Recently one of my staff team handed in her notice, I was very sad to see her go because she is a great practitioner and a lovely human being, but I was happy to see her progress in her career.
Naturally I wanted to give her a leaving gift that was personal from me to her, no shop bought gift , it had to be hand made. A cushion was all I had time to achieve, so this is the tale of Miriam’s cushion.
I decided all would be made from my fabric stash, and wanted something very pretty, so Liberty prints seemed to fit the bill.
I wondered if perhaps there was a block called Miriam, well there is but it isn’t particularly pretty, and its also known as Crazy Susan, so that wouldn’t go down well. Stars was my second thought. Pinterest supplied this idea, Miriam’s cushion was going to be Fab.
15 different fabrics were picked out of my stash, and a new white on white fabric was bought to tie them all together, there was nothing suitable in my stash.
From each fabric one 2 ½ “ square and four 2 “ triangles were required. I found it easier to cut 2 x 3 “ squares from each fabric and the same from the white to make 4 half square triangle units by putting a Liberty fabric square right sides to right sides with a white square, sewing two lines half an inch apart across the diagonal and cutting them apart, pressing to the dark side, then cutting down to 2 ½ “.
Half square triangle units are traditionally made by marking a fine pencil line diagonally across the paler fabric, so that it can easily be seen, and sewing a ¼“ from either side of the line. We press the seam allowance towards the darker fabric so as not to allow the darker fabric to show through the paler, it also helps to nest seams for a flatter, neater end result.
Once I had 15 sets of square and triangles, I had to decide on placement of the fabrics, with this pattern there are no blocks which can be made up and colour placement decided later, each fabric interlocks with its neighbours row on row , so the whole design must be laid out in advance. Thank goodness it was only a cushion, I don’t have space to lay out an entire quilt in this way.
Numbering the rows so that I didn’t get myself in a tangle I stitched each row individually, then pressed the odd rows in one direction and the even rows in the other direction so that the seams would nest neatly.
I was under time pressure, so as I worked I considered how to finish Miriam’s cushion, I wanted to finish the edge with a binding which would look like piping without the faff of having to use piping. But that left me with a problem of how to close the cushion cover.
A Zipper looks better than an envelope back, which I always think looks baggy and unfinished, but I couldn’t figure out how to put a zipper in a bound edge. So rather than make a matching back I had to make a smaller version of the front for back with a sashing to insert a zipper and leave a raw edge to bind.
Each side was sandwiched with a 2oz wadding bought specially at Abakhan (https://www.abakhan.co.uk/stores) in Preston; and quilted simply with diagonal lines, happily because the wadding was quite chunky, it didn’t need a lot of close quilting.
I sewed the front to the back wrong sides together with the raw edges on the outside, a ¼ “ seam allowance.
Finally I cut and stitched the binding ; I cut a 2 ¼ “ binding and folded it in half lengthways, right sides out, sewing it to the front of the cushion just a smidge wider than ¼ “ so that the first seam isn’t showing. It also stabilises and strengthens the seam around the edge being stitched round a second time. Then rolling the binding over the raw edge by hand, because I have folded the binding I now have a folded edge to hand stitch along the seam line on the reverse side.
I used the same fabric for the binding as the sashing so that any wobbliness of the binding or the hand stitching would be less obvious on that side. I was burning the midnight oil by this time; Miriam’s cushion had to be finished, she was leaving the following day.
I wanted to label the cushion, but not for it to be seen announcing myself constantly, so I made a label and stitched it inside the cushion, just under the zipper. It simply says it was made for Miriam, it is Miriam’s cushion.
When I gave Miriam’s Cushion to her, I pointed out my two errors, the zipper isn’t centrally placed, can’t figure out how that happened, but I didn’t have time to fix it, and the far corner fabric isn’t quite “right”, but I left it in because, as all quilters know, “only God is Perfect”.
There was one final flourish that I had planned to add but I ran out of time. It was a bible quotation I sought out especially For Miriam, a committed Christian, as she was leaving us for another job nearer to her home. I had planned it to be sewn inside like the label.
