I Aten’t Dead – It Just Feels Like It

2021, eh? It’s not ALL been bad (see below!), but it ain’t been great either. Family ill-health has been an issue throughout this year, most notably my mum who (apparently) reacted really badly to the Pfizer Covid vaccine. Months later and she’s still not right and we’re still battling to get to the bottom of it and help her feel better. Thankfully, I had very little reaction to my own Covid vaccinations, what a relief!

Alas, one thing I haven’t managed to do much of this year is sew. I have had other, four-legged considerations on my mind! Meet Gwion, a pedigree Cardigan Welsh Corgi who became mine on the 31st of December 2020. He turned 1 on the first of November 2021. He is a very cheeky noodle and I love him to bits. I shall be very glad when he finally stops trying to eat shoes, however.

Alas, just as it looked as though Gwion was starting to become almost civilised and I had some blessed free time to sew, this happened:

A deeply mundane slip and fall onto asphalt at the end of September left me with a fractured wrist that ended up needing surgery. It’s almost four weeks since the staples were removed, I’ve been good about doing my exercises and I am hoping that my next fracture clinic, on Wednesday, will go well and I will finally be allowed to drive again. I am eternally grateful to the people who helped me when I first broke my wrist and to Gwion’s breeder, who generously hosted me and Gwion until I healed enough to cope with managing being at home again. It’s been a challenging year and I just want both hands working again, and to see the back of 2021. Here’s hoping that 2022 will be better, at least I have had my puppy to brighten the grimmer moments!

A Bevy of Easter Pressies

That was an extremely unusual Easter all around, I think. A time when many people, regardless of belief, like to get together with family but this year couldn’t. We’ve barely left the house since the lockdown started, with much of our shopping being done by my brother-in-law and a very kind neighbour who works in Morrisons. As such, there was not a vast quantity of chocolate eggs floating around the house this year, but since commercial Easter eggs are typically a lot of packaging and not all that much chocolate, in recent years I’ve tried to make something for my family in addition to or instead of chocolate. Here are some of this year’s creations!

I’ve made my mum quite a few cushions, but I realised that I hadn’t given my sister one. Last year I enjoyed a really fun weekend trip away to Oxfordshire with the Quilt Group ladies and we did some classes at Village Fabrics, one of which was folded patchwork. I took along some beautiful blue and white batiks that I’d had for a long time – I bought them on my first ever trip to the Festival of Quilts! They’re also colours I know my sister really likes as well. They worked really well for the folded pattern and I had great fun fussy-cutting the circle prints for the cornerstones. The block finished at 18 1/2″, perfect for a good-sized cushion. To add a bit of detail, I found my sashiko supplies and quickly discovered why sashiko on batik isn’t widely recommended! But I adored the look of the crisp white stitches against the blues and blacks, so I persevered.

For the quilting, I decided to do some very simple walking-foot quilting so as not to distract from the clean, elegant look of the piecing, in blue and white cottons. The back and binding of the cushion was some pretty bird fabric that mum found for me, which suited the style of the cushion.

For mum, I decided that a new table topper would be a nice thing to make; I made her a Christmas one when I first took up quilting, but it’s a bit season-specific. A Spring/Easter one was definitely due! For this, I used five different Moda Ombre Confetti prints from a half-yard bundle I had in my stash – one white/cream for the background, a gold, a purple, a pink and a green. As our kitchen table is round, I decided to make another hexagonal topper – plus I do love sewing equilateral triangles! I started cutting and piecing without being quite sure how it would all go together, ended up cutting some more strips to get a decent number of triangles, then splotted everything on my design wall and moved bits around until a pattern fell into place. It zipped together in an afternoon.

I decided to really go to town with the quilting on this piece, with an assortment of dense fillers and floral/leaf motifs. Although it’s not a big piece, it still took a good amount of time to get it quilted – it still takes me by surprise how mentally and physically intense this kind of quilting can be! And of course I had to try and do it as secretly as I could – not easy when you’re in lockdown with the person you want to gift something to! Still, I’m really pleased with how it all came out, especially the big flowers. And it looked great on out Easter Lunch table!

The last gift I actually have photos of is a bag that I made for my niece, Nia. She needs a bag to take swimming and she loves mermaids and seashells, so I used these motif to make her a cute little tote bag. The internet provided a nice scallop shell, but I couldn’t find a mermaid in the pose I pictured, so I had to draw my own – and humanoids are not my favourite things to draw! I am rather chuffed with how it all came together in the end – enough that I may have to play with the mermaid design a bit more!

I used a faux-punto effect under the shell to make it really puffy and dimensional, enhanced by fairly dense echoed paisley shapes quilted around it.

