Category Archives: life
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 Miriam 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 2⅞ “ 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
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.
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.
In the middle of developing an idea about making a beanbag support for my camera I visited my sister and whilst telling her all about it she showed me her new make. She had been to the wonderful factory shop we have locally which sells designer furnishing and dress weight fabrics, and bought a small amount of Ralph Lauren Home fabric. She had made cushions and a table cloth to spruce up her porch, to make it into somewhere she could sit when the sun is shining but not quite warmly enough to be outside. She had a small amount left which she gave to me, because it was just the size I needed for my project. I’m such a lucky sister.
So I made a beanbag, by turning the fabric into a tube and then stitching the end seams at 180 degrees to one another to create a little humbug shaped beanbag cushion, leaving a gap at one end for the filling.
I turned the beanbag right sides out, and made a paper funnel out of some scrap paper to fill the bag with.
The beanbag is filled with polystyrene beads, which I have recycled from an old beanbag seat that was bought for the 15 year old to sit on when he has a little lad, and which has lain forlorn and unused in my studio for longer than I care to admit (my excuse is I always knew it would come in handy one day). l could have used rice or beans but I wanted it to be as light as possible, because my camera kit is already heavy enough.
I scooped a glassful of beads from the old beanbag seat, then holding the funnel inside the bag with one hand it was really easy to pour the polystyrene beads into the bag, encountering very little problem with static cling. There were a few beads left in the bottom of the glass, probably because I didn’t dry it properly, but no little beads clinging to every surface, my hands, my clothes… if you’ve ever had dealings with polystyrene beads you’ll know what I mean.
It just needed a machine stitched closure, to make sure it won’t bleed little beads all over the place and it’s done.
and what’s the point of all this I hear you wondering? It’s my own take on beanbag camera kit. At the time I had just bought a telephoto lens for my camera, and at 300mm you can’t really hand hold without getting camera shake. I have a tripod but don’t really want to hump it about with me, it’s rather heavy and my hips and knees are getting arthritic so the weight is a problem. This light as air little cushion allows me to set up my camera on a wall or fence post and take pictures without camera shake… if there is a handy wall at the right height.
Subsequently I bought myself to a monopod but I still carry the beanbag, it weighs nothing at all and cost me nothing but a little time and ingenuity. My sister is also a keen photographer, I wonder if she might like one…and then my niece… but then I have an idea for a slight design adaptation… watch this space.
This year’s challenge from my Quilt group, was Crazy, put simply anything made from crazy patchwork, fill your boots. My plan was to collect silk ties to cut up, and I did buy a few from my favourite charity shop, but I soon realised that I would need a lot of ties, to have enough variety of colours and patterns, so back to the stash.
I found a bag of scraps, (well three actually), sorted it into three piles, blue and white Laura Ashley scraps dating back to 1977, (of which more later), a pile of pastels some Laura Ashley of the same vintage and some from the 80’s, and a reject pile the colours of which would not meet the criteria for my piece, brown orange, cream etc.
I wanted to work on small pieces which could be joined together in a larger piece, and had seen a number of crazy patchwork studies created as large hexagons, all I needed was a large hexie pattern. So out came the cereal packet, compass and ruler, not difficult, simply draw a circle, divide into 6 equal parts (60 degrees), and draw a line from radius to radius, where the circle intersects, to create a hexagon. The size of the hexagon was determined by the size of the cereal packet.
Initially I followed the advice in my only Crazy patchwork book, (big mistake, but excellent lessons) I cut and laid the pieces on a backing fabric cut from cotton calico (lesson one backing layer too thick). I overlaid the pieces by a eighth of an inch and then stitched them down with a fine zig-zag stitch using transparent filament, (mistake two, this is nasty scratchy stuff and leaves a ridge of stitching which then causes drag when using machine embroidery stitching on top).
Running out of time (72 hours and counting) I realised using differing coloured threads to embroider the patches would take time I didn’t have and possibly require threads I didn’t have, so I decided I could pull the whole thing together and achieve balance by using one colour for the embroidery throughout, white.
As I picked the embroidery stitches to decorate my scraps I made my next mistake (number three), I didn’t try out every stitch on scrap before I began, and there’s no unpicking it afterwards! Had I tried them out first I could have adjusted the length and width of stitch to get the optimum look of the embroidery stitch. I would have also realised that the thread I was using would not work well with some of the more open, spidery stitches leaving a barely visible embroidery, a bold thread would have worked better (mistake number four).
Now comes the fiddly bit, piecing the hexagons by machine, stitching into acute corners requires some skill, the trick is not to stitch right to the edge , leave yourself a quarter inch of wiggle room, it doesn’t matter if you leave a little hole at the corner, you will be embroidering over it anyway.
It’s at this time I discovered mistake number five, for some reason I can’t fathom I had only made 6 hexagons, and of course I needed 7, with only 48 hrs to go I didn’t have time to fiddle about with my previous method so I cut another hexagon in calico, grabbed some spray tack, sprayed liberally, cut up some scraps and dabbed them on in a haphazard way, forgot the filament zig-zag and completed with white embroidery. No mistakes and it turned out the best of the 7 hexies. Finally mistake number six , I then decided to piece the edge to create a square, all the blue sashing is made of part hexagons cut to fit around the edge, and pieced in. It would have been so much easier and quicker to applique to a straight piece of sashing. I dread to think how many times I pieced and unpicked that border, and every time it was wonky.
