Fan Palms

I have just started work on a new series of  small wall hangings inspired by the fan palms in the Borneo rain forest. It’s been a while since I started a completely new project but this is one I have been thinking about doing for a while now and I finally got started after a recent trip to the forest.

fan palms Lambir

Unfortunately our walk was cut short by a big thunderstorm but not before I had taken plenty of fan palm photos, I then took one of these and made a number of crops so I can experiment with different views of the same design. I drew out my patterns in EQ7 because I want to later scale up any of the designs I particularly like.

I started off with making some freezer paper stencils and getting my old Painstiks out to make the background palm fronds.

stencils and paintstiks

I then traced the design of the palm frond onto fusible web and applied that to some hand dyed fabric. Have chosen to use raw edge appliqué for these small quilts because there are a lot of very narrow inside curves, so I layered up the top with batting and backing then stitched round all the edges of the palm fronds using a matching thread. I then used a darker thread to stitch all the ridges in the leaves.

fused shape applied over background stencil

Before doing this the design had looked very flat, but stitching in all the lines brings the design to life and gives it texture.


Finally I used a dark variegated thread to make lines of dense echo quilting in the background which again helps to make the palm frond stand out.

Fan Palm square crop

Fan Palm, the square crop.

Fan Palm fronds over stencilled background.

Fan Palm fronds over stencilled background.

making a tea towel

I received another batch of samples and fabrics of my designs from last week and amongst them were these orchid patterns.

orchid design fabrics

They are all based on watercolour paintings I did a while ago from a beautiful bouquet of orchids I was given. The purple spotted orchid I had printed onto linen/cotton canvas and I loved how vibrantly the colours have come out.

purple spotted orchid fabric

I decided to make this fabric up into tea towels as 1 yard of fabric divides perfectly to make 4 tea towels approximately 17″ x 26″ (43cm x 66cm). For each tea towel I cut off the unprinted selvedges, then folded over 1/4″, pressed with a stream iron and then folded over another 1/4″. I stitched the sides first then top and bottom. including a short length of tape in the top corner for a hanging loop.

hanging loop

The fabric is quite thick so I found it helped to cut off a small mount of fabric across the corners before stitching the top and bottom edges. I used a #14 Topstitch needle, but a #16 might have made the stitching a little easier. My newly made tea towel now hangs in pride of place in my kitchen.

orchid tea towel

First attempts at fabric design

Driftwood cushion

I am between quilting projects at the moment so while waiting for inspiration I have been having a go at designing my own fabrics and was excited to receive the first samples of my work last week from Spoonflower. I was really happy with how they turned out. They were even better than I was expecting because being my first attempt at creating repeat patterns it took quite a lot of trial and error to get the designs as I wanted them but I enjoyed the process and can’t wait to try some more ideas.

fabric samples from Spoonflower

I have used my quilt designs, drawings and photographs for inspiration for the fabrics. The gecko fabric is from one of my appliqué designs, and the flowers from drawings and watercolour sketches of periwinkle flowers that grow in our garden.

Inspiration for my periwinkle designs

The Driftwood fabric started off as a photo that I took of some driftwood on the local beach and then the image was mirrored and then mirrored again so that I could use it for a repeat design. I made this up into a cushion and I think it would look really great with outdoor furniture or very elegant on a plain cream, burgundy or back sofa or arm chair.

Driftwood cushion on chair


Ice Dyeing

This last week I have been experimenting with ice dyeing. It’s not the most obvious thing to be doing in the tropics but a good supply of ice cubes and crushed ice instead of snow works very well.

Ice dyed fabric

Ice dyed fabric

There’s a good tutorial on ice dyeing on the Dharma Trading website and I used this as my guide. Basically the ice covered fabric needs to sit on a rack in a container where the liquid from the melted ice and dye can drain away. I looked around to see what I could use and found that some old flower pots in the garden were ideal and some round, metal kitchen racks were the prefect fit to go inside the pot.

fabric arranged on a rack in the pot.

fabric pre-soaked in soda ash is arranged on a rack in the pot.

The pot is deep enough to allow a good layer of ice to cover all the fabric. I found that a mixture of ice cubes and crushed ice worked very well and didn’t melt too quickly.

the fabric layered in the pot and covered in a mix of ice cubes and crushed ice.

the fabric layered in the pot and covered in a mix of ice cubes and crushed ice.

