Squaring up your Quilt top and Backing fabric

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Are you ready for post two of our Quilting Finishing Techniques for both the longarm and domestic machine finishing?

So with the backing fabric the correct size and the quilt top finished, there is still abit more preparation needed before the quilt can be taken to be quilted on the longarm.

It is important to check if both the backing fabric and quilt top are ‘squared’ off (especially the TOP & BOTTOM EDGES), as it is necessary for the longarm quilting process. If the quilt is being quilted on the longarm, it is the top and bottom edges which will be attached to the rollers on the frame and need to be straight and parallel with each other. If these two ends are not straight, then the backing fabric will NOT lie flat and square on the frame.

Quilting does not correct issues if the backing and quilt top are NOT square. If the quilt is not square, has fullness through the centre, or has wavy borders you may end up with pleats quilted in to try and flatten your work. Both top and backing should be carefully pressed. If you can’t press it flat, the quilter can’t quilt it flat without a lot of extra work and maybe putting in some tucks or pleats.

So, with knowing why how backing fabric and quilt tops need to be square, the next question that comes up is, … How do I square up my backing fabric?

I can remember from my dressmaking days, my mother (who was a professional dressmaker) taught me that if you required a straight cut to your fabric, the best way was to snip a little pass the selvedge, and rip the fabric, all the way across to the other side. This ensured that you had ‘cut’ your fabric along the straight of the grain. This method can work most of the time. However, what happens if the grain is slightly off which can happen if the fabric has been sitting folded on a bolt for a while and the grain gets slightly distorted. It can take quite a bit of pulling the fabric piece at some weird and wonderful angles to encourage the fabric grain to come back in a straight line. Usually this method does bring back the correct lay of the fabric grain. So, if you want to use this method to square off your fabric, ENSURE the grain is straight by lining up your selvedges and check that the ‘ripped’ edges lay straight.

I have used another method for many years to find the straight grain of my quilting fabrics and even use this method to get my fabric to lie flat when I store the fabric on boards. I will go into this in more depth when doing my blog series on organisation.

So, to square the fabric you first need to press the fabric to get out any creases or tucks. If it is a long length of fabric (more than 2 metres) I usually skip this first step and do it after the next step which is where I bring the two selvedges together of the fabric length so I am technically folding the fabric in half lengthways. However, I am NOT going by the cut edges of the fabric length and using them as a guide. I ignore those edges and focus on bringing the two selvedges together with my fingers as though it is hanging from a clothesline. 

With looking at the fold line that is hanging down, I check to see how it is hanging. Is it wavy, gathered or curving? If it is, use your fingers to slightly adjust the selvedge edges to the left or right until the bottom edge fold hangs straight and flat. You do NOT want to see any puckers.

Once I have the fold line nicely matching the selvedges and the fabric fold is lying flat, I then give the length a good press. Once it is pressed and the fold line is lying smooth and flat, I then lay the fabric length on my cutting mat so I can straighten up the cut edges of the fabric. Carefully smooth the fabric, keeping the fold line flat and bump free. At this stage the fabric (folded in half) will still be too big to be cut on the cutting board.

So, you now need to bring the folded edge to the selvedge edge and you have created four layers of fabric. The fabric length is folded into quarters. Check that the fold line and the selvedge edge is still pucker free and lying flat as well as the middle section of the fabric length is smooth. Check the second fold of the fabric to make sure that all 4 layers are in the fold and that there are no hidden wrinkles or lumps.

The four folds should now mean that your fabric length can be cut comfortably within the cutting mat guidelines. If you are working with extra wide fabric, it is the same principle, but you will need to keep folding the fabric until it is small enough to fit comfortable on your cutting mat. Just be sure that you smooth out any wrinkles and the fold line is lying straight.

Carefully line up the folded edge of the fabric length with a horizontal inch line on your cutting mat, ensuring that the selvedges edge is still on your cutting mat and NOT extending pass the mat onto your table.

Smooth fold and selvedges

Place the ruler near the edge of fabric that is to be straightened, with the body of the ruler placed on the actual fabric. Ensure the ruler extends past the fabric width by a couple of inches at each edge. Line up the ruler by matching the lines on the cutting mat with your ruler to ensure you are cutting a straight line.

Using a rotary cutter, glide along the ruler, applying enough pressure to cut through all layers of the fabric. Make sure you have placed your hand correctly on the ruler to apply enough pressure to prevent the ruler from slipping as you cut.

To ‘square’ the other edge of the fabric length, you turn the fabric along and repeat the steps.

You now should have a perfectly ‘squared’ backing fabric that is ready to be loaded onto the long arm.

So how do we ensure our quilt top is squared and ready to be quilted?

It is not just the backing fabric that needs to be square. The quilt top also needs to lie flat and square to ensure it goes onto the quilting frame correctly and not cause issues with quilting lines.

Sometimes a border that is not cut or sewn on correctly can cause Wavy Border Syndrome (W.B.S). Proper preparation and techniques can prevent WBS.

There are several types of borders. The quilt may have a pieced border that is designed to be pieced, as with our quilt – Exploding Squares. The pieced border makes it easy to ensure the borders are lying flat due to the pieces being pre-cut to exact measurements and there are ‘guideline’ marks along the quilt edge where each section connects. Basically, all that is needed is to pin where each matching seam is to meet as shown in the photo. If everything is cut and sewn together correctly, then there should not be any need to square off your quilt.

Exploding Squares
Exploding Squares quilt

Other quilts may just have a ‘plain’ border as with our Bookcase Quilt Tutorial, 12 Days of Christmas Quilt, The Hen Party Quilt and 4-Patch Quilt – where the borders are from ONE fabric and may be in one section or have a seam to create the exact length needed to fit along the edge of the quilt.

Borders should (where possible) be cut parallel to the selvedge of the fabric as this has less stretch to the fabric and lessens the chances of the border being over stretched while sewing and causes it to pucker, or under stretched which will cause the border to be wavy. Both of these issues will cause the quilt/border to NOT lie flat.

It would be ideal to be able to cut the border in one piece, so it is the EXACT length needed to be sewn to the quilt edge, but sometimes this is not possible. If you need to have seams in the border length, ensure that the overall length of the border piece is the same measurement as the quilt edge it is being attached to. It is recommended to pin each end of the border piece to the ends of the quilt top that you are sewing. I also attach several pins along the side – ideally in the middle and a couple in each half section, this helps to ‘ease’ in your border piece to ensure it lies flat.

Another type of border is where you have pieced borders, using left over fabrics from the quilt centre design. The pieces can be all different lengths (but the same border width) to create a ‘scrappy’ border as in our BOM quilts – Autumn Beckons and Down by the Seaside quilts. These borders have several seams in the border to achieve the exact length of the required border and attached to the quilt edge. With having the quilt loaded onto the long arm frame and stretched, it can cause the border seams to come unstitched. A way to lessen this possibility, is to stitch the border seams with a smaller stitch length (I usually use a 2mm length) and to also ‘stay stitch’ the edge of the quilt top.

It is also important to have BOTH opposite border sections the same length. All four border pieces are prepared and sewn in the same manner. If you have prepared and attached your border sections correctly, then it is pretty much certain that your quilt top is square.

Checking how square your quilt top is the same method as for squaring your quilt back. Bring together BOTH side edges of the quilt top, ensuring the fold line of the quilt top lies flat and pucker free. If needed, you can then cut the top/bottom edges to ensure they are straight and square. The method is then repeated by bringing the top and bottom edges together to check on the side edges.

If you wish to keep a copy of this technique for future reference, you can download the PDF – How to square off your Backing fabric/Quilt top – here.

So with explaining How to ‘square’ off our backing fabric and quilt top, it now leads into the question of – ‘What fabric can be used to back a quilt?’

Come back next week to find out about –

Backing fabric options – Extra wide fabric / Sheeting / Pieced backs

And the following posts –

  • Binding          – How much binding / How to prepare binding / Attaching binding to quilt front / Finishing the binding
  • Quilt Labels – Why quilt labels? / What to put on a label / How to create a label / How to attach a label

Wedding Shawl

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So with the wedding day over and slowly recovering, it is hard to believe that a week ago, we were all gathered to see my oldest daughter, Latisha, getting married to her wonderful partner, Brian.

Reflecting back on the build up to the wedding, it is amazing to think just how much Latisha achieved in the organising of the wedding. She planned and made all the decorations – the arch decorated with wisteria and voile, where they said their vows to each other. She raided everyone’s house to collect the rustic crates, lanterns and vintage bottles to complement the wedding arch. She made the ring holder and the hand fasting cord.

My contribution was to bake and decorate the wedding cake and to knit the wedding shawl.

Wedding Day Gift

I have knit many lace and beaded shawls in the past, but none for well over 8 years. When it was agreed on having a shawl for her wedding dress, I don’t think I ever thought it would turn out how it did on the wedding day. Latisha chose the pattern – It is a wonderful design by Boo Knits (a English designer that sells through Ravelry) – called Out of the Darkness.

She wanted a crescent shawl, which is different from a traditional shawl as it does not form a back spine where the stitches are increased. A crescent shawl has the increases at each end of the shawl to form a slightly rounded shawl without a point at the back. I prefer the crescent shawls as well as it means you get the longer edge for wrapping the shawl without having a huge depth to it at the back and can be worn in so many different ways. Basically if I had knitted a traditional shaped shawl and had the same length for the width, the depth of the shawl point would have trailed on the ground behind her.

She then chose the yarn – a very fine cobweb yarn in a pale silver grey and the beads – a clear colour with rainbow reflections – that hid in the shawl until the light caught the reflection of the bead and just sparkled slightly.

Yarn and beads

I started knitting the shawl back in July, thinking that it would not take me long. I was basing it on the fact that I used to knit shawls in under a week many years ago. But times have changed – it had been many years since I had knitted a lace shawl by following a chart – so that took a couple of evenings to get back into the swing of things.

Lace chart – green squares indicates bead placement

I was also busier than I used to be with the business so my time for knitting was only in the evenings now. As the shawl grew, I was only really able to knit a couple of rows each evening as one row could take anything up to an hour to complete. The stitches increased by 6 stitches every two rows, so it grew very quickly and the width of the shawl was more than the actual depth.

There were 12 stitches per pattern repeat and stitch markers had to be placed between each pattern repeat. These markers were a godsend and really needed to help keep me on the right track of knowing where the pattern repeat started and ended. I know that these little markers helped me quite a number of times throughout the shawl. Once the lace charts started it was essential that the pattern repeat section of 12 stitches was easy to find as it was easy to miss a stitch and then the whole pattern sequence would be wrong and then had to be ripped out. Honestly, I didn’t want to even consider going down this route, so the wee rings were great. They saved me on many occasions where I was able to fudge a stitch within the pattern repeat and get me back on track with the 12 stitches. It really was a better option than pulling out the rows to correct one missed loop over ….. in the big scheme of things, I don’t think anyone would have noticed if there was a stitch extra or less in one of the pattern repeats for one row.

So, I started knitting and at the start it was easy going, there was a small amount of stitches and the knitting went quickly. The pattern suggested 3 plain sections before going onto the lace sections, but it was also stated that you could repeat the plain section as many times as you wish to increase the size of the shawl. Since I had over 1000 metres of yarn and Latisha had asked for a large shawl, I decided to repeat the plain section another 3 times. It meant placing more beads into the plain section as there were beads placed into the shawl at pre-marked places on the chart to produce ‘random’ placement of beads over the shawl. I wasn’t too concerned about using extra beads or yarn. I knew I had double amount of yarn and beads that was needed to complete the shawl, so I was fine …..

I remember many, many years ago, I was taught that if you wanted to knit beads into your knitting, then you had to thread the required amount of beads onto the yarn prior to beginning your knitting. I did it that way once, and ONLY once!! It was terrible!! Not only was it difficult to thread the yarn through the hole of the beads, but it took so much time!!! Time that could be used knitting. And then while knitting, you had to push those beads along the yarn away from where you were knitting and bring a bead up each time you wanted to place one in the pattern and try your utmost to ensure you knitted the bead in the correct stitch. It was murder! Especially, if you had miscounted the amount of beads you placed onto the yarn before you started. Can you imagine getting to the end of a complex pattern and finding out that you did not have enough beads to finish the knitting? It left you in a sticky situation with very few choices – and none of them ideal – either unpick everything you had knitted, so you could place the required amount of beads on, knit on and don’t have beads in that section which would stand out, or break off your yarn to thread more beads on and then place a knot in your yarn.

So, how did I manage to include beads in my knitting without any hassle? Well, the only hassle I had was when the bead would flick away from me when trying to pick it up with the crochet hook and the bead would fly across the room. I lost count with how many I lost to the floor and Alyssa would gather them up for me.

I came across this technique of knitting with beads quite a few years ago and I now always use this way. Basically you place the beads onto the stitch with a crochet hook as you knit the stitches. When you come to the stitch that has a bead, you place a bead onto a crochet hook (usually a .75mm hook – one where you wouldn’t use it for crocheting, unless you like to torture yourself) that is fine enough to go through the hole in the bead. You then place the stitch from the left hand needle onto the hook of the crochet hook and push the bead back over the hook and down onto the stitch. The stitch is then placed back on to the left hand needle and is knitted. The bead is now placed securely onto the stitch and will not move around. It really is a pain-free way of adding beads to your knitting, it just slows you down with knitting when you have to place 3-4 beads in every pattern repeat!

Translucent Beads

Once I had knitted the plain section, it was time to start on the lace sections – there was about 5 different lace sections to do for the shawl. It was also suggested that if you wanted to knit a larger lace section, than two sections could be repeated. So, since I still had a good amount of yarn and beads, I decided to increase the lace section as I really wanted the shawl to be lacy and open as well as a decent size. I still had plenty of time before the wedding. However, I seemed to forget that as the shawl grew in size, the amount of stitches also grew with every row completed.

Following a complicated lace chart, where beads are placed A LOT throughout out, takes a fair bit of concentration and time to complete one row. I did some maths towards the end – each pattern repeat had 12 stitches ….. I counted about 50 odd pattern repeat markers!!! Work the maths out on that one!

When I was about to complete the last chart, I was nearly out of my pack of beads – pack of 1500 – so I had to order more. They arrived in time and I was able to do the final few rows of the shawl – this row had even more beads placed on to give the edging some weight and a luxury touch. The cast off edge took me several evenings to complete – at this point I had calculated that I had close to 700 stitches to cast off, but it was no ordinary cast off – the cast off was done with picots being formed while casting off, so it was basically – cast on 4 stitches, cast off 6 stitches – all the way along the row. The casting off was tedious and long winded, but I have to admit that the edging was spectacular and well worth the extra effort. So the final stitch came off the needles a week before the wedding. So this shawl, nearly used the 1000 metres of yearn and OVER 1500 beads!

Picot edging and beads

However, the shawl may have been finished – knitting wise – but it still had to be blocked to bring the lace to life and truly make the shawl bloom. To block my shawls and to bring out the lace, I always soak them in warm water with some fabric softener, mainly to freshen it up and give it a lovely smell. After the shawl has been soaking for about 20 minutes, I wring out the extra water so it is not soaking wet and it is time to bring it to life by blocking and letting it dry thoroughly.

