Quilted pillowcase front

I finished quilting the front of the big square pillowcase on Sunday (not Saturday as I’d intended!) and am pleased with the result. I’ve wanted to try quilting lines parallel to the seams of the square patches for a while, but the first time I tried it was a disaster, so my skills with the sewing machine must have improved – that, and getting a quilting foot. I can’t do a few backward stitches to anchor it like you’re supposed to because I find it hard to see exactly where the needle is and I don’t want to overshoot the edges, so I sew them all in by hand which is time-consuming.

I was inspired by (i.e. copied) the quilting on a quilt I bought from a catalogue years ago, before I started doing patchwork, but for various reasons only brought out of its packet this year after we moved house. It’s lovely shades of green and yellow with a little bit of white and blue floral mixed in, and has squares in the middle then strips round the outside. That quilting pattern is the squares-within-the-squares thing then parallel lines around the edges where the strips are, so I put two parallel lines round my mitred borders. I decided they’d be too close together if I made them equidistant, but that one line only would look daft, so the space between the squares and the first line is 6/8 inch like the lines within the squares, then the outermost line is 1/2 inch from that.

The second photo is of the back of the quilting because you can see the pattern more clearly. You can also see where I’ve got threads that still need to be sewn in!

Sorry if the blue background looks odd, I took it outside to photograph because the light’s better and needed something to keep the item off the ground, and this is all I had to hand. Taking it outside has actually made it look over-exposed; the colours are darker / brighter in real life, more like in my previous post. But I’m no photographer!


Next step is to finish sewing the ends in then to sew the front to the two back pieces. Before I do that I also need to hem the edges of the back pieces where they overlap for the pillow to be inserted.

Cross stitch elephant cushion: 13-year-old WIP finished at last

I bought this cross stitch kit 2 jobs and 2 parts of the UK ago, when I was living and working in Scotland. I remember it was 2005 when I started it because I took it with me on a research trip to Oxford and London, staying in what turned out to be the mankiest B&B in Oxford to see a manuscript in the Bodleian and getting the train to London some days to see some manuscripts in the British Library. It was 2 weeks after the July 7 bombing in London and on the day when I went to the BL I’d planned to meet my now-husband there after he’d been to renew his South African passport (he’s sort-of dual citizenship, long story), but then in the Library this tannoy annoucement came on saying there’d been an ‘incident’ and everything was in lockdown. Later we knew it was an attempted bombing on public transport but the detonators hadn’t gone off, or something along those lines, but I didn’t know that then. I couldn’t get him on his mobile and was so frightened, and weirdly for me, angry. It was all that time ago and I still remember feeling so furious, that these people, whoever they were, saw fit to mess about with our lives like that and kill people for whatever their mad ideologies are. I’d no idea I’d feel like that, but really, if you’d presented me with one of them in front of me I’d have punched them in the face, and that really isn’t like me, I was quite scared of how angry I felt. Later it turned out that he was still in the embassy, even though they were due to shut at lunch and it was after lunch so  I thought he was wandering around the streets being blown up, but in fact they closed then but kept everyone who’d been in the queue in the building with their mobiles off, hence I couldn’t get him. Anyhow, all was well that ended well, for us anyway, but that is why I’m so sure I started this is 2005!

Before I learned patchwork I loved cross stitch, even knowing it’s like painting by numbers, but I was really into it! It was a question of finding nice kits that didn’t involve wolves, Yorkshire Terriers, or cartoon characters that was the problem. I liked this cushion cover as I liked elephants (who doesn’t?) and liked the geometric colourful design.


I struggled with the 3/4 stitches, not being entirely sure what they were, and the instructions as is usual being opaque, so the stitches on the outline of the head looked jagged. I put it to one side and it was years before I took it up again.

I know I re-started it in this flat (the one we’re about to leave), so sometime in the last 5 years. I ended up taking out what I’d done and starting again. The outline still looked awkward so I added an extra layer of quarter stitches so it was smooth and was much happier with it. That may be the first step in moving away from instructions and being more confident.

