Stitchtopia hand-stitching weekend

I’ve just got back from a hand-sewing weekend retreat (organised by Stitchtopia) with the incredible Carolyn Forster.
I haven’t been on a retreat before so I didn’t really know what to expect (cue the anxiety!) I have learnt so, so much though and I’m absolutely buzzing to keep stitching after such an inspirational weekend.
Please note: all of the photos are clearly labelled with the maker. Please don’t use these photos for anything other than your own use.
The clover items that I used were sent to me as a PR gift but my opinion of them is entirely my own.
All of the meals are included so that meant dinner, breakfast and lunch are all sorted from Friday evening through to Sunday midday! There is also plenty of tea and coffee etc for you to help yourself to throughout the day.
All of the stitchers met on Friday evening for food so we could get to know each other before we start our workshops on Saturday.
Now….the exciting part – the workshops!
On Saturday, Carolyn expertly taught us how to hand-stitch friendship garden quilt blocks (published as Scrappy Surprise in Issue 102 of Today’s Quilter).

photo image: Carolyn’s friendship garden block

When these blocks are joined together, a super stunning secondary pattern comes through.

photo image: secondary pattern showing through on Carolyn’s friendship garden block

It means that the overall effect is absolutely breathtaking.

photo image: Carolyn’s friendship garden quilt as a whole

This design, by Carolyn, was specially chosen as it meant that we could be taught the fundamental elements of different sorts of hand piecing. The idea is that we can continue to apply these skills to other hand pieced designs.
We started off by learning how to make our own templates (whether from plastic, cereal packets or printed onto thicker card), as well as how to use the templates to mark our stitching lines onto the fabric, how to cut the shapes, and how to stitch them together.
What I loved was that we were also given a kit which had the fabrics, needles, Aurifil threads, templates, and more in! It makes such a refreshing change to attend a workshop which includes all of the materials so there is no panic buying of extra materials before you attend or additional high costs to cover materials.
We learnt about types of threads that work for hand-stitching (Aurifil 28wt), types of stitches, how to secure your stitches, tools that are helpful when hand-stitching (hello Clover appliqué pins – my new best friend!) and how to hand-stitch shapes with straight edges, shapes with sharp curves, and shapes with gentle curves.

photo image: laying out my fabric pieces for the friendship garden block before stitching

I really enjoyed the slow process of marking the fabrics, cutting them, hand-stitching them and then setting in the centre octagon. I hadn’t learnt ‘setting in’ before when hand-sewing but I really enjoyed doing it!

photo image: starting to stitch together my friendship garden block

I found the curves element harder but (yes, I know I sound like a fan-girl here!) Carolyn really is an incredible tutor. No question is deemed silly. She is so generous in her knowledge and really makes the process enjoyable, humourous, informative and inspirational. It truly is quite a skill to be able to encompass all of those positive things when teaching!!
I was utterly exhausted by the end of day 1. I didn’t realise how much I’d concentrate on trying to nail stitching curves! I also learnt that I would rely heavily on the small appliqué pins as their small size and sharpness were a huge help!

photo image: using lots of pins to stitch together the curves on the friendship garden block

Photo image: my finished friendship garden block

Carolyn was so right when she said we’d learn so many techniques and knowledges from this single block from the marking through to the pressing – it was a real eye opener and one that taught me a lot, inspired me and sparked creativity. I was already mentally running through my fabrics to think about how this design would look in Liberty, Tula Pink or Christmas fabrics…
On Sunday, we continued with hand-stitching but this time Carolyn showed us a whole range of ways we could use scraps, layers and running stitch to create pieces. We learnt about Sashiko, Boro, Kawandi, Kantha, Tile Quilts, hybrid approaches and more.
Carolyn had brought such an inspirational range of samples that we could handle, look at up close, and be inspired by so that we could create our own.

photo image: a stitched sample by Carolyn Forster)
photo image: a stitched sample by Carolyn Forster

I love the texture that running stitch gives these pieces and they’re so good for using up offcuts of fabrics! I also loved learning how running stitch is used in a wide variety of cultures. It is definitely a mindful stitch as you get lost in the rhythm and repetition.
I also learnt about Tile Quilts. I’ve never heard of these before but they are incredible! Carolyn taught us about how we could use this technique as a way to use up fabric offcuts by appliquéing the pieces onto a background fabric (either with needle turn appliqué or raw edge appliqué) before adding some additional shadow quilting in a variegated thread so echo the fabric outline.

photo image: a stitched sample of Tile Quilting with raw edges by Carolyn Forster

photo image: a stitched sample of Tile Quilting with needle turn appliqué by Carolyn Forster

They reminded me of mosaics and stained glass – a form of fabric tetris!
I decided to start with the running stitch sample with no raw edges. I am the sort of person who likes to plan. A lot. With lists and everything!
So, for me, this was a real learning curve as I couldn’t plan further ahead than the next round of stitching (the stitching is worked in the round from the outside, in).

photo image: the start of my own running stitch sample

I used Clover wonder clips to hold the outside edges into place before stitching as well as Clover appliqué pins.
I love adding the fabrics piece by piece when needed and getting completely absorbed in the process.

photo image: continuing to add fabrics and stitch to my running stitch sample

The clover appliqué pins, once again, were a game changer! I loved using a 12wt Aurifil thread for the running stitch as it is a heavier weight (so it is thicker) and it has a beautiful gentle variegation.

I’m so, so pleased with the finished piece and I can’t wait to make another!

Once home, I wanted to keep on stitching so I started a tile quilt sample.

Photo image: the start of my tile quilt sample

I started by laying out some of my fabric pieces to see how they looked next to one another before stitching. Once I was happy with the layout, I started to hand stitch them into place as needle turn appliqué pieces.

Photo image: starting to stitch my fabric tiles into place

Once all of the pieces were appliquéd on, I could then add some hand quilting with Aurifil 12wt thread around each shape to outline them.

Photo image: my finished tile quilt sample

I adore the finished look! I will definitely be making more of these as I enjoyed the slow process of hand stitching them so much!

Photo image: close up of my tile quilt sample
Photo image: close up of my tile quilt sample with the Aurifil thread
Photo image: close up of my tile quilt sample
Photo image: close up of my tile quilt sample with the tools and notions that helped me to stitch it

You can see more of Carolyn’s incredible work through her website and Instagram.

You can also learn more about hand-stitching in Carolyn’s new book ‘Hand Stitched Quilts‘.