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Saying Thank You

July 4, 2015

Meet my little love heart cowl:

Some of you will doubtless recognise the stitch pattern I've used here – it's one of the 3 sections used in the Purl Bee's pattern for the Stitch Block Cowl, a piece I've made to commission several times now.  The wool I've used is a big favourite of mine for cowls: Malabrigo's Worsted Merino, a super soft kettle dyed pure merino wool from Uruguay.  The colours I've used are Natural and Gerano and the cowl is about 22 inches in diameter, just the right size to slip over your head and arrange in a variety of ways, depending on your mood.

As you can see, the stitch pattern is pretty on both sides and I've made it quite wide/tall at 20cm /8 inches so that you can fold it over if you want, right side out:

Or wrong side out:

Or both sides out!

Knitting cutesy love hearts isn't usually my thing and, as anyone who knows me in person will tell you, I'm quite reserved when it comes to sharing my emotions. I've told people before that this has to do with growing up in Yorkshire amongst all that grit, but regardless of the environment I developed in, I think it's my personality anyway. So having established that I'm not likely to be gushing or in the least bit phoney when I say this, I want to say a great big thank you to everyone who has supported and encouraged me in my crimson rabbit adventure over the last couple of years.

Last month, I reached a goal in my Etsy shop when my 'number of sales' tipped over 100 and whilst it took a while to get there, it felt amazing.  As anyone who has sold on Etsy will tell you, unless you're already an established presence online, or have a product that everyone wants, or you just happen to get lucky, it's hard to get started.  For one thing, how to succeed on Etsy isn't obvious and there are various dead ends that you will find yourself wasting time on and becoming demotivated by.  I haven't discovered any magic path to success there, I've just got on with running my shop as professionally as I know how and continuing to use Etsy as a buyer by favouriting and following and treasury list making – which I love doing anyway, when the mood strikes me.

Facebook has also been great for me in several ways, not least of which is actually developing my own personality as a creative person.  That might sound a bit arty farty, but in the effort to fit in and succeed in the corporate world during my many years there, I had molded myself into someone else and it took a while to decompress and get back to who I am.  The other fab thing about Facebook is being able to socialise online with people you like, whether you're following their page, they're following your page or, more commonly, both!  Ironically, I never used my personal Facebook page and I still don't very much – I just don't feel the need, but mixing with the handmade community (makers and supporters) on there has been so important for me, especially working in the rather isolated way that most of us do, day to day.

Anyway, enough of this sharing and gushing, the point is – thank you, whoever you are – if you're readying this, you're supporting me and my endeavours at making a living doing what I love and I appreciate it, massively.  I'm still quite a way from actually making a living at this, but thanks to you, I keep inching closer to it.

And coming to the main point of this post, I would particularly like to thank those people who have spent their hard earned cash on buying something from me – whether it was the old friends who bought something from me in the early days or the new friends I've made on line over the last few years, or anyone else out there who saw something I made and wanted one for themselves or a loved one, for whatever reason.  If you've ever bought something from me, and you like this love heart cowl, please leave a comment on this post and I'll enter you into a draw to win it.  I'd love to make you all one but, well, that's just not practical, is it? 😉

I'll put the names of all commentors into a hat on Friday 10th July and announce the winner here after that and by Saturday noon, at the latest.  Good luck! 😀

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Mmm, silky…

June 20, 2015

Lately, I've been revisiting my love of silk lace yarns and I really had forgotten just how much I love crocheting with them.  There is something divinely hypnotic about the feel of the fine smooth silk plies as they slip through your tensioning fingertips and wind themselves into chains until they've created a wearable puddle of silky stitches.  Mmmm…

I've certainly bought quite a lot of them over the last few years, mostly from the fabulous Nuremberg based dyers, DyeForYarn.  All of these have been turned into crochet shawls using my very first crochet shawl design:

I feel like I should be able to pick a favourite colour from these, but I really can't – which is exactly how I ended up buying so many!  And, trust me, these were the very tip of the iceberg of hanks that I would have liked to have bought from them 😀  There are still a few tucked away in my stash that I've yet to use, and a few more that I made into other things, but I thought it would be fun to take a look back at the shawls that these glistening beauties have made.

Dolphin in my Whirlpool was the first – a pure mulberry silk.  Ahh, what a lovely blend of whites, silvers and greys and I swear that, on several occasions, I'd find myself thinking about dolphins swimming in tight circles as my fingers and hook worked with this pretty yarn:

Just imagine my total delight when Dolphin ended up with Debra from Michigan, who wanted him to go with her on a cruise!  How perfect?

