Stitching News April 2018

It has been lovely to have had such good weather recently, and a pleasure to have had glorious hot sun very recently. I could visualise everyone out in their gardens, saying “phew, ain’t it ‘ot…”!

What is there to read about in this newsletter? I have had a busy time over the last three weeks; lovely visitors; few days away; only a rather limited amount of sewing for the sales table in September, as well as the ordinary stuff that has to be done! Contrary to what some people imagine, I don’t sew all day! However I do try to do something with a needle most days! As I have always said: ” a few minutes here and there, do add up”, especially when the alternative is no sewing done because “there isn’t time”! So I have included:

  • My favourite three sewing machine feet, and additional ways I use them
  • Personalising a gift by making your own gift tag.

My sewing machine has to be my “can’t do without” sewing tool. I have a Bernina 1015, which I  bought in 1987, 31 years ago. I use it virtually every day! It is a real workhorse; extraordinarily heavy, as it is all metal, but I love it, and wouldn’t change it for any other machine.

Having said that there are attributes which could be equated with other machines on the market, so some of the suggestions about how I use my machine could really work for others as well.

From its number, 1015, and its age, you can probably tell that it is a reasonably basic machine. It has about half a dozen decorative stitches, and the same number of basic functional stitches.  Recently I went away for a few days, this was the view from the little cottage window that I was staying in….20180417_120733 (1)

…and, YES, this is my sewing machine on the table! I apologise for the poor quality of the photograph, but it was very bright outside, and consequently, taking the photo from inside was never going to be good! The view is wonderful though, and does actually illustrate that I am away from home. Although we live in a Cornish village, our house is not by the sea.

I have always taken my sewing machine away with me, if it has been possible! I can then use it in those early morning hours, when no one else is up…etc. On this particular day it had rained steadily all morning, so I sewed very happily and then when the sun came out, we went out for a glorious long walk.

I recently had my machine serviced, and  what a difference. It was in dire need, I have to say, but finding the “right time” to do without it is not easy! It sounds totally different and very quiet now, instead of the clanking noise it was making! I have always regularly cleaned it to remove fluff from the bobbin race, and from under the needle plate etc, but, of course when it is serviced the whole of the machine front is removed. Each part can then be cleaned and adjusted if necessary. It needed a lot of that!

I mostly only use three feet!

The 1/4″ foot; number 37. This is a really versatile foot. I use it for four techniques;

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1. An accurate patchwork seam allowance

2. Topstitching

3. A very fine satin stitch

4. I also always use it, instead of a zipper foot, when inserting zips into pouches and bags. I wrote about this method in the February blog.

(N.B. All the blogs are listed and can be accessed by clicking on them under archives to the top right of the current blog. The function of the scissors in the photos is purely to support the foot.)

The 37 foot is sold as the 1/4″ seam allowance foot and I use it all the time for this purpose, when piecing. It also has a second purpose, which many people I talk to, aren’t aware of. You can see that inside each arm of the foot the width changes, half way along. This indicates that the measurement from where the change of width occurs, to the needle is exactly 1/4″.  This is really useful if you are sewing along a seam towards a corner, and want to be able to pivot accurately at the corner and continue stitching along the adjacent side, maintaining the accurate seam allowance. As you approach the corner slow right down for the last few stitches. When the change of width on the foot is in line with the end of the fabric, you can pivot, with the needle down and start stitching again, confident that at the point of pivot, you will start sewing again with an accurate 1/4″ seam allowance. So, with this foot on the machine you can accurately sew with 1/4″ seam allowance and also accurately judge when you are 1/4″ away from the end of the seam.

For top stitching I often use the inside edge of the 37 foot, as my guide. DSC00801 (2).JPGTo do this, try it out on a sample first. Fold a scrap of fabric in half. Line up the inside edge of the foot so that it touches the fold. Insert the needle into the fabric, and stitch slowly, making sure that as you stitch you are checking that the inside of the the foot runs along the fold line.

I like using the 37 foot to satin stitch.  It is imperative to do very careful sampling when estimating the width and length of the stitch.  There is only a very narrow gap for the needle to swing from side to side, so I take my foot off the pedal and turn the flywheel by hand while making this adjustment. Then I can watch the position of the needle as I slowly, manually lower it against the inside edge of the foot. The wheel is turned really carefully so that, as the needle swings across the width of the gap, making the zigzag for the satin stitch, I can make any adjustment necessary to the width of the stitch, ensuring that the needle clears both arms of the foot. As soon as I am happy with the clearance, I can use the pedal and work at normal speed again.

