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.

Waiting for inspiration to arrive, making cushions

I don’t remember learning that trick or how to thread a needle or set a knot in thread with a twist and flick of finger and thumb, but I can.

I have to admit I still have not completed a project I began months ago, making cushions for my garden furniture.

easy cut to fit
easy cut to fit

Partly lack of time, partly lack of inspiration, the cushion I made for the bench looked a little plain, amateurish, I’m still not sure whether to button it to pull the fabric tight,give it more character and a more professional look or just leave well alone. If I do button it I will have to button the chair cushions too.

Bench cushion: easy envelope closure
Bench cushion: easy envelope closure

I wanted to be able to fasten them in place with ties. Initially I was going to use the spare fabric to make ties but was worried the fabric was too thick, and would not be effective, I decided to use tape. Turquoise tape was my first thought but impossible to find, so I bought cream, on a market stall in Clitheroe, from a little girl helping out her Mother, or perhaps her grandmother during the school holidays. She didn’t understand measurement in yards, so I had to translate for her, and she didn’t know how to wind up the 6 yards of tape to put it in a bag. She began to wind it round her hand but then it got so tight she could not get it off and had to begin again. The stall holder and I both laughed at her struggles, and her nonplussed little face. I watched the stall holder show her how to wind the tape round her splayed fingers, and then close her fingers to simply slip the tape bundle off her hand and into the bag. It set me thinking about how many skills we have that we don’t even recognise as skills, which we do without thinking about and have no memory of ever learning. I don’t remember learning that trick or how to thread a needle or set a knot in thread with a twist and flick of finger and thumb, but I can.

cream tape for ties
cream tape for ties

I wanted the cushion covers to fit well and the cushions to look plump, To get a tight fit of the cover I decided rather than make the cover tight and then struggle to get the cushion in, I would make it loose, and then finish it with an “Oxford“ edge , two rows of top stitching round the edge, making the cushions appear wider, allowing for the slight raised edge of the chairs; while at the same time giving a neat tight fit and a plump appearance.

This cushion cover won’t come off to be washed, but I think I can put each in the washing machine as needed.
The fabric was cut on the generous side to allow about an inch of fabric all around. A narrow seam sewn on two sides with the tape caught in the seam close to the back on both sides, facing in, so that it is on the outside when complete. To close the back seam I tucked the raw edges in and tacked the opening closed, having put in the cushion pad. The top stitching would close the back opening. I tacked around the edge pulling the edges out and positioning the cushion pad at the same time so I had the same amount of spare fabric all round.

finished with an Oxford edge
finished with an Oxford edge

Now comes the difficult part, using a zipper foot, because I would have a lot of bulk on one side, I stitched around once; at this point the cushion cover still wasn’t tight. Going round again a quarter inch closer required a lot of effort, the cushion pad had to be pressed flat with my fingers to allow the presser foot to run over the fabric so close to the pad, and my stitching is a bit wobbly, but the finished article looks OK. One down, three to go, making cushions is easy. I might have them done before the clocks go back at the end of British Summer Time.

Looks Dapper
Looks Dapper

finished the embroidery… now what

I didn’t want to use the wrong red for the borders, it would niggle me, forever.

1-IMG_6189

So now I have finished the embroidery on this piece, I need to decide what to use it for, I have two embroideries each a different size. I think I want to make one cushion from the two pieces, so I need to size them up. Putting wider borders on the smaller piece and a narrower border on the larger piece, but a definite border on each.
I already had a piece of plain red, but it was a little too dark, not a good crimson like the gingham; having put so much effort onto the embroidery I didn’t want to use the wrong red for the borders, it would niggle me, forever.
So off we went to my local fabric shop hoping but not expecting to find a good match… I was in luck, not only did I find a fine crimson 100% cotton fabric which was an excellent match, I also found a bolt of 100% cotton blue and white gingham £2.99 a metre in the sale, I bought the lot, £15 for 5m of fabric, bargain!

see the border fabric to the left
see the border fabric to the left

That morning we had planned to go to the Lake District, on a recce to find suitable holiday accommodation , but we opened the curtains to sunshine and hailstones…big icy chips of frozen rain, so the trip was off. To cheer myself up and remind myself that spring really is just around the corner I took my camera out to the garden, to find a few spring flowers.

cherry blossom
cherry blossom

spring is going to be earlier this year than it was last, I hope.

