Needlework Counting Pins

Featured

Over the past few months, I have had so much pleasure to be able to make and offer some truly unique needlework notions to you all. I have loved the part of spending time making them and ensuring that they are all different. It really is lovely to be able to work with beautiful needlework notions while we do our needlework and it is even more special knowing that they are handmade, not mass produced in a factory somewhere.

So far, I have added Thread conditioner made from 100% Beeswax to help keep your metallic thread from getting tangled or knotted. I have also made needle minders and scissor fobs.

Our latest range of needlework notions have just been released on our website –

Needlework Counting Pins.

Counting Pins

These are such truly stunning pieces and look too decorative to be practical. Yet, I assure you, they are totally practical – they just have the bonus to look extremely decorative.

So what are counting pins? And what are they used for?

Well …. If you do Cross Stitch or Blackwork, then these are the tools that you will be looking for in your needlework work basket, especially when you need to start counting squares. Basically these tools are needed when you need to count out stitches on your AIDA or evenweave linen fabric.

Really old cross stitch stitched by my grandmother for when I was born

I have been doing cross stitch since I was 7 years old (that’s too long ago) and I was taught to do cross stitch by my mother who had grown up doing it. I remember she taught me how to follow the chart, find the middle point, count how many squares to the bottom of the chart along the vertical midline and then count out to the right to find the starting point of where I needed to start stitching with my needle and thread.

I then had to count exactly the same squares/stitches on my fabric. At times it could be trial and error, finding the correct starting point and lots of recounting. There were no such things as counting pins to help you keep track. I usually used my needle that was threaded up, ready to start and just hope that I didn’t use count mid-way while counting down from the midpoint of the fabric and then out to the right to find where my first stitch needed to be.

I can remember that over the years, I had miscounted and a few of my pieces were really close to the left hand side as I had miscounted.

If you are cross stitchers, you are probably lost as to the way I am counting to get my starting point at the bottom right side of the piece. It was the way I was shown by my mother, and she was Dutch. She had been shown how to do cross stitch from her mother, my grandmother and I guess it was the way that they did cross stitch. Basically you started from the bottom right hand side of the design, working your way upwards and across to the left until you had completed the design. It seemed a logical process to me (I guess it being the only way I was taught). The stitches were also worked in columns going from right to left. You went up the column working the right slanting stitch and then coming back down the column to complete the cross stitches. It meant the needle was always facing the same way and it was easy to start the next column to the left of the column just completed. It was when I moved here and brought the English Cross Stitch magazines that I discovered that cross stitch was worked completely differently.

Starting to stitch at the bottom right hand corner and working top and across to the left to complete the design

I did so many cross stitches as I was growing up, working from the Dutch cross stitch charts that my mother had sent over from Holland by her family. Cross stitch was still relatively new in New Zealand, and I cannot recall seeing kits, patterns promoted while I was growing up in the 70’s.

I remember my first job after I left school. It has an old department store, elegant but showing the wears of age, neglect and of times gone by. It had started as a family store back in the early 1900’s – grand wooden staircase going up to the first floor which was for Women’s wear – outerwear and underwear. Ground floor was for the menswear, haberdashery, and fabric dept (where I worked). There was a huge cellar that went underneath the entire store, I hated having to go down there to get extra stock, it really gave me the creeps! Who knew what lay in the depths of that cellar? Actually one year, staff found some forgotten stock which they used for an annual fashion show. It was a box of ‘fashionable’ swimwear (male and female) from the 1920’s.

The family had gone since sold it on to a local farming corporate business when I started there in the late 70’s after leaving school, but the old elegance was since visible, even though it was abit shabby. However, the wood panels and stained glass windows were still very visible and played an important role in the character of the building. My dept manager was a lovely elderly gentleman (past retirement when I started there in my teens) who had worked there from the early 30’s after leaving school when the family still owned it and could still remember the day of the Great Earthquake in 1931 and destroyed both neighbouring towns (Napier and Hastings). His stories of that day and how the store shook on its very foundations were fascinating. He had many other stories of the changes he had seen over the years. But more importantly, his knowledge of fabric and sewing will always stay with me, his words of wisdom still sound in my head at times. He was one of life’s true gentlemen and when I left the store to do other work, he wrote a glowing reference, which I still have today.

I have really got side-tracked writing about the department store when I was really discussing cross stitch patterns. I was saying that there was not a lot of interest in cross stitch in New Zealand…. Well the department store does play a part in it. I remember we had a sales rep come round and he was showing us some of the latest products to arrive in New Zealand …. All the way from Holland. They were cross stitch kits … a new arrival into the country. I remember my dept manager saying that he really didn’t think they would take off and he didn’t order any for the store …. But my eyes grew wide … I fell in love with one of the designs …. And it was in Dutch! The rep and my dept manager offered it to me at wholesale! I jumped at the offer … it was the first ever cross stitch I had brought and a kit with all the threads and fabric included! I felt so special! Still a huge expense and took over half of my weekly wage! My mother, however, gave me a stern talking too when I got home about spending so much money on needlework.

I worked on that cross stitch and loved creating each and every stitch. It was the largest piece I have even worked on, and it was my pride and joy. Would you believe that I still have that piece? It is framed and hangs on my landing and every time I look at it, I have so many memories …. How I came to get it, my first job after leaving school, the many, many months I worked on it and marvel on how it has survived all these years and travelled halfway round the world from New Zealand to Northern Ireland.

From that Dutch kit, I have completed numerous cross stitches since then and they have graced the walls of my home. Some have long gone, given away or never came with me from New Zealand. Even with the countless designs I have stitched over many, many decades, I can honestly say that I have never come across the latest notion that I have launched on the website. When I discovered and read up about them, I knew that I just had to have these handy wee tools. They are a complete game changer and makes it so easy to count and start your work in the correct place. Over the years I have used pins or needles to help me count, but I have found that they can slip out or you need to secure them over a couple of holes which can be confusing. Pins/needles can also be quite small and awkward to hold with your fingers while counting out squares on fabric.

These counting pins are larger, have an extremely sharp point, but also have a cap to place on the end to secure into the fabric so they don’t fall out and also to protect your fingers from the sharp points. With having beads etc at the top of the pin, it makes it easy to hold them while you are counting out the squares on the fabric.

So how do you use the counting pins?

I mentioned above that I had been taught to start stitching in the bottom right corner and work my way across to the left to complete the design. Many others start in the middle of the design and work their way out and away from the centre until the design is complete. Whatever way you start your cross stitch, you still need to do some counting, and this is where the pins come in handy.

Cross stitch design to be started

I started off a cross stitch design for Alyssa the other day. I am trying to encourage her to get into cross stitch and she chose this design of two foxes. I folded the AIDA fabric in half twice to find the mid-point on the fabric, so I knew where to start counting from. I found the middle point of the chart, well actually I looked to see how many squares there was in the design going down and across the chart. I halved those figures to get my counting figures for going down and to the right from the mid-point.

calculating the squares on the chart

I placed my first pin into the fabric which was the middle, taking the sharp point of the pin through to the back of the fabric and placed the cap onto the end of the pin so it was secure and would not fall out of the fabric.

So going from the mid-point on the fabric, I counted down 75 squares and placed a second pin into the fabric and secured it like the first pin. I now knew where the bottom of my design would finish.

Now counting to the right from the pin, I counted 65 squares and placed my third pin (green counting pin) into the fabric. I now had the far right bottom corner square placed on the fabric.

As I mentioned before, I had always been taught to start there (but there are always times when rules need to be adjusted) and I looked to see where the first actual stitch was on the chart to begin stitching. On checking the chart, I came to the decision that it was not practical to start at the bottom corner as there really were NO stitches to be made there. They started more in the middle of the chart to the right. That was no problem. I still had my middle pin secure in the fabric. So I started counting my 65 squares from the middle pin going to the right as I had done at the bottom. The green beaded pin is the outer right side of the design.

So now I had that marked, I was able to find the stitch that was the best starting point on the chart. This starting point is shown by the amber beaded pin just to the left of the green pin – 9 squares to the left of the outer right side and 1 square below the midway point. Since the counting pin is secure in the fabric, there was no fear that I would lose my starting point.

I remember in the past; I would find my starting point with my needle (as that is usually what I would have on hand as I was about to start stitching) and then had to remove my needle so I could thread it up with the correct thread colour. With no marker in the fabric it was so easy to lose the starting point, so I would sometimes wriggle my needle before removing it so it would make the hole larger, and it would be easy to spot (usually). Not good habits to have.

Starting to stitch

These counting pins are a game changer! I really don’t know how I managed without them for so long. I was actually wanting to start a new cross stitch just so I could use them! Rest assured, they are just not for starting a new project. Even while you are working on your cross stitch project, they are still very useful for counting. Remember the times you had to count out squares to go from one area that has been worked to a new area? There may be a big gap in the stitching as the fabric may be unstitched in the final design. I remember I have miscounted the squares to work a new area of stitches, only to discover further into the design, that I have miscounted by a square or so. It can be so frustrating! But these pins are handy for this, counting the squares and leaving them in the fabric until they are no longer needed. They even work great if you need to work a long line of stitches, just place the pin in where you need to finish up. You only need to count once and not worry about constantly having to count your stitches.

The pins are equally great for working on Blackwork designs. Basically, any needlework where you use either AIDA or evenweave fabric.

The hidden bonus of these notions? Well, they are decorative so make for truly stunning tools …. But …. When you aren’t using them for counting out your stitches on fabric …. They make for stunning shawl pins or just as a brooch to set off a jacket. They deserve to be shown off and not lie in your needlework basket. I love using mine to close my cardi which doesn’t have buttons or even to secure a shawl around my shoulders. They are basically dual purpose – handy needlework tools and decorative accessories for our outfits.

Using counting pin to keep cardigan closed

Quilter’s Handbook – Basic Reference Section

Featured

I have written a couple of blog posts about getting my craft snug (and stash/materials) organised in the lead up to my latest release – The Quilter’s Handbook. I have gone over the first two sections in the handbook – Inventory Section and Planner/Journal Section. I hope you found those posts to be interesting and helped to encourage you to get more organised with your quilting area. If you didn’t get a chance to read them, please do.

Have you ever had a tension issue while sewing and completely forgot just how to fix the problem? Or maybe you have been stumped on how to cut the correct measurement of fabric pieces needed? You may feel completely confused when confronted with the names of fabric pre-cuts or quilting terminology or even wondered on just how big to make the quilt which is to go onto a particular sized bed, etc.

