National Tea Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Irish Tea Ritual

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

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

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

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

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

Beginning Your Quilting Journey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Valentines Day – Be Mine

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

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

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

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

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

St Valentine History

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

Old Valentine Card

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

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

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

Single Rose

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

Close Up Rose

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

Be Mine

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

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

From your Valentine x

Whitework Christmas Lights

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Contents

Background

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

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

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

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

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

The Origin of Whitework

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

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

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

Vintage Whitework
Vintage Whitework

Whitework Designs

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

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

Christmas Kits

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

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

Lest We Forget

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

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

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

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

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

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