So here it is :-
To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life—this is indeed a gift from God. (Ecclesiastes 5:19)
It’s more than simply Miriam’s cushion it is a gift to express fond appreciation of the person she is. Thank you Miriam for passing through my life however briefly, it has been a pleasure to know you, to work with you, to see you develop and flourish in your profession.
I had been planning to make elderflower Vodka for weeks, since I saw the first Elderflower umbels begin to flower. I bought Vodka and waited for a lovely summers day to go out and gather some elderflowers. In came the rain, and the gales, and cold weather, Brrr, not going out in this!
Yesterday I noticed that most of the elderflowers were already finished and decided today would have to be the day, or it was all over for another year, and no elderflower vodka. This morning it was sunny and still, a perfect day, and I only needed to walk a short way from my door to find a small elderflower bush with a shady side which was less advanced than I’d seen out and about yesterday. Ten or so Umbels picked and back to my suntrap back garden.
So what else do I need? a Lemon, and a bottle of Vodka, 100g of sugar, and a glass jar.
I gently removed the flower heads from the stems, Elderflowers aren’t toxic but the wood and stems are, I don’t think I would poison anyone if I’d left the stems on but you just never know. I de-stem the flowers over a plate so I can check for foreign bodies or small creatures, which can be encouraged away or squashed according to preference. I encouraged some small creatures to depart, the ones who wouldn’t go got squashed.
On top of the flowers went the zest of a lemon, and a 100 grams of sugar, and a 75cl bottle of Vodka, (it should have been a Ltr but I only had a 75cl bottle) So only 75 cls of Elderflower vodka this year.
On top of the flowers I put 3 layers of greaseproof paper and the lemon slices, this is to hold the flowers under the vodka to stop them going brown and colouring the vodka.
I found the recipe at wild at heart foods, thanks and credit where it’s due.
note to self… next time cut the paper to fit the jar, 3 or 4 layers slightly offset, each tucked down the side of the jar slightly will hold the flowers down better. Some of the lemon slices can go under the paper, all of them is too many. I have made elderflower liqueur before, see :- Elderflower liqueur
We all deserve a little luck occasionally; this quilt was made from a little bit of mine.
I’m lucky enough to live near a company called Standfast and Barracks, they print fabric for Liberty and Designers Guild amongst others. They have a factory shop where these fabrics can be bought in small amounts for discounted prices. You won’t be surprised that I shop there often. They also have a facebook page. (https://www.facebook.com/search/top/q=standfast%20%26%20barracks%20fabric%20factory%20shop ) and some time ago they ran a little competition to win some fabrics … guess who won?
I won… Four lovely pieces of Liberty Tana Lawn; now what to make?
I decided to make a disappearing nine patch, I had only used that block once before but I knew it would go together quite quickly, and I liked it, you don’t need a better reason, do you?
I fiddled around for a while trying to work out the placement of the fabrics and came to the conclusion that I needed more contrast, a different colour. I dug out my enormous stash of Liberty Tana lawn remnants from Standfast and Barracks, and found a blue which I thought would work.
Thinking about the balance of your fabrics in simple terms, the fabric you want to use the most of or to be the dominant fabric should go in the corners of the nine patch block .
The next fabric or fabrics should go on the four sides of the nine patch , you could use all one colour as I did or you could alternate two colours which would create a completely different look.
NB , if you use a fabric with a directional pattern, as I did the pattern should not be placed the same way up, but directed from the sides to the middle of the nine patch block, otherwise when you cut it up and try to put it together again, you’ll find the pattern going every which way. It won’t work.
Finally the fabric you have least of if you are using scraps, or you like least, or would dominate the quilt if used in greater amounts, goes in the centre of the nine patch block. The disappearing nine patch block has a balance of fabrics which is expressed by 4, 2, 2, 1 . The largest patch is 4 times bigger than the smallest and the middle sized patches are half of the larger, if you see what I mean?
Having put together the nine patch I cut it into 4 quarters and put it back together having turned two of the quarters 180 degrees. All the blue patches are aligned in the same direction. If two patches had the pattern aligned along the length, and the other two along the width, it would be visually distracting.