Well, the next section in the Quilter’s Handbook deals on just those issues. I have complied the most common issues that we all experience at some stage. Now you just need to refer to your handbook for quick reference, instead of having to try and find the answer online and never knowing exactly where to look. Why waste time searching while you could be spending that time quilting?

Basic Reference Section

So, just what is in this section?

I have designed a template that is all about our sewing machine. It has space to fill in all the details of our sewing machine – Brand, model, and the category group of the machine if applicable, along with any extra feet/tools you may have brought for your machine. I have found this handy as I have quite a selection of extra specialised feet for my machine. My machine is also quite a specialised machine, and it is in a certain category which is important for when I am wanting to order extra bobbins or feet for my machine. Without knowing this category, I could purchase the wrong foot/bobbins for my machine. I can assure you I have done exactly that in the past! With these details recorded in my handbook, I can now quickly double check what category I need to search for when purchasing extra parts for my machine. Not all machines will have this, but it is always handy to have that recorded somewhere that it is quick to double check.

I have included a section where you can write in all the extra tools and feet that you have purchased for your machine. I found this quite useful when I went through my pile of feet that came with the machine and that I have purchased along the way. I was now able to identify and write down what the feet where for. My next step is to sew a handy zipped bag to house the feet separately, along with any instructions sheets that came with them, so I can keep them safe and know exactly what they are used for. This is especially true for the feet that I wouldn’t use as often but still need to use on specialised sewing projects. I am still working on the perfect bag to keep them all where I can also label each compartment with the name of the foot!

There is space to record the contact details for the service technician that you may use for servicing/repairing your machine. You no longer need to search frantically for the contact number that you wrote down on a scrap piece of paper or wonder where you placed their business card …..

I have drawn up sections where you can write down the dates of when your machine was serviced, as well as the date when the bobbin area was last cleaned, and the needle changed.

If you hold more than one sewing machine, it is handy to have one for each of your machines. I have done one up for my Pfaff sewing machine but also plan on doing one up for my longarm machine so I can keep a record of all the extra tools and feet that I have purchased for the machine. It just helps for when I may want to purchase anything in the future and I know straight away what I have for the machines, instead of having to go and search through my box of tools or feet for the machines.

My Sewing Machine

How many of us shudder at the mere thought of having tension issues while we are sewing? We can be sewing quite happily only to discover that our sewing is not right, we either have loops on the top or bottom of our fabric and the stitching is not balanced. One pull of one of the threads and the whole stitching comes undone!

I know I really do run scared if the machine has any tension issues and I dread having to touch my tension dial! I seem to inwardly hope that I never have to fix any major tension issues. However, having issues with our stitching where the loops do not meet in the middle of the fabric layers does not instantly mean that we should fiddle with our dials! Before we go anywhere near our tension dials, there is so much more that we should check. The dials are what we check last, after we have go through and checked everything else!

This handy reference goes through what to check when our machine is giving us tension problems and once, we have eliminated all of those other possible issues, we can then start to adjust our tension dials.

However, I have always found it hard to know which way to move the dial – is it up or down the number range depending on if our tension is tight or loose? I also tend to forget how to work out from the way the thread shows on the fabric as to whether the tension is too loose or too tight. I need to have something visible in front of me to remind me.

I really do dread tension issues, and my longarm machine is very sensitive to having the correct tension to ensure that the stitching is perfect with no loops on the bottom or the top of the quilt. The stitching loops need to meet in the middle! I knew that I would have to overcome my fear of tackling and correcting tension and I had gotten to be quite good with ensuring the correct bobbin tension. The slightest things would throw it off, even were the tension would be off if the bobbin was not wound on with the correct tension of the thread going through the tension discs.

It seemed that my longarm decided that I needed to face my fears and conquer the fear of tension. Last August I was quilting a wholecloth quilt which required a lot of stitching as the design was the stitching! I was working to a deadline, and would you believe that my quilting had serious loops underneath! Half a day’s quilting took me over a day to unpick! I really needed to conquer and overcome my fear and be able to tackle and solve tension issues. I went through all the steps prior to attacking the tension dials. I kept on saying out loud ‘Loosey lefty / tighty righty’ – it certainly imbedded into my brain, and I learnt which way to tighten or loosen the tension dials. I must say that those couple of days of pure hell – stitching, unpicking, not so nice words, and going through all the tension steps – really helped me to overcome my fear of tension issues. I can not say that I will not shake with fear the next time I have a major tension issue, but I know that I can always refer back to my tension guide, take a deep breathe, grab Jack, and know that I can overcome my tension issues.

Sewing Machine Tension

When I am teaching workshops, I have often been met with bewildered looks at times when the pattern calls for cutting fabrics which may not be of the more common inch fraction measurements. We will all be familiar with the ¼”, ½” and ¾” measurements and able to find those with ease on the ruler. But there are times when the pattern calls for the less common fraction measurements – the ones that talk about eights or sixteenths. Where do we find those on the rulers?

This guide gives a visual guide to explain the fractions in inches and where to find those measurements on the ruler. More confusingly, those fractions may have several ways to write them. So this guide explains how to read and understand all those lines on the ruler between each inch.

Explanation of Inch Measures

Why is it that our quilting patterns all work in inches for cutting our fabric and yet the material lists are usually in metres and the fabric shops sell the fabric by the metre? I haven’t worked out the reason yet, and I don’t think I ever will.

Coming from New Zealand where everything is in metric – kilometres, kilos, centimetres, metres, etc it was quite alien to come to the UK and instead of driving in kilometres, I was doing it in miles! Yet I brought my meat/vegetables by the kilo or grams and the fabric was by the metre or half a metre.

It then got stranger when I starting to cut my fabric for making a quilt, my rulers were in inches and the cutting instructions talked about inches or parts of an inch! The seams were ¼”. It really was a mixed up world! Then there were times when we downloaded a pattern from the states and the material list was all in yards! Just how did a yard compare to a metre? I know that there is 100cm in a metre, but just how many inches are in a yard?

I have drawn up a couple of visual charts, so it is easy to see at a glance on converting yards to metres and inches to centimetres. Now you don’t have to go and google to find out.

In this reference, I have also included the approximate sizes of UK beds to help give you an idea on what size to make that quilt. It is easy to find quilt sizes online for the American beds, but they are different from the UK. Even New Zealand has different bed sizes from the UK, and I found it strange to learn that the UK does not have a Queen, but rather King or Super King!  

This table makes it easy to give you an approximate guideline on what size to make the quilt if it is to fit a certain bed size.

Conversion charts

When it comes to purchasing fabric for a certain project, it can also be daunting. You can go into a shop and purchase a metre or part of a metre of fabric, but what if you need to get a Fat quarter, or maybe a long quarter? Even worse, you may need to purchase a Layer cake, Honey bun or a jelly roll …. You would be forgiven if you suddenly thought that fabric purchasing just turned into some kind of cake eating spree. If you are new to quilting, all these lovely or weird sounding fabric terms can be daunting! Is a Fat quarter the same as a long quarter? Just what does it all mean?

I have drawn up a visual guide showing and explaining what the different fabric cutting terms mean and just how much fabric is involved in each cut. I have also written a guide to all the pre-cuts along with photos for each type. I knew that my personal collection of pre-cuts would come in handy – a photo shoot for the handbook. I am sure they enjoyed being taken out of the boxes that they had been thrown into and having the opportunity to see some daylight for photos. The most attention and handling they have received for quite a while I can assure you.

Pre cut fabric photo shoot

So with having some pre-cut fabrics like a layer cake or charm pack, you may want to create different cuts from the 10” or 5” fabric squares. I have compiled charts so you can see at a quick glance just how many 4”, 2” or how size squares you can get from the different precuts. Maybe you just what to know how many charm packs it takes to make a quilt? These handy charts will give you all the help you need by working the math’s out for you.

Guide to precuts

What if you are just at the start of your quilting or sewing journey. Do you find that there is quite a few strange terms and words that are used? It really does seems as though quilters have this secret language that needs to be used.

So to help de-code those strange sounding terms, I have compiled a list explaining the meanings for the more commonly used terms to help you break down that language and just be able to get down to the more important part – sewing and quilting.

Common quilting terms

What I like most with the Handbook is that you only need to purchase the parts that you would find useful, which is so much better than purchasing a prebound one where you have to have parts that you would never use.

For example, you may know what all the terms are and don’t need to have this reference, so there is no need to include it in your handbook. Maybe you are not interested in inch measurements or machine tension.

Basically you can pick and choose what you need in your basic reference section and make your own personalised handbook.

Handbook

Come back next time when I will discuss and look at the final section – Cheat Sheets Section. The section that gives you step by step instructions on how to make the more popular and commonly used units in quilting, along with a maths cutting chart so you can quickly refer to so you know what size fabric to cut for the finished sized unit that you are wanting …..

Quilter’s Handbook – Journal and Planner section

Featured

As a crafter, I have so many projects on the go, waiting to be started or completed. In the previous 2 blog posts I have discussed about my notions and materials that are stored everywhere and this post is about keeping ourselves organised with planners and journals.

I do try to be organised and keep everything together, especially materials and notions for a particular craft all in one space. However, there are times where it is difficult to keep everything together in one place even though I now have a designated craft area. I seem to get overwhelmed with the amount of craft materials and notions I have collected/accumulated over the years and over the years have aften wished that I had an inventory of everything I have so that I can just go and look at the necessary inventory and know exactly where it is kept.

I am also a crafter that tends to have more than one project on at one time. I seem to get bored if I am on the one project all the time and depending on the way I feel at the time, I need to focus on a particular project – be it quilting/sewing, needlework, knitting, crocheting, or spinning.

I love being organised (but don’t manage to sometimes) and thrive on lists. I have found that there are times when I get overwhelmed by my sewing/quilting projects, the unknown growing mountain of unfinished projects and just what I need to get done. I have regretted making a quilt, gifting it, and not having a record of what it was, any adjustments, nor photos of it.

I have often wished I had a book for each craft that would keep me focused on the projects I have on the go, the projects that I want to start, either as gifts or for myself, any adjustments I have done for the project so I could refer back to it, especially if I started the project so long ago.

I have looked at Quilter’s journals/planners over the years thinking how great these were but there was always something that held me back – the fact that most of them were in book form, which meant that you couldn’t add to it once pages had been filled in. You would also be left with pages in the book that weren’t useful or relevant to you so it would be a waste. I thought on just printing out templates and placing them into a folder, but that just didn’t seem special enough. I was wanting something unique, special, and personalised – something that fitted exactly what I had in mind.

This is the result of months, upon months of thinking, planning, researching, drawing, typing, designing, and coming up with a truly personalised crafter’s handbook.

