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‘.

Reflections on the #fussycuttingsewalong as a creative sampling process

I have just finished reading a recent article by about using sampling as a crucial, creative process in textiles for pushing the boundaries, to play, to create and to explore. I was really struck by this article as it talked about how it can feel quite scary and overwhelming to jump straight in with making a whole textile piece straight away (don’t get me wrong, if you can do this then that is AWESOME and keep going!). There are 2 ways to respond to that anxiety, you can either let it dictate what you do next and therefore not create, or you can start making something which is doable, small and fun. Sampling typically works on a much smaller scale so if you try something and it doesn’t work then you haven’t lost lots of time or resources. You can also then use those small samples that haven’t worked out how you wanted them to in your mind’s eye, to then start exploring and creating in a different direction next time.Straight away my mind jumped to the #fussycuttingsewalong (just search for that hashtag on Instagram to see som of the blocks being made by people from all around the world). I’ve never thought of the sewalong as a sampling process before but this article really made me reflect on its role in the creative process for me. We make 1 block each week rather than a whole quilt (although people can absolutely sew them together into a quilt!), no 2 weeks are the same (in terms of theme + fussy-cutting style combos), if a week doesn’t work out how you planned then it is forgotten about by the following Monday as we start making for a new theme, and these fussy cutting samples enable us to develop, play, explore and strengthen our own style and tastes. These weekly blocks are achievable and doable around our everyday lives as a way of sampling and stretching our fussy cutting wings!For example, I made this block as a pattern matched seaside scene. If I am completely honest, I really wasn’t happy with it because all I could see were the flaws, the wonky angles, the lines that didn’t match up.If I hadn’t made it, then I just wouldn’t have known that it is a process I a not comfortable with (despite wanting to be) and that I need to keep playing with this process. Furthermore, if I’d jumped straight in with pattern matching as a whole quilt, especially being the perfectionist that I am, I would be feeling really gutted with using my time and energy to make something that didn’t work out how I’d plannned. Viewing this block as part of my fussy cutting sampling process means that I can acknowledge that this is only a 2″ hexagon and it is only one part of my exploration of fussy cutting using 6-point diamonds for 2019.Once it is added to, and becomes part of, my #fussycuttingsewalong quilt which is made up of all of my fussy cutting blocks, it is just acts as a representation of another week of sampling fussy cutting styles/themes/prompts with 6-point diamonds.

Butterfly Dance Doris Dress

I have finished sewing another Sew Over It Doris Dress but this time I used a quilting cotton.

I first used fabrics from the Butterfly Dance collection by Sally Kelly (for Windham Fabrics) in 2018 when I made an English Paper Piecing quilt for British Patchwork and Quilting.

I immediately fell in love with the vibrant summer colours and beautiful floral designs throughout the whole fabric collection. When I first made the Doris dress I just knew I wanted to make another one but with a fabric from this collection too!

The rich colours, detailed patterns and overall vibrancy means this fabric was a winner from the start! So, I prewashed the fabric and started cutting out the pieces (with Misha’s help of course!)

The Doris dress has 2 variations: a shorter version (suitable for fabric with a width of 115cm and up) and a knee length version (suitable for fabric with a width of 140cm). As this stunning fabric is a quilting cotton it isn’t wide enough for the knee length dress version but the shorter version is quite short on me (as I am 5′ 7″) so I didn’t want to make anything indecent! I decided to adapt the pattern slightly to make the dress a length that lands between the 2! For this, I used the fabulous Clover curve ruler with mini ruler set.

Clover products are always incredibly high quality and so I knew this would be a great ruler set from the start.

There are 3 rulers in the pack: a shallow curve ruler (the middle ruler) for hems and hip lines, the deep curve ruler (top ruler) for necklines and arm holes) and the mini straight ruler (bottom ruler). What is really clever about this set is how it also shows you the what the radius of the arc is at different points on the ruler (where it says ‘R50’). How clever is that?!

I used the shallow curve ruler to adjust the length of the dress so that it wasn’t too short but also so I could create the fullest AND longest skirt possible from the quilting cotton.

I also used a lightweight Vlieseline interlining (F220) which is made from 100% recyled polyester. We live in a world where we are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of reducing our carbon footprint and recycling anything and everything. I love that Vlieseline are creating products that support this aim!

