Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Q & A for Sew Hip

Monday, July 11th, 2011

I’ve been sorting and tidying all weekend – Sew Hip magazine asked me to answer some questions on my work & provide them with pictures of my “Sky Parlour”. Once I had a look at the piles of stuff (all completely orderly, but piles nonetheless), I realised I had a bit of work to do before any of it would look presentable in a photo.

A good thing – to have a clear-out from time to time – I found all sorts of notes and cuttings I’d been squirreling away & meaning to work on.

The questions are answered and the photos taken – all that was missing were the cats, who didn’t put in an appearance while I was spring cleaning (they don’t like the Hoover). This is the more usual arrangement up here:


Rob Ryan bag from Clothkits – & sewing roll

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

I bought a set of mugs designed by Rob Ryan from Clothkits ( as a wedding gift for friends of my daughter. I got the Rob Ryan bag kit, too – as a carrier for the wrapped present & card. The bag was most enjoyable to make up, and I added a couple of changes to make it unique – a different lining: red polka dot – and a tiny pocket made from the Rob Ryan logo on the kit fabric.

The bag kit came wrapped in a delightful ribbon, printed as a tape measure.

It was demanding to be used, so I came up with this sewing roll design. The outer fabric is a Three Leopards wax print from The African Fabric Shop ( – the reverse side is shown here.

I carried the dotted leaf motif through into the design for the felt pin-cushion in the interior. The Clothkits ribbon is used as a wrap-around tie & I couldn’t resist making a few accessories: a needlecase, scissors sheath and another tape measure.

Thank you, Clothkits!

Welcome Chloe Rachel

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

I’ve just made a cot quilt for Chloe Rachel, daughter of Laura, who I’ve known since she was a little scrap of a 5 year-old in Primary school. I’m delighted that mother & babe are doing well & look forward to seeing Chloe grow into a lovely girl just like her mum.

The quilt is made from reproduction 1930s prints, blue chambray and soft calico & was machine quilted on my Little Gracie II frame, in a random leaf and loop design.

Bemz guest blog

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

Bemz – – liked my blog post about the placemat set I made from a free tote bag they sent me & asked for it to be expanded into a step-by-step “how-to” article. Here it is, on their Design It Yourself page:

You can read the full instructions there, or my original blog post here:

Disappearing Arabella in P&Q

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

Delighted to see the article on my Disappearing Arabella folding tote bag has been published in Patchwork & Quilting magazine this month.

This piece was accepted months ago, but put on hold until a suitable gap came up in the P&Q schedule –

The original idea was a take on the ubiquitous creamy calico tote bag, but I also made one up in bright batiks as a contrast. I think this one is much nicer than the original now & have made up kits in other vivid colours (see the Etsy shop page).

The bag pattern has a simple, but effective trick that allows the bag to fold up into a little pouch formed by the pocket. I like working out little details like that.

A Gift of Quilts

Monday, May 16th, 2011

“A Gift of Quilts” is a project to organise making 500 quilts. One will then be presented to each of the participating countries in the 2012 Olympics. This is the “A Gift of Quilts” website, where there is more information and lots of photos:

I’ve just finished putting the hanging sleeve on my quilt “Genome” & am waiting for the printed label to dry (printed on inkjet fabric) so I can sew it on.

The quilt was inspired by the Human Genome Project. I was blown away by the beauty of the images published when the project began to release its findings in 2003, and kept cuttings from newspaper articles at the time. The Science Museum site has an easily-digested overview on the project: – the official site is rather dry.

The lightbulb moment for using the gene-mapping images in a quilt came when I was fondling the West African batik fabrics on Magie Relph’s stall at The Festival of Quilts ( Not only were the colours and textures of the batiks just right, but I felt there was a connection to be made between the Genome Project’s search for our common identity, and Africa being the “cradle of civilisation”.

