Tuesday, 25 January 2011

And Another!

Hello and welcome to what is apparently officially the most depressing day of the year (I thought they said that last Monday?) Anyway, don't worry as it's only exactly eleven months until next Christmas Day! I will do my best to cheer things up with today's piccies.

Saturday saw a fine but very chilly day in my beloved Bridport. Ah yes, Bridport is worth braving the miserable West Country weather which I thought I'd left behind when I left home eighteen years ago (gulp, I'm really getting very old now). The upside was that it was rather quiet around town and parking easy (any of you who have been to Bridport will know it's usually challenging to say the least). On the street market, I made an interesting find...

Something drew me to this box with it's removable little top shelf and sturdy iron handle. I think part of it was that old label just about hanging onto the front. I think it's very fitting for our house which might once have had a few servants to keep all the fireplaces swept and lit, beating all the rugs and watering all the aspidistras! I see it though, filled with contrasting pretty things, maybe in my Den, quite likely on my stall filled with dinky things I've made. We'll see but it did have to come home.

Something else which finally found room in the car was this...

This pinky Lloyd Loom style chair we found in a skip outside the auctioneers last Summer and so back to the cottage it duly went (amazing what you find in auctioneers' skips!) I pulled off all the old horsehair and hessian seat covering as it was wet and horrid and now I am going to effect a little transformation.

Did any of you spot anything else of interest in the photos? Something a bit like this?

Indeed like this!

This is my latest quilt to come into being, started about two weeks ago. The design is taken from Kim Diehl's book "Simple Comforts". It's not perhaps my usual style but it is certainly a beautiful book which lives up to its name, everything looks deliciously cosy and comforting. The "High Cotton" quilt graces the front cover and caught my eye straight away. Kim's is made in possibly brighter fabrics but I had been looking for a project to use up some of the Civil War stash left over from the sludge quilt and when I saw this, I knew this was it!

With today's breeze, it is certainly living up to its name!

It was quite a simple design to execute but very effective, think.

I have backed the quilt with cosy red flannel and the suggested black ditsy flowered cotton for binding. Oooh, I can't wait to get cosy with it!

Charlie Boy beat me to it though!

Hmm, now I am a woman in need of a new project...

Friday, 21 January 2011

The First of 2011

Ooooh, don't you just feel so much better when the sun is out, the sky is blue and the birds are singing? When you can throw open your doors and windows and pretend it's not gloomy old miserable old January! Well I know I do (and I do hope it's sunny with you today, too) and the Gods must really be smiling on me today as I have a little something to show you, indeed, the first "ta-dah" of the year, and that was always going to be much better ta-dah in the outdoor sunshine.

Thinking about where I might take my snaps today, I was reminded that I had not shown you my Bridport purchase, which is this little turquoise table-thingy.

Truthfully, I had no idea where I was going to put it but when I spotted it on the pavement at one of the street market stalls, I knew that for a mere £25 I could not pass it up, not when it didn't even need painting and had that pretty patterned vintage formica stuff on the top. I mean, it's turquoise!!! And I knew it would find a home and so for now, it's in the guest room and indeed it's rather fetching, I think.

Well there hasn't been an awful lot of blogging of late but there's been an awful lot of staying in and hiding from the rubbish weather. Not to complain though because indoors, there's always sewing to be done. I actually started on this project waaay back in 2010, I think it was August or September because I bought a few very cheap strip packs of Kaffe Fassett fabric at the International Festival of Quilts and they are what got me started; started on the first quilt of 2011.

My sister long since alerted me to the fact that this is one great Kaffe book. It was published in 2001 so it's an oldie now - but a goodie as the saying goes. The reason we both love it so much is that it features a lot of vintage quilts and they really are quite spectacular.

Like this one, with Kaffe's gorgeous needlepoint cushions and pottery.

Apparently, Kaffe has quite a collection of vintage quilts (lucky him!)

What started to strike me about these quilts is that many featured that very busy, dotty blue-ish background.

This is one of Kaffe's own modern quilts, but still with a vintage vibe, don't you think? And there's those blue-y dots again.