I use the interlocking foam play mats to block, they are brilliant as you can stick the pins in them and they stay secure. I place my first pin in the centre of the top edge of the shawl and work my way along the top edge towards the very edge of the shawl that meets with the cast off edge, one half at a time. The cast on edge is slightly pulled and pins placed every couple of inches along this edge. It is when you also create the curve that you want with your blocked shawl.

Once I have completed pinning the top edge, I pull the shawl out to reveal the lace pattern and let it bloom and then place a pin in the centre of the shawl bottom. Again, I work outwards to the edge point, one side at a time, pulling the shawl to open the lace. This is where you also create points at your edge.

I soon discovered that I had a slight issue with the shawl and the blocks – I didn’t have enough foam blocks to accommodate the shawl! The two edge points of the shawl went way beyond the foam blocks and I had to fold the edges and bring them back to the centre of the shawl. Sometimes you just need to improvise! Once the shawl is pinned open, it is now left for at least 24 hours so it can dry completely. Sometimes, it can take longer, as it depends on how much rain we have having and just how damp the air can be.

After a day and a bit, the shawl was completely dry and I was able to remove the pins. The shawl had grown with the blocking and the lace pattern had truly opened and become even more like a cobweb – a sparkling cobweb with beads (or dew drops)! All that had to be done now was to weave in the ends of yarn at the cast on and cast off points and then lovingly wrap it in tissue paper and into a box so it could be gifted to Latisha as she was getting into her wedding dress prior to the ceremony.

I think it is safe to say that the shawl really did suit her and set off her dress and hair so well.

Embroidery Sampler Book

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Many years ago, a design concept formed in my head, one that I couldn’t let go, but was not sure of how to bring into realisation. Actually, I have to admit … that first seed was planted over two years ago.

Cross Stitch wallhanging

I remember in my childhood, my Oma (grandmother in Dutch) stitched a wonderful keepsake to celebrate the birth of my older sister and myself. Items that were made with her own hands and treasured. She stitched a growth height chart hanging for me, which always hung on my bedroom wall. I treasured it and was always intrigued how the writing on the chart was in Dutch – I couldn’t speak or read Dutch – but I learnt those words with pride – ‘Hoe groot ca ik vorden’ (How big can I get? I still have the chart, wrapped up and kept safe, as a reminder of my Oma who died over 30 years ago.

My older sister, received a stitched fabric book of nursery rhymes in Dutch. I am 5 years younger than her and I remember being little and wishing the book was mine as it was magical and could be touched and used, whereas my chart hung on the wall to look at, not to interact with. It is strange how we think when we are very young.

So, you are probably asking at this point, as to what these stitched keepsakes have in common with the embroidery sampler book? Well, even though I no longer want my sister’s fabric book, the concept of a fabric book stayed with me all these years. I always wanted to create a similar book (not necessarily in nursery rhymes) but a fabric book that would become a treasured piece of craft.

So moving many years forward, to about 3 years ago, the concept came to me again when I started to design embroidery designs and realising that it would be amazing to create a sampler book full of embroidery stitches. My head filled with ideas and issues of exactly how to put it into patterns so others could follow the tutorials and create their own embroidery sampler book.

Just over two years ago, I started to put the ideas down on paper and start thinking on embroidery stitches to go into the book. That was the hardest decision, there are literally hundreds of different embroidery stitches! So hard in fact, that I decided to create two different books – a short one with 36 sts and a longer one with the same 36sts and 24 more stitches. I can never do simple!! The next choice was even harder! I didn’t just want any embroidery sampler design where you stitch a line of that particular stitch. To me, it didn’t really give me any insight in the stitch. Yes, it showed you how to work that stitch, but you were then left with the issue – just what do you use this stich for? What can be created with this stitch?

Draft Notes

And so, the next issue came about. I had the list of the stitches I wanted to use in my two books. BUT, what and how do I design something simple with the particular stitch? My vision for the book was to have a theme. I then thought of what most embroidery designs feature ….. gardens. The stitches really did work well in creating floral designs. The birth of my embroidery sampler book concept came about. The books would focus on a garden theme and the stitches used would form some sort of garden/nature theme. It was challenging at times, to work the particular stitch into a design, but a lot of fun as well. With the theme decided upon, the next issue arose – what design would I use with each stitch? I am old school when it comes to coming up with designs – I prefer paper and pencil. I had already accumulated a good size paper trail with all my notes and design ideas. I had to have some way of keeping everything structured so I wouldn’t get too overwhelmed. At this stage, I was only concerned with what design each embroidery stitch would have. My notes got well used, and there was a lot of crossing out and redevising along the way. Once I was happy with the order of the stitches and the design sketches, though these got changed along the way, I created two paper books with the outline of the stitches and pages, just so I could see what the finished book would look like. I am a visual person and sometimes I need to have something physical in front of me.

Book Mock up

With the design notes and plans, I could now set about coming up with final design sketches and drawing these up into the final templates for each page. At this point, I still had not actually thought of how this would all go into a pattern, how do I write out the instructions for the book or the actual embroidery stitches? Those important factors, didn’t come into the equation at this time – I was focused on actually creating the book itself.

It is a difficult task when you set about writing and creating written pattern/instructions so someone can come along and follow the instructions to create their own sampler book from the written pattern. I really hadn’t thought that through. I started off with stitching the book, telling myself that the pattern content will come along. My initial thought was to create step by step photos of each stitch and that is how I started.

Two years ago, Alyssa and I went on holiday to Wales and I took my pages with me to work on during down time. It started off really great, but over time it has harder to remember to take step by step photos and ensure they were clear. I was still having issues with how the pattern should be written so it was not too lengthy but still clear enough for anyone to follow.

I came back from holiday, and continued to work on the pages. But it stopped shortly after as I really wasn’t happy with how it was progressing, I had a mental block on how to take the patterns forward. I put the pages in a tin and set them aside, with the intention, I would get back to it when I had a clear mind. Fast forward a year or so – I had pulled the pages out to show people every so often over the year and discuss what my ultimate goal was – and then promptly placed them back saying I will get back to them. I was still struggling with the pattern writing.

It even got to the point where I had ‘misplaced’ the fabric pages. They were not where I thought I had kept them safe. I tried not to panic over it, and soon ‘forgot’ about them.

At the beginning of the journey, I had sent the first pattern to my testers who were wanting to do the project with me. They had their pages all prepared and ready to start stitching. I felt really bad, as I had put it all aside due to the mental blocks I was having with the patterns. Fast forward to the first lockdown – I devised a learn to crochet tutorial and I drew the diagrams and coloured them in. These instructions had great feedback and many found these diagrams easier to follow than photos. This got me thinking back to the embroidery sampler patterns and how it may be better to have coloured diagrams instead of photos which may or may not be in focus or the right lighting. With doing the crochet tutorial, I was able to move away from my mental block on the embroidery stitches.

Stitch diagrams

However, I still had the issue of locating my pages …. It didn’t help either when my testers asked if/when I was going to finish the sampler book….. so, with a confession and a promise to my testers …. And a frantic search around the house (several days in fact) looking to where my ‘safe’ spot was, I came up with nothing! Bring in Latisha, who offered to find them for me – and within 15 mins she had found them in the box of felt pieces! Heaven knows how or why they were in the bottom of that box! But, I was not going to get into solving that particular mystery, I was just so thankful that they had been found and I didn’t have to start making new pages …..

After not looking at the design notes and stitched pages for 2 years, it took a while for it to all come back …. I had noted on the paper books that the outside covers would have a saying on one side and name/year on the other. All of my notes on stitch designs, were all there and I had even written down all the stitch instructions, which I was so thankful for. I knew there was a reason why I put everything down on paper and keep it safe in a folder. Once I had gone over everything, I was able to look at the project with a fresh mind and the pattern instruction concept seemed to just flow and come together.

getting familiar with the notes and stitched pages

Maybe, I needed that time away to get it all right. I know that I felt better within myself this time round and the format of the pattern and instructions just seemed to come together. I even enjoyed drawing up the steps for the stitches and it seemed that with these diagrams, I was even able to rewrite the instructions so they followed the diagrams.

Stitch instructions and diagrams

It was still a lot of work – finishing the stitches in both books and writing up each part of the stitch design, the colour I used and the stitch that was used. It was a section of the pattern that evolved as I went along, trying to find a simple and visual way to lay out how each embroidery stitch design was created. Hopefully, with the structure I have devised in the monthly patterns, it has made it that bit easier to follow.

Stitch design instructions

I still had to design the outer covers for both books and each one had to be different as both books used stitches that are learnt in that particular book. They were fun to come up with and the hardest decision was about which design should be on the front, and which on the back. That issue was never decided on, my testers all had different choices – so it was decided that the decision of what you would put on the front cover – The saying design or the title design – would be left up to you to decide! If everything in this sampler book was laid in stone for you to follow and create an exact replica of my book, there would be no fun or individuality on this embroidery journey.

outer cover designs

I have found that this embroidery sampler book journey has definitely evolved over the years. At the beginning, I have to admit I was really unsure on how to bring this project to fruition and make it perfect from the launch. Looking back, I am convinced that it needed that break in between …. I needed to grow as well. Sometimes we can have a seed of creation, but just don’t know how to execute it so it is exactly right. I needed the time to ponder over the pattern instructions so they were just right. The break also allowed for the concept to expand, at the start, I was just focusing on releasing the patterns … and had no thought or desire to have fabric kits, etc. So, the break allowed this to evolve and I was able to work on having kits available to purchase to support the sampler book. It has also allowed me to be able to offer the pattern for both left handers and right handers. I am so thankful for this, and fully believe that things happen for a reason and the two-year break was needed so I could bring this embroidery journey to fruition in the best possible way.

kit packing

So, how does this Embroidery Sampler Book monthly subscription work?

Each month a pattern will be released which will give you clear and simple instructions on how to create your chosen book. These can be saved in a folder for future reference. The first month will include cutting instructions for your ‘pages’ and how to ‘rule up’ each individual page to get the pages ready to start stitching the embroidery stitches in the following months.

Over the following months, you will receive 12 embroidery stitches to stitch into your book.

In the final month, you will receive the pattern, templates and instructions for the cover (front & back) of your book. These designs will incorporate all/most of the stitches you have stitches over the previous months. You will also receive detailed instructions on how to put your book together. The 36st sampler book is over 5 months and the 60st sampler book is over 7 months. There is NO pressure to complete each monthly pattern before the next pattern is released. This is your journey and you work along at your own pace. Alongside the patterns, I have started a Facebook group that is solely for the embroidery sampler book and it is a place where we can share our progress photos, ask for support and I can give extra advice for each monthly pattern and videos (if needed) on the embroidery stitch. https://www.facebook.com/groups/1981259928809348

This book will become a treasured heirloom, something to treasure for years to come. You will also learn some new and interesting embroidery stitches that you can incorporate in future projects.

So, are you wanting to join the embroidery journey? The first monthly pattern is available on our website, along with any kits that you may need/want to help with your journey in creating your very own Embroidery Sampler Book. I look forward to being part of your journey in learning new (& old) embroidery stitches

36 st and 60st Embroidery Sampler Book

Size of Backing Fabrics/wadding for the longarm

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Are you ready for post one of our Quilting Finishing Techniques for both the longarm and domestic machine finishing?

Our first post is about the size of backing fabric and wadding that is needed if you are getting your quilt finished on a longarm.

Over the years, I have always quilted my quilts either by machine or by hand (when I had the time, which is usually never).

I seriously dread the layering of the three fabrics to create the ‘quilt sandwich’. I have to admit that larger quilt tops could hibernate in the ‘to be quilted’ box for a number of months …. or years! Not sure why, but I think it is more the dreaded thought that I could end up being short of either the wadding or backing fabric. I can honestly say that I ‘always’ ensure that my wadding and backing fabric is roughly 2-3” larger than the quilt top, around ALL 4 sides. However, I have had, on at least one occasion where I have miscalculated and have run short of either the wadding or the backing fabric and had to re-do the layering process. Tough lesson to have when it is a huge quilt.

Layering quilt on the table with only about a inch or so extra of the wadding and backing fabric – tight squeeze, but ok for quilting on domestic sewing machine

So, what if the quilt is being sent to be long armed quilted? Is the rule of 2-3” larger than the quilt top? I never thought it would be different and was surprised that it wasn’t the same. I am guessing that I wouldn’t be the only one who thought it would be the same principle if you were quilting it on your own machine. Reading that both the backing fabric and the wadding needed to be at least 8” larger than the quilt top (at least 4” larger on ALL four sides) really surprised me.

It got me doing some research to find out why. Strangely enough, I like to know the reasoning behind rules and techniques and why it is so. In finding the answers I thought it would be a great opportunity to explain the ‘why’ in a blog post so you can understand the reasoning why so much extra is needed on the long arm frame.

So, the 8” isn’t to allow for the longarm quilter to compensate for any layering errors she may have. The three layers are loaded onto the frame separately to ensure that each layer is wrinkle free and taut on the frame. The backing fabric and top have the centre top marked so that the centre point on both fabrics can be matched to the centre point on the take up rollers on the frame. This helps to ensure that the quilt top is placed centrally on the frame. The wadding is laid between the two with the wadding and backing fabric side edges matching. The quilt top lies on these two with 4-6” clearance all the way round.

clearance of wadding and backing fabric on a longarm frame ready for quilting

So why is size important?

The quilt back is loaded onto the quilting frame and two rollers – one at the top and the other at the bottom. This gives a flat surface, free of wrinkles with a tension that enables you to quilt.

quilt on the longarm frame

However, to be able to quilt well, you need good tension on both sides, not just at the top and bottom. The side tension is achieved with the side clamps that are attached to the frame. This now gives a 4-way tension on the quilt which prevents any puckers or tucks. This still doesn’t really explain why the extra fabric is needed on the backing fabric and wadding.

side clamp to ensure correct side tension

Well, if the quilt top was the same size as the wadding and backing fabric or if not much clearance has been allowed, then the clamp would be too close to the quilt top. This causes a big issue when the quilt is being quilted and the need to quilt (or baste) up to the side edges of the quilt top. The machine needs clearance to ensure the needle can go over the quilt edge. If the clamps are too close to the edge of the quilt top, the machine will bump against the clamp, causing the quilting stitches to be off.

side clearance of wadding and backing fabric – only about 1″ of wadding and 2″ for backing fabric. It meant that extra care needed to be taken to ensure the wadding and backing fabric cleared the top quilt and quilting had to be worked around the side clamp to prevent being knocked.

If rulers are being used for quilting, then it really is essential to have clearance as the ruler base extends on each side of the machine. If that base hits the side clamps, then it could mess up the ruler work.

Another important reason for having that extra clearance is that the tension needs to be checked with each new quilt loaded to ensure that both the top and bobbin thread are stitching correctly. This also needs to be done after each bobbin change. The tension test needs to be done using the backing fabric and wadding with a small piece of extra fabric (usually the backing fabric) as this is what is being quilted so will give the actual quilt stitching. If there is no extra allowance, then there is no room to test the tension.

suitable clearance from the quilt top to provide room for being able to do a tension test before commencing to quilt and enough clearance so the side clamps would not get in the way when quilting.

