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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.
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.
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.
Look what I found on Pinterest! Having been asked to make something to put in the gift raffle for my quilt group’s exhibition I needed an idea, something simple to make that most folks would have a use for. This little sewing companion is ideal, small enough to tuck in a drawer, so it’s always to hand for quick repair jobs, and or to pack in suitcase so you have the essentials for hand sewing when travelling. So much better than those awful sewing kits found in hotels. (see http://www.popularpatchwork.com/news/article/simple-sewing-companion/210/ for the original article and Pattern)
Despite looking complicated it was incredibly easy to make. First download your pattern and print it, on to card if you have it, it makes it easier to draw round. Put the pattern on to some light weight fusible interfacing, and draw round it, this line becomes the stitching line so cut the pattern out with a tad more than 1/4 ” seam allowance and iron to the wrong side of the fabric you have chosen for the outside of the sewing companion; cut out with a generous seam allowance, and place right side to right side of the second fabric for the lining.
Stitch round along the stitching line leaving one side open so that you can turn it out, cut the seam allowance to a scant 1/4 “, and snip the corners before turning out. finally tuck the raw edges in and catch them in with a running stitch, it won’t show in the finished piece. I pressed the whole thing at this point, and considered top stitching to hold the edge firm but decided against, it wasn’t recommended in the Original.
Using the pattern to guide me I folded the flap from the left, and top stitched a V shape the left hand corner of the flap, to the bottom and up to the top and inch and a half from the right edge this makes a scissor pocket, and a small pocket to the side for a measuring tape or marking pencil.
The second fold and then the third fold are completed together and then stitched down one side along the bottom and up the other side to hold the whole thing in place.
A needle case to match is made very neatly using a two piece lining which is not stitched completely accross the inner seam so you can stitch it inside out and turn it. the pattern recommends using flannel for the inner pages of the needle case, I had some lining from a silk tie that I had bought and deconstructed to use for crazy patchwork, but it was bulky so I only used one “page” and stitched the open seam closed under the spine of the “page”.
As I plan to make these into gifts I can hardly give them with all the tools missing, so I ordered a pair of needle work scissors on line, green handles to match the fabric, a set of 3 chalk pencils one for each and a spare; I ordered 3 tape measures, but when they came they were too bulky and pulled the sewing companion out of shape, so I rejected them. the original pattern showed embroidery silks tucked into the pockets, instead I downloaded some sweet little thread holders which can just be seen poking out, so that each owner can use threads colours which are most likely to be required. Into the needle case I put from my own stash, a needle, a safety pin, 3 pins, and a shirt button. I’m still waiting for the needle threaders to arrive. All I need to do now is add a press stud fastener and they are ready to go.
If you’d like to make one yourself the pattern and instructions are copyrighted; the intellectual property of Brenda Dean and can be found at http://www.quiltersinternational.co.uk/, Many thanks Brenda I really enjoyed making these and will be making more, for myself and as gifts for quilty friends.
At a recent meeting of my quilt group I was intrigued by a fellow member passing round the tables as we sewed with small bags of powder, now it’s not what you are thinking, it wasn’t white powder, but black, it looked like iron filings or gun powder perhaps. she sold me a bag, and I was very pleased to have it.
She told me a funny story that went with the powder, which is carborundum, or emery powder. My fellow quilter had sourced the powder from a manufacturer but she had to buy a significant amount, more than she might ever need. Because it is heavy and would be expensive to have shipped she had arranged for a friend who lives near the supplier to collect the cannister and pass it to her husband when they next met.
Her husband and friend met in the car park of a ferry terminal, they were traveling to Ireland together. Rather than leave the exchange till they got back, fearing they may forget, the cannister was transfered to her husband’s car before they both got into his car and made the ferry crossing to Ireland.
Needless to say, there must be CCTV cameras trained on we hapless travelers in ferry terminals. When the two gentlemen arrived in Ireland, customs officers took them aside and asked them to explain the canister with the suspicious gunpowder like contents. Imagine their disbelief when these two men, who I’m told are built like rugby players and not in the first flush of youth, explained the contents of the canister was to be made into…pincushions!
If you have ever been cursed with rust on your needles this is your answer. The Victorian ladies who were probably more plagued with dampness in their homes than we are today, often had little pincushions made to look like strawberries. These strawberry pincushions contained emery powder. Any pin or needle could be stuck into the pincushion a few times till the rust was rubbed off and the needle once again made usable: not leaving rust stains on the fine lace and fabrics being worked. I have planned to make myself some strawberry pincushions but not knowing where to find emery powder, or even what it was, I thought they would simply be scissor keepers, which save your fine embroidery scissors from disappearing down the side of the sofa when you are not paying attention.
