I dread to think how many times I pieced and unpicked that border, and every time it was wonky.

scraps for crazy patchwork
30 years of scraps

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.

not scraps for crazy patchwork
rejected scraps

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.

geometry for crazy patchwork
always knew Geometry would come in one day

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.

making crazy mistakes
big mistake

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).

crazy machine embroidery
seen from the back

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.

7 crazy hexagons
I need seven!

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).

 crazy hexagons
always a fiddly task.

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.

7 crazy hexies
and now for my next trick

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.

making a crazy cushion
envelope back

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.

crazy cushion finished...ish

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.

A sewing Companion

Despite looking complicated it was incredibly easy to make.

finished sewing companion
sewing companion

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 for the original article and Pattern)

sewing companion
making two

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.

sewing companion
sew first, then cut

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.

sewing companion
First fold

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.

sewing companion
Second fold

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.

sewing companion
Third fold

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”.

sewing companion

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.

finished sewing companion
sewing companion

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, Many thanks Brenda I really enjoyed making these and will be making more, for myself and as gifts for quilty friends.

Bigger slippers

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.

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.

bigger slippers
we need bigger slippers

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?

bigger slippers
problem solved, bigger slippers.

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.

Owl quilt; part Two too wit too woo

The label is a little wonky, but it matches the sentiment, made by imperfect hands.

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.

Owl quilt
quilt label for the back

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.

Owl quilt
sashing from my stash

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.

Owl quilt
nothing is working here

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.

Owl quilt
that’s better!

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.

Owl quilt
quilting and binding

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.

Owl quilt
Owl quilt label for the back.

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.

Owl quilt, finished
Owl quilt, finished

An Owl quilt for a dear friend

All I needed was some freezer paper and an iron, how difficult could it be?

I have a dear friend who likes Owls, or “Wols” as she calls them, so when I came across this remnant of fabric being sold at my quilt group meeting I just had to buy it. I didn’t know what I would do with it but I knew I would come up with something. An Owl quilt, a lap quilt, a comforter, a virtual hug, that my friend could use whenever a hug was required and me not there to offer it.

owl quilt
a lucky find

The first challenge was to cut out each Owl with as much fabric as possible surrounding the centre medallion, cut each one with the Owl dead centre in the medallion, and each the same size. The background fabric was too random to give me any help so I devised my own template using a piece of clear plastic  packaging. The circles were asymetrically placed so I needed two squares to fit them into, to “fudge ” a best fit with the centre of the medallion. The outer edge of the template I lined up by eye, given the background pattern was random I knew it wouldn’t cause me too much problem if it was slightly off the grain. In any case I don’t think it was printed entirely plumb with the straight grain of the fabric.

owl quilt
transparent template

Next challenge, there were only 10 complete Owl medallions, and no way of buying more, I had to come up with a design which would make a lap quilt, at least a metre square, and quickly, I wanted to give it as a Christmas present and it was well into November when I began. While I was cutting out the medallions, I was reminded of an old nursery rhyme about a wise old Owl.
owl quilt
Happily its 8 lines long so I could alternate each of 8 Owl medallions with a line of the poem in a plain fabric, but what fabric? I went to the fabric shop thinking cream, and came home with blue, it often happens that way, when I get to see the fabrics together what I had in my mind’s eye just doesn’t work and so I always have plan B.

owl quilt
what to put with it?

Challenge three, how to apply the lines of poetry to the fabric? My handwriting is not good enough. My hand embroidery is even less appealing, not to mention how long it would take me to hand embroider each one. I could have used machine embroidery but I wasn’t convinced my machine would do a good job either, and centring the text would be a nightmare. I did however have a plan. I’d read on Pinterest a number of articles about printing onto fabric using an ordinary household ink jet printer. All I needed was some freezer paper and an iron, how difficult could it be?

owl quilt
perfect…ish, not quite central

The plain fabric was cut slightly larger than the Owl medallions and the printing planned to be in the centre and then trimmed down to the right size leaving a little wiggle room all round in case the centring wasn’t accurate.

Making Strawberry pincushions

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.

strawberry pincushion
looks like gunpowder to me

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!

strawberry 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.

strawberry pincushions
cutting the pattern

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.

strawberry pincushions
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 the strawberry pincushions
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.

leaves for the strawberry pincushions
cutting “strawberry leaves”

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.

strawberry pincushions
strawberry pincushions

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.

Oh what a lovely pair of brassicas

from the scraps and a button I made another little cauliflower to fasten between them

cauliflower bra

And secondly I found a little white bra in a charity shop 30D: a bra made for a generous little lady. Its not one I’ll ever fit into, but perfect for the challenge. It only needed a few strips of green fabric gathered onto the cups, and softly tacked down here and there; hey presto, two little brassicas (cauliflowers). From the scraps and a button I made another little cauliflower to fasten between them.
Both bras were entered into the bra challenge for the Christmas meeting of my quilter’s group, and will be entered into our exhibition planned for 17th to 19th April 2015.

I know its silly. It’s just a bit of fun, but I really enjoyed coming up with these ideas for words containing the letters BRA, and interpreting them in fabric, and bras. I don’t know who won the challenge, not that it matters. It’s not about winning, its about taking up the challenge.

If you happen to be in the North west of England this April do please try and visit our exhibition, you’ll find us on the A6 at Bilsborrow just North of Preston; in Bilsborrow Village hall. All welcome, see you there.

