Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Visit to Hemingford Grey.

On Saturday I went with our group Piecemakers to visit The Manor, at Hemmingford Grey.
Here are some of our group in front of the house, which dates from Norman times (the 1100s for those not into English history).

Apart from the fact that it is the oldest continuously inhabited house in England (or Great Britain or something) and has a fabulous garden, we went to see Lucy Boston's stunning patchworks. Lucy Boston bought a couple of hexagon patchwork quilts when she moved to the house on marrying, and found that they were the perfect size for the windows in the lounge. The quilts were labelled 'started in 1801 and finished in 1803' so were not in the best condition, and they deteriorated steadily. Lucy began to repair them and started to become interested in patchwork herself. She made one or more quilts every winter, sitting in front of the fire, from about 1938, and had an artist's eye for pattern and colour which has made all her quilts a delight. They are all done over papers and sewn completely by hand with tiny, meticulous stitches.

We were shown the patchworks (made into coverlets, but never wadded) by Lucy's daughter-in-law, Diana, who did not want me to take photographs, for obvious reasons. Here are a couple of photos I have taken from Celia Eddy's excellent article on Lucy Boston. If you're interested in these quilts, it's an excellent read.

This is the very famous 'Patchwork of the Crosses' where every block is made of lozenges and squares, but because of the arrangement of value and pattern, every block looks quite different.

This is a coverlet Lucy made for Sir Martin Ryle, the Astronomer Royal. When it was finished, Lucy felt it wasn't celestial enough, so appliqued all the moons and stars round the border.

After being blown away by the quilts, we explored the gardens. Here are some members in part of the herbaceous borders - they are actually walking on a path!

and another view of a different part of the garden.

The whole visit was a delight. If you would like to see the quilts, you can book in for a tour, and if you want to see more photos, please visit my Piecemakers blog.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

More Mile a Minute

I've done lots of sewing this week, but very little quilting. I'm still hard at work on the costumes for the play. I have completed mine, Hazel's and Becky's, and only have Sally's top to finish, Jackie's shift and top and Nicky's top to do! Unfortunately the last couple of tops are the tricky ones. More on that later.
Yesterday I got so fed up with dressmaking that I spent some time putting together a Mile a Minute top for DD's boyfriend. He's a quilt-lover and constantly drools over DD's collection. Here's the top spread out on our bed.

Most of the fabric came from my strips box (why is it that no matter how many strips you take out, the box barely seems any emptier?) but I did cut into some of my novelty fabrics to liven it up a bit. I added a few strips of ironing fabric (hint, hint)

some skeletons (always popular)
a naughty lady left over from one of DD's quilts peeping at us, (incidentally, her friend is not naked, but wearing shorts!)

some 20s Flappers having fun,
a nod to technology with some mobile phones,

and cucumbers and a cupcake - who could make a quilt without those two motifs?!

And in the bottom corner, the young man's initial,
just in case anyone tries to purloin it!

Friday, 19 June 2009

Dream Green

I have heard about various new materials for making wadding, including one made from recycled plastic bottles, but had not actually seen any of this until I went to the Cotton Patch last week. As a committed recycler, I was keen to give this product a test. I bought a twin size (93"x72") which cost me £10.25, comparing quite favourably with my usual choice of Hobbs 80/20 at £11.50. So, not only have I saved money, but saved 13 plastic bottles from ending up in landfill or worse.

However, the proof of the pudding is in the eating (or rather, the proof of the wadding is in the quilting), so how did it perform? It's surprisingly soft and easy to use. Layering up was easy, as it seemed to cling quite nicely to the top and backing as I went along. The green colour is really very delicate, and it didn't show through in any of my lighter patches. I have machine quilted round the edge of the top and am currently hand quilting round my dogs, and the needle goes through like a hot knife through butter.

The only criticism I have, is that it seems to stretch very slightly, so I have to make sure I hold it firmly while I quilt. This could be a factor arising from the way I quilt in my lap without a frame, although I've never had this problem before. I would definitely buy it again, so why not give it a try yourself?

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Thank you, McCalls Quilting

I bought a copy of 'America Loves Scrap Quilts' published by McCalls, as not only is America apparently keen on scrap quilts but so am I! Amongst the various ideas was this one by Candace Hassan which made me immediately reach for my strips box.
You need strips of various widths and 14" in length which you join together into a 14" square. Then make another one.
I'm sorry to say this, but Candace's choice of colours (browns, olive greens and slate blues) didn't inspire me. I have mixed up the colours (ading a few uglies in there) but kept it mainly bright and cheerful.
Place the squares on top of each other, right sides together, one with the strips going across, and the other with the strips going down. Then cut into four sections diagonally. (Candace sewed all the way round the edge with a quarter inch seam before cutting, which would have been a good way of doing it if I'd remembered about that part!)

Sew the pairs of triangles together along the longest edge, then press open. This is what you should have, but the beauty of this method is that you will have four of them.

Candace sashed hers, but I love secondary patterns, so I have arranged mine to make squares on point. The squares finish at 9" which means that four pairs of 14" blocks will make 16 blocks - enough for the centre of a lap/Linus quilt! How easy is that!