I found an old pattern dating from the 1930’s on Pinterest, cut two layers, the inner one in a tightly woven fabric, I used a piece of the 14 year old’s outgrown school shirt, to make sure the emery powder didn’t leak out.
The outer fabric I chose for its little ditsy print in a pretty pink, for the strawberry pincuchions and a toning green fabric for the leaves.
filling these little cones with the emery powder was really fiddly. I found that if I fixed a cone of paper into an empty plastic container, (this contained camera film, but was re-purposed into containers for bugle beads) then the liner could be filled and I had both hands free to tuck in a circle of fabric on top of the emery powder and draw the raw ends over the top so the powder wouldn’t leak.
I used freezer paper to cut a pattern for the leaves (you can iron freezer paper to the fabric, and cut it out without any slippage). two layers , the edge neatened with some hand stitching , I don’t do it often, but my attempt to use a machine stitch was disastrous.
And finally a little ribbon, attached to the Strawberry pincushions means they can be used as scissor keepers or hung from my wrist, to keep pins to hand. I usually have a mouthful of pins when I’m dressmaking, which is never a good idea, but strangely habit forming.
Another trip to my local charity shop, I’m light very little cash but I have 2 weenie little plaid shirts (age3) 50p each, and a ladies plaid shirt in a pretty lavender and cool green which will pretty up my planned plaid quilt with some more feminine colours.
A beautiful Monsoon Blouse for £2, and the ugliest white skirt imaginable, which isn’t even in my size, ruffles in all the wrong places, all so badly gathered and stitched in place, and an asymmetric hem, which hung down at the back and rose up at the front, a real horror. £1.50
Why? You may well ask, although the skirt looked rather sad it was made of fine cotton lawn, and was lined in the same fabric, and edged in the some nice quality Guipure lace.
The skirt was a supermarket brand, the materials were good but it was badly made, and badly designed. Who on earth wants a ruffle around the hips adding inches at the very place you want it to skim? And why stitch on and edge the ruffle in polyester thread which either was cream or has yellowed so making the whole skirt look grubby. The one thing you want from white clothing is the fresh look of pure white, grubby white will never be a good look.
So I bought it to cut up, and for £1.50 and a little work I got more than a yard of fine white cotton lawn, not suitable for patchwork, but perfect for foundation piecing, and linings where you don’t want what is underneath to show through; a white zip, a spare button, and 3 and a half yards of good white lace, which I’m sure I’ll find a use for. All I threw out was the ruffle.
Lastly a completed embroidery, of an Amish scene with quilts! All I need now is to find a suitable frame for it, and it can hang in my workroom, 50p and there was another canvas in the bag with crewel wool, I might give that to a friend who does embroideries, as I doubt whether I will ever find time to stitch it myself.
What a lovely day I had today, with nothing planned and a promise of mixed weather, we set off to Morecambe to collect my winnings, not a lump sum, sadly but a novel written by a local author, and offered as a competition prize in my local newspaper. Having collected it and noting that the clouds had rolled back, the sun was shining and the tide was high, we drove north along the promenade looking for a suitable place for lunch. We turned off the coastal road and headed for the shore at Red Bank Farm.
Red Bank Farm has a very enviable setting being sited at the very point where the sea meets the land, any further west and it would be in the sea. A High bank protects the land from being encroached upon, I guess when the Farm house was built perhaps the sea was not so close, but then the date stone over the door says 1680, so Red Bank farm has weathered many a storm since it was built.
My Dearest had a Bacon Buttie, no change there then, and I had a baked potato, butter and salad, being on the Hay diet limits my choices as I don’t eat protein at lunchtime, still I could have just had a bowl of chips, I restrained myself. They did look good though, thick cut and crisp cooked with the skin on.
A footpath passes behind the farm house, right on the edge of the beach, ancient steps form a style between the building and the wall which borders the property.
We drove on to Silverdale, a place of outstanding Natural Beauty, visited a little gallery we know and then on to Jack Scout for a walk, the sun was very hot and the day humid, so we did not walk far before my Dearest wanted to turn back. I snatched a couple of pictures near the cliff edge looking up the Kent Estuary towards Arnside.
Not wanting to set off home just yet we turned the car northwards up the A6, a route we had taken several times already this week, but stopped at Beetham, it’s one of those villages which is by-passed by the road and so is rarely seen or investigated by passing traffic but I knew there was a Pub the Wheatsheaf, which had been recommended to me for good food, so we stopped to check out the menu.
What a charming little village, with fine old houses, a set of stocks on the green, a good pub, a beautiful church (The Church of St Michael and All Angels, parts of which date from the 12th century) , it still boasts a Post Office and general store, but more than that it has its own theatre! ( The Heron Theatre, a 80 seat theatre housed in the listed 18th century grammar school ) I believe the village has its own amateur theatre group, who put on productions, and it is otherwise used as cinema, “Quartet” is showing this weekend.
