Starting out in my new quilting hobby

Well, as usual, once I decide I want to do something, I want to do it NOW!!

I spent hours surfing the internet for information about patchwork and quilting, and found some wonderful fabrics, but somehow I felt I needed to actually TALK to someone before getting some basic supplies in (other than my recent impulse purchases of some fat quarter packs from the USA). But I don’t know anybody who does patchwork. In the USA, patchwork and quilting is a huge hobby, with fabric shops just for patchwork fabric in every town, it seems. Not so in the UK.

However, I struck lucky. Each month, I go from Staffordshire, where I live, to Birmingham (about 50 miles), in order to do Dances of Universal Peace with a lovely group of people. I’ve been going for nearly four years, now. As I was surfing for patchwork fabric shops, I came across a really good one called The Cotton Patch, which also has a ‘bricks and mortar’ shop in Birmingham. Just out of interest, I checked on Google Maps to see if it would be possible to make a detour on the day I was in Birmingham for the dancing, to visit the shop. You could have knocked me down with a feather when I realised that the Cotton Patch shop is literally a hundred yards from the hall where I go for the dancing. I actually go past the door every month, but I’ve never noticed it before. Doh!!

So, last ‘dancing day’, I went armed with a list (I always have a list). In the lunch break, I sneaked off and had a wonderful 45 minutes in the shop, doing the equivalent of a trolley dash (except I had to pay for what I chose!). The woman on the till in the shop was really helpful, and advised me which books to get to start me off, which rulers would be good, which thread and wadding, etc. I had a great time.

This is the book she recommended:

Starting 1

It’s called Start Quilting with Alex Anderson, and it’s got all the information I need to get started, and eight beginners’ projects. They’re not really my style (especially the bright colourways), but I can see that they carefully teach the basics in a planned way. Rotary cutting is dealt with, and how to piece the quilt so that it lays flat. Both hand and machine quilting are covered (I want to do hand quilting). Each project builds on the skills from the one before. The final project in the book is a sampler quilt, using blocks from all of the previous seven projects. It’s a great book to start out with – 48 pages for £10.95.

There's lots of info on rotary cutting the fabric for your quilt
There’s lots of info on rotary cutting the fabric for your quilt
All the projects are suitable for beginners
All the projects are suitable for beginners
The final project is for a quilt which contains all the blocks taught earlier in the book
The final project is for a quilt which contains all the blocks taught earlier in the book

Now I’m back to surfing the internet for the perfect fabric…..

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Book review – ‘Goldwork: techniques, projects and pure inspiration’ by Hazel Everett

Front cover
Back cover

I recently bought the book ‘Goldwork: techniques, projects and pure inspiration’ by Hazel Everett, as I kept seeing glowing reviews about it everywhere. I don’t usually do ‘pure’ goldwork embroidery myself, but I do enjoy adding gold threads to surface embroidery (such as outlining), so I thought that maybe I’d pick up some tips about how to incorporate more gold threads into my embroidery.

I was really imppressed with this book – the other reviews that I’d seen hadn’t been exaggerating! The book has 144 pages, and is a large format paperback, published by Search Press, who have a good reputation for craft books. There are lovely full colour photos throughout, and clear diagrams where techniques are being explained.

But it’s the detail in this book that make it so special. The double page spread explaining about the different kinds of needles that can be used for goldwork is really informative, for instance.

Types of gold thread are covered in detail, as are what equipment you’ll need, what order of work is best, how to add beads, and so on. Page after page of inspirational images make you want to get started NOW!! Several times throughout the book a simple outline, such as a leaf, is depicted using many different goldwork techniques – both for outlining stitches and filling stitches.

Towards the end of the book are the projects. These vary a lot in style and difficulty, so there should be something for everyone. I loved the Elizabethan needlebook project on page 126, stitched on a gorgeous maroon silk dupion with trellis goldwork, pearl beads and several types of gold thread.

This book would be a very worthwhile addition to your bookshelf.

The book is widely available (e.g. Amazon), Published by Search Press, and costs £17.99  ISBN 978 1 84448 626 7

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Book review: “Elizabethan Needlework Accessories”, by Sheila Marshall

Elizabethan Needlework Accessories by Sheila Marshall

This wonderful little paperback was first published in 1998 in New Zealand by Georgeson Publishing Ltd. It has been out of print for a while, which I felt was a great shame, but it has come back into print in the past couple of years (it’s available from Viking Loom of York, if you feel the need to get your own copy!).

The book gives detailed instructions for how to make seven very creative projects. They include a needlecase, a button box, a thimble holder in the form of a free-standing kingfisher, and my favourite – a petal hussif (the design featured on the cover).

I have made two items from this book so far, and if time was more abundant, I’d probably make everything in this book – that’s quite an unusual thing for me. I’m usually quite picky about what I’ll give my time to. But this book has such lovely projects in it!

The book starts with the practicalities of what kind of frame to use, and how to transfer the designs on to the fabric. Then, the various stitches are explained. Some of these are quite unusual ones, such as extended picot stitch and single brussels stitch. The diagrams are very clear, though, as is the text.

Stitch diagrams

The projects list clearly at the beginning what you will need to buy to complete each one. Thread numbers are given so that you could work each design in DMC rayon or stranded cotton, Anchor stranded cotton, Au Ver a Soie D’Alger or Au Ver a Soie Perlee, depending what you like to stitch with. I like Anchor best, so the items I’ve made from this book have been stitched with that, and they have come out very successfully. Sometimes, Kreinik braid or other finishing highlight threads are suggested, but they are never crucial to the design – in fact, Sheila Marshall says several times throughout the book that you can substitute whatever you have to hand, if you prefer.