Once the dress was sewn, it was time to choose the buttons for the finishing touch. This meant I had another opportunity to venture into my precious button tin which I inherited from my Grandma (who was also called Doris). There are so many beautiful buttons and I love how a lot of them are still on the cards – it is a real piece of social history! Why don’t we do buttons like this any more?

There were a lot of different options but my eyes were repeatedly drawn to these golden yellow buttons.

This is a bold choice for me! I thought I would go for a delicate navy button so choosing these buttons definitely pushed me out of my safe, comfort zone! I am so pleased with how they turned out though!

They really work beautifully with the rich colours in the fabric!

So with another Doris dress completed, it was time to start twirling (which I have decided should be obligatory now with any outfit that calls for it!)

The dress pattern and the fabric has so much swishability! You just have to be careful not to overswish as there is a very real risk of falling over….!

I managed to catch myself just in time! I love this fabric, I love the dress pattern and I love how they’ve enabled me to create the perfect new summer dress! It also gave me the perfect chance to start using my new Janome overlocker (Olivia the overlocker) – isn’t she a beauty? I love how compact it is yet still being incredibly powerful and enabling a much more professional finish to dressmaking!

2019 #fussycuttingsewalong group quilt

So, here it is! The idea for the 2019 #fussycuttingsewalong group quilt. The colour theme for the group quilt this year is pink embroidery (the brighter the better) and green fussy cutting on the diamonds – khaki, jungle, lime, dark, light, sage, olive, emerald, pear, shamrock, mint…this is the perfect chance to fussy cut the greens in your stash! This block combines fussy cutting, embroidery, hexagons (as a nod to the shape that started the #fussycuttingsewalong) and diamonds (the shape we are currently using on the #fussycuttingsewalong). There is absolutely NO pressure to take part in the group quilt – it is completely optional and it won’t impact your participation in the sewalong in any way. You can make more than 1 block if you have multiple words/ideas.

The block for the 2019 group quilt is made up of 1.5″ 60 degree diamonds and 1.5″ hexagons.

If you don’t have these size templates you can buy them from places like Lina Patchwork and Paper Pieces.

If you have a printer at home, it is super easy to make your own. So, here is a step-by-step guide for the 2019 #fussycuttingsewalong group quilt block! If you already have the correct size templates then just skip ahead to step 8.

What you’ll need:

– 1.5″ hexagons and 1.5″ 60 degree diamonds (or a printer/106gsm card if making your own)

– a pencil

– a ruler

– low volume fabric (this is a cream/white blender fabric which won’t detract from your fussy cutting)

– a green fabric for fussy cutting

– standard sewing tools (scissors, thread, needles)

– pink embroidery thread


1. Get a sheet of 160gsm card and print off 1 sheet of the 1.5″ hexagons that are available as a free download from Love Patchwork and Quilting. Make sure you set your printer to print at full size.

2. Once you’ve printed the sheet of 1.5″ hexagons, use your tape measure/ruler to make sure each edge of the hexagon measures 1.5″.

If the edges don’t measure 1.5″ you’ll need to adjust your printer settings to make sure it prints at the correct size. Unfortunately, if it arrives with me and it is the wrong size it won’t fit the group quilt so this is definitely not a step to skip!

3. Set aside 2 x 1.5″ hexagons (these will be used later) and take 4 x 1.5″ hexagons. With the flat edge of the hexagon at the top, use a ruler and place it diagonally so that it is going from the top left corner to the bottom right corner.

4. Use a pencil and mark this diagonal line.

5. Repeat this so that you draw the line from the top right corner to the bottom left corner.

6. This will split your hexagon into 2 diamonds (with sides measuring 1.5″) and 2 triangles. You can draw a line through the 2 triangles to disregard them and then cut along those diagonal lines.

7. Repeat this a further 2 times so that you have a total of 6 diamonds.

8. Now the fussy cutting starts! Stripes, central motifs, pattern matching, sections, different motifs in each diamond, scrappy fussy cutting….the choice is yours! So long as it is mostly green and it has been fussy cut, it is completely up to you how to fussy cut your 6 diamonds! You can do a different motifI chose to fussy cut these Art Gallery Fabrics flowers which are from the Indie Bohème collection by Pat Bravo. I lined the stem of the flower up with the point of each diamond.