I finished the elephant and the gold stitching on it, then disaster struck. I came home from work one night, took up my stitching, and saw singe marks and a hole in the fabric. Not in the elephant, fortunately, but in the unstitched fabric nearby. I couldn’t work it out. My husband was at home that day and said at some point he’d smelled smoke but coming through to the sitting room couldn’t see anything and assumed it was someone outside with a garden bonfire. Eventually I realised it must have been the magnifying glass that came with the stand I was using. I know it sounds stupid, but it had never occurred to me that it was a fire hazard. If you’d asked me what would happen if you took a magnifying glass outside on a sunny day and left it on the grass I would tell you it might set fire to the grass, but whether because the ‘glass’ was plastic, or because it wasn’t next to the window but more towards the centre of the room I don’t know, but either way it never entered my head. And yes, I know, I’m lucky the place didn’t burn down. Trust me, I’m aware of that!

So the plan with the elephant now was that I’d cut around it and sew it, applique style, to another Aida background. I like purple and as the existing background was navy blue thought it would work. I found only one website selling purple Aida, so felt lucky there. I used interfacing for the first time, not having heard of or used it before, I think I was looking up how to fix cross stitch to a background on the internet. I did realise I couldn’t use the original pattern exactly because sizings had changed, so made the square around the elephant smaller. The filling of the square was almost the last thing I did, however.


I decided I wasn’t so keen on the colours in the original pattern so would make up my own, more vibrant and with less in the way of coral and a light yellow. You can imagine how well that went! Not sure I love the end result, the yellow and orange are really block-y, despite me putting in some mixed orange threads to add depth, but you really can’t see it. Hate to say it, but I think the original was better. My future does not lie in cross stitch design.

Believe it or not, I put a lot of effort into the colour combinations for the outer-edge circles.


I like the self-striping threads, seen here on the big orange corner star and background to the outer circle with the purple spokes, and on the pale blue / purple triangles. In some ways it felt like a cop-out when I was trying to choose colours, but they worked well for me!

I had to design the in-fill for the square around the elephant. This turned out to be really hard because the original was deeper whereas mine was only 5 stitches deep and I couldn’t design a pattern that started where it left off. Turns out my re-design was 89 stitches: a prime number! No wonder I couldn’t get a pattern to work. I spent ages coming with an option that would do the job. Here are my jottings:


Last decision was where to put the gold outline threads. I’d already decided around the inner square but thought I’d put dark pink around the outside square but that didn’t look right so I chose the gold. I hate the stuff, it tends to get tied up at the back of the work and you get one end a lot longer than the other, but there you go.

I was delighted to finish it, and last weekend sewed the back on. I don’t love it, my orange and yellow is too bold, but I did my best and will keep it. In an ideal, imaginary world we’d share it with friends and family and make no more fuss, but we’ll see what happens.


We’ve spent almost the whole weekend packing and sorting, except when I had driving lesson yesterday and church today, with a hurried 30-min walk while dinner in oven (and husband at home, not leaving hot oven unsupervised). Life is one giant box! Tomorrow I have a reception to go to after work. A pain to take clothes and shoes to work for it, and last year was the first year I found people to talk to; I’m not a natural mingler.

There’s maybe too much purple background on show but I can’t say how pleased I am to have finished it at last!

Farmer’s wife cushion centre block

After 8 blocks, and having decided those with off-white in them should form a cross (either 4-pointed or in the 5 corners) I still couldn’t get a layout I was satisfied with – either all four blues were too close together, or the two with the dark burgundy background were next to each other, or the two with the tan background and burgundy chevrons were next to each other. I had thought the two-colour tan and burgundy one with the sort of windmill effect would be the centre block, but decided it looked too dull. The arrangement on the left was the best I could come up with. Then I decided to make the last block my centre one, to fit the arrangement on the right. I wanted it to have all four colours in (discounted the plain burgundy that appears in one block), and by luck the last design I wanted to make was one I thought could carry four colours. It ‘s called ‘Gentleman’s Fancy’, I don’t know why!

Having decided on the arrangement of the four colours within the block, it came together quite quickly.


Because the centre off-white square measured up okay, and the finished square was the size it’s meant to be, I honestly thought the centre tan square was straight but just looked wonky because the angle I’d cut through the pattern wasn’t straight so it was an optical illusion. Not so! Sadly not until I’d sewn blocks together did I actually take the ruler to it and see it isn’t lined up right. So the very centre square of the whole cushion is wonky – could that be some sort of metaphor?! I’m thinking of it as like a sewer’s version of a maker’s mark.

