Sew Hip magazine – Issue 29 – June 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.

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