I’ve been taking some time out this week, just to look and think, and it’s been immensely restorative.

I like playing with watercolours, though with no real expertise. I normally use a student-grade Cotman set, which I’ve had for about twenty years, and they are generally fine just for rough sketchbook work. I also have a small portable set of Sennelier professional half pans, which are better quality than the Cotman. I think tubes are better than pans for larger or more experimental work, so I thought it was perhaps time to invest in some professional quality tubes. I bought a set of Daniel Smith dot cards, which are basically a small but useable dot of paint in every shade that they make. You just add water so you can see and feel how each colour behaves. You can see the dots of paint in the photo, and a little goes a really long way, so there is plenty left. I have spent two entire days looking at them, and they are beyond beautiful.

Daniel Smith dot cards and colour swatches

Colour is really magical. It lifts the spirits, it calms and soothes, and it energises. The science of it is baffling. We are capable of seeing only a tiny fraction of the whole spectrum, in which objects absorb some wavelengths of visible light and reflect others. What we see is the reflected light that hasn’t been absorbed by an object. You could say we see the colour it isn’t.

Delicious greens, splashed and splattered

I had assumed that Daniel Smith paints were going to be much the same as any other watercolours but my (admittedly limited) experience is that they are far superior to any other professional colours I’ve tried. I think watercolour is quite a forgiving medium anyway, in that it’s difficult to make watercolours look ugly. These paints are a dream to use, even for a novice like me. They dilute immediately, they are beautifully smooth, and they are really easy to handle. The range and quality of colour is amazing. I made some swatch cards, and then I made lots of samples on 300gsm watercolour paper cut into 2” x 3” pieces.

Little samples, Daniel Smith watercolours
Samples, 2” x 3”, Daniel Smith watercolours. The sample bottom right is watercolour over white oil pastel. I have got some masking fluid somewhere but I was in the zone and didn’t want to disturb myself

I even like the newsprint drop paper that I used to protect the drawing board.

Over the edge: sheet of newsprint

I completely love these paints. Whether they will make me a better artist is absolutely debatable, but the pleasure of using something of this quality will far outweigh any disappointment in the results. The joy is always in the doing rather than the having.

Strips of cotton rag paper with paint applied in rows using a half-inch straight brush

Several of the samples are iridescent. They are interesting but I’m not sure I would use them – though of course, never say never! I’ve cut them out and threaded them onto a bit of cotton yarn just in case. There is also plenty of useable paint on these, so I will hang on to them and wait for an opportunity to present itself. You can get watercolour iridescent medium, so really you could make anything sparkly if you wanted to.

Daniel Smith iridescent colours

I will probably cut the others up into little tags when I’ve exhausted all the paint. Now I just have to narrow it down and choose some colours…

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.


I am learning a lot from the stitch journal. I don’t often stitch on plain white fabric, preferring generally to use layered, hand-dyed bases. I understand colour theory, of course, and I know about the different effects that colours can have on their neighbours, but the stitch journal has enabled me to have a better understanding of how this works. The stitch journal is more about line, whereas in my usual work I focus more on shape.

This set of green silk threads is from Airedale Yarns and when it first arrived I took one look at the bright emerald green and thought that was a colour I would probably never use. Too bright, too shiny, too ‘green’ (if there can possibly be such a thing). I like the more muted shades.

Regency silk palette ‘Baroque’

When you stitch a fine line on a white background, however, the colour becomes something quite different. It completely loses its in-your-face greenness and sits quite happily alongside the hand-dyed silk threads on today’s journal block. It becomes a bit more subdued against the white, which I really like.

Bright shiny emerald green in between lines of couched silk perle no. 3

My stitch journal is already very green, I know. What can I say? I like green. I even like the bright shiny emerald green as well now. What I love most about working with colour is how perfectly it can express a feeling or state of mind, without the need for a single word. I have probably used too many words here, but it continually amazes me how much more there is to learn, even after 40+ years of needlework.

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