And so, many months ago, I started on a project loosley inspired by these pages. There was also the fact that I had accumulated quite a stash of Kaffe's fabrics which I had yet to use in a quilt (I had used bits in quilts but not made them the mainstay of the design). I took up the strips I'd bought at the fair and added in as much as I could from my drawers of scraps and indeed, a few strips chosen and cut specially from my stash.

This has been one of those projects I've picked up and worked on now and then, in between everything else (the other twenty quilts I made last year!) You need a lot of space around you to lay out the myriad of strips so it's a project you have to work on and not be doing anything else. But it's not the most enthralling type of piecing, indeed fairly laborious, so I'd sew a few blocks and then move onto something else, coming back when I had spare time. This also meant I had a good, eclectic mix of fabrics as I'd be able to incorporate the scraps from whatever other projects I'd been working on. And so this week, it started looking a bit like this...

Indeed, like this...

The pattern I have used came courtesy of this generous blogging lady. It doesn't seem a difficult design to execute as you add strip after strip but it's only when you come to put all the blocks together that you realise actually, there are quite a few points to match up and you have to be careful because you're working with a lot of bias edges. There's quite a lot of waste because you are effectively using the background fabric (the Kaffe's sky dots) as a foundation to piece onto and you cut away and discard two thirds of this afterwards. I have quite a pile!

It's a very clever design though, not only do you get those fabby spiderwebs of brightly hued strips, but you magically get a sky blue dotty star, too! Oh I love this quilt!

Love, love, love!

With the sun backlighting it, the back of the quilt looks quite funky!

I have treated this quilt to a fancy backing fabric, "Herringbone", which is one of the Liberty art fabrics which Kaffe recently re-coloured. John Lewis had most of these on sale at half price in the New Year, hence my splurge. (I'm wondering if these are being discontinued already? Many were sludge coloured but the blues were absolutely beautiful.) I love the binding which is another Liberty art fabric in a serpentine design, brilliantly named "Punk Stripe"!

For the first time, I used Quilter's Dream Blend batting, which is a 70% cotton/30% polyester mid-loft blend (available here in the UK). I really liked this batting, it feels substantial within the quilt but is very easy to work with. I shall be using it again.

So there it is, my first completed quilt of the new year, hmm it could even be my most favourite quilt I've made so far. I think this quilt would look good displayed on a wall so it could yet oust Rupert! For now, though, I need to be able to fondle it a while longer.

Do enjoy the weekend....

Monday, 17 January 2011


Hello dear readers, hello from rainy and gloomy central. What happened to those bright but cold days, please might they return? Everything is back to normal here at the Henhouse, men off to work, children off to school and me in my Den. I thought I'd get on with something new but it's proving surprisingly tricky.

Charlie Boy has cottoned on to the fact that the laptop produces a surprisingly large amount of heat and has therefore made it his best friend.

Things get really interesting when he lies on the keyboard and I have no idea what he does, but he manages to lean on something such that iTunes starts playing. I came in the other day and thought burglars were having a party. His song of choice seems to be Amy Winehouse's "Rehab" (each and every time!)

Vorey, meanwhile, is still shunning the alpaca fur cushion which he so loved only a week ago (fickle creatures? Cats?) It has been washed but no, my pile of new fabric is much cosier, it seems. Ok, I'll sew with something else then.

Jacky Ginger seems oblivious to the fact that he runs the risk of being rotary cut into cat steaks.

My sister was staying last week, (what a week: filled with quilty chat, quilty reading, quilty sewing and errm, quilty shopping - and eating cake- you see it's not all just quilty.) She had a new project on the go and was incorporating my vintage scraps into a doll quilt. At least she was trying to...

So I waved goodbye to my sister on Saturday and headed straight for my empty Den? No chance...

This basket of vintage lace scraps is just too cosy, says Ginge.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

A Year in Quilts

For me, 2010 was the year of the quilt! I actually made my first quilt at the very end of 2009 so that one isn't included in this retrospective (though you can see it here or here should you wish).

