March mental block

March 2021 and a year on we are still in lockdown, although thankfully with restrictions starting to lift we won’t be for much longer.

We have had typically mixed weather for March including a beautiful warm spell at the end of the month just to tease us into thinking summer is almost here. There has been very wet days, windy days, and generally a lot of cool overcast days, and inspiration for the March journal has been in limited supply. ‘How can that be’, I hear you ask, when you see the picture above of daffodils in full bloom. Well I guess it is more about what is going on in your head, and let’s face it, lockdown has been a trial for us all, and most of us have lost loved ones and family friends to COVID.

So with lack of inspiration I thought I may copy the idea of the temperature quilt, using the day and night time temperatures for the month. I had my plan, simple flying geese for each day, I dyed my fabric and was pretty much ready to go, I just needed to wait until the end of the month for all the data to be available.

All my hand dyed fabrics drying.

So as the month progressed I still wasn’t feeling inspired and found it increasingly frustrating. I though about doing something else with March winds as a focus, and looking through some pictures on the internet I was reminded about a kite flying afternoon about 20 years ago.

My husband and I took our two eldest girls to the park to fly some new kits they had been given. Claire who was only about seven at the time had no problem in getting her kite to fly so we left he running around the field with her kite in the air. My other daughter, Nicola, just couldn’t get her kite to fly, and it didn’t matter how hard we tried we just couldn’t get the wind to take it.

With all this energy going into the kite that wouldn’t fly we took our attention away from the kite that would fly.

When we turned to see how Claire was getting on we saw her running across the field and leaping into the air as high as she could as her kite ran out of string. Sadly we just couldn’t get to it, it came down in a nearby tree where it sat for several YEARS because nobody could climb the tree to get it down.

So I have interpreted this story in my March journal. I have to say it is not my best work and I am rather disappointed with it, but it is a finished piece and I should be positive about that. I expect my jaded mood reflects the jaded quality of work, and this cannot continue some I must plan to do better in April.

I have been challenged by my friend Jacky that the April journal must be a modern quilt and to include our theme, mine being weather. So challenge accepted!

💦 Drip, drip, drop, little April showers! 💦

February Skies

Well what a month it has been for weather. At the beginning of February we had a little snow, followed by loads of rain, and then the ‘Beast from the East’ bringing ice, and a boiler breakdown! And to add insult to being freezing I found myself telling stories of going to bed as a child and waking up with ice on the inside of the windows. You have to be of a certain age to have experienced that!

However cold it was outside I managed to get out for plenty of walks, and living in a rural area there are always plenty of great views to be enjoyed.

Sunset in the Barfords
This was a strong contender for a February weather scene.
And what can I do with this? Just fantastic, but needs some thought.

Now this really caught my eye, particularly the weathering on the barn. But this was not really a February weather scene when I think of all the dramatic weather we have had. I really wanted to see if I could recreate the pattern of the barn in fabric, so this was my challenge, and I needed to add a sunset background or weather element to complete the theme.

I thought if I were to gather fabric Shibori style, spot dye and then block print over the top we might have something.

It painted a few sunsets with the dynaflow paints. Not only was I running out of paint, I used to much water, but I managed to get a usable piece. I played around with dyeing some more fabric too. Now I have to add, I was sloppy! Not only did I try and dye the fabric in the evening when the light was poor, I also just slung it all in without thinking about measuring and even mixing properly. The results were not good. I managed to cobble something together, but I really must learn to slow down and work in a more organised way. I know it is often said that some of the best results come when you least expect it, but not when you are rushing and not doing to basics properly.

Using my sketch as my template I recreated the barn using a fusible webbing to stick the pieces down.

I do wonder why I didn’t make the barn twice the size.

I couched wool to create that textured look of the grass at the front, and then using freemotion I added the details. I used a really dark green 100wt silk thread, this was perfect for the little details in the barn.

So this is the February journal quilt,

So to conclude, all the weird stuff that I did in my City and Guilds and couldn’t figure out why on earth I should be doing it has now become clear. Painting backgrounds, block printing, Shibori stitching, space dyeing with procion dyes, couching with wool, fusible webbing, freemotion, it is all in this little journal.

I think I may be done with my pictorial landscape phase, so let’s see what March brings!

New Year Optimism?

Well here we go again, 2021 and another lockdown. It is really hard to be optimistic during this pandemic, but I am lucky – I love to sew. I think this and my allotment kept me sane during 2020. I am hoping for the same in 2021, as I thinking we will have a year the same as the last.

