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Monday, 3 April 2017

Twenty-five blocks…

I have made the 25 blocks for my quilt and it feels like a real milestone. Whenever I get to this point, I feel as if the quilt is really going to happen, and, not just be an idea that never gets realised. Having said that, my white quilt never did get finished even though it was 90% complete, it languishes in a drawer, occasionally seeing the light of day when I need to look at it for reference.

So now I need to sew the blocks together, although it will take a month of Sundays to settle on which order they should go. Then I have to make the quilt sandwich, my least favourite part of quilt-making, before I can get onto the best bit—hand quilting.

Most of the blocks are very…blockish and reflect the simple linear style of the houses. The roofs are flat and the exteriors plain, a central column of bricks, a horizontal banner of cladding and ceiling to floor windows. Although the design of the houses is simple, there is variation within it, some have the kitchens at the front, some at the back (those crazy architects) some have the biggest windows on the left, some on the right (totally radical) so I haven't been overly regimental with how the blocks should look. Or, to put it another way, a little inconsistency is just fine. Big windows are taking some getting used to! While it is blissful to live somewhere suffused with light, it does dampen one's keenness for walking around in pyjamas and general states of undress, especially if you want to remain on good terms with the neighbours, and not frighten them to death.

I slashed the corners off a few blocks and added contrasting colours to represent the paths. I used texturally different fabrics for these areas too–pieces of vintage kimono silk and some hand-dyed, red muslin and scraps of poplin. So these areas should look and feel different to the rest of the quilt.

I hope to have the quilt top assembled in a couple of weeks but with a constant programme of DIY on the go, this could be pushing it. Time will tell.


Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Needle lace appliqué…

In between slowly putting my quilt blocks together, I've been doing a lot of needle lace. I think it's the flitting between differing scales that appeals, my quilt is quite a beast so is reserved for Sunday sewing when I can play with all my toys and spread out for hours on end. On the other hand, these little appliqués are just a few centimetres high and are therefore perfect sewing projects to carry around with me.

I start by drawing an image on lightweight card, preferably an enclosed shape—an open motif won't hold its shape as well. Then I pierce the outline and use those holes to couch a piece of string to the front of the card. Next, I cover the couched thread with buttonhole stitch, it is important only to sew onto the couched thread on the top of the card and not through the card itself. Then I work into the loops of the buttonhole stitch to form a lace pattern. At the moment, I'm experimenting with a combination of random stitches and more regular patterns.

Finally, turn the card over and cut the couching stitches. As long as you haven't sewn through the card the appliqué should peel away quite easily, without too much fuss. All that's left to do is to remove any rogue couching stitches, a pair of tweezers can be useful when doing this.

I love the simplicity of this technique although I'm not sure what to do with all these appliqués I'm amassing. However, my real dilemma with needle lace appliqué is choosing whether to have toning or contrasting couching stitches. Do I use contrasting thread, which is easier to see, but which can get trapped and remain visible forever, or, do I use toning thread and run the risk of cutting the appliqué threads when I mean to cut the couching stitches. What would you do?


Friday, 24 February 2017


A few years ago I made this boro inspired cushion.

As it has worn, instead of offloading to a charity shop, or worse, simply binning, I've patched and re-patched my cushion cover whenever new holes appeared. Each time I've mended my cushion, I've become fonder of, and more attached to it.

I've used mainly running stitch with just the tiniest amount of needle weaving but the resulting texture is pleasingly intricate and hopefully belies the simplicity of the techniques used. In some places the cushion is three or four layers thick. Although I haven't been completely true to boro aesthetics—I've used scraps of silk, as well as the traditional cotton—the act of preserving rather than discarding has been well and truly embraced. My cushion also includes fabrics that have history or sentiment for me, such as a vintage silk scarf from Patrick that, although it could no longer be worn because it was shredded at one end was still too lovely to throw away.

