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…

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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”)