Anyway, I’ve now done all the sashing, much of which was difficult because I started by making the same mistake I did with the windmill-style block, thinking so long as the sash was the same length as the block I was sewing it to, it would all fit together. Again, not so! When I had two blocks each composed of, say, four pieces of the same width, and sewed them to either side of the sash, they didn’t line up with each other and had to be unpicked and redone, this time with pencil marks on the back of the sash to show where the seams ought to line up. I got there in the end but it took yonks and once again I had to take it on the commuter train of a morning and afternoon / evening, not the most convenient! Still, at least you get good light through the train window. (I’ve been struggling with light at home, specially with the pencil lines on dark blue, and once it gets to late afternoon / evening and the sun goes down). Oh, and I nearly forgot to say, I remade the first block, the one I’d tried with paper piecing, using the draw-around-the-stencil-onto-the-back-of-the-fabric method I’d used for the other blocks. It does look neater and the centre point’s a bit better, and it made it easier to sew it all together when I didn’t have a different type of seam to master.

Herewith the finished front (two pics with different light / focus):

9 blocks]

9 blocks

Needless to say, I’m about a week behind schedule for taking it home on Thursday!

Cushion covers

After two weekends of minimal productivity on the cushion-making front, they are done at last!

I have a throw and two cushions, the last bought on the trip to Washington, on the sofa already, and though these cushions don’t go with them brilliantly, I think they’re okay. It’s a rented flat and one day I’ll have my own decor and they’ll fit with something in that, I hope.


The buttonholes are going to take more than a little perfecting, but I like to think they’ve improved with practice…

I followed the instructions given by Tasha on her blog ‘By Gum, By Golly’ (http://bygumbygolly.com/2013/09/buttonholes-by-hand-vintage-sewing/), which I found just through searching for something like ‘how to make buttonholes’ – great tagging! And it’s a great website, makes me wish I could use my sewing machine well enough to make clothes rather than just struggling with straight lines. Her piece on making a pair of jeans is  amazing, I can’t even think what being able to do something like that must be like.

Anyhow, buttonhole practice –

As you can see, I didn’t manage to position the slit evenly between the top and bottom lines of stitching, with the result (not shown here) that there wasn’t room to do the bottom row. Anyway, I got the general idea, and it took so long to do that one that I thought I’d just have to use the cushion covers as the training ground – after all, they’re for our home and not a gift for someone else, so it doesn’t matter as much (though I like to make them the best I can, it’s a sort of affliction).

These are the last two, not even alas but not too bad, and better than the second of the finished buttonholes (on cushion no 1) which is really gappy at the edge so the gimp thread shows through.

Ideally I’d have used gimp thread that was the same colour as the overstitching thread, but it was the nearest I could get on ebay without spending a lot more. I’d never heard of gimp before I read the blog post, so looked it up online in case it means something different in UK to US, and to see where I could buy it. Turns out it does have another meaning, though that may not be a UK/US thing but the same in both countries, but which comes higher up in the search results, and which I don’t want to buy… I shall certainly tell the police that if they come calling.

The last two weekends have been a non-starter for getting anything done, due to other commitments (e.g. spending most of the day with parents-in-law last Sunday then the evening preparing for something work-related for Monday) so I was relieved to have finished cushion cover no 2 this weekend; I like to think I would have managed it even if a stinking cold hadn’t forced me to stay indoors all weekend, even cancelling my driving lesson, but I’m sure it has helped. Don’t like to think that that’s what it takes!

I’m pleased with the finished results, far from perfect as ever, but I’m pleased to have proved to myself I can get two x 14 inch cushion covers from a bundle of 4 fat quarters (and reduced price in a sale at that!).

Here are some photos before the padding was inserted:

And these are the finished items:


To try and psych myself back into the autumn quilt – the ‘first patchwork quilt’ of this blog’s title, still unfinished – I took a photo of all the blocks completed, laid out together. Depressing! It’s all so orange, which was not the idea… All I can think is that I have to make more blocks, without orange in them, to try to even it out. And again consider whether to use sashing. It’s difficult to have any enthusiasm for it and to keep (or restart) momentum when I can’t envisage an end result I’ll like. Stupidly, I knew this would be how it would turn out but I kept going anyway, because I liked making the individual blocks so much – well, you reap what you sew…


Finally, and this has nothing whatever to do with patchwork, but sharing makes me feel better, I joined a new ball of yarn into the jumper sleeve I’m knitting, only to find about a a foot or two in that the yarn was about to break, so I cut out the broken part and rejoined it, which, incidentally, I’ve done with balls of this yarn before. After this happened three times in succession I pulled out all the little sections and joins, and proceeded to check the rest of the ball. After these many sections of yarns, I gave up and found another ball – what a swizz!