The change in my cushion just crept up on me. It never occurred to me how different the cushion cover might look now from when it was first made. But while going through some old photos and blog posts, I saw the picture at the top of this post and was amazed at how basic the original cover looks. At the time I thought it was so detailed. No doubt, in a few years I'll think this current reincarnation looks plain.

It just goes to show how textiles develop and take on a life of their own, if we let them.


Tuesday, 7 February 2017

My book…

Crikey, I've only gone and written a book. One with properly photographed images, professionally illustrated artworks, a whole editorial and design team behind it, and, a bona fide publisher to take care of stuff like production, packaging, sales, marketing and distribution—phew!

My book is called Stitch, Fabric & Threadit's published by Search Press and as advertisers like to say, 'is in all good bookshops now'. In a nutshell, the book is about play and experimentation—a kind of foundation course for would be creative stitchers that they can do at home. It's about as far away as can be from the type of book that promises the reader 30 exact replicas of projects contained herein if they follow instructions to the letter. Rather, the book is a starting point, and hopefully (if I've done my job right) a springboard for the reader's own ideas.

For anyone who knows me, or has read this blog in the past, you can expect to see features on Dorset Buttons…

An example of a Behind the Stitches feature spread.

Penny mats…

A typical chapter opener

The first of a two spread techniques article on layering fabrics

The book also looks at other ways to approach sewing, for example, how to work with, and think about negative space…

A typical techniques spread

As well as looking beyond shop bought patterns and kits to everyday inspiration such as graphic posters, and then incorporating unusual materials like brightly coloured, elasticated yachting cord to realise your ideas…

Another techniques spread

It was a lot of work, but then I knew it would be and fully embraced that (as I kept telling myself when my fingertips developed callouses from endless days, and late nights of hand stitching). What was surprising, considering I have worked on illustrated books for the last twenty years, is that I couldn't go with my usual approach to design and preference for an economy of material on the page. If I had, it would have made life easier, and lessened my workload but felt it would have short changed the reader if I'd stuck to my long held motto of less is more. Instead each spread became a 'mind-dump' of ideas, tips and snippets that simply had to be shared. Hopefully, this has made for a richer book even if does mean any reader with even the weakest detective powers (weaker than say Inspector Couseau's) can easily build a comprehensive identikit of my entire life. I stop short of giving my national insurance number, blood group, and there's no author photo (cripes, no!) but there's a lot of personal stuff in there—all relevant to sewing of course. Speaking of which, it does feel rather strange to have my surname so clearly visible at the top of this post and sidebar, when for the last five years I've just been 'Elizabeth'.

It's been over two years since I first signed the contract, and writing it fulfils a long held ambition, although greedy creature that I am, I now want to do another. I guess I'm just a glutton for punishment and sore fingers!



Thursday, 19 January 2017

A blue and white quilt…

A new house calls for a new quilt, and for a long time I've hankered after a blue and white one. The one I have in mind will reflect the style of house we live in, an open plan, square, 60s style building with a flat roof. There will be 25 (highly convenient from a quilting point of view) patches to represent the number of flats and houses on the estate and I'll add the occasional strip of red to suggest the paths that divide us into small blocks. I've cut my fabrics, most of which came from stash including the red one which is a piece of 'nui' style shibori that I stitched and dyed for my book* some time ago. I've been saving this scrap for something special as I love the spine-like effect the stitches created, and was delighted the end result turned out as I'd hoped—it's not often that happens! This fabric will be used sparingly as there isn't much of it, so a little will have to go a long way.

Now all I need is to set my sewing machine up, which is easier said than done. While most of the boxes are finally unpacked and I have a brand new sewing table, the machines themselves are still in storage. This has at least meant that I've been able to continue with my needleweaving, which has grown quite a bit since you last saw it although I'd like the stitching to eventually extend to the fabric's edge. But for now, it's time to set the hand needle to one side and dig out the sewing machine.

* After months of waiting my book is almost ready for release. As soon as I receive copies from the publisher I'll give you a tour of the insides.