A Quilt For A Summerhouse

The Summerhouse Quilt, covering three walls of the octagon.

Here is a project started some time ago, and finally finished this week. It hangs in a little octagonal cedar summerhouse which was built in my favourite spot in the garden – it is a great sanctuary space where we are able to sit out all year, and I have had many moon ceremonies in there especially in winter evenings when it would be too cold or wet to just be outside in the garden. The full moon is usually visible on clear nights through the window, or sometimes through an open door when my timing and its position is just right. I have sat and listened to frogs mating in the pond a couple of feet away. The floor is just big enough for me to lie down across it should I ever want to spend a whole night out there. However it has one slight problem that it echoes so loud it can be uncomfortable when drumming, playing recorder, or even just having a conversation. Hence the need for something to damp down the sound!

I used cotton flannel for greater sound absorbency, my first experience of making a quilt with this type of fabric. (I later used the same type of fabric for a comfort quilt, see here.) The design is fairly simple, but if it has a name I have forgotten it. It has a harmonious feel, and as the eye is drawn to the spaces as well as the blocks all sorts of patterns seem to appear out of it.

Quilting on the front.

I wanted a ‘tree’ theme, which I managed to find enough flannel fabrics to fit – not only are these all the colours of leaves through the year, but several of the fabrics feature trees or leaves in their design. However I wanted something fairly light for the background colour; probably not so important now the cedar has bleached to the colour of pine, but when the wood was new it was fairly dark. Hopefully the fabric will fade well with a timeless look, rather than if I had used dark green for the background which tends to go blue, and cream flannel also has the advantage of being easily available in large quantities.

Back of the quilt showing how I used the design as a quilting template.

On the back is a fun, cheap patterned flannel fabric I found. While unsuitable for the front having such a large design, the branches carried the tree theme nicely. I decided to use it as a back-to-front quilting template, which turned out to be great fun to sew. The front thread colour, used in the bobbin, is a variable green based on shades of Oak. I used a simple light brown on the back that I could see while sewing. Some leaves had to be added freehand, as well as the ones already there.

Normally my projects get started, finished, and put into service reasonably quickly, but occasionally that doesn’t happen… Those who have followed my blog for a while may recognise it as the finished work from this post from 2016! No circumstances changed, simply that the quilting took ages and had some breaks, so it only got finished at the end of the summer when I was ready to bring the chairs and other things into our house for the winter. Somehow the actual fitting then kept slipping down the priority list and the quilt was put in the loft for ‘safekeeping’. One spring and summer passed when we were really busy and I had no time to think about it. Then another when it was easier not to think about it, and finally a third when I realised I would be upset if I didn’t get it sorted out! I considered what the problem was and realised I was relying on help to shape some wood wedges, yet giving only verbal instructions which meant a lot of thought was required on the part of the helper. Since I knew how I wanted it, I made a cardboard template (we do a lot of CAD-work in our household!) and the wood wedges were fitted within a week ready for me to staple some Velcro onto. I then checked the quilt measurements, sewed Velcro onto some spare fabric using my sewing machine, before hand sewing that onto the back of the quilt.

I originally had a plan to make eight triangles for the ceiling as well, but haven’t worked out how to fit them without damaging the cedar wood. I might make them one day, or the fabric may get re-purposed; having tried it out, this wall covering may be enough to make the sound levels comfortable, and the hut feels much more ‘homely’ to be in now that it is decorated. Now for a replacement table to the one that was needed in the house and never returned after the first winter…

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A New Dragon

My new dragon, Tân Bach.

Not my original design, I discovered this pattern by Simplicity and really liked it so thought I would have a go – with a few modifications of fabric (the original was fur, and lacked any stiffening in the wings), eye size (smaller when not covered by fur) and colour distribution (pale spines are just weird!) It has some nice features, so that hand-stitching is minimised, but it has to be the hardest stuffing job I have ever attempted to get those back legs filled! I was also glad to find most of the hand stitching required is hidden, yet can still be done with a straight needle; I do have curved needles which I have used on other soft toys but don’t find them easy to handle.

This is in fact a ‘test’ for another I plan to make, as it is similar in shape to a particular dragon friend of mine that I would like to work with more – and given my drawing ability isn’t brilliant this seemed the best way to make a physical representation. However, I will want to make a few changes as this neither sits on a shoulder reliably, nor sits flat on anything else with all its feet touching! A pillow or cushion is required at all times. Also I don’t feel the spines along the back start or finish in the right place, the head is a little large and too wide at the back, and there is an unsightly bulge where the tummy section ends. Altogether it has too much dinosaur influence with horns added as an afterthought to be my dragon – this one has a different character, and I feel a female, sinuous energy from her.

As she was finished two days before going to Wales for a week camping, we called her Tân Bach, small fire (given hers is gentle and warming rather than a full blaze such as a red dragon might give out), and she came with us. I can honestly say she is the most laid back character of any cuddly toy we have, and we have quite a few (most are bears, some up to half a century old while others are fairly new – including a rag doll, a very large elephant and a unicorn that I have made) not seeming to mind what goes on around her. However on returning home she has insisted on being where there is a fire, and appears slightly haughty about ‘her’ responsibilities. Maybe it’s just pride.

I was once under the impression that soft toys were inanimate objects, and merely accepted the character projected onto them by their owner or the person playing with them. I have come to realise this is not the case. They have moods, although signs can be subtle, and can be offended or excited or relaxed just as any other spirit might be. For they of course have their own individual spirit which is influenced by the energies present when they were made, how they were made, what materials were used, where they live, and how they are loved. They act as a store for love, ready to give back when needed, to give comfort. (Poppets were of course used for this, and for healing, as well as the darker purposes they are now associated with.) I now look forward to making and meeting Tân Bach’s brother or sister dragons…

A Comfort Quilt

Cosy Comfort Quilt

Here is magic woven into a quilt. Love sewn into every seam, every colour chosen with love and joy in mind.