Primroses
Primroses

A new technique; Broderie Suisse

Then I began something more ambitious …

Bargain: embroidery hoops
Bargain: embroidery hoops

I recently bought a collection of embroidery hoops, £2 for 5 at my local charity shop. I’m making a collection, not that I do embroidery you understand, the idea was to use them to showcase some of my beautiful fabrics, the ones I can’t bring myself to cut up, by using the hoops like picture frames and hanging them in groups on the wall of my studio.

showcasing favourite fabrics
showcasing favourite fabrics

See this one with a piece of patterned silk which my mother gave me.

everything I need
everything I need

I also had two pieces of red and white gingham, which had been languishing under the lamp table beside the sofa since Christmas, it had been used to wrap small gifts and being an avid recycler I could not bring myself to throw it away.

Then on Pinterest the other day I stumbled upon Broderie Suisse, (or chicken scratch) and thought….hmmm.

first attempt
first attempt

Embroidery silk… no problem, I have a large tin full under the bed… backing, because the gingham is a bit flimsy… no problem, I have some old sheet which will do… embroidery hoop… what size? I have plenty in varying sizes. Working from the photographs I found on Pinterest, because most of the tutorials are not in English, I made this little heart shaped embroidery.
Then I began something more ambitious …

lets try something on a bigger scale
lets try something on a bigger scale

When it is complete, I think I will make it into a cushion, perhaps a hop pillow, or a sleep herbs pillow, with herbs cut from my own garden, and dried.

My lost fabric materialised too late.

a number of lost treasures which had fallen down the back, a few socks, a scarf, and my precious stash of special fabric. So that was an unexpected piece of good fortune.

The fabric which I had been seeking for months, the fabric I wanted to use to make a quilt for a good friend of mine, it turned up the moment I gave up seeking it. Isn’t it always the way? A cupboard which usually stands at the bottom of the stairs, and holds that part of my stash which I’m not planning to use any time soon, needed to be moved.

We had invited my parents to join us for Christmas dinner which meant the dining table needed to moved to the dining room from the sitting room where it normally lives ( long story, don’t ask), and the two arm chairs which normally live in the dining room, had to move to the sitting room.  The Christmas tree which would normally be put up in the dining room, would not fit in there this Christmas, so we decided to set it up in the hall; the only place it would fit was the spot where the cupboard was standing.

The cupboard clearly had not been moved for some time, and once moved there were a number of lost treasures which had fallen down the back, a few socks, a scarf, and my precious stash of special fabric. So that was an unexpected piece of good fortune.  ( Note to self, clean behind furniture more often.)

Turned up at last
Turned up at last

This is a charm pack of squares, which I need to put together with another bought fabric to tie them all together, and an accent colour to brighten them up a bit, I originally thought of using the terracotta fabric I’ve placed them on but it isn’t right, it just isn’t looking good, so I might see if I can find a mushroomy grey beige for sashing, and a guacamole or mushy pea green for the accent.

Hurry up, Christmas is coming

so I put the fabric aside in a safe place till I was ready to begin….but where?

For months now I have been searching without success for a stash of fabric I had put aside to make a quilt for a friend for Christmas, I had planned to make it last year but ran out of time and energy, so put the fabric aside in a safe place till I was ready to begin….but where? I can’t find it anywhere, and I guess even if I did now, I would not have time to make even the simplest quilt. I even pulled out one of my UFO’s and considered finishing it for her but decided not, I love her dearly, she deserves her own quilt conceived and made specifically for her, in her colours. It doesn’t have to be now and it shouldn’t be rushed or ill conceived, besides I am still having ideas about it, so clearly it is not yet a done deal.

£2.99 Oxfam, Kendal
£2.99 Oxfam, Kendal

However I am making something for her, her own stocking. I found in a charity shop some weeks ago a printed panel for a Christmas stocking, and bought it for £2.99, I guess it would have been £5 to £10 pounds or more to buy in a quilt shop.
I cut the two sides apart and cut out the shapes with a centimetre seam allowance, it needs to be greater than a quarter inch because I will use the seam allowance turned in on itself to neaten the seam. I will sew it at 5/8ths and this will ensure no white will show at the edge.

press before you sew
press before you sew

I cut a lining from a plain white fabric I had to hand and a piece of wadding for each side, and sewed all three together along the top edge the front and the lining right sides together, with the wadding on the back.

not a wadding sandwich
not a wadding sandwich

 

 

Then the wadding was trimmed back as close to the seam as possible , and the printed panel flipped over so that the wadding is now in the middle. I neatly pinned the top edge then tacked it to ensure the lining did not roll out and show above the printed panel. I will top stitch when it has been tacked together to keep the top edge stable.

stabilise the top edge
stabilise the top edge

 

Having tacked all three layers together I am now in the process of quilting the layers together with a gold machine embroidery thread to add a little Christmas sparkle.

a little sparkle to be added
a little sparkle to be added

The shirt off his back

I have yet to follow one down the street with covetous intent, but you never know….

