Tree in a bird

Every so often our feather duster sheds one of its lovely ostrich plumes.

Every home should have one

I’m currently working on the traveller’s blanket and thought, like a womble, waste not want not and all that. A quick trim of the feather and it kind of looks a bit tree-ish doesn’t it?

Trimmed ostrich feather

In ordinary circumstances of course an ostrich is going to need a lot of help if it’s got any hope of getting into a tree, but here in my creative little world where (nearly) all things are possible, here we are:

Ostrich feather tree

Just adding to the story collection really.

Leaves worked with silk and cotton hand-dyed threads on hand-dyed cotton lawn

Doesn’t it just make your heart sing when something like this happens?

Ostrich feather tree with seed-stitched falling leaves

Just looking

The definition of good morning: a cup of hot black coffee, a cloth in progress, and a little collection of fabrics ready for their auditions.

Traveller’s blanket in progress

These are non-competitive auditions because they will all win in the end. I really like just looking at fabrics – although it’s never just looking, is it, because I have to pick them all up and touch them as well. It’s just seeing with hands, I suppose.

Fabrics that say Winter

The Traveller’s Blanket is turning into a short story collection. I’ve found it quite challenging to adopt someone else’s technique while making it look like my own work. Dijanne makes these cloths so beautifully and I didn’t want to produce an imitation. I imagine it’s a bit like doing a cover version of a very well-known song.

It’s a good opportunity to include some treasure, like this silk velvet, eco-dyed by Arlee

Eco-dyed silk velvet with couched silk bourette yarn on tea-dyed silk noil

And this beautiful eco-print from Jane Hunter

Fine silk, eco-printed, with hand stitch.
No straight/square edges happening here.

And then a few vignettes are happening here and there:

Traveller’s blanket, centre. Antique fine lawn cutwork embroidered panel
Hand-dyed vintage cutwork, more eco-prints by Jane Hunter

Now that a few fabrics have been applied, the cloth is stable enough to work on without support from the table. Eventually there will be some kind of quilting or seeding in between the motifs, but I think that point is still some way off. In the meantime it can carry on keeping my knees warm while I stitch in the evenings.

Traveller’s blanket

I’ve finally made a start on my traveller’s blanket for the last ever class with Dijanne Cevaal. It took a while to think about the right foundation for this quilt, and in the end I decided on a piece of tea-dyed silk noil. Soft but textured, lightweight but warm. The back is hand-dyed silk noil, and the middle layer is brushed cotton (also known as cotton flannel).

A slight stumbling block in the thinking process for this quilt has been that traditionally these quilts have been all about travel and recording experiences, and I’m probably the world’s worst traveller. I’ve never ventured beyond the UK, never been on an aeroplane, and have never had a passport. I don’t even drive. I get seasick just watching boats on TV. What could I possibly have to say about travel?

And then I thought of course we’re all travelling constantly – through time, through life, through experiences. And so my blanket has ended up being about a journey through winter, my favourite season, which will be with us very soon. I’m thinking greys, dark blues, sludgy/grey greens, browns, whites.

I’m starting in the centre with this beautiful piece of antique embroidered cutwork, a mystery object. Does anyone know what this would have been, originally? It seems to be a discrete piece, and doesn’t look as if it’s ever been part of anything else – at first I thought cuff, but it’s not long enough, and there is no evidence of unpicked seams. It’s about 2.25” x 6”. Dressing table mat? Answers on a postcard please.

The beginning. A very pretty start.

I’m using a few fabrics expertly eco-printed by Jane Hunter together with some vintage and antique pieces that I’ve been saving for something special.

Collecting treasures – eco-printed silks by Jane Hunter, fragments from an antique silk christening dress, various vintage cottons and scraps

And in the blue and grey corner:

More eco-prints, new and old silk and cotton

This is going to be really enjoyable, I think.

Laying out and looking

E for Evolution

Evolution: an evolving cloth

I pick this cloth up from time to time, usually when I don’t know what else to do or, in this case, while I’m thinking about how to start some new work. I started this one a couple of years ago, as a kind of map. Then it became a kind of journey.

Then I looked again at the embroidered E in the corner, and renamed it Evolution, since it never seems to know what it wants to be.

E for Evolution. Hand-dyed vintage handkerchief.

It was always intended to be a very lightweight bed cover for those awful hot summer nights when no one can get any sleep. The backing is a large vintage tablecloth, onto which I have randomly layered pieces of hand-dyed lawn, cheesecloth, and muslin – all ultra-lightweight, semi-sheer fabrics to add colour without adding too much warmth. I made it a bit bigger at some point by adding a 10” border of brushed cotton to either end so it’s now about the size of a single duvet.

This is the reason it used to be called ‘Map’

At some point I applied a ragged row of circles across it and then realised they looked a bit heavy. I’ve cut the centres out of the bigger circles and am stitching the edges under to form rings. Better, I think.

From circle to ring

It has a long way to go, and there is no plan. I often think life should come with some kind of handbook so we all know where we’re supposed to be going. I think most of us haven’t a clue what we’re doing here and are making it up as we go along. Some people manage to make it look as if they have everything under control, which can be quite unsettling for the rest of us.

Empty space, ready for the next adventure

I’m guessing this isn’t going to be finished in time for this year’s hottest nights in a month or two, though it is functional in its present form. In an emergency it would do.

In progress

Getting it together

I finished the scraps quilt that I started about this time last year.