Quilter’s Handbook

We have discussed all about inventories – pre-cut fabric, tools and notions, patterns and books in the previous posts and ways in which to get ourselves organised and know exactly what we have and more importantly, where it is kept.

Having those inventory lists kept in the Handbook folder made it so easy to look up an item and know where it is kept.

Section Divider pages

I have always wanted to keep a planner, but never found one that suited my needs/wants. I wanted a planner that I could add pages to as needed and rather than a prebound book where I couldn’t add the pages needed or leave out the ones I didn’t need or use. Basically, I was looking for a customised book that would be used and not left part empty due to unusable pages/templates.  I have come up with these templates/pages which best suit my needs/wants, and hopefully yours. We may feel hesitate to use a journal/planner due to not knowing exactly how to make the best of it. A journal is not there to make us feel guilty or accountable of the unfinished projects, but to help keep us focused and motivated to get things done and to extent of our skills, to keep track of what projects we need to make, the projects we have made and gifted, the numerous BOM projects we signed up for. It also has the added benefit of keeping track of the pattern and materials used, writing notes/tips in case you want to make it again.

So just what is in the journal/planner section? And how do we make the most of what is in there?

quilters handbook folder

Firstly there is the ‘Goals’ planner …

It is always good to start fresh each year and set ourselves some goals for the coming year. Maybe there are techniques we want to learn, maybe setting aside time to dedicate to finishing those unfinished projects thrown in the back of the cupboard, or maybe it is nothing quilting/sewing related.

This is where we can write down those goals, the reason why and the steps needed to achieve the goal. Breaking a goal down into smaller steps can make that dream/goal seem more achievable and not as daunting. It is also brilliant when we can tick the goal as achieved.

Just because we have written them down, doesn’t mean they have to be achieved. There is no rule to say we can’t change our mind. Life, needs, and situations change, which means that our goals change along the way. It is also brilliant to have a written record of our goals so we can look back at the end of the year and see what we have achieved over the year.

Goals Planner

Writing down a list of the projects we have started and never completed, helps us to truly realise just how many we have on the go and needs finished. This could be one of your goals for the year – finish a certain amount of the WIP’s on your list. I have also found that my unfinished projects are all stored away in different boxes, drawers, and areas – all waiting patiently to be resumed.

This list helps you to know exactly what you have started (and need to finish). I felt it was best to keep this list simple, with just the stage the project was left at and MOST importantly, where it is stored. Once you get back to the project, start a Project page for it so you can keep track of your progress, keep more detailed notes and tick off each complete stage of the project until it is complete.

Works in Progress planner

I also designed a planner for Future Projects. This planner is just as important as your Works in Progress List. We may have already started (& not finished) so many projects, but we will ALWAYS have a list of the projects we want to start at some stage.

I have all these projects that I want to do (at some future stage), and even an idea of the fabric to use from my stash, but it is all in my head and I tend to forget about them over time. I come across the fabric that I may have set aside, or ear marked for the project, but have forgotten where the pattern is that I wanted to use for it.

So this planner is for those projects, the ones we want to do at some stage in the future, and now it is all written down with all the essential notes like where the pattern is stored, or in what book it was published and whether or not I have the fabric for it in my stash or I need to purchase extra for it.

When I sat down and did an inventory of my quilting books, I also spent time flicking through each book and rediscovered projects that I had mentally told myself that I wanted to make up when I first got the book. It was silly of me to think that my brain would retain all that information and remember the project and where the pattern was. Actually there was one such project – a mantle cover – that I had found in a book/magazine that I had purchased, I mentally stashed that info away and I forgot which book the pattern was in! I searched through my books without success many times over! Would you believe that while doing the inventory, I actually found that pattern and was now able to add the project to my Future Projects planner, along with the pattern name, book title and the page it was on. Now I have it recorded safely in my journal for when I get round to making it up.

I have to admit it was a fun way to spend a day, going through all my books while doing the inventory. It was a great excuse to be able to revisit all my wonderful quilting books. I do have to admit that my pages grew quite without shame or hesitation. I now have quite a lengthy list of future projects planned. But I am not worried, there is no expiry date for starting or completing these projects. I do, however, now have a list written with all the projects I would like to do and know I will not lose that piece of paper with the details or forget the info stored in my head, as it is safe in my handbook. There is also space if I want to list down any fabric I may want to use for the project.

Future Projects Planner

Something that fits in well with future projects is gifts that we may want or need to make.

Every year I say that I am going to make gifts for family and friends at Christmas. I have several that I planned to make for a special occasion, but they are still unmade as they tend to get forgotten about. Definitely one task for my goal list.

This list is to help us stay focused on making gifts, giving a deadline so we can make time to get them made and gifted. It also gives a great record of what we made, who it was for and when it was finished and gifted.

Gifts to Make Planner

I am sure we have all subscribed to Block of the Month projects at some stage and even lost track of what we are subscribed to or when they are due out. If you are on Facebook, there are numerous designers from around the world that are running BOM projects through a designated Facebook Group and share each monthly pattern for free for a limited time. How many times have we joined up, started the project only to realise that we have missed the deadline to download the free monthly pattern and we are faced for with the choice of missing that monthly pattern or having to pay for it. Paying for a great pattern is no issue, but it can be when the designer is overseas and the only way to purchase the missing pattern is via a printed pattern and the postage is high or the designer doesn’t post internationally. I have been caught on several occasions and I always vow that I will keep better track of release dates and the BOMs, usually on a scrap of paper by my computer or in my diary.

This tracker solves all these issues. Here you can note down the name of the BOM, the designer and what Facebook group it is connected to (if relevant) along with where you have stored the pattern, either as a PDF in a designated folder in documents on your computer or as a printed pattern in one of your storage folders.

There is also room to note the start/end dates of the BOM, number of individual parts, price and any BOM rules that you need to remember, like the release date each month and if the pattern is a free download for a limited time.

Once you have started the BOM project, you can then start an individual project template so you can keep more detailed notes. I know that this BOM tracker will be invaluable as I subscribe to numerous Facebook BOM groups that run several free mystery projects each year. Now I can keep a written record of them and know that I have kept up to date with release dates and saved the pattern to my computer until I can get round to making the BOM.

Block of the Month BOM Planner

Keeping a journal for your current projects is brilliant. This is where you record everything you need about the project you are creating. The one place where you can keep a note of the more technical details of your project, like the fabrics and notions used, pattern name, piecing basics, notes of any adjustments or modifications you may have made. There is space for you to include fabric swatches (if you want) or written notes on the fabrics used along with photos of the finished project is also a checklist provided so you can tick off each step/process in the project which helps to break it down and gives you a visual note of how much you have done or what still needs to be done.

There is also a checklist provided so you can tick off each step/process in the project which helps to break it down and gives you a visual note of how much you have done or what still needs to be done.

With this tracker, you have everything you need to complete your project all in one spot, so you know exactly where to go if you have had a break in the project and just need a reminder of what needs to be done or the technical requirements like the thread colour, stitch length and so forth.

The best thing, you have a detailed written and visual record of something you have made and gifted to someone. If you every want to remake the project, you have all the information you need to complete another.

What I love about this, is that it is also a future keepsake of projects you have done. In years to come, you may go through your journal, and you will have a reminder of the projects you have made over the years. What memories and a true keepsake to pass down to future generations.

I know that I have made quilts in the past and never kept a journal on any details, nor took photos. These quilts have since gone, maybe gifted to others, or just misplaced. They are quilts that can not be shared with others, they only exist in my memories and over time those memories will no longer exist like the quilts themselves. I truly wish that I had the journal then, especially when I was first on my journey in creating quilts. What memories and stories would I have been able to share with my daughters’ if I had records of those first quilts? The ones that I had started when I was young, where I gathered the fabrics from, the mistakes (redesigning) I had created with those quilts, the skills and knowledge I had gained with those quilts but more importantly, the memories and stories I could recall with making each and every one of those quilts.

Project Journal

The journal and planner will help you in so many ways – like planning your future projects, helping you keep track on the projects that are in progress and need to be finished (the ones that needed to go on holiday for a while), any gifts you need to make for someone.

Planner and Journal Section

Come back next time when I will discuss and look at the Basic Reference section. The section that we all can do with referring back to, no matter how long we have been sewing or quilting for ….

However, why not go to the website and check out the Quilter’s Handbook and maybe start to build your very own personalised Handbook to help you with all your quilting and sewing needs ….

Taking stock of all your notions and tools

Featured

So following on with doing an inventory of my pre-cut fabrics, I also did one for my Accuquilt dies a year or so ago.

This inventory came about, long before the creation of the Quilter’s handbook, with the need to know exactly what dies I had. I had purchased the machine and a couple of the dies. I found these items to be quite expensive and not something I wanted to purchase often. There was only one or two places in the UK that stocked the dies, however Amazon started to stock them and every so often, they had some very good offers/discounts on the dies. So much so, when they did come on offer, it proved to be hard to resist.

I had my dies stored on a shelf in my craft snug but as the number increased, it was hard to remember exactly just what I had. It proved to be abit of a bother to keep going out to the craft snug, locating the dies, writing down the details on a scrap paper. I always seemed to misplace that piece of paper when it came to the next time, and I had to repeat the exercise all over again! So, I came up with the idea of an inventory and breaking it further down into the different types of dies. This proved handy when I was looking for a certain size in a square and so forth.

I now have my Accuquilt dies written down and placed in my quilter’s handbook and it is just a matter of grabbing it and checking to see what dies I have and also to add in any new acquired ones. I also have a wish list of dies that I would like and when I see them on offer, I can just check them from my wish list.

From my Accuquilt inventory, the idea expanded, and I thought of all the other tools and notions I have acquired over the years and really have NO idea of exactly what I have! It really is bad, but it also meant that I was not sure of what I had if I was wanting to treat myself to a new ‘essential’ tool or notion. Knowing what tool or notion you have on hand is also handy when you start to plan your next cutting task.

I purchased some free motion rulers for myself a few years back and there are times when I see someone DE stashing some on Facebook and was never too sure if I had that particular one. With an inventory I now know exactly what I have and can shop around for specials/offers, knowing it is only a matter of checking my free motion ruler inventory to see what I already have.

Free motion rulers

I found this extremely useful as I have two inventories of the free motion rulers for both my domestic machine and the long arm, as both of these machines use totally different free motion rulers.

Over the years of quilting, my stash of quilting rulers has expanded from the one basic ruler which I brought when I first started and still use most of the time, to a wide range of other rulers. I had lost count of the rulers I have purchased over the years and knowing exactly what I had and what they were used for.