I took liberties with the colours, and chose to eliminate red, orange and yellow from the palette, because I felt they would fight with the predominantly blue/purple/pink/green fabrics I liked.

Anyway, here is my quilt. The design is edge-to-edge, with no borders, as I wanted to show that this is just a fragment of the gene map. The individual coloured segments of the gene map are called “letters”. My quilt has 182 letters; the full gene map has 3.12 billion.

Once the quilt was in progress, I thought of trying to link as many parts of the world as I could into this one idea, so the backing is English cotton, the batting is from the USA (Hobbs Heirloom 80/20), and the machine piecing was sewn on a Bernina from Switzerland.

Quilting lines follow the shape of the double helix that knits our DNA together, and is hand-quilted in Japanese sashiko stitching. This was very hard, not just because my hand quilting is appalling, but because keeping the big stitches even on both sides of the quilt was difficult – sashiko stitches are supposed to be the size of a grain of rice. I chose a dark thread, as I didn’t want to detract from the colours on the quilt top – a thick white thread is normally used for sashiko. A dark backing would have been kinder.

Now all I have to do is to follow the very specific instructions for sending the quilt:

“When the time comes to send your quilt to us we recommend that quilts should be rolled around a tube. We recommend a cardboard tube, such as the inner used for carpets about 4″ in diameter. The tube must be greater in length than the quilt is in width. Cardboard tubes must first be wrapped in aluminium foil to create a barrier against acid migration and then wrapped, preferably, in acid free tissue. Before rolling, the quilt should be laid face down on top of a sheet and covered completely with tissue. It should then be rolled carefully, but loosely, onto the tube and interleaved with tissue with the top side facing out. The rolled quilt should then be covered with fabric or sheeting and tied, not pinned. Wrap in brown paper, address to and from clearly marked.”

All the quilts from the “A Gift of Quilts” project are going to be displayed at the Stitch & Craft show at Olympia in March 2012. The draw to determine which quilt goes to which country will also take place there –  see for more information.

Roses from the Heart

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

The artist Christina Henri has a unique and personal approach to the history of women transported to Australia: she has set out to gather together 25,266 bonnets – one for each female convict transported between 1788 and 1853 – and to use them as a permanent memorial to these forgotten women who were sent to the other side of the world, permanently separated from their families, often for trivial crimes. Read more about Christina Henri’s work on her website:

Anyone moved by the women’s history can contribute a bonnet to the project. More than 20,000 have been made, but thousands are still needed. A bonnet pattern and instructions on where to send the finished work are also on Christina Henri’s website:

The “Roses from the Heart” blog has photos of some of the bonnets that have been sent in for the project:

I’ve just finished my bonnet – at The Festival of Quilts in Birmingham last summer, where some of the bonnets were displayed, I was given a woman convict’s details to embroider on the bonnet brim. Other decoration and embellishment is left up to you. I felt I wanted to make something pretty for a woman who had to face such unimaginable hardship. Ellen Wellson, tried in Londonderry on 19th July 1827 and transported on the ship “Elizabeth” with 193 others, this is for you:

The Female Convicts Research Group (Tasmania) website: has a jaw-dropping amount of information on the lives of women transported from Britain. Here is just a fraction:

Female convicts ranged in age from children to women in old age—the youngest recorded was 10 years old, and the oldest was 81. The census return for Brickfields Hiring Depot, Hobart in 1843 provides a snapshot of women convicts there at the time: 24 single females aged 14 to under 21 years; 136 single females aged 21 to under 45 years; and 19 single females aged 45 to under 60 years.

Many of the women’s crimes would be considered minor offences by today’s standards, and were overwhelmingly crimes of poverty. The most common by far was stealing—food, clothing, money or household items. A conviction for vagrancy or prostitution might also lead to transportation. Of course, there must have been hardened criminals among the large numbers transported, but most had committed crimes that would barely attract a formal caution today.

