A quilt top in a week

I have had such a fun week. On Monday we had a class at my patchwork group to make a spools quilt. We were led by the lovely Noell Stawarz who always seems to iron out all my little problems so that points meet where they should – well almost!

The idea was that everyone brought along a few pieces of fabric for a swap. We all cut 1 inch strips from the full width of our fabric and then shared our strips so that everyone had a pile of approximately 30 different strips. We pieced the strips in groups of eight and then from these cut 3.5″ x 4.5″ blocks to be the centre of the spool.

A completed spool block.

A completed spool block.

I was completely hooked. It was really fun to see groups of colours coming together and then to see the completed blocks evolve depending on the colours I chose for the top and bottom of the spool.

It must have been fun because I have sat up late working at my sewing machine for two nights in a row. And here is the completed quilt top…in only five days 🙂

A completed quilt top - in less than a week!

A completed quilt top – in less than a week!

The fabric for the L-shaped border comes from a beautiful piece I have had in my stash for a while. I have a weakness for sewing themed fabrics and the old-fashioned style of this piece seemed to suit my spools perfectly.

In fact, all the fabrics for this quilt are from my stash – I haven’t bought a single piece. My halo will choke me!


More on Afghan embroidery

Last week I was very excited about this exquisite Afghan textile that I had been able to borrow from my friend, Greg. I am happy to report that I now know a bit more about this beautiful piece of embroidery. A friend from my embroidery group kindly did some research and came upon this reference in Sheila Paine’s book, “The Afghan Amulet”.

‘Why do you want to go to Kandahar? There’s nothing there.’
‘For the embroidery. Those wonderful whitework shirts women used to make for their bridegroom. And their shawls.’

This seems to confirm that Greg’s tunic is indeed one of these splendid whitework tunics.

Further digging on the internet revealed Kandahar Treasure. From their website…

Kandahar Treasure employs women artisans from the Kandahar area in order to develop an economic base for the province and support the advancement of women throughout Afghanistan. We offer home décor items, such as pillows and tablecloths, as well as clothing and accessories embellished with a uniquely Afghan style of embroidery. This style is called Khamak (pronounced kha-mahk) and is one of the oldest and purest forms of embroidery art in the world.

This motif, worked here in gold on red, is almost identical to the motif covering a large part of Greg’s whitework tunic.

Detailed view of floral motifs covering the central area of the whitework panel.

Detailed view of floral motifs covering the central area of the whitework panel.

So, I am confident now that we know for sure that the whitework tunic is from Afghanistan. The sad part of the story is that refugees living in Pakistan needed to sell this family heirloom in order to make ends meet. But I am glad to know that their embroidery tradition is being continued. I still think Greg’s whitework tunic is one of the most exquisite pieces of stitching I am ever likely to see.


Playing with stitches

Don’t you love the fun of playing with stitches? I think my favourite thing about canvaswork embroidery is that it is so easy to play – a piece of canvas, some colourful threads, a handful of stitches and some simple geometry. Numerous designs just unfold beneath your fingers!

For the last week I have been working on a new design to teach at the Embroiderer’s Guild of WA later this year. I wanted a small, colourful piece of embroidery that could easily be made up when completed. I came up with this simple wallet to hold my business cards.

My new business card wallet

My new business card wallet.

The design is based on one of my favourite Threadworx colours – Hawaiian Flowers (No. 01068). I often work this way – choose a variegated thread and match it with a few solid colours for a perfect colour scheme. Here I have simply added the darker purple for contrast and cream for a background note.

The wallet laid flat to show the fully stitched design.

The wallet laid flat to show the fully stitched design.

Making up couldn’t be easier. A piece of cream pure wool felt lines the embroidery and creates a pocket all in one step. And then I simply added a snap fastener.

Inside the wallet.

Inside the wallet.

The really fun part of playing is all the spin-offs that come from developing one design. Here I have started work on a variation in a different colourway and size.

A variation in progress.

A variation in progress.

I will use a similar range of stitches and still maintain the braided heart as the focus, but this piece will be slightly different. And that is the beauty of playing with canvaswork – endless variation with such simple building blocks – I love it 🙂



Exquisite Afghan textile

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a beautiful Akha quilt that my friend Greg had bought on a recent trip to Burma and Thailand. Last week he lent me another beautiful textile to drool over.

White tunic with embroidered panel.

White tunic with embroidered panel.

This white tunic has the most exquisite panel of embroidery I think I have ever seen. It measures approximately 12″ x 18″ (30cm x 45cm) and is covered in fine, detailed, geometric stitching in silk thread.

