Posy Pinwheel Quilt

I only really paid attention to this tree for the first time today, and I can't believe I haven't noticed it before. I loved it so much that when I came home to look through my photos after our little shoot this afternoon, I didn't have any close-ups of this quilt. I just kept wanting to fit more of the tree in. Isn't she beautiful?

In fact even as I sit here to write, I'm drawn to say more about our incredible country side. Perhaps because after a week of being inside with a house full of colds, it was just so good to be out in the sun and the warm Autumn air. So good. To frame a finished quilt and a beautiful old tree in a photograph, to focus in, to make the parts align, to remember again I have so much to be thankful for... this did more for my poor old head than Panadol and Vicks have all week.  

My Posy Pinwheels had been sitting, quilted and waiting for a big tidy up on my cutting table so I could trim the wadding and back, and bind it. Set aside first for my Flock of Stars quilt, and then for two more quilts for Free Spirit's Quilt Market Booth, I was finally this week able to give her (and my messy studio) my attention again.

I English Paper Pieced this quilt from 1" jewels and 1" hexagons. I love these sized shapes because they easily fit along a 2.5" strip of fabric. So I went through my Loominous scraps from my Fair Isla quilt, cutting off a strip of each print and basting them into petals. I think it would also make a nice quilt to use up a jelly roll.

EPP is very close up, very intimate, very, very slow. So it was a completely different experience, a little like seeing the world from a plane, or up a tree, or like going outside when you've spent the week in, to take photos today and feel the movement I was hoping for. And I was kind of thinking it would feel like a birthday party or country fair, but today with all that long grass and prickles and darting insects, it felt a whole lot more like an ecosystem. It felt like fresh air and wildflowers and swooping birds. 

They say laughter is the best medicine. But I would have to argue for colour.

Watermelon Summer + Skipping Stones


I had such happy mail today! My special, curated, summery little bundle of Aurifil Thread for Ms Midge, purveyor of very fine thread...


...and this beautifully brooding new collection by Anna Maria Horner, called Skipping Stones for Free Spirit. And did you notice those Filigree reprints? Swoon!

I chose these threads for watermelon and Splice icy poles. And today was the perfect day for them to arrive, the kind of warm, summer day where you enjoy stepping outside, enjoy the windows wide open, even enjoy hanging out the washing! Not too hot, and just the right amount of breeze. These are the colours of swimming pools and swimming costumes and bright beach towels. If you've already signed up for Ms. Midge's monthly Aurifil club, you'll be getting these in your happy mail box too! Otherwise, they'll be available for purchase in her shop next month.

The stormy cottons are for a new project for Free Spirit. I can't share much yet, but I couldn't help taking photos of these for you. Lovely, rich, neutral reprints of some of my favourite florals. They are far from your usual, stark, geometric low-volumes. They remind me of lace, and those silhouette brooches my grandmother wore. Warm and friendly.

Free Spirit Quilt Top


This is how high I got up the ladder before my fear of heights set in!

I've spent the last two weeks working as hard and fast as I can to get this quilt top done in a timely manner for Free Spirit. All that's left is to applique a big white logo across the top and quilt it, and then ship it off to Charlotte, to Free Spirit HQ, so that they can take it to Quilt Con West next month!


So I thought today you might be interested in hearing a little about my work with Free Spirit?

In about September last year, I was approached by Free Spirit's marketing department in an email saying that Anna Maria Horner had recommended me as someone who might be interested in mapping some virtual quilts for her upcoming lines. The email was such a surprise, as I'm sure you can imagine, that I had to read it three times to see if I'd understood it correctly. And I didn't understand it. What was mapping? And what were virtual quilts? Anna Maria Horner knew who I was? And if I wrote back with these questions, was I giving myself away that I was completely in the dark, and therefore, possibly the wrong person for the job?

I took the plunge, politely, but excitedly replying that I was very interested, if they could just let me know exactly what I was interested in.
It turns out 'mapping' is designing, using the pictures of the fabric designs. I would design a quilt (actually, three or four quilts) on my computer with the images of the fabric line and submit them for consideration. They would get back to me with their favourite, and I would write a pattern for them.


I really enjoy the work. And if I may say so, I think I'm good at it. Though, that's not to say I haven't had to learn a lot. It's a very different process writing a pattern for a quilt before you've made it. My usual quilting process involves a lot of trial and error at the best and quickest way to put together blocks or quilt tops. I can't go through that process here. Often I tend towards scrappy quilts that play with value, rather than two-colour blocks, which makes cutting instructions really tricky. And I don't think I have ever, ever, sat down and thought about how much of each print I need and what exactly I need to cut before diving into a quilt. I usually just start cutting until I feel like I have enough, which is usually only about half of what I need. I sew it together and then start cutting again. And I guess, most importantly, while I'm making the quilt, I often make changes, because of how I feel about it now that I'm working with it, or because I've built on my original plan.