I have the staple collection of my essential rulers – the long standard cutting ruler, a couple of smaller rulers, several square rulers and my Stripology ruler. I kept those in the mat, ruler bag that I had designed to hold my mats and the rulers I use the most for cutting fabrics. It was a handy place to store them, and they were always with my mats.

The patterns for the three different designs – Butterfly among the Flowers, Golden Rule and the Plain mat, ruler bag are available as patterns from our website, either in PDF or printed format.

However, I have purchased other rulers that would be more specialised and used for specific tasks. Some would have been an impulse buy after seeing them promoted. Whatever way you looked at it, the collection was growing, and I was unsure of exactly what I had. It was also getting harder to know exactly where they were stored when I needed them.

So, the ruler inventory was created. But not just one inventory. Not all rulers are equal … NOR do they all do the same thing or have the same purpose. The ruler inventory is divided into three separate categories –

Standard Rulers

Rulers that are commonly used for cutting fabric such as 6 ½” x 12 ½”; 6 ½” x 24 ½”; 4 ½” square; etc.

Utility Rulers

Non-standard rulers that can be used for squaring up blocks, or specific function rulers such as Bloc Loc; ½” Triangles; Stripology Ruler; etc.

Specialty Rulers

Rulers that have a very specific use such as cutting or trimming certain blocks; Crazy Patch; Log cabins; Pineapples; etc.

I had such ‘fun’ storing through my stash of rulers and deciding which ones went into which category. But I can truly say it was a real sense of achievement to get them all sorted, listed into the particular inventory as well as allocating them into their specific locations.

Ruler Inventories

My Stripology ruler went there too as I use this often as well (and it was too large to go anywhere else). I allocated a drawer in my cupboard for storing the other rulers that I would not use as often as the standard ones but would still use regularly. I even placed the small rulers that I used regularly in my sewing trolley that I keep by my worktable, that way they were on hand and wouldn’t get lost in the other places.

The other rulers that I would use less often are placed in my small template folder that I designed for this purpose. I keep the folder on my shelf in the snug, so it is still handy to grab, and all the templates/rulers (instructions) are kept safe and in one place.

This small template folder is brilliant for keeping your smaller and less used rulers and templates safe in a sturdy zipped folder. There is also room to keep any instructions sheets that may have come with the rulers and templates. There are two designs available as patterns (either PDF or printed format) on the website – a plain folder and Just a small golden rule – featuring some machine piecing of a tape measure that matches up with the mat, ruler bag design of the same design available as patterns from our website.  

Completing the ruler inventory took me another afternoon to do and it was so satisfying to gather up all of my rulers and assign them to a specific inventory category and then to a designated location and have all that written down. It is now easy to check what ruler I have and where I can find it …. So much better than wondering if I had really did own that ruler … or did I imagine it?

What about all those tools and notions that you have acquired along the way, like specialised marking tools, applique, and tools/notions? The tools and notions that make your life easier and you just couldn’t be without. I really didn’t think of having an inventory of these items. They were things I seemed to take for granted. Items you purchase along the way, and sometimes forgot about. Small tools that got put at the back of the sewing box or into a drawer and never brought out again. Items that really would be so handy to use …. Often…

I had this happen to me … just recently ….. I was sewing and the pattern suggested using an awl to help with attaching the binding on a 3D item. I really thought it was a tool that I did not own. Yet, once I went through my box of notions/tools in my dresser, I discovered that I did in fact owe one … several in fact! They were pulled out and placed on my sewing trolley and I have been making good use of them!

So, filling out the inventory of these specialised wee tools is brilliant. You never know what you may rediscover!

Once these inventories were completed, I decided to start on my patterns, magazines and books …..  We all collect patterns that we want to eventually make, be it PDFs, single paper patterns or a pattern in a book. I don’t even want to begin on books …. But I promise I will …. After the patterns ….

Over the years I have purchased PDF patterns online and stored them to my computer. I have also forgotten exactly what PDF patterns I have. So with this inventory, it is now possible to have a record of all the PDF patterns, what they are and what document file they are stored under on the computer. Hopefully, no more forgotten PDF patterns….

What about the printed patterns? Do you purchase patterns, with the intention of making them and maybe, putting them somewhere … How many of us forget where that special pattern is? I know I have, plenty of times, getting frustrated on exactly where that one pattern is! I have written them on loose paper (& lost the paper!) so hence, this handy inventory of your patterns kept safe in your folder, so the next time you are looking for that one pattern, you know where to look.

Pattern Inventory

I had fun gathering up all of my By Annie patterns and seeing them written down in my pattern inventory was astounding! I didn’t realise I had accumulated so many of them. However, I have a good reason for that – I am making quite a few of the bags for organizing my craft items and tools. But I will save that for another post…. It is still very much a work in progress, and I have a long way to go on that area ….

By Annie Patterns

Books! Where do I start on this subject?! I definitely think I am a book addict!! Definitely an addict (or collector) of quite a number of different items! I am sure we have all brought books on quilting, techniques, and designs from a particular designer. How many of us forget just what particular book we have, or even where it is (or should be)?

I know that I personally have hundreds of quilting books – ‘How to’ on a particular sewing or quilting technique, a particular designer with a collection of project patterns, or instructions to create quilts from pre-cut fabrics. There have been numerous times that I have wanted a list of the actual books I have, so I can go straight to the location of the book. It is also handy to have if you discover a book sale and you are not sure if you already have that book. With this book inventory (as well as a wish list), you will not be guessing.

Book Inventory

At the start of the first lockdown, Alyssa and I made a pact that we would go through each area of the house and sort through/organise everything. We have managed to do quite a few of the areas – my office area, my fibre/spinning area and the library area was on the to do list as well. To date, we have been putting it off as it really is daunting and there are literally hundreds of books. The bookcases need to be tackled one at a time and the books taken off the shelves, one shelf at a time and sorted. We need to go through the books and see what ones we no longer need/use/interested in. At the same time, write down the title and author of all the books we want to keep. It is a task that is well overdue. The bookcases are overflowing, and I can’t fit any more books into it. I know that I will NOT stop buying books, so the logical choice is to weed out the irrelevant books….

Bookcases

It is a task we have both been putting off …. And we are fast running out of reasonable excuses … I also need to know exactly what books I have in the bookcases …. I have purchased so many of the various craft subjects. I also need to put the books into logical grouping, so I know where to find a specific book when needed.

Hence, this inventory. I now have no excuse for not doing the bookcases and it also means that I can finally have my books written down and at a glance I can see exactly what I have and (fingers crossed) will NEVER purchase a book I already own. I also plan on keeping all the books on a particular subject – spinning, knitting, applique, embroidery, etc. – all together on a particular shelf/bookcase and this will then be noted on the inventory form.

Keeping inventories is brilliant, so you know exactly what tools/notions you have, their purpose and where they are located – i.e. – on the shelf or in a drawer; in a box, container, or folder; or any other place you usually store them. When you are preparing for your next project, you can refer back to the inventories to see what you already have and what you may need to purchase to complete that project.

It is also a handy reference so when you see a sale you know exactly what you have or don’t have, no longer a guessing game as to what you already have.

It is even handy to have a wish list for your tools/notions, so when there is a sale or friends/family are wanting ideas of what to get you for Christmas/Birthday, you can just pass on the ‘Wish list’.

I have also found it handy to have a written inventory for insurance purposes in case the worse happens and you need to replace everything.

Hopefully this insight on inventories in the Quilter’s Handbook will help you to sort and organise your craft space and you will always know exactly what tool, notion, pattern, or book you have …. With our Handbook you will be able to purchase the inventory templates that are suitable for your needs. If you don’t have free motion rulers, then you don’t need to purchase the free motion ruler inventory. The same with the Accuquilt die inventory. If you don’t own a Accuquilt machine, why would you need an inventory for the dies? Our new Handbook release is truly a design where you can pick and purchase what you need to make up your very own Handbook that is suitable for your needs. I will have more information on how it all works once it is ready to be release on the website in the next week or so ….

My Inventory section

Come back next time when I will discuss the Handbook in depth, and we will look at the section all about the journal and projects. This section is one that I am really excited about using…..

How do you store your fabric stash?

Featured

This question is something that I get asked time and time again. For some of us, it really isn’t an issue and are so disciplined, that there is NO fabric stash, as you only buy what you need for your current project. What category would you put yourself into – A fabric stasher or A ‘buy as I need to’ person?

It is strange thinking back on when I first started to sew and quilt, many decades ago. I remember there being a time when I would have put myself into the last category – I brought what fabric I needed for the project I was planning on making. It got hard at times, as I would buy the fabric at the regular price and it could get quite expensive. Even though there was a couple of dressmaking fabric shops in the town I lived, there were NO quilting fabric shops! In fact, the nearest quilting fabric shop was about 7 hours drive away in Auckland! It was the time BEFORE online shopping! It was only a few years before I moved to Northern Ireland, that my local town got a large craft store (Australian chain – Spotlight) and it was a treasure haven of all things crafting!!

Spotlight Stores

I also found that I would get the sudden urge to start creating (often at weird hours) and just not be able to, due to not having the fabric on hand. It was frustrating. I started searching in the local charity shops for fabric lengths and clothing made from cotton fabric that could be repurposed into quilts. That was the start of my fabric stash but it was manageable and I stored it on shelves in my ‘sewing’ room.

In moving to Ireland, I had to start my fabric stashing again. For a number of years after I moved, I had no such thing as a fabric stash and really didn’t do much sewing or crafting. I had to find the quilting shops which is hard to do when you are new in an area and don’t know of other such minded people. However, the internet has made shopping so much easier and maybe abit too easy for emptying our wallets.

I started to buy fabrics that were on sale, mostly fat quarters, and these I started to store in plastic containers. I remember I had a good size one (or so I thought) that would be perfect to store my fabric stash and make it easier to create when I got the sudden urge. That storage system worked well for a short period, but my buying of fabric started to grow when I saw fabric on special.

I had to rethink a good way to store my stash so I could easily see what I had before I started on a project. It is hard when you suddenly decided that you have to create that quilt on a Sunday and then realise you don’t have the fabric and there are no shops open.

I have become a shopper of quilting fabric, mostly when it is on special. I have also come to the conclusion that Fabric buying and storing is a separate hobby from sewing. I would always buy Fat quarters which were great for small projects or scrappy quilts. But as I progressed (& especially when I started to design) I realised that sometimes fat quarters just don’t fit the bill so I would buy half metre or over metre lengths.

So this brought about the issue of how to store your fabric (which is the purpose of this blog). I thought that it would be useful to share my ideas and resolutions on how to store that fabric stash.

