Bags of inspiration


An IG  post from Poppy of Cuckoo Blue got me rushing to copy her latest creation…..again. This happens all too often. Mind you she’d say she got the idea and pattern from Amanda Jean of Crazy Mom Quilts. So this inspiration thing is definitely very circular.  But once I saw her fantastic super sized scrappy tote bag I knew it was the perfect idea for thinning out my blue drawer of scraps. I liked the way Poppy had used scraps but the base was a solid fabric. The combination of a riot of colour and a neutral works for  me.

I’m forever needing shopping bags to replace these, albeit useful, but very ugly plastic bags so I was off to raid my scraps .


And I’m also forever needing to use scraps so the drawers of my scrap filing cabinet don’t explode!


I knew it would be productive as at least one in every two quilts I make is a blue/green colour.

I had a very enjoyable afternoon sewing them together and making pretty, wonky strips of blue and green scraps. It’s so freeing not to have to worry about the lack of straight lines or properly sewing and ironing seams other than the basics to make sure they don’t come apart  and just revel in bonus fabric. Of course it helps that the final product was for me.


Well after my foray into the world of manmade fabrics on last week’s post  I had some interesting comments. For me,  everyone has to plough their own furrow, but to summarise mixing in polycotton with cotton is risky say in a block but as a backing it seems very practical. It’s Kate’s backing of choice often using polycotton sheets for their cosiness and I can see myself on occasions going in that direction. She’d even, at the time of writing, while visiting family saw the 20 year old quilt she’d made them, yes with a polycotton backing, looking as beautiful as ever.

The Joyful Quilter was not a fan and reminded me that polycotton can more easily burn and distort when ironed as did Linda and Donna. A very valid point. And that brings to mind yet another point of great unfairness between US and UK based sewists – not only is your fabric so reasonably priced but your irons get hot, I mean really hot.

On a recent holiday to Colorado I used the iron to set some seams on some hand sewn blocks  I’d done on the plane (much to the intense embarrassment of my children)


and wow was it a dream to do them with a seriously hot  iron. To the point you had to be careful you didn’t singe it. In this country you would have to leave the iron in place for some time for that to happen on cotton. There will be some regulation somewhere in our very protective culture limiting the temperature setting of irons so they are not too hot for safety reasons. Mindyou that protective attitude may well have saved my forgetful self from burning our house down so I’m not complaining too loudly!

Anyway back to exploring man made fabrics, I’ve crossed another bridge with these bags. In using home dec fabric and of course with the interfacing there’s a fair bit of man made fabric in these bags anyway but  I’ve stuck to leather handles.  But they are so darn expensive. The leather handles on this tote I made earlier this year comes in at £18 a pair!


I have bought some cheaper leather straps but well, they look cheaper and even then they are £6 a pair for shorter handles. I’ve also bought pre made  leather straps for bags but again at £5 a throw. I’m lucky not to have to be too worried about sewing on a strict budget but then again who doesn’t like a cheaper but as effective option?

So I thought I’d try webbing  type straps and ordered from eBay 5 metres of webbing but too late realised they were made from polypropylene. At £2.50 I didn’t beat myself up too much! I was expecting plastic straps but when they arrived they actually looked and felt quite good. So doubling them up for more structure, though I don’t know in reality whether that’s needed, I sewed them so they have a rounded look and used them on these two scrappy bags.



Please admire the grease stains on my bargain £50 oak table which won’t wash out. It urgently needs a re varnish …..

I think they work really effectively  and I shall be switching to these except for gifted bags. It just goes to show how the wrong order can become the right one.

I used the tote tutorial I did here but I’m afraid when I came to use it I didn’t find it very clear! I needed to make it easier to determine the sizes of the outer fabric and the inner lining fabric pieces. I’ve updated it now if you fancy having a go.

I do love using these  bags. I want a car boot-full of them so I never have to buy a plastic carrier bag again and in this anti-plastic era for once I would be doing the right thing!




Recap of FAL for Q1 and plans for Q2

Not a whole of lot of progress I’m afraid on the Finish Along targets for Q1.  Only 2 out of 7 as the photo composite shows.


The dotted tick is to represent a quilt finished just the wrong side of the quarter. But the key word is it is finished. But my successes were as follows

1. The triple pouch



2. The medallion quilt


Frankly I found the triple pouch a pain but I was really pleased by the medallion quilt. Virtually all scraps apart from the white; I think there will be more medallions in my future.

I’m not going to be too harsh with myself as there were quite a few makes finished in the last 3 months, it’s just they weren’t even a twinkle in my eye at the beginning of the quarter so don’t count.

So to my next set of finishes for next quarter I have thrown in the kitchen sink…..everything that is most definitely a twinkle in my eye!




1. Another clever design from Aneela Hoey called the booklet pouch

2. A quilt made from house blocks, in theory should be an easy finish10. Another log cabin quilt from extra blocks from Siblings Together Bee 2

3. A quilt made using left over strips from a quilt made back last year. In fact I be just finished this one  ahead already!

4. Another tote bag, started inspired by the lovely Poppy’s @cuckooblue new scrappy tote and yet another tote bag for the Chernobyl visit from children from that region.