Rowan yarns should be ashamed, that is a bad batch. I only hope I’ve enough wool to finish the garment; it’s taken me nigh-on 18 months so far, so fingers crossed.

Finally finally, my husband’s made a model tree to accompany / set off something else he’s made. I’m impressed, so thought I’d share:


Cushion covers (almost ready to assemble)

For ages now I’ve thought it would be nice to make two matching cushion covers to replace charity shop ones my husband brought with him when we got married, which neither of us are particularly keen on, they just ‘do’, and now the zips are broken. So when I went to the sewing shop in our village on the first Tuesday in January, to investigate their sale fabric, and saw a co-ordinating pack of 4 fat quarters which I really liked, I knew what I could do with them – if they contained enough fabric. So there was a double challenge of making them, and seeing if I could stretch the fabric far enough. I’d always like the idea of patchwork being an economical, thrifty, thing, but the reality has proved different! Still, this bundle was reduced from £12.50 to £8.50, and I reckoned that if I could get two cushion covers out of it I would be doing quite well (always hoping that I had enough calico backing and wadding in stock). It was also a pleasure to be able to visit the sewing shop, as since they downsized and do most of their sales online they’re only open on weekdays and I’m not usually at home on weekdays, so it’s a rare thing to be able to visit.

The four co-ordinating fabrics are a sort of sage green, perhaps a little paler, in plain, a stripe, a gingham, and quite a loud check. I like that the colours and patterns are quite neutral but without being dull. I toyed with the idea of throwing in some burgundy squares, as both have blue undertones, but decided against it and am now glad of that. I think the loud check is enough of a contrast to the other three patterns. Here are a few options I toyed with:

While throwing around ideas when out walking I thought I’d like to put in some rectangles, rather than just squares, but did lay out some with just squares to see what it looked like before going back to plan A. As usual, deciding what to put where was my greatest challenge! But I was careful to cut strips from the fat quarters so that there were long pieces left from which to cut the pieces for the borders. These are the two designs I ended up with:imgp0153

I think I actually finished these the weekend after I bought the fabric, which is a record. Something else I wanted to do was go straight from buying the fabric to making something with it, I too often plan and buy but then due to having other things to finish it sits in the basket and somehow never looks as nice when you go back to it.

Flushed with the near-success of making mitred corners on the Christmas cushion, I went for them again for the borders for these. As part of making the cushions a pair-but-different I went for both having two plain sides and two patterned, but the patterned different on each. It is amazing the difference the border makes to a piece of patchwork!

I think it was only at this point that I realised the bottom row of each one is the same! Never mind, I doubt they’ll end up sitting the same way up on the sofa, and you’d have to really be staring at them (and care enough) to notice that. I think the borders took me the whole of the next weekend. Then the weekend just gone I quilted one front and made the backs for both. Although I did unpick a couple of bits of quilting I felt weren’t neat enough and redid them after work the last few evenings! I should have said, making the quilt tops also required a fair bit of unpicking and redoing, occasionally due to sewing machine hiccups (aka my ineptitude), but more often because I like the lines of the pattern on the fabric to look lined up, which of course hasn’t always happened.

Having quilted the front using the machine – without the quilting foot but it seems not to have made a difference because the pieces are quite small, only 15 inches square – I rather wish I had done it by hand, because the heavy stitching, even though I used longer stitches, disguises the rectangles and makes them look like squares, whereas ‘stitching the ditch’ by hand like I did with the Christmas cushion would have made the stitching more discreet.


In the picture below are the back pieces, each one 15 x 10 inches to give a decent overlap for an envelope-style closure. The one at the bottom right looks like the last strip is too short, but in fact the top two are too wide, I’m not sure how I managed that but it doesn’t matter because they’ll be taken into the seam when I sew fronts and back together. I was going to trim them down but it would have cut through the stitches.