Nine nine patch blocks gave me a 30” quilt top and used up all of the flowered and the blue fabrics, to make it big enough for a lap quilt usually 40 -45 “ square, borders were needed. First I considered a darkish blue… too dark, then a bright watermelon pink… too bright. I thought it would dominate and make my pieced disappearing nine patch centre look dull.
I added a narrow green border to separate the pieced top from the outer border, using the green helped to balance the colour across the quilt and use the green up too. Finally I took my centre back to Standfast and Barracks, draped it over the rolls of fabric for sale in the shop. I found another blue that worked for the border. I also bought a piece of the flowered fabric big enough to back and bind the edge, leaving enough left over for the hanging sleeve too.
I planned to submit this to my quilt group’s exhibition; the third of my three items, and thinking it needed to be handed in in a few days time I was in a hurry to finish it. The last time I had used this disappearing nine patch block I used a circular quilting to balance the very square pattern, I began to mark out the circles, but my disappearing pen was dried up and useless, pencil was too laborious, I had to do something simple.
It’s stitched in the ditch, just outlining each quarter block, and the border follows the pattern of the disappearing nine patch block in a simplified form.
The binding was stitched onto the front, rolled over and tacked down over the stitch line on the back, almost ready but time was up. I drove out to the village where my Quilt group meet to hand it over, only to find I was a week too early.
Curses! Well at least I now have time to stitch that binding on, and take it back next week.
In case you are wondering I have a plan for the other two fabrics not used in this quilt, with the addition of that bright watermelon pink, I think I’ll make a disappearing four patch… watch this space.
Crazy Patchwork Cushion… continued…
Nearly two years ago, and before being thrown out of my studio to make room for a sixteen year old, I made a crazy patchwork cushion for a group challenge from 1980’s scraps some of which were Laura Ashley fabrics.
I wasn’t happy with the way it was finished but as with many of my projects I ran out of time and completed it in a rush in order to submit it to my quilt group’s annual challenge.
So the plan was to deconstruct it, well take the back off. I’d stitched it with a long stitch to make that easy. Put a zip in the back, instead of the envelope back that I’d had to do as a quick temporary fix.
Then I needed finish the white embroidery on the front, so that all the edges were finished in the same way.
Finally I top stitched round the edge, I do this a lot on cushions just to give definition to the edge and to make them fit the cushion pad better. I do like a plump cushion.
My cushion was made particularly to go to work with me to pretty up my office, but just as it was being made we were told we would soon be moving to a new “agile “ working environment where there would be 3 desks to 5 staff . The “personalisation of work spaces” would be frowned upon, or rather strictly forbidden. So my Crazy patchwork cushion will remain at home, and pretty up my new studio, on my Windsor chair with a view of the back garden.
The crazy patchwork cushion will also be submitted to my group’s biennial exhibition later this month, so that’s two items… see my next blog post for the third item.
18 months ago I found 4 little hearts foundation pieced blocks in red fabrics. I had a fine idea that I could make them into a finished piece in time to submit them to my quilt group’s annual challenge. (See the original blog post here http://www.mycrosspatch.com/blog/2015/12/23/four-little-hearts
I found two plain fabrics and cut pieces to put the 4 little Hearts together to make a cushion front, but there was something not quite right. I couldn’t put my finger on it so I put it aside to think about it before going any further.
As predicted I had to pack up all my belongings and move out of the lovely newly redecorated room in order to make way for the then 16 year old who I had to admit had outgrown the box room which was his bedroom. He was beginning his important sixth form years and would need a proper study space.
All my sewing materials had to be packed up and moved into what was the box room ( we now call it Harry Potter’s room, the cupboard over the stairs) so the little hearts were packed up and moved (buried). The challenge came and went without me submitting my piece. It was only when I realised our quilt group’s exhibition was due in a couple of months that I dug out my little hearts and some other half finished pieces in the hope I could produce something to show.
The first step was to work out what was wrong with it. I realised the colours didn’t work together; the dull pink at the sides was just too dull, so I took it apart and replaced the dull pink with the darker burgundy colour. Sorted!
I wanted to make an 18” cushion and would have had barely enough of the burgundy to achieve that. A 1” sashing of the cream calico, added a pretty frame to my 4 little hearts block and allowed me to achieve that 18+” square I needed for the cushion top.