Closer view of the embroidered panel.

Closer view of the embroidered panel.

Greg bought this tunic in Quetta, Pakistan and believes that it is the work of Afghan refugees. He wanted to know if I thought it really was hand embroidered. At first glance, you might think that it would be machined with so much detailed work over a large area. But I am convinced that it is completely hand embroidered.

Detailed view of floral motifs covering the central area of the panel. Each motif here measures just 1.5cm x 1.5cm.

Detailed view of floral motifs covering the central area of the panel. Each motif here measures just 1.5cm x 1.5cm.

In the foreground of the above photo, you can see that each tiny stitch is carefully worked between a warp and weft thread. It would be impossible for a machine to pierce the fabric with such fine precision, so this must be worked by hand. It is truly extraordinary – I am in awe and inspired all at the same time 🙂

More detail...

More detail…

...and more...

…and more…

...and more.

…and more.

I have done a little research on the internet and discovered this link about Afghan textiles at Eternal Threads.

This exquisite embroidery is solid minute stitching with silk thread. Girls learn to do this when they are very young because they must make the front of a tunic shirt solid with this embroidery for their future husbands.”

Whilst I can’t be sure that this tunic falls into the above category, it is certainly something very special that took many, many hours to work. It has clearly been worn as there is some wear around the collar and yet the embroidery is still almost perfect. Truly something to wonderful to behold – and another lovely piece of geometric embroidery to inspire me! Many thanks Greg.


Another piece of finishing

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about cleaning out my sewing room and then about the Year of Finishing I undertook some years ago. These two circumstances conspired to bring about another piece of finishing I thought I would share with you today.

Whilst cleaning and sorting out after Christmas I came across this little piece of cross-stitch that I worked (I am ashamed to say :)) over fifteen years ago.

Four patchwork designs worked in cross-stitch.

Four patchwork designs worked in cross-stitch.

It is a dear little piece of simple patchwork designs worked up into a series of pretty cross-stitch squares. Sadly, I no longer have the pattern so I can’t tell you the designer or where I bought it from. Suffice to say that I remember thoroughly enjoying working it, but that it was then carefully filed in my box of “finished embroidery waiting to be turned into something”.

Detailed view of one of the designs.

Detailed view of one of the designs.

I happened to mention this piece to my Mum on the phone the other day and she remembered it. “Why don’t you turn them into a series of pincushions and donate them to the Embroiderer’s Guild gift shop?”, she said. This struck me as such a good idea that I have gone ahead and finished them all today. They are very “country” which is not my usual style, but I am really happy with them – especially the cute little buttons to finish them off.

Four completed pincushions.

Four completed pincushions.

I plan to donate one to my Patchwork Group for a forthcoming fundraising event; two to the Embroiderer’s Guild Gift Shop; and I will keep one for myself, just to remind myself about another piece of finishing. My halo will choke me!

My favourite of the four pincushions - which I will keep for myself :)

My favourite of the four pincushions – which I will keep for myself 🙂



Do you consider yourself to be creative? I used not to, but over the last few years I have become much more comfortable with believing myself to be creative. And I am really interested in the ever increasing research into what makes us creative.

I have been sewing for as long as I can remember. But I always worked off someone else’s pattern, so in my mind I wasn’t being creative – I was just copying the outcome of someone else’s artistic talent. This didn’t require me to be creative – I just needed to be good at following instructions. Also, my professional training is in maths and science. This professional training only added to my own assessment that I wasn’t creative – I was a scientist. (Of course, with wisdom and experience I would now argue that a good scientist needs to be creative too :))

Then in 2007 I enrolled in the Canvaswork Masterclass at the Victorian Embroiderer’s Guild. Every month we would meet for a few hours at Guild House and learn something new about canvaswork, as well as being given a design brief for the sample we needed to work on over the next four weeks. Every sample piece had to be our design – an original piece of work. Initially this was an incredibly daunting prospect. For someone who had worked off patterns for over thirty years, I was suddenly faced with producing a whole body of work which was all to be “created” by me. To make it worse, I felt like I was surrounded by people who already had a flair for embroidery design. They seemed to produce wonderful pieces effortlessly – my work felt clunky and awkward by comparison.

And then in one session, we learned to use Tyvek. If you haven’t heard of it, Tyvek is a synthetic, non-woven material that is very strong – almost impossible to tear but easy to cut with scissors or a knife. It has a wide range of industrial uses, but from an artistic point of view it has one fascinating property – when you apply heat it melts in predictable but irregular ways, creating fabulously interesting shapes. A small amount of heat, from an iron for example, causes the material to shrink and “bobble” – more heat and it starts to melt through the material completely. Tyvek can be coloured in just about any way you can think of – paints, coloured pencils, dyes, inkjet printers etc. So it is a creative material with almost limitless possibilities. Click here for a good introductory video.