The fabric is all brushed cotton, which reduces choice considerably, so some have rather larger designs than I would ideally have chosen for this pattern. However final choice of fabric, pattern, and layout was out of my hands on this one!

It is of course Hunter’s Star – you really do have to hunt for some of the stars! (It also suits a Sagittarian being The Archer, another form of hunter…) I have done my best to emphasize them by quilting around each one, and with a relatively high loft filling this keeps the softness. It also conveniently disguises the overlapping corners, which make more of a bump with brushed cotton than a thinner fabric would.

In between the stars, I have sewn butterflies – which are mainly visible from the back. Creatures of beauty and transformation, they bring light to so many situations. They also fit well with the fabrics used, most of which contain flowers or butterflies or both. All were done by making templates from photographs of British native butterflies and chalking around the templates before sewing.

Quilt back with butterflies and stars.

Three Hares Quilt

Here is a project I had in mind for a few years before actually making. I explored various hare ideas, and then last summer sketched out a plan, yet it still took me until April to actually start making it – and until now to get it hung on the wall. Clearly it has its own perfect timing!

Three Hares Quilt
(Click to enlarge)


There is a lot of symbolism in this quilt; some personal, and some more general. The Three Hares is an ancient symbol seen in China, Ukraine, Iran, France, Germany, and several places in Britain, particularly Devon. They were mostly made from 6th century to 15th century and follow the old Silk Road trading route, although the majority are in Germany and England, particularly Devon. Most appear in Christian churches, often near to a Green Man, but also in synagogues, Buddhist caves, Mosques and on ceramics. Interpretations of the meaning vary widely.

I have chosen to make this symbol into a wall-hanging for our home partly because the hare is the only one of my spirit animals that is also loved by the rest of my family, but also because there are three of us in our family, all dependent upon each other. I wanted to celebrate and strengthen that bond.

Making the quilt posed a number of challenges, and used some techniques that were new to me.

The gold disc (is it the sun or the moon?) was inspired by a Klimt painting using random rectangles of gold patterns, but I didn’t want to create something that was so random it was impossible to cut or to sew. So each quarter has rotational symmetry, and there is a Brigid Cross in the centre.

The outside border was going to be more random in terms of widths, but this more equal layout seemed the simplest method for sewing. I still had a problem that the inner disc quadrants came out slightly small, something I possibly should have anticipated, while the outer sections came out wider, requiring some adjustment when joining the quarters.

The hares were made using a pattern drawn onto interfacing, cutting it out and ironing it onto the fabric, and then folding the fabric under this, as I did for the Pooh Bear Map quilt a couple of years ago. The eye holes didn’t want to fold under neatly, so I cut them out and then satin stitched the red fabric in place. The rest was stitched in place through all layers of the quilt.

Celtic knotwork is not something I have tried before in fabric, although I have drawn many over the past 20 years or so. But when I saw ready-made gold bias tape for sale, I realised that would be an ideal solution for this project. Usually knotwork is designed to fit the space available, rather than having a pre-set line width as I had, so trying to work out how many crossing points to allow made this more challenging for me. Also I needed to include the corners in the design rather than just the border, which is not something I have done before, so I had to do a lot of thinking and exploring to work this problem out. In the final corner design, based on a double triquetra, it proved unexpectedly easier to do in bias tape than to draw. I would ideally have liked a single continuous line through the whole border, but with an even number of crossing points this was not going to happen! Instead it is four interconnected lines, which fits with the symmetry of the rest of the design.

Actually making the knotwork proved trickier than I expected – not least because there are no simple instructions on the bias tape packet! After puzzling over it for several days, I found an internet tutorial which luckily explained the method to me in about two minutes – draw the complete design onto greaseproof paper, iron the tape in place, peeling off where it needs to be woven underneath. Once complete, pull the paper off, transfer to the fabric, iron in place, sew in place. Practice is of course harder than the theory, for three reasons I might improve on next time. First the design gets covered as you go so I went the wrong side in my ‘crossings’ a couple of times and had to correct them, which I don’t normally have a problem with when drawing. Second there may be better paper available than the one I used as the design stuck too firmly, making peeling off very tricky. And third, after ironing the bias tape onto fabric it didn’t stay stuck very well especially when folding the quilt into the machine for the sewing, so I had to partially pin it in place. Also there is an awful lot to sew around, with threads needing cutting at every crossing point, which I somewhat underestimated even knowing I needed nearly 10m of bias tape…

Finally, the edging. I repeatedly held different dark blue fabrics along the edge, and some gold or red fabrics, over several days. Nothing looked right. Eventually it came to me that it didn’t want a single colour, it needed several. Given I was rather short on most of the colours anyway, this worked in my favour. However, after all the days I had wasted in not doing the border when my sewing machine was needed for other things, I gave up on calculating what size to make the pieces or how many I needed and just pay attention to any intuitive messages that came. I used every piece I cut in a long strip, and had just over an inch to cut off at the end. I could never have calculated this as accurately.

The finished quilt size is just under 18” square. I was able to use several scrap fabrics for the quilt, but around half were purchased new, leaving more for my stash. Such seems to be the cyclical way of my quilting.

Beltane Quilt

Beltane Quilt

Here is the last of my Sabbat quilts, made during the last Spring Snowstorm in early April.