Prior to Covid I would tutor privately in patchwork and quilting and run a few small workshops locally, but of course this has all stopped. I have considered the power or Zoom and have run a couple of workshops this way, it is not the same as person to person classes but it does have its advantages. If you have not yet tried a Zoom workshop than give it a go, not only will you have all your ‘gear’ at hand if you need it, but the camera angles can give you a really close up view during demonstrations.

So back to journal quilting. This years subject is going to be ‘Weather’, although I know I will probably divert slightly from this as inspiration from other sources takes over. I do however want to keep them all to the same size, 12” x 9” (about A4), which is slightly smaller than last year.

How about this for a stunner!

January to date has been quite cold (no surprises there), we have had some beautiful sunrises as well as our fair share of dull cloudy days.

This has been more typical during the first two weeks of January.

I quite liked the idea of this foggy frosty look (above). It looks depressing but really it is quite beautiful, and the picture below has the seed heads of last years cow parsley waving in the breeze.

I had an image in my head similar to the picture above, but my intension was to give the quilt a frosty, foggy look, but above all to look really wintery.

I started by painting a background on white poplin fabric and cotton sateen to see how it would look. I used Jacquard dynaflow paints. I haven’t used these for a while and forgot how translucent they were. Just as well really as I didn’t need any bright colours for this piece of work. The cotton sateen was a little thicker than the poplin but I loved the subtle sheen and thought it added to the frosty, foggy feel, but I have to say I did not think this at first. I thought it was all far to light and wishes-washy, but I got the background I wanted in the end. These are the discarded attempts at painting the background.

Another fairly new technique to me was couching with wool. I only have this small collection of ‘fluffy’ wool, but they were the perfect colours for this project. I used a freemotion zig zag to stitch them on varying the width of the zig zag as I went.

I added a hedgerow in the distance after I had couched on the wool. I sponged on some block printing paint, and with freemotion I added a few branches. I used a fine silk thread for these as it is really thin, and I wanted them to be subtle and distant.

Finally I added the cow parsley. I couched over some of the wool with black thread for the stems, and used the silver grey for the seed heads.

So this is the January journal finished. Overall it doesn’t look as frosty as I would have liked, but it certainly gives a feeling of a cold winter day, so I have at least ticked that box. And to add to this I have tried out a couple of techniques that are not very familiar to me, so it is all good.

February is looming so I shall see what weather lies ahead, I wonder if we will get more snow!

Everyone wants Christmas Early!

– Well a lot of us really want something to look forward to in these depressing times. It is the beginning of December and I might not have put my tree up yet but I can get in the festive spirit by making my December journal.

With homegrown veg at the heart of my allotment I thought it would be a great idea to make a Christmas wreath with the veg and plants that are in season at the moment, and once again using natural dyes instead of procion.

These are the fabrics, on the top madder, the orange was madder and weld, the mottled red was a previous madder experiment, onion skins, and indigo for all the blues. The green fabrics were weld over dyed with indigo.

The greens were not quite the limy green I was expecting. I overdyed the weld with the indigo after my vat had been sitting in my cold utility room overnight, I don’t think this helped. But I did get this almost petrol/turquoise colour which reminded me of the Cavalo Nero on my neighbours plot. I also dug out some Icewool fleece from the dark corners of my cupboard. I had never used it before but it shrinks in water. I layered this with the fabric and freemotioned over the top. I soaked it in warm water and left it the dry.

Perfect!

I cut these into the appropriate leaf shape and needle turned these into position onto the darkest indigo fabric I had, making a wreath shape. I then added some carrots from my madder/weld fabric along with some ivy in one of the darker greens. I have leeks and sprouts on the allotment at the moment but I did not have the appropriate green to make these. I wasn’t about to start dyeing with natural dyes again so I cheated and used a piece of procion dyed fabric from my stash, it worked a treat and brought some vibrancy to the piece.

Photo taken in late October!

Surrounding the allotments we have lots of trees including Rowan trees, the berries always look stunning so a few of them had to go on my Christmas wreath too. The madder red that I had dyed for this journal was not as deep in colour as I wanted, but my old madder experiment in the summer had some very dark red patches on it. I was able to cut out these dark patches and use these for the berries

I also used lots of hand stitching in this journal, which is very unusual for me. Not only for the hand appliqué but embroidery for the carrot tops and the spruce/Christmas tree ferns. Then of course I finished off with some freemotion, using lots of holly leaves to give a little more festivity to the piece.

The finished Christmas wreath including the date 2020.

So that’s the journal quilts for 2020 finished, and what a year it has been. The allotment has had its highs and lows, and at the moment is in one of its lows as there is so much work to do down there. One of the high points was in May when the weather was just fantastic. With the whole country in lockdown and allotments on the list of things we could do, it was a special time. Another high is just around the corner too, once Christmas is over and myself and my husband need to shed the pounds, the digging frenzy will begin and the season will start all over again.