The first quilt I made in 2010 is the one you can see below which I tended to call the "Picnic Quilt". I was inspired by a vintage quilt atop a bed in the glorious book Perfect English Cottage (as seen bottom row middle, below). Because it was very horrid weather when I finished this quilt, I don't have a full view to show you as it's very large, over 84" square, so I wasn't able to lay it out outside (must rectify that!) The quilt has 9 large panels which are made up using a kind of crazy patchwork technique and they are then surrounded by a ditsy print cotton. I used a very sturdy cotton on the back and bound it in my favourite red. A little child labour was involved in the pinning (young knees)! This quilt was quilted in the ditch but because it was so big and heavy, it was quite a task. I finally made a quilted carrying handle so we could roll it up and carry it with us on our outdoor adventures. And there I am, relaxing in the evening outside our Airstream trailer on our Summer holiday on the Isle of Wight!

Later in 2010, I decided to have a whirl at selling some quilts through my blogshop. I made three quilts and launched them onto the unsuspecting public all at once! They were made to a similar formula, alternating four-patches with full squares. The first incorporated squares of plain Moda Bella Solids, which I thought were too prominent once the top was pieced, so I appliqued on some hearts which I finally tied through the middle: the "Happy Hearts Quilt". The second used vibrant primary colours and reminded me of camper vans, hence becoming the "Happy Camper Quilt". The last one was my personal favourite, putting it on the bed for a photo shoot almost led to that one not being re-homed! It had my favourite sugary pastel colours with very pretty prints, the "Sweet Retro Quilt". All of the quilts were quilted in the ditch and used "Dream Puff" batting which is a little tricky to work with but deliciously high loft. I was able to take them all to the cottage for some pretty photos. They all found homes within days!

Somebody else had also taken a fancy to the "Happy Camper Quilt" but wanted to incorporate some more of her favourite colours, so a second similar quilt was born with some more aqua fabrics and some pinks and went off to its fabulous new home in Oz.

The photos show you some of the steps I go through in making a quilt. I lay out all the patches on the spare bed and once I am happy with the placement, I take a photo of it. I pile up each row of squares and number them to keep them in order. I take these through to piece together, using the photo on the screen to remind me of the original placement if I get muddled (and I invariably do!) The last stitch, joining the binding, is always a happy one leaving me just the hand sewing of the binding to do which can be done on the sofa in front of the telly! N.B. Note obligatory furry friend (or three) on the table. Sorry but my quilts do not come from a pet free home!

Onto this fun quilt then. I purchased some vintage fabric squares depicting Rupert the Bear. The squares obviously lent themselves well to a log cabin design. I even used a fancy backing fabric on this one and quilted lines either side of the seams, with a Dream Cotton mid-loft batting inside. This quilt now hangs at the top of the stairs on our half landing, just outside my Den. I enjoyed making this one, the "Rupert Story Quilt". N.B. No floral prints were used in the making of this quilt, it's a miracle!

With a divine piece of vintage embroidery as my inspiration, I made some gorgeous vintage fabric cushions for a lovely lady with a green and purple colour scheme and as I had some squares of fabric left over, it seemed natural to continue the quilt obsession and make a purple and green quilt: "Purple Haze" was born. "Natural" was in reality not very sensible as I needed to cut lots more squares! I incorporated some vintage embroidered cloths and a mixture of modern and vintage fabrics and this time, added a polka dot border. This quilt went to a deserving young purple-loving lady in Oz who received it for Christmas... and then I happily made another for the cushion lady, too!

Fast on the heels of this, another lady asked me to incorporate some Cath Kidston fabric squares she already had into a vintage-style quilt. I added lots more Cath K designs of my own along with lovely modern and vintage floral prints and vintage embroidered cloths. I'd grown fond of that polka dotty border, too. Some Dream Puff batting and in the ditch quilting, some Cath K pink rosebud binding and "Fancy Flowers Quilt" went off to its new home.

By September, it was finally time to get started on a quilt for my boy, for his birthday to be precise. I'd been collecting bright boyish fabrics for a while (this not being a feature of my usual stash!) and worked on this during the day whilst he was at school. I decided on a pinwheel design as I thought this would be fun for a young Munchkin and teamed the fabric bearing cowboys, trains, cars, dogs, Spitfires and so on, with a variety of bright polka dots. I tried out a different quilting style, using an elongated serpentine stitch on the machine and this looked groovy but did use up an awful lot of the width of the fabric. I was excited for him to receive his quilt! He opened it on the morning of his birthday whilst we were staying in Pickering and "Munchkin's First Pinwheel Quilt" seemed to go down quite well and is on his bed to this day.