It has the largest number of fabrics of all the quilts, 24 I think, helped by some of the leftovers from recent dressmaking and bunting projects, as well as the donation of some scraps left over from a quilt my grandmother made me when I was little. So this quilt has real family history in it! The design is inspired by the flowers and colours of May, and by the whirling patterns of Maypole dancing. It started off very regular and formal in its arrangement but I was a row short; it ended up much more freeform in its twirling, swirling around, but I’m quite pleased with the way it has come out. The only thing I might have changed is that on three of the corners a diagonal seam runs into the corner, which was hard to trim or turn properly. This would not have been a problem on a normal quilt with a wadding layer and bound edges, but these are unfilled, just turned like a bag with one colour being chosen in each quilt for outlining to join the two layers. Unlike the other quilts I had no choice of which colour to outline on this one, green being the only plain colour used across the quilt!

It has been an interesting project to make all eight – and challenging at times when I was struggling to sew! I deliberately made each one unique, not comparing them as I went, so here is the first time I have put them all together. To me they make an interesting impression of how colours change over the year. I might have exaggerated this more if I had made them all at the same time, and had the fabrics I now have, but that is the beauty of making one at a time. The design changes had a logic, which isn’t so apparent here, but this may be the only time they are all seen together.

Eight Sabbat Display Quilts, arranged from top left:
Samhain, Yule, Imbolc, Spring Equinox, Beltane, Summer Solstice, Lughnasadh, Autumn Equinox.


Over the next year I hope to make items to go in the displays, since some sabbats definitely do better than others at the moment! Each sabbat has seen something being made and something stored from previous years, but like our special tree decorations that come out December after December and are passed on through the family, and inspired by the nature displays in the Steiner School we used to visit, I would like to create more ‘special’ things for the rest of the year as well.

Bunting

Bunting

A simple sewing project to bring happiness and cheer!

At the end of last year we redecorated a room in a hurry that really needs a proper replastering and rewiring. Since that isn’t possible right now, we removed old wallpaper and patched the walls as best we could, covered them with thick lining paper, and painted over it. Given it is in an Edwardian house, the ceilings are high and elsewhere there is (or was) a cornice as well as a picture rail. In an ideal world, we would put these back in. In reality the ceiling is still scratchy artex and painted a greyish white. While the new paint looked great, something was lacking at ceiling level. In addition the room was now echoey, and the newly pale peachy-pink walls too intense with no contrast colour to balance them. (I haven’t painted the skirtings or architraves yet.)

So after much thought, (and rejecting various ideas such as stencilling the walls or using decals which might not stick, and wouldn’t solve the echo problem) I came up with a plan. Create bunting in the colours I wanted to introduce, to act as a cornice and a sound baffle and decoration all in one. Amazingly it has worked on all three counts. It fades from view when the lights are off, and brings happiness and wakefulness in the mornings without being overwhelming. Magic.

For those wanting to do something similar, we made paper templates first cut from magazines to check the size, and the finished triangles are a little over 5” long. I used a plain white backing fabric to bring the colours out. Ready made 1/2” bias binding seemed the simplest option to join them, nearly 18m of it! (Which took 112 triangles…) To hang it, we cut up some old plastic paper binders and used ‘permanent’ glue dots to stick the hooks to the wall – sticking the fabric to the wall lasted a few days, the hooks have now been there successfully for over a month.

Sewing in Circles

Knotted Button

A winter coat … and an opportunity to try out some different knots. These (there are three, but it didn’t feel right to photograph the whole thing) were fun to make, although a little tricky. I like to use knots to bind good emotions for the wearer, and it felt good to have three circles in each.

Three is an important number in Neolithic and Celtic art – I think of the triskele with its three spirals, or the triquetra of three interlocked semi-circles. There are three realms to our world: Earth, Sea and Sky, and within these we live through three stages of life: maiden, mother, crone. Our health is often seen in terms of Body, Mind and Spirit. When we journey, we choose Upper, Middle or Lower Worlds to explore.

Goddess Brigid has three aspects, as does The Cailleach. Badb, Macha and Morrigan work together and are collectively known as The Morrigan.

Three makes me think of a tripod, or a milking stool, perfectly balanced no matter what the terrain, each leg supporting the others. It is the potential of two parents with a child. A triad in music is a perfectly balanced chord, major or minor, that forms the root of Western harmony.

There is a lot of energy stored in three-ness, as there are always forces acting together. It is not a stable energy like four is, there is constant change, growth, development. Things can happen. The triskele has three legs going out from the centre, balancing yet full of movement, looking outwards. The child will pull forwards. Triple Goddesses include Creativity. Triads can become counterpoint and fugues as well as chorales. Yet there is perfection and completeness within that three-ness.

Sewing these knots on took longer than making them, and needed me to turn the coat on each stitch. Definitely sewing in circles.

Yule Quilt

Yule Quilt

This is now the fifth quilt I have made in the series of 8 for each sabbat display, and the first where the colours had a small amount of planning in their arrangement – rather than just the total random, ‘scrappy quilt’ look. I did not have many suitable fabrics for Yule, 3 golds, 3 greens, and 4 reds although one was in very short supply. Had I started with this quilt, I would have probably made it far more definite in its design by using some colours for the stars and different colours for the borders, yet this interests me precisely because it wasn’t done that way. It draws me in more.

The stars made me think of spiky holly with its bright berries, as well as poinsettia plants sold everywhere but needing more warmth than our house generally offers on a winter’s night. There is also the coming of the light, directly from the sun as we celebrate its return – and for two months of the year I have an unobstructed view of the sunrise through trees from my bedroom window. Most years (but no longer guaranteed) there is also light reflected by snow, bringing a wonderfully uplifting feel at what is generally a dark time.

Making a series of quilts that are supposed to be an exact size has also been a learning experience. My sewing accuracy wasn’t bad before, but sew each 1/4inch seam just 1/2mm out, and over 25 seams you have gained or lost a whole inch, 25mm. That is assuming my cutting was accurate to within the same tolerances! So it took me to quilt 4 to get almost the right finished size, and this one is just slightly long. Given they are all made slightly wide, long looks good. The other good thing I have finally learned is how to work methodically when picking up each pair of pieces to sew, in order to keep them in the same position and rotation. It has taken me a long time to master this basic skill!