I wanted something that stored my fat quarter fabrics in a way that it was easy to see what they were and kept them protected. I found the best storage solution was the Really useful containers – 6.5 litre size that are meant to store CD’s into. These are just the right height to keep the folded fat quarters in so they stand upright. I sorted the fabric into categories – Christmas fabric and then into the colours – a box for each. It is a great way to see exactly what colours, prints and fabrics you have. I also keep my half metre lengths in these containers which works well.

The next issue that needed to be sorted was how to store my fabrics that are a metre or more in length. The real issue I had with these fabric lengths, was how they would come folded from the shops. They are usually folded in such a way that makes it awkward to cut the fabric into the required cuts on the cutting mat. This is especially true if you have a length of 3 metres or more. Basically you would have to unfold the length and then fold in half along the length so the cutting length is manageable and fits onto the cutting board. I found that having to do this really took away the joy of preparing and starting a new project, as all you want to do is to get struck into cutting and begin sewing, and not having to wrestle with fabric lengths.

I found this way a few years ago on the internet and it works for me, so I thought I would share this with you. It means that when I want to use the fabric and start cutting… the fabric is all ready to cut into. The fabric is folded in such a way, that the fabric width is ideal for the cutting board and you don’t need to spend the time trying to wrestle and fold the fabric when all you want to do is start cutting and sewing. All the hard work is done when you store your fabric. Its brilliant, especially when you have lengths of 3 metres….

  • Fold the fabric lengthways- selvedge towards the fabric fold, ensuring it lies straight with the grain n no major creases. You may need to iron the length of fabric.
  • I then take a comic book backing board (A4 size) and fold in half lengthways as shown in the photo. The boards are from Amazon – comic book backing boards- 100 for around £10. I also reuse them when I have used all of the fabric.
  • Place the fabric end into the board so the fabric end sits in between the board touching the board fold as shown in the photo.
  • Start folding the board along the fabric length ensuring the fabric remains smooth n flat as you fold the board.
  • Fabric length folded onto the board- easy to keep tidy in storage and ready for cutting when required. All you need to do when you want to cut, is to unfold some of the fabric so you can cut the required size. The fabric on the board stays tidy and out of the way.
  • The fabric boards are now ready to be stored upright on a shelf which makes it easy to see the fabric. I store my fabric lengths in an Ikea box on a shelf away from direct sunlight. The fabric bolts are placed in a box according to their colours. I have a box for plain fabrics as well as Christmas fabrics.

As well as collecting fabric lengths and Fat quarters, I seem to have succumb to the habit of collecting pre-cuts. You know, the ones with pretty sounding names – Jelly rolls, layer cakes, honey buns, charm packs and so forth. You could be mistaken in thinking that I am referring to a sweet shop …. But these lovely names refer to pre-cut fabric bundles for quilting.

Pre-cut fabrics

I remember years back, I vowed never to collect these…. But times change and sometimes we succumb …. To the point … where I had acquired several items in the range and placed them randomly about my sewing snug to only lost them in the abyss of the dark corners ….. I no longer knew exactly what I had brought over time with all good intentions to actually use them. YES, buying fabric and ACTUALLY using it …. Are TWO separate hobbies!

So…. With the Quilter’s handbook in the planning …. I strongly felt that a space was needed in the book to have a pre-cut inventory! I spent a lovely afternoon, quietly locating ALL of my pre-cuts (though I do fear that the ODD one or two still remains lost!) and I dutifully recorded ALL of the pre-cuts into my inventory. I was shocked with what I actually had on hand, and it quickly filled up several pages! However, at the end of the exercise, I was able to know exactly what I had, how many of each and exactly where it was now located. Yes, I designated several drawers and plastic containers for the different types of pre-cuts. I can now look at my inventory sheet, know exactly what I have and in what designer collection and where it is located. One of my goals this year is to use up those pre-cuts to create some quilts.

It really was the most satisfying afternoon I had spent in a while. There was such a sense of achievement in the end with it all recorded in a safe place where I can quickly refer to and know exactly where to find a particular pre-cut.

With starting on my pre-cut inventory journey, it seemed natural to continue with compiling inventories of my other notions and tools. You just never know what item you will reacquaint yourself with …. There is always bound to be that notion or tool that you have forgotten about or mislaid…..

A Lady NEVER ……. Discusses the size of her Fabric Stash!!!!

Come back next week and we will discuss the other inventories in the Quilter’s Handbook and how to use them ….

Organising your Sewing Space / Introduction …

Featured

As a crafter of many different craft interests, it can be so hard to know where and how to keep yourself organised (and tidy). If you are lucky enough to have a designated craft room (no matter what size) it is brilliant to be able to have/store everything in the room, go in there to create and when you are finished, just close the door behind you. However, not all of us are lucky enough to have that separate space to store, organise or just to shut ourselves way to be able to sew or craft.

I have always been interested in crafts; in fact it was a way of life when I was growing up. My mother was a sewer who helped to supplement the family income by doing dressmaking for people. I often remember ladies coming to the house for fittings and so forth to have that outfit sewn up. Even back then (50 odd years ago) she didn’t have a designated sewing room. Thinking back now I have no idea where she stored all her sewing/crafting notions and equipment. With a young child’s eye, they always seemed to magically appear when she needed them and magically disappear when they were no longer needed! She sewed from the kitchen table, did the fittings there as well (when my father was not at home) and would draft out the paper pattern for the outfit from a magazine on the floor of the sitting room under the watchful eye of my sister and I (both very young) but even at that young age, we learnt by watching and taking everything in.

It was just the routine of our family and from a very young age, we learnt the skills of understanding the strange language of the lines (with different colours and patterns) that represented the different outfits in the magazine. Those magazines were sent out a couple of times a year to New Zealand by her mother in Holland and over the years they grew into quite a large pile, and they were used by several generations of sewers. She never threw any of the magazines out and you knew at some stage the outfits would eventually come back into fashion. The magazines were in Dutch, so we could never understand the written instructions on how to make up those wonderful outfits that were photographed in the magazines. However, we were taught how to locate the lines that were for the particular outfit, locate them on the pattern sheets, use the roll of newsprint and the tracing wheel to draft out our very own patterns.

Pattern Drafting sheets

My sisters and I learnt to sew by watching and participation. I was sewing outfits for myself when I was 7/9 years, and those early years gave me a firm foundation into dressmaking. It wasn’t just sewing that my mother gave us a lasting love for. She was also kept herself busy with several other crafts – knitting, crocheting, painting, cross stitch, needlework and spinning. Her passions in those crafts were passed down to myself, and my sisters.

So, how does this relate to craft organisation? Well … my mother never had the luxury of a designated sewing room. She did her sewing on the kitchen table and her other crafts were done in the evening. Looking backon how long I have been sewing and crafting for, I can also honestly say that I never had a designated craft room to store all my crafty notions and materials. Moving from childhood into young adult and then into my own home, I still did not have a designated craft area where I could store everything.

It is hard to think of just where did I store everything. My Dad acquired an old Singer sewing machine treadle table (minus the machine) when I was a teenager. He restored it for me, and it was my own small, designated sewing area. I could keep my machine on the table and sew there. There was space inside (where the machine once was stored) where I could keep all of my dressmaking patterns and the drawers were just perfect for keeping my scissors, pins, and other essential notions in. Maybe I just didn’t have as much as I thought I did. When I was sewing all my own outfits (as well as my girls) I would generally go out and buy the fabric needed, there was no fabric stash. Could I also be right in thinking that maybe now, we are needing so much more in the way of ‘essential’ equipment?

Singer sewing machine table

I kept my other craft materials in cupboards around the house and when I wanted to work on them, I would carry them together and take them where I wanted to work. It was generally in the lounge or the kitchen table. The latter was a bit more of a nuisance as I would have to tidy everything away at every mealtime due to the table being needed.

I remember one house I lived in, I was overjoyed to find there was a space in the laundry (Utility) room with a wooden bench by the window with some shelving on each side. I finally had my own sewing room. However, it was not ideal, the utility room was out through the back door and was basically a concrete floor outbuilding which I had to share with the freezer, washing machine and dryer. There was barely any room in which to work in. I definitely could not lay anything on the floor, it was uneven as well. There was no room to have an iron or to cut everything out. The bench was narrow and not that long, so just large enough for the sewing machine to sit. It was nice when the weather was dry and warm, but during the winter, it was cold and dismal. I think I generally ended up taking my machine and sewing on the kitchen table. The shelves were great to store my odd bits of fabric onto. I was just starting to get into patchwork at this stage and was slowly buying pieces of cotton fabric. There was also a disused toilet and shower room off this area, so it had become a place where I could store my surplus craft materials in boxes, along with fleeces I had acquired for spinning. I guess we make do at the time with what we have. But we all need to have it organised.

Once I moved into the rabbit hole of quilting, my essential notions and tools seemed to explode at an alarming rate. At the start (over 20 years ago) it seemed that only essential tools needed were the cutting mat, ruler, and cutter. Now there is so much more on offer and all claiming to make our quilting so much easier. I am not disputing that, as I have acquired so many tools that I just wouldn’t be without as they have made quilting/sewing so much easier and enjoyable. But when you invest in these needed tools, you really need to keep them safe and more importantly, know where they are so you can grab them when you need them.

We all need to have that one area, that we can go to and know that we can find exactly what we need, where it is kept and more importantly …. To know exactly what we have. Have you ever purchased a tool and then realised that you have exactly the same at home, but had forgotten about it, or maybe mislaid it due to not being organised?

I know I am guilty of that over the years. If you don’t have a designated craft/sewing room, it can be hard to know where everything is kept. Thankfully, I can now say, after 50 years of sewing, I now have my very own designated sewing/craft snug! However, like many crafters I am a messy crafter, and it can be so difficult to keep my craft snug tidy and organised, especially after a day of sewing and pulling things out when I have needed them. I am good at getting out what I need, but just not that great at putting it back after I have finished with it!

Once tidy craft snug

I love my craft snug and after a few trials and errors I am making it into what I need and require in a sewing area. I have my table in the middle, so I am not facing a wall. The window is far too high to have my machine there and there is a radiator directly under the window. It is not an ideal room as there really isn’t any wall space available, it is basically an open area off the kitchen and next to the stairs. So it is making the best of what I have to work with and using it to its best ability. The Ikea storage shelves are brilliant, and I have found the fabric bins and plastic tubs really make for great storage containers. There is built in shelves and cupboards which are still a work in progress. I have purchased several types of plastic drawers which are put to great use – for storing all my spinning tools and blending fibres as well as the different types of needlework thread.