The designs are printed at actual size,  so are easy to trace off. I found the assembly instructions particularly well thought through – especially for the petal hussif, which has a complicated construction.

The centre pages of the book show all the projects close up, in colour. I know this is a limitation of book publishing sometimes, but I’d have preferred the colour images to be alongside each project, as I needed to keep flipping through the book from the instructions to the photo as I was making each item, but that’s a small criticism really. Black and white illustrations are given elsewhere in the book, and these, along with the stitch diagrams, are very well drawn and helpful.

Instructions for the Petal Hussif (on the right you can see part of the design to be traced off)

This is a book that I return to a lot – the stitches are useful for other projects when you want an interesting textured stitch, and the photos are very inspiring. The petal hussif from this book is one of the best things I have spent time making – although, be warned, it took me over two months of evenings to complete! It made  a change to make something that was so much BIGGER than the doll’s house scale items that I stitch when I’m designing new kits to sell from my website (the bag might not seem big to you, but I’m used to stitching on 32 count silk gauze, for items that are maybe an inch or two high when finished!)

The Petal Hussif that I made, alongside the book
The Petal Hussif when open, showing the inner pockets and drawstring inner bag

This book is the second title in the Elizabethan Needlework Series published by Georgeson Publishing Ltd (by various authors, not all by Sheila Marshall), and they’re all worth buying.

Title: Elizabethan Needlework Accessories

Author: Shelia Marshall

Publisher: Georgeson Publishing Ltd

ISBN: 0 473 14977 5

Price: around £12.95

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Book review: ‘Monograms – the art of embroidered letters’, by Susan O’Connor

‘Monograms – the art of embroidered letters’, by Susan O’Connor

This book is the epitome of stylish instruction in the art of embroidering monograms. It is sumptuous in all aspects – the gorgeous photos, the eight projects (from beginner to advanced), and the wealth of detail. I’ve seen many books on monograms for embroidery, but this one is the only one I’ve ever been tempted to buy, and I’m really glad I did! The book starts with a chapter on the history and traditional use of monograms, and then moves swiftly on to discussing how to use monograms in contemporary ways. Suitable fabrics, threads and needles are discussed (very important, as, if you use unsuitable threads, particularly, you can end up with a very inferior piece of embroidery, which is disheartening).

My favourite method for padding a shape, as shown in the book

I liked the chapter on the actual stitches and techniques the best. There are so many good ideas here, and each one is illustrated with photos showing every stage. The padding under the satin top-stitch is what makes or breaks a successful monogrammed embroidery, in my opinion, and all the secrets are explained here. I used information from this chapter when I was making a large banner for a Chapel I used to attend – it took me almost a year to embroider, so I needed to know that the technique I would be using would be successful, if I was to invest that amount of time in the project!

The banner I made, which measures about three feet by four, using lettering and crewel embroidery

Fortunately, the lettering came out really well. Each letter took about an hour to complete. I used the method explained on page 34 onwards – I outlined the shape of the letter first in split stitch, then used stem stitch padding to fill the shape within the split stitch outline (using all six strands of Anchor in the needle each time).  After that, I used the ‘perfect satin stitch’  section on page 48 to make…perfect satin stitch!

Perfect satin stitch, achieved with the help of this book!

I really enjoyed making the banner. I’d thought that maybe the crewel flowers would be interesting to stitch, but that the lettering would be the boring bit, but I actually enjoyed doing the lettering too, as it came out so successfully. ‘Monograms – the art of embroidered letters’ covers more than just letters, though. Eyelets, shadow work and applique are all covered by the book, as are various finishing techniques such as pin stitch hems, scalloped hems using blanket stitch, and so on. There’s so much in this book!

The lavender sachet project

Towards the end of the book are the projects, so that you can try out your new skills. From small items such as lavender sachets to a very fine Christening shawl, the projects are all clearly explained. The book is published by Country Bumpkin (the publishers of the beautiful Australian embroidery magazine ‘Inspirations’ that comes out bi-monthly) – and, as with the magazine, this book has several pull-out sheets with all the designs on, for you to trace off using your favourite method. Full alphabets are given in several styles, including a cross-stitch one for the lavender sachet design. All Country Bumpkin publications are wonderfully produced, with an attention to detail that is often missing from other publications. The style shots are enough to make this a lovely ‘coffee table’ book, even if you have no plans to ever make anything using monograms!

The delicate tones of one of the style shot photos

The step-by-step photos in ‘Monograms – the art of embroidered letters’ are mainly done on oatmeal fabric using white thread, so it is easy to see exactly what you need to do to replicate what is being shown. If I have any niggle at all about this book (and it’s only a tiny niggle!), then I’d say that with the style shots of the finished items, as they are mainly white embroidery on white fabric, the detail is sometimes indistinct. This is a shame, as the fineness of the embroidery is lost.  If you just flip through the book quickly, the pale colour of all the photos gives a kind of insipid feel to the book, which can have a negative effect on the reader, unfortunately. But try to get past that, and slow down to look at the information packed in these 134 pages. Susan O’Connor has written a wonderful book that should be available more widely. The book was only published in 2007, but I think it’s already out of print, so if you come across a copy second-hand, grab it while you can. This one is a treasure. Details: ‘Monograms – the art of embroidered letters’, by Susan O’Connor Published 2007 by Inspirations Books (Country Bumpkin Publications) ISBN 0 9775476 0 4

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