This would also apply if you were stitching free motion on your quilt with your domestic sewing machine.

So with explaining about the size of the backing fabric, it now leads into the question of – ‘what can I use for my backing fabric?’

Come back next week to find out about –

Backing fabric options – Extra wide fabric; Sheeting; Pieced backs

And the following posts –

  • “Squaring” off backing fabric and quilt tops
  • Binding          – How much binding; How to prepare binding; Attaching binding to quilt front; Finishing the binding
  • Quilt Labels – Why quilt labels?; What to put on a label; How to create a label; How to attach a label

Start of the Longarm Journey

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With introducing Longarm Quilting Services to Nifty Needles, I thought it was a great opportunity to write a blog post on what is involved in getting your quilt quilted on the longarm.

I am so excited to be finally offering this service. For many (many) years it has been my dream to own a longarm quilting machine. It was something I thought I could only dream about. However, thanks to COVID, I needed to rethink Nifty Needles and the longarm was one of the long term goals (wishes) I set down for Nifty Needles and I can now proudly announce that this goal has been achieved!

the Moxie

I am loving being able to get creative with the machine and testing my creative skills. I can truthfully say that it no longer scares me senseless as it did when it first arrived or even when I thought of getting one. I still have lots to experiment with as there are some features on the machine that I haven’t tried out yet.

I purchased the Moxie Handi Quilter which is able to stitch pantographs, groovy boards and ruler work in addition to the hand guided free motion quilting. The Moxi sits on a 10foot frame which means that it can quilt up to a width of 105” with ease and any length.

When the machine arrived on a pallet with so many different boxes, it was mind blowing. Realisation sunk in about WHAT I had actually purchased! The mere thought that it was now up to us (Latisha and myself) to actually unpack the boxes and build the frame up from the ground, so to speak, was so scary! I think at one stage; I was secretly panicking that it may not fit into the log cabin. We did actually build the frame, the wrong way round and only for the fact that the cabin had a 10ft pitched roof, were we able to turn it round by standing it on its end in the middle. It definitely was not able to turn round!! If it wasn’t for the high peak, the frame would have had to be taken apart …. I definitely did not want to even think about that option. With the help of some little helpers we got the Moxi set up.

Building the frame with help

After I got the machine set up, I needed to write down all the information and services for the website which was more involved than I thought possible. I sourced some excellent reference books on longarm quilting machines, spent some lengthy evenings doing some ‘bedtime’ reading just to get myself familiar with the longarm, designs and what it is actually capable of. Reading and researching is a great help when trying to get used to a new piece of machinery. But, honestly, nothing beats diving right in and doing the practical stuff.

With the research and reading I also found that there was so much more to the longarm. I also have to confess that I have never had a quilt finished on a longarm. The few I had seen that had been quilted on a longarm were so densely quilted that they were stiff. To me, a quilt should be cosy and soft, not stiff. Since getting the longarm I have discovered that quilts are quilted in the way you prefer – gently quilted to retain the cosiness with an all-over simple design or custom quilted for a more unique quilt.

allover free motion quilting

I also found it was interesting to find out and understand what is exactly required when getting a quilt quilted on the longarm. When I am told that things need to be done a certain way, I like to understand why it is needed or done in that particular way. So with this in mind, it got me thinking that it would be a great opportunity to do a series of blog posts with supporting PDF tutorials to explain about preparing a quilt for a longarm or even when we are quilting and finishing it ourselves on our domestic machines at home.

So over the next month or so I will post supporting blog posts with the techniques and ‘whys’. The subjects will be as follows –

  1. Size of backing fabrics/waddings
  2. Backing fabric options – Extra wide fabric / Sheeting / Pieced backs
  3. “Squaring” off backing fabric and quilt tops
  4. Binding  – How much binding / How to prepare binding / Attaching binding to quilt front / Finishing the binding
  5. Quilt Labels – Why quilt labels? / What to put on a label / How to create a label / How to attach a label

To support the blogs, I will create a PDF of the technique so you can download the information for your own reference.

I know that when I was at the start of my quilting journey I truly wish I had such information to help me progress. My journey was marked with trial and error. But I have learnt by my mistakes. In fact, we all need to make mistakes. It is how we learn and develop our skills. But there are times when you wish that you had that extra bit of advice so you don’t feel as though you are foundering around.

I hope you will find the blog posts and PDF tutorials of some interest and support on your quilting journey. If there are any other techniques relating to quilting, let me know and I can look at doing up more tutorials relating to the technique.

But, tutorials aside, this blog started with the long arm and what role it will be doing within Nifty Needles. Have a read of the website pages on our longarm services. But more importantly, click on our Introductory offer voucher to download your voucher which will give you a discounted offer on our edge to edge quilting service for your first two quilts. You could save up from £30 to £70 depending on the size of your quilt. To prevail of the discount, you DO need to bring in the voucher, so click on the link to download and print off your voucher. We will also be permanently offering a customer loyalty scheme where you can get 15% discount on every 5th quilt you bring to be quilted. Your first two discounted quilts go towards the loyalty scheme as well.

If you would like more information or to book an initial consultation appointment for one of our longarm services, please contact us either by phone (078 6018 6261) or email ([email protected]). Nifty Needles is NOT a shop and is open ONLY by appointment, so please do not just arrive on the off chance.

When you come for your pre-booked initial consultation, please bring your quilt top with you and we can have a cuppa while we discuss your requirements such as wadding, backing, quilting services, design options and thread colour choice. These will all be written down in detail on your order form.

We look forward to working with you in quilting or finishing your treasured quilts.

Don’t forget to come back next week when we start our series of Quilting Techniques. The first one being, all about the size of backing fabrics and waddings.

Happy quilting

Going Solo

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So, today was the day that I decided that I was going solo on Moxie, my new toy.

I thought it was about time that I grabbed a quilt top that needed to be layered and quilted, and just see exactly how much I had remembered from the trial piece a week or so ago. Strange how subconsciously you seem to put things off, because you are scared that you have forgotten or just won’t be good enough. Well …. The thing with a long arm quilter …. Is …. That you just won’t improve your skills if you don’t get onto the machine and use it!!!

However, I was just slightly scared to jump right in with one of my large quilt tops …. I wasn’t that brave!! So armed with a (very large) table runner top, wadding and backing fabric and of course the essential cuppa, I headed up to the cabin. The sun was out and it was a nice morning. I opened the door of the cabin and let in the fresh air, turned on the lights and put on a CD to give me some great music to keep me company. Of course, I also had Holly and Nora come out to keep me company on the decking outside enjoying the sunshine …. You can’t be without animals.

Bracing myself to start loading onto the frame

So, after a few deep breaths and pulling up my ‘Big Girl panties’ I went to start loading the layers on to the frame. That certainly is a lesson in itself, but I am pleased to say that I had retained how to load on the layers and get them all centred and straight on the frame. Mind you, I do have to admit that it takes forever! Or maybe, I am just slow and nervous about getting it all on to the frame…. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that once the piece was loaded onto the frame, it meant that I would actually have to start up the machine and actually do some quilting.

Loading the backing fabric on
Loading the top

Once the layers were on the frame, it was now time to turn the machine on! That took me a few moments to brace myself up to that fact! But I did it, and was slightly amazed that it did turn on. I then had to mentally prepare myself to changing the thread colour on the machine and rethreading the whole thing! Thank heavens for the manual! It certainly is worthwhile to have the manual handy so you can check things when you are unsure – it is what I always told my students when they were learning to sew. Have your manual handy and read it! It definitely was a case of ‘DO what I say’. So after rethreading it, I was now ready to start basting the top to the wadding/backing. I even remembered to place the locking ring onto the machine wheels so it would stitch straight across, though, I think I didn’t place it on correctly, as the ring went flying off part way across and I stitched some rather wonky lines after that.

Preparing to baste the wadding to the backing fabric

I also found that it was not stitching correctly! It was that dreaded tension thing… the tension issue that I can never fully understand and hate! So out came the manual again and sitting down with a (now cold) cuppa to have a proper read of everything tension wise. AND, heedless to say – I forgot the most important issue in using a long arm – DO A tension check at every bobbin and thread change! Truly failed that lesson!! So did the bobbin test – YES – that needed slight adjustment …. Issue sorted. Then the top tension which was the issue, so I adjusted the top tension dial. And started to get sewing again. This time, the stitching was just right!

I was trying to decide what to stitch onto the runner. I wanted something just a bit more than wriggly lines, don’t get me wrong, wriggly lines are great when you find it hard to stitch in straight lines! But I wanted to add something else in it. I finally settled on doing some curls and stars with the wriggly lines and stitching a complete line of stitching across the length of the runner without breaking the stitching. That in itself is a mission. I had practised the stars on the practice piece as I thought they would be so easy as they were something that I would doodle on paper when bored (or for no reason at all). I could draw out those stars using a single pen line and not lifting off the paper in my sleep. But for some reason, when I practised on the first fabric, I could not seem to get those stars right! But I did a few practices on paper and found I could do them if I did not think about doing them.

So, those Big Girl panties were pulled higher and the music turned down so I could concentrate on the first pass of stitching. I started at the left hand side and wriggled, curled and managed stars all the way to the other end. I managed to do the first pass without too many errors – my stars even resembled stars (if we don’t look too closely). I was ready to come back, roll the runner up on the frame and start the second pass.

Managing to stitch stars, curls and wriggles

The start of the second pass wasn’t going to work! Moxie was being nice this morning to start with, she was being gentle with me. However, I spoke too soon!!! Moxie decided to play up and really give me a crash course in trouble shooting and how to get to know how to sort out all those minor issues! I have to be honest, it was hard for me to stay calm and not panic. I really wanted to walk away and cry. I then reminded myself that I had put on my ‘Big Gil panties’ and I needed to know how to deal and sort out minor issues. So it was like having my very own lesson and not knowing what I was meant to be learning.

The trusty manual, came into play again. But it really didn’t tell me why it was refusing to stitch. Thank goodness, for the internet and Facebook. I am part of a few long arm groups and specifically a Moxie group and I recalled someone saying that they had an issue with the machine not stitching even though everything was on. So, recalling the suggestions, I checked all plugs that connect to the machine as apparently they are sensitive and need to be pushed fully in. Found one was not in fully, so sorted that out. Got it stitching but it was now skipping stitches and not wanting to do curves, so again, it was reading the manual and they recommended changing the needle. My lesson also included How to change a needle! I got it working properly now and it was ready to start doing wriggles, curls and stars again.

This time, I put ABBA on, turned the volume up and I was ready to go. Good loud music that you can sing to is a great motivation to get struck in and just zone out. I completed the second pass without any issues. The test was if it would do the third without issue. And it did!

second pass complete

So going solo this morning was the best thing ever. I learnt all the troubleshooting issues and how to fix them …. Fingers crossed. The downside …. I finished quilting far too soon! I was really getting into it and thoroughly enjoying being creative with the machine and listening to ABBA up loud and the door open, letting in the sunshine and Holly lying outside the door on the decking. There really is nothing better than zoning out and being creative.

All over quilting, now binding …..

I am really looking forward to taking my next flight with Moxie and getting creative. Next time I will upgrade to a quilt! I look forward to sharing my journey with you and being allowed to get creative with your quilts …. If you trust me ……

The Tale (& fate) of Unfinished Projects

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Who is honest enough to owe up to the fact that we have ‘Unfinished Projects’?

I really think there needs to be a support group for everyone that hoards all those unfinished projects …. I know that I definitely need to get my unfinished projects under control…. So this is a tale of one such unfinished project …. Just ONE …. And every good tale starts with ‘Once upon a time ….’ and ends with ‘Happily ever after’ …… so will this tale end on a happily ever after?

So get comfy with a cuppa (& piece of cake) and listen while I tell you the tale of the Unfinished Project and maybe you will be able to relate the tale to your own crafting habits.

Once upon a time …. There lived a crafter who loved making handmade gifts and gifting them to family and friends. All the best intentions to make gifts that are made & given with love to someone special who appreciates and loves receiving handmade gifts.

This crafter loved starting new projects and thrived on making them with a set deadline in mind. Deadlines help to keep the mind focused, knowing that something needs to be finished by a certain time, for a certain reason …. It is harder when you decide to make something just because you want to with NO set deadline or purpose …. Those are the projects that have more chance of finding themselves in the Unfinished Land. We all have those …. And we kind of want to ignore those ones …. If we do not acknowledge the pile of unfinished projects that we started just because we wanted to …. then maybe, just maybe, they do not exist. But that is not true, those unfinished projects come out and taunt us, try to make us feel guilty about how many we have started and just not finished for some reason or the other …. These are the ones that remind us that we should be finishing them, maybe fixing that small mishap that stopped us from completing the project ….

Well, this crafter decided to make a lovely crocheted blanket for her daughter’s birthday, a blanket that the daughter chose, so we know that the blanket would be cherished and welcomed with open arms. The promise was that it would be made for her birthday – June 5th. That was grand, there was plenty of time till the birthday deadline, there would be no pressure to get it finished. So the yarn pack was ordered online and it arrived quickly all packaged in lovely organza bags, along with the pattern. The crafter was motivated and eager to start the challenge of creating such a lovely blanket. There was time enough so there would not be any late nights.

The progress started well. The first part of the blanket was started and following the pattern was pretty straight forward. It was fun and complicated enough to keep the crafter interested and motivated to keep going so she could see the blanket progressing and coming together. There was still plenty of time to get it finished. So how did this lovely project turn into an unfinished project? Both the crafter and the receiver were looking forward to the finished project, there was a deadline. So what happened?

Maybe I should have started this tale with ‘Once upon a time many, many years ago …’ and there is the answer…. MANY, MANY YEARS AGO …. There was no reason or justification about the blanket morphing into an ‘Unfinished Project’ …. It was just one of those things…. The blanket kit was brought well in advance of the birthday deadline. It wasn’t 2021! But …. OVER four years ago.

So, come the birthday (long ago), the crafter had to find another birthday present and apologise that the blanket didn’t get finished, BUT it would be ready for Christmas! Another deadline! But which Christmas?

So, with most things in life, life got in the road. Things came up, things that needed to be done, things that were more important than this lovely blanket. Many would say, what would be more important than finishing a birthday blanket? Truly?! The crafter had no answers.

The half completed blanket, along with the wool was placed lovingly into a plastic container where it would be kept safe and be finished when the crafter could make time. The blanket lay safe in the container, in the craft room so it was in plain sight, ready to be picked up and finished. The very so patient blanket.

The years quickly past without the blanket being lifted out of its plastic prison. There were times over the years where it was moved as things had to be sorted and organised. I guess, it was acknowledged and the crafter spoke (ever so slightly guilty) to the blanket and vowed that it would be finished soon and sent to its new home. But it seemed that it was just words that were spoken when the container was noticed. But as soon as the container was left in its new spot, it was quickly forgotten, amongst a mess of stored boxes and containers in an unused log.