Normally I change the display about a week before a sabbat, but it felt appropriate to get this out last weekend. Not because lights and decorations are up everywhere else and M enjoys them being up in our house as well, but because winter arrived with the last leaves falling off the trees, two dustings of snow and ice on the pond. Autumn has passed, it is dark outside, and I feel ready to close the curtains and be looking within. Enjoying candlelight, being cosy in the long dark evenings, and preparing for what is to come. In my case, a completely crazy, exciting, holiday season with so much packed into about 3 weeks that I have had to write down what I need to do when.

Mabon Quilt

Quilt for the Autumn Equinox / Mabon.

Here is my quilt for Mabon, or the Autumn Equinox. This quilt is about harvest, not just in its ripe fruit colours but in the fabrics themselves, for which I think I counted 19 in total. Some are from previous quilting projects, such as the three tree series I made, giving a nice link to the harvest of tree fruits (apples and plums in particular). Several squares were cut from scraps leftover from dressmaking, some of them clothes I made for M which are now too small for her but also one of mine which I still wear. And finally the music fabric, leftover from a ‘baby quilt’ and saved for quite a long time because these small pieces were all that was left. It represents another joy in my life right now, to play with the morris dancing group. Again, nothing has been bought new. So to look at this quilt brings happy memories. (To me, it is all the more remarkable because the difficulties I had actually sewing it were beyond anything I have done recently, as since August I have been suffering from a very sore hip and leg and at times can barely sit or stand. Sewing was done in very short bursts, left-footed. But that is a story for another time.)

Since both equinoxes are all about balance, I have also been testing an urban myth that has been puzzling me since I discovered it last Spring. There is a much repeated story on the internet that it is possible to balance an egg on its end at the equinox. I tried this, and failed. Then I read it was at the moment of equinox. I have no idea if the Earth is acutely aware of the moment of equinox or not, as with the moment of solstices. There is however a moment when the tides turn, which are of course affected by sun and moon so I didn’t just dismiss it out of hand. So since I missed the right time last time, and it was quite a convenient time this time, I thought I would have a go in the spirit of scientific enquiry. This time I also invited company.

What we proved is: some people can balance eggs. Duck eggs, chicken eggs, they will apparently all stand on their ends for as long as is required of them. The equinox makes no difference to those capable of balancing an egg, as the trick was quite happily repeated the next day. I, however, am still incapable of balancing an egg on a smooth, hard surface, no matter what time of day. Although I can have fairly good results if I use a non-flat surface…

Colours for Summer

I have been rather uncreative for a few weeks, since wearing myself out sewing Morris dancing clothes… and then suddenly realised that the lack of a project was why I was feeling unfocused and lost this month. Clearly I don’t know myself, and what makes me happy, that well yet! Luckily finding a new project is not something I have trouble with – just keeping them within bounds given time and space constraints. (Building work continues in the house, making dust and chaos as well as preventing wood or glass work.)

So a week ago I had an idea to make my temporary seasonal display area (half a mantleshelf) a proper cloth cover, by buying a strip of fabric, edging it, and putting it in place in time for the summer solstice on Wednesday. If I found enough suitable fabrics, I could even change the colour for each sabbat. However, not only did I fail to get near any shops, it being too hot, I also should never really have imagined I could stop at something so simple.

Having visitors all weekend required an empty sewing table in order to eat off it, and a lot of thinking time. By Monday morning I had a plan – to use up my scrap pile and make a simple quilt-style top. One for each sabbat of course, starting with midsummer. That gave me Monday to make it.

Suddenly a difficult question loomed. What colours to use for midsummer? All the other seven sabbats have colours I associate with them, but not midsummer! How could this be? So I wrote a list, to see what was left over. (It is slightly different to other people’s lists, but then in trying to write this after finishing, I discovered a lot of variations!)

Imbolc – Greens and white – holly, snowdrops
Ostara – Pastel shades – eggs, new shoots, pussy willows, daffodils
Beltane – Greens and light colours – forgetmenots, tulips, honesty and ribbons
Litha – ???
Lughnasa – bright yellows – hot sun, ripe corn, poppies
Mabon – Reds and purples – apples, plums, late harvests
Samhain – Orange, red, brown, black – pumpkins, autumn leaves, and descent into dark
Yule – Greens, Red, Gold – holly and yew

And what I decided on was blue skies, sunshine, and a garden absolutely full of flowers. Mine is full of roses, campanulas, hardy geraniums, foxgloves and peonies right now, so they have inspired the colour choices.

My method of construction was very simple – strip piecing with only a few triangles and rectangles to break up the squares. The colours were arranged fairly randomly, and for once I didn’t worry too much if I sewed the wrong pieces together from my initial plan. Some of it will be covered anyway. There is no wadding, so it was just sewn onto some plain cotton for backing. Quilting is also very simple, just sewing around the edges of a few pieces through both layers – this also sewed up the hole. Total time to be useable was about 4 hours including cutting and laying out time for which I had help, with an extra ¾ hour on Tuesday morning to quilt it.

Here’s how it came out. A bit crazy, but fun. You might notice by the length that I have now managed to purloin the whole of the mantleshelf for my display!