The voyage from Britain to Australia took months: the ship “Elizabeth” that took Ellen Wellson to New South Wales, left Cork on 27th August 1827 and didn’t arrive until 12th January 1828, a journey of nearly 20 weeks.

Conditions on board were crowded and filthy. Deaths were common, as sickness spread easily among the malnourished women confined in stinking surroundings. Many ships carried large numbers of babies and children: the “Tasmania” sailing from Dublin on 2nd September 1845, on her second voyage as a female convict ship, carried 138 female convicts and 37 of their children. These little ones, some born on-board ship, were particularly vulnerable to disease.

Physical abuse was not unusual – an anonymous ship’s surgeon recorded his experiences onboard:
“The voyage was one of continued misery from the time the ship left England till she arrived in Sydney… nothing was more common on the caprice of a captain of a ship, or possibly on the complaint of a second or third mate, to lash an unfortunate creature up to the gangway, and flog her most severely, in exactly the same manner that sailors are flogged in the navy… when these wretched women arrived at their destination, and were assigned to the different settlers, there was always one loud cry of horror at their degraded state.”

On arrival in Australia, the women’s fate varied during the years when transportation was at its peak: women might be held for six months in a probation station before being assigned to a settler family as a servant, sent to one of the government nurseries if they were still feeding a baby, or sent to work in one of the Female Factories (to work carding or sorting wool, for example). The Rules & Regulations of the Female Factories make fascinating reading and give an insight into the lives of the convict women:

Pregnant convicts remained with their babies until these were weaned. Initially, weaning occurred at six months, but was later extended to nine months in an attempt to reduce the death rate of infants in the nurseries, which was much higher than in the wider population*. The children, if they survived the terrible conditions, remained in the nurseries until they reached the age of 2 or 3 years old when they were removed to the orphan schools, unless their mother had gained her freedom in the meantime and could prove she could support the child. The majority of children were never reclaimed.

* 1,148 children died in the Hobart nurseries between 1829 and 1856. Dr Rebecca Kippen’s paper on this shocking subject can be downloaded here: “… the convict mothers… were probably the most disempowered and voiceless group in the colony, having no recourse for complaint. Half a world away from family and friends, they had nothing to negotiate with and were powerless to prevent the deaths of their children.”

Making a bonnet seems like a very small gesture of solidarity, but I’m glad I reached down the years and remembered Ellen Wellson. God bless her.

Hanna – film review

Friday, May 6th, 2011

IMDB has this to say about Hanna : “A 16-year-old who was raised by her father to be the perfect assassin is dispatched on a mission across Europe, tracked by a ruthless intelligence agent and her operatives.” (

On the strength of this, I was resigned to seeing a run-of-the-mill chasing & shooting film, but Hanna is a quality item. Directed by Joe Wright (Atonement and Pride & Prejudice), there is a dream-like quality to the film, always balancing on the edge between reality and fable.

Seth Lochhead, the writer – in his first full-length feature – has constructed a story shot through with – above all – fairy tale references. Alongside this, there are many other recurring themes, notably those of music, which (on top of a stonking soundtrack from The Chemical Brothers) is re-visited over and over in the plot; and the parent/child relationship.

This makes Hanna sound dry and cerebral – it’s anything but, and it leaps off the screen from the first moment to the last, thanks also to the sumptuous and inventive cinematography of Alwin Kuchler, who knows how to fill a screen with complex images that stay in the mind long after the film is over.

Hanna’s star is Saoirse Ronan (13-year old Briony in Atonement), an inspired piece of casting, as her other-worldly, pale and willowy gravity is in shock contrast to her character’s extreme actions. The camera lingers on close-ups of Hanna’s still child-like face in the same way as it did on Chloe Moretz’s rosebud mouth in Kick Ass.

Saoirse Ronan carries what is, after all, a highly improbable plot – and she does it with total conviction. You really believe in Hanna and the predicament she is in – at least for the duration of the film.