Years later, the time came when the crafter had to clear out the log cabin to make room for a new addition. It was then that the crafter noticed the container and actually made an important step and moved it back into the house vowing that the blanket should really get finished as it was just a waste. So another move again and the blanket found itself placed on the floor of yet another room…. But something was different this time round. The container was in main sight and was noticed every time the crafter went into the room. What was different? Maybe this time the crafter really felt guilty and realised the words/thoughts ‘I really should get that blanket finished and give it as a birthday present’ really were important. Why now?

The crafter realised at the same moment of uttering those thoughts, that today was the start of June! The birthday was on the 5th! If the utterance was genuine, then there was five days to make that promise come true and also make an unfinished project, finished. It could be done. But was the crafter true to her word?

Armed with a cuppa and clear head, she picked up the plastic container and took it to a comfy chair where she took the lid off, dismissed the smell of something that has been stored for years and carefully (& somewhat lovingly) took the blanket out, feeling overwhelmed. She had no idea where she had stopped part way through the pattern! There were part balls of wool not able to give any clue on what was last worked on. Thankfully the pattern, ever so worn but still readable, was able to give some clues. The crafter quietly praised herself for having the foresight of marking off the rows as she had completed them so she could remember what part of the blanket she was at.

She then made a vow to the blanket that it would no longer spend its life shut away forgotten in a container feeling unloved. She made a promise that by the end of the week, it would be finished and given a bath to freshen it up so it could begin the next journey in its life – to be lovingly used and enjoyed. I also have to make it known that the completion of the blanket did not go without any sighs or other such unspeakable expressions. It was not a creation done with total devotion, BUT, it was a great sense of achievement when the last stitch was finished! The crafter felt great pride in a sense of achievement THAT she had finished something that had spent many, many years as an unfinished project and she had saved it from a life of laying forgotten in a container. The crafter thought of the many other items that were lying about as unfinished projects, forgotten and hidden away in cupboards, shelves and containers …. Maybe this blanket could be the start of a new set of goals …

By now, you are probably thinking (if you have made it this far) if the tale of the poor forgotten blanket has a happy ever after …. Shall we continue?

Once finished, the crafter weaved in all ends and tidied the blanket up. She then gave it a lovely wash with comfort, laid it out to dry and feel fresh. She then lovingly folded the blanket up and placed it inside the washed organza bag that the yarn had arrived in, all those years ago.

Then on the daughter’s birthday, the crafter handed the organza bag to her and they both laughed and remembered the beginning of the blanket and the promise that it would be for her birthday. Well … the blanket was gifted on her birthday … just NOT the birthday it was originally for all those MANY years ago.

The blanket was off to start a new journey filled with lots of use, and not to be left forgotten.

So, I guess that you have now come to realise that the crafter I am writing about is myself …. and that this is just not a fairy-tale with the ‘once upon a time’ and the ‘happy every after’ ending. You would be correct, this tale is about myself, but rest assured, if we are honest, it could be anyone of us, those that have the pile of unfinished projects lurking around in the dark corners, forgotten cupboards and drawers …. I have heard that there is a rare breed of crafter that does not know what an unfinished project is! And never starts a new project until they have finished the current one. I have yet to meet that crafter but have been told they exist.

Well, this is the tale of ONE of my unfinished projects and it is a great sense of achievement to actually finish an item that spent so many years forgotten in a container. I have so many unfinished projects and maybe, just maybe I can set myself some goals of getting them finished …. Or even a couple!

So, I now ask of you …. Do you have such a tale to tell? Do we need to form ‘An unfinished Projects’ Support Group? Maybe we could help support each other to give those forgotten unfinished projects new life …..

Family History

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I was working on the computer this morning trying to finish doing the draft pattern for the final instalment of the Embroidery Sampler Book and I got distracted ….. After losing myself for a hour or more going through some forgotten photos on the computer. I went down a complete rabbit hole and the memories came flooding back …. Both happy and sad memories…. I felt it would be good to actually write a blog and share some of my family background with you all. I am sure you know that I am a kiwi (New Zealander) and have made my home here in Northern Ireland since 2005. But not many know that my family heritage is from Holland. My parents were Dutch and immigrated to New Zealand in the mid/late fifties. I say were …. as both my parents have since died. Dad died far too young from a lung tumour, he was 66 years and had only retired from his job as a Horticultural Scientist and was planning a new venture of being a Horticultural Consultant. He had been advising several countries on growing vegetables in the last few years of his life and made quite a few discoveries in developing better growing vegetables such as sweetcorn. My mother lost all heart after Dad died and she died a few years later, never truly recovering from Dad’s passing. I think it is even more special as Dad would have been 87 years old in a couple of days if he was still alive.

They left Holland to start a new life in New Zealand under the £5 scheme, encouraging people to come to a ‘new’ country leaving their home country which was devastated from the effects of WWII. I remember the stories Dad would tell me about being a young boy growing up in a war torn and occupied country. I am amazed that he survived with all the things he got up to. War had torn his family apart and the scars remained long after the war and occupation had finished.

Looking back over the photos, brought back a rush of emotions and memories of growing up. The photos had been scanned onto a CD by my sister after Mum and Dad died, so we could all have copies of the family photos. There were scanned photo album pages of both sides of their families, photos dating back to the mid 1800’s. I then recognised my own handwriting as a 14 year old girl. The memories came rushing back of the evenings and days I had spent with Dad doing the family history and tracking down all of the family that came before us, those that have enabled us to be here today. He tracked our family tree right back to the mid 1500’s and we all come from proud fishing folk from a seaside town in Holland. I got to know my ancestors through these photos and got a glimpse into what their lives were like and who they were by the facts that Dad had discovered by searching through church and court records. Back then, there was no internet or google, everything was searched through newspaper cuttings, museum records and writing to the different sources. He sourced the original photos from family members and we compiled everything into a photo album.

I then came across the photos of when they arrived in New Zealand, in their early twenties and having to adjust to a far different culture and a different language. Coming from Europe, even though it was damaged by the war, New Zealand was not as modern as Holland. I remember my mother saying that it was like going back in time. They moved from a fishing town that was just outside The Hague to a small rural settlement, where they had to live in two army huts joined together, in the middle of a huge pine forest, with the closest neighbours being 5 miles away and only being able to come into the village once a week. It was a time when females were not allowed to frequent pubs, there was no the entertainment/cafes that they had been used to in Holland post war. The condition of the cheap passage to New Zealand, was that Dad was employed by the New Zealand Government to work in the State Forests for a minimum of 2 years.

I remembered the stories that they would tell me about their life in New Zealand before I was born. When I was about 10 years old, we went on a drive to that forest to find their first home in a new country, but the army hut had long since been pulled down. They often talked about living in the small hut with no electricity or inside toilet. Far different from what they were used to in Holland. Their lighting was a tilly lamp and the heating from a wood stove, where they used to do all the cooking. Dad told us stories how they had a pet goat that used to love sitting on his lap by the wood stove. I guess many of us would not be prepared to live this way now, but they were young and it was an adventure. They even brought themselves a car after a few years. They no longer had to walk into the village or rely on others for transportation. Their pride and joy was a 1929 Ford Model T that they brought for £50. How I wish it was still around.

So, when I should have been working on pattern writing, I got lost in looking at photos, long since forgotten and recalling times long since gone. I became saddened seeing my parents looking back at me from photos taken so long ago, smiling at the camera. It was if they were smiling at me, reminding me of the good times and when they were young. I feel so blessed that I have all these photos, though only copies on the computer, but still, they are treasured windows into the lives of family who lived a full life long before myself and my daughters. A treasure that will be cherished and passed down to the next generation of the family, so they have knowledge and a record of where we have come from and can add to the record of who we are.

On searching further through the folders, I found more photos of when I was young (60’s) which brought back so many memories. I was the tomboy and spent most of my time with Dad in his workshop. He was experimenting with resin and putting objects into the resin, from insects, small animals, flowers, watches and other bits. It was still a new technique and not well known. But he did this in his spare time and was selling resin ‘fish tanks’ that were put into caravans. Some of the resins didnt work. I remember once he tried to put a dead mouse into resin but he hadn’t prepared the mouse correctly. After a while, the resin exploded and mouse ‘bits’ went everywhere! We had moved into a new house in a town as Dad had got a job working as a horticultural scientist for MAF (Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries) where he worked with developing tomato varieties. There were so many photos of that house when I was so young and of my older sister. We then moved again in 1970 to another part of the country, where we remained.

So, even though I am a kiwi, born and bred in New Zealand, my roots stem far back in Holland where my father’s side of the family owned the fishing boats and my Mother’s side of the family worked on the fishing boats. The men worked on the boats as fishermen and the women worked on the beach sewing and repairing the nets. That was their way of life for many hundred years.

Thank you for allowing me to share with you some insight into my family heritage and the ancestors that played a part in what I am today. I come from a family of strong women who lived a hard life, supporting their men to work on the fishing boats, family that lived through a war torn and occupied period. They were also women that crafted to support their families and I have been able to carry on that skill.

So I have spent time, going through photos of past family generations, recalled old stories of past generations and memories of spending time with my parents and understanding who they were. Having these photos and memories is truly a precious gift and something to share for the next generations…. So, now that I have reflected on the past by going through these photos , ….. I really should go and get some proper work done.

Summer Collection

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When getting my latest designs ready to be published and uploaded to the website today, I started thinking about the theme of the designs. These four designs were actually created over a year ago for a quilting group who were doing an Inktense/Redwork workshop. They wanted something related to summer…. So I came up with four designs, featuring something summer related. The designs went down a treat and the group thoroughly enjoyed that day. I love coming up with special designs for a particular group and workshop. It means that I have the excuse to create and draw. However, after the workshop I am usually left with a design that I now need to work out what to finish creating it into. That can be a challenge at times. Thankfully, the group knew what they wanted to make with the designs – a cushion.

Community Group – Inktense/Redwork class

It was a fun remit and I enjoyed being able to design a cushion which uses 2 ½” fabric squares to complete the front of the cushion design front. It was also a great way to stash bust and use up all the small scraps of fabric and cut them into 2 ½” squares! I remember how it took quite a while to create enough 2 ½” squares for each kit, each cushion required 70 squares! I needed about 20 kits and also wanted to be able to offer a choice in fabrics. Quick math calculations meant that it equalled a lot of 2 ½” squares! Too many for me to want to add those up! Thank heavens for my Accuquilt cutter. A pass through the machine cut 56 squares in less than a minute! It took more time to bag up 10 squares of the same fabric into the wee plastic bags!

So fast forward to 2021 and I realised that those four cushions that I designed and made for that community group 18 months ago …. Had never been finalised. The actual completed patterns had never been published. So, here we are in Spring …. The weather is definitely NOT spring like and summer is coming up quickly. It may not be a warm summer or one where we can go away on foreign holidays … but it is still summer … The months when the children are off school and hoping for nice weather so they can go away and do fun things…. So, I thought this was a great time to publish these designs so we can all dream of the best summer holidays ….

Summer Break in Connemara

I find that the hardest part of writing patterns (apart from actually coming up with the design) is writing something about the design …. Something to catch your imagination and relate back to the design …. When a design is left so long before the actual writing of the pattern, I seriously do wonder why I come up with words for the design. This is what I faced with these cushions …. The reasoning behind the wording on each cushion. Note to one self ….. write down reasons on why the design is done and how it relates… However, I seriously do wonder on my creativity at the time of coming up with the words for the designs!

So, while trying to come up with a suitable summary for the ‘Summer’ pairs – Summer Camping and Summer Huts; ‘Just’ pairs – Just Relaxing and Just Fishing, I really had to use the old brain matter and think of why I came up with the wording. The summer designs on my cushions represented a simple and relaxing summer, one where we can do nothing but relax and indulge in what we enjoy doing over the summer months. It is strange on how your brain goes when you think of something and then it gets side tracked. When you think of summer, I think most of us would immediately think of foreign summer breaks in the sun and exploring new countries. I have to admit that it is lovely going on holiday to another country to enjoy the warmer climates while exploring the culture and scenery. But is it really relaxing, doing nothing and recharging our batteries on these foreign breaks?

Summer holiday in Ibiza

But that was not what the cushion designs were about, so I thought back on my childhood summer holidays. Those memories really struck a chord. My childhood years were in the 70’s and in New Zealand. I think life back then was far different from what it is now and our expectations of summer holidays now, are not what they were back then.

Every summer, my parents would take us away camping to a beach up the coast for a month. It was a 2-hour drive and the car was packed with our tents and everything we needed, along with the caravan being pulled behind. Our excitement grew as we got close to the beach and the camping group …. The excitement of meeting up with other families that went there every summer as well and renewing friendships…. The excitement of spending the days swimming in the sea, exploring the sand dunes, pine forests and sunbathing until the sun got too unbearable. We hung out in groups, spent the days doing what we wanted to do and only going back to the caravan when we needed food. We celebrated New Years Eve at the beach. The campsite was huge and quite magical as it was set under the branches of ancient and tall pine trees close to the beach …. It was literally a 5-minute walk from the shelter of the trees, over the sand dunes and onto the huge sandy expanse of beach, which was a sheltered and safe sea for swimming …. Except if there were shark warnings/sightings …. thankfully they didnt happen that often … but enough to make you weary of swimming out too far ….

camping under the shelter of the Pine trees

Those annual seaside holidays were the highlight and created such fond memories of long hot summer days spent at the beach. Summer camping and even though Beach Huts were not part of the Kiwi Beach scene, I still loved the thought of a beach hut and often thought that the beaches would be far better with them, to offer shelter from the fierce sun and blistering temperatures. As a wild child, I spent my summers going barefoot and I still remember the times that I would go down to the beach at 9am for the day and forgot my flip flops, and having to literally jump from blade of grass to another blade of grass through the sand dunes as the sand would burn your feet and then make a dash to the wet sand so you could cool your feet! There was a summer when I spent the day playing tennis on an asphalt court and by that evening the soles of my feet had huge burn blisters from the hot ground!

So back to the beach …. When I started to think on what to write for the patterns and the blog, the memory of those annual camping holidays got me wondering about the campsite and how magical it was. I couldn’t even remember the name of it but ‘Google was my friend’! Google search brought up the name and location – Blue Bay, Opoutama, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand.

In my search, I discovered that Blue Bay Motor Camp no longer existed! The pine forest was no more. The Motor Camp that had been in operation for over 60 years and was the foundation of many families’ annual summer holidays had been forced to close in the early 2000’s. It was sold to a Property Developer who came up with the vision of creating an exclusive residential resort, a mini private haven, complete with street lighting, paved avenues and decorative sculptures and hefty purchase prices for the sites. In effect, basically it made Blue Bay, a private beach, no longer accessible to the general public.

Exclusive Residential Resort, Blue Bay

The developer finished planning the site in 2004, but he faced financial difficulties and it was taken back by the mortgagee who then sold it in 2008 to another developer. However, the site has remained dormant since then! The campsite that was sheltered by the pine trees and backed onto a beautiful beach is no more. In reading about the campsite, I found out that it didn’t close quietly. There was a huge protest and even a documentary was made of the development due to the fact that it wasn’t the only ironic kiwi camping site to be closed. The great kiwi way of life was becoming extinct. The protesters were not able to stop the development and the pine forest being bulldozed, but the exclusive residential resort never rose from the ashes…. It is still a barren plot of land with streets laid down. Reading this, about the wonderful place we spent our summer holidays at was sad. It was like part of my childhood had disappeared. But I will continue to have those memories, the days spent swimming, sun bathing, making new friends, playing hide and seek in the sand dunes and pine forest, my first kiss …. So to me, these cushions represent those summer months camping, just relaxing on the beach for weeks on end, carefree summer months of a childhood that was free ….  Even fishing on the beach or off the local wharf with our fishing lines and hook, attached to a long branch that we had found under the Pine trees ….