Memory of a Fearsome Tale was next – a rich and deep blue purple mulberry silk that created a bewitching, yet somehow indomitable looking shawl:

Fearsome is now living happily with a very talented photographer and all round lovely lady called Karen in the North West Essex countryside not far from me, and I don't doubt she will tame his wild ways 🙂

The yarn base changed a little for my next silky encounter and baby camel fibres were added to the mulberry silk in a heavenly hank called 'Dusty Dry Bluebells', which made for a slightly shorter, but delightfully yummy and soft shawl:

Bluebell was my first introduction to baby camel fibre and I adored it – not only does it add a softness to the silk, it also seems to enhance its sheen with its pretty halo of fibres.  I couldn't have been more pleased when Bluebell went to live in Washington state with Kirsti, who is a lover and collector of all things scarfy and wrappy and who was also delighted to discover the silk and camel mix for the first time.

I had my doubts about my next shawl because I decided to use an undyed mulberry silk called 'Ghost'.  It did seem a teeny bit potty to be using an undyed silk from a supplier who I revere for the vibrancy of the colours they create, but it turned out that Ghost was just the thing to accompany Lisa of Greenleaf Wisconsin to her wedding:

The so perfectly (though a little macabrely) named Kingfisher Pushing up Daisies in pure mulberry silk was my next choice, and what a lovely colour that I found myself admiring constantly while I worked with it:

Kingfisher went to live with Kate as a present to herself to celebrate a bonus from work.  Kate also lives fairly local to me, so it's nice to think that little Kingfisher didn't fly so far from the nest (yes, I know Kingfisher was dead so couldn't actually fly – leave it)…

So quite a long time passed until I returned to the silks; although in the meantime I confess that I was having a very jolly time encountering lots of other equally delightful yarns and many new designs.  This Spring though, still mooning over the silk and baby camel mix first encountered with Bluebell, I found myself drawn back to my stash and another silk and baby camel mix called 'St Patrick's Day Parade Gone Awry':

Now I know that a lot of people don't like green and, to be honest, I remember not liking it myself when I was younger, but ever since I discovered how fab it looks with purple (one of my favourite colours), I've been in love with it.  It also doesn't hurt that emeralds, grass and spring onions are green, because I love them too 😀  Patrick is still living at home and looking for that perfect long term relationship with someone who will love and treasure him and drape him over their shoulders on chilly nights.  

Patrick really was a perfect choice for me to make in the Spring time, but with Summer approaching, I delved into my stash and selected my last two pure mulberry silks to make summer wraps with, which I'm about to list in my Etsy shop.  First up was this golden sand like colour called 'Rose of Jericho Buried in the Sand', which is a one of a kind colourway:

This one really does make me think of hot desert climates and it's one of those colours that will go with anything, although I'd love to see it with a deep rich green silk dress, which may be a hangover from my Spring affair with the lovely Patrick…

Finally, I've just finished this lilacy dusky pink version called 'Taking a Bath of Roses', which is a beautifully subtle mix of shades:

You can see the variation of shades really clearly in the first photograph, and doesn't it go well with the chive flowers in my little herb garden?!  The DyeForYarn colours aren't usually quite as varied as this, although they all have some level of variation given that they are hand dyed.

I've thoroughly enjoyed the re-visit to my silky past over that last few months and the result seems to be that I have been finding myself keeping a rather eager eye on the new listings from the Nuremberg duo, just waiting for that perfect next colour to come into my life 🙂

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Pursed, Part Deux

June 10, 2015

Purse production has been continuing apace since my last post. What a brilliant way to showcase your favourite fabrics!  More Liberty purses were made for a lovely client who picked out her favourite prints from my collection:

Then I made another using one of my favourite Kawaii prints with Little Red Riding Hood on the front and the wolf stalking her on the back, using my favourite soft Brussels Washer Linen in a deep red as a lining – mwah-a-ha! 😮

Then I discovered Liberty's Alice in Wonderland print called 'Gallymoggers Reynard' and couldn't resist making some up in three of the colourways:

Finally, I just had to use another of my all time favourite Liberty prints – Ciara – a pretty print in gorgeously vibrant colours.  My bright pink Essex Linen and perle cotton had to come out to play with this one:

As well as indulging my fabric love, I've also been learning more about how best to make these little purses.  Because of the shape of the purse and how a sewing machine is made, it is impossible to machine stitch the little part from the end of the seam at the bottom section of the purse to the beginning of the seam for the top sections that fit into the frame.  I hated the look of this and was therefore hand stitching that little gap up on both sides before stitching the frame on.  Along with how fiddly it was to machine stitch the top sections together in the first place, this was taking ages, so now I just hand stitch the whole of the top sections of the outer and lining together and it is much quicker.  Hurrah!  See, I'm not just having fun… 😉

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May 25, 2015

When an Etsy shopper who had been browsing around my shop asked me to make her a small coin purse using a Tilda print I'd used in a sewing case that she'd taken a fancy to, I was quite pleased.  I'd actually bought a little bronze coloured frame some time ago with the idea of making a purse, but hadn't got around to it yet – now I had the perfect opportunity!