I have found that I am ‘a list’ person. I like to work to lists. It gives me something tangible to work from and to look at when I need to refocus myself and know exactly what I have. I like order, I just find it hard to maintain that order all the time. I tend to be a messy sewer …. I will leave that there ….

I also found that my craft snug can tend to become a dumping ground. When in a rush, things get dumped in there with the intention of ‘sorting that out later on’ and it just never does. I am also a crafter that needs to have several projects on the go at the same time. To the point where I have numerous (too many to count) Unfinished Projects. There are times when I tend to forget about them and stumble across them many years later. It shouldn’t be like this, but it is. My creative mind seems to jump about from one idea to another, especially when it comes to coming up with new designs.

During the first COVID lockdown I used the time to think over my craft projects and different crafts. I was in desperate need to know exactly what projects I had, be it partially finished or yet to be started. What tools and equipment I had and just exactly where it was all stored? To find a suitable method in which to store my fabric. The list was endless.

Fabric storage

I know I could just tidy and organise my sewing snug again, but how long would it stay in that state, and it still didn’t solve the need to know what equipment I actually had. I had purchased an Accuquilt machine several years ago and had been slowly adding to my collection of dies. When I found a good sale for them online, I struggled to know what I already had without having to go through them all and write them down. This was the first step in starting to organise my tools. I had complied an Inventory for my Accuquilt dies. I found this so handy, and it was brilliant to be able to transfer that inventory idea to the other expensive equipment I had acquired over the years – books, patterns, free motion rulers, quilting rulers and other handy specialised notions.

Inventory pages

There is such an achievement when you have gone through all your notions, tools, patterns, etc sorted them and compiled an inventory of them all. It gives you a sense of being in control and knowing exactly what you have. It is even better if you know exactly where that particular notion is kept. I decided that this was the year that I would truly get myself organised.

So with inventories all completed, it got me thinking of the projects started but never finished and even the ones planned but never started. In sorting through my craft snug, I pulled out containers of long forgotten fabric bundles, obviously placed together for a particular project but having no idea which one due to no pattern or note placed in the container. This is when I decided to expand on my inventories. I discovered several containers of pre-cut fabric bundles – jelly rolls, charm packs, layer cakes …. I had no idea of just exactly what I had and NEEDED to know so I could use them!

Pre-cut fabrics

I wanted to create some organisation with my sewing so I would not get overwhelmed with what I had to get done or even to forget about the special quilt I wanted to make but never got round to. I started thinking on the project folders/books that many quilters spoke about. The concept interested me, but I never found exactly what I wanted or needed in such a book. I like to work from lists. I am terrible for roughly scribbling lists/notes on scraps of paper and then losing them as I had nowhere to keep them safe. I guess I searched and thought about the concept for quite a number of years, but never did anything about it. I just couldn’t find one that fitted all my needs. I wanted something that I could add to if I ran out of space – so a book wouldn’t work as it would not allow me to add to the pages when I ran out. It would also have pages that I wouldn’t use so it would be a waste of a book. I didn’t want to print off templates and put them into a folder – it just wouldn’t be special enough. I thought of placing the paper sheets into plastic pockets – but that wasn’t suitable – as it meant that each time, I wanted to write something down, I would have to take the paper out of the plastic pocket. I really needed to put my thinking cap on.

So, the Quilter’s Handbook was conceived…. I started to put down ideas of what I wanted in my book to keep me on track…. Somewhere I could write down all the projects I wanted to start, those I needed to finish, as well as the projects I was currently on where I could add in notes for any adjustments. Somewhere that the notes would be safe, and I could refer back to them if I ever needed to make that particular project again. It also gave me a record of what I had made, something to go back over in years to come. I also needed a place where I could keep a record of all the patterns, books, tools, and notions that I have and where they are kept. The handbook was designed so that you could decide just what pages/sections you needed for your own use, so there was no wasted or unnecessary pages.

Front cover of the Quilter’s Handbook

I had so much fun deciding on what to put into this folder. I am excited about sharing it with you over the next few weeks. It is the result of many months of research, ideas, trials, and errors in putting together the perfect quilters handbook to help keep you organised and on track. I also felt it was important to add in a section of the basics when it comes to quilting and using your machine. How often have we had tension issues and just not quite sure on how to adjust the tension dial or even to check through all the tension issues before touching that dial? What about how to accurately cut fabric when we are directed in the pattern to cut fabric with a 16th fraction? Maybe all the quilting terms are confusing? What about the common sizes of UK beds if we want to make a quilt for a particular sized bed? I have complied all that to go into this Handbook. Now you just need to grab the handbook and look it up instead of spending hours searching online for answers. There is so much more to this book….

Back cover of the Quilter’s Handbook

Over the next few weeks, I will do blog posts on helping you to organise your sewing area. We will discuss storing your tools, notions and fabrics and using the inventory sheets and making them work for you. We will also look further into the Quilters Handbook and how to make the most of it.

I hope you will enjoy accompanying on this journey while, together, we will organise our designated sewing space…… and move this area ….

One very messy craft snug in desparate need of organising and sorting

Into an improved, tidy and VERY organised sewing space ….

Needlework notions

Featured

I have had so much pleasure in making our selection of stitch and progress markers. It is lovely to be able to use beautiful handmade notions when knitting and crocheting. I have been using mine a lot since Christmas and have found them so lovely to use.

Selection of stitch/progress markers

The counting chain is one that I use a lot now and this notion has been a game changer when it comes to having to keep count of how many rows need to be knitted. You can read more on how to use this fabulous notion in my previous blog post.

I have a good selection of the chains on the website in a variety of ring sizes and colours. If you haven’t tried them yet, why not check them out….

I also have a few other counting themed notions in the pipeline for BOTH knitting and crocheting and hope to have those added to the website by February. But enough of the knitting notions – this blog is all about our new needlework notions.

In making the markers, etc, it got me thinking on what could I create for the needleworkers? What would be some lovely handmade notions that are ‘essential’ for when we are doing needlework? I was wanting to create a lovely unique range that would make perfect small gifts for the stitcher, and I got thinking about the items I like to have in my sewing box that is invaluable for when I am doing needlework. I am sure you could think of a number of notions in your sewing box that you could not be without.

Whether we do cross stitch, blackwork, embroidery, Redwork, white work, or other forms of hand stitching, I know that these three notions will become an essential part of your needlework kit. So, what are they?

Thread Conditioner

Just what is thread conditioner? Well…. Have you ever experienced knotty or tangled thread? Using metallic thread and ending up fighting with it, having it get knotted or broken? Or are you like me, and just plain avoid using metallic thread as you know it is completely unworkable, no matter HOW stunning it looks in the finished project?

I was like that for many years. I loved the look of metallic threads in my needlework designs, BUT the very thought of actually having to work with it sent me into complete shudders and I would just not put it into my work. However, that changed quite a few years ago when I came across a product that came from America and was available through Amazon at a huge price for such a small item.

So how do you use it and what does the beeswax do to the embroidery thread? Basically, you pull your thread through the wax, and it helps stop the thread from getting tangled and really makes the metallic thread behave itself and is a pleasure to work with. It also helps to prevent the thread from fraying and strands separating. A real game changer!

I got thinking on how these would be a nice gift idea, but I wanted them to be unique and handmade, not just a blob of beeswax in a plastic container. I did some research and have come up with my own handmade thread conditioner which is made from 100% bees’ wax. I poured the beeswax into cute bee themed blocks, and once fully set, each block is wrapped in tissue paper and kept in a small tin, which is perfect for keeping in your needlework basket. They also come with an instruction card on how to make the most of your thread conditioner.

I am also looking at maybe doing some with added essential oils to really help relax and de-stress you while you are stitching, or maybe some seasonal smells to set the mood of the season and you’re stitching. Let me know what you think ….

Needle Minders

So, how many can relate to misplacing your needle? Or are you guilty of ‘just’ piercing your needle into the arm of the chair so you can cut your thread and rethread it? How often have you had to dig through the back of the sofa to try and find the needle that dropped while you were just going to rethread it? The even thought of ‘accidentally’ finding a lost needle is even more frightening. I know I have experienced all of the above and it isn’t a nice feeling when you CAN’T find that lost needle and just pray and hope that when it is found it is not going to be with serious consequences.

I tried to get into the habit of sticking my needle into the fabric I was working on. It was not ideal, BUT it seemed better than piercing it into parts of the furniture. I am sure we have all found ‘lost forgotten’ projects that we were working on … ages ago …. Or maybe we inherited some half-finished needlework from another stitcher who started it many (many) years ago … only to discover that the needle that was placed ‘safely’ into the fabric had long since rusted the fabric and ruined the project. I have had a few half-finished projects gifted to me that had been started so long ago (and a few of my own) and the needle has rusted the fabric. I remember, I was taught NEVER to keep the needle in the fabric – but how often do we pay attention to what we are told to do?

I came across these nifty wee notions and was immediately struck with how ingenious they were. I really do wonder, how I managed without them. These are needle minders, and they sit on top of your work, not piercing the fabric to keep your needle safe and secure. No longer the fear of the needle falling into the bottomless abyss of the sofa or getting lost in the carpet …. They are great for just … keeping your needle safe when not in use.

I must admit I was also abit sceptical on how secure they would keep the needle. But after using it and keeping my needle on the minder, in my project bag when not working on the stitching, it was brilliant to know that the needle would be exactly where I had left it.

So how does a needle minder work? ….. they use two magnets – one glued to the back of the decorative piece and one that is loose. This way, you are able to place the minder onto your current stitching, sandwich the fabric between the two magnets so you can place your needle close at hand when you are not using it. It also makes the needle minder easy to move around on the cross stitch/embroidery piece and easy to remove from the piece.

Sometimes, I need to change thread colour to work on a small section, but don’t want to unthread my current needle. With the needle minder, you can place the threaded needle onto the minder and know it is safe while you use the new colour and come back to the previous needle when needed and it is still threaded up ready to use. It is also handy when you are working a particular embroidery stitch where you would use two needles threaded up with two different threads, i.e.., Couching stitch. The couching stitch requires two threads – the foundation thread and then the thread to secure it. Usually you place the foundation thread along the desired line and secure it at both ends. I found that I prefer to have the foundation thread loose so I can move it as needed, especially if the foundation line is curved or longer than the working space in the hoop. This is where the minder came into its own, I was able to leave the foundation thread threaded onto a needle and kept safe (and out of my way) on the needle minder….

Needle minders can make a great gift because of the almost endless possibilities of designs. There is nothing nicer than having a cute and pretty notion that you can use while you are stitching. I currently have a small range of unique needle minders, but rest assured, I will be constantly expanding on the different designs. You can never have enough needle minders….