5. A baby girl quilt for a friend’s first granddaughter, after having sins and grandson I’m going for pink for this first girl

6. A quilt from left over extra blocks this time from the Siblings Together Thread House Retreat Bee

7. New York Beauty quilt. I’d love to think this would be finished but frankly there’s a lot to do and they are slow blocks

8. This might go to Festival of Quilts. It’s a modern version of the classic Robbing Peter to pay Paul

9. Maybe another challenge quilt for the Modern Quilt zgroup f the Quiltets Guild on the theme fooling the eye. Just some test blocks

10. Yet another quilt from extra blocks made by very generous Bee members

Using up scraps….and a confession



Shall we start with the confession? I’m sure you’re wondering how wicked I’ve been. Well it’s on the back of the quilt above. Yes a polycotton backing! I hadn’t realised when I bought the fabric online but once I dug it out the drawer I realised my mistake.



As an aside yes the grass looks grim and if and when the relentless rain in this horrible cold spring we are having let’s up I will get it done

Polycotton is a divisive topic for quilters with many spurning the use of this fabric for their quilts insisting on pure cotton. Our Siblings Together Bee Quilts guidance notes (or rules!) specify that the fabric used must be good quality quilting cotton but nevertheless sometimes polycotton appears. Some mamas will unpick and resew. Would it surprise you to know I just turn a blind eye!! Although I think whatever the mama specifies then that is what she should be sent be it colour choice or type of fabric  but when it comes to your own quilts well clearly it’s up to you. However I have a feeling that because of inexperience I bought some similar fabric from the Fabric Guild which I’ve used up now but with the benefit of hindsight think was the outlawed polycotton. Sorry mamas if it ended up in your blocks….

Even for cotton purists not all cotton is made equal. There is some horrid stuff out there. I bought a couple of metres of  John Louden Christmas fabric, it was cheap at c£8 per metre, but it was also scratchy and generally unpleasant to the touch. I used it for Christmas sacks so it really didn’t matter.


But as I smooth down the soft and comfortable fabric of my scrappy quilt which is currently draped over me keeping off the chills of a very cold spring, I’m grateful for the quality cotton fabrics from manufacturers such as Moda, RJ Kaufman and AGF. I certainly would not want to use those particular John Louden fabrics for a quilt. The same goes for those starchy rough fat quarter fabrics you see at Hobbycraft. I know you are saying you pay for what you get and while that’s true I’d rather the relatively cheap soft silky polycotton than the rough and scratchy cotton. Quite the fabric snob aren’t I?

But for all the derision that polycotton incites perhaps not all polycotton is created equally either and the better quality has its place. The fabric for this backing is soft and silky to touch, a bit like an Art Gallery Fabric, it needed next to no ironing and generally behaved itself when basted and sewn. It’s Rose and Hubble fabric  which I believe is quite a good brand. I’d cheerfully use it again and it was a bargain from the Fabric Guild. In fact the feel of it is warmer and cosier than the conventional quilting cotton backed quilts that are piling up waiting to be sent to Siblings Together.

I think the bad reputation is the mixed use of polycotton and cotton in a block; with the former not shrinking as much as the cotton and potentially distorting the block when washed. But as a backing fabric, particularly with the wadding I use being an 80/20 Cotton poly mix from Hobbs, I’m not sure it’s going to be a problem. I must experiment and see whether distortion in a mixed block causes me a problem.

Back to the quilt this was such a quick make I’m almost embarrassed  to show it! After making this quilt with my mum we had a whole load of scrap strips left over. I must have forgotten that with two of us sewing we would make twice as much. I thought it would be effective paired up with white in half square triangles.


These were sooo easy. I simply trimmed the blue strips into 8.5” wide strips and which were about 35” long , added a 8.5” white strip on top the same length and then sewed up both pieces along the long sides. Then using a square ruler lined it up on the sewn edge I just cut out triangles which came out as 10” half square triangles. All very effective and all very easy.


Then laid it out in a design as a straight copy from one on Pinterest and sewed it up.


I had basting help from my daughter which made it so much easier. I must involve her more often. My wicked backing behaved perfectly, to be fair it’s not a huge quilt at c70” by 60”. Then for some simple straight line quilting. This is a quilt that could be good for a boy/young man and I decided curvy free motion quilting wasn’t right. It called out for lines echoing the diamond shape. This  will be heading off to Siblings Together in the summer.


I will wash the quilt and see whether the uneven shrinkage of cotton front versus polycotton back adversely effects it. Assuming not I’m keeping to my wicked ways….. in the meantime I’d be interested in your views on polycotton – in or out?

Linking up with Kelly at My Quilt Infatuation and Amanda Jean of Crazy Mom Quilts

Flying Geese Quilt – my oldest work in progress



I really don’t know why this quilt took so long to finish off. This has been patiently waiting well over 3 years and it’s been in my Finish Along list sooo many times.  It is exactly the sort of project where a self induced deadline can help to take you past the finish line, but sadly not in my case

It’s  a quilt design by Emily Blunt from the magazine Quilt Now which seemed simple and quick. I liked the colour choices although of course you could do it any colour combo. I was new to quilting and wanting to have a go at making flying geese. I vaguely remember quite a production line. There are some 80 plus geese here all needing sewing and trimming. I tried a couple of methods of making them but much preferred the ‘two at a time no waste method’. It was also the first occasion I felt I needed distraction for the more boring elements and I tried and failed to watch tv on my small ipad.

