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.

If at first you don’t succeed ……

Sometimes when you’re dyeing fabric the colours don’t always come out quite as you expect or as you want them to. The good thing is that almost always you can dye them again. Earlier in the year I was experimenting trying to get some good, rich chestnut browns but ended up with some very uninspiring dull oranges instead. Last week I decided to try over-dyeing these fabrics using dark brown, black or dark blue and ended up with these lovely autumnal pieces.

Just perfect for autumn leaves.

In my most recent batch of dyeing I was also experimenting with some yellow and blue combinations for foliage effects. For some reason the blue I used was very weak and completely washed out leaving me with a lot of bright yellow fabrics. I over-dyed these with a muted green and some black and got some gorgeous textured prints, which are going to be just perfect for backgrounds.

Jungle Leaves

I recently signed up for a Craftsy class with Gloria Loughman called “Linear Landscape Quilts”. It’s  a really good class and the first sections on choosing colour schemes and fabric painting are almost a class on their own. To make her “linear landscapes” she uses two layers of fabric and a clever raw edge applique technique which reveals slithers of the underneath fabric to create the effect of contours. The landscape she created is very appealing but as I watched the video I realized that this technique could be adapted for things other than landscapes so I decided to try it out on one of my own designs.

My inspiration was this jungle plant which grows in the Sarawak rain forest and has beautiful curved and ribbed leaves.

My first piece is a close up study of these leaves using some of my hand dyed fabrics.

I was happy with the way that this first piece turned out so I decided to try it on a larger design using the complete leaves.

I used a bright green for the base, with a darker green for the main part of the leaf, and made three pieces like this. It’s  time consuming but very effective.

Sunrise over the Belait

I have recently been commissioned to make a small wall hanging for a friend from some photos she’d taken of here early morning runs along beside the Belait River here in Kuala Belait. She’d collected some lovely photos of the sunrise over the river so the challenge was to put these together to create something special.

With the help of Photoshop I combined the above photo of the sunrise over the river with the following one of the palm silhouette.

I decided the best way to do the sky was to paint it using fabric paints and it took me half a dozen attempts before I was happy with the result. The difficulty was to get the subtle light of early morning without it looking too washed out, and not to have the colours too bright so that it looked more like a sunset. This was my final choice.

The next step was to audition fabrics for the greenery along the edge of the river, and the river itself. The greenery is a piece of hand dyed fabric and I will later add more shading and detail with the use of thread painting. The water was another challenge as I wanted to use something I already had rather than dyeing or painting more fabric. I have lots of batiks with the nice stripes which give the impression of water but none were the right colour. I decided to experiment with fabric paints, first on a small scrap, then on the full piece and the results were just as I wanted.

Next step will be to add the palm tree then some thread painting.


West of Ireland

I’m afraid it has been a long time since I last updated my blog; life has been busy and once you get out of the routine of writing it is hard to get going again. I am just back from a trip to the UK and west of Ireland, where I went to the International Quilt Festival in Galway. The festival itself was a bit of a disappointment for one reason and another but I really enjoyed visiting Ireland again after so many years away. I decided to stay in a bed and breakfast just outside Galway rather than a big hotel and so glad I did. Beautiful views from across the road and braving the cold weather, a pleasant walk into the coastal town of Salthill.

One of the highlights of my trip was the Burren where I went as part of a photography workshop. I had been there many years ago back in the days when we only had film cameras. I remember running out of film and of course there being nowhere for miles and miles where you could buy more but I did get some impressive black and white shots and I’ve always wanted to go back there.

The Burren

From a distance, as you approach, it looks like a barren landscape studded with giant boulders (although the boulders are actually a lot smaller than I remember them) where nothing would grow.

 This is a false impression because as soon as you get down amongst the rocks there is an abundance of vegetation, and a wonderful array of wild flowers peeping out from amongst the cracks and crevices: honeysuckle, wild roses, orchids and many others which I couldn’t name.

Honeysuckle growing wild amongst the crevices.

A delicate purple orchid, and there was another white one growing quite close by. I don’t know what varieties they were but it would have been good to have had a book on all the wild flowers.

I’m sure I will be finding inspiration for future quilts from the photos I took, not just the flowers and vegetation but also the intriguing patterns of the rocks themselves, and also the beautiful Irish countryside.




Rain Forest Quilt 2012

After taking a break from sewing over the month of December I started work in January on a new rain forest inspired quilt which I have been commissioned to make. I started by gathering together all my fabrics in various shades of browns and greens which I will use for the foliage, trees and forest floor.

my inspiration photo

I used foundation pieced crazy blocks in several different designs to create the base of the design: the forest floor and the background foliage.

selection of fabrics and inspiration photo for forest floor

making the foundation pieced blocks for forest floor

The finished background still has too many straight lines and abrupt changes of colour, but the next process of the design will be to add small fabric snippets to create more subtle blending especially where the foliage and forest floor meet.

the pieced background which will form the basis for the design



First attempts at dyeing

I have wanted to try dyeing my own fabrics for ages, but have always been put off by the difficulty of obtaining all the necessary bits and pieces here in Brunei where I live. However, I couldn’t put it off any longer when I had to produce a range of dyed fabrics as part of the Creative Quiltmaking course that I am doing online through Linda and Laura Kemshall at Design Matters. I found a company in the States that would ship the dyes and chemicals to Brunei, convinced the ladies in the local post office that the dyes were for fabric and not hair! (30% duty on hair dye for some reason) and then I was all set to go.