9. Now, you’re going to join these diamonds in trios. Take 3 diamonds and join them together using the photo as a guide for placement. You are joining them so that the 3 narrow points sit together. I like to use a tight whip stitch and start/stop my stitching by doubling back on myself before making a knot so that the knot isn’t at the weak part of the joining (I have a YouTube video showing how I cut, baste, and sew 6-point diamonds).

10. Repeat this so that you have two lots of diamond trios and then place these to one side.

11. Now, for the embroidery! I would love it if you could embroider a word which summarises how you feel about the 2019 #fussycuttingsewalong. This could be what the 2019 #fussycuttingsewalong means/has meant to you, how it makes you feel, what it represents for you, what you’ve got out of it, or a general summary for your views on your #fussycuttingsewalong experience! Even if it is a word that you’ve seen someone else use on their block, you can absolutely still use that word because it is personal to you and your stitching/fussy cutting combination. If anything, if there are multiple blocks with the same word on then it just strengthens the meaning of that word.

12. Using a pencil, write this word onto your hexagon. Make sure the hexagon has the point facing upwards – this bit is key otherwise it’ll be difficult to join with your diamonds.

Just a general tip, if you write it too big it may not fit on the hexie but equally so if you write it too small it could be hard to embroider. It is a bit like Goldilocks and the Three Bears…we need to get it just right!

13. Place this hexagon underneath your low-volume fabric and use your pencil to mark that word onto the fabric directly (this pencil line won’t be seen as you’re going to embroider on top, it is much better for marking low-volume fabrics than frixion pens and blue fabric pens which have a nasty habit of returning!)

I’ve used a fabric from the Art Gallery Fabrics Nature Elements for my low volume fabric.

Also, don’t be like me in that I really should have ironed the fabric first as it will be much easier to mark your word on ironed fabric!

14. Place this fabric into an embroidery hoop (if you’d rather not then that is okay too, find what works for you).

15. Using a PINK embroidery thread (the bolder the pink, the better!) to embroider your word onto your low-volume fabric. I’ve used backstitch but you can use any embroidery stitch that you’d like. You can totally add additional decorative embroidery too! If you’re unsure about how to backstitch, there is a really great photo tutorial on backstitch here as well as lots of other embroidery stitches on that website.

16. Once you’ve finished embroidering your word, you can take the fabric out of the hoop (if you used one) and use the hexagon template to place on top of your embroidery (point upwards) and cut around with 3/8″ seam allowance.

17. Then, baste this hexie using your preferred basting method.

18. For your second hexagon you are going to repeat this embroidery except this time, embroider the country you live in (I wanted to visually show how international we are as a community). You don’t have to embroider the whole country so, for example, if you live in Canada you might choose to just embroider ‘Can’. You can be as specific (down to the city – just no postcodes or house numbers for confidentiality reasons) or as creative (embroidering a flag or motif that represents where you live) as you like.

20. Now comes the joining part (and use the visuals as a guide to help with placement etc).

Take a diamond trio and, with the long flat edge of your trio to the left, join your embroidered word (with the hexagon point facing up) to your diamond trio by sewing the left/bottom left of your hexie to the top right of your diamond trio.

Take your 2nd diamond trio and, with the long flat edge of your trio to the right, join your embroidered country hexie (with the point facing up) by sewing the right/top right of your hexie to bottom left of your diamond trio.

21. The final step! You’re now going to join your two halves together. Using the photo as a visual, join your 2 halves together with your embroidered word at the top of your block, the embroidered country at the bottom of your block and the long edges of your diamond trio on either side of the block. Again, please make sure your threads/knots are secure so that they can withstand being posted/handled!

22. If you’re happy for it to be in the 2019 #fussycuttingsewalong group quilt then drop me a direct message on Instagram for my postal address and you’re all done! Ideally, please could they arrive before the end of January 2020 at the very latest. I will let you know when your block arrives and share update photos of the quilt coming together. If you’re sending it to me from abroad then please could you mark the block as a ‘gift’ on customs with a value of less than £10 otherwise I get stung by customs. Please do know that I value your time and effort and that I know your time and effort is worth a lot more than £10.

So excited to see how this quilt progresses!