My first task was to learn how to make a framed coin purse and as usual in these circumstances, I started with Pinterest.  I had several tutorials pinned to my makes and tutorials board, but I had a good hunt around for some fresh ones too.  Quite aside from the fact that every pattern for a coin purse is specific to the frame you're using (which come in many shapes and sizes), there really are many ways to make one of these little purses, as well as many different opinions on just the right way to go about it.

As you may have noticed if you come here often, I do like to make things as perfectly as I can.  Nothing is every really completely perfect I suppose, but I like to feel that I've come as close as I'm able to and haven't stinted on the effort I put into it, or on how I've applied myself to said effort.  So I read a lot of tutorials and the main gist of the thing seemed to be that you needed to use your frame to make the top of your pattern, but it was entirely up to you what happened below that.  You could make a long, short, round, square, triangular, flat or puffy shaped purse – all were perfectly acceptable approaches.  I now felt like I was in an empty car park trying to decide which of the spaces was just the right one for me.  Seriously – ask him indoors, I don't do well in empty car parks…

After a cup of coffee and mental regroup, I worked through the various approaches in my head before heading off to my studio and drawing up a pattern.  Okay, I drew several patterns.  I still wasn't sure exactly which shape of purse was going to work for me, so I got out some calico and made up a sample in the pattern I felt most convinced by.  Once my favourite was in front of me in 3D, I could see that it wasn't quite right – the sides of the purse were a bit too straight and I could see that the gap between the side seams and the purse frame hinge would be too big.  After more fiddling than I really had patience for, I finally hit on just the right shape for my particular frame, worked out how to get the seam allowances right with my chosen shape, and finally cut my pieces out from the 'real' fabric.  Phew!  All this effort for one little purse! 😮

The next challenge was to get the frame onto the purse.  Mmm, this was also tricky.  I can't stomach the idea of gluing anything to fabric – it isn't that I'm being snobby about it, it's just something I can't stand to do – it feels like fabric abuse and I love fabric.  So stitching the frame on was the only option for me, and there was no way to pin or baste it into place before stitching (I'm a major pinner and baster) – you just have to hold it in place while you stitch it.  I read some excellent advice in one tutorial where they said that you should find the centre of your frame and the purse, position it on and start stitching from there, rather than stitching from one end to the other.  This is how I worked, although I first stitched it in place with some colour co-ordinated thread before going back over it with perlé cotton.

It really does take ages to complete this step – keeping the fabric in place inside the frame, working the needle through the holes of the frame from the back, and keeping the stitches on the back looking nice and tidy and even.  Regardless of how carefully you work, there's no way to completely hide your stitches inside the purse, so you need to make sure they're pretty to look at.  Securing the ends of your stitches is also a rather knotty problem (excuse pun).  It's easy enough to hide your starting knot in the purse seam under the frame, but securing the ending is trickier – I've come up with a very long winded process for this that ends with truffling away the knot in the side seam of the lining at a position that you can't see when the purse is open, unless you go looking for it.

Once I was finished though, I was really happy with the result – happy enough to go shopping for some more frames!  This time, I opted for a rectangular shape, which is much easier to work with.  I managed to find some really pretty engraved frames in bronze and silver colourways and as soon as they arrived, I jumped into making another purse with the same Tilda print, which is a special commission from a very special customer:

Of course I had to draft new patterns, make new templates and test with more calico samples to see what worked with this new frame shape, so it would be silly to stop there…  I'd recently bought a couple of prints from Bari J's latest collection for Art Gallery; Petal and Plume and thought these would be perfect for little purses:

I also finally found the perfect use for this gorgeous Liberty lawn print 'Wild Flowers of the British Isles', which I absolutely love:

I used a fleece lining on the outers of all the purses, which gives them a soft and substantial feel in the hand.  For the linings, I used a heavy cotton in navy blue for these 3 purses and an Essex linen for the Tilda print – I figure that a coin purse probably needs something a bit more rufty tufty to stand up to the coins jiggling about.

So the metal framed coin purse is now a permanent fixture in my shop and now that the experimentation with designs and templates is done, I can get on with just enjoying making them 🙂

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Pondering Patterns

May 13, 2015

I've just drafted up my latest knitting pattern and sent it out to some lovely test knitters.  The pattern is for this little shoulder cosy that I call 'The Hug':

Both my test knitters already know what they want to use the pattern for.  Helen lives in Florida and is keen to have something that is super portable that she can easily pop on to add a layer of warmth in the evening, when needed.  She also already had the yarn and it's even the same colourway as I used for my cosy – it's called 'Hawthorn'.  The yarn is Rowan's Kidsilk Haze Trio, which has now been discontinued, which is such a shame – it's lovely stuff .  Here's her test swatch!