On top of this I sprinkled the powdered dye. I use Procion MX fabric dyes for all my dyeing, and when applying the dye to the surface of the ice using a small nylon sieve helps give a more even distribution of colour. Using more than one colour gives a more interesting effect, but I found that some colours worked much better than others and you need to make sure to add enough dye powder to give the fabric a good colour.

a mix of blue and golden yellow dyes

a mix of blue and golden yellow dyes

red, fuchsia and gold dyes, looks good enough to eat!

red, fuchsia and gold dyes, looks good enough to eat!

I left these to sit overnight to allow all the ice to melt. Here I used a colander suspended over a pot and this also worked well.

The last traces of ice slowly melting

The last traces of ice slowly melting

I left the fabric to sit overnight until all of the ice had melted. Then comes the fun of seeing how the fabrics have turned out.

The results are unpredictable and beautiful as the dyes blend and mingle almost like watercolours to create delicate and subtle colour variations.

reds, pinks and yellow

reds, pinks and yellow

darks greens and blue

darks greens and blue

To avoid having white or very pale colour in the background you can also use a piece of fabric that has already been dyed. These fabrics will be wonderful for art quilts, appliqué, or even some contemporary patchwork or quilting design and I can’t wait to use them.

Beautiful greens

Beautiful greens

Memory Star – 4 patch block

I don’t often do any traditional patchwork piecing these days but I do still enjoy it when I do. I’m teaching a nine block sampler quilt course at the moment and wanted to refresh my memory and make a new class sample so last weekend I made this Memory Star block.

Memory Star Block



This block has always been one of my favourites and I raided my stash of batiks to make it up in these lovely autumnal colours of burgundy, tan and greens.

The block is a good revision of techniques that we’ve already covered in class already. Half square triangles and flying geese blocks but in smaller sizes so requiring accurate cutting and piecing.

Half square triangles for the corner blocks.

Half square triangles for the corner blocks.

Half square triangles for the corner blocks.

Flying geese blocks for the spokes of the star.

Flying Geese blocks

Careful pressing and accurate stitching make the blocks easy to put together.

Careful pressing and interlocking seams make it easier to piece accurately.

Careful pressing and interlocking seams make it easier to piece accurately.

It’s not a difficult block but it does need some care when putting it all together and making sure all the half square triangles are going the correct way. It’s easy to make mistakes!

It's easy to make a mistake when putting it all together!

It’s easy to make a mistake when putting it all together!

The same block made in a different colour scheme combining some of my hand dyed fabric, batiks and a print.

Memory Star in grey and purple

more hand dyes

A spent a few days last week dyeing fabrics as some of my stock of certain colours was starting to get low. I tend to use more greens in my work than anything else and I always need dark greens for backgrounds and borders and bright, vibrant greens for foliage. These fabrics are often very hard to find in commercial fabrics and sometimes I will dye a piece of fabric several times to get just the colour and texture I want.

some of my recently dyed greens

some of my recently dyed greens

I also like to use dark blue-blacks for backgrounds and borders and these too have a much more interesting depth of colour to them after a couple of dyes. Paler colours are also great for backgrounds.

dark blue and greysLately I’ve been using more reds, oranges and golds which are great for sunset scenes or vibrant tropical flowers, and look striking on a dark background. When I have done the Festival of Quilts in the UK my greens are always the first to get snapped up, but here in Brunei  people seem to love these bright colours. Maybe it’s the tropical climate.

These vibrant oranges and reds are great for sunsets or tropical flowers.

These vibrant oranges and reds are great for sunsets or tropical flowers.

In my last batch of dyeing I also did some paler pinks and purples which are also lovely for flower appliqué. They make me think of delicate wild flowers in the Spring time.

pastel pinks and purples

Flying Home

It has been an awful long time since I updated my blog but one of my new year’s resolutions for 2016 is to try and write more regularly, so here goes with my first post for 2016.

I recently tried out a new technique using up scraps of leftover hand dyed fabrics. They were just thin strips which I would normally have thrown away. I laid them out and fused them onto a piece of backing fabric. As the fabric scraps I had were oranges, golds and reds I created a sunset sky and then as I liked the effect I added dark blues for sea.

narrow fabric strips laid out on background

Like this there were a lot of raw edges exposed so next came the fun part. I got out a selection of various threads: rayon, polyester, cotton, some plain some variegated and of different weights too and free motion stitched across the surface. The stitching helps to blend the colours.

free motion stitching on background using a variety of threads The scene needed something else so I added the silhouette of an egret which I’d photographed on the beach a few weeks ago and created a pattern using #EQ7.

silhouette of egret on stitched background Finally a layer of batting and backing and more free motion stitching and a narrow binding to finish off the project.