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Forge Mill Needle Museum

On Friday, a group of members of my patchwork group, Piecemakers, went on a day out to the Forge Mill Needle Museum in Redditch to see the exhibition 'Quilting Yarns'. This was a display of part of Jane Cobbett's collection of old quilts, ranging from 1860 to the 1950s. Here is the old mill which looks idyllic now, but must have been a very unpleasant place to work. We looked round the museum itself, which included a recreation of a Victorian needle factory, and were astounded to find there were 30 different processes to making a simple needle. The most skilled job was pointing the needle, which earned a man a guinea a week (that's one pound and one shilling in old money) but the dust from the grindstone gave him silicosis, and reduced his life expectancy to 30 years! That's if pieces of flying needle hadn't already blinded him, of course! The exhibition wasn't large, but gave us the opportunity to examine every quilt in great detail, which was a bonus.

This was the oldest piece on display, a coverlet dating from about 1860. Not withstanding the facts that the hexagons were only three quarters of an inch in width and made of silk, the most remarkable thing about this quilt is that it was made by a 9 year old boy!

This close up gives you a better idea of the colours. We wondered why he had made it, and thought it must have been because he was an invalid. What mental stamina he must have had, though, to complete such a difficult task so well!

I was very grateful to the museum for allowing me to take photos, but have to say that the lighting wasn't always very helpful, as in this case. This is the Beaver Quilt, which was made at the Portland Union Church in St John, Canada, and sent to the Beaver Club in London during WW2. It is a signature quilt where the names have been written and then embroidered on top

These quilts were generally fundraisers, and people would have paid to have their names included. Quite why it was sent to England is unclear, but it was in very good condition, and must be a treasure for Canadian social historians.

This is a Civil War quilt, made by Susan Olivia Dixon, who was a young lady in 1865. It is a sawtooth variation and was made in Greenville County, North Carolina. This is a perfect exmple of a scrap quilt, as many of the blocks have been made with the same fabrics, but as Susan ran out of those fabrics, she substituted similar ones to make this beautiful and interesting effect.

This quilt was a bit of a surprise, as it looks very modern. It is made from pieces of fabric cut from Indian tunics and saris (you can see the neck shapes on many of the pieces) appliqued onto a calico foundation and then dyed yellow. The different fabrics have taken the dye to different degrees and made a harmonious collection. It was undated.

This Pink Hawaiian quilt was made in the 1930s. The applique was done by hand, but the borders were sewn by machine. We admired the lady's stamina in making so many identical blocks, and then felt for her, when we realised she had started to outline quilt it, but only completed 3 blocks in the bottom row. She'd finally got sick of the whole thing! What a shame, because it's a lovely quilt.

This cheerful coverlet is a completed UFO. It is called Star Garden and consists of these star blocks made from fabrics from several mid 20th century decades. The stars have later been sashed in blue and the top was backed and completed by Dora Lowe in the 1950s. Well done Dora!This top was made in Norwich, England between 1910-1930. It is called Postage Stamp Diamonds because of the very small pieces used. Doesn't it look pretty?

The exhibition was well worth our journey, and I can recommend the museum too. There is a nice picnic area with children's playground, making it suitable for a family day out. This exhibition finishes on June 28th, so go if you can. If you can't go but would like to look at more of the quilts (and the museum), I have posted photos on our group blog here for you to see. Enjoy!

Monday, 8 June 2009


I have been very busy buying fabric, raiding charity shops and sewing, but don't have a quilt block to show for it. Can you believe I've been dressmaking? It's not been outfits for myself, but costumes for a play. Our local group are taking a play up to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August. This festival lasts for the month of August in Edinburgh (Scotland) and hosts 1,000 shows a day, with 2,098 different shows over the whole month. Ours will be a production of 'Our Country's Good' by Timberlake Wertenburger, and is about convicts in Australia in 1789. We are hiring the officers's uniforms, but somehow I found myself volunteering to take charge of the other costumes.
After some research, I have decided that full skirts with petticoats underneath, and then bodices with blouses underneath will be accurate enough. Here is the first bodice I made - to fit myself. This is the front view,

and here is the back. I managed to get one of those eyelet tools, and am quite pleased with the way they've turned out.

Here are Becky's bodice complete with tailor's tacks (I never thought I'd be glad to know how to do those when we did them at school!), Jackie's top waiting to be sorted out and Sally's bodice cut out and ready to go.

Nicky's bodice has to be able to be ripped open at the back on stage, to reveal the scars she received when she was flogged. Any ideas how to achieve that?

Wednesday, 3 June 2009


Tonya has had a great idea for a collaborative quilt. She has asked people to contribute word blocks for a Hallowe'en quilt called 'Slither, eek, boo!' in different fonts. I rose to the challenge (some people would say I was foolish enough not to leave well alone!) and volunteered to make 'gurgle'. I had an idea about making it circular (those people who know about 'Jolly Phonics' actions will understand that!) but in the end, I chickened out and just made it rectangular. I tried out different fonts and eventually chose an old fashioned script where the 'g' was similar to the one in this font, and not like the ones we use in handwriting. Here are my letters ready to be made into a block.

It was quite difficult to make the letters conform to a plan and still be free formed (if that makes sense). usually, when I make letters, so long as they look pretty much like the letter they're supposed to be, I use them. This time, I wanted them to be a certain shape, and this involved quite a bi of unpicking! It was particularly difficult to get the two gs to look the same, without using any templates etc. The e was also quite tricky.

The word is now safely on its way to Tonya. Hope she can use it in her quilt.