Karen is my other 'Hug' test knitter and she's based in Northern Ontario, Canada.  Her plan is to gift The Hug to her son's girlfriend who is about to graduate with a Masters in Opera Performance – I'm hoping Karen adds a thread of something sparkly 🙂

I've recently just received feedback from two of my test knitters on the English Rose Tweed Cowl and once my third arrives back, I can finalise and publish it.  This is the very talented Lili who I think made a gorgeous looking cowl – her stitches are so beautifully even and the yellows look lovely on her:

Becca is also test knitting this one for me and has already let me have some really fabulous feedback on the pattern as well as coming up with her own super speedy small cowl based on the design:

It's so brilliant to be connecting with people like this and knowing that you're creating something that is giving them enjoyment – I really didn't expect to love that aspect so much when I decided to write up some patterns.  Talking of which, since I uploaded it in November last year, my first published (free) pattern for the Reversible Chevron Scarf has now been downloaded 2,108 times on Ravelry and favourited 640 times.  Isn't that amazing?

This pattern has even been someone's first ever knit and I was so chuffed to read that they found it easy and loved the scarf they made using it.

I have a few other possible write ups on my to do list, including the crochet pattern for the little Ripple Cowl I've made a couple of times using Malabrigo Worsted Merino – once in 'Simply Taupe' and once in 'Pearl'.  Here it is in Simply Taupe:

And here's the lovely Susie H wearing the Pearl coloured one that I made for her:

Susie would make anything look good to be fair, although I do love this little cowl and I think other crochet fans might like to give it a go.  So, if you crochet and fancy testing the pattern for it, please either leave a comment here or use the contact form to get in touch with me – I'd love to hear from you 🙂


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Making a Hexie Quilt – Grandma’s Suffolk Garden

May 6, 2015

Meet my latest little quilt, which I finished making last weekend.  I've called the quilt 'Grandma's Suffolk Garden' because I've used a traditional Grandmother's Flower Garden patchwork pattern, and the fabrics are the Suffolk Garden collection designed by Brie Harrison for Dashwood Studio:

Many people love the idea of making an English Paper Pieced (EPP) hexagon quilt, but not many seem to do it.  I think there are several possible reasons for this: that they're just not sure how to do it – will it be complicated; are there things they need to know that they don't know about; will it take forever?  All these unknowns can add up to a whole lot of doubt, that can soon have you thinking that it just isn't worth the massive investment of time needed, when you don't even know if you can complete it.

Well, I'm happy to tell you that you absolutely can do it, if you want to.  It isn't difficult – you might need to learn one or two new techniques and there are a few tips you need to know to make things go smoothly.  I'm not gonna lie about the time you need to invest – it is quite a bit, but if you make a crib or lap sized quilt, it is totally manageable!

I thought I'd share the story of how I went about making my latest little quilt (it's 36 by 27 inches / 91 by 68cm), in the hope that it may also give someone reading this the confidence to jump in and make a hexie quilt of their own.  Failing that, it will hopefully entertain you for 5 minutes at least 🙂

Most of the quilts I make begin with the fabric.  I'd been admiring this particular collection for some months and knew that I wanted to make something with it:

When I got the urge to make a quilt in early April, this gave me a great opportunity to use the collection, and there really did seem only one possible pattern to use.  I quite often use the EPP technique for all kinds of makes and I've made several quilts with it over the years, with varying degrees of success!  I've only made one other Grandmother's Flower Garden hexie quilt and I used a pattern published in a 1980s Laura Ashley decorating book:

You can really use any size of hexagon to make up the quilt, but to get a nice crib or lap sized quilt, I used a one and a half inch hexie (the measurement refers to any one side of the shape).  I use the traditional template method, which involves cutting out the fabric using the outside of the template and the paper backing from the inside of the template.  The paper backing is therefore actually one and a quarter inches and since you stitch the fabric onto and around the paper, this is the measurement of your final hexagons.  You can make your own templates using card, but I'd strongly recommend buying plastic or wood templates of good quality, so that you can be sure that every hexagon you make is exactly the same size.  This is a key step to avoid a melt down later, because if any of your shapes are only very sligthtly out of size or shape, you will not have fun trying to piece them together.  The template I used is made by Clover, which comes in a pack of geometric shapes and is readily available:

This quilt calls for around 250 hexies, so using this method, you're going to need to cut 250 hexies from fabric and another 250 from paper.  Amazingly, it doesn't take that long and is a great job when you don't want anything too taxing to do – just put on an audio book or some music and get on with it.  Alternatively, there are plenty of places online that you can buy the papers from, and even ready cut fabrics – Liberty fabric hexies are widely available, for example (I can highly recommend Ali at Very Berry for both).  This definitely isn't the most cost effective route to take, but if that's not a major concern for you – go for it!  Better still, if money isn't an issue, buy yourself one of those swanky die cut machines and make your own paper and fabric hexies:

I opted for marking and cutting my papers while watching (read listening to, and occasionally glancing at) TV and my fabrics at the desk in my studio, listening to an audio book.  Don't entirely switch off your brain – make sure that you're paying attention to your fabrics and placing the stencil down in the right way to work with any pattern direction on the fabric – you don't want sideways or upside down flowers on your quilt top (unless you're purposely using the pattern that way – in which case, watch out for bias misshaping).  I made them all over one or two sessions and it really didn't feel like it took long at all.  Next, I hand basted or tacked my fabric hexies to the paper backings and then gave them a press with the iron before packing them into neat little boxes in a completely OCD manner so that everything was super neat (note to self: get out more):

I'm not going to go into detail about how to complete these stages – there are loads of tutorials on the web.  The method I like to use is securing two opposite edges of the hexie shape with paperclips and then stitching the fabric to the paper.  Some people don't worry about the shape of the fabric – they just baste scraps that are large enough to cover the paper and don't worry about messiness on the back side.  Some people don't even stitch the fabric to the paper so that they can reuse the papers (see Lori Holt's excellent series of tutorials on making up hexies) and some refuse to hand stitch at all and use basting glue.  I don't understand the mindset of the basting glue – if you don't like hand stitching, why are you making anything that's English Paper Pieced?!  Do have a good look around at the different approaches online and then try a few out before settling on what works best for you.

Once all the hexies were made up (another task undertaken on the couch, in front of the TV), I got onto piecing them together.  I started with all the rosettes or flowers that made up the quilt and pieced them together in a particular order, as recommended in my trusty Laura Ashley book:

I find that this piecing order works really well for me.  I only stitch one edge of the hexies together first until I have hexies 2 through 7 stitched to the centre hexie, and then I join all the side seams so that I have my first flower.  I then repeat this same process with the outer 'petals' until the whole rosette is done, keeping in mind all the time the pattern of the fabric and making sure that each hexie is right side up as you join it in.  What I tend to do is write on the paper back of each hexie which fabric pattern letter it is and also draw a little arrow so I can see at a glance which the right way up is:

There are a lot of different opinions about how best to join hexies together and I'd say from what I've read that whip stitch is by far the favourite approach.  I used to use whip stitch myself but changed to using ladder stitch a year or so ago (thank you Natalie at Sewing Room Secrets!) and absolutely love it.  Once you've mastered the stitch, you'll find that it is twice as quick, lays beautifully flat and is almost completely invisible on the front side of your quilt – what's not to love about that!

As I complete each rosette, I make a note on the paper backing about which one it is, which saves time when you come to joining them together.  Before you know it, you'll have all the rosettes made and all the little top and bottom edge pieces. You can see how it comes together in my very first ever swanky slideshow thing:

Next comes the part I can't say I'm overly fond of – adding the path around the rosettes and joining them all up.  As recommended by my Laura Ashley book, I started with the centre panel, bringing all three rosettes together, then the top panel and the bottom. Once your main sections are together, you can add the top and bottom edges – enter 2nd swanky slide show thing:

The reason I don't enjoy this is that it is quite unwieldy, especially when you add in the last section and the quilt is getting larger.  Because you leave in your papers until all of the quilt top is together, the unwieldy quilt is also as stiff as a board and awkward to keep moving about so that you've got the right angle for stitching.  You can take the papers out as you go, but I've found that leaving them in gives a better final finish – no pain, no gain.

Once those side edge hexies are joined on, you can whip out those papers and do a very happy dance before taking your quilt top to the ironing board and giving it a good press on both sides so that it is super smooth and neat and tidy:

Now it's time to bring the quilt sandwich together and start quilting.  I saved my very favourite print from the collection for the backing and binding of the quilt, which was also quite a practical decision, since it is quite a large print that you wouldn't see the best of, if used in hexies.  I adore the little birds in this print, especially because, like real little birds in the garden, you don't immediately see them hidden amongst the flowers:

My preference for making up the quilt sandwich is to first pin the layers together and then hand baste a four inch grid across the quilt top.  I find that this gives a lovely smooth surface to quilt on and there are no pins to get in the way.  I do sometimes use quilters safety pins on smaller projects, but anything over a 10 inch square will be hand basted.  I have considered trying out basting spray to see if that gives a smoother finish, but I really don't like the idea of introducing any chemicals to a quilt, plus it feels like it would be going against my traditional / heirloom making approach.  You can just about see my big basting stitches here on the unquilted right side, although the colour is quite light and difficult to see against the print:

I took to my big studio desk and put on an audio book to do the hand quilting over several sessions (Kazuo Ishiguro's The Buried Giant – not my usual kind of book, but very enjoyable).  I really do enjoy hand quilting and am often surprised at just how quickly this stage is completed as I kind of get lost in it, once I've decided on an approach.  Possible approaches are a little bit limited when it comes to hexies.  For this quilt, I decided to quilt the rosettes first, starting with the centre one, then the top bottom, and finally the side ones.  I quilted the whole inner shape of the central hexie and then took a path around each of the two radiating layers of petals, keeping to a little over a quarter inch from the seam line throughout:

The middle side rosettes were a little different as they don't have one hexie centre, so I fully quilted the two centre hexies and then took the usual path around the petals on the outer rounds:

The yellow fern pathways were next and I opted to follow the seams again but, this time, on both sides.  It may be a bit fanciful, but I think this quilting approach really brought the flowers to life, the shape of the lines it makes creates a kind of reverberating shiver to the rosettes:

Next, I quilted around all of the edge sections to create a kind of frame to the quilting and then pressed the quilt before squaring it up and trimming so that I could add the binding.  This is one part of the process where I always bring out the sewing machine to stitch the binding onto the front of the quilt.  I have done this by hand before, but the machine gives a much better finish and helps the binding lay super smooth.  It also makes the quilt a little more robust where it matters, since the binding is going to be securing all the raw edges from everyday wear and tear.  I never machine stitch the back of the binding though, I always do this by hand using an invisible whip stitch:

Finally, I wanted to add a label to the quilt – something that I've only recently started to do.  Previously, the labels I've made have been homey hand embroidered ones, but I'm keen to develop a more signature type of label for my quilts, so I decided to design something cohesive that I could adapt to each quilt and that I could print directly onto fabric using freezer paper (check out this tutorial although there are loads more on the web).  I'd never tried this before but it works brilliantly!  The secret is to use a nice fine fabric (I used white tana lawn) and to empty your paper tray before you put your freezer paper / fabric sandwich in there if you don't want to create a paper jam (ahem…):

The great thing about this approach is that I can still personalise each label to each quilt.  For this quilt, that meant cutting the label in a hexie shape.  Because the lawn is so light, I also added a fusible hexie shaped lining to the back before pressing back the seams and stitching it to the back of the quilt using the same invisible whip stitch that I used on the binding.  I love how it looks – it really does feel like it adds a finishing polish.

Making this new quilt has definitely given me the enthusiasm to get on and finish another of my quilts that has been languishing in a drawer for almost a year.  One big drawbook of a lot of hand stitching that I've always struggled with is the damage to my hands – it makes your skin very dry and those super sharp quilting needles are savage on the soft pad of your middle left finger that sits underneath the quilt and acts as a cushion for the needle.  While making this quilt, I was trying out a new hand care routine and found that it was so fabulous that all this hand stitching had virtually no negative effect on my hands – thank you so much Kirsty Jane Calvert for introducing me to the delights of Coconut Oil, which I apply to my hands every night before bed – it's a miracle!

I hope that sharing my story of making this little quilt will give someone the confidence to jump in and make themselves a quilt using English Paper Piecing techniques – even if it is a doll sized quilt!  If you are inspired to make one yourself, or if you've got any questions about any part of the process, please do leave a comment below.  Or, if you're not a stitcher yourself and would like to buy this quilt, you'll find it in my Etsy shop 🙂

As usual, all pictures by him indoors.

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Knitting Rainbows

April 28, 2015

Most of my time at the moment is being devoted to my little hexie patchwork quilt, but I always have some knitting and crochet on the go to provide a little variety, and I've just finished this lace and beaded shawl:

I picked up this gorgeous merino and silk blended yarn from Skein Queen a little while ago.  The yarn is 'Lustrous' and the colour is 'Pearly Rose', which Debbie at Skein Queen describes as: "rose, lilac, golden brown with touches of spring green, pale blue and coral on cream. Randomly dyed".  So pretty:

Of course I had to pick up some rainbow coloured beads to go with it and I love how these work with the yarn, taking on the reflections of the colours closest to them in the knitted fabric:

Knitting rainbows – what could be better? 🙂

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en vacances

April 20, 2015

Last week, him indoors had a week off work and although I can't have a week off work due to my boss (me) being proper stingy that way, we did manage several days out and about.  The fanciest thing about this week was really the title of this blog post – French always makes things seem so much more chic and intriguing, non?

We began the week at our very favourite place to go – the seaside.  We drove up to the Sussex coast and had fish and chips at Aldeburgh after a bracing walk up the beach:

Actually, we walked along the path by the side of the beach because Aldeburgh's beach, being covered with big pebbles, isn't really walking friendly…  Mark wanted to get a picture of a rather intriguing memorial sculpture on the beach this visit.  This is to those lost at sea and is on the stretch of beach between Aldeburgh and Thorpeness:

It was quite cold, although lovely and bright all day and after lunch, we headed off to Sutton Hoo to exercise our National Trust membership cards.