‘Together’ – scraps quilt, hand-pieced, hand-quilted

Its working title was ‘All Together Now’ but I found that gave me a constant earworm of the song with the same name, which became distracting, so it had to go. I dropped the outer words and have named it simply ‘Together’. I like the etymology – it comes from an Old English word meaning ‘to gather’ – and that’s exactly what this quilt is. It’s a gathering: of fabrics, of textures, of colours, and of time.

‘Together’ 66″ square (121 x 6″ blocks)

I have a perennial problem with making large quilts. I like working on a large scale, as a rule, but when the thing is finished I have no way of taking a decent photograph of it. I don’t have a wall big enough to hang it on (in any case, there is no hanging sleeve on this one). Usually what happens is we have to move the furniture out of the dining room, lay the quilt out on the floor, and then climb up a stepladder, hold a camera out at arms length over it and hope for the best. Textiles are very difficult to photograph at the best of times and always look so much better in real life.

Seed stitching across the central panel

The quilt is made entirely of scraps and leftovers, hand-pieced over paper using the traditional English paper-piecing method. I assembled the blocks as 6″ squares, using patches in multiples of 1″ (so for example, 1 x 1, 1 x 2, 2 x 2, etc). I then arranged the blocks by colour group, with the whites and neutrals in the centre. The fabrics are an immensely eclectic mix of very modern and very old, plain and patterned, textured and plain-weave. The oldest pieces in it are from the eighteenth century, and they sit happily next to very modern scraps and samples. Most of the fabrics are hand-dyed vintage cotton and linen, with some over-dyed modern quilting cottons. There are a few synthetics and satins in there as well. I don’t normally like shiny fabrics much but I do like the way these little squares catch the light.

The blue corner
The red corner

The seeding stitches in the central panel create circles of negative space. Initially this was just a design decision to disrupt the straight lines created by the square blocks, but now I can see that the circles create little oases floating like bubbles across the surface. I like the way the circles are distinct but at the same time visibly still a part of their foundation.

Lots of seeding
spots of time among seeding stitches

The middle layer of the quilt is cotton flannel rather than traditional quilt batting, only because that’s what I had. I didn’t want to have to buy anything for this one. The backing is pieced together from a vintage silk sari. The quilt is thin but quite heavy.

Quilt back, pieced from patterned silk sari

I am a little nervous about the longevity of the quilt. It’s designed to be decorative rather than functional, but not to hang on a wall. I imagine it displayed on a bed, ideally. I don’t know the remaining life span of the silk backing: silk tends to tear very easily as it ages, and I’m not sure how old this sari is. The quilt isn’t washable, due to all the different kinds of fibre – the very elderly patches will shred, and the hand-dyed fabrics might not be entirely colour-fast. The seeding stitches on the surface would be quite easy to pull and distort accidentally. Its new owner (when I find them) is going to have to be very careful with it. But then, very few things last for ever.

Quilt label made from embroidered vintage linen, hand-dyed. I really like the way those two embroidered arms reach out to each other.

I did think about whether it needed some sort of additional circular pattern in the outer borders, but in the end I think there’s probably enough going on in it. I’m looking forward to being able to start something a little more manageable.

Going straight

I started quilting ‘All Together Now’ with a meandering line, and I thought I knew exactly where it was going.

Wandering aimlessly

This quilt has been very particular from the very beginning about what it wants, but I was just starting to feel that we were becoming friends now that we’ve reached the outer sections. The quilt waited until I had done a fair few meandering lines before telling me that was very wrong and not what it wanted at all. Quite a lot of unpicking and tutting ensued. The second attempt is now well under way, and everyone seems to be happier. I’m now working very simple diagonal lines across each of the 6” blocks.

Diagonal quilting lines across 6” blocks

I couldn’t sew a straight line if my life depended on it, so I use quilter’s masking tape. It’s one of the best things ever invented.

Quilter’s masking tape

I confess I am slightly disappointed not to have more expressive quilting lines to create. It’s one of my philosophies of life that there are already enough straight lines in the world and now here I am, adding to them. There is, however, quite a lot going on in this quilt – there are a lot of colours to manage, with a lot of seams and some very busy seed stitching – and keeping the rest of it simple I think is the right thing to do.

All together now

I started this quilt some time last year, rounding up (squaring up) all the scraps into 6” blocks and then assembling them into a kind of square colour wheel with all the whites in the centre. It’s 11 blocks square, so 66”-ish, all paper-pieced. I had to abandon it when I broke a bone in my right hand in October, but that was no great hardship as by then I didn’t really like it. It also had no name, so I didn’t know what it was trying to be.

In progress
Lots of seed-stitching

Last year I had started seed-stitching the central panel to define the circles, and it quickly turned into one of those things I wish I’d never started. Seed-stitch takes a long time, and there was acres of it. OK, about a square yard. I tend to exaggerate.

Seed-stitching around circles

So since October it has been rolled up in a corner of the room, nameless and baleful, scowling every time I passed it, and now I need to finish it before I feel free enough to start something else. A few days ago I steeled myself to set about finishing the seed-stitching. And what do you know? It didn’t take as long as I thought it would, and it looks OK. The texture is really interesting. The backing is made from a vintage silk sari, and the middle layer is cotton flannel, so it isn’t too bulky but is still quite substantial. It’s surprisingly heavy.

Quilting the edge

And then it named itself: All Together Now. So now I need to figure out what to do with the rest of it. I’ve couched some two-tone silk bourette yarn down to create a couple of borders around the central panel, and I’m starting with a meandering line just to see where it goes.

First line of quilting

Sometimes making a large quilt by hand feels a bit like wrestling with an alligator (no, since you ask, I have never wrestled an alligator). I do feel as if I am starting to tame this one.

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