Have you ever seen a person wearing a garment whose fabric you would happily have in your stash? I must admit until recently I hadn’t, but since I have been gathering checked shirt fabrics for a future project I have found myself studying passing gentlemen, many of the most unprepossessing type, and wishing I could have the shirts off their backs, only for my stash you understand. It has become a running joke with my Dearest, as I find my eye captured and held by men of all ages, sizes and types each wearing loud checks of all colours and design. I have yet to follow one down the street with covetous intent, but you never know….

almost a fat quarter
almost a fat quarter

My passion for fabric outstrips my available fabric buying resources exponentially, so I am always on the lookout for ways of acquiring fabric for quilting with the least outlay of funds. Inspired by my love for recycling and by the plaid scrap quilts I have seen on Pinterest I began collecting checked shirts bought in charity shops. My local charity shop has been an almost weekly supplier of treasure, and each so far costing between £1 and £2.50.

shirt fronts another almost fat quarter
shirt fronts another almost fat quarter

I find that a man’s “small” shirt will render the largest piece from the back measuring 21” by 25” measuring under the armholes and from yoke to tail, which is equal to a fat quarter, the front a similar amount of fabric in two halves, and then the sleeves although an odd shape will render at least as much as a fat quarter between them or less if short sleeves, but if I calculate each shirt to represent half a yard of fabric I don’t think I will be disappointed.

short sleeves, still would render two 5" squares each
short sleeves, still would render two 5″ squares each

 

 

The smallest shirt I have bought for £1 (pictured) was age 11-12 and gave me a back measuring 18.5” by 22”, the biggest a 17.5” collar shirt from Boden which rendered a back measuring 31” by 30” but bizarrely was cut on the bias and looks like a table cloth, the sleeves were cut on the straight grain, so although large the shirt will similarly render only a half yard.
The inside of the Yoke is often cut on the bias which limits its use but two small squares could be cut from it for another scrap project, and the yoke will render squares or strings.

Yoke pieces one straight, one bias cut
Yoke pieces one straight, one bias cut

My rule in choosing which shirts to buy is that they must be 100% cotton, not seersucker, must be bright not muddy colours, and must be checked not striped. Mostly the shirts I buy are unworn or barely worn and that can be discerned by looking at the labels for wash fatigue and collar for signs of wear. So far I have made only two mistakes, poplin is too crackly, and does not iron well. To achieve a good mix of colour and pattern I will need perhaps 30 to 40 shirts, but that will give me 15-20 yards of fabric which should be enough for more than one quilt, one large and maybe a couple of lap quilts.

Some of my shirt collection
Some of my shirt collection

My observations on charity shop shirt buying so far are:-the louder the shirt the more likely that it will be unworn, perhaps it’s a case of loud shirts having a limited use, or that they generally fall into the unwanted gift, or “seemed like a good idea at the time” category, which languished at the back of the wardrobe for a couple of years and then got edited out to the charity shop. And…. children’s clothes, particularly summer wear in Britain, unless passed down from oldest to youngest, probably only has an 8 to 10 week window of wear, before its back to school uniform in September, so many summer shirts have hardly seen a washing machine more than half a dozen times before they are put away to have been outgrown by the following summer, so a future life in a quilt is a greener alternative to another 8 to 10 weeks life in a different boy’s wardrobe.

Let’s twist again like we did last Summer

it’s never a good idea to use bias cut fabric , bias cut edge to bias cut edge if you can avoid it, but if you cut same size squares on straight grain, and
join then alternately bias cut edge to straight grain edge, you can produce a string of coloured squares to use as a border,

These two quilts are another mother and daughter effort, the first is mine using my favourite bright colours, with black. The second is my mother’s, rich colours which tone beautifully together.

Mulitcoloured Twister quilt

The block is known as Twister, it looks rather complicated, and whilst it does take some planning and a large workspace is helpful it is actually fairly simple to achieve.
First task is to cut out squares and put them together in a grid bearing in mind that each square will tessellate with its neighbouring squares in the finished article, so each square should be sufficiently different from its neighbour to give the definition you want.