At the marvellous International Festival of Quilts in August, I was able to buy a jelly roll of fabric from the new Oliver + S line. I finally settled on a Dutch Windmills design for this quilt and spent many an hour piecing the blocks. This quilt was a long time in the making as I had to wait for the full release of the fabric line to purchase yardage for the borders and binding. This one has a Dream Cotton batting and was quilted in the ditch on my new Pfaff Expression 3.0 machine. I soon found this machine was not my favourite for quilting (which sent me off on a hunt for the perfect quilting machine!) "A Weekend in Amsterdam" is a pretty quilt though, with an unusual colour scheme and cute fabrics.

A generous lady then asked me to make a cot-sized quilt as a gift for a baby boy using mainly Cath Kidston fabrics. I teamed all Cath's best boyish fabrics with a polka dot border, a cosy blue flanelette backing and pure cotton batting for a lovely and usable quilt for baby. Working on a quilt of this size is a joy!

I must have been feeling very indulgent, the day I decided to give in to my love of pink and make a truly PINK quilt! You will not be surprised to know that I had quite a selection of fabrics from which to choose, both modern and vintage. I loved this one, so girly and gorgeous and so cosy with that pouffey batting! "Pretty in Pink" happily went to a very good customer in Oz and I'm so pleased to hear it is bringing her comfort during the hard times her country is sadly experiencing right now.

Somewhere along the line (I'm getting lost now!), I was seized by the desire to make myself a cute, country-style quilt using ditsy print calico cottons. I settled on a colour scheme based on red and blue with cream/yellow and a hint of pink. I really enjoyed making this "Calico Country Quilt" and while I was waiting for an enormous piece of batting to arrive to finish it, I used the left over blocks(and many more!) to make a similar, throw-sized quilt which went off to help keep someone new warm. I finally finished our own quilt, used Dream Cotton batting inside and for the first time, a pretty floral brushed cotton backing. I cannot deny that it feels gorgeous but boy, was it a challenge to quilt! I found using a smaller needle and lower thread tension helped (quilted on my new Pfaff Grand Quilter which did an admirable job) and quilted a quarter of an inch either side of the seam lines. I do like that simple style of quilting. This was a popular quilt such that on request, I made yet another and I still have a few more blocks so I think a fourth is a possibility! This quilt is on our bed now, I love it.

Phew, before I knew it Christmas was fast approaching. I had been quite organised though, ordered my fabrics from America (where the choice is greater) in good time, and started making star blocks several months before. I teamed these with big colourful squares of funky modern festive fabrics for my first "Jingle Dangle" Christmassy quilt which just beat the snow to keep a lovely lady in Dorset warm! I carried on, making some pine tree blocks which I found in a book my sister gave to me, and managed to complete a Christmas quilt for ourselves about two weeks before Christmas. A poorly Munchkin (and Jacky Ginge) found it a comfort whilst the cold snow lay deep and crisp and even outside.

Did somebody mention Christmas? With Christmas comes the need for gifts and parents I find especially tricky to buy for. There are only so many years you can give bath salts and socks! For Mr HenHouse's parents, I settled on this pattern from my favourite McCall's Quilting magazine, in Civil War fabrics. Here I had to eat my words, all those years of teasing my sister for her sludge obsession, and here I was, a veritable sludge convert! Well, in fact it didn't turn out so sludgy after all! This was probably the most work of any quilt I've made. Each block had 29 pieces and it was the first time I had made a quilt with setting triangles. I started this quilt way back and as I was waiting for fabric from America to finish it, I was not sure it was going to make it under the tree by 25 December (but it did)! I "upgraded" to Dream Cotton deluxe weight batting, oh truuuuly scrumptious, and went the whole hog with a co-ordinating backing. I tried freezer paper quilting which I won't be going back to in a hurry! I was proud of this one, "The Dreamcatcher Quilt", and glad it went to an appreciative home. I'm looking forward to seeing it in situ in a few weeks.

