″ outer log for your log cabin. If you stick them together with a strip of Sellotape at the join you can cut them apart again later and re-use them, though it’s possible that if you joined them with washi tape, you could just peel the tape off afterwards. I’ll try that and let you know if it works.

Despite all the laudable decision making, planning and organising there is always the problem of how overwhelming the sheer volume of what there is to do, can become. Why do we do this to ourselves? Maybe we think we have more time than we have, or can work faster than we do. I think it’s often about seeing fabric we love and want to use, and we think if we don’t get it now, it will be gone forever. Why can we not see that, like ideas or creativity, there will always be always be more. Maybe this is me. Maybe you are a great deal more sensible.

Till next time……

Macz (short for MacKenzie) taking some time out in the cat kennel