During our class we produced a range of Tyvek samples. Here are some of mine mounted in my portfolio. The orange sample at top left has been ironed until it starts to deform heavily, whereas the red, blue and white samples have only been lightly heated.

Assorted Tyvek samples treated with paint, colouring pencils and inkjet printer designs.

Assorted Tyvek samples treated with paint, colouring pencils and inkjet printer designs.

Our challenge then was to include a piece of Tyvek in a “modern” interpretation of canvaswork. I created this journal cover, using Jill Carter’s book, “New Canvaswork”, as inspiration.

My journal

A5 journal cover worked in modern canvaswork with Tyvek embellishment.

I think this was the first piece where I really started to feel like I was creative. It wasn’t easy, and at the time I remember ranting about how I “didn’t do modern” – I was a “traditionalist”. But this piece worked its way into my heart and became one of my favourites. And from then on I was hooked on creativity – the fun of coming up with an idea; the hours of work that going into realising the idea; and the satisfaction of finishing and knowing “I created that”.

Creativity like that is addictive – and it gets easier with practice. Somehow your mind and body become more and more comfortable with the creative process and so you don’t fear it anymore. And coming from a scientist who spent decades believing she wasn’t creative, that is a pretty cool thing!


My “Grab and Go” project

Over on Mary Corbet’s Needle’n’Thread blog, Mary has been talking about “Grab and Go” projects this week – the projects you can pick up and take with you so that you always have some sewing to hand when a few spare minutes come your way.

My favourite “Grab and Go” at the moment is a paper piecing project I have been working on for quite a while. It was inspired by a friend from my patchwork group, who makes beautiful quilts in strips using the English paper piecing method. After drooling over her work for several months I decided to dive in and give it a go. I loved the idea of having a long term project that I could pick up and work on whenever I wanted – and I am making it for me so there is no deadline. This is relaxing sewing at its best!

The completed strips so far....

A work in progress…..

I had done EPP before I started this project, but had never attempted something on a larger scale. The idea of this quilt is that you work each part of the quilt as a strip, join them all together, then finish with a series of borders. And there is no pattern – just choose a lovely collection of fabrics and start stitching. It just so happened (of course :)) that I had a lovely collection of fabrics in my stash that were perfect for this project – some old-fashioned florals, a few Japanese style florals, some small prints and a few solids thrown in for variety.

I started with rectangles and squares as my first strips. Each rectangle is 2″x4″ and each square is 2″x2″. Each strip is 22 pieces wide – 22×2″=44″.

Paper pieced rectangles, each 4" x 2".

Paper pieced rectangles, each 4″ x 2″.

Paper pieced squares, each 2" x 2".

Paper pieced squares, each 2″ x 2″.

Then I moved onto hexagons and pentagons. The pentagons will be appliquéd onto a cream background to create another strip.

Paper pieced hexagons - I just love all these colours together.

Paper pieced hexagons – I just love all these colours together.

Pretty pentagon flowers - these will be appliqued onto the background fabric.

Pretty pentagon flowers – these will be appliqued onto the background fabric.

I also plan to do some stitchery on the same cream ground fabric and intersperse these strips amongst the pieced strips. And after purchasing “Quilting On The Go!” by Jessica Alexandrakis recently (you can find Jessica’s fabulous blog here), I am inspired to add some diamonds and triangles in future strips.

This project is perfect for “Grab and Go”. I keep a little zip-lock bag in my handbag with just enough supplies to work on one strip at a time. And a larger box at home keeps the whole project in one place.

Everything I need to work on one paper p

Everything I need to work on one paper pieced strip – and it all fits neatly in a zip lock bag.

This project is growing organically – which I love. I don’t quite know how it will look when I am finished, but I will love it anyway because it has brought me so much pleasure in the making of it!


A Year of Finishing

Some years ago we were living in Melbourne and I was a member of the Embroiderer’s Guild of Victoria. The monthly magazine, Threadlines, had an article entitled “A Year of Finishing”. The idea was that if you were feeling overwhelmed by the number of UFOs in your cupboard that you make a commitment to a full year of finishing projects. And you weren’t allowed to start any new projects!

At the time my children were still very young and I often felt like I couldn’t sew as much as I liked – and I had a cupboardful of unfinished projects! So the article really struck a chord with me and I decided to do it.