The small, neat satin stitch, worked with this foot, is a very useful technique which works well for me because I frequently work on a small scale! I use it either to cover the raw edge of applique,  or purely for embellishment. Below is a reminder of how I had used this stitch in the “remake” of the block I showed in the December blog. The stitch is functional as well as decorative here.

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The open-toed free machine embroidery foot, number 24, is my choice for free motion quilting, when the feed dog is lowered.

DSC00773 (2)It has an open circle which means that I am able to see exactly where each stitch is made as the open ring gives clear visibility right up to the needle.

There is another foot which is used for exactly the same purpose. It is very similar but has a complete circle. That suits many people but is not for me!

I have also used this foot  for free zigzag! I work out what width of stitch is suitable for the needle to swing from side to side, in the same way that I prepare for the satin stitch with the 37 foot, above.

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This photograph shows a very small contemporary hanging that I stitched many years ago, possible in the late nineties! I had visited an exhibition of work by a group, then called “The Six”, of which Bobby Britnell was a participating exhibitor.

I was really drawn to her work and particularly liked the textures that she had created. My impression was that she had used free motion zigzag over the surfaces of her hangings. I was keen to have a go. Because the feed dog is down you have the flexibility of increasing the the length of the stitch, by moving your fabric at different speeds. It is really interesting. Why not try a sample, just for fun!

you can see in the photograph that I have created a texture over the surface of my work, and equally, a different texture was created in the areas left unstitched. This added another design element to the end result. It is a contemporary little piece, and as such I deliberately chose not to make it square cornered

. You can see more detail if you are able to enlarge, using your touchpad; click on the photograph, then spread two fingers on the touchpad. You will have to scroll down slowly to find the photograph again, but the detail will show more clearly. Press ctrl+zero to return the screen to its normal size. The above, small (A4) sized hanging was my first attempt. I then followed this with another three small hangings still using the same free zig-zag stitch all over the surface. I learned how to stitch the zigzag row, then switch to a free straight stitch, to travel around the edge of the area I was working on, to get to the next area to be zigzag stitched. I used the open-toed, free machine embroidery foot, number 24 to quilt this entire little hanging.

My walking foot is in frequent use too.

DSC00777 (2)I have had this foot almost as long as the machine, and it is very straightforward to fit; something that I understand isn’t always quite as easy with the more modern Bernina machines and their walking feet.

When I put it on, I ensure that the needle is at its highest position. Then I turn the foot so that the side of it is facing me and slightly tilted towards the machine so that the peg on the machine can fit into the socket on the foot, whilst the arm with two small prongs is eased, simultaneously, onto the needle pin by the user.

(For the purposes of the photo I have used the end of my scissors to lift the arm so that the prongs are visible).

I use this foot for straight line quilting, and often for sewing bindings onto quilts too. I also use it if I am working with “difficult fabrics such as velvets, or slippery fabrics. The way it works is that there are two movable “feet” which sit on the top, towards the back of the walking foot. They move the top fabric through at exactly the same pace as the feed dog is moving  the bottom layer of fabric through, thus eliminating any drag on either surface. All the surfaces end up exactly together at the end of the stitching. The foot is quite sensitive to lumps and bumps in the work they are stitching. So if the foot does not appear to be advancing, (this often happens when crossing a bulky seam) stop sewing with the needle down, lift the presser foot, and you will notice that the little feet move forward. put the presser foot lever down again and when you start stitching the top-feed feet will work perfectly again.

It is still possible to stitch with a 1/4″ seam allowance, using this big and rather bulky looking foot, if you are able to change the needle position on your machine. On my machine I can move the needle two positions to the right and two positions to the left of centre. I am aware that this function is not always available on all machines.

The 1/4″ needs to be worked out accurately, not just judged by eye! The easiest way is to place your quilting ruler a bare 1/4″ over the edge of a piece of plain paper. Draw a line on the paper with a razor sharp pencil, angling the pencil into the edge of the ruler.

DSC00778 (2).JPGPlace the paper under the machine and the machine needle onto the pencil line. Put the foot down, checking exactly where the edge of the foot is in comparison to the edge of the paper. If it isn’t in line, then try a different needle position.

