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.
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?
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.
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….
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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/
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.