Consequently I ran out of time to finish it properly, I should have put a zip into the back but I didn’t have one, nor time to buy one so I made an envelope back, which I don’t like and will replace, I stitched the final edge seam with a big stitch so I can unpick it easily, and the pieced sash edge has not been embroidered where it joins the crazy patches, so when I unpick it I’ll add more embroidery.
At least I managed to produce a “finished” piece of work to submit for the challenge, it didn’t win a prize. That’s ok ,I wouldn’t have quibbled with the judges decision and loved the crazy bag made by Anne Thistlethwaite which won. Well done Anne.
So what do you do when you have bought things for Christmas which turn out to be the wrong size? I recently had two such mistakes to solve, I bought my Dad a pair of soft jersey pants, which he finds comfortable to wear at leisure, but they had cuffs at the ankle and were too long, not a good look. Saggy grey cotton jersey doesn’t really suit anyone, no matter how old. I cut the cuffs off and finished the raw edge with an overlock stitch and double stitched hem. Problem solved, pants no longer sagging in the legs.
The next problem was a bit more difficult to solve, a pair of soft fleece slippers for the 14 year old. To me he’s still a boy, I keep forgetting how big he has grown, he is taller than me and his feet are larger than his dad’s, so how I managed to think Medium sized slippers would fit I don’t know! He likes his slippers, and wants to wear them but they are a tad too small, and although stretchy, not quite stretchy enough, so what to do? Make bigger slippers. Yes but what with? I was considering what I had which I could use to build an extension for the 14 year old’s toes, when I saw the cuffs I’d cut off Dad’s pants sitting on my sewing table, perfect colour, now how?
I cut one cuff along the seam and then cut it in half, each half was stitched along the two short edges to create a little pocket, then I opened up the toe of the slipper peeled back the fluffy faux lamb’s wool lining and stitched the little grey jersey pockets to the outside fabric. The lining was then hand stitched back into place covering the seam allowance so the lining is held in place and the seam hopefully will sit under the toes, where the toes meet the ball of the foot, and won’t be too uncomfortable.
They may look rather silly, but it worked, it solved the problem and the 14 year old tells me they are comfortable and a much better fit, of course the acid test is, does he wear his Bigger Slippers? Yes he does. I thought asking him to model them was pushing my luck too far, he would probably have a fit if he saw this post, so Sshh.
I love sewing, I love being able to mend and customise, fix my mistakes, and make something usable out of left over scraps from another project, retrieve the torn and damaged, create something usable out of what otherwise would be thrown away.
The technique for printing on fabric is really quite simple, cut a piece of freezer paper the same width as a piece of A4 printer paper, then cut a square of fabric and iron it to the freezer paper waxy side up, so the fabric is completely welded to the paper. I created a word document for each line of the poem, and tried to set the line in the centre of the printable area, bearing in mind the fabric is ironed to the top 7 inches of the paper.
Put the paper in the printer, face down and press print.Then Presto, out comes a piece of fabric neatly printed with a line of the poem, just about centrally placed. Peel the fabric from the freezer paper. Trim the piece of fabric down to the desired size making sure the printing remains centred, and press with a really hot iron, to fix the ink onto the surface.
Challenge four, putting it all together. The sashing for the Owls came from my stash and was a perfect match, but I couldn’t find a fabric to sash the blue squares, nothing in my stash of fabrics was working, and I was running out of time. As you can see I tried various yellows, cream and taupe but it just wasn’t floating my boat and it looked too busy.
I decided the best option was to source some more fabric from the same range, the Internet was my only hope. I only had half a selvedge as a clue to what the fabric range was called and who made it. Nevertheless it only took me a few clicks of the mouse to trace it from the scrap I had, and find a supplier for the background fabric. I also found another fabric from the same range for the backing. Flashed the plastic, and the fabric arrived two days later, I love the Internet.
Challenge five, once I had the quilt top put together and the wadding and backing tacked in place I realised that the blue squares lacked something, there was too much plain space around the lettering, my first thought was to create a quilting template of an Owl and quilt the centre of the square but I wasn’t sure how that would work with the lettering. Maybe just a pair of Owl eyes, above the lettering, but that would be too asymmetric. I decided to keep it simple, a circle in the middle to echo the Owl medallions, and some flowers embroidered round the edge to echo the flowers on the background fabric, and to add colour. I used a space dyed thread, but I think a darker yellow or orange might have worked better.
I used one of the rejected yellows I had auditioned earlier for the sashing of the blue squares to bind the edge of the quilt and to add a little contrast. It worked well with the backing fabric too. The label is a little wonky, but it matches the sentiment, made by imperfect hands.
And so, I managed this Christmas to complete a quilt in time to give it to my Dearest Friend, and even better my lovely Sister volunteered to make a detour from her day out with her daughter to a Spa to deliver it in person to my friend. It was the day before Christmas eve. I am so blessed in my Friend, and my Sister. Thank you both for being there for me.