Quilted Summer Solstice display cloth (8″ x 52″)

Lessons in Trust

I have wanted to do some form of both dancing and music for two or three years, but couldn’t find anything suitable in terms of my abilities (limited when it comes to dancing!) and time available – until late last year when I saw a ladies morris group out dancing. It was just one of those times when I knew instantly that that was what I wanted to do, and by January circumstances meant I was able to join the group and have my first evening out by myself since having M. Amazing, and utterly perfect for me! As a result I have been very busy over the past few months practising polka steps, learning the dances, and sewing the required costume – leaving less time for all the other things I would love to do, and even need to do, like housework and gardening. It has once again proved to me that I can manage whatever I want to provided I focus all my energies in that direction – but only just! Hence a few late blog posts recently, besides other things.

The difficulties I faced were frequently unexpected. To begin with, all went smoothly. Realising I was serious about joining the group, and that the only ‘spare’ skirt wouldn’t fit me (kit normally being returned when dancers leave), extra fabric was purchased and I was handed a bag and a roll of fabric, a greaseproof paper pattern for the skirt in size 20ish, and the spare skirt to copy. Purchasing ribbon to match was my responsibility – and at that point my problems started. Three shops later, I found a colour that was close although not exact and either too narrow or too wide. They were able to order some for me, for collection the following week. Sorting the pattern was another major challenge, since the skirt has 8 flared gussets to be fitted and a flat waist. I can’t even guarantee my waist will be the same size in three months time with all this dancing, so I have to find a way of making it adjustable…

So I get the skirt made – although not without having to take the sides apart and re-sew them smaller since it was already too generous. Next I try and buy plain cotton poplin for my shirt, so visit my favourite fabric shop. They don’t have enough. Something they normally keep in stock, so I try again. And again. And again! It turns out the owner is ill and hasn’t put the order in yet, and won’t let the three or four other people who work there do it either, so by this time fabric stocks are seriously run down – I buy elsewhere but it isn’t exactly what I wanted. Still, I shall probably need a second shirt by the summer…

Meanwhile I ask multiple times about a waistcoat pattern. A month later I am given a bag of coloured fabric scraps for the patchwork front, but still no waistcoat. I finally manage to borrow one from another dancer, but I only have it for three days as she is dancing out early in the season. (I knew I wouldn’t be ready for April dates!) So I make my own pattern from hers, guessing at size alterations needed, and then try and buy the extra bits I need. Calico lining takes two shops to find, different colour ribbons take three, and buttons take four shops before I find anything suitable. I am at this point going into Derby almost once a week with M, taking up valuable sewing time!

At the same time I must get a pair of clogs. This is not something I can make, nor buy off the shelf in my size, so I find a clogmaker online who will custom fit. I expected them to be ready early April, but I only get a message to say they are ready for fitting at the end of the month. So my first free day for nearly a month (thanks to pre-schoolers having school holidays) sees me driving nearly two hours, an hour fitting clogs, an hour having a walk and my sandwiches while the clogs are finished, and then driving for over two hours back again. I do have a contingency plan, but mainly I’m just trusting I will get back in time. Thanks to a roadworks traffic jam delaying me by twenty minutes when nearly back, I am able to collect M with 1 minute to spare and no stops en route. The dance is in three days but I’m too worn out to sew that evening.

I spend my free half days that week glueing the photocopies of music I have been given onto card, and then covering them with plastic so that I can use them outside. There are over twenty in total. The dances in the list for the weekend get practised on my recorder, the rest do not.

I finally finished sewing everything the morning of the day before my first dance, continuing to trust that if it was meant to be, then somehow it would work out. I still have to add some decoration on the back of my waistcoat, and sew some bell elastics for my shoes since the ‘spare’ pair of those were rather tight. Luckily my next dance is not until June as everyone else is having a long weekend away, so hopefully I can relax a bit now!

Intuitive Sewing

I have had an interesting and unexpected lesson in intuitive sewing over the past few days – which follows on from my year’s aim of being more connected to what I am doing. It started with a piece of fabric, as most sewing projects do, but unlike most projects, no plan.

The fabric was dark red with a pattern of roses made by varying lengths of pile – a fluffy, warm, knitted fabric, that looked tricky to sew and with such a large pattern, not ideal for a small child. I didn’t buy any. A couple of weeks later, with a combination of a change in the weather and a growth spurt, something warm was really needed and M still wanted this fabric. I bought a metre, thinking it would be about right for a jumper or jacket, or possibly a cape. She told me it needed to be a long cloak not short… and with a hood!

I look in my pattern collection: nothing. I look online: a few superhero style patterns, or circular cloaks, but nothing that will work for her or the fabric I have available. Just a photo from a long-out-of-date and no longer available pattern.

Rose Cloak

The finished Rose Cloak

So I take a couple of measurements, width across shoulders and length, and start sketching. Half an hour later I have a pattern with several lines drawn at different angles to see what looks right, and lay it on the fabric to see what will fit. The front and back will have to lie in opposite directions, but luckily the roses don’t show this up too much. It is my best guess at the size; I look again at the pattern after a break seeing if anything needs changing. I don’t seem to be able to improve it, so I cut it out, leaving fluffy bits of dark red everywhere that need cleaning up.

Finally I sew. The whole thing takes about an hour, and just needs a button on the front out of my box to complete it. I guess on the loop length.

M tries it on. It fits, she loves it. I am amazed.

Correcting Sewing

Recently a friend complimented me on a dress M was wearing that I had made, after she had just had a sewing disaster and discovered the frustration of something coming out the wrong size. It got me thinking, because if there is one thing I have learned in twenty odd years of sewing, it is that it is a rare item that comes out exactly right the first time! Children’s clothes have a huge advantage, because as the wearer grows, most items will have a brief period when they fit exactly as they are supposed to, but most other things, especially adult clothes, have needed adjustments at best and remaking from scratch on occasion.