What childhood/fond summer holiday memories do these cushions bring to you ….. What colours would you do your summer collection cushions in ……

The Summer Collection comes in two patterns – Summer Holidays and Just Summer – with two designs in each pattern. Both patterns are in both PDF and printed form and available from our website.

National Tea Day

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So, do you put the milk in the cup first? Or after you have poured the tea in?  

It is strange how such simple questions can cause such a strong debate on the correct way to drink our national brew.  

Today is the day when all the British and Irish tea lovers celebrate drinking tea. Although tea originated in China, tea is associated with the United Kingdom. This is because the British made tea a popular drink back in the 17th century. However, since tea was more than double the price of coffee, it was a drink strictly for the wealthy.  

National Tea Day came about in 2016 to celebrate Queen Elizabeth the Second’s actual birthday and has since become an annual celebration for drinking tea, with Day events organised by tea companies, cafes, restaurants, tea rooms, in other words, by businesses that are engaged in making, producing or selling tea. It is the event where tea lovers can sample and buy new teas and learn the art behind brewing the best tea. 

It is not only the British that enjoy their ‘cup of tea’, the Irish love the drink even more than the British. “Taking tea” has become an Irish custom that has been enjoyed for many centuries and today, the Irish are the heaviest tea drinkers in the world, beating the British by averaging 4-6 cups per day. 

It wasn’t until the mid 20th century when an Irish businessman decided to import tea directly to Ireland and drop the middleman, England, that the tea consumption really made it big. Before then, tea drinking was expensive and only available to the rich due to having to buy the tea from the British. Drinking tea became a status symbol and hosting a tea drinking party at home really placed you on the ladder to social success.  

So why is Irish tea so strong and drunk with plenty of milk? Well, back when the Irish had to buy the tea from the British, they received the cheaper quality tea, so milk needed to be added to cover up the taste. This meant that the Irish tea had to be brewed stronger than the English tea and this custom still exists today. 

There is a definite ritual to the Irish tea making. Ideally the tea is brewed in a teapot, which had to be scalded beforehand by swirling boiling water around in it and emptied. Then one tea bag per person and ‘one for the pot’ (that is important!) is added to the tea pot, or if you are lucky enough to have loose tea, it is one teaspoon of loose tea per person and one for the pot. Let the tea steep 3-4 minutes, but no more than 5 mins! Pour suitable amount of milk into each tea cup and then pour the strong hot tea. And there is your perfect cup of Irish tea.  

Irish Tea Ritual

I guess when you are fortunate enough to live in a damp and cold country like Ireland, a hot cup of tea is just the thing to warm the body and soul, making everything right with the world. Many a problem or crisis is fixed over many a ‘cuppa tays’.  

I remember, when visiting households (and many for the first time) the first thing you would be offered, is a ‘cuppa tay’. Even though, I am not really a tea drinker, I felt that I couldn’t refuse and somehow had to suffer through the typical Irish tea, hoping I could refuse a second or third cup of tea. Drinking tea was the way that walls could be taken down, friendships formed and a mutual ground established – all over sharing a ‘cuppa tay’. Any time during the day was the perfect time to stop and have a cup of tea, and we cannot forget the biscuits and cake that went with the tea.  

So, to celebrate National Tea day, I felt that launching my latest Redwork design was the perfect time. This design truly represents the social meaning behind drinking tea – ‘Everything’ does stop for Tea and Cake. We can’t forget the cake! The pattern (printed and PDF) is available on our website and we also have kits available. The kits come in a variety of different colour thread choices as well as the option of a pre coloured design. 

This design would grace any kitchen/dining room wall all year round and remind us just important Irish tea is to our culture and customs. It is more than a cup of tea! It is the bringing together of strangers, forging families and friendships, solving problems and warming the body and soul. 

So, do you pour the milk in first or after the tea is poured into the cup?  

Stress Awareness Month

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April is Stress Awareness Month and was founded in the 1990s to help raise awareness of stress in the workplace and just how debilitating it can be. It is a well-documented fact that stress can cause or aggravate health problems. Stress is a part of our life, and nobody is immune to it, so it is vital that we know how to deal with stress when it occurs. Often, it is hard to realise that we are stressed (or that it is building up) until something snaps. It is important to learn some strategies for coping with stress when it rears its ugly head. April is all about learning more about stress and how we can deal with it.

With the current Worldwide situation in the past year, it is more important than ever to know how to deal with stress. According to the Mental Health Foundation, 74% of UK adults have felt so stressed at some point in the past year to the point where they have felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. I think it is also true to say, that this is not just limited to adult, many children and young adults have suffered from stress due to the restrictions, lockdowns and COVID.

Stress is often overlooked and not taken as seriously as physical health concerns. Stress plays a huge part in mental health problems like anxiety and depression. It is also linked to physical health issues like heart disease, digestive problems and even insomnia. Stress is generally brought on by a stressful situation, like going through a relationship breakup, financial and work related problems, placing ourselves in unknown or uncertain situations. The list is endless and what may be stressful for one person, may not be stressful to the next. We are all different and handle stressful situations in different ways.

I can honestly hold my hand up and say that over the years I have been stressed, over very difficult personal and family related situations, work related, of small issues … In some ways I have to admit that I can get stressed and the outcomes to that stress can differ. While trying to write this blog, I am thinking of situations and the times I suffered from stress.

I can think back to a few family and relationship situations that caused extreme stress. I suffered physical conditions like severe stress headaches and needed to go onto medication to manage those headaches, but it isn’t always beneficial to keep taking meds to stop the headaches. I have suffered with severe eczema, not being able to sleep or eat. To combat the stress, it helps to weed out the root of what is causing the stress. That is easier said than done.

I found it helps to find some activity that helps ‘clear the mind’, to help relief the stress. I know that crafting has helped me in so many ways, something that I have to focus on, or something that doesn’t take much thinking on I started to do counted cross stitch when I was very young and it is something that I continue to do, when I can find the time. I found that cross stitch helped me to clear my mind, I had to focus on the chart, count the squares and colours and stitch the corresponding stitch onto the blank fabric. It helped to clear my mind, I would settle myself in a cosy chair (preferably in the warm sunshine), have a cuppa and a snack and start stitching in complete silence or a good audio book to listen to while stitching. It seemed to ground me, enabled me to lose myself in the craft and usually I was able to distress myself.

Fox Cross Stitch

There would be times when I was too stressed to focus on the cross-stitching, and I would find something else that suited the way I was feeling. I found that reading books was another way for me to de-stress. I could lose myself in the story of the book, snuggled under a quilt with a good supply of drink and treats. I remember once, (many, many years ago) I needed to distress and I started reading a book, lying in a quiet peaceful place with a hot drink (or 2/3) and some freshly baked peanut brownies. Well, after spending the afternoon reading, I was totally relaxed, had finished the book. And also the entire tin of peanut brownies!!!

The past year has been no different. I found that the current situation has been extremely trying and stressful. There were so many factors to take on board and try to cope with. I have read SO MANY books!!! I have lost count, some good reads and others, just your basic trashy quick reads. Thank heavens for a kindle….

Reading Nook

With everything that happened last year, and now this year, I have found on many occasions I had to put in force some effective coping tools to help us combat the stress levels. It is all about the unknown factor and outcome of the current situation. The current lockdown has been the worse for me. There seems to be no end to this all …. It gets stressful thinking about everything, the financial issues, the future of everything ….. The way I have tried to limit my stress is to take everything day by day and not to focus too much on the unknown, to find my ‘happy place’…

My ‘Happy Place’ can change day by day, depending on the way I feel. I tend to be ‘good to myself’ – not push myself to the limits. However, what I have found from past stressful situations, I always tend to go to my crafting. Crafting has been a lifeline to me for many situations. Sitting down, and quietly creating something beautiful, seeing it emerge by your hands, something that can be treasured and remembered in the future on how it came about. Finding the time to relax and do something that we enjoy doing to help is important. It is so important to look after ourselves – we are in charge of our well-being and self-care.

During this last lockdown, I have found spinning to be my current ‘happy place’. I find it so relaxing and therapeutic to be at the wheel, listening to the whirl of the wheel as it goes around with my treadling and spinning the fibre into yarn. It is so satisfying to start with sheep fleece and spin it into yarn that can then be knitted/crocheted with. I have created something practical. There is a great sense of satisfaction to have started with a sheep fleece and creating it into a wearable item. To me, it is using my ‘downtime/de-stress time’ to do something worthwhile and practical. It may seem unpractical to some. why spin your own yarn when you can buy it? But it is my way of relaxing, grounding my inner self and de-stressing myself when I find stressed or overwhelmed … ‘my happy place’.

Spinning

Alyssa has also found the current situation stressful and I am so thankful that she enjoys crafting as well. Her crafting interests are different from mine. Her ‘happy place’ during this lockdown has been drawing, she draws portraits of the old silence movie/black & white actresses (ones I have never heard of and I have no idea how she finds them all) as well as well-known singers of the past. She is self-taught and spends hours drawing these portraits in either pencil or watercolour. Her skill in drawing and painting has improved over time as she fine tunes her already amazing drawing talent. Her needle felting has also played an important part in helping her to relax and unwind.

Alyssa’s Drawing

It is not just crafting that helps when we may feel stressed. Exercise or walking is another great way to combat stress. I have often experienced that if I am feeling stressed, a good walk really helps. Even on a chilly, windy day, it helps to blow the cobwebs away, the chill seems to clear the head and freshen up your mind. Maybe not as much if it is raining …. Yet, I have walked in the rain when feeling stressed and found that it seemed to have the effect of washing away the feelings. When I lived in New Zealand, we lived by the seaside. There were many a time that I would go and sit on the beach and listen to the waves crashing on the rocks and the sound of the gulls. There is nothing quite like walking on a deserted beach in bad weather to really cleanse and clear the mind and soul. Living in the country here has been a great stress relief. I feel so thankful to be able to walk up the lane, which is narrow and very deserted, surrounded by large open fields where Holly can explore and hunt out all the rabbit holes. It gladdens the heart and soul being surrounded by the glories of mother nature and watching how the seasons change the surrounding countryside. Nature seems to have a calming effect.

Walk in the Countryside

I have found that if I am really stressed, then I lose my appetite and just can’t eat anything. Yet, for others, stress causing the opposite effect. The common ‘go to’ food seems to be everything that is unhealthy for us, indulging in a box of chocolates, a tub of ice cream or everything ‘forbidden’ food there is. Whatever way stress affects our eating habits, we need to remember that sometimes we do need to treat ourselves, to be good to ourselves (we deserve it) but to find that ideal balance to eat sensibly.

Comfort Food

I think one of the most important things to remember when we (or others) are feeling stressed, is to feel comfortable enough to talk openly about feeling or being stressed. Stress is not to be buried in the closet like a shameful issue. We all get stressed. It is good to share our coping mechanisms. If something works for you, then it may help someone else who is feeling stressed.

Crafts can be a great tool in helping us when we feel stressed, especially when we can gather together in a safe place and share our feelings. When I started doing classes here at home, I never thought they would mean so much, far more than just a group of ladies gathering together to share a love of crafting. Those sessions became therapy, a safe place where we would gather together and find time for ourselves. The kettle was put on, baking brought out and the crafting put aside. There was many a time when there was no crafting done. The look on a person’s face when they turned up for the class, was enough to know that what they needed more than crafting was being able to feel safe, talk and express themselves and allow others to help, offer advice or a listening ear, just simple support and understanding is all that is needed at times. I have lost count at how many times the classes have been therapy sessions, with the ‘thank you’ afterwards, on how much they needed that and it helped to relief the stress they were experiencing.

Class Table

If we have somewhere to go, where we feel safe and able to take time out for ourselves, then we need to ensure that we do this when we need to find ‘our happy place’. It is hard at the moment; as social gatherings are not allowed. This makes it truly difficult, as I think that with all that is going on at the moment in the world, having social gatherings are doubly important, for our mental and physical wellbeing. Many of us live alone and have been isolating for nearly a year and have not ventured out as much as we were used to.

I know that as a person, I love my own company and even as a child, I loved nothing more than playing by myself. My mother told me (when I was an adult) that I used to get very stressed as a child, to the point where she had to give me a day off school once in a while, in order for me to de stress and just recharge myself. I have fond memories of playing for hours behind the sofa in the lounge, building cities and farms with my Lego, toy cars and animals (I was not a girly girl). I didn’t really know the reason why as I was so young, but those memories stay with me as it was ‘my happy place’. As I got older, I got interested in crafting, learning to sew on the machine when I was 7yrs and then learning to knit, crochet and do cross stitch.

When the first lockdown came, I thought that it was a dream come true – being on our own, spending the days without people and doing what we wanted. It didn’t last for long. Even if we prefer to be on our own, we still need contact with others. No amount of crafting on our own can replace human contact.

So, how does this blog connect stress awareness and Nifty Needles? I feel that a great way to become more aware of stress and how to combat it, would be by hosting some free zoom sessions, where we can ‘come together’, virtually and make time for ourselves to relax and reconnect. I will have more details on those sessions on my Facebook page and will have the link for booking onto them on the website.

Social Crafting

I also want to ‘stress’ the role that crafting can play in helping us to relax and recharge our batteries when we are feeling stressed. There are some great craft kits available on the website that is a brilliant way to help us relax and find time for ourselves. Even learning a new skill or craft is a great way help combat stress. At the beginning of 2020, Alyssa and I enrolled in a ceramics course at the tech. I wanted to find something that we could do to ensure that we took time out for ourselves. There were times when, the last thing I wanted to do, after teaching long workshops all week, was to go out in the evening (my only free evening in the week) to do a course. But, I am so glad that we made the effort and went there, even if we would rather be at home in front of the television. Once we got there and started creating, the stress just seemed to fall off. After 2.5 hours of playing with the clay we felt so much better. I also think it was also a bonus when we saw the finished product that we had. We got out, learnt new skills, and were able to ‘lose ourselves’ and relax.

Ceramics Course

How do you respond to stress? What are the ways that you have found that help you to relax and combat skill? It is a good opportunity to share your stress relief solutions to others. 

So why not, make April the month where you ensure you take time out for yourself, do some crafting and just relax and be good to yourself. Learn to notice the warning signs that you are stressed and take yourself out of the equation, even if it is only for a walk, curling up with a book or doing some crafting. Check out our website and the craft kits we have available and learn a new skill – https://niftyneedles.com/shop/

National Floral Design Day

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Take out the flowers. Today is Floral Design Day. This is a day where we appreciate flowers as a unique and creative art form. It started in 1995 and was created to mark the birthday of Carl Rittner, the founder of the Rittner School of Floral Design in Boston.