Poppies for a bra challenge

To make these poppies I bought polyester satin and polyester crystal organza in Coquelicot (poppy red), black buttons, glass beads, and brooch fasteners

My quilting group have issued a challenge for November, decorate a bra, the theme must be a word in which the letters bra appear; candelabra, brassica, or in my case remembrance.

a bra decorated for the November goup challenge

I had seen a number of fabric flower tutorials on Pinterest which I wanted to try, particularly the poppies. Last year I bought a fabric poppy to wear on Remembrance Day in place of the paper ones sold by the British Legion, which I find so difficult to keep looking fresh. Mine always seem to curl up or just disintegrate.

all you need is satin and organza
all you need is satin and organza

The poppies were so easy to make that I made several, three to decorate my bra for the challenge and another 3 which I gave to my mother, sister and niece. I asked that they make a contribution to the British Legion as usual, as I will too. I will probably make another for myself, but I have run out of suitable buttons.

Poppies made from satin and Organza
really easy to make

To make these poppies I bought polyester satin and polyester crystal Organza in Coquelicot (poppy red), some black buttons which were designed to look like a flower centre, black glass beads, and brooch fasteners.

The satin and organza was cut into squares 3” and then slightly smaller 2.5” perhaps. These squares were roughly cut into circles; I didn’t need to be desperately precious about this because I then applied the raw edges to a candle flame. I found if I held the edge close to but not in the flame, perhaps a eighth or two from the visible flame, and turned the fabric quickly to prevent it catching fire, what happened was that the edge melted and curled up gently producing a shallow cup with a sealed edge.

poppies for a bra challenge
a collection of poppy parts

The fabric cups were then nested one inside the other slightly unevenly so that each fabric was visible at some point. A circle of organza, not heat treated, was placed in the centre and the button applied to tie all the layers together. I ran a few stitches round the centre so that they would hold the layers together while I fixed the button in place, and with the shank back buttons I cut through the layers to set the button in rather than have it flop about on its shank. The three on my bra are sewn on like buttons, the others have a brooch fastener attached to the back.

poppies for a bra challenge
brooches from finished poppies

The last one I made, having run out of the buttons specifically bought to represent flower centres I used a plain flat 4 hole button and I embellished with extra beads to add stamens ( and to draw attention away from the plain button). Mum got that one. My sister and niece got the simple ones without beads. The ones on the bra have a larger button and fewer beads, those are the ones I made first….. I’m not sure which I like best.
I also have an idea to make poppies from felt and buttons… watch this space.

Damson Gin: Time to make another batch.

The Damson Gin I made for Christmas last year was such a success that I just had to make some more, my Dearest wants two bottles for us.

Damson gin
Lyth Valley Damsons

The Damson Gin I made for Christmas last year was such a success that I just had to make some more. My Dearest wants two bottles for us and the rest for gifts. I have three 2 Ltr Kilner jars at the moment each of them containing nearly a kilo of fruit and a bottle of gin. I can assure you that we won’t be drinking 2 out of the three of this particular brew, but I’ll break it to him gently, once the other bottles are gift wrapped and given away. He thinks My Damson Gin is delightful, so do I but not two bottles- that’s just greedy, and besides, there are people I know who now know there will be more Damson Gin this year, how could I not share?

Damson gin
2ltr Kilner Jar, sugar, Gin

last Saturday, the sun shone unexpectedly and so we took my little sports car for a spin. We drove to our favourite place for buying Damsons in the Lyth Valley and bought 4 kilos. Most of them went in the gin, there were some which were too ripe, they got eaten just as they were. The rest were cooked with a little sugar, and put in the fridge to be eaten with yogurt for breakfast, they tasted wonderful.

So this year I have put 900 grams of Damsons pierced all over with the tip of a sharp knife, in each Kilner clip top Jar with a 75cl bottle Gin, and covered with a 400g of caster sugar, and sealed the jars. I have given them a good shake every day till the sugar dissolved.

damson gin
Gin sodden damsons

This Damson Gin will sit in a cool dark place for 3 months and then the contents will be strained and the gin bottled, ideally I’m told we should allow it to mature for another 6 months, but I doubt it will Survive Christmas.

Elderflower Liqueur: my own take on St.Germain

Wouldn’t you just know it, yet again there was just a little over to taste it. It tastes divine,

This spring I was looking to make another brew from the hedgerow, I love the fragrance of elderflower, but didn’t want to make more wine, and elderflower cordial although lovely is readily available in supermarkets which one can buy and use without the fuss and effort of making it at home. But I had read about St. Germain an elderflower liqueur which apparently is currently very fashionable in cocktails. Well, I had to have a go at that.
A short walk in the lovely countryside with a carrier bag and a pair of secateurs, and a trip to the local supermarket for a bottle of own brand Vodka, a bag of sugar and a lemon, and I’m good to go.

elderflower, headgerow pickings




A pint of elderflowers were picked from the umbels, put into 1.5ltr jar with 75cl of vodka, and topped with several pieces of greaseproof paper weighted down with slices of lemon to prevent the flowers rising to the top and going brown with oxidisation.

elderflower liqueur
I had to buy some St Gremain to compare

I did not agitate this brew but allowed it to steep for 3 months, on the cool windowsill in the downstairs loo, then strained off the elderflowers and added sugar.

elderflower liqueur
clear as crystal

It then stood for another week or two while the sugar slowly dissolved, before I strained it again and bottled it… and wouldn’t you just know it, yet again there was just a little over to taste it. It tastes divine, I put aside what little was left to take to my sister to share a little tipple with me, but next time I looked it had gone, about three shots of Elderflower liqueur necked by my Dearest ( written with gritted teeth) in one go. And then he has the brass neck to tell me he doesn’t like elderflower, grrrrr. I’m making more Damson Gin, He likes that.

Elderflower liqueur
Elderlflower liqueur bottled and ready for drinking