In the photo to the right it is obvious that the needle needs to be moved to the right. Lift the needle out of the paper, and then alter its position on the machine, and try again.




DSC00781 (3)In this second photo you can easily see that the needle position has been moved across to the right, now indicating that an accurate 1/4″ seam allowance can be stitched, using this foot, now!

When I teach, I notice that often students use their “normal” machine foot, and assume that it is sewing with 1/4″ seam allowance. It is always a good idea to check, using the method above, to see if it does indeed stitch with 1/4″ seam allowance. After all, we cut out fabrics allowing for that, so we do need to be aware that we are sewing with the 1/4″ too!

Additional machine feet are very expensive to buy, so it is always worth having a look to see if you can use one of your existing feet for any additional purpose.

A final little sewing tip!

I have been stitching with PVC coated fabric over the last couple of weeks. Not easy, but I remembered reading that if you put tissue paper between the PVC surface and the needle plate, you can sew quite freely, without the PVC sticking to the metal! I gave it a go, and it works fantastically! The tissue paper perforates when the needle passes through it, and tears away easily. No more frustration!

Giving a gift. The simplest little addition to giving a gift, is a handmade gift tag. I like to have a supply on hand and have got quite low recently, so I have been recharging the supply. I like to use erasers for small printing blocks. They are so easy to cut into with a pointed craft knife. Inspiration is all around us; in our gardens, during a walk in the lanes or park. You really do not have to look far. If it isn’t easy to get outside, then books, and magazines have a wealth of imagery and ideas.

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I have a shoe box full of printing blocks. Above you can see three or four with resulting gift tags. These are a selection of the few left, so I have cut some fresh card, and printed up a few more. I have used Koh in Nor paints, which are very vibrant. You can make them “calmer” by diluting them a little!

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When they are completely dry I like to use a very fine drawing pen (0.1) to very lightly sketch out the outline, and add detail. This sharpens the image. Compare the printed images above freshly made with the addition of the fine ink pen in the photograph below!

You have to work fast when applying the colour to the block and then printing onto the card, especially if the block has two sections for different colours, as in the Fritillary, because it dries very quickly. If the block hasn’t given a terribly good result, use your brush to add more paint on top of the print, but do it very sympathetically! There should be enough colour still on the brush without having to reload it. Reloading will give a stronger element which you may not like.  Mixed colours always add more interest.

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The blackberry leaves on the right, were certainly turned into a very usable tag, by the outlining. I wouldn’t have used it without!

DSC00787 (2).JPG If you are making your own print, but don’t think you could manage anything too detailed, it can be very simple, e.g. you could print using the end of a cork!

The tag in the picture to the side, was simply made by using an ink pad to apply ink to the end of the cork, instead of paint. The surface was not very even, but a texture was created as well as the outline shape. I painted over the texture, turned them into balloon type kites, and have written the child’s name, Sam, on the balloons. It took precisely five minutes! It could be used as a bookmark after being used as a gift tag!

If you don’t have any blank card, think “recycle”.

Plain card is often used in packaging. It is also used for “order of service” occasions in churches; weddings, funerals etc. Any that are left are usually destroyed. I am sure that the vicar would be delighted if they were used and recycled in a creative and useful way. I know someone who does this, and her vicar is really helpful.

Ask friends and family if they have any plain card that they don’t want. It is surprising who has what!!! Unused card wallets, used for filing documents would make great labels. It is easiest to cut the card into the correct width strips first. Cut one strip to start with, and cut that into individual tags. you may want different width tags, so cut strips as they are required. If you want to shape the top of the tag,  make a “template” from one of the tags by lightly folding it in half lengthways, then cutting off the top corners. Because the corners are cut off together, they will be symmetrical. Write “Master ” on this tag, then match the template to each cut tag, and draw a line against the template where the corners need to be cut off. The tags will then look neat and professional.

The gift tags in the first photo measure 2″ wide x  2.5″ at the longest length. The new printed tags I have made measure 1 and 7/8ths” wide x  2.5″ long.

If you use a favourite printing block (it may be a commercial one), then this might well determine the size of the tag.

Experiment, and see what works for you. At the end of the day, your own handmade gift tags will be hugely more appreciated, great fun to make, and infinitely less expensive than bought ones. I have friends and family who have saved every handmade gift tag they have ever received from me, which is really delightful.