I had never heard of Carl Rittner, nor his Floral School. I guess it is more because, although I love flowers and flower gardens, I have never had the creative ability to arrange flowers into a stunning creative display. I love Cottage gardens with wild masses of colour and disorder, where the flowers and plants take care of themselves. I had a lovely cottage garden in New Zealand and I still miss it. It was a riot of colour which created a sense of peace and tranquillity to spend time in. The old cottage was built on the side of a hill in the middle of the city. Living there, you were able to forget that you lived in a city. Access was a huge problem, as there were sixty steps to get to the house through a small forest and if you wanted to continue down the hill, there were another sixty steps to the road below. It was a hassle when you brought the groceries home in the rain or dark. The garden was over four different levels of terracing which were not developed. It created a challenge but one I loved. I created mini garden rooms on each terrace area, with stone paths throughout where the flowers and plants overhang and opened to small ‘hidden’ areas where there was a garden seat or a fish pond. Each area had its own charm and design. The New Zealand weather made it easy to create such a garden.

New Zealand Cottage Garden

Living here in Northern Ireland has meant that I can no longer grow or have the garden that I had in New Zealand due to the difference in climate, but there is still the ability to create a beautiful garden in Northern Ireland. There are just different plants. What I love most about being here is the ability to visit and experience magnificent Stately homes and their equally magnificent gardens. There is nothing better than spending a warm (dry) summer’s day enjoying the beauty and peacefulness of beautiful large garden of a stately home. The gardeners from past centuries were true artists and designers, creating amazing masterpieces filled with sculpture and beauty, that have lasted throughout time so it can be enjoyed today, and for many more years.

Grand Estate Garden

So, I may not be a floral designer and have no intention of showing off my very poor ability to arrange an amazing floral design, but there are other ways we can show our appreciation today and that is by drawing a lovely floral design or even just basically picking a bunch of lovely wildflowers and putting them into an old china jug. I knew a lovely lady who had this amazing skill of flower arranging. She went to a floral class every week for many years. I admired her ability of taking some flowers and ‘weeds’ and put them together to create a masterpiece. Her work was inspiring and I was most honoured and humbled when she presented us with a festive arrangement every Christmas to grace the table over the Christmas period.

Christmas Decoration

Though my talent does not venture as far as floral design, I do have the ability to paint. For many years I loved using water colours and black ink to create some floral drawings, which now hang on my walls. It was a craft that I found relaxing and took me to many a peaceful place where I could spend hours being creative with paper and paint.

Water Colour and Ink

However, as the years passed, life got busy and business affairs took over. I found I was being creative in other ways and I just didn’t find the time to be creative with my painting. I missed it. But I still found a way to bring in floral designs into my sewing and embroidery creativity. I took it a step further and brought in colour and painting into my needlework designs which would back the passion of those watercolour floral paintings from years previous.

I get such a joy and pleasure from being creative with drawing up designs, colouring and embroidering them and incorporating them into my designs for sewing and quilting. It really enables you to bring in your own creativity and personality into these designs. For me it is the way I can be creative with flowers. Last year I designed a number of floral designs, some for planned workshops with community groups and some just ‘for no reason at all’. When planning my yearly structure this year I thought that releasing my Inktense/Redwork floral designs today, would be a great way to celebrate National Floral Design Day. We may not be floral designers, gardeners or painters, but I know that we all can colour in and sew. So why, not celebrate today and the start of Spring with these lovely cushions and set of floral mug rugs.

Cushions DUO

I chose Daisies and Blossoms for the cushion covers, because they are such cute and simple looking flowers and loved by (nearly) everyone. Daisies symbolise innocence, new beginnings and purity. Most of us have fond memories of when we were young (and maybe not so young) spending relaxing days in a field of daisies, where we created daisy chains to wear in our hair, seeing who could create the longest chain by threading a string of daisies threaded together by their stems or even pulling the petals off, one by one, to see if ‘he loves me, he loves me not’. I love a daisy chain, it brings forth so many memories of being young and innocent.

Daisy Chain

Blossoms bring to mind the start of spring as the bare branches of the hedgerows on country lanes start to bloom. The brief blossoming of Rowan, Wild Cherry and Hawthorn is a magical sight, thinly wrapped in ancient folklore. The sights of the emerging foliage, the scent of the blossoms reminds us that we have emerged safely from another long winter with the promise that the world is alive with new possibilities.

They are a great way to use up your scrapes of fabric. The front of the cushions has two Redwork panels which are joined together with 2 ½” squares. You can get totally scrappy and use up all those fabrics, or you can do what I have done, and cut squares from 7 different fabrics in a colour range. There is no need to use Inktense colouring if you have no pencils or just want to do it in Redwork.

The pattern does have instructions on how to do the Inktense colouring and is also fully supported with full colour diagrams and easy to follow instructions.

With the coming of Spring, there is nothing better than being able to relax in a peaceful and colourful garden, under the shade of a flowering Blossom tree, comfy in a chair surrounded with lovely handmade cushions reading a good book (or maybe doing some stitching) and a cool drink. To complete the scene, a set of handstitched mug rugs to grace the outdoor table is exactly what we need.

I have designed four floral designs full of colour for the mug rugs. I have to admit that these would be my favourite flowers and I loved drawing these up. Being able to colour and stitch them is the best part of the design as you can really bring to life these flowers. These are a quick design to make up and if you are not into Inktense colouring than these designs would look equally as stunning in Redwork, either in one colour or multicoloured. Why not make up a few sets, one to keep and a few to gift?                                                 

So, to celebrate National Floral Design Day, we don’t need to be a master Floral Designer. All we need to do is create some stunning floral creations in our own way – by sewing and stitching.

Beginning Your Quilting Journey

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I have spent a few days working on a beginners’ quilt pattern. This pattern is a quilting beginner’s workshop in a written pattern. Creating this has taken me quite a few days as I had to rewrite the pattern I used in the Introduction to Quilts Workshop. This is a workshop I have held in recent years.

With this pattern I wanted to include all the tips and techniques I would teach and show in a workshop. It proved to take far longer than I thought! Basically, what should have been a simple and straightforward task turned into a mammoth piece of work taking about three days.

While writing out the hints and techniques to help you create your first quilt, I thought back to when I created my first quilt, over 25 years ago! Well, actually, I probably started my first quilt long before that (I am showing my age now).

When I left school at 16 years, I went to work for a Fabric shop in New Zealand. It was a terrible place to work, the owner was awful, working conditions were just as bad and the pay even worse However, due to my sewing experience in dress making, it was a dream job. I was surrounded by all of this fabric. One of our jobs was to cut off the label printed on the fabric, at the start of the role. It was about a ten-inch strip across the width of the fabric and this rejected fabric was placed under the counter. The fabric was all cotton; There was no such thing as quilting fabric or Quilting Shops back then. Those cut off strips piled up, and one of the perks was that we could take them home. I think the owner let us do it as he thought the ink would not come off. But I soon found out that the ink disappeared once it had been through a wash in the machine. So, why am I telling this story? Well, these piles of fabric started my adventure into quilting.

I had an old American quilting magazine at home and I admired all the handmade quilts in it. So being creative and young I decided that it would be a really good idea to create a handmade quilt for my Glory Box (or Bottom drawer) so I would have something for my marriage bed. Let me assure you, I had no plans for getting married nor anyone in mind, but I guess a young girl always had her dreams.

So at the tender age of 16 years, I decided to hand sew the quilt made from hexagons. I had to prepare and cut out the paper hexagons, cut out the fabric hexagons, tack the fabric to the paper hexagons and then hand sew them all together. I had plans for a double bed quilt, where it would hang down to the floor. I had never quilted before, knew nothing about how to go about it and there was no such things as quilting classes or shops but, I had the desire to make a quilt, something that would be treasured.

Well, I can assure you, it never graced a double bed. In fact, it lay half completed in a box for many, many years. That box of tacked hexagons, half completed quilt top accompanied me for many, many years, through various house moves. Even, after I got married, the quilt was still unfinished.

Fast forward about twelve to fifteen years or so and I discovered my boxed-up hexagon quilt still unfinished in a box. I decided that it was well past time for the quilt to be finished instead of lying in a box for another twelve years. It didn’t become a double bed size quilt, more like a lap size. But it was finished. I think back now with sorrow, thinking I no longer have that quilt, it was tattered and never made it with me on my journey here to Northern Ireland. I wish I had treasured it more. But I still carry those memories with me.

It did inspire me to sew more quilts, but on the machine, not by hand sewing! I was into cross stitching and I had this book of mouse designs that I was wanting to stitch for Latisha. This was when she was a toddler, but I didn’t want to frame them. That began my first venture into quilts. I made simple blocks, then pieced them together and made it into a quilt. I was self-taught and quilt making was totally new for me. I didn’t have the tools needed, or the techniques and I didn’t even know what tools I needed. I began my quilting journey on my own, learning, using books borrowed from the library. There was no internet, google or YouTube back then. It was still the Dark ages.

I learnt by my mistakes and went by my gut feeling. Latisha still has that quilt after 15+ years. It is a bit faded and worn but still very much a treasured item. It now graces the wall of Lucas’s bedroom.

From that very first quilt, I wanted to make more. There was still no quilt classes or quilting fabric shops. I think the nearest one to me was a seven-hour drive away. There was no online shopping either. So, all I had was the one fabric shop, you know the one that I worked in after I left school, and their selection was more for dressmaking rather than quilting fabric. So my only option was searching local Charity Shops and finding clothes that had very little seams and was 100% cotton. It is amazing what treasures you can find in those Charity Shops. These were also the places that I found old wool blankets (the type that we used to have on our beds, before duvets). They were usually cream and 100% wool. They made a brilliant option for the wadding, as there was nowhere to buy wadding. The upside was that the woollen blankets made the quilts warm in the winter (there was no such thing as central heating, I am really showing my age now).


I remember finding a stash of lovely Japanese patterned cotton fabric in a charity shop. From this stash I made a large double bed size quilt for Latisha to take to university. It had a large woollen blanket for the wadding and kept her warm for many years at her various accommodations. She even brought the quilt over here when she moved over from New Zealand. That quilt bears many battle scars, but it is still doing its job.

While looking into quilting and the history of it, I found that during the pioneer days, quilts were made from old clothes and old blankets. I was just reliving those traditions without knowing it, making quilts from old clothes and blankets to give them new life. I have made quilts from curtain fabric, chintz and whatever I could find. I was self-taught and created quilts with what I had on hand. My skills would not have been the best and I made many mistakes. I read book after book to improve my skills. I didn’t know about ¼” foot, applique, machine piecing and other tips to improve my quilt making.

Going forward a few years and I am now in my mid to late thirty’s and I discovered that there was a quilting guild in the area. It was in a historic House and gardens in the village I grew up in and I had spent many years exploring the grounds. At one time I even joined their painting group when I was a teenager. Wanting to learn more about quilting, I nervously went to one of their meetings, eager to learn new skills from them. It would be easy, after all quilters and crafters are all friendly helpful people that would welcome me gladly. I still remember, very vividly, stepping into that room of strangers Twenty years ago. I very nervously asked if it was possible to join as I was interested in quilt making. I was confronted with questions. What is your experience? Have you done quilting before? I answered that I had been sewing since I was 9 years old, did dress making and recently started to make a few quilts.

“Oh, what do you use to make your quilts?” I told them about my finds at Charity shops and how I made my quilts.

“Heavens!! That is not quilting! Quilts are only made with the proper Quilting materials!”

There was no warm welcome, no instant friendships. Basically, I had broken all of the Quilt Police Rules! I left and vowed never to put myself in that position again, deflated because I chose to do quilting my own way. It was the start of the journey into learning how to do quilts MY way, teach myself and reach my goal of showing others how to sew and quilt.

I have learnt so much along the way of my journey and I can honestly say I am still learning. Quilting techniques and tools are constantly improving and I have found, that what I knew and did ten to twenty years ago is NOT what I do now. I look back at my first quilts, I have a slight shudder to myself when I look at my mistakes and lack of techniques. But this is all part of the process and I am proud of what I have achieved and how far I have come. I have learnt the tricks and techniques, but I will never say that I need to stop learning. Learning is always an ongoing process. I will always treasure those first quilts, the ones where I didn’t use a rotary cutter, mat and ruler – they just weren’t round back then, but I would never think of NOT using them now. Why go backwards in the journey of making quilts? They make it easier to get accurate cutting, so anything that makes it easier is the best.

So, after that journey back in time, I now come to the purpose of what I started in the beginning of this post. The rewriting of a pattern for your very first quilt creation, to begin your journey in quilt creating.

When I teach workshops, I like to share the tips and cheats that I have learnt to creating a quilt easier. The tips on how to correctly press your seams and why, how to pin and the importance of pinning so that you can ensure all seams and points meet up as they are meant to.

I learn things from experience, for instance, my first experiences in layering quilts and having disasters due to the three layers not working together, ending up with huge wrinkles when I do the quilting to hold the layers together. Not using the right tools or materials did not help either, so I have shared how I have overcome the issues, so you can enjoy the process of layering and quilting.

Basically, this tutorial pattern is like having me looking over your shoulder guiding you through making your first quilt. I usually get that from my students “I wish I could have you at home looking over my shoulder, telling me what to do.” So, if you have always wanted to make a quilt but have been putting it off due to not knowing how to go about it, having no classes to attend and just need the hints and tips to improve your quilting experience, then this tutorial pattern is a great place to start.

Valentines Day – Be Mine

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Valentine’s Day generally goes unnoticed in my household.  This is due to it just being Alyssa and myself. However, going through my planner so I can plan designs and kits to important dates or celebrations I came upon Valentine’s day. Valentine’s day is not a celebration I have ever designed for, but I thought with the way 2020 went and with what we are facing similar this year, I thought we all need something positive and maybe a bit of romance to focus on. I think most (if not all of us) will be in a lockdown and will not be able to book that romantic getaway or dinner. Like most of last year’s celebrations, Valentine’s Day 2021, is going to be different.

So, while doing up my quarterly planner for 2021 my brain went off track, which isn’t unusual when I am sitting down to do admin and paperwork. I far prefer to be creative, so I started to ponder on what would be nice to do for Valentine’s Day, something that would not only last one day but be a message all year round and show how important relationships are.

As I started put some sketches onto paper, my thoughts went onto the true meaning of Valentine’s Day. I think we all know that it is the day when couples show each other their affection in one way or another, be it with flowers, card or a dinner out. Mostly it has become a pure commercial gain as, coming up to Valentine’s Day roses double in price, restaurants create special Valentines specials, at ‘special’ rates. But, when and how did Valentine’s Day come about?

It got me thinking, so I carried out some online research (while I should have been doing my quarterly planning for the business) and I came up with some interesting facts which I thought I would share with you.

There are several legends to the origin of Valentine’s Day and to find out more, we need to go far back into history, right back to the 3rd century A.D. to ancient Rome when Emperor Claudius II ruled. Apparently, Claudius decided that single men made better soldiers so he outlawed marriage for young men. A priest, called Valentine, found the law to be unjust so he secretly continued to perform marriages. When Claudius discovered what Valentine was doing, he ordered that Valentine be put to death.