I haven’t mentioned Eric Bana as Hanna’s obsessive father, or Cate Blanchett and Tom Hollander, who both turn in performances delivered with real menace.

Go and see Hanna and be surprised by a creative and stylish action film that breaks the stereotype.

Sew Hip magazine – Issue 29 – June 2011

Saturday, April 30th, 2011


I was asked to design a patchwork block with a leaf design for a mystery project in Sew Hip, using Oakshott fabrics ( Not a chore, as Oakshott sell wonderfully fine handwoven shot cottons ethically sourced from weavers’ cooperatives in India. The silky feel of the cotton makes it a pleasure to use.

To find a design source, I looked back through my cuttings files and remembered finding the photographs of Olive Cotton (1911-2003) online. Olive Cotton was an Australian photographer who only gained the recognition she deserved towards the end of her life. Her shadowy, sombre-toned nature studies had a memorable stillness and poise.

A bit of Googling brought up this wonderfully warm and lively portrait, and many images of her most famous study: “Teacup Ballet”, which is crying out to be interpreted as a quilt in its own right.

Among the images, I found an elegant study of a skeleton leaf appearing to float in mid-air, blown by the wind (silver gelatin print c.1964), and knew it was just what I was looking for.

I saved the file as a JPEG and had a closer look at the detail. I had been planning an applique leaf, with clear or pearly sequins and beads to represent dew or wintry frost. Looking at the lacy structure, though, I remembered what might be achieved with machine embroidery on soluble fabric, and gathered some likely metallic threads together to see how they looked against the Oakshott fabric.

Metallic threads can be tricky to use in a sewing machine, and the thread tension may need to be adjusted, so with a square of Aquasol (soluble fabric) mounted in an embroidery hoop, the darning foot fitted to my machine, and the feed dogs lowered, I made a trial piece. This also showed how the colours would look against the fabric – some of the metallics were just too gaudy for the sombre tones of the Oakshott cotton. The trial piece wasn’t wasted – it made a great greetings card.

Next, I traced the shape of the skeleton leaf onto more Aquasol and embroidered the principal lines, then all the connecting veins, going over some several times to make the detail as realistic as I could.

Holding the embroidery up to the light is the best way to see if the effect is right – and also to identify any gaps, as the stitching will fall apart if all the lines don’t join up somewhere.

The finished embroidery was soaked to remove the Aquasol, dried on kitchen paper and pressed between pieces of clean calico. It was then sewn, with invisible thread, to a patchwork square of Oakshott fabrics (in a simple Rail Fence pattern).

More details are in Sew Hip Issue 29 – out now!

There are two additional leaf designs, by other contributors, in this month’s issue, and more to come in the next two magazines. All the leaf blocks will be assembled into a quilt to be auctioned for charity.

Finally: thank you, Inky for keeping me under such close supervision throughout this project.

Bemz tote bag to table mat set

Saturday, April 30th, 2011

If you haven’t come across Bemz, then do have a look at it’s a brilliant website where you can buy tailored loose covers for Ikea furniture. The covers are available for most Ikea sofas & chairs & come in a huge range of colours, prints & fabrics (my favourite is the soft chenille). Bemz will send you up to 5 samples of the fabrics so you can choose the right one.

Anyway… I filled in an online questionnaire Bemz was running & was sent a tote bag made from one of their prints: “Josephine” by the Swedish designer Gota Tragardh (1904-1984), one of the founders of the Beckmans design school in 1939 & known for her “pencil line look”.

I make my own bags, so I used this beautiful fabric to make a place mat & coaster set for two: I used a dinner plate and a CD as perfect circle templates, bonded the fabric onto grey felt (using Bondaweb), and made bias binding from a fat quarter of red cotton from my stash. The binding was sewn by machine from the front & by hand onto the back.

There were some small pieces left over, so I also made napkin rings in the same way.

Thank you, Bemz!