The instructions given were for a technique called low water immersion dyeing, which means dyeing the fabrics in a small amount of liquid, using plastic bags or small containers. As well as being economical with the dyes this method produces lovely patterned effects depending on how much you manipulate the fabric in the early stages and how much liquid is added.

The aim of the activity was to produce a range of fabrics inspired by the inspiration items I had collected for the course. Not being sure how well these would turn out and being limited by the amount of fabric I had available I cut a lot of my fabric pieces into fat eighths. Even so I soon ran out of fabric and rather than waste the precious dye I used some local cotton calico fabric which also turned out beautifully.

I was really pleased with the way the fabrics turned out and am so glad that I have finally been prompted to try it as I am sure it is something I am going to do a lot of in the future. I love playing with colour and experimenting with the blends to try and get just what I want.

The exciting part is when having left the fabric overnight in the dye solution, you come to rinse it all the following morning and suddenly the wonderful patterns and colours start to emerge.

I ordered some more fabrics and had another big dyeing session, this time experimenting with scrunching the fabric into small containers, as well as using bags, and this produced some more lovely effects.

Of course with all this lovely new fabric to play with I couldn’t resist using some of it for the background for a new wall hanging that I wnated to make.

Sketching in the Jungle

A couple of weeks ago I took my sketchbook to do some drawing in the jungle. It is something I have thought of doing before but one of those things I hadn’t got round to until now.

The first place I stopped was only just inside the forest, an old tree stump, surrounded by an abundance of growth and an ideal place to stop and make my first sketches.

Over the years I have taken many photos in the rain forest and used them as inspiration for my quilts, but there is a very different feeling when you take the time to stop and draw a plant. One becomes far more aware of the shape, shading, texture and various patterns, all of which are important to me when it comes to creating a new design.

some of my rough sketches

I was prompted to do this sketching as part of the City and Guilds Course on Creative Quiltmaking which I started at the end of last year. I am studying the course online through Linda and Laura Kemshall at Design Matters and I’m finding it wonderfully inspiring even though I haven’t even begun to do any stitching yet.

more detailed drawings made at home

Almost all the sketches I made were of various leaves and plants as the purpose of the exercise was to concentrate on shapes and patterns rather than texture or colours. When I got home and did some more detailed drawings I was constantly thinking how these designs could be interpreted in fabric, quilting or thread painting.

simple line drawings in pen

African Skies

In my last post I wrote about my new project for the new year and the sample pieces I was making. This is the second sample that I made, with a brighter, more dramatic sky than the first one.

 With the samples made I decided it was time to start work on the full size pieces, and the first thing to do was to paint the four different sunset backgrounds. I used fabric paints on dampened fabric as I wanted the colours to run and blend with each other. I used a pale wash of diluted yellow on each panel, then added red, orange and purple to create my sunsets. For the palest sky I also used a dilute blue wash for the top half. The effectts can be a bit unpredictable and two of the skies I had to do again before I was happy with the results.

I fused each panel to a piece of muslin and then added batik fabric for base and sky line. The four panels are now ready to be embellished with free motion stitching to simulate the tree tops as in my sample piece.

While I was putting these together I happened to leave the muslin backing fabric in a pile on the floor and that soon became a comfortable sleeping spot for Suzie.

Up the river

Last Sunday I went on a boat trip up the local river with some friends. We set off mid afternoon, the sun still blazing  but the speed of the boat cooling us down. We slowed down to look for crocodiles lurking on the river bank in a couple of places, but no luck in spotting them this time. We motored on until we reached a big open point in the river where it then started to narrow down,and this is where we stopped and then turned round to come back, for a while drifting with the current so that we could appreciate all the sounds of the jungle.

I haven’t done the trip for a while so it was good to see that there is still plenty of vegetation, although in some areas it was noticeable that many of the tall trees were no longer there. Some, victims of the terrible forest fires we had a number of years ago and others that have been logged.

These bright orange leaves caught my eye amongst the vegetation, from a distance they looked like flowers. In my last post I wrote about the wall hanging I’d just made, inspired by the birds nest ferns which we have growing in the garden, and whilst drifting down the river I spotted this beautiful specimen high up in the trees.

It was so peaceful drifting down with the current listening to all the exotic calls of the birds, insects, frogs and monkeys, some we could indentify and others not.