Last but not least, at the last minute, I decided I'd make a quilt for my parents too. I chose some fabrics from a co-ordinated palette which I thought would suit their home and made the best use of the layer cake to make nine-patch and heart applique blocks. I hand quilted round the hearts using bright perle cottons and for the first time, I made a scrappy binding (mainly from necessity!) I used a lovely wide soft cotton backing, the yummy ultra-cosy batting again and popped "Memories of Home" in the post, arriving up North just in time for the big day!

Phew! I have so loved my quilting adventures over the last year. I've learned a lot, making twenty quilts (I can't believe this number myself!) and am looking forward to learning even more in 2011. I have armed myself with seemingly many of the books, machines and notions available to quilters so you can be certain I hope to have lots more quilts to show you this year. I was overwhelmed by the support from my readers and customers for my little quilty enterprise and I can't tell you what a lovely feeling it is, thinking of those quilts being enjoyed in homes all over the world. Thank you.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Didn't We Have a Lovely Time

...the day we went to Sussex. Normally, our weekends at home are largely filled with chores which I suppose is fair enough as every other weekend we are generally at leisure in the country. Sadly, because of the grim weather over the New Year, especially in the West Country, we didn't venture far from the cottage so last weekend, I was champing at the bit to get out and about.

Having read a lovely article in Making magazine, and various blog posts of moochy trips, I wanted to visit Lewes in Sussex and as it was near to one of the boys' favourite jaunts, the Bluebell Railway, it seemed a perfect day out for all our family. Off we set then...

First we stopped by the Bluebell Railway, which I've posted about before. This steam railway is fantastically preserved as it became a preserved railway as soon as it was shut by British Railways years ago. As such, it has retained so many original features. This is the railway you will often see in period dramas on tv.

Despite the fairly gloomy weather, we were cheered by the sight of the coal fire which you will invariably find at steam railways.

One of the platforms is home to this splendid newsagent's kiosk...

When it gets too cold, there's a lovely bar which serves hot pasties and the fine local Harvey's ale.

Once the boys had had their fill and Mr HenHouse had bought out many of the railway shop's books, off we set for Lewes. It's a very attractive town with Harvey's Brewery's gorgeous factory building at its heart.

We didn't have long enough to explore Lewes to the full on this visit but you couldn't help but notice the pretty architecture.

There are quite a few vintage shops in Lewes including book shops which we love as we are a family of avid readers. This was a quaint shop; shame about the grumpy old owner, I wouldn't part with my money to him!

This little lane reminded me of Gold Hill in Shaftesbury (the hill in the Hovis advert).

The exciting bit for me was a visit to this shop. Oooooooh, let me at it! The Patchwork Dog and Basket was featured recently in Making magazine and is housed in a lovely old building called the Needleworks which also has a cafe and many moochy vintage and crafty shops. Delightful! Apologies that I had dumped the camera in the car by this stage, busily dodging the town's many traffic wardens, so the less-than-brilliant photos come courtesy of my 'phone.

What sets this shop apart is that it is beautifully laid out and so full of character. It carries everything you could wish for: oodles of fabric, buttons and trims, lots of quilting notions the likes of which it's generally difficult to find, batting, books and so on. But there are also beautiful vintage quilts, both on display to inspire you and to buy, vintage baskets and covetable mini wooden drawer units and downstairs, a whole shelf of little vintage sewing machines.

There are many examples around the shop of quilts made by the staff members and jolly good they are too.

This is a beauty, don't you think?

Inspiration surrounds you...

There was a whole dresser full of ready-cut fat quarters and half metres of fabrics as well as shelves lining the walls with fabrics on the bolt. There were many ranges by Moda, including quite a lot of the French General range, a good selection of reproduction 1930's prints and an equally good selection of Civil War fabrics as well as utility fabrics such as linen and felt.

Downstairs there was a selection of battings, both ready cut in packets and on the roll, and a selection of sale goods. Hooray! They also hold a range of classes down here.

I did not come away empty handed as I'm sure you will have guessed! We were still in the Needleworks as the doors were closing at home time so it is a certainty that we will return to Lewes - hopefully in better weather. How about bluebell season?!