Do you indulge in TV while sewing or have other distractions? I have to say I’ve seen many a sewing set up on the Internet/IG with big screens on adjacent walls and Netflix is the companion of choice. I was always impressed that people could quilt and watch TV. Here I envy knitters or those that crochet who seem to be able to do that with minimal need to check what they are doing. And yes there are hand sewn projects but the close work and then distant viewing doesn’t work for me and my eyesite. But  now I’ve a small sewing table in the lounge and a warm log burner I’m reluctant to leave, particularly with the cold winter we’ve had, I have acquired the  skill of just about keeping up with a programme whilst machine sewing.


I’ve found that I have to be picky about what I watch and certain very fast paced or wordy programmes are out, but some have worked for me.

A number of friends had recommended the TV drama Homeland now on Netflix. Frankly an American spy drama didn’t appeal when it first came round and there were now 72 episodes all the best part of 1 hour to watch –  nearly two full working weeks! So I’d never had the energy or time but now I could multi task then I didn’t feel it was too much of an indulgence and significant progress on a number of sewing projects was made.

For those of you who have seen it is a very engaging and well written drama. There are lots of scenes where nothing crucial happens so you don’t have to watch continuously.  There is some fast paced action occasionally  (lots of bombs go off) and some twists and shocks but they could be replayed. OK I’ve found spying to be yet another career I wouldn’t want my children to pursue and so avoid the constant threat of imminent death!

Another enjoyable drama series which is also quite slow moving  is The Crown, a drama about the early years of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. At least with  this one I’m familiar with the characters and have a vague sense of the plot line!  So with this new skill and thanks to multi tasking not only can I enjoy sewing but at the same time get an entertaining insight into the murky world of gathering intelligence and royalty!

Distraction was useful as constructing the top was a surprising lengthy process. The pattern rather peters out at this point. You are shown the picture of the finished quilt and told how to make the flying geese and then you improv piece the whole quilt top connecting up the columns of geese. No measurements were given and I suspect that’s what put me off at that stage of my quilting journey.

Without a design wall this took up a lot of floor space along with the ironing  board, the sewing table and cutting mat the lounge was pretty much out of action and yes I had moans from my teen residents…… Before you feel too sorry for them, they have their own lounge with a better TV and an xbox (I think)/ computer etc but what you can’t have is of course exactly what you want!

It did get finished but next time if I do something like this again I think I will draw it out on graph paper so I have the measurements and can play with placement. I think it would have saved time. It didn’t help that  as I was running out of the background pieces I had to carefully cut each one quite precisely so I didn’t get waste.


Well with the top done it was time to think about quilting. I settled for straight line quilting following the outline of the staggered columns.  It was reasonably quick and straightforward. I liked the flash of colour on the binding but it’s mostly white. I’m not sure white binding is a practical choice for a child/teen bedroom but it looks good!


Linking up with Lorna of Sew Fresh Quilts and Kelly at My Quilt Infatuation


Photography, borrowing a husband, stone circles and quilts


As snappy titles go for blog posts this is certainly a dud but they do all link….

My daughter has taken up photography partly as a school subject but she’s had a bent towards it and a good eye from an early age. This has spurred me on and it’s been fun sharing an interest even if sadly that shared interest isn’t going to be quilting….

She even asked me to make this sweet little pouch to hold her memory stick and card reader. With the run of my stash she chose this Alison Glass batik. I think it’s a good choice and a very easy quick make based on a miniature version of  Noodlehead’s wide open pouch to fit her school blazer pocket. 


Now we’ve upgraded to a DSLR I can see a need for more containers for all the filters and general gubbins that go with this of camera. I’ve already managed to lose the plate of our tripod….

We want to have a go at night photography so I’ve been looking into the location of  our nearest ‘dark skies’ where in theory you can see the milky way with the naked eye In fact our nearest is a stone circle in the Cotswolds called Rollright Stones.


How did I not know, living where we have for over 35 years, that we have a complete stone circle dating back to the early Neolithic times within 45 minutes drive! I have visited the Cotswolds many, many times and always loved the honey coloured limestone buildings that make up the pretty villages and towns of this area.  Well it seems our ancestors, c 4,500 years ago, also liked the look of it and created this stone circle.


OK it’s not on the scale of Stonehenge but it’s more intimate and certainly less crowded. My pictures here  don’t  do the site justice at all. I’m playing with our new camera and very slowly getting to grips with manual adjustments and not the automatic setting. This is  hampered, I’m afraid, by not having a particularily good eye for composition. My father reading this is nodding at this sad fact!


The nearby Whispering Knights, the remains of a burial chamber c5,500 years old

The day I visited was overcast with that unrelenting grey montone cloud that photographers so dislike however I had a go….. But it dawned on me that in this very atmospheric and mystical place we are not going to be photographing the stars  in the pitch black and dead of night on our own … This is where searching for a spare husband comes in. Sadly I was widowed many years ago but even if Nigel was around today he hated the dark so I’d still be after a borrowed husband!

My daughter and I are also nervous of the dark and even the dark skies website says it better to photograph in groups for safety. Well we needed to find someone to go with.  A couple of friends have kindly offered up their husbands who are either keen photographers and/or astronomers so we shall have both brawn and brain with us when we go! Now we just need to wait for the full moon to wane and that missing tripod plate to be replaced and spare husbands geared up! Oh and then we need clear skies…. a lot of stars have to align which of course is what we will be aiming to shoot!