St Valentine History

Another legend is that a bishop called Saint Valentine of Terni, was the true namesake and was also beheaded by Claudius II for helping Christians escape from prison. According to the legend, Valentine fell in love with his jailor’s daughter and before he was beheaded, he sent her a card signed “from your Valentine”. From this sad card came the phrase that is commonly used on Valentine cards today.

Old Valentine Card

Though we may never know exactly who was the true Valentine, these legends all portray a very heroic and romantic figure. By the middle ages, Valentine became one of the most important Saints to be worshipped. It later became a festival to celebrate the coming of spring which included fertility rites. In 1375, the English poet, Geoffrey Chaucer became the first to record St Valentine’s Day as a day of romantic celebration with his poem ‘Parliament of Foules’. In the 1400s, it became popular to send written Valentine’s cards. King Henry VIII was known to send them to his wives.

By the 17th and 18th century it was common to celebrate St Valentine’s with handwritten letters and cards and in 1900, cards started to be commercially printed and sold. However today, it has also become very commercial with sending cards, flowers, presents or having a romantic dinner.

So, pondering on suitable designs, I knew that I wanted something that was a symbol of lasting love but also gave a simple message of love and affection. I thought on how to display the design. I wasn’t keen to make it a card format as I felt that would make it look like a temporary project. I wanted it to be a bit different and to create an everlasting expression of love and admiration. Why should our display of affection be limited to just one day?

Single Rose

When we think of Valentines and love, we think of the colour red with red hearts and red roses. I felt that those were important to be included in the design. I also felt that the design would be more striking done in a simple Back Stitch using a red thread. It really couldn’t be any other colour. The symbol of love is a red rose, and what is more appropriate to show affection is the giving of a red rose to another, hence the two hands holding the red rose. I wanted the roses to really stand out by colouring them red, which then brought on the next process – do I paint the leaves green or leave them uncoloured. I decided to colour them green, which brought out another problem. I had planned on stitching the designs in red thread completely, but I felt that the red thread would look out of place if stitched around the green leaves. So, I stitched the leaves and stalk green and the rest of the design in red. I didn’t want the hands coloured, as I wanted the rose to be the focal point in the design. At times it is hard to know exactly what the design will look like when finished. Especially when you have a design or look in your head. So, I went with my gut instinct and just did it. I wanted the two designs to be in a twin frame so that it could be displayed indefinitely and became a permanent statement of love and affection. I think I actually made the right choice in bringing in the green thread into the design, it really makes the roses stand out and that is what I wanted.

Close Up Rose

This romantic design is not just limited to one day, it can easily be left out on display all year. This design would also make a lovely personal wedding gift. You could easily include and stitch the wedding date and their names. This would be done simply by leaving out ‘Be mine’ in the heart and writing or stitching the names of the couple and the date of the wedding under the hand in the bottom right-hand space. This design really leads to quite a few possibilities.

Be Mine

As a celebration of Valentine’s Day, I am offering the PDF pattern as a free download and the printed pattern will be on special for £4.00 from the website till the end of February. I am also offering kits for you to stitch you very own Valentine’s message. This kit will contain the printed pattern, threads, needle and calico which will have the design traced on and the roses coloured in ready for you to start stitching start away.

I hope you all have a lovely Valentine’s Day; in whatever way you choose to celebration or acknowledge it.

From your Valentine x

Reflecting Back On 2020

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I woke up this morning on New Year’s Eve to a white 31st of December. It is presenting a very cold and somewhat snowy end to 2020. It is very quiet here, and nothing is stirring. It is so magical to be here all cosy at home, looking out on a white scenery. I guess living in the countryside, up a very narrow and somewhat steep lane has its advantages or disadvantages, depending on what way you look at it. It means that we are snowed in and unable to leave the house as the lane is too dangerous to drive on. So, the prospect of being inside is actually a nice way to see 2020 end, especially when we have no need to be out and it is all cosy inside, and I have enough food, drink and crafts to keep me busy.

Snow on the lane

With the prospect of being unable to go anywhere due to the snow on the lane, it seemed appropriate for me to sit at the computer to write my last blog post for 2020 and reflect back on how this year has been and look forward to a hopefully better 2021.

I am sure that no one will forget 2020. It is a year that will be placed in future history books for all of the wrong reasons. The year when the world was struck by a deadly virus and how everyone was affected in one way or another. The year when our normal every day activities stopped and we were presented with new everyday restrictions and guidelines. The year when small businesses were closed down. The year we were stopped from gathering together for weddings, funerals, family celebrations and entertainment. I know that many thought that we would be back to ‘normal’ by September and the virus would be gone, however, here I am, on New Year’s Eve and we are again facing a national lockdown in the hope that the numbers of those that have contacted COVID will decrease. Local businesses are again forced to closed their doors and lose much needed income and we wonder if it will never end.

I know that as a small business myself, 2020 has been hard. I reflect back to this time last year when everyone was looking forward to a bright 2020. For me, the business was getting stronger and I was enjoying hosting workshops, classes and retreats, but also getting asked more increasingly to facilitate workshops for community and craft groups around Northern Ireland. My diary for 2020 was getting full with workshops for outside groups, some new ones and some of my regular groups. I could definitely say, 2020 was looking good and I was looking forward to planning and designing products for these community workshops. So it is hard to think that just in a flash, all my planned workshops throughout 2020 was postponed or cancelled.

Inktense Class
Retreat

Reflecting back over the past 9 months, it has been hard to stay positive all the times, especially when you need to keep positive for your children and help them understand exactly what is happening in the world. Alyssa and I coped, we learnt to talk to each other, let each other know how we are feeling and do things together. Those that know Alyssa will know that she is quiet and doesn’t talk much at all. Thinking on it as I write, I can look back on the past 9 months with such positive thoughts. It has been a period of strong bonding between the two of us. 2020 has been the year that Alyssa has opened up to me, actually hugs me, holds a conversation and we have grown together. So, that is one major positive that I am taking from 2020, forward into 2021. It has been a time to strengthen family bonds and relationships.

If someone asked me, what did you achieve in 2020 during lockdown and your business not being able to function normally? How would I respond? Truthfully, at the start of the first lockdown in March, I thought, ‘I can finally spend the time doing all my own personal unfinished and yet to be started personal projects. Did that happen? No! I started to think out of the box and thought this was a great time to clear out the log cabin, and actually sell the yarn that was just being stored up there. Our initial thought was to clear out the cabin and turn it into a personal craft retreat, somewhere that Alyssa and I could go to relax, craft and enjoy some time out. So, that is what we did, sorted through the yarn and sold it off through Facebook, which was a great success. When that was gone, I got thinking on other ideas. And I was asked about doing Learn to crochet kits and tutorials. It was a challenge and I loved doing it. I guess that was the start of the kits. We all needed something to do and we had the time to learn new crafts or continue with our favourite crafts.

Still looking back I think that was the birth of so many designs and creating kits. I started to look at past workshops I had held and how those projects could be put together as kits. It was a fun challenge and something that Alyssa and I could do together as she was off tech with no coursework, and in helping me she was able to keep some sort of order and routine in what was a strange year. Once we had kitted up existing projects, we got to thinking on new ones. Looking back on what I designed during 2020, is wonderful. There was the sewing trio set – Floral Garland, Redwork and whitework designs. I also compiled up a couple more ‘Learn to’ kits – Tunisian crochet and top-down knitting. The months of lockdown flew by and I did not get to work on any of my personal projects.

Learn to crochet kit

2020 presented some unknown challenges for Nifty Needles. With no workshops, classes or retreats being allowed, it meant that I was unable to fulfil the role that made Nifty Needles. I had an online website selling my PDF patterns and designs, but it really wasn’t doing anything positive for Nifty Needles. I have to be thankful for the virus and government restrictions, as I may not have achieved what I have done in 2020 if the world had not dramatically changed. Without the Saturday zoom sessions with my ‘crafting’ buddies and spending a relaxed afternoon crafting, chatting, laughing, drinking and putting the world to rights, the new online shop and website may never have been created. From those zoom sessions, came the idea and birth of an online shop and a new improved website. Months of hard work followed by everyone in the new ‘Nifty Needles technical and management team. Research, compiling a list of stock, patterns, deciding on categories and what goes where, taking photos, inputting the products onto the website and writing up descriptions for everything to get the online website that we now have. Sometimes, sharing your dreams and aspirations out loud to friends, and with support, you can achieve your dreams.

Reflecting back now, I know that this would not have been possible if we did not have COVID or restrictions. So I am thankful for 2020 and how it made this possible. It has been a strange journey this year and it has been one of personal and professional changes, reflection on what is really important and how the life and world can change in an instance. I have learnt new computer skills, the value of true friendship and family bonds, and how precious friendship and family is. I am grateful for the things I have and it does not need to be a lot, just enough to keep you safe, warm, healthy and happy with what you have.

So, with the dawn of a new year upon us, for me, it is a time to reflect on the positive things that 2020 brought us, take on board the negative things and learn from them on how we can move on from 2020 and look forward to a brighter and more positive 2021. We are moving into the new year with a lockdown and still not able to socialise, gather with friends and family but those bonds will not weaken and together, socially distanced, we can see in the new year with a positive outlook for a better future.

Hopefully it will not be too long before we can gather together for workshops and retreats so we can craft together, socialise, share laughter, skills and good food. This is what I have missed in 2020 and it is hard not to be able to organise something where we can come together. However, I am remaining positive and hope that we can do what we most like to do in the not too distant future.

Finally, I want to thank every one of you for being here with me (virtually) throughout 2020, supporting and encouraging me. Hopefully, I have helped in some way to keep you all sane in 2020 with crafting and my designs and kits. We have all been together, sharing our thoughts, our creative projects and positivity throughout 2020.

Last Minute Xmas Rush

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It is less than two weeks before Christmas!! It is so hard to believe that it has crept up so quickly. With the way life is at the moment and with not going out and socialising (or shopping) it has been hard to keep up with time.

I have to admit that my heart really isn’t into Christmas this year. There will just be the two of us at home this year, so I think that aside from the ‘essential’ presents, it will be a small and quiet Christmas. I am focusing more on handmade gifts and getting something that is asked for. I have a few presents that need to be made, drawstring bags for storing tree decorations being one. I made these bags around ten years ago to store my tree decorations in and they have been great for keeping all the decorations in one place. My daughter asked me to make her some for Christmas, so I have taken out my original bags and drawn up new improved designs for the bags. I also thought they would make a great pattern so will be taking notes and photos while making the three bags and get it into pattern form in the New year. I also planned on sewing up an appliqued play mat for my grandson as well as a panelled duvet cover and pillow cases for Alyssa. I definitely think that I need to start having some days at the sewing machine.

As I am writing this, I am thinking back on past Christmases. It is the time when we were busy with Christmas themed workshops and enjoying the workshops for the treats, laughter and gathering together to share in a common love, crafting and learning new skills. It is hard not having that this Christmas, not being together and crafting. It was a time that we could all relax, have some fun and create in the middle of such a hectic period with the run up to Christmas.

For many of us, it will be a very different Christmas. We may not have the numbers gathering around on Christmas Day for the meal and celebrations, but hopefully, we can enjoy the day regardless of the restrictions and keep safe. I think it will be a quiet day for many of us, but hopefully, we can enjoy the day in whatever way we have planned.

This year has been different for small businesses and having to close during the run up to Christmas has been especially difficult for many businesses and shops. It is usually the time when the local businesses do well. People would be out buying their Christmas presents locally and supporting our local businesses and shops. It has now become the norm to buy everything online as we are not able to get into the shops in one way or another. Many of the local shops have had to look at other ways to bring in the income to keep themselves going and riding out the storm that COVID and the government restrictions have caused. We had to look at creating a website where I could sell online and if we hadn’t of done this, then we would not have been able to keep going and ride out this storm. Being able to offer an online service has been great for us and I want to thank everyone that has supported us and been with us as we have expanded and created new products. It has certainly kept us busy over the last nine months.

In mentioning the website, did you know that we offer gift vouchers? Such a great Christmas gift for the person who loves to craft and you are unsure on what to buy for them. With our gift cards, you are able to spend the money on anything in the online shop. You don’t need to spend your voucher all in one go either, the website keeps track of your balance so you can come back as often as you like.

Gift Card

We are still posting out for Christmas, so if you are looking for something to gift, then have a look at what we have to offer. Our craft kits are very popular and make great presents to give, either as a kit or as a finished item. We have some lovely Christmas themed needlework kits that would be lovely to stitch over the Christmas period and to display year after year.

Alyssa has her birthday 3 days before Christmas, which has always been a strange time to celebrate her birthday and we always kept her birthday and Christmas separate. We had made the tradition of going out for her birthday meal and it was always a lovely way to relax before Christmas and enjoy abit of celebration and a delicious meal out. I know that this year, we will not be going out as an extended family to celebrate her birthday with a meal out. It had become a tradition to go to Cosmos Restaurant in Victoria Square, Belfast, which was lovely as we got to see the wonderful Christmas display that Victoria Square always put on. The atmosphere was incredible and so festive with late night shoppers and meal goers. It certainly gave everything a festive buzz and a great start for our Christmas celebrations as a family.  It will definitely be a meal out when everything is safe to do so. It is a shame as she turns eighteen this year which marks a special milestone. It is so hard to believe that she is eighteen years old! We will be doing something special at home together.

The weather is certainly dropping and looking more like winter weather. We woke up this morning to a heavy frost and thick mist. The frost just doesn’t seem to lift at all during the day and the temperatures stay near zero. It is the time to stay warm inside and do some crafting. I am finding it hard to get going in the mornings.

It is also around the time that I start to think about knitting winter woollies, jumpers, mitts and shawls. I enjoy knitting from wool that I have spun up on the spinning wheel. Actually, in the past week, I have been spending a few hours each day at the spinning wheel. I find it so relaxing and therapeutic. I have built up a small pile of handspun yarn, all hand dyed and ready to be made into that special lacy shawls or snood, a pair of mitts for the cold days that are ahead of us.

I am planning on putting up some skeins of the handspun yarn which are ideal for knitting into shawls and mitts for the freezing days. A special, one off skein of beautifully dyed natural fibre would make an ideal Christmas present for the person that knits or crochets. They can be assured that the wool they use to make a shawl or mitts is completed unique and one of a kind. There really isn’t anything more special than knowing you have made something and know that it is the only one out there. Being hand dyed and hand spun means that it is not mass-produced. So, do keep an eye out.

If you are still looking for those last-minute Christmas gifts, then please remember to support the small local businesses. Your purchases mean so much to us. We actually do a wee happy dance every time we get a sale. Finally, I want to wish everyone a safe and relaxing Christmas and I hope you all get to enjoy the day, in whatever way you are spending it.

Whitework Christmas Lights

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Contents

Background

With the launch of my latest kit design, I thought I would write about it and some of the background. If you have been following my blogs, I volunteered to write this without any prompting from the team.

Early last year, a hen party approached me to do a small workshop on Whitework.  This workshop was my first time doing a craft workshop for a group of ladies at a hen party. They wanted a small craft session and had asked me to design a suitable Whitework design for the Bride to be and then show everybody how to do the needlework. This was a fun task, coming up with a suitable design with the guidelines being – the Bride to be loved ‘folksy’ designs and to keep in line with a wedding.