Each needle minder comes in an organza bag along with an instruction sheet on how to use them as well as the following safety message –

It is also important to stress that needle minders are created with strong magnets, so electronics should be kept away from needle minders at all times. The memory on electronic devices may get wiped if the magnets from the needle minder get too close. It is even recommended to keep needle minders away from pacemakers because the magnetic pull from the needle minders can stop a pacemaker from functioning properly if it gets too close.

Scissor Fobs/Charms

I love using small scissors when doing needlework. Lovely small scissors with an extra sharp and small blade. The small ones that are so easy to lose down the back of the sofa, right into the innards of the sofa. I have to confess that the other week I did my deep clean of the sofa where I sit and to my horrid, I found about 4 pairs of lost scissors, some I didn’t even realise I had misplaced! I try so hard to be good and keep them safe on my worktable beside the sofa, but … it is so much easier to just place them on the sofa seat beside me….

Our needlework ancestors had a lovely accessory to their scissors – scissor fobs. I had seen them years ago and wondered on how they would be useful …. However, a few years back I made one for a needlework course I was teaching. I have to say that once I had the fob on my scissors, I loved it and I rarely misplaced my scissors! – until the fob was taken off for some reason …. And then I misplaced the fob!

It was decorative, stylish, and ever so practical. They make it easy to quickly find those small sharp scissors in a messy work basket. They turn a plain, common pair of scissors into a unique notion, just with the addition of the fob.

Another reason to have a scissor fob is so our scissors are easy to recognise. This is so true when we attend classes or retreats. I have lost count on the times I have ‘misplaced’ scissors at a class or gathering with other crafters …. It is second nature to borrow someone’s scissors as they are ‘on hand’ and it is just as easy to not pass them back straight afterwards. With a handmade fob attached to your scissors, they are now unique and not just your standard ‘blend into the crowd’ scissors. It is also a great way for family members to recognise that the scissors are for needlework and NOT to be used on paper!

Conclusion

With Alyssa coming home from tech those few months ago, asking about jewellery making and if I had done it before, it has revived a love for jewellery making without actually making jewellery.

I started into the progress and stitch markers and rediscovered my love of unique beads and charms and the satisfaction of creating unique lovely, yet practical items that can be used in crafting.

From those markers and counting chains I started to think on how the handmade jewellery items could be transported into my other craft loves …. Quilting and needlework …. I was searching for items that would make brilliant and unique gifts for the crafter and even for ourselves. There are times when we ALL need to treat ourselves to something pretty that doesn’t cost a fortune….

So the thread conditioner started …. And then the needle minders and creating a range of cute and different needle minders …. And now … the scissor fobs ….

I have created a variety of different styles of scissor fobs from the simple charm fobs to the more decorative beaded fobs and even ones that can have your initial added into the fob….

As with all of my handmade crafting notions, each one is unique and handmade with care using quality materials. Many of the items are limited edition and cannot be repeated, which I feel makes them even more special.

So why not have a look through and let me know what you think of the new range of accessories for Nifty Needles….

Stitch and Progress Markers and what they are used for

Featured

Following on from my previous blog in regard to Alyssa and I hunting out my jewellery craft bits and bobs …. And starting to make stitch and progress markers …. I thought it was a great way to introduce this exciting new product line ….

Stitch and Progress Markers

I have used stitch markers for many, many, years with my knitting. When I first started knitting, I never used them, or had even known about them. That all changed when I was introduced to knitting my garments from the Top Down (a great technique and I would strongly recommend you learning it if you haven’t already done so – in fact I even have a ‘Learn to’ kit in the shop) …. And stitch markers are essential with doing this technique as they marked where you needed to do the increases for the sleeves, front and back. I then used them when knitting shawls to remind me to increase at the shawl spine and even to divide the lace pattern repeats.

I must admit that I really never used them much for crochet. But in saying that, I found that the hook like markers came in quite handy to keep track of where the very last stitch was when crocheting in rows. I used this hack when teaching the learn to crochet course and this provided an invaluable tip/trigger for remembering EXACTLY where the VERY last stitch was meant to go. The perfect learners trick. I also found these hooks invaluable for keeping track of important places in the crochet piece.

End Marker for last stitch in crochet row

As mentioned in my previous blog, I love to use pretty, practical tools with my crafting. Yet I only used plain plastic markers even though I loved the decorative ones. I had a couple of decorative markers, but I hated using them. One lot used open jump rings so there was a split in the ring for opening and closing and no matter how careful I was, the ring always managed to snag my yarn which wasn’t great when using delicate and luxurious yarn …. So those rings were cast aside. I also had the wire loop style, which was a close loop with no opening, but the loop ‘moved’ …. In other words the bead at the base of the loop was not secured so would move up and tighten the loop.

In seeing all of the jewellery treasures, it really inspired me into wanting to make some markers. I did some research and online finger shopping to source the ideal findings needed to make the perfect markers, that I would be happy to use. That was a success (or disaster on how you look at it) – a success for my creative mind and a disaster for my bank account! But the orders were placed, and I started making up my first lot of decorative and practical markers.

So, while getting excited about making these unique wee tools and sharing the photos on Facebook, I soon learnt that not everyone (even knitters and crocheters) know what these wee markers are, or what they are used for. So of course I had to write a blog and go into detail on how to really make the most of these useful wee tools.

As mentioned earlier, I only had the plastic stitch markers for my knitting that came in two sizes and two colours. It really did not give me much scope for making full use of these tools. They were fine when I needed four rings to mark where the increases go in top down knitting. However, when knitting in the round, I had to place a marker to signify the start of the round. This can be difficult when you only have the one colour, or maybe a slightly larger ring…. And being me (short memory span) I would usually forget what colour/size ring I had used for the start of a round.

Marking the start of a new round in circular knitting

So, what is the difference between all the markers and just how many types are there?

Stitch (or progress) markers come with a number of different clasps ….

CLOSED MARKERS

As the name implies, these cannot be opened and are commonly known as Ring (Stitch) markers. These can be either with a split jump ring, wire loop or a closed jump ring. I am not keen on the first two types, which I explained about above and these in effect put me off the decorative markers. I make my stitch markers with a closed jump ring which is basically a solid metal ring made in the same way as the plastic rings. The rings usually come in a variety of sizes to fit a range of needle sizes, which makes sense as it would be awkward to use a very large ring on tiny knitting needles. It would also be the same if you only had tiny rings that couldn’t be used on larger needles.

The closed rings can only be used for knitting but have so many uses. Once you start to use markers in your knitting, you will not know how you managed without them.

These markers sit on your needle between the stitches to mark pattern changes, where the round begins and ends, pattern repeats and so forth. When you come to the marker, you just slip it from one needle to the other, or remove it, if it is no longer required.

One thing to remember, ring markers can only be used for knitting. They can’t be used in crocheting as the rings are closed and there is no needle for the marker to sit on between stitches as crochet only has one stitch.

Closed Markers using solid closed rings in various sizes to fit different needle sizes

OPEN RING MARKERS

These come in a variety of clasps –

Split ring marker which uses the split jump rings which you need to open like a paper clip. I am not keen on these as they can be difficult to open and closed with your fingers and the ends can snag your yarn.

Locking ones, using a Lobster or Leverback clasp like the ones that are common on necklaces/bracelets or earrings.

Split ring, Leverback and Lobster Clasps

Less common is the open marker which uses a hook clasp which does not close. They can be useful when it is not essential to have a locking marker but still need to be easily removed.

These markers are commonly used for crochet as the marker is basically attached to any stitch and easily removed when no longer required. They are great to use to indicate where the last stitch is needed to be worked when crocheting in rows, especially since it can be so easy to miss that last stitch to be worked into the turning chain of the previous row.

The open markers can also be used in knitting in the same way as the closed ones and placed on your needles. However, I have found that using these markers may be abit more harder, especially if the clasp is a lobster or an open hook. The lobster clasps are not exactly round so would not slide from needle to needle as well as the closed rings. The Leverback clasp would be more ideal but still not as smooth as the ring. The only perk would be if you accidently knitted the marker into your project, you could open the marker and remove it which you could not do with a closed ring. In being able to open up, the other downfall could be that they could open up and fall off your needle which would cause you to misplace where the marker should be in your project.

They are perfect for counting rows and tracking your progress. If you are working a pattern that repeats often, these markers can be placed on every few rows and you can count as you go. If you are needing to do a lot of rows, then a marker can be placed every 10 rows so you can keep track of rows in groups of tens. It is a lot easier than counting 100 individual rows. These are the type of markers that are placed in your work and not on your needle, so they need to be removable and the clasps easy to use.

So, in making up the markers I started to think in what I would like to have and use and really liked the idea of having specific markers for certain tasks. I have made up open markers (using the different clasps) for stating the wrong or right side of the project, the start or end of a row/round, row counters in either 1-10 or in 10’s. I have even made up markers designed for holding those dropped stitches (Oops and darn) so you can’t forget why those markers have been placed into your project.

One last item to talk about is all about the counting. How many of us have a pattern that tells us to knit so many rows …? Are you like me …? Try (without too much success) to keep tally in my head of the rows worked before the next pattern instruction? Especially if there is no paper and pen at hand and you are too lazy to get up and find it …. Yes, I still do keep tally on paper with a stroke if I have quite a few pattern rows to complete and still lost myself if I stop part way through as I need to head to bed. I have to admit that I would also keep going long past bedtime so I can ‘finish’ at a good stopping point in the pattern. I have also manually kept count of the rows in my head and still lost count. These row counters are great to use when you start your knitting or crocheting and at the end of your session you will be able to see just how much (or how little) you have accomplished.

In doing my research I came across this ingenious chain and wondered how I had ever done without it (as well as not known about it). It is a row counting chain that keeps track of your knitting rows from 1-99!!! As well as being practical (& ingenious) it is also so very pretty. At last a beautiful tool for keeping count, so much nicer than paper and pen. I know I have used the barrel row counting tool that you placed on the knitting needle, but I found those oh so boring and I always forgot to click forward at the end of a row …. Now all I need is to find patterns that require a lot of row counting …. Oh my, I am starting to sound like the Count from Sesame Street!!!

Row Counting Chain

I can hear you ask, So, how do you use this tool exactly? …

The chain is numbered 1 – 0 using beads and closed rings between each numbered bead. There is also a removable marker with a lobster clasp…

Basically, once you have completed (part way through to keep it secure) your first row, place the ring (between 1-2) onto your knitting needles. Change up to the next ring on your chain when you come back to the chain while knitting the next row. Continue like this, working your way through all rings on the chain, until you reach the zero ring and you have completed 10 rows. Place the lobster clasp onto the ring between 1 and 2 to represent the number 10. After completing the 10th row, restart at the first ring again and work your way down the chain again. Every 10 rows you move the lobster clasp to the next number ring.