Happy stitching!







Stitching News April 2018

Welcome to all my readers. I hope you have all had a very happy Easter.

What am I writing about in this month’s blog…?

  • One of this month’s sewing projects; a cover for an A5 ring binder file
  • Talking Threads DVD. This video was made about 8 years ago, but could have been made yesterday. It is a contemporary technique using mixed media where I am teaching how I stitch into tissue paper, and honesty seed cases.
  • I have also written a tutorial on creating “boxed corners”, for a pouch.


Firstly I would like to mention an interesting email I had from Sarah, one of my readers who lives in Plymouth. It was in response to the February Blog about the Hussif.  She wrote to say that she has her father’s Hussif and she has kindly given me permission to show the photographs of it here.

EAA83F1A-4674-4F8F-8C96-A112085763D0 HussifI love the design. When it is opened out, two spools of cotton are tucked into a purpose designed little pocket, specially for standard cotton reels. Behind them the user has a card of thread as well. They all fit together very neatly. There also seems to be a pocket behind the inside layer of the body of the hussif. Maybe that would have contained some patches, or a note reminding the owner of some simple tips…. some needles, still threaded, are pinned into this internal  layer, along with a couple of safety pins.




Here you can see it is rolled up so that it can be stored in the kit bag.Other people have been in touch to say they remember their father’s talking about their hussifs, and someone also told me that today’s soldiers must have one, too.


I like simple methods of storage which allows me to have what I need easily available!
DSC00746 (3)Several years ago, I made myself a quilted cover for an A5 ring binder. When I taught in College we were issued with A5 diaries for College use and I used to remove the hard-back covers of my diary, punch holes in the diary pages and insert them into the ring binder. I kept some poly pockets at the back as they are so easy for storing notes, reminders, or receipts etc in and I could slot these in between the appropriate pages within the diary. The ring binder is still very much in use, but I now use it to store all the relevant little projects I am using on an almost daily basis for sales table items for the charity workshop in September!

An addition I have made to the poly pockets, which works really well, is that I cut plain white card to fit snugly inside the poly pockets. This divides each pocket into two; a front and a back. I write the heading of one project at the top of one side of the card, and another project on the back of the card and can then store two projects in one sleeve! Economy and thrift! I like it.

Within the last couple of weeks I had to make a raffle prize for an Easter raffle at our quilting Group. It is a tradition that the committee members all make a raffle prize for a special Easter raffle at the quilt Group. I thought about this long and hard, and decided to make a ring binder cover for my raffle prize, this year.

A brief resume of my method.

Firstly I had to research where I could find an A5 ring binder folder! WHSmiths only had plastic ones, and I specifically wanted a board one. Eventually I found one in Office Outlet which seems to be a spin off from Staples. I took measurements of the folder I had bought, noticing that they were different from my last one, and wondering why, as they are both A5 folders made by the same company! possibly a conversion from inches to centimetres? Who knows!

I opened it out at full stretch, giving me the measurement of both front and back covers plus the spine. To this I added another 7½” for “flaps” which would wrap around the sides of the folder, to the inside. This gives a flap of 3¾” which the front and back of the folder slots into, holding the ring binder in place.


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I cut a piece of pelmet Vilene, to this size, and also allowed an additional 3/4″ in total to the measurement of the depth; (top to bottom). This could be trimmed if necessary later. This was to be the foundation on which to support my fabric. Pelmet /craft Vilene has some body and “clout” which would give the cover long life given reasonably careful use!

I folded and marked the position of the flaps, and the centre of the spine.

The central panel here has one of my screen printed flower seed heads and small button flowers and I machine and hand embellished it. I had hand dyed the buttons using disperse dyes.DSC00734 (2)

Next I cut some appropriate strips of fabric and “stitched and flipped” them over into position increasing the decorative surface above and below the initial panel until I had created the full depth of the front cover, (plus a little to spare!)

The first strip was placed right sides together, with the central panel and stitched with 1/4 ” seam allowance, then flipped over to the right side and pressed, which helped to keep it in place. A second strip completed the main panel.

I then placed this in position on the Vilene, making note of placement from the pencil markings I had previously made.