How does this connect to quilts? Well I did toy with the idea of taking a quilt with me to drape over a stone but the place had such a mystical atmosphere it didn’t  feel right…. and also they are very protective of their lichen which itself dates back 400-800 years.


However enroute I’d taken the opportunity to visit the quilt show of the Hathaway Quilters, Stratford upon Avon. My quilty friend Abigail Sheridan de Graaf is a member and a number of her quilts were on show.

This is Churned to a T.  Abigail designed the central block and clearly had great fun with all that quilting on her long arm. It’s one of those quilts that needs close inspection where the thread seems to shine and the detail of the quilting is exquisite.



This quilt, Where to next?, was a special exhibition quilt Abigail was asked to make, along with a select group of U.K. quilters, on the theme of home at last year’s Festival of Quilts.  She chose a map of her local town. I joked as she shared its construction on IG that she needed to include the notorious  one way system and she did!


This one by also caught my eye. More an art quilt but an unusual choice of colours. This was made by Kathy Unwin.  I liked the inclusion of the simple people.


It was a friendly quilt group and I enjoyed a cup of tea and obviously couldn’t turn down a slice of cake.  Such a pretty table arrangement. One I may have to copy for our Easter table.


Linking up with Amanda Jean Crazy Mom Quilts 

Acquiring a taste for colours.


In my pre quilting days I never thought much about colour. Blending the colours above in the latest Bee quilt for Siblings Together would never, ever have occurred to me. In fact colour is something I’m quite ambivalent about. My wardrobe is full of a fairly standard range of safe colours such as blues, greens, russets. They are usually toned down and designed for practical living n fact if they made wearing denim illegal I would be in serious trouble! The colours in the house are equally  muted with an emphasis on warm tones which works for me.

My 15 yr old daughter tells me it is the typical decor of an older woman! Now to be fair I’m an older mother having had my children in my forties. Mind you I was horrified to overhear a young women doctor in a hospital waiting room describe those over 65 years as elderly! I think I will be avoiding that hospital.

Anyway we have plans, or rather my daughter has, for refurbing her room, in tones of white to mid grey so in fact even less colour! After a bit of encouragement she has agreed to introduce a grey pink colour as an accent picked out from some room sets on Pinterest.



As an aside her choice of a greyish pink made me inwardly smile as pink was banned from her wardrobe after I had dressed her exclusively in that colour as a baby/toddler.  I persuaded myself this was to differentiate her from her boy twin but of course dressing them in pink and blue was very cheesy and predictable but I loved it! Of course by the time she chose her own clothes pink was off the agenda! But things go full circle.

I am trying not to feel too sad  that her current quilt

imagewill be  the wrong colours – perhaps I should encourage her to go for turquoise as her accent colour.

Anyway looking at this new quilt this range of yellows, oranges, corals and pinks blend in so beautifully. Seeing so much inspiration out there as I look at other quilts has definitely made me more aware of colour even if it hasn’t quite got as far as my home and wardrobe.

This has got to be one of the most perfect Bee quilts out there. It’s a free pattern called Field Crossing by Elizabeth Olsen for Cloud 9 fabrics. In fact I’ve done this quilt design before with another Bee

4D01DBDF-76FB-44A7-B27C-DCEF7FCDC343but with blues and greens.

imageThe actual block is an easy and quick make with virtually no waste. Perfect for scraps. In fact it doesn’t take many to make a quilt because of the amount of negative space. So the Bee doesn’t have to be that big to pull off a quilt. And personally I think this design works particularly well with a variety of fabrics.


Its the first quilt of the The Threadhouse Retreat Bee for the charity Siblings Together (for more info on this charity see the tab above). The Bee arose from a show and tell of Bee quilts that Nicky Eglington and I did during the recent retreat and admittedly a fairly heavy sell. I think it was my gimlet eye that made so many sign up as it is in fact quite a big Bee now and I have so many of those blocks there will be another quilt in due course.

For this one I pulled out the blocks that were in the colour range mustard yellow through to plum. Other blocks had ventured into a slightly wider range including cooler colours like purple and bluey green and will eventually make for a very zingy quilt.


With that much negative space I thought the quilt called for an overal design and so swirls it got. I must be getting better as a quilter as the swirls are more consistent, although far from perfect, than the earlier green and blue Field Crossing quilt which was my first attempt at free motion quilting and quite frankly it shows.


I hadn’t quite meant for the quilting to be as dense as it is.  It took forever….however the texture is lovely and it’s a very tactile quilt.

As to the binding I have totally stolen an idea from the very creative and talented Jayne of Twiggy and Opal  who put a strip of colour down just one side of a recent quilt she made which is perfect for this one  as well.

Even the back is pretty!


I have to say it was fun to do a gloriously feminine quilt. I normally go for gender neutral or decidedly masculine colours for Siblings Together  as most gifted quilts are suitable for girls but not all are suitable for boys. But just for once I’ve indulged myself…. although with sewing matters I’m afraid I usually do! It’s just real life where I have to do lots of things I’d rather not……

Linking up with Kelly, My Quilt Infatuation and Amanda Jean, Friday Finish




Perfect curves….well as perfect as I get anything!


I love curves in quilting. And I love improv quilting so combine the two and it’s all good as far as I’m conccerned. I’ve been playing with curves again and this time took photos of the process so you can have a go.