I had fun using what was left over from the fronts to piece together the pieces for the back. I did measure them and cut pieces of paper to size to try and piece them together in lunch breaks, but though that reassured me I had enough fabric, even taking seams into account, in the end it was to little avail because I’d measured the pieces before trimming them down so some of them turned out to be inaccurate so in the end I just trimmed them to the nearest quarter inch, and laid them out on the carpet, cutting a couple of larger pieces in  half lengthwise so there was a fairly even distribution of patterns between the pieces, and trimming others down because the two put side by side came to more than 15 inches. They’ll look different again when laid out to overlap, and I know visually I’ll loose some bits I quite like, but it can’t be helped.

I’ve decided I’d like to try to make buttonholes and have two buttons on the back of each of these, but I know that’s difficult – hence why they still have envelope openings in case the button fastening isn’t to be! I’ve seen online instructions on a website to do with vintage clothes, bought one of the types of thread required and sent off for the buttons and top stitching thread. They may not come in time for the weekend, but I will in any case quilt the other front and practise the buttonholes on pieces of scrap fabric. If I get them working reasonably okay, I’ll have to carefully position the backs and take the scalpel to them for incisions for the buttonholes – sharp intake of breath required for that one, I think!

Christmas Cushion Cover

Happy Christmas everyone!

I made this cushion cover for my brother for Christmas (he won’t have opened it yet, but doesn’t know about or read this blog, so I’m safe to show it!). imgp0039The core of the design, the central diamond and eight-pointed star surrounding it, came from a free Accuquilt pattern, though not in Christmas colours. But in that pattern there were pinwheels at each of the four corners and it felt a bit disjointed, like the separate elements didn’t quite connect, so I faffed about for ages (and ages, and ages…) coming up with a different design. I wanted it all to be half-square triangles, and was pleased with the cream eight-point star around the red star because with a very big stretch of the imagination it looks a bit snowflakey. But for the last bit of decision-making, the corners, I had to send my Mum an e-mail with mock-ups of three different designs, because of course I can never quite make up my mind!

I wanted the fabrics to be Christmassy but perhaps not too much so, so that it could be used through the winter as well as just the holiday period, though I suppose I ruined that with the sleigh fabric! That fabric actually deserves a much better showcase, and probably works better when you use larger sections of it so you can get the full picture with the deer pulling the sleighs, so next year I’m going to  see what I can do with it because I did buy quite a large piece with the idea it could be the background for a Dresden  plate design (something I’ve never yet tried). I first bought it so long ago I now can’t remember whose it is, but the others are all  Moda. The red fabric is Bonneheur des Dames, the dark green and the cream with holly are both Christmas Countdown, and the light green is Juniper Berries. Making something where all the fabrics are the same quality because by the same manufacturer is a first for me and I enjoyed that, because others I’ve done have ended up mixing thick and thin, and I find you do notice the difference.

The double border also came from the Accuquilt pattern. The mitred corners were new to me, and I tried to follow the instructions in a book but got a bit stuck at one point, but a nice lady at the craft group I go to helped me out, bless her.

This is it laid out to make a mitred corner, and the diagonal line being stitched. The first one wasn’t great and I did the ones in cream by folding them because I still despite being shown couldn’t quite get how to rule the lines once I’d got home, but I got the hang of it with the second border – whether I’ll remember whenever it is I next do one is another matter, but I was pleased for the time  being! It certainly looks better in this design than square edges would have done.

These two worked quite well…



… this one less so, on the inside anyway. Hopefully won’t notice too much now it’s got the cushion pad inside.


imgp0041The back, which I made using the sewing machine.

It’s actually 19 / 19.5 inches so a 19 inch cushion pad would have been best, but they’re harder to find so it’s got a 20 inch cushion pad and you can see here it’s overstuffed, but I think will squash down in time.

A couple of other angles,

and the finished item beneath the tree at my parents’ house (looking bigger than it is, I reckon).


Enjoying our Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, including some homemade decorations that make it personal – snowman with the blue hat and the cross stitch bells by me, the crazy snowman with the tinsel hat by my Mum – don’t know what that tells you, but that’s the one that gets the admiring comments!!!

Happy Christmas! Best go to bed before Santa comes.