The National Trust appear to have invested a lot of money in the amenities at the site, so I assume that it is very popular but, honestly, we weren't that impressed.  Part of the previous owner's house on the site is open at the moment and we were glad of it – there wasn't an awful lot else for adults to do, although all the school children there seemed to be enjoying themselves.  I do love this huge replica of the Anglo-Saxon helmet found in the excavation on the site that hangs over the entryway to the burial mounds exhibit:

Wednesday's weather was amazing – so warm!  It felt like summer, which made it weird that there were no leaves on the trees.  The National Trust cards were out again, this time at The Blickling Estate – one time Norfolk home and alleged birth place of Anne Boleyn.  The house you see there now was built later in the 17th century on the site of the Tudor house and it is rather lovely, with quite a striking likeness to Hatfield House:

Blickling was last lived in as a family home before World War II and there are a number of pieces on show in the house from that era.  We particularly liked this label on an early Vacuum cleaner that speaks for many of us Brits:

I also found this embroidered bed hanging in one of the bedrooms, which I think would be from an earlier time, but the style of some of the flowers in these panels really reminded me of early 19th century embroidered table cloths:

After looking round the house, we headed out across the estate for what we thought would be quite a short walk.  The walk turned out to be much longer than expected (or desirous) since the walk directions I'd found on the internet proved to be rather badly written and possibly out of date, since the way markers they mentioned weren't in evidence on the ground.  We had a picnic lunch sat on a hill near the Tower in the grounds, which was previously used as the second Earl of Buckinghamshire's horse racing stand and is now available for rent as a National Trust holiday cottage:

The highlight of the day was seeing a little stoat or weasel run across the footpath right in front of us – so cute, so red and so shiny!  Mark didn't have a chance of getting a photograph of him because he was gone in a flash, so we don't know whether he was a stoat or a weasel – apparently, they're not the easiest to identify as they're so similar, even if you see them for longer than a second.

Before heading back home, we decided to go a little further north for another look at the sea – this time at Wells Next The Sea – isn't that a great name?  The beach there looked amazing but it was getting late and several degrees cooler by the time we got there, plus I'd really had enough walking for the day, so we've bookmarked it for a longer visit some other time.  Mark did manage to get me a great shot of one of my favourite black headed gulls.  These birds really are bonkers, but I like them 🙂  Not sure why they're called black headed gulls though – they're heads are definitely brown:

Friday was another nice bright day, although quite a bit cooler.  As we still hadn't managed a proper walk on a beach next to the sea, we decided to head out to the Essex coast and visit Frinton on Sea, a rather strange little seaside place sandwiched between two more commercial seaside spots – Clacton and Walton on the Naze.  There is one fish and chip shop at Frinton (half a mile from the sea) and what seems like thousands of beach huts, but very little else that you'd think of as typically seaside holiday town fare.  You do get the distinct impression that Frintonions would really rather not be welcoming outsiders to their beach.  The beach is quite nice, but when we arrived at around 11am, the tide was pretty much all the way in and it didn't get that far out by the time we left, a little after 2pm.  We had a long walk along the promenade (aka concrete sea wall) to Walton on the Naze and saw rather more of those beach huts than we could shake a stick at and, on the way back, we did finally manage a bit of a walk on the beach:

Such a nice little interlude and now we must retour au travail – at least until the weekend 🙂

As usual, all photographs by him indoors.

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Quilting Time

April 11, 2015

Last weekend I had an urge out of nowhere to make a quilt.  Let's be clear – I have absolutely no business making a new quilt – I have several on the go, all at different stages.  I'm in the process of quilting one – my Indian Summer Stars quilt:

Then there is my Window on the Forest MKII quilt, which is waiting to be sandwiched and basted so I can quilt it (apologies for the poor quality picture):

And then there is last summer's scrap busting endeavour – ' Rabbit Patch' – an applique piece which still needs borders adding, sandwiching and quilting:

Plus, I've got all the fabrics to hand to make another of last year's ideas – a template piece with yachts and beach huts using Liberty lawn, which didn't even get off the ground yet!

To be fair, I haven't had enough time since last Summer to do any quilting, apart from bits here and there in sewing cases, nightdress cases, quilted stockings and a little wall hanging:

This has really kept my hand in as far as hand quilting is concerned without making the large time commitment that a quilt demands.  But now, inspiration has struck and must be answered! 

I'd had my eye on a pretty fabric collection for months – Suffolk Garden by Brie Harrison for Dashwood Studios:

I really wanted to do something with this collection and a quilt is always a great way to use a pretty collection like this.  Plus, a quick look in the online fabric shops showed me that it was selling out in some places, and others only had one or two of the prints available.  Luckily, Fabric HQ had all the prints and I love how quickly they dispatch fabrics – they completely understand the needs of the inspiration struck stitcher!