The sort of ‘adjustments’ I have had to make include sewing seams smaller, unpicking seams to make them bigger, cutting new sleeve pieces to make them longer, or wider, removing pieces of fabric to turn them the right way round, changing hem lengths, altering trouser widths, remaking waistbands at a different height, both higher and lower, keeping the waistband but remaking the trousers or skirt, adding gussets to give more shoulder space, easing armholes, extending halternecks… And that is not to mention the fun that comes of using an overlocker machine which cuts as it sews. Presser foot not down is my usual disaster, so that the fabric is cut but only huge loops of thread are made, although that is minor compared to having to unpick an overlocked seam and resew for whatever reason, or having to patch a hole in a jacket lining that wasn’t supposed to be anywhere near the machine.

However what strikes me is my willingness to correct sewing problems. Each ‘mistake’ I have found, I have figured out a way to correct, and then done so without more than a few days fuss and bother. I seem to accept it as part of sewing, and necessary if clothes are to fit well and look good. Yet until now, I have never seen this as remarkable, just normal. Makes me wonder if I can apply this to other areas of my life!

Lost and Found

I try to be tidy, and I like the feel of things being organised, but I don’t always manage it when the creative spirit is fully present. So sometimes I lose things.

Yesterday I lost a piece of fabric. I finally reached the stage of arranging the square blocks for the quilt I am making for my sanctuary space, so spent some time with M’s help laying them all out on the bed to decide which colour was going where. There was one square missing. Being very sure I had sewn the right number, I proceeded to look for it. Everywhere. Around my sewing table, in and under scraps piles, in every pile and basket of M’s things in case it had got picked up and put somewhere. (She plays next to me while I sew.)

I stayed calm. Getting cross has never solved anything yet, and I did have enough bits left to sew another one. It is not the first time I have lost prepared quilting pieces, and they have always turned up eventually, but not always in time to be useful. I let go of my attachment to the work I had done and started cutting out replacement squares and triangles, doing the background colour first since I had plenty.

The 'missing' quilt square

The missing quilt square

Then just as I was about to have to cut into a larger piece of fabric, I thought of a place I hadn’t looked – and found the missing square! Under the ‘kitchen sink’. Apparently a dishcloth was needed…

Pink Flowers in January?

Bright pink is not a colour I associate with January, or at least, not January in England. It would be perfectly reasonable to find pink flowers in more Southern climates, but here I am usually just seeing the first snowdrops, and waiting for the Winter Aconites, Crocus and Daffodils. (Of course those are all out too this year!)

Fuchsia hemsleyana

Fuchsia hemsleyana

However this year I have been struck by how many pink flowers there are in the garden. I was pruning last week, taking advantage of the waning moon and a rare sunny day, and found two different types of roses with pink flowers. They were a bit tatty from the weather, but doing their best with lots more buds to come. Nearby was a Fuchsia hemsleyana* that was giving me one of its best shows ever, absolutely covered in tiny pink flowers, and more predictably a Viburnum bodnantense Dawn. Then in the front garden, a pelargonium was just opening up a new flush of paler pink flowers. So it has made me think about colour, the time of year, and my relationship with it.

Pink is generally seen as the colour of nurturing and unconditional love, so is therefore assigned the heart chakra – more commonly seen as being green (also a colour of love). It is not a colour I tend to wear, so if the theory that we wear the colours we need in our life is true, then maybe I don’t currently have a strong unfilled need for nurturing and unconditional love. (I guess with M I’m doing the nurturing and loving!)

Looking at my current clothing though, I came to the conclusion I mostly wear the background colours I see around me – strong greens, browns, reds, black, navy blue in winter, and lighter blues, greens, turquoise, white, beige, red or occasional purples in summer. (Yes I know there are no yellows and oranges in my list, they just don’t look right on me.)

In my colour lists there is one exact repeat: red. The light version of red would be pink (they are not strictly speaking different colours, just different hues of the same colour) but I don’t currently have any. Then I realised there may be another reason for my not wearing pink – the availability of clothes in suitable shades, since I am more of a dusky or bright pink person, not baby pink which is most of what I see for sale.

So I have to ask the question – do I need the colours already around me at this time, that nature has so thoughtfully provided? And does that include pink? Because if so I shall need another visit to my favourite fabric shop!

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*This is the name the plant was sold to me under, but may now be more correctly known as Fuchsia microphylla subsp. Hemsleyana.

Looking Backwards, Looking Forwards

The Roman God Janus, who gave his name to January, has two faces so that he is able to look forwards and backwards at the same time. At the beginning of last year I wrote about the things that I hoped to achieve over the year – in the hopes that writing them down would give me the help I needed to make sure they happened. So now honesty compels me to find that list and see if I actually managed any of it… as well as looking forwards to work out where I want to go this year.

Sewing – well I did finish the quilt of Pooh’s map, and posted a photo of the completed quilt on my wall in April. I have managed quite a few other sewing projects besides, most of which don’t appear here! Somehow the more I manage to complete, the more projects seem to appear so I now seem to have a list of clothes to make as well as quilting projects for my new sanctuary space and altar that will keep me busy for the whole year and beyond at current rates of progress!

Stained Glass – er… I’m glad to say one window I made three years ago finally got fitted (Oak Sunrise, see December post), but no new work was started. Unfortunately I think I’m still a few months off, as this year’s priority is to finish the building work. So my glass tools will have to go back into storage again. But maybe I’ll manage something small towards the end of the year if all goes well.

Bodhran playing – I have made a start, and some osteopathy work early last year definitely freed up my shoulders and arms for better playing. I have started to get the feel of the instrument and what it can do, and find that the more bodhran practice I get in the easier it is to play a simple steady beat for journeying. (When M doesn’t want to join in, that is!) But I haven’t found a regular ‘practice slot’ yet and it shows! This is definitely on my list of things to do this year! As well as to drum some healing for the Earth in an outdoor location.