I really wanted to complete this cushion completely from my stash, and no cheating. So the backing was a found item, from my stash, it’s quite an old piece, a remnant left over, I think, from a skirt or dress from the 1980s. Happily it has finally found its purpose. The zip came from another stash, a lucky find in a charity shop, a whole carrier bag full of zips, over a hundred zips for £5.
Finally when I had put the cushion together it measured just shy of 18.5’’ and the 18’’ cushion pad was a little loose in the cover, so a quarter inch top stitching round the edge gave a good finish to the edge, a little definition and pulled in the cushion size to just under 18”, it makes for a nice plump cushion, and was finished with a fortnight to go before it needs to be handed in. Result!
Last summer my Dearest decided that our youngest at 16 was old enough to be left at home overnight, while we went off for a single night away in a hotel, (Hallelujia, freedom at last.) We booked a night in a lovely Hotel in the Lake District, The Inn on the Lake, Glenridding, at a bargain price. But then the problems began, fancy hotel… what to wear? What to pack? No suitable PJ’s , no decent luggage,I don’t want to arrive looking like the poor relations. Since I plan to make weekends away a regular occurrence in my life I decided a weekend bag was a definite need for me, and my dearest, thought a suit carrier was also required, this night away was looking less of a bargain.
Ebay supplied me with a beautifully supple red leather weekend bag, less than half the price of a new one, I was so pleased with it. I decided what would make it even better would be some matching shoe bags to keep my shoes separate from my clothes, and a pair of slippers too. And I was going to make them with as little money spent as possible.
A quick look through my stash yielded a number of suitable red fabrics for my shoe bags and slippers, deciding which one to use was easy I just draped them over the lovely leather weekend bag in the garden. The Liberty Tana lawn in the middle? Yes.
I rooted out those fancy evening shoes, the only decent heels I’ve got and cut the fabric to make two bags big enough to fit those shoes, my usual flats will fit if they do. Two simple bags, the tops turned down to make a tube for the drawstring , and ribbons for drawstrings.
And so to the slippers, I printed out the pattern, and put my foot on it, to check the size, it looked a bit big but better that than too small. I could always trim it back once I started putting the slippers together.
Cut 4 soles, 2 left two right, and 4 tops, which are the same shape left and right.
The wadding is a piece of curtain lining with a needle punch wadding on one side, to line winter curtains. To stiffen the slipper sole I used iron on Pelmet Vilene, it comes in a handy width, just a tad less than the width of my slippers.The only thing I bought was the red bias binding. The pieces were put together and quilted with random lines of stitching, I was up against it time wise, needed to finish them before I began to pack , so I wasn’t too picky about the quilting, it just needed to hold the layers together. I just needed slippers to go in the bag.
I managed to stitch one slipper together before I had bound the raw edges of the slipper top…Doh! Un-pick and start again Alison. My only struggle with the slippers was with the bias binding, it wasn’t quite wide enough to stitch on the top and then ease over onto the back and catch down with topstitching, I had to top stitch 2 or 3 times to ensure I caught it all the way round. I think I should have trimmed the sole back more accurately before easing the binding over the raw edge.
Here you see my slippers, made for pennies, finished on time, bags packed and ready to go on holiday.
Last weekend I began experimenting with natural dyes, and had mixed success. I hoped to try onion skins next because I wanted a bright orange, but haven’t had time to gather together enough onion skins. Nevertheless I’ve got the bit between the teeth now, dying with natural dyes from plant materials is like alchemy.
I love that lavender blue colour I call Eeyore blue. I once saw a picture of some lace which had been dyed using black beans which was just that glorious colour and decided I was going to experiment with it myself. Black beans can be found with the chick peas and kidney beans on supermarket shelves.
The black beans were soaked in cold water for 24 hours, they produce a rather gloomy, murky mauve coloured liquid. Not very promising I admit. But then comes the alchemy.
I drained off the soaking liquid from the beans, added a length of fabric which had previously soaked in Alum mordanted water and presto, the magic began… not mauve but a lovely purply blue began to develop.