Egret flying home across the south China sea

Flying Home

My new Janome

I’ve been back home just over three weeks now and slowly getting back into my normal routine and enjoying my new Janome 8900QCP.

I already have the 6600 and the Horizon 7700 but since the beginning of the year I had been thinking about switching my 7700 for the newer model. I was put off by the price but when I was at the Festival of Quilts they were doing a special deal which made them very attractive. I didn’t actually get a chance to try the machine until literally ten minutes before the show closed as the stand was always busy and I didn’t have the time to be able to wait. With the show closing I had to come to a quick decision, so I went for it. The stress I had with the shipping to Brunei almost made we wish I hadn’t bothered, but once it arrived I was very glad I had.

The machine is very similar to the 7700 but as it says in the blurb they’ve kept the best features and added quite a lot of small improvements  which make quite a difference to the quilter. I love the extra large foot pedal which stays put when you are sewing rather than sliding off across the floor.

They’ve got rid of the convertible foot plate and there are now two separate foot plates. I never had a problem with the convertible plate but was always worried I would forget about it and use it with the wrong stitch. The new foot plates are very easy to switch too, no more screws but a small lever to release, then they just snap back into place.

I do a lot of appliqué so was keen to check out all the available stitches. I think there are a few more than on the previous machine. There is a memory setting which enables you to set your preferred settings for any stitch which is very useful. (I think the 7700 had this feature but I never got round to using it)

Experimenting with a few different threads and stitches

I also tried out some setting for “invisible” machine appliqué.

I will also be doing a lot of free motion quilting on this machine and rather than have to fiddle around with tension I used the blue dot bobbin which I already had for my 6600. This bobbin is designed with a different tension, especially suitable for quilting, and I found it worked perfectly in these samples.

Of course Oscar had to come and try out the machine too!

Forest Giant revisited

It doesn’t seem like like I’ve been back in Brunei a week already. In some ways it feels like I’ve been back longer, and the Festival of Quilts in Birmingham feels like an age away. Having my own stand there for the first time was a great experience, and I really enjoyed meeting and chatting to so many lovely people from all over the world, as well as catching up with a few ‘old’ friends. Thanks to everybody who came by, it was really a pleasure talking to you all. Lots of people wanted patterns so that’s something I’m going to work on for the future.

One of the wall hangings that many people commented on was my “Forest Giant”, a new version of  apiece I first made several years ago. A lot of people were interested to know how I made it so here it is again with some pictures showing the various stages.

I started off with a piece of my hand dyed fabric for the background, then added a few strips of fabric for tree trunks and then the main tree.
When I made this design before I used a single piece of fabric for the base of the forest floor but this time I decided to add various hand dyed strips to give more variety.
Then began the very time consuming process of adding all the leaves. I used lots of different scraps of fabric to give depth to the design. I backed each scrap with fusible webbing, the cut leaf shapes. Each leaf was then added individually. I would do a batch then fuse in place a few at a time …… not a good time to sneeze or have one of the cats walk over my design board!
I continued in this way until the background was covered as much as I wanted it. Then it was time for the final details and free motion stitching to complete the piece. I used a large number of different threads to achieve the look I wanted.

Isle of Wight landscapes

While I was at The Festival of Quilts last year I was impressed by the beautiful landscape quilts by Kathleen Matthews. I bought her book “Stitched Textile Landscapes” but it is only now, six months later that I have had a  go at trying out her techniques, and this is what I came up with, inspired by some photos taken on the Isle of Wight when I was back there a couple of years ago.

This is the place where I was born and grew up so it has many fond memories for me.

My inspiration photo and a selection of my hand dyed fabrics for the background. The pieces were first pinned and then stitched in place, quite a fiddly job with all the small pieces.

The background assembled and stitched in place. It looks quite plain at this stage although already you get the feeling of depth. The fun part comes with the free motion stitching which really brings the design to life.

I used mostly rayon threads for the free motion embroidery, but a few cotton and polyester threads too, depending on what colours I needed for the look I wanted.

I was really pleased with the way this turned out so I decided to try another one based on another Isle of Wight photo. This time the view from Forelands beach where I used to live, looking across to Whitecliff Bay and Culver Down. I used to look out on this every day and have always wanted to make something inspired by this view.

The first stages before the thread embellishment. I didn’t have any hand dyed fabric the right colour for the sea but found a piece of piece of cloth I painted years ago which was just perfect.

The finished piece. I think there might have to be a series of these as I’m really enjoying making them and I have heaps of photos for inspiration and it makes quite a nice change to be doing work inspired by a different location, although this technique would probably work for some of my rain forest designs too.