The original plan was to make something and show how I’d done the curves but when I came to do a curved picture using this fabulous fabric from the Catnip range by Gingiber.


…it got a bit tricksy as the cat picture wasn’t big enough for the curved window so I had to add bits so it became a bit more complicated. I’m afraid other cats in the panel had to be sacrificed to get the same coloured fabric to extend the original!! It just seemed sensible to plough on with this picture and use completely different fabrics for the demo.


I chose 3 shades of solid blue hoping for a 3D effect. Not sure that’s worked out frankly but if you squint your eyes and see it from a distance there’s maybe a hint…

149C3F80-B381-4ACD-98DF-DB3FA01CE42C I used a template to try to get the shape itself  more accurate than last week’s wonky ones. Partly successful on that one.


I was going for a flat look so very minimally quilted round the window and put extra batting under it so the cat picture slightly stands out. It was then just a case of stapling the finished curved picture to a standard art canvas block.

Its supposed to look like Skye our lilac pointed Tonkinese. She’s pointed in her colouring but not so distinct as the picture but it will do for me.


Anyway back to how to do those pieced curves using freezer paper  Firstly and foremostly let me attribute this bit of magic.  Following an IG Post from Hillary Goodwin, Entropy Always Wins  blog she posed the question of who came up with the inset circle technique using freezer paper. That honour goes to Dale Fleming who came up with the technique some years ago.

I understand that Dale has done a YouTube video explaining the technique, I’m sure our mutual friend Google will get you there ….This variation is just an extension of that technique to get an inset curved shape instead of a circle

Imagine you want to sew these shapes together….


You can use raw edge applique, needle turned appliqué or machined appliqué but if appliqué is not your thing and you like the flat look of piecing then you can piece it this way…

take your fabric


Now determine which fabric will have the concave shape.

If we are reproducing the design in the photo above then the blue is the concave shape. Place a piece of freezer paper, sticky/shiny side up under the fabric and cut your curve. Remember that the critical bit of freezer paper is that to the left of your concave curve so make sure that there is at least 2”/ 3” to the left. The fabric and freezer paper to the right are scrap


Now iron the freezer paper to the wrong side of the blue fabric but about 1/2” from th edge.


Make short cuts but stopping about 1/8” before you get to the freezer paper


Now glue these tabs to the freezer paper all along the curve. I use a glue stick but you can use spray starch but I found the dampness distorted the curve of the freezer paper


Once glued down place the blue curved piece right side up on your other fabric and glue in place.


Now if there’s a tricky bit this is it. Turn the whole thing over and unpeel the freezer paper where you ironed it to the fabric. But don’t peel the freezer paper from where you stuck down the tabs.  You need to have the two pieces of fabric that will make the finished block on the left hand side and everything else including the freezer paper when peeled back to the right


Place under the needle…

5FCFF0B1-DB5D-4626-A300-F4D57289FEBFAnd then sew along the curve slowly. The more pronounced and small the curve then reduce your stitch length to say 1.5.

BE15C1AA-E474-4950-9E88-B4CCC099C17FOnce you’ve sewn the entire length of the curve pull off the freezer paper completely

F7D30E25-E3E5-4AEF-A009-78CDD26849ECTrim the seam allowance and then press the curve.  I sewed on an outer straight strip to replicate the original design. And voila

24115D51-1975-4F99-99A7-BCD00999993AIf you like coming up with your own designs this is such a great technique to have up your sleeve.

Linking up with  Amanda Jean of Crazy Mom Quilts

A literal learning curve


As usual I cast an eye over this week’s Project Quilting challenge, by Kim of Persimmon Dreams.  The challenge is to make a quilt in a week starting from scratch and this week’s theme was a stitch in time. Frankly nothing sprang to mind so I settled down to cleaning up my sewing room after a too long gap from the time before. In its awfulness here it is….


As always my scraps were taking over, particularly the blues. With the Bee quilts I make for Siblings Together I typically go for gender neutral colours like blues/greens and often use a blue quilt backing so I have a disproportionate amount  of blue strings of varying widths. Things had got out of hand and it struck me that it would be a stitch in time to use up these scraps before I needed to find another scrap storage system. Yes I agree a bit of a tortuous link to the theme but there it is!


But how to use them? I had been much inspired by the quilts at QuiltCon, the recently held modern quilt show and the showcase of the Modern Quilt Guild.  The quilts displayed push the boundaries and there’s fierce competition to get a quilt entered. There is always much angst when the rejection/selection slips come out in November. Although rejected entries should take comfort for one of the winners this year got rejected last year!

Anyway I wanted to try out an idea on a small scale before trying it on a larger scale. So let play time begin.

The best bit was digging out all these scraps….


and then combining them to make a scrap block like this.


When I say scrap I don’t mean the useful sizeable  off-cuts from a fat quarter but those awkward small sized pieces or strings. This was such fun. You are playing with scrap fabric so if it goes pear shaped it’s bonus fabric to start with. As long as you pair vaguely contrasting tones and values you can’t really go wrong. And it uses a huge amount of scrap.

Then to the design. There’s always a stand out quilt for me at QuiltCon and this year it was the raffle quilt. It was made by Hillary Goodwin a seriously talented quilter who always has a fresh take on quilting. She uses lots of inset circles and it was Hillary’s quilts which inspired me to make  this quilt for the Festival of Quilts last year.