Working with elementals – well the garden is now completely replanned to bring in some water features, more flowers, and make it a fun, relaxing space for all. For this coming year I hope to establish a wildlife pond and get the building work finished, so that where there are currently piles of bricks I might be able to reclaim the space as garden. However, having dug six red bricks, a paver and a blue brick out of a small test hole for the pond this weekend, the brick piles are likely to get bigger rather than smaller in the short term! (So far we have dug 4,500 bricks out of our garden, which is about the size of a singles tennis court. They have proved very useful for the extension, but would have been better left in their original arrangement!) So I have felt inspired by elementals, and seem to get some good guidance in meditations about how to develop the garden. But as for working directly with them, I seem to spend my time focussing on weather rather than what is right here. Who knows what direction this will go.

Climbing the Wainwrights. Well I spent a week in Cumbria and managed precisely zero hills to tick off his list. The one new hill, two tops, were too low to be included, given that they were below the mist level and also within M’s capabilities. Interestingly however, the guidance I received on a journey was that it would be good exercise for me and help get me fit if I climbed them all, but it was more important for me to get to know the valleys and the streams. Well I did plenty of that!

Swimming in Dunnerdale – well I said it might take me eight years! Last year I managed a bit of stream and sea paddling in bare feet, maybe this year I’ll get as far as swimming somewhere…

And finally one to add to my list for this year, to make time and space for my writing, so that I can finish the tree stories I have started, and get back to writing longer stories without loosing the flow. With writing also comes reading, because for me the latter inspires the former. However while it was easy to read books when M was little and feeding all the time (provided they could be held in one hand); it is proving much harder to find the time to stop and read for myself as she gets older and more active, and as my ever growing list of things I want or need to do take priority!

I am reminded by looking at this list that there are only so many hours in a day, and at best only two of them are mine to do what I like with. But keeping that small part of me alive and focussed on the things I want to do gives me a sense of well-being and achievement – and writing it down like this helps me do that. However another theme has emerged for me from doing this list: I notice how for the first time every single item has a connection to the Earth in some way. I have over the past ten years experienced moments of acute homesickness for places which are most definitely not Earth as I currently know her, and at times I have found this quite hard to deal with. But this past year, I have also noticed how when I make strong connections not just with where I am but the Earth herself, her rivers and hills, her weather, I seem to find a stronger sense of purpose in me being in this life, here right now. That is something which will guide me going forwards, in what I do, and how I celebrate Sabbats.

Spirals

I have been making a skirt this week – it has all of five pieces, and yet I have been having more problems with it than any other piece of sewing I have done for years. I shouldn’t really have been surprised though, because it has a spiral design.

It has been suggested that the spiral, in the form of a vortex, is the basis for all life. Out of vortices of energy come mass. This happens at the micro particle level, but is reflected upwards and outwards into DNA, water flows, shells, horns, plant growth, clouds, and right out to the spin of our solar system. Whatever scale we choose, we can find spirals. I have felt them trying to spin me physically when standing over energy nodes such as inside longbarrows. I have carved them in wood, in pumpkins, in peeling apples. They connect us with all life, always growing, changing, developing. Never static.

A few years ago, when I was quite ill, my father made me a woodcarving. Its adventures in trying to reach me would fill a book, with one episode after another including a trip by itself to Northern Ireland and back. I asked if it had a spiral design – sure enough it did. It seemed to me nothing else would have led it such a merry dance.

So when it came to sewing my skirt, to have to recut pieces and resew seams was probably just to be expected. Frustrating some of the time, but also amusing and entertaining. And I managed to turn the wrongly cut pieces into a dress for M so very little was wasted and a lot was learned…

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”)

Pooh Bear’s Map Quilt

Pooh Bear's Map Quilt

Pooh Bear’s Map Quilt

This is a project which has taken me since January to sew, and even longer to plan. It came about after I put an old Pooh Bear poster up on the wall over the stairs. For those who follow Feng Shui ideas, which I have started doing occasionally, it is in the area of the house for Health and Family – so having a poster full of life and enjoyed by all the family seemed appropriate to me. However, there is a radiator underneath, which kept melting the bluetack holding the poster to the wall, so it kept falling off. Usually in the middle of the night or at rather inconvenient moments. Not such great energy!

I love Pooh because he is such an easy-going bear. He doesn’t think too hard, just goes with life’s flow and does what comes naturally to him. Hunny or condensed milk? Have both – even if it does have consequences of getting stuck. Lost on a walk? Stop running in circles and listen to the hunny calling. He might be a bit daft at times, when he needs looking after, but most of the time he looks after his friends in a very gentle sort of way, not minding when they are excitable or scared or depressed or trying to be clever or bouncing around. Pooh just is. He is the sort of bear who gets regularly quoted in our family, because he just knows how to live. And who would be without a few Helping Bear or Brave Bear pencils around the place after all?

For technically minded people, the quilt uses around 24 fabrics, and was sewn on my very ordinary, basic machine with straight stitches and zig zags. I did the design by scanning the inside cover of my 1977 “The World of Pooh” (which is slightly different to the poster) and then printing out the pictures in sections. After sewing the background of mainly green squares, I traced all the other shapes onto interfacing. These were subsequently cut out and ironed onto the coloured fabrics, and then sewn on in two layers – complicated shapes such as the animals and river directly onto the green background, then the labels and tree leaves were sewn through all three layers, saving me the job of quilting the quilt later.

My most frustrating problem was how small pieces kept getting lost, as turning the quilt to sew had the effect of knocking things off my small and cluttered table… pinning them in place was done as soon as possible! (And I had to re-cut about three that only turned up in my tidying spree mentioned a couple of weeks ago.) My lettering got better with practice, especially after I realised I needed to turn the fabric when the needle was on the outside of a curve, not the inside. I was glad the original lettering style was wobbly! However adding in stitch width to the edges of my shapes was something I wish I had done from the beginning!