At the time of writing this it has just been announced the the rollout of The COVID vaccine is about to start next week.

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR!

2021 will be a brighter year for us all!

November

I had the idea for this journal back in February when I had a lot of comments about the winter tree scene I had made for that month. That was in fact the first pictorial scene I had ever done, and I was keen to do more as I found them great fun to do. I wanted to create the same scene but with the autumn leaves still on the trees.

This was the February journal, and below the same scene in late October.

I didn’t find this view quite so inspiring this time, it didn’t look very autumnal for late October. The path in the first picture was the focus but in this one it was a bit lost. I suppose I could have just recreated it using artistic license to look more autumnal but instead I just found a different angle.

Some of the same fabrics were used to recreate this new ‘view’, the background sky was painted with Jacquard dynaflow paints and paper templates to mark the positioning of the trees.

The tree trunks were held in position with fusible webbing. I started adding the leaves by just cutting up tiny pieces of fabric, laying them in position with a layer of organza over the top and stitching over the top. The problem I had was the organza, it was just too shinny, but the dress net which was another option just dulled the colours. In the end I decided to lay each leaf down in position and just freemotion over the top of it. It was a bit fiddly but it worked OK.

Something else I was keen to do was to add more detail from previous quilts. I don’t consider myself an artist – well not in the drawing and painting sense so adding details to make the work come to life I found quite difficult. I was particularly pleased with the ivy growing up the tree, it is almost invisible but it is there.

The finished journal for November! Another little detail that I love was the yellow fallen leaves that had blown towards the fence. Details obvious to lots of people but for me I really have to look hard to see these things.

I made a wider binding this time to give it a framed look, this fabric was spaced dyed in a tray, using procion dyes, reds, golden yellow and a little bit of olive green, and no two pieces of fabric will ever be the same.

So that’s November’s completed , just one more and I will have completed a whole set of twelve – and I have ideas for December already. I best get stitching!

Autumnal sensations!

These autumnal sensations, the Dahlia, are truly beautiful at this time of year. But this is not the only autumnal sensation, for me there is another, a more mental, kind of feeling that I need to make the most of the weather, as soon we will all be hunkering down with the dark dreary days that lie ahead.

Early October and the leaves are changing colour already.

Enough of that depressing thought! So it is of no surprise that I used these beautiful flowers as the inspiration for my next journal quilt.

The design was a little bit of a combination of two things. I was asked to run my first all day Zoom workshop with a well established quilt group, and I didn’t want to mess it up. The workshop was ‘Playing with Dresden Plate’, and I wanted to make sure I knew my stuff so went on to put the Dresden plate in everything I was making. As I was piecing this red and yellow sample it made me think of the Dahlias on the allotment. What was to be just a small sample in piecing went on to become the October journal.

That’s it really, I feel it was a bit of a cheat. I love to freemotion quilt, so I got a little more practice in – maybe two layers of wadding would have been better. But it is a bright cheerful piece of work which fits in with my mental attitude of making the most of the days whilst we wait for winter to set in.

It has just been announced that another 4-week lockdown will be starting soon. Thankfully we are still able to go to the allotment, so I am off to get some pictures and find some more cheerful inspiration for November. We may be locked down but we still have our sewing machines!

When September Ends

As the long days of summer shorten the allotment is bearing all its vegetables and flowers in one last burst of energy. There is so much to harvest before everything turns to seed and the colours fade away.

The inspiration for this months journal came with an added challenge. I have been doing a little bit of natural dyeing, including my first go at indigo! There have been some really good successes and myself and a friend challenged ourselves to both make a piece of work using the same natural dyed fabric, indigo, buddleia and cochineal.

The fabrics drying on a very wet day!

With the evenings drawing in and the beautiful dark indigo fabric I really wanted to try and do an evening themed project. Again, I was inspired to go the pictorial route again, but I became a little confused as to what to do after a trip to a craft centre specialising in block printing. There were lots of seed head blocks – I have done very little block printing so needed to buy the paints as well, I picked the colours that I knew would match the fabrics, pink, green blue and yellow, but a friend advised me to get a black and white as they were always useful. It was a good job I did, as the only colour I used was the black.

Seed heads on the allotment
So this is the result. I didn’t start this until 27th of September so it has been full on for a couple of days to meet the deadline.

The background was first pieced, with the moon, some clouds and the hedges appliqued on the top. I then block printed the seed heads, this was not as easy as I had anticipated, so I decided it would be best to freemotion over the top. The green fabric was indigo over dyed with the buddliea, as surprisingly it is not easy to get a green with natural dyes. The moon is also the buddliea but it didn’t come out as yellow as this piece of fabric did not have a mordant applied to it. I used just a touch of a yellow inktense pencil on the grass under the moon just to give a little brightness. With freemotion quilting to finish the sky, moon and grass.