Well she has taken inset circles to a new level with this quilt. I loved the way there was a pattern behind the circles. You can see it here on Cathy’s excellent blog post which features that particular quilt (it hasn’t yet made it into Hillary’s blog) and a very interesting first hand account of QuiltCon this year. One day I will go…

For this mini I  wanted to use the same type of cut out revealing a pattern beneath. Curved but not circles. So I decided on this shape.


A sort of cathedral window shape. But the fact that it had points meant that the inset circle technique wouldn’t work and each curve had to be pieced separately. Which made for a wonky first try until I came up with a template. I also had to think through how to combine the curved pieces to make a whole quilt.

Most quilts are made from squares which are then sewn together like my FoQ quilt  but this would be different. After some thinking I approached it like a foundation paper pieced  design where you separate out the main joins. Once I did that this became my guide. 8BDFD252-74BB-4DDC-8D05-0D1F97539A59

You can see I’ve separated it into 3 sections, A, B and C and worked on B first. For this I used freezer paper, as you would with inset circles. But working on a convex curve as opposed to a concave was much harder. As I muttered away on these curves my daughter said it seemed so stressful why did I do it? I told her I was pushing myself and it was a challenge. She didn’t seem convinced. As you see the resulting ‘block’ had its issues.


Yes a nasty pucker. But this was playtime so I pressed on with the next section. This time I abandoned the freezer paper and went with improv curves. This is just where you lay your two pieces of fabric down and cut a curve through both layers and then sew them together. But the problem with this approach is it will never, unless it’s a very shallow curve, lie flat. Geometry dictates this  because to lie flat when sewn together the two cut curves need to have different radii. If you look at two drunkard path pieces they don’t have the same curve. They do have the same curve 1/4” in from the curved cut but not the edges themselves. So these curved seams looked like this, again not great.


So for the third section I went back to freezer paper because it had dawned on me that of course concave one way is convex the other. This occurred to me during my Pilates session when I probably should have been concentrating on my breathing! (But to be fair I never do, it’s just a question of surviving the session) Then all was joy and ease, OK a bit fiddly because of the size of the curves, but flat curves were back in vogue.

To see the stark difference between an improv curve and using freezer paper look at these two pictures. The top picture is the joining seam between two sections, the first just by the improv curve technique (I’d used pins and carefully matched the curved pieces) and the second using freezer paper. No contest!!


After I’d found out the hard way what worked and didn’t work I revisited some of the curved seams to make the most obvious faults go away. That pucker went for a start.

If you are new to doing curves using freezer paper then I had thought about  including a short ‘how to’ but this post is already long so I will do that next time. In the meantime if you can’t wait this approach it is simply a step on from the famous and very wonderful 6 minute inset circle technique found in this post which includes a link to the tutorial.

As to quilting I decided on a simple hatch so the focus was still on the motif. I chose a variegated thread, not sure I like the effect if I’m honest but if you don’t try…..


All in all I’m pleased with this mini quilt and I learnt loads which of course was the purpose. The true irony of this quilt is firstly my room is in an even more devastated  state and secondly my blue scrap drawer is only marginally reduced because this design makes a lot of scrap…. there is something circular about all this quilting lark!

Post Script

As this blog is where I record what I’ve done and learning points, below is a list of pointers so I don’t forget. Having re read them it sounds a mixture of part rant and part dictatorship!! But don’t forget it’s to remind me what to do for the larger quilt but you’re welcome to use it if you want to have a go at these freezer paper curves.

1. Use freezer paper, forget improv curves unless the block is small and the curves are shallow

2. Devise a plan for the design, where the cathedral window motifs will be and crucially the joining seams. As a general rule you need to do the opposite sides of the motif then the two other sides. Make copies. You lost the paper with the design on it under mounds of fabric about every 5 mins….

3. When doing the design decide whether to have precise motif shapes or go with a more improv look. Precise is difficult but you could perhaps mark the motif shape on the fabric and glue curves accordingly. I quite like the mix of precise and  wonky.  The children thought the wonky just looked wrong! I think I’d try for a bigger motif not smaller.

3. Get plenty of the fabric you want for your background. It eats fabric…. And fabric, even the same solid by name/brand, can vary by bolt.

4. When prepping your curves remember its the motif, because of its concave curves,  that needs to be snipped and attached to the freezer  paper and then glued to the background fabric.


5) The trickiest freezer paper cuts are the ones that not only include the curve of the template but extend beyond that curve. Here you need to cut the curve you need with the freezer paper sticky side up, positioned under the fabric which should be facing rightside up and then using the template or free hand cut the fabric and freezer paper. Then iron the freezer paper about 1/2” away from wrong side of the fabric and then after snipping glue down the tabs to make the curved piece. This gets glued down and sewn as usual onto the background fabric

6) When sewing you need to position it so the freezer paper, having been peeled back, is to the right of the needle and the two pieces being sewn together are to the left of the needle. The curve should be concave. If in doubt sew a small section and check.


7) As to general points I didn’t double up the batting which I do for minis, it was a test piece after all, but it does lose a certain sense of quality and substance when it’s thin. Continue to use double thickness

8) In respect of quilting I think I still prefer random verticals lines but possibly the double thickness works well here in respect of texture. I’m so tempted to quilt out orange peels in that grid!