I have probably learned more sewing this quilt than any other project, since it was my first ever appliqué and first lettering. Both skills I have already used on another project, a birthday card for my Grandma who was 95 last month. (Congratulations to her!) Anyway I am feeling really pleased with it right now, and it looks great on the wall even if it doesn’t hang perfectly straight. (Clicking on the picture may lead to a larger version if I have got it right.)

Finding the Excitement

Last week I wrote about my difficulties of shopping for fabric. I was fortunate to get a second opportunity to go shopping again this week, thanks to Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire having different half terms, so having been frustrated and appalled by my previous incompetence, I thought I would have another go!

I spent some time considering what was still needed fabric-wise, with the benefit of knowing what was (hopefully!) available, and what surprised me was to realise how nervous I was about the whole thing. Yes, shopping makes me uptight. I rarely find what I want, frequently come home with something that is nearly but not quite wearable, am in danger of going into into shop after shop and coming home with nothing, and given current restrictions, am likely to end up with a tired and grouchy little girl and a parking ticket. (How people are cheered up by going shopping I have never worked out!) In short, my whole attitude was defeatist before I even started. So I meditated some more on the kestrel.

It struck me that the key thing about the kestrel was its golden colour. It was truly beautiful. I wasn’t being at all golden in my attitude, seeing shopping as going into a battle where I was likely to be only partially successful at best, and could come away with a hole in my wallet and few spoils of war to show for it if I wasn’t careful. This had to change. I meditated some more, and suddenly realised that I was looking at everything the wrong way around. I should be excited about having the opportunity to go on a shopping expedition, with my little girl, to buy fabrics which would offer the potential of new, fun projects and some good clothes for us both to wear. I had to be open to new things, allow my intuition to speak and tell me what it liked, instead of my logical, negative mind trying to judge the suitability of each item. I didn’t quite reach excited state, but I was able to go with a much more positive and open frame of mind.

Did it work?

Replacement fabric and last week's pink mistake

Replacement fabric next to last week’s pink washing mistake

Yes! I bought the fabrics I had remembered liking, plus saw some others, and found two remnants of those I wanted for a fraction of the price. I bought an amazing eight fabrics, a total of around 18m of mainly natural fibre (cotton or wool blend) cloth for just over £60. They should keep me going for a while yet! (And yes I do have a use planned for both of the fabrics in the photo.)

However, the best part was realising how it is possible to bring excitement to activities, instead of ordinariness. I have bought a bird feeding station for the garden, and in another meditation seen how to redesign the whole of the back garden putting nature at the forefront. I am almost terrified at the size of the project it has exploded into, yet tremendously excited at the same time. I’m sure I will be writing more about it here.

My aim is now to wake up every day excited by the potential it holds. I had never come close to imagining it was possible to feel this way until now, but how amazing would it be to greet each day with such joy? And yet nothing has actually changed except my attitude and way of looking at things.

Kestrels and Clothes

I am not very good at identifying birds, being generally hampered by poor eyesight and their tendency to fly away before I have seen them properly, but kestrel is one that I can usually get. It flaps about like a fat golden pigeon, until it suddenly hovers and dives – at which moment you realise it is something very special.

I was out cycling again this week, enjoying the milder weather and feeling very unfit. (Walking at M’s speed is great for fresh air, but not for exercise!) I had a particular problem to ponder, that of clothing for M and me. I have never been much good at clothes shopping, so thought it would be easier and more fun to make some things we need now that M and I have stopped changing size as fast as we were. Great in theory, but I hadn’t anticipated some of the problems I have experienced trying to put this into practice.

Patterns for women’s casual clothes tend to be those that are easy to sew, rather than being well fitted. (I’m not after dresses or office wear right now!) So shirts are often simple, untailored shapes, trousers have a zip at the back, and fleece or sweatshirt jumpers tend to be few and far between – unless unisex will fit. Not much is good, practical, warm clothing for this time of the year. Children’s patterns have different problems, with most being variations on a theme already available in supermarkets – or sundresses. But there are always some exceptions, so after spending some time searching internet catalogues (no time to stand and look in the shop!) I picked out some I thought might do. Of course I failed to realise that child patterns frequently feature a child older than the pattern is intended for, so one is too small, but it was half price and I can make it a size bigger. I already make my own patterns so this isn’t a problem, but it all takes time and pattern making time adds to the project time.

So finally having got the patterns and considered what fabrics I might use, we went shopping. I then have the problem of a busy market stall, hundreds of fabrics all crammed in, and nothing that quite meets my expectations. (Quilting and home furnishing fabrics make up most of the market.) So I revise my ideas and try to keep an open mind over what might work, and find a couple I like. They come in a different width than the length I had written down, so I have to guess the quantity, trying to ensure I don’t end up spending more on fabric than I could have paid to buy the finished article. Some fabrics I would like to hold up to see if the colours work for me, but of course there is no mirror. I would like a second opinion, but M is more of a hindrance pulling random rolls out to look at or knocking them over. It gets to my turn, so I buy the four I have identified and plan to return next week for the other two or three I need.

I bring the fabric home and wash it in two batches, one of them bleeds red dye everywhere so what was going to be a cream, red and blue nightie for M will now be a pink, red and purple dress. I rethink yet again what fabric I still need to buy.

So I was pondering all this when I saw a kestrel dive down onto the grass verge just next to me and fly of with its prey. Kestrels take an expansive view of the world, they wait for the right moment and then strike. They know when to act, and when not to. They have mental concentration, a good level of intuition, and ultimately accuracy of movement. I will try to bear this in mind next time I manage to get to the shops!