I am particularly proud of the magnetic tail fastening, the addition of some extra stabiliser really helps to keep the fin shape looking perky! Assembling all the disparate bits into a bag in the right order took a little bit of pondering and puzzling, but I picked my way carefully through it. To make it actually useful as a swim bag, it’s lined with some waterproof fabric left over from when I made a change mat for Nia before she was born! I am not sure when the local pools are likely to be open again, but I’m sure she’ll think of other things to carry in it until then.

I also made a quilted panel wall hanging for my little nephew Aled (who is too young for chocolate anyway, even without his dairy intolerance issues) and a cork fabric wash bag for my brother-in-law – and I failed to take photographs of either of them while they were still in my possession! I can certainly say that, for me, boredom over the last few weeks has NOT been an issue!

Blast from the Past 5: Mother’s Day 2019

Buoyed by my success with quilted silk, I was keen to play more with the concept, and Mother’s Day was a perfect excuse to do so! Mum had been enviously eyeballing the cushion cover I made for my aunt’s mum, so I quietly arranged for a few more silk swatches from The Silk Route in pretty reds, oranges and golds, mixed them with the greens I had left over, then set to dreaming up what to do with them. For a change, I thought a rectangular cushion would be nice, so I cut a quantity of HSTs from my silk and arranged them accordingly, in a gradient from one corner to the other:

It reminds me of leaves turning colour! Barring a few shuffles, I stitched my HSTs together to make my cushion top.

Now, how to quilt it? Because of the leaf colours, I decided to roll with that as a concept, so I did some minimal dot-to-dot quilting across each pair of HSTs, leaving a space in the middle, then doodled free-hand leaves in each one. To make the leaf shapes really POP, I used some tight stippling immediately around each leaf, up to the edge of the dot-to-dot quilting.

Like real leaves, they’re all different shapes and sizes! XD I used wool wadding, which really makes the quilting stand out and enhances the shimmer of the silks, some of which were “shot”. As I progressed through the quilting, I tried to use threads that matched (within reason) the colours of the HSTs I was quilting, to enhance the colour changes across the top.

A couple of flaps for the back and some scrappy binding, and it was all finished! Mum was really pleased with it, she loves that it’s rectangular because it provides better back support.

Blast from the Past 4: Mini Graffiti Quilt

A smol Blast from the Past today! I was invited to a friends’ wedding back in August 2018, and although they didn’t particularly have a gift list I thought it would be nice to do something a little personal. Having seen graffiti-style quilts floating about, I thought it would be really fun to make a small wall hanging with their initials, surrounded by bright FMQ designs.

I found a fun (and chunky!) font that I liked, traced it onto freezer paper, and used it as a guide to block out areas of my quilt top for the quilting. The quilting went quite quickly, although I slightly wish I’d done more quilting in navy-blue thread around the coloured region. I’m still really pleased with how it came out, even the back looked pretty cool:

I love this effect and would definitely do something like this again in the future! FMQ doodling like this doesn’t come very easily to me, but I’ve always felt that the best way to improve at something is to keep doing it!

Sewing In A Time of Social Distancing

My heart and hugs go out to everyone affected, directly or indirectly, by the COVID-19 outbreak, wherever you are in the world. Here in the UK, life has become tinged with a sense of unreality. Mum and I are being careful about staying home and limiting contact with the outside world – although the lovely weather over the last few days has at least allowed us to enjoy lunch in the back garden!

I’m very fortunate in some ways – working from home and being a hermit by inclination anyway have fitted me pretty well for the current social distancing strictures. Plus I have a mountain of fabric and thread to play with! Mum’s enjoying it less (she loves a good shopping trip and she’s missing time with the grandkids), but she’s bearing up well so far and entertaining herself with the gardening.

So what have I been entertaining myself with? Well, I’ve got no shortage of WIPs, UFOs and ideas to get on with so…. obviously I started something new instead! My sister mentioned the Window Rainbows that children were putting up to spread a bit of cheer and for kids to spot when out on walks in their neighbourhood. Who doesn’t like a rainbow? Entranced by the idea, and being fairly recently in the possession of the Inspiring Improv book by Nicholas Ball, I raided my scrap bins and started to make a scrappy improv rainbow based on his strippy circles. For my background, I fortunately chose a white-on-white print that I have vast quantities of, having purchased lots of it for some other project that proved not to merit that much attention. I had a wonderful time cutting strips and piecing the different colours of my rainbow.

Yep, I went for the full seven colours – I am a Rainbow Traditionalist apparently! Pleased with my efforts, I considered where rainbows come from and decided to create some improv raindrops.