9) Random idea. I preferred the look of the quilt top after I’d stitched in the ditch round the motif but before the all over quilting. I wonder whether a smaller mini backed onto canvas board would work well.

linking up with Amanda Jean, Crazy Mom Quilts and Kelly at My Quilt Infatuation.

Tote bag tutorial



I’ve made quite a few tote bags recently using my favourite leather handles and a number of people have asked if there is a tutorial or pattern for these bags.  I’ve always said they are a mash up of a variety of ideas I have got from the numerous patterns of pouches and bags I’ve made over the last couple of years. But with the need to make another totebag to replace one I gifted at Christmas I thought it would be a good idea to capture what I did if only for myself when I want to make more of what has proved for me at least a practical shopping bag that can be sized up and down as needed.

When it was finished I couldn’t resist a snow shot, you can see the snow is falling.  In the U.K., much to my children’s delight, we’ve had more snow than normal. This shot was taken when the Beast from the East, a particularly cold weather system from Siberia, met Storm Emma coming up from the west.


The reason I’m making another is that one of these bags in the next picture was gifted to a dear friend who unfortunately had a burglary when she was away for the weekend. The thieves made off with it presumably filled with loot.  As it’s a pretty unique bag  a picture has been sent to the police just in case they find it at a ‘house of interest’. Wouldn’t that be good.


Burglaries are a sad fact of life.  We’ve had a couple one where my husband left the patio door wide open. He had a fun time with the insurers! But the first one was when we’d just bought our current home 25+ years ago.

I guess we’ve all been the enthusiastic young buyers of houses ‘with potential’. This house certainly had potential for vastly improved security and a couple of months in they easily forced what masqueraded as a back door. My husband discovered the theft on returning from work and rang me. When I got home the police asked me to check our bedroom for missing items as the room had been ransacked. After a quick look I had to admit that it was just as we’d left it that morning! I take comfort from this story when I see the rooms of my sons and hope one day they will see the need for order.


Anyway this is what you will need to make the bag above


1. Home dec* weight  or canvas fabric for outer panels. You can use quilting cotton but you will need to interface with a fusible woven interface like Pellon SF 101

You need to decide at this point what you want your outer bag to look like, two tone as above or have the same fabric for the whole of the bag. Personally I like the two tone look but it takes slightly longer.

For a two tone bag+ using non directional fabric you will need to cut

2  x 17” by 11” This will be the top part of the outer bag                                                      1 x 17” by 12” This will form the outer bottom of the bag

For one fabric bags then cut a piece 17” by 34”

If you are using directional fabric then for the two tone bag you will need to cut the fabric for the base of the bag at the midway line and sew this seam so the pattern is the right way on both sides of the bag.  The same goes if you are using just one fabric  for the bag but it is directional.

Quilting cotton for bag lining  2 x 17” by 17” squares if no internal zip pocket wanted or 1 x 17” by 17” square and 1 x 19” by 19” squares if you want to include an  internal zip pocket

Headliner fabric* which is 2mm thin foam, I buy mine on EBay. 2 x 16” squares

If choosing to include internal zip pocket 2 x 10” quilting cotton squares for pocket linings and min 12” zip

For handles thin 1” by 2mm depth leather straps or webbing

* I prefer my bags to have a bit of body so using both home dec/canvas and headliner undoubtedly achieves that. If you want a less structured bag then interfaced quilting cotton or linen would be Ok for the bag outer fabric and instead of headliner use the stiffest of fusible interfacing you have

+ You can have the top and bottom fabrics of your outer bag any proportion you like as they long as together they equal 34” in length. For me it depends mostly on how much fabric I have of each and what fits what I’ve got!


A) Cut fabrics incuding headliner.

If you are not going to have an internal zip pocket  go straight to J)


B) Cut larger lining fabric 19” square as follows. This is where the internal zip pocket will go


The top strip should be 3.5”  inches from the top, the bottom 5.5” from the bottom. Then cut 4.5” from either side leaving a 10” square as the middle piece.

C) Lay one of the pocket lining pieces right side up and the right way up if it’s a directional fabric like mine. Lay zip right side up with pull on the right along the top edge of the pocket lining, you can just see the lining  poking out on the left


Now lay on top, right side down, the middle 10” by 10” square of the larger lining square


Sew along the top using a zipper foot using 1/4” seam.


Now fold back both lining and pocket lining and press. Top stitch about 1/8th” from seam.

D) Now place second pocket lining piece right side up and correct way up. Lay zip unit you’ve just made in D above on top, right side up. Using zipper foot sew 1/8th” from top.


E) Move the zip pull to the centre and now trim the zip unit so it is approx 10” by 10”. Take care not to pull the zipper as it is no longer secured by the zipper stops.


F) Now attach side lining pieces using 1/2” seam. Trim so it is now 17” wide.


G) Attach the top and bottom pieces of the lining with 1/4” seam at the top (because of the zip) and 1/2” seam along the bottom. Remember that the top piece is slimmer than the bottom piece.



H) Trim the whole unit to 17” square. This is what it will look like on the reverse side .


J) Now to assemble the bag.

First sew the outer bag pieces together to make the outer bag fabric strip. Using spray adhesive or pins, baste the outer bag strip to the headliner. Next quilt the layers together. I only lightly quilt it with a few lines to secure it.