But quilt design on a computer is a completely different animal, and it's one I've learned to really love. I've had to learn that even in a scrappy quilt, I should use a similar amount of cuts per print, making the pattern much easier to read, and to write. I've learned, as I come up with new blocks or layouts, to ask myself "Could I actually describe that to someone? How?" and, "Do I even know how I would put that together?" It's easy to get creative with lines on a computer. It's a whole other thing to sew fabric together in the same way. The whole process has felt like learning a new science, or a new language. It's like the grammar here is different to the way I'm used to speaking, but I can find other ways to get my message across.

I've been amazed to see old designs I discarded on a previous job, suddenly come to life with a completely different line of fabrics. It's helped hone a sense of what brings different fabrics out, what do different styles need to look beautiful.

The lovely folks at Free Spirit have been so kind and open to me learning these things, happy to answer my questions, and I am very grateful for the opportunity. I've worked with lines that are exactly my taste, and I have more ideas than I can use. And I've worked with lines that are so different to what's in my stash, but the challenge of making something I'm really happy with has been so satisfying. I wish I could show them all here now! But I'll wait until the quilts have been shown at Quilt Market.


And then, about six weeks ago, I was asked to design this quilt, a special request for the Free Spirit Booth at Quilt Con West in Pasadena next month. Actually, again, I designed three quilts. I mapped the cityscape at the top of the post, the medallion quilt above, and the one I'm making. My brief included using a colour gradient, from purple to aqua, and the Free Spirit Logo in white. I really, really love the other two quilts, but I'm so glad they chose this one. It does make me feel like a Free Spirit. And it's also the simplest design, a good thing for me because I'm making it on the other side of the world.

Still, it's taken about twice as long as I anticipated to sew it up. I've always been terrible at guessing such things, and my optimism got the better of me here too.  I've been so fortunate that Tim is at home these days, able to look after the kids and the food and our other needs. Working from home is a challenge! But it still feels like a gift that I can tell my kids, who have walked right past Tim in the kitchen to come ask me for a sandwich, that that's Daddy's job this week. Oh, and to have my very own coffee connoisseur in the next room!


And my very own Quilt Critic. Here he is telling me what I didn't quite achieve in the design. We've been married ten years next month, and I'm glad I've learned to appreciate his feedback, and then still hold it up confidently against my own! And I love this quilt. I really love it. I can't wait to start the next challenge of appliqueing the logo. I can't wait to use some very new, yet to be released, wideback cotton for the backing! And I can't wait to see it hanging in the Free Spirit booth at QuiltCon.

Will you be there? Will you take a photo for me?

The Orphanage Quilt


If old WIPs make a satisfying finish, imagine all the good feelings brought on by finishing six at once! This quilt has been on my mind for along time, back when I asked my Do Good Stitches bee back in February to send me some scrappy improvised blocks. And then as they arrived, I added them to my orphan block pile, wondering when I was finally going to take the plunge and sew this thing together. To say it made me nervous was an understatement. This is not usually how I quilt. It's not a pile of squares sitting next to the machine and sewn together at random and it's not carefully laid out blocks that need concentration and working out. It sits somewhere in the middle, not in a happy medium kind of way, but in a road-less-travelled, throw-the-rule-book kind of way.


My orphan block box is a scraggly mix of leftovers from finished projects and abandoned quilts that started with a bright future but quickly resulted in disillusionment. It is a place of discomfort and guilt, bereft of inspiration.What else do you do with leftover blocks? It's times like this I realise that in my quilting life, more than anywhere else, I am a hoarder.

And it's a good thing I am, don't you think? I used only about half of my leftovers, but with the ones that made their way back to the box, I now feel a sense of peace and purpose. One day I'll do this again. Maybe it can be a yearly ritual. Like a jubilee. Setting those old expectations and dreams and "I don't know what to do with this so you can go here" into a quilt to start afresh with new projects and a little less guilt.


As I was showing my progress on Instagram, a few folks asked me to explain my progress, so I took lots of photos to give you an idea here. Like I said, there's no rules in improvisation. I went mostly by feel.

There's no way I could have achieved this without my design wall. I laid out the blocks, keeping in mind that I want to sew them together without going around corners. So I made them into bigger blocks of 2-4 pieces. Coincidentally, most of these were divisible by 3. That means they were 3", 6", 9", 12", etc, so a little mindful arranging made them fit together easily. When they didn't, I had strips and strips of leftover half-rectangle triangles from my Tent City quilt that I added to anything that was too small, and then trimmed back down if I needed to without worrying about keeping my points intact.