As there is a garden theme to the fabrics, I decided that a Grandma's Flower Garden hexie design was the way to go and was instantly excited about it – it's been 2 years since I made my last English Paper Piece quilt and my hands have just about forgotten how rough it was on them:

I immediately got on with finalising my design and ordering the fabrics and, while I waited, I got to work cutting out 247 one and a quarter inch hexies from scrap paper, using a plastic template and a pair of scissors.  I know that one of those fabulous template cutting machines would make this all so much easier and quicker for the paper and the fabric, but I just don't do enough of this kind of making at the moment to justify the investment in one.

The fabrics arrived on Wednesday and I've already cut out all my hexies and have almost finished tacking them to the papers – only about 60 left to do, which I should polish off over the weekend.  I'm quite surprised how quick this part has been to be honest – I thought it took a lot longer last time…

I've decided to save my very favourite print from the collection for the backing and binding of the quilt, which is going to be cot sized to keep it manageable:

So excited to start piecing and see it grow – especially since I've learned an awful lot about the processes involved since my last quilt and hope that this one will be all I would want it to be!  And, hopefully, finishing this little indulgence quilt will spur me on to complete my other unfinished ones 🙂


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March 25, 2015

Well, it seems that I have a bit of a thing for knitting lace all of a sudden. Having both finished and started lace shawls this week, I decided it was time to bite the bullet and buy some proper blocking gear.

When it comes to most of my crochet and knit pieces, all I need to effectively block them is patience, my ironing board, a hot steam iron and a pressing cloth.  This works perfectly for all my favourite yarns and is especially effective for silk based yarns like this silk and baby camel crochet wrap:

It's also great for my favourite mohair and silk yarns, even when the yarn includes sensitive elements like sequins or metallic thread:

But, when it comes to shaped lace shawls, it becomes a little more complicated.

To block my first lace crescent shaped shawl:

I used my ironing board, lots and lots of pins, a hot dry iron and a damp pressing cloth.  The result was perfect, but the process was very time consuming and involved pinning and re-pinning, to ensure that the shape was just right and properly balanced.  Stitcking my longer quilting pins in it at strange angles to get the shawl tauIt didn't seem to do my ironing board an awful lot of good either:

Before making my decision about what equipment to buy, I did my research on line, including watching a number of how to videos.  This one was excellent and I'd highly recommend it for a super clear and simple explanation of what wet blocking involves.

When searching for blocking wires to buy, I came across the KnitPro ones all the time.  Because it's a brand I know already, I decided to go with them.  However, I was absolutely not parting with £25 to buy their blocking board and opted for some simple children's interlocking playmats from Amazon for £4.75 each (I bought 2 packs and found that I needed them):

On Monday morning, I cleared the floor of my studio, gave it a good hoover and set out my kiddie playmats – they're super comfy to kneel on too!  I took my latest completed shawl, a blackcurrant coloured crescent shape made with a yarn called 'Yaksino' (a delicious mix of Merino, Silk and Yak from Skein Queen) and after weaving in the ends, I put it in warm water to soak for 15 minutes with a little Persil wool and silk wash.  Although the video I watched didn't say to rinse out the shawl, I did rinse it – surely it can't be good to leave the wash on it, however little you use?  I got all my equipment to hand, set my latest audio book to play and got started.

The wires themselves are brilliantly bendy and the KnitPro set I bought from Amazon has a number of sizes in it, although it has to be said that £20 is a lot of money for what you get.  I found that I needed to use 4 of the longest wires – two for the top and one for each bottom side.  My one complaint about the wires is that they have flat ends with sharp edges.  Would it have been difficult to make one end softly pointed like a dullish knitting needle or a darning / tapestry needle?  That would have made the process much, much quicker.  As it was, I had to work very slowly threading the wire through the stitches to make sure that I didn't snag the yarn anywhere.  This was easier with this particular yarn, since it is well twisted – but I could imagine how much trickier it would be with a lot of the pure silk yarns I use, or anything loosely twisted.  Having said all that, it wasn't really a lengthy business and the wires were soon in place. I made the mistake of pinning down the top before threading the bottom wires and I won't do that next time as I ended up having to contort myself, in what is quite a small space, to thread the last parts of the bottom edges.  Next time, I'll try threading all the wires first – hopefully without sticking myself in the eye with the end of one of them…

As well as being glad that I bought the second set of playmats, I was also glad that I bought an extra 50 T-Pins to pin out the wires.  This meant that I could use lots of pins without worrying about rationing them on each wire. They went into the playmats like butter and the whole thing worked a treat.

Given that I'm in England and it's March, it certainly took the shawl longer than the couple of hours to dry as mentioned in the YouTube video, but if you live in a warmer climate, it would be pretty quick.  As it was, I left the shawl all day Monday and overnight too, which was way more than it needed.  When I took it up on Tuesday morning, I was very pleased with the final result and am certainly a convert to wet blocking with wires!  I did give it a little press with a dry iron and damp cloth, just to give a final finish to the feel of the shawl and to fine tune a couple of picot points at the edge, but that could just be the perfectionist in me 😀