Now layout the pieces as in the picture. For the purpose of seeing what I’ve  done I’ve laid them rightside up but of course when you come to sew them you need to join rightside to rightside. You will end up with a long strip.

If you’ve got non directional fabric and got one large outer fabric piece then just slot it in between the two lining pieces.


K) now fold in half right sides together. Sew all three sides using a 1/2” seam leaving a 10” gap at the bottom of the lining pieces.

80FAB7E2-A6AB-45B6-8737-29E48A64B979L) cut out from each corner a 2” square. Squeeze the sides together and sew 1/2” seam to join the sides together. To strengthen this I sew this seam twice securing each end.  By doing this you’ve boxed the corners.


M) Now birth your bag through the gap at the lining piece seam making sure to push out your corners and pushing the lining into the bag



Carefully press the top edge of the bag then do a top stitch round the top of the bag to finish it off neatly.


N) Your bag should look something like this and is ready for the handles.


For handles either use webbing or make fabric handles or use leather like me. I  sew the leather about 1 1/2” down and 3.5” in from the side. To get the right size for your height/body test out other bags you own to get a length that suits you.

Now my machine doesn’t like this thickness and even with a leather needle it isn’t very neat so I use a rivet to distract. I’ve covered riveting in a separate post here.

You now have one sturdy shopping bag.


F44947A8-6B8A-41DE-B111-F45CAF9A0FD4 This size passes the loaf of bread test. But of course you can size up or down as you like. I find a square panel makes a sufficiently wide top for easy loading  and unloading. A slightly oblong shape also works well. As to handles my friend wanted one that easily went over the shoulder so this one has extra long handles.

I also wanted to see how long it would take to make a simpler bag with just one outer fabric piece and no internal zip. Well discounting time to make and eat lunch, risk a trip up to the shops etc it took less than 40 mins. It’s not my favourite bag but it was the only home dec I had to hand. And I prefer a two toned bag  but this time I allowed the lining to fold over slightly so it looks as if it is bound. At least it’s way more attractive than my usual bright orange plastic canvas type shopping bags.


Linking up to Amanda Jean at Crazy Mom Quilts and Kelly at My Quilt Infatuation

Siblings Together – The Thread House Retreat Bee February block



I’m always on the look out for suitable quilts for Siblings Together. Something reasonably straightforward, colourful and preferably using scraps. I came across a quilt which was made for the charity Do. Good. Stitches. If I were cleverer I’d link it but it’s on Flickr and we’ve always had an uneasy relationship…. And then as if to confirm my choice a very similar quilt appeared on the ModaBakingShop.

Both are made up of house blocks but with good use of negative space and different values. The mama for the flickr quilt was The Hoffmeister and I can’t find him or her anywhere! And the designer of the other quilt was Debbie from Esche House. I have at least two of her designs and have yet to make up either. Anyway inspired by these designers  this is our quilt block for February.

Now I’d like each Bee member please to make one 4 by 3 block as the above picture made up of a number of houses and 1 or 2 white squares. If you are keen feel free to make more extra single houses which would mean I could add a row.

To make this block the trick is getting a good range of fabric values. They give depth I think.  So when choosing your fabric/scraps can I suggest that you lump them into low value, medium value and dark value  as I’ve done below. Go for a good mix of colours as well as value



Doing a quick picture edit and making the picture black and white will help as well.

From your three piles choose 2 or 3 low value fabrics, 3 or 4 from each of the medium and dark value piles and then depending how many you’ve selected from these piles then 1 or 2 plain bright white. You need to have 12 squares including the white.  That should mix it up nicely and give the block good variety.

So to the houses.

Cut out 5.5” squares  of all your chosen fabrics including the white.  You should have 12 squares. Set aside the white one(s).

For each coloured square you need a 3.5” by 4.5” white rectangle cut in two for the roof. This should be from the same bright white solid you are using for the 1 or 2 white squares.


Now either finger press or mark with an erasable  marker pen  the mid point on the top of your square and 1/4” either side.

B014E747-8588-4BC7-9728-406080E8D4AAPlace your white triangle as in the picture below with the shortest side of the white triangle at the bottom. The top being at the 1/4”mark and the bottom corner 2” down one side. Feel free to eye ball this rather than mark. I placed the coloured square and white triangle on my cutting mat as you can see so measuring the 2” was easy. See below


Now sew the white triangle corner to corner using a scant 1/4” seam so that you can then flip back the white triangle to make half the roof.


Trim corner off and trim block. Now mark the centre again and 1/4”mark from right of centre (or eyeball it). In the picture below you can see how to place the second white triangle. Again 2” down from the top on the left hand side  with the top corner just at the 1/4” mark.



Sew corner to corner and flip and press white triangles to make roof. Cut off surplus  fabric from behind


Trim back the white so that the square is 5.5” and you’ve got one house. And yes that left hand roof looks as it’s sloping more than the other but a quick check will see it’s an optical illusion because you can see the whole seam



Then once you have all your houses put them into a 4 by 3 block as the picture below mixing in the white plain squares and all the houses in any way pleasing to you.


The finished block should be 20.5” by  15.5”. Mine was wildly out because I made this block when I was getting used to a new machine…… This beautiful Singer Featherweight  66 years young . But I need to master an accurate seam. But the beauty of this block it is easy to trim to size.

2222DB6B-996B-4443-97D7-2A371CBE2611Hope that’s clear but any problems do get back to me.