In fact, I had never been a good finisher. One year in high school (early eighties) I made cross-stitch bookmarks as a Christmas gift for all my teachers. My Art teacher immediately pointed out that my crosses were not all going the same way and somehow in my head this translated into a fear of not finishing things “properly”. So I had a cupboardful of cross-stitch projects with large swathes of crosses all completed (with all the crosses in the same direction) but no half-crosses, no back-stitch outlines, and no isolated single crosses – in case I somehow didn’t do it “right”.

A completed cross-stitch from the "Country Companions" series by DMC.

A completed cross-stitch from the “Country Companions” series by DMC.

Another completed cross-stitch from the "Country Companions" series by DMC.

Another completed cross-stitch from the “Country Companions” series by DMC.

Detail of stitching in "Catch the Wind" by Butternut Road - one of my all-time favourite designs.

Detail of stitching in “Catch the Wind” by Butternut Road – one of my all-time favourite designs.

My year of finishing was a revelation. It turned out that I could (of course) do all the fiddly finishing bits. The sense of satisfaction in finishing a piece and seeing it framed was wonderful. But having finished all those cross-stitch projects I realised that I wanted to do a lot more than just cross-stitch!

My sewing journey irrevocably changed from that year onwards. Most importantly I found confidence in my own ability. Finishing something meant that I could really say to myself “I can do that”. So now my embroidery life has blossomed into something rich and wonderful, and so fulfilling. All because I spent a year finishing projects instead of starting them…..

What helps motivate you to finish projects? Or have you done something that changed your sewing journey too? I would love to hear your stories.


Too hot to sew….

Australia is suffering through a heatwave. It started here in Perth last weekend when the maximum temperature reached 44C – very hot! A terrible fire in the hills suburbs claimed over 50 homes. The heatwave has moved east now – Victoria and South Australia are experiencing record high temperatures where over 100 bushfires are now burning. My thoughts and best wishes goes to all those people affected.

I am not a big fan of the heat – give me cooler weather any day. Why? Because it is no fun sewing on hot days with sweaty hands 😉 So what do you do on the days when it is just too hot to sew? One of my favourite things is to get myself organised.

I am lucky to have a dedicated sewing room. When we built our house, I did a deal with my husband – he could have a 3-bay garage if I could have a sewing room. And so it happened – my favourite room in the whole house. It has floor to ceiling windows on two sides for plenty of natural light and opens onto a pretty courtyard so that I can work outside (when it is not too hot!). I have plenty of built-in shelves and drawers, bookshelves, and an assortment of tables.

My cool and shady courtyard - perfect spot for a cup of tea and some hand sewing.

My cool and shady courtyard – perfect spot for a cup of tea and some hand sewing.

But after all the chaos of Christmas and New Year my sewing room was suffering….time for a clean out and some reorganisation. Fabrics have been sorted and culled, threads have been tidied and stored on rings, WIPs have been revisited and prioritised and all the surfaces are clear again.

A drawer full of neatly folded fabrics.

A drawer full of neatly folded fabrics.

Lovely threads - easy to see and choose as needed.

Lovely threads – easy to see and choose as needed.

All tidy and ready for action!

All tidy and ready for action!

So now it looks (and feels) so much better – all ready to sew now the weather is cooler again. What do you do when it is too hot to sew?


Akha cross-stitch quilt – a whole year’s worth of inspiration

My Number 1 New Year’s resolution this year was to start writing this blog about my life in stitching. But I wasn’t quite sure where to start… and then with luck, or perhaps serendipity, this exquisitely beautiful textile came my way and I am bubbling with enthusiasm to share it with you all.

Cross-stitch quilt from the Akha tribe, measuring approximaely 1.5m x 2.0m.

Cross-stitch quilt from the Akha tribe, measuring approximaely 1.5m x 2.0m.

My husband and some colleagues have recently started travelling and working in Myanmar. As luck would have it, one of those colleagues is a keen collector of textiles and on a recent trip he purchased this exquisite Akha quilt. He has very kindly lent it to me for a few weeks. There is so much design inspiration in this piece … and of course the sheer pleasure of savouring such a beautiful piece of craftmanship.

I have taken dozens of photos – they simply cannot do justice to the whole quilt. For the record, the quilt measures approximately 1.5m x 2.0m. The cross-stitch is worked over 2×2 threads on a base that is approximately 26-28 count.

These detailed photos show the amazing evenness of the stitching and the wonderfully vibrant colours. I am a keen canvaswork embroiderer – these patterns are going to provide wonderful design inspiration for the whole of 2014. Look out for them reappearing later in the year!

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