For example, if you have completed 37 rows the lobster clasp should be on the ring between 3 and 4 and the knitting needle is in the ring between 7 and 8. This chain is ingenious, and you will never forget how many rows you have completed if you need to set the project aside halfway through completing a set number of rows.

I used the chain last night to do some knitting. I needed to knit 54 rows of rib (as well as keeping tabs on which was the right side). I was looking forward to using the counting chain and wondered how it would go … would it be awkward while knitting? …. I had knitted this item before and I manually kept count in my head, which was a total nightmare and not very practical, especially if you needed to take a break part way through… so on came the chain …. Part way through my first round I placed the needle into the ring between 1 and 2 and continued knitting. On the return row, I came up to the marker and literally slipped my right needle into the ring between 2 and 3 and slipped off the ring from my left hand needle. As simple as that! No hassle, I just had to remember to keep my chain to the front of my work and NOT knit the chain into my stitches! I kept on going, not needing to manually remember or write down how many rows I had knitted – it was always there on the chain for me to see. Once I came to the end of the chain – 0 -, I placed my lobster clasp marker into the ring between 1 and 2, to represent 10’s and on the next row, I moved my right hand needle into the first ring of the chain and continued working through the chain to 0 again.

This counting chain is so easy to use, and it wasn’t long before I had worked my 56 rows and the chain is still firmly in place on my needles telling me exactly how many rows I have worked. I just need to remove the chain when I come to it when knitting my next row. This pretty, practical tool has firmly earned its place as an ESSENTIAL tool in my knitting kit. I just know I will be wanting a counting chain in the different sizes to accommodate the various needle sizes that I use.

The chains are all made so each one is unique and definitely one of a kind as I use different beads and markers on each and every counting chain. The only common theme is the colours of the number beads and the small seed beads that I use with the number beads. However, the colourway of the seed beads is limited, in that I only use the same colour on about 4-5 chain sets and the colours are often limited. The end charms and the lobster clasp marker and unique and different for EACH chain. I wanted these chains to be unique and feel like treasure, so NOT ONE chain is the same. The counting chain comes in an organza pouch for safe keeping, along with a printed card on how to use them and the size of knitting needles they will fit up to. These would make ideal gifts for a knitter or yourself.

The row counting chain is only for knitting and cannot be used in crocheting. However, the other row counters with the opening clasps are great for crocheting and work just as well.

Don’t be afraid to use the stitch markers and use them often. Keep them in reach and keep them safe in a lovely tin. I can even help with that …. I have some lovely vintage tins that have arrived this morning that will be just so perfect for keeping your cute markers in. These tins are available on the website.

Lavender themed hinged tins for storing your markers in

I will be regularly updating the sections with new marker designs, and I have quite a few ideas for some more counting tools. So do keep a regular look on the website for newly added markers. I am wanting to have a large selection of handmade markers that are not only practical, but also unique in being limited editions. So when you purchase any markers, you know that they are NOT mass produced and will only be a limited line. This applies mainly to the markers that use the beads and charms, as I purchase in small orders. I feel that in this way, the markers are that extra bit special. You know that you are purchasing a ‘one-off’ marker that cannot be mass produced.

One can never have enough markers and there is no need to just use the one for multi tasks and forget exactly what its task was for. Have a collection of markers that have their own individual tasks and are clear about what you need to remember. Adorn your knitting and crochet with handmade unique markers.

Stitch and Progress Markers – the reason why I have been neglecting Facebook …..

Featured

Alyssa was talking to me a few weeks back on how her tutor at tech had suggested to her about making jewellery. She asked if I had done it before and so forth…. I was abit taken back as I had never known her to be interested in jewellery …. I had to remind myself that she is nearly 19 years old, and her choices/interests are changing. I also remembered that she was probably too young to remember that I had gone through a stage of making jewellery and still had so much beading supplies! So, we spent an enjoyable couple of hours hunting out the jewellery boxes and going through them and seeing what I had. It was like finding a treasure box! There were so many lovely wee finds and jewellery that had been finished or part finished….

Alyssa claimed quite a few lovely pieces from old antique jewellery that I had found in charity shops and was able to make them up into earrings for herself. There were bags of seed beads that I used regularly in lace shawls that I had made up over the years – and the most recent shawl …. Latisha’s wedding shawl…

It also got me thinking on, just how much I enjoyed making jewellery and doing the beading as well as thinking (with some sadness) that I just do not have the time to do the craft now … Alyssa is all inspired to start on making fashion jewellery …. And is now showing the tutors and fellow students in her class on how to make up earrings and bracelets to sell at their upcoming craft morning at the tech as part of her course.

So, you are probably wondering (at this point) exactly what this all has to do with stitch and progress markers ….

Well … I use stitch markers all the time with my knitting. They are essential when knitting Top Down garments and even more so when you are knitting a complex lace shawl pattern where you need to keep an eye on the pattern repeats/sections. I also used special hook markers for crochet, or to remind me what the start of a row was when knitting socks ….

I use my faithful KnitPro markers that come in two sizes – extra small and extra-large – as well as two colours – pink and blue. Quite boring really and restrictive when the pattern advises you to use numerous colours (& you only have the two colours) to help you to remember what each section in the knitting is for …. I also NEVER seem to have enough of the right size. This was especially true when I was knitting the wedding shawl and needed to add in more markers on every NEW pattern repeat. I think I had 50 odd markers on my needle towards the end. I can assure you that I DID NOT have anywhere near 50 markers to put on my needle! So this was where I was so glad that Alyssa had gone through that stage (Just like every other child to the point that they were impossible to buy at one point) of the bungie band thingies that was a global craze so many years ago!! For the life of me … I CANNOT remember the proper name! Those horrid, brightly coloured, EXTREMELY tiny rubber bands that were made into bracelets, charms, key rings, and numerous other items. The bands that were so easily lost and found all over the house or down a small person’s/pet’s throat! The ones that now lie abandoned and they can not be given away! Alyssa’s vast collection lay abandoned in a drawer for quite a while …. Until I discovered an alternative use for them.

They make brilliant alternative stitch markers! They are made from rubber, so can stretch and are an endless, smooth circle. They fit snuggly between stitches on your needles and can be easily moved from needle to needle. They also come in a vast selection of colours. The only downfall … they have the tendency to flick across the room if you are not careful, while you are trying to transfer the bungie band from needle to needle! But never fear …. There is always plenty more of those wee bands ….

Now, I do love using unique and lovely tools with my crafting … but somehow think that those wee rubber bands DO NOT classify as unique and lovely craft tools. They are certainly unique ….

I recall that many years ago I had acquired some hand crafted stitch markers …. Ever so pretty …. But not very practical. Two had been made with a split ring for the ring that goes onto the needle. Not great, as the split on the ring kept snagging onto the yarn, which isn’t the best when you are using delicate (& expensive) yarn. So those were put to the back of my knitting notions container. The other two were made with a beading wire which created a smooth loop to go over the needles … perfect …. As there was NO split to snag the yarn. However, the loop area was able to move … in other words, as the beads could move up (&down) the wire, the loop became smaller, which made it harder to be able to slide your needle in to transfer it to the other needle. So, guess what happened to those markers.

As time moved on, I still went back to those stitch markers (when I ran out of the plastic plain stitch marker rings) to see if they had improved with lack of use. Sadly, NO.

So, that brings us back to disused jewellery box….

There was so many lovely beads and charms lying in wee containers, all begging to be made up into wonderfully unique and lovely stitch markers. But definitely with NO splits in the needle ring and no moving loops! So, I did some research (on faithful Google) and several hours (ahem, maybe longer) I had discovered some wonderful things in the world of stitch markers! There are also markers called progress markers, using opening clasps that are used for crochet as well as knitting. There are markers used with a specific purpose – to keep track of the beginning of the round if knitting/crocheting in the round, the right side and wrong side of your project, along with so much more. Stitch markers have entered the world of creativeness! I also found some other wonderful tools used for counting and so forth. My creative juices over flowed ….

I placed some orders for the tool items I would need …. As well as some other loveliness that just kept jumping into my basket along the way. Alyssa was also getting into the spirit (and obsession) of this jewellery making lark. The purchases started arriving in the post and the pile kept growing …. Alyssa was itching (along with myself) to dive right in and start creating. However, there were more important tasks (workwise) to be done and more importantly, the items needed to be sorted, labelled and put into containers so it made it easier to know what was what and where it was. It is about the crafters obsession for being organised in a very messy crafty way. So, the two of us spent a few hours (which quickly turned into a day) sorting through everything and putting into assigned containers and labelling for easier reference. A long but necessary task and OH, so satisfying at the end.

Then, came the time to actually start creating the markers up. A few turned into a small pile which grew into a HUGE pile. And would you believe, I am still wanting to make more (& use them). Who says markers need to be boring?

I got to thinking that maybe not everyone would know quite how to use the markers to their best protential …. or maybe not know exactly what is available ….. So, of course me being me …. I thought that it maybe it would be best to actually do up blogs on the different markers and what they are used for. Over the next few weeks, I will release a blog on the different sort of markers and how they are (can be) used. I knew of stitch markers to use for knitting the top down technique and in shawl knitting, but there is so much more ways to use these wonderful wee tools. I am actually shocked that I had not heard of them and now wonder how I did without them over the years.

I also discovered some other wee items/tools that I will be making and adding to the Nifty Needles products. I am all about useful tools that we just can’t do without but are also pretty in appearance.

The stitch/progress markers will be released shortly, just in time for Christmas as these would make amazing gifts for any crafter. I didn’t quite think everything through …. All I focused on was making up a selection and forgot about the time it takes in photographing them, writing up descriptions etc, and then uploading everything to the website …. So I think I need to step back …. Slow down and realise that things just take time ….. BUT, it is hard when your mind overflows with creative juices and you just want to do it all NOW …..

So do come back and find out about all the uses of decorative markers ….. I am sure you will be convinced that these are the perfect wee tools that you just cant do without ….

The next post will all be about the stitch and progress markers for both Knitting and crochet

Squaring up your Quilt top and Backing fabric

Featured

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

Featured

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

Featured

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

Featured

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

Featured

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

Featured

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

Featured

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

Featured

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

Featured

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

Featured

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

Featured

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

Featured

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

Featured

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

Featured

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

Featured

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

Featured

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

Featured

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)

Featured

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

Featured

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.