FABRIC CHALLENGE COMPLETED!

Sunshine and sunflowers (mostly)!

What a month of extremes, a record breaking heatwave followed by a couple of storms – and now we have our wood burner alight in the evenings.

The weather has taken its toll on the allotment, everything was growing beautifully, and ripening as it should, then along comes the heatwave. All the flowers and vegetables were drooping and suffering from the heat, I was struggling to keep up with the watering. The sunflowers however loved all this, and were towering above everything and smiling down at us all. The bees and insects were enjoying the spectacle too – sadly it was all too short lived, as at the end of the month the weather changed and most of the sunflowers ended up in a heap on the floor. It did however give me the opportunity to pick some and bring them indoors, and it took me a while to find a vase large enough to hold them. So you won’t need telling that sunflowers are my subject for this months journal quilt.

This sunflower with its changes in colour is stunningly beautiful.

Before I had even come up with a design I dyed some fabric using procion dyes to get the full on bright colours. I dyed loads, I don’t quite know what I was thinking, but they always get used in the end.

My idea was to create a large sunflower in the foreground with rolling countryside as far as the eye could see. I drew a plan then set about looking for fabric. I already had my yellow for the sunflower and I also have a huge box of scraps which came in handy when I only needed small bits. I traced the design onto freezer paper, these would be my templates. I used the original to stick little bits of fabric on to remind me where each one was to be used.

Starting with green in the foreground to a blue grey in the distance. I also keep forgetting that using Bondaweb or freezer paper reverses your design! This confused me for a bit, and does every time. You would think I would learn!

I made each of the sunflower petals individually. With two pieces of fabric together I stitched around a template leaving an opening at one end. I then turned each petal through to the right side and pressed. This was such a fiddly job and took ages, the picture above shows my rough idea of size and composition.

I began to quilt the fields and sky adding little hedgerows and trees as I went along. The petals were then stitched on with just a simple line of stitches at the open end of each petal. This would be covered up with the centre. I wanted the centre of the sunflower to have texture and not look flat on top of the petals so I quilted this first using freemotion before stitching in place.

The back of the quilt.

I have included a picture of the back of the quilt, not so much so you can see the quilting but because of the fabric. This was dyed a couple of years ago when I was experimenting with procion dyes. I didn’t like the original colours so I over-dyed them, and I still didn’t like it, so put it away out of sight in the cupboard. But for these journal quilts I have loved it, who would have thought! I used it in the May quilt as well as this August quilt – and looking back if I had dragged it out of the cupboard sooner I would probably have used it in the February quilt for the trees. I only have tiny scraps of this left now and I shall try to dye some more, but it probably won’t come anywhere close, but I can always chuck it in the back of the cupboard again!

See you in the autumn!

Full of Beans

I write this blog at the end of the month, and a lot can happen in that time. The allotment is now providing a lot of fresh veg for the family daily. For me one of the first signs that summer is here is when I get to start picking the runner beans. July 1st there were just a few baby beans, now I can pick a bucket full every week, and seeing them climb up the canes so quickly and with the pretty red flowers it had to be the subject of my next journal quilt.

Comfrey in bloom
Even the weeds can provide a source of inspiration
But for inspiration the beans win this time.

I started with a line drawing of my design and then had to spend some time searching my stash and scraps for the fabric. I had been busy preparing for a summer school this month so I didn’t want to dye any new fabric. But I am glad I kept all the scraps including the background fabric which was a piece I had painted whilst studying for my City and Guilds, it worked perfectly.

I also found a piece of batik fabric that I had bought for my February tree project, it worked perfectly for the cane. I did think I may use inktense pencils to create the cane but there was no need. All the pieces are appliquéd in place with the help of a bit of Bondaweb. I was thinking of doing some turned edge appliqué for this project but some of the pieces were just too small, and I was a bit short on time.

I made some rouleau loops for the stems and was able to poke the raw edges under the leaves to keep it all tidy. And for the first time I used Aurifil threads 50 wt for the free-motion, I have to say I was very impressed. The thread didn’t snap once and sometimes I was stitching over quite a few layers of fabric and wadding, I shall be using them again.

So July is finished and we move into August. I had quite a lot of positive response from the video I posted for the June journal so I did another one at the beginning of July, so I hope you like it. It is a little scary as we move into August, where has the year gone! The colours are starting to change already – from the pale pinks, yellows and fresh greens into deeper reds, oranges and dark greens. I am looking forward to starting the next journal.

See you next month!