Rainbows need sun too, right? And to balance everything going on above the rainbow, perhaps there needed to be something happening below it as well?

…and now you can see why I was glad I’d chosen a background fabric I have lots of! Improv piecing doesn’t come very naturally to my perfectionist, control-freak soul, but I enjoyed making these units a lot. And my inner perfectionist was about to get a thorough work-out during the assembly of all these disparate bits into a recognisable quilt top. The top half was pretty simple to do, no partial seams or anything awkward at all. Even the measurements were mostly fine, somehow I managed to get the raindrops and sun to finish with vaguely sensible numbers.

The diamonds, on the other hand, were a challenge. Having pieced the top half of the quilt to give myself some mulling time, I decided that some of the diamonds were much bigger than I wanted them to be, so I ended up un-picking and reducing the green-blue-purple ones to better match the red-orange-yellow ones. That done, they needed an arrangement. Random? No, I tried it and I didn’t like it. I quite wanted them to look like they were dripping from the ends of the rainbow, but didn’t like it when they were all bunched up close to the ends of it. Eventually, I spread them vertically and used a weight on a string to line up each diamond with its respective colour on the rainbow, and I mixed up the heights of each colour so that it looked more random but still had some underlying order. Perfect.

Joining them, however, was a trial! Because of the way the diamond blocks overlapped, butted up or didn’t quite align with each other, I ended up juggling a few partial seams and finicky measurements as I worked on putting them together. The result, however, is well worth all the fiddling about, I really love how it turned out!

I think we’re going to need a bigger window! It’s a very long quilt top relative to its width, but I think it’ll make a grand wall or door hanging. I’m looking forward to quilting this one, it’s been a really enjoyable and educational make so far and I think we all need some brightness and joy at the moment. Stay well, everyone!

Blast from the Past 3: Emerald Facets

This is a rather bittersweet post because the lady I made this cushion for passed away recently. It was a 90th birthday present for my aunt’s mum, a very dear and talented woman who did a great deal for others both near and far.

From having made her a bed quilt, I knew that she particularly liked blues and greens, and I had been wanting a good reason to do some quilting with dupioni silk, so I armed myself with some packs of 10″ squares from The Silk Route, plus a couple of shot cottons for texture variety, and doodled a pretty straightforward design of squares and half-square triangles.

Having arrived at an arrangement I liked, I interfaced my silk (to reduce fraying) and cut my pieces, making sure to keep the “grain” of the fabrics running all in the same direction. Assembly went pretty well.

Those larger squares were destined for some embellishment, and I had just the thing lurking in my stash – Markal Paintstiks! I created a couple of stencils in Inkscape, printed them onto freezer paper and carefully cut them out with a craft knife, then ironed them in place and had huge fun colouring them in with my shiny metallic Paintstiks.

I was so pleased with how well this worked! The metallic paints looked really luxurious against the silks. After the required drying period and a jolly good press to set the paints, I layered up the quilt with some wool wadding and started quilting. To make the stencilled designs really POP, I used quite dense fillers around them. With the bouncy resilience of the wool, this looked really effective. On the HST blocks, I used a variety of “dot-to-dot” designs, inspired by Angela Walters.

I confess here and now that I am UTTERLY in love with how silk looks once quilted. The natural sheen and shimmer of the silk is really enhanced by the stitching, and the whole effect is just opulent.

Once the quilting was complete, I used a blue Essex linen from Robert Kaufman to make up the cushion back and binding; it was a pleasing contrast to the glossy silk and, I feel, a rather luxurious fabric in its own right as well. To really bling up the back (and make use of some of the small left-over silk scraps), I created a pieced edge on the outer flap of the cushion, and worked out a way to add concealed buttons for the closure:

I was really happy with how this cushion turned out and was proud to be able to send it to such a wonderful person who spent so much time crafting for others. <3

A Little Faith, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pfaff Sensormatic Foot

I love to make Christmas presents if I can. For last Christmas, our Quilt Club decided to try a Secret Santa with a maximum budget of £10. We all pulled a name out of a hat and had to get a gift for that one person. When I read the name I’d pulled, I was really pleased – I’d got Stef, our Fearless Leader and friendly local Rough Collie enthusiast. She has five Rough Collies of various generations, which she shows and breeds and does very well with. I decided the thing to do would be to creep on her FB page for doggy pics, find a nice one and then interpret it in fabric and thread. Result? One unique gift with minimal financial outlay – I just needed to buy a bit more bondaweb!

After looking at several doggy pics, I picked out a photo of Faith (centre, top) as my cover girl – she’s a pretty tri-coloured girl, and the colours and shapes in the photo looked like they’d be reasonably straightforward for a novice threadpainter to interpret.