Mum's twister quilt

Once you have a grid maybe 20 percent larger than the finished article you plan, you take your scissors to it cutting it up using a template guide. At first it may seem that there is a profligate waste of fabric as you do cut to waste. A large bias square is cut from the centre of each square, I set these aside to use in the border. As each new square is cut diagonally from the fabric with the intersection of the squares as the centre of the new squares you cut, you should then rotate the square 90 degrees and set it back next to its neighbour. You will find they begin to tessellate; now you see why you need to have a large workspace, because you need to set out the entire quilt top, each piece placed by its neighbour, to get the placing correct.

http://www.pinkchalkfabrics.com
http://www.pinkchalkfabrics.com

You will have a collection of little bias cut squares left over, now it’s never a good idea to use bias cut fabric , bias cut edge to bias cut edge if you can avoid it,because both edges will stretch. If you cut the same size squares on straight grain, and join them alternately bias cut edge to straight grain edge, you can produce a string of coloured squares to use as a border, it will still stretch a little if you are not careful, but at least there will be no waste. I cannot bear waste.

The first quilt I made in this pattern I can’t find a photo of, probably because it was photographed long before I discovered digital photography, in fact it may have been made before digital photography existed.( Do you know how old that makes me feel?) It was a cot quilt made for a friend at the birth of her daughter, and was in pretty pinks and blues and on a very small scale, hand quilted in circles.

A challenging challenge

I like the curvy line quilting because it’s easy to do and does not rely on the accuracy of the piecing, in fact if your piecing is not accurate curvy line quilting is very forgiving. That’s always a good thing.

What do you do if you don’t like the challenge block? Hide it.

Cecily's favourite churn dash block

This Lap quilt is made using the Churn Dash block (or monkey wrench), I think it was the favourite block of our most venerated late member and the instigator of our quilt group’s challenge, Cecily. But I dislike it. I wanted to rise to the challenge as always but I find the block rather pedestrian, perhaps because I’ve only made it in co-ordinated colours and plain fabrics, so a decided to do it in heavily patterned fabrics and mix it up so that the pattern was lost and the fabric became the star of the piece rather than the block.
Good idea, but I think I took it too far, the pattern is completely lost and with it the sense of rhythm to the quilt top, as a consequence what stands out are the pale squares, rather than the fabric in general. All of the fabrics are Liberty scraps from the printer’s factory shop, I’m so lucky to live nearby; I call in occasionally to buy craft packs, but I can also buy off the roll if I have a big project in mind.

Detail of quilting on Churn Dash quilt

In other senses I’m happy with the quilt; it hangs beautifully flat and straight and is evenly quilted throughout. I created my own wavy line quilt guide using taped together strips of cereal packet, with a hand drawn wavy line. On one side the wavy edge has wide and fairly flat curves, on the other side they are closer together and therefore appear deeper. I used the flatter side, drew on the lines with an air dispersible pen, and chalk pencil taking the quilt pattern right out in a continuous line to the edge of the quilt.
I like the curvy line quilting because it’s easy to do and does not rely on the accuracy of the piecing, in fact if your piecing is not accurate curvy line quilting is very forgiving. That’s always a good thing.

Pinwheel Quilt

Looking at it now I think it reminds me of the sugar bag quilts of the 1930’s, it’s a happy quilt, and deserves to be seen.

This is one of the first quilts I made circa 1985, and the first I think which expressed my love of bright colours. It was intended as my own bed quilt. Not sure why, but I don’t think it ever sat on my bed, or was ever slept under.  I suspect that by the time it was finished I already despised it, made as it was with (shock, horror) polyester cotton sheeting! I didn’t really know any better back then, I think I was a student at the time so money was in short supply. Finding fabrics in saturated colour was difficult, and 100% cottons almost unheard of, quilt supplies hard to find. It was made with really thick polyester wadding so it is not heavily quilted, but it is quite puffy and pillowy. I think it would benefit from more quilting, but I’m not planning to do any more, I’d have to re tack it, and as it’s hand quilted, the additions would have to be hand quilted too, it’s a long time since I hand quilted anything, I’m terrible at it, as you can see if you look closely.

 

To see how the block is made  you need to see it as a four patch, divide the block into 4 quarters diagonally and vertically; each of these squares is made up of two triangles, each of which is made of 4 pieces, which when put together make the pinwheel in the centre and the frame surrounding it.

 

It began well but I suspect I lost interest after making twelve blocks, another row would have required an additional 18 blocks, instead of which I made 4, one for each corner and finished it off with very wide borders.  It did mean that there was plenty of colour in the quilt, perhaps if I’d had more pinwheel blocks it would not have given as much impression of colour, the balance of colour and white in the finished quilt would have been more even, and perhaps more anaemic.

see that 60’s fabric yet again 12.00 till 2.00

 

Looking at it now I think it reminds me of the sugar bag quilts of the 1930’s, it’s a happy quilt, and deserves to be seen. I might put it on the bed in my studio, rather than allow it to languish unseen in a packing box in the corner of that room. Then at least it will be slept under occasionally. I sometimes retire to that bed in the middle of the night if I cannot sleep; too hot (me), or too much snoring (not me).