Happy Yule!

See the blazing Yule before us…

May your fires burn warm and bright!

Most pagan festivals seem to involve fires in some way, to leap over, pass between, purify with, or just generally light up a circle. Yule is probably the most simple, celebrating warmth and light in the dark depths of winter.

As I wrote earlier this month (see When Things Don’t Go To Plan), this was not my first design for this year’s card – which was a snowman – but was conceived out of a series of things not working out as intended. I hoped to use the card to turn situations around and create magic.

One of the troubles involved difficulties with lighting a fire in our woodland when we only had very damp, very green wood to work with. After I drew the design for this card (straight onto the lino to save time) we had the perfect weather and, having carefully saved any dead branches from trees cut down to use as kindling, were able to build a great fire. So great that it took some time to put it out and make it safe when leaving; green wood had effectively become charcoal and was glowing beautifully. Success, and a lot of learning.

There is a little mouse in the corner of the card. The card seemed to call out for an animal of some kind, and I had been feeling that new planting in the woodland should encourage mice, especially dormice which are an endangered species in Britain. So it felt right to include one here. Not all of my inking and pressing was to a standard I was happy with, yet the mouse came out pretty perfect on every print. Even better, I actually saw a mouse a few days later when collecting rubbish along the lane that leads to the woodland, which I think was a harvest mouse.

In the background, I originally intended snowflakes, thinking about a fire warming the wintery nights. However in some of my prints they look more like stars. This makes perfect sense to me when I realise that the woodland seems to have a star connection in both its location and in the name it has inspired in us.

In Search of the Perfect Pincushion

Pins are an essential part of any sewer’s toolkit, but the paper wheel they are sold in, or the plastic boxes, are rarely suitable long term use – hence the development of the pincushion. Some I have seen are wonderful three-dimensional creations in fabric, giving delight to the user. I have seen many lovely examples, such as fruit, circus elephant with a ball, cupcakes, hedgehogs, cacti, etc. Take the pins out and some would be delightful toys for a small child. I will confess to being boringly practical however, since I want to be able to get pins in and out of it quickly and safely, and put it in a drawer when not in use – and I also have a small child!

Pincushions in order of age

Pincushions in order of age


The first, the lovely little mouse with a wooden base and Liberty fabric, was given to me with my first sewing kit many years ago. I loved it, but it was never big enough for a full pack of pins. I still use it for small sewing needles, as the firm base stops them from slipping down too far and getting lost. (4” long, fabric area 2” x 1¼”)

The second I made when I first started sewing ‘properly’ as an adult with my own sewing machine. The fabric was left over from a pair of trousers and is quite hard-wearing, the stuffing was made from off-cuts from quilt batting. I put a strip of velcro on the bottom with the idea I could keep the cushion in place if I wanted to, although in practice this didn’t happen. Small and light, it fitted in a drawer well but the stuffing was inadequate and pins slipped through – I had to be careful to angle them towards the middle, or they would stick out the other side of the cushion. I use it now for very large needles such as those for making dolls or soft toys, that are too big for the mouse cushion. It is, however a little small even for these so may be retired before long. (Fabric size 4” x 5”)

The third I made this winter from quilt offcuts. It is some of my best piecing and I was really pleased with the way the corners matched – no one can see them because of the buttons sewed over the top… The buttons were quite tricky to attach even with a long needle. It was successful in that the cushion sits flat and doesn’t move, and the toy stuffing seemed to work okay for pins, but blue and white pins were almost invisible while black and purple didn’t fair much better. It was also fundamentally too big to fit in the drawer. It has been donated to M as a doll cushion. (Fabric size 6” x 5½” x 1¾”)

So onto mark four, made from an offcut from some curtains when I shortened them. The fabric was double-layer and fell apart on cutting into squares, so I double stitched each seam, but otherwise I used the same construction method as for mark three. The size is great, it sits on the bench next to my machine or in the drawer really well, and it is the right height to stop pins coming through. Putting the pins in rainbow order, originally to entertain M, looked surprisingly good with the dark background and stopped me loosing the darker colour pins. It is probably near perfect for my needs as a working pincushion, just maybe a little dull – so it might not be my last! (Fabric size 4” x 4” x 1½”)