I sewed those bigger blocks into 3 large slabs and was almost going to sew those together when I realised I was out of wadding. This actually felt a lot like providence because I did have long, wide strips of wadding, leftover from other quilts mostly the perfect size for my slabs. The one that was too narrow, I sewed to another and pressed the seams open so it would fit.


I used a Quilt-as-you-go method I first came across on Maureen's blog, which I had only ever used with smaller blocks. I spray basted the quilt top slab to one side of the wadding and then quilted lightly over the two layers. Then I trimmed all the way around the excess wadding. And then I did the same with the other two slabs.



I trimmed the whole quilt a little again, just where there was uneven edges. Then using a 1/4" and my walking foot, I sewed the quilted slabs right sides together. I lay out my backing fabric and taped it to the floor so it would stay taut, sprayed and laid out the quilted top.


I then went back to my machine and first quilted either side of the thick seams to hold them down. Then I used a straight, meandering stitch, basically zig-zagging my way around the quilt. I wanted to try something different and more improvised than straight line quilting, but now that I'm done, I wish I'd stuck with my favourite! I used a mix of hand-quilting, thick variegated Aurifil thread, and my go-to white. It was a fun experiment, trying to keep with the improv theme, but I think simple, horizontal lines would have held it together more.


Undoubtedly, the very best part of quilt-as-you-go is when you suddenly remember that you can use you backing as your binding! I simply trimmed around the backing 1" from the quilt top edge. I then folded it in half towards the quilt, then over the edge of the quilt again, and top stitched. When I came to a corner, I folded the overhanging pieces to the left to make a little triangle. The I folded the same method, folding the fabric in half and then over again to make a neat mitered corner.


I'm not sure if I would usually use a binding this dark, I generally pick out a colour somewhere in the middle, but I love how this all hangs together. In a quilt with a lot more low volume than I usually try in scrappy quilts, I think it makes the darker tones shout out happily.


There is much joy in this quilt, in the trying something new, using something old, freeing myself of quilts hanging over my head, some for years. Some were hard to let go, like my Penny Sampler. I would love to make that quilt again someday! But for now, the colours stumped me, I was never sure about them. Other blocks were a relief to use, like the Ohio Stars and the leaves. The leaves were generously made for me by an old bee and the colours just didn't go together like I hoped. Oh, it's good to see how much I've learned about colour over the last five years! I also love the contrast and interest the lovely flowers add, but I was sad when they arrived late, lost in transit for weeks before getting here. I'm glad they finally have a home!


All in all, this quilt was made by about 20 people from about 15 old quilts! Because half were for do. Good Stitches, it'll be heading to a charity next. A quilt of previously hope-less blocks for someone struggling for hope. Gosh I love long-coming finishes! I love new starts, renewed confidence, and stories with happy endings.

Fair Isla Quilt


I'm sure Winter was warmer making this quilt.


I drew a sketch of a Fair Isle design in my grid book last year and then put it aside. It was a simple design, in just orange and white (the orange marker probably the only one that worked at the time!), and I wanted to mull over it for a bit, think about how to bring colour to it, how to use print, or whether to stick with solids. When I saw a reveal of Anna Maria Horner's Loominous, and it's almost solid, woven lines, I knew immediately it was the perfect fit to help me create that knitted fair isle sock look. I would have movement without the distraction of prints. I would have texture rather than flat cotton. For the first time since I started quilting, I emailed people, asking if they'd consider sending me a bundle to make the quilt, and I was so honoured when Free Spirit agreed!


I decided to make the most of my new EQ7 purchase, and transfer the design to my laptop. I enjoyed this process, but I often wondered if it was taking much longer. I took less risks than I was used to. I didn't dive in. I made sure it worked on the screen first. I kept swapping rows around. I doubted for a long time if I was going to pull it off, and I put it aside to start on Nana McIntyre for a while, so I didn't rush through to finish and regret it. I'm sure it made a difference, knowing that I'd been given the fabric. I made more rows than I needed to, and didn't use all of them. And in the end, I swapped out more for plain rows, because it seemed to make it warmer, and give it breathing room.


I used Essex Linen for the brown row of stars. I intended to use it more, with log cabins and also some applique flowers, but in the end, the log cabins distracted from it, and applique was a whole different head space, and I had enough to finish the quilt.

I loved the variety of making this quilt. It's like a sampler quilt, but I got to spend a little longer with each design. And by far, my favourite part was the hand-quilting. I had only planned sparse quilting, but the more I did, the more I loved, and the more space I wanted to fill with the thick crinkly texture of perle cotton.


I'm so, so thankful I was trusted with these amazing prints. They were such a joy to work with. It's so satisfying when a spark of an idea is met with the perfect execution. And even more rewarding when all that time, and doubt, and making sure, and mulling over pays off with exactly what I hoped for.