There is apparently The Heron Corn Mill, a working watermill, which we did not investigate. We went home via Morecambe again to walk on the promenade, and enjoy the cool sea breeze. Whilst promenading we saw a BBC news team about to record a piece live for that evening’s news, we didn’t stay to find out what it was to be; given the lateness of the hour, and having left the 13 year old alone all day, we decided it was time to go home and feed him.
The day had been unexpectedly sunny, almost cloudless and very warm, we even got to sit in the garden till it went dark, and then the rain which had been promised but which we thought we had escaped, came down suddenly in great big drops and soaked us as we ran across the garden from the terrace to the back door, if only it would always rain through the night, and allow us clear skies during the day.
My Dearest has recently become a wine maker, needs must when the money runs out. I thought I’d join him, so we have set up a micro brewery in the kitchen. My first effort was to use a kit for Elderflower Wine, but I could not help feeling I was cheating; a can of Sancerre grape concentrate and a packet of dried Elder flowers doesn’t really leave me feeling the joy of the hunter gatherer filling her store cupboards with God’s Bounty plucked from the hedgerow.
I dug out an old book I had on country wine making, and found a recipe for elderflower wine that called for the gathering of real Elderflowers in the byways and field margins. We walked along a local cycle path well away from any road, and cut only two heads from each Elder tree (Sambucus Nigra) leaving plenty of flowers to produce berries for the birds (or maybe elderberry wine). There were so many Elder trees we only had to walk a few hundred yards to collect enough.
Back at the ranch, a pint of fresh Elderflowers, sugar, water, vinegar, lemons and yeast were put in a bucket to macerate for a few days before I strained the flowers off and putting the liquid in a demijohn.
Normally wine will take 10-14 days to brew depending on the ambient temperature and then stop. My wine has been has been bubbling away for more than 4 weeks and still going. I suspect it will be rocket fuel and will need to be served in thimbles.
I’ve been offered the flowers from an ornamental Elder, but I’m not sure it’s a good idea, flavour wise, we’ll see how this batch turns out. I’ve dried the excess flowers, in case I want to make some more before next summer.
In the meantime we have a very satisfactory “cellar” developing which hopefully will be ready to drink by Christmas, Happy Days!
Last week the 13 year old went off to France on a school trip, whilst his father fretted and worried about him I was happy that he was off on a Big Adventure, and saw it as a great opportunity for a few day’s leave, so that we could go out early and stay out late because we had no-one to come home to feed or make sure homework was being done or bed time adhered to. If only the weather had been kind! It rained and rained… and rained. I found myself humming the Travis tune “why does it always rain on me, was it because I lied when I was 17?”
By the third day I was determined to enjoy my day whatever the weather. We had planned to visit a National Trust property near Manchester but couldn’t face a wet, grey journey down the M6, so we headed east towards promised drier weather. We drove to Skipton for lunch then on to Bolton Abbey and Wharfedale in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, to visit a famous garden attached to Parcevall Hall; which comprise 24 acres of formal and woodland gardens which rise up the hillside for 200 feet giving wonderful views in every direction.
The house itself is not open to garden visitors, sadly; it must be fascinating, dating back to 1584 at least and extended in the 1920’s. It belongs to the College of Guardians of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham and is used by the Bradford Diocese as a retreat house and conference centre. Hardly surprising then, that as we arrived in the neighbourhood of Parcevall Hall, the sun was shining in a clear blue sky, my spirits lifted, the gardens were a little piece of Paradise, so it’s true what they say the sun really does shine on the righteous.
The last three miles as we drove towards the Hall were nerve racking, the roads narrow and winding, we both held our breath in fear of meeting another vehicle coming the other way; mostly we only passed walkers and cyclists.
We had tea before exploring the gardens; a little sparrow came and begged for food, even standing on our table inches from my hand. On the garden wall I spotted a baby sparrow just fledged and not quite in control of itself. There were beautifully planted terraces nearer to the house, an orchard of rare old apples trees, a lake and a babbling brook, woodland walks and a walled garden. Against a wall in a sheltered spot there was a crinodendron I’ve only seen it once before.
Later I spotted a wren, I stood for many minutes camera to face so as not to frighten it, hoping to get a picture but sadly she was too fast for me, I only got one blurry shot, I used to have a little wren in my garden, they are so tiny, so pretty, I love wrens.
As we left it seemed that the roads had become even narrower, so much so that if we met a vehicle coming in the other direction both drivers and passengers needed to breathe in, in order to pass safely. It’s strange what you see in the hedgerows, once when we pulled over to allow another driver to pass I spotted both currants and gooseberries growing wild, I didn’t look too closely under the gooseberry bush, never know what you might find!