Figuring out how to get from a photo on my laptop to an image in fabric required some thought and experimentation. I knew I wanted to lay down “blocks” of colour and then add details with thread painting, but how? I explored various different routes, but finally printed a simplified black-and-white copy of the image onto freezer paper, drew around the different tonal areas, then carefully cut out each bit with a craft knife and fused it onto fabric that I’d already ironed bondaweb to. Yes, it was a fiddle! Luckily, my fabric and thread stash already contained all the materials I needed to recreate Faith, all I had to do was audition assorted fabric scraps and FQs until I got a reasonable match to the colour version. As each piece was cut out, I fused it onto a background of lilac batik – it was the dog I was recreating, not what was behind her!

I did make one rather obvious boob, however. I didn’t cross-reference between the B&W and colour images enough, so when I stepped back and looked at my complete fused image, I discovered that I’d inadvertently used a swathe of grey where I needed tan. Ooooops! What to do….?

Markal Paintstiks to the rescue! I managed to mix up a pretty convincing tan shade and applied it over the (thankfully pale!) grey – sorted! Once that was reasonably dry and fixed in place, I cracked on with the quilting, and here’s where the sensormatic foot comes in.

That lil plastic almost-nothing right there? That thing caused me serious conniptions when I first started using my Pfaff QE 4.2 for quilting. I tried a couple of other FMQ feet and finally settled on a hopping foot as my weapon of choice. But I couldn’t find it! I was stuck, needing to get this project finished and I couldn’t find my fave FMQ foot! ARRRRRGH!

In fairness, as I’ve become more adept at FMQ with the Pfaff, I had been considering getting the sensormatic foot out and trying it again; I don’t like to be beaten by a piece of plastic the size of my fingertip! But I’m not sure whether I would have tried it again so soon without circumstances forcing me. In the event, I saddled it up and gave it a whirl on a test piece and…… IT WORKED. It was FINE! It needs a bit of judicious fiddling with the foot height and tension, but it behaved well enough that I felt comfortable unleashing it on my actual piece.

Although threadpainting is very often done with a free-motion zig-zag stitch, I tried this and my machine just didn’t seem comfortable with the notion, maybe because I couldn’t set the stitch length to zero? In the event, it was quicker to use a free-motion straight stitch and do my own zig-zags, and in fact this worked out better because I could “draw” in the longer hairs of Faith’s coat.

I used a wide variety of black, grey, white, tan, and brown threads in metallic, rayon, polyester and cotton to create the texture and colours of Faith’s coat, layering and blending where necessary. To support the piece, I used two layers of Stitch’n’Tear, which I have now decided is brilliant stuff! Even so, the density of the stitching made the piece very rippled and uneven, so I blocked it by giving it a good soaking and then mercilessly nailing it into shape with T-pins on my design wall – hooray for polystyrene sheets!

By pulling very firmly and using copious pins around the edges of the stitched area, I managed to get everything pretty well flattened out and behaving itself, and it thankfully stayed that way once it was dry and unpinned!

To finish everything off, I layered it with two layers of wadding and a backing of more purple batik (Stef’s favourite colour is purple!), then quilted around the stitched area with a sort of cloudy, flowery filler so that the main design really popped out against the background.

I was extremely pleased with how it came out, and I particularly love that the character of some of the fabrics still peeks through the threadpainting. More importantly, Stef loved it too! <3

….oh, and I did find my other FMQ foot eventually – apparently I’d hidden it from myself in a box of Clover Wonderclips. As you do…!

Blast from the Past 2: A Bit of Embroidery

Mum’s a member of the Cardiganshire Horticultural Society, and in April last year they had a stand at the local famer’s market to advertise the organisation. Mum’s a skilled flower arranger, so she somehow ended up with the job of creating a display to attract attention on the stand. In the end she created two striking pieces, one more floral one and another that showcased garden produce and other, more unusual plant life. The floral one was planned to be in a small ornamental wooden wheelbarrow and mum wanted some sort of label or sign on the side of it with the CHS logo. Short of painting one on, I wasn’t sure how she was going to achieve this, but I thought about it and decided that I could make her a fabric banner that could hang over the side of the barrow and show off the logo.

As logos go, it’s quite a busy one! I decided to use a dark green, linen-textured quilting cotton as the background and machine-appliqué for the initials. Then I traced – with some difficulty! – the spriggy flowery bits onto the background and proceeded to “interpret” them in hand embroidery.