So, the design that came together for that workshop was my “Floral Heart” design. I did not think that when I designed it for the hen party group it would have proved as popular as it has this year. With lockdown and not being able to hold workshops, I developed kits which enabled everyone to try out new crafts at home. The Floral Heart continues to be one of the most popular needlework kits.

Later the same year I was asked to facilitate a six-week course covering Traditional Needlework. This got me thinking about the different methods of needlework and the history of each one. It was an interesting project and even though I had done lots of needlework in the past, it was great to get more in-depth with each one and the history of each craft.

Whitework was one of the crafts that I was teaching and it is such an elegant embroidery. It is funny how there are different names for the different types of needlework and yet they use the same stitches at times. Redwork uses the same stitches (at times) and yet it is different from Whitework.

The Origin of Whitework

Whitework embroidery originated in India and China, then became popular in the West during the 15th century. It refers to any embroidery technique in which the stitching is the same colour as the foundation fabric. Whitework was traditionally worked with white thread on white fabric and used for church linens, underwear, bridal and christening wear. It is also the forerunner to the fabric Broderie Anglaise which is a whitework needlework technique consisting of embroidery, cutwork and needle lace. I am sure many of us remember wearing dresses or shirts made from Broderie Anglaise.

It seems that many countries or regions have their own form of Whitework. Ayrshire work, a form of Whitework used mostly for christening gowns was developed in Scotland during the 19th century. Ireland also has their own form of Whitework which is known as Mountmellick and has quite a distinctive finish to the Whitework as it had a crocheted edge to the work. There is also drawn thread work, pulled thread work, Hardanger, just to name a few, which are all really connected back to Whitework. So really Whitework covers such a range of different needlework techniques.

Various techniques were employed to make the stitches stand out against the white background. The type of thread that is used to help give it the look, is a Perle cotton or Coton a border. This thread tends to be thicker than 6-stranded embroidery cotton and has a matt finish which sets off the white embroidery against the white fabric.

Vintage Whitework
Vintage Whitework

Whitework Designs

With teaching the Whitework to groups, I designed a few simple designs which proved to be a great success. With lockdown this year and not being able to conduct workshops, I decided to release kits and the two whitework designs that I had taught previously, proved to be very popular as kits. It is great to see how popular this needlework is and it got me thinking of how elegant Whitework would be with a Christmas theme. It was also due to the fact that I had been asked during the year to teach a Christmas whitework class during November. I think we were all hoping that lockdown would be over and workshops could resume as before. Unfortunately, that workshop was cancelled due to restrictions being in place. However, I was able to teach it to another group which was great to be able to do. The class stitched one of the designs and thoroughly enjoyed learning the techniques.

After that workshop, I came home and decided that the design would be lovely in a free-standing frame and have two different designs. Which is what I did, I wrote the pattern and decided on the stitches to be used and stitched the two designs up in the white cotton and added a bit of sparkle in the design by using silver thread to stitch the stars. It certainly adds that bit of elegance into a simple needlework design and I will be displaying it with pride over the Christmas period.

Christmas Kits

So, in time for Christmas, I am releasing the kits to make these two whitework designs. They would make great presents to give to someone, or even for yourself so you can make the designs to display in your home over Christmas. The kits contain everything you need to stitch the two designs. I also have them available in pattern form. The anchor Coton a Broder and metallic silver thread is also available online, along with the freestanding duo black picture frame to complete your two whitework designs.

If you enjoy needlework and hand stitch, I know you will enjoy stitching these two whitework Christmas Lights.

The Hen Party Block of the Month (BOM)

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The Launch

So, with the launch of a new Block of the Month quilt design, I thought it would be an opportunity to attempt another blog post.  Hopefully, I will be more comfortable with writing the posts, the more posts I do. I have no problems writing up posts on my Facebook page, but somehow, when my team encourage me to write, I shake internally and panic sets over me; All I am thinking is, how on earth do I write a post that is interesting and relevant? 

So, this new BOM that is launching is a quilt that I designed and worked on a couple of years ago, but I never got round to launching due to several factors. But I can now finally sit down and get it started or finished? I guess I am also a bit nervous about releasing it. It is a bit like releasing apart of myself out into the world and hoping that it will be able to cope on its own in the big world. But enough sentiment for now. 

Designing the Quilt

I loved designing this quilt, and there is quite a story behind this particular quilt.

I have come to know hens on a different level since my daughter started keeping chickens. Her love for them (and the love they have for her) is so apparent, and I have come to respect them all for their quirky personalities. Each hen is so different you could almost swear that they understand everything you say to them. We have a couple of hens that insist on laying their eggs in a kitchen cupboard, which has to have a blanket inside. Others love to check out the grocery bags when you come back from the supermarket to see if you bought any treats for them. We have hand-reared chicks when the mother hen hasn’t been able to cope, and we have also helped chicks on their journey out of an egg. We have nursed ill hens back to life. There is also a sad part of keeping hens. Alyssa has comforted them on their final journey to the rainbow bridge and talked to them while they pass, so they know they are loved and not alone in their final journey. Watching her gift with the hens is amazing. Our life with chickens is certainly not dull! You really get to understand where the saying ‘Henpecked’ and ‘Pecking order’ come from.

Inktense

This quilt began when I found the love of colouring with Inktense pencils and incorporating that with embroidery. (I also had a charm pack that I didn’t know what to do with) These coloured and stitched blocks are a tribune to our lovely quirky hens and what they would be like if they had their own Hen Party. A Hen Party could also be taken for the party that a bride has before her wedding, so with a twist and a bit of quirky hen humour, this quilt is in honour of how hens would have their own hen party.

Quilt Design

The quilt is in seven monthly patterns and will be released around the middle of each month. The first pattern gives you the instructions on how to make the hourglass blocks that complete the quilt in the final pattern, so you can work away on these blocks at your own pace. Each month a new block will be released with the full-size template for each coloured block. Don’t worry if you haven’t done the colouring technique before, I have given detailed instructions for working with Inktense pencils and the list of colours that I have used for each block. It is more about having fun colouring in your own hen blocks.

So, Month One – Gossiping, is now available in our online shop for both the printed or PDF pattern. I hope you enjoy making it as much as I enjoyed designing it.

Sheepskin Slippers

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Many of you know that I moved here to Northern Ireland from New Zealand. I spent most of my life in New Zealand, and my children were born in New Zealand. We all see Northern Ireland as our home and love it here. However, there are a few things that I miss about New Zealand, that you can’t get here in Northern Ireland.

I miss Pineapple Lumps (sweets, but kiwis call them lollies), Lemon & Paeroa (a lovely fizzy drink that is unique). Onion dip (made from a packet of dried onion soup and a tin of reduced cream) which you have with potato chips (crisps), Milo (a hot chocolate drink) and amazing marshmallow centred chocolate covered Easter Eggs, Oh, and not forgetting the Chocolate Fish (pink marshmallow cover in chocolate, shaped like a fish). My taste buds are going into overdrive as I am writing this. Thankfully, a few years ago, I discovered a London based company that stocked all the Kiwi speciality food (along with Australia and South Africa) so all of us ‘imports’ could buy our fav foodstuffs from home. So once (or twice) a year, I treat the family to all those favourites.

 

Sorry, I got a bit side-tracked in explaining the true Kiwi items that we grew up with and miss as they are not available here. It was the mention of the pineapple lumps and marshmallow Easter eggs. There is one other item that we grew up with and I forgot completely about until my oldest daughter reminded me when she was expecting Lucas last year.

She asked me to make Lucas some of the sheepskin slippers I made for the girls when they were babies and toddlers. These slippers are very much a Kiwi icon and very popular. They are so warm in the winters and cool in the warmer months. Being made from sheepskin means that the outer soles are nonslip, which is great for when they were learning to walk. This meant no slipping on wooden floors. They were warm and cosy on their feet as the sheepskin was inside. The upper part was either knitted or crocheted which meant that the entire slipper was soft and pliable on their feet, right from birth. I had completely forgotten about these slippers, as it had been over 15 years since I had made them for Alyssa.

Sheepskin Slipper

Being New Zealand – the land of the sheep (& the long white cloud), it was easy to go down to a local tannery and get some sheepskin offcuts or even buy the kit with the soles ready cut and with holes to make the slippers. However, being in Northern Ireland, the task of finding suitable sheepskin offcuts was slightly more difficult and there was nowhere to buy the sole kits (other than buying direct from New Zealand). I had long since lost my original pattern and could not find a pattern for the knitted slipper uppers.

Sheepskin Slipers

So last year, I made up a couple after doing a few experiments in the designing process. Suitable sheepskin proved to be harder to find but I got some which I could make a couple of pairs. Lucas lived in the slippers.

Fast forward to October this year (and Lucas’s first birthday) – Latisha asked if I could make some more slippers as he had grown out of the ones I had previously made. So I really got my thinking hat on. I needed to be able to source a good reliable place to obtain suitable sheepskin, which I did, the bonus being that the skins have been treated specially to be used next to babies’ skin. I then had to work out, write and test suitable patterns for the slipper tops (after input from Latisha about what was the best design for the babies’ feet) and be able to have several sizes available. So I have finally got a pattern written for knitted slipper tops from sizes new born through to 2 years old. I will be doing a crochet version as well.

Full Range

These slippers are amazing and so practical and stylish, while being cosy and pliable for babies’ feet. I knew that I wanted to share this Kiwi tradition and product with everyone here. These slippers really work well with the tops being made from handspun yarn – it truly makes these totally natural and all from the sheep (so to speak). I have used both hand dyed and natural handspun in my samples and love how rustic they look.

So, I then got to thinking on how it would be great to offer these in kit form – pair of soles (with holes ready to use) and the corresponding size pattern to make up a pair. I decided to leave out the yarn, mainly to keep the cost down and also to leave the option to you, so you could either buy handspun yarn or use your own. I am also thinking of offering ready-made slippers as well which will be packaged in a lovely linen bag which would make a lovely gift for that special baby ….

Christmas Twenty Twenty

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Is it that time already?

It is now the start of November, and we are still in a semi lockdown situation with COVID. We are all pretty fed up with the whole thing or starting to accept that this could be the ‘new normal’. I know that I don’t want to accept either option, but 2020 has been a year that we want to forget. It is hard to believe that Christmas is only a few weeks away and we may not be able to have our customary Christmas celebrations. As we may not be able to socialise, it will be a very quiet Christmas for many of us.

I have already started to accept that it will be a quiet Christmas and we may not have the same day planned as we usually would have. However, I am still planning on putting up my decorations and creating a lovely peaceful Christmas theme in the house, so we have something to look forward to.

I know I don’t want to be dwelling on what we are missing out on with the restrictions, BUT, focusing on What we are thankful for.

During the months coming up to Christmas I love making new decorations to put up in the house and even making Christmas themed gifts for friends and family. I really start to get into the whole Christmas spirit in this way. I thought I would share with you, photos from our past Christmases and all the handmade Christmas decorations I have up around the house. I take down all of my pictures on the walls and replace them with Christmas themed wall-hangings and pictures. The collection grows each year as I usually end up doing a new one (sometimes two or three) each year. Some of them are 15 years old. These are from when we moved to Northern Ireland, though I did bring one or two really special ones. It was nice starting again and building up the collection each year. Since I had the opportunity to ‘rebuild’ my Christmas collection, I decided that most of it would be handmade. Our tree decorations are all handmade over the years and they bring so memories each year as we decorate the year, as we had spent many an evening as a family enjoying the crafting and being together.

Christmas Decorations

Future Designs

I love to design Christmas designs/patterns. My favourite designs would be the Christmas mice that I did last year and they have proved to be very popular to everyone. I have plans to add to the collection and unfortunately I was unable to do the one I had planned next …. But I will be working on that one in the New Year to be added to the design collection. I know that I am a bit behind this year in releasing new Christmas designs but the year has crept up on me ….

I have quite a few Christmas themed designs that I did last year and never got round to actually releasing them so I thought it would be a great opportunity to do it this month and give you the opportunity to start making some new Christmas themed designs for either yourself or someone else. There is a good variety coming up, from Inktense/Stitchery designs; Redwork designs and machine piecing. I am teaching a Whitework workshop (hopefully) this month where I designed a special Christmas themed whitework design. I will be releasing this design in a kit form as well this month.

So there are plenty of new designs and projects to look forward to. I look forward to showing you sneak photos closer to their releases throughout the month of November.

Lest We Forget

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Back in late 2019, I was asked if I would design something to celebrate VE Day, which was to be celebrated in May 2020, and then to teach it in several workshops. I was humbled and excited to be approached about coming up with a design to remember such an important occasion. 

I knew that I had to include the soldier and the well-known saying – Lest we forget – that we associate with Remembrance. I wanted to have poppies and also to bring Inktense colouring into the design. So, my design came to be.

So, fast forward to March 2020 and the world came to a complete standstill with the COVID-19 which meant that all planned workshops had to be cancelled. This was a difficult decision, but the world was going on an unknown journey and no one knew what would be the conclusion to it all. I know many thought it would be gone within a couple of months and life would go back to normal. Many would not have thought that we would still be in this semi lockdown and ‘new’ normal in October. 

Strangely enough, we can apply this to our current situation; So many people have died from this virus, many that should not have lost their lives. I believe that we should not forget those that have gone because of this virus.

But back to the design; With the workshops being cancelled, I had to think of other ways the design could be available to those that wanted to make it. So, the idea of kits came about and it has proved so popular, more than I could ever have envisioned. I have created two types of kits – uncoloured one, for those that want to do their own colouring with the Inktense pencils and a coloured one, for those that are not able to do the colouring. The coloured kits are hand painted by me and each one is unique, no two are the same.  

This panel would be lovely to hang on display every year to commemorate the fallen or even at any time. We are coming up to Remembrance Day, which would be great to have this panel ready for then. So why not get a kit and do one up for yourself or a friend so they can remember the fallen. 

Autumn and my Woolly Acorns

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Well, its time for my second post. The team that is helping me or trying very hard to get me into a routine of creating interesting articles. Now, you all know me and I would rather be crafting and being creative than sitting at my computer. Below is my second attempt at writing a blog. 

Autumn is finally here; the nights are drawing in and, as summer fades away into memory the autumn colours are coming out. I love autumn with the leaves on the trees changing into gorgeous golden colours. And, the best part is the harvest of apples, blackberries and other autumn produce. 

Being able to bring autumn indoors is such a special treat, there is nothing that says autumn more than a collection of pumpkins, apples, berries and acorns. 

Woolly Acorns

I like quirky and unusual decorations to have indoors, ones that create conversations. For me, woolly acorns fit that bill. They are cute and different but are easy to make. They look great set in a vintage china dish or a rustic bowl. 

The woollen fabric that creates the acorns fits in well with the natural acorn caps. 

 I have created these woollen acorns into kits which includes the template, photo tutorial, stuffing, acorn caps and fabric to make 20 woollen acorns. The fabric in the kits are a mixture of colours and textures, so each kit is entirely different. I have limited kits, and once they are gone, there is no more. So why not grab a kit and have some fun creating your own woollen acorns. They are easy enough for children to make.