Just to test how strong the dye stuff was I put the beans back in another jar, topped up with more water and added more fabric. I left both jars soaking for a couple of days. The result was a lovely purply blue fabric, and a paler version with a rather more tie dye effect, caused by the lack of space in the jar for the beans, the liquid and the fabric.
This is such an easy process, no heat, no chemicals, and if I hadn’t reused the beans as a dye stuff, I could have cooked and eaten the beans, so no waste either, and the colour is divine. I love it, love it, love it.
Lately I’ve been thinking about trying to dye my own fabrics, but I wanted subtle shades, from natural dyes. I was drawn to the idea of solar dying but I was unsure if I wanted to invest time in a method which requires lengthy periods in the sunshine, a commodity not to be relied upon in the North of England, even in a good summer. I imagined a summer of hope followed by an autumn of disappointment as the solar dying technique failed to develop the results I hoped for. Nevertheless I fancied having a go at dyeing from natural materials.
I found a recipe for dyeing using dandelion heads, well they are plentiful enough at this time of year, so on a Sunday morning stroll with my sister I gathered a bag full of dandelion heads from the hedgerows near the local University. That afternoon I picked the petals from their heads and put them in a jar, added boiling water and letting them steep.
I was really hopeful that I would get a good clear yellow. The strands of bright yellow made me think of saffron and stained my fingers bright yellow, surely this was going to work.
Meanwhile I soaked some plain white cotton chintz (I just happened to have a whole bolt of it which had been hanging around in my studio for years) in warm water with a little Alum added, as a mordant ( to fix the dye).
The instructions were to strain off the steeping liquid, add the fabric and microwave, in 2 minute bursts.
I did as I was instructed, 2 minutes, stir… 2 minutes, stir… 2 minutes… ad infinitum it seemed, but there was no discernible change in colour, well, what I had is not even the palest lemon yellow, a complete fail in my estimation.
Undeterred I turned to an old favourite amongst natural dyes, Turmeric and white Vinegar. In a pan of boiling water I emptied half a jar of Turmeric, and a good glugg of white vinegar, and dropped on a metre of the same Chintz. The glorious yellow colour is what I had hoped for with only a fraction of the effort I’d already expended on the dandelions to no avail.
So what to do with the very disappointing length of dandelion yellow? I threw it down on the lawn, and while still hot and wet I sprinkled over it the rest of the jar of turmeric in the hope of achieving a two tone and speckled effect. My plan was to leave it out all night, hoping it wouldn’t rain, but not too concerned if it did, to see what the outcome would be.
I was quite pleased with the result, a subtle speckling of yellow on a pale lemony background. Next stop-Orange, onion skins are the best natural option, only one slight problem, my Dearest hates onions, so we never buy them. Anyone spare their onion skins please?
What do you do with your unfinished projects, I don’t remember making these scrappy hearts blocks, who knows how long they have a lain unloved in the bottom of a box? While searching for some star templates to finish another project I found another UFO (Un-finished Object) four little red hearts foundation pieced from scraps of red fabric on cream calico. Well what can I do with those? Looking at the fabrics I don’t think I have any left, I don’t recognise them at all, but no matter, I think I can finish them into a usable size by introducing another red fabric.
Co-incidentally, my quilting group’s annual challenge this year is “call it red“. I just have to use these little squares, waste not want not. My first thought was to just put them together as in the picture, on a red background.
Or… I could add some applique hearts in Calico on red, with red stitchery… perhaps some more foundation pieced hearts in different reds… perhaps… anyway I have till July to figure it out.
I love red and white quilts and I had been planning to begin a red and white quilt for Cecily’s challenge , a feathered star in white on a red background, but if I’m honest it’s not likely to happen, not unless I find an eighth day in the week, or am in the happy position of being able to retire before July. So I’m really pleased to have found these Hearts, I can get them made into something before July… surely.
I have recently redecorated and re-carpeted my Studio and am back in and free to sew again, but for one small problem, now the room is clean and warm and bright, a certain 15 year old who had denied any designs upon the space, now thinks his own room is way too small for him and perhaps my playroom will suit him better. In the summer when I have redecorated the living room, I will have to think about decamping to what is currently the dining room, so hopefully I can get my little red hearts quilt completed before then.