Although it’s not something I do often, I rather enjoy a bit of embroidery sometimes! I could do with more practice, really. I have quite a lot of odds and ends of cotton embroidery floss gathered over the years from second-hand shops and left over from small kit projects, so I couldn’t begin to say what colours or even brand(s) I used. I decided the most important thing was to make sure I had enough of a particular colour for whatever area I was stitching, and it all seemed to work out in the end. I was quite pleased with it when it was done!

On market day, I popped along to see the CHS stand, which mum was helping to run, and it looked fantastic! Mum’s eye-catching arrangements were attracting a lot of interest and they’d decided to lay my little hanging on view on the front of the stand.

So it didn’t end up where it was originally intended to, but I think it was a success anyway!

Surprise Success! Shibori Hanabi

My Shibori Hanabi wall hanging was born of a desire to try my hand at shibori with different colours. I started it about 18 months ago, stitching out the design, then “pulling up” each section, dyeing the piece, pulling up the next section, dyeing again… and so on, until the whole design was completely dyed, about 5-6 dyeing stages iirc!

I subsequently got a couple of books on shibori and discovered a lot of things I’d had to teach myself through trial and error!  I had no idea what, if anything, would remain of my original stitched design when I unpicked the shibori stitches, but in the event I was really pleased with how the different shapes came out, and the different colours were apparent, too.

For the backing, I used a “chunk” (technical term!) of cotton fabric that came from mum’s stash, mostly white but with flowers printed on it. It went through all the same dyeing phases as the shibori piece did, so that the front and back would tie together well.

I made a start on the quilting, using Glide thread, and was finding it an interesting but concentration-intensive process to define the shapes and textures left by the stitching and dyeing. Then other, more pressing projects popped up and I set it aside for some time while I focussed on other things. I did briefly toy with trying to finish it for the FoQ, but it was not big enough for the standard categories and I didn’t want to start adding borders where not needed, so I shelved that idea.

A couple of months ago, however, someone posted on the UKQU facebook group about the Scottish Quilting Show having extended the entry deadline and out of curiosity I checked the website to see what the categories and rules were. The lower size limit for “standard” quilts was smaller and I realised my shibori piece would be suitable – if I cracked on with quilting it! One entry form later and I had a month to finish the quilting and get it to the organisers by the Feb 25th deadline. I was also looking after my post-operative brother-in-law while mum helped my sister with her two small children; it became quite a challenge to sneak in quilting when I could! Somehow, though, I managed to get it finished and decided to face it instead of using a binding, a technique I’d never tried before! I love how it looks, though.

Proudly, I bundled it up and posted it off, and was relieved to get the confirmation of receipt email. I didn’t hear anything subsequently and family commitments made it impossible to get up to Glasgow to attend the show, so it wasn’t until someone very kindly posted some photos from the show on FB that I learned that it had been placed 2nd in the Contemporary category! I’m thrilled and I’m really looking forward to getting the judges’ comments back along with my quilt.

Blast from the Past 1: Ty Cyw Cushion

“Ty Cyw! Ty Cyw! Tumty-tumty something-something TY CYW!”

Ty Cyw is a Welsh-language children’s entertainment section on S4C, and when she was younger it was one of my niece’s favourite things to watch when she visited Nanny (my mum). It translates as “Cyw’s House”, Cyw being a white cartoon chicken who lives with a variety of other cartoon animal characters and some live-action human friends, and they all have jolly japes together. As kids’ TV goes, it’s pretty cute and inoffensive – and it’s probably improved my Welsh a tiny bit, too! For my niece’s birthday a few years ago, I thought it might be nice to make her a cushion with Cyw on it, so I found a nice screen-cap of a waving Cyw and set to work!

The nice thing about this cartoon style, from a crafting point of view, is the fact that it’s all composed of simple shapes! I decided to use raw-edge machine appliqué and it was very easy to draft a pattern and get started. Somewhat unusually, I decided to use some specialty synthetic fabrics to add texture and interest.

I used a shiny stretch synthetic velvety fabric for Cyw’s body, gold stretch lamé for the legs and beak, and some shiny metallic red…. something…! for the comb and wattle. The background was crafting cottons that I already had in my stash. It was a bit of a battle to get the bondaweb fused to the synthetics and then to get each piece fused down without causing too much heat damage to the synthetic fibres. The strange red stuff proved the trickiest in this regard, but eventually everything was stuck in place and I could zig-zag around everything to make sure it was secure – important since the synthetics show a tendency to try and peel away from the bondaweb if I wasn’t careful!

Once everything was firmly attached, I quilted it quite lightly and cushion-y-fied it with some super-cuddly flannel for the back:

Nia was thrilled, and Cyw now has pride of place on her bed every night! <3