N.B. The panel for the front cover must be placed near the right hand end of the piece of Vilene. I purposely say “near”, rather than “at” the end. If it is right at the end, part of it will be folded under for the flap! Before actually securing it in position, just carefully hold it in place, and wrap the whole piece of the Vilene around the ring binder, to check that it is indeed the “front cover” and is in position correctly!!

The photograph below shows that I have added the first strip to the right hand edge of the panel, and this piece actually wraps around the edge, and will be topped stitched, 1/8th of an inch from the edge from the top to the bottom. This will hold the fabric firmly in position  and give a professional finish. (Many apologies for the poor quality of the photograph. I was working in the evening, and forgot that electric light is no good for photos and also gives awful shadows!)

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I machine”quilted” everything before I cut the next selection of strips to be applied to the left side. They were varying width strips, and were applied in the same “stitch and flip” method. This time each one was machine “quilted” in straight lines, before I stitched the next strip in place. DSC00757 (3)This ensured that they stayed flat, and didn’t wrinkle before the next strip was stitched and flipped.

Strips were applied right across the vilene, in this method. The two ends were trimmed so that about 3/8ths of the last strip could be wrapped around the edge of the vilene and top stitched in place, from top to bottom.

The folder was then opened out, and placed onto the Vilene side of the work, so that a final size could be assessed before trimming. I needed to allow 3/8th of an inch above and below the top and bottom edges of the folder, before trimming. This was for ¼” seam allowance for the binding, plus 1/8th of an inch for “wriggle room” when pushing the folder covers into the flap!

I drew pencil lines where I was going to trim to; and checked everything a second time before trimming! The bindings were cut and machine stitched in place, right sides together with the edge of the folder, then hand stitched  on the inside, to complete the folder cover.

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I am delighted to say that the recipient was thrilled that she was able to choose it, and I know it has gone to a “good home!”

Talking Threads is a DVD put together by Jamie Malden of Colouricious, probably about eight years ago now. She invited twelve textile artists, to take part in it. I was approached, and I spoke with her on the phone, to find out what would be expected of me!

After our discussion, I was happy to be involved, and delighted to have been asked. I was just asked to fill up my car with as much variety of my work as I could get in and given a date and address to go to! Jamie did tell me which particular aspect of my work she would like me to teach on the video, so I was able to make sure that I had everything necessary to explain and teach the workshop clearly.

The DVD begins with a very general chat about me and my approach to my work. This is followed by a teaching session when I had to teach Holly how to machine stitch onto honesty seed cases and tissue paper, creating a very simple design whilst going about it.

I showed her some pages of my work book, where I had done lots of sampling, and we discussed how I prepared the seed cases and the tissue paper before getting started.

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Holly was a complete natural. She had never ever done this before, and she was using my machine, (Bernina 1015). I purposely decided to take mine to use because I knew my chosen threads etc worked well with it, and I could set it up before Holly started stitching. She had maybe no more than five minutes to try out my machine, before filming continued!

Click on the link below to watch the video. (You will need to dismiss the ad that comes up first!)

How to Quilt – Quilting with textile artist Di Wells – Quilting Arts – YouTube

It was a thoroughly enjoyable, and a fascinating day! I think they were filming three or four artists each day, and I seem to remember that there were 12 of us in all. A DVD is available of all those of us taking part;

Last month in the March Stitching News, I wrote about pouches that I had made, and said I would show you how to “box corners” this month. Boxing the corners creates a kind of gusset at the base of the pouch, without having to sew a purpose cut strip of fabric in position.

Boxing the corners of a bag or pouch, to give shape and structure.

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This was the particular pouch I was giving details of. I gave the dimensions of the finished pouch as: length (i.e. top to base) 7.5″; width 6.5″ at the top of the bag, and 5.5″ at the base; depth 1.5″, and explained that “boxing corners”  creates a depth and a roomy interior. The reason that the pouch is narrower at the base is because when I created the “box” at the corners it took up some of the pouch size and space; changing the shape at the corner.  This next photo illustrates the  results. DSC00729 (2)

The bulk of the work assembling the pouch or purse, is completed first, and the two linings are placed right side together and pinned carefully, and the two main pieces of the bag/pouch are placed right sides together and pinned. The zip lies between the two sections.

Then, the assembly continues by stitching around the edges, with a 1/4″ seam allowance, starting one side of a gap at the lining end (through which the bag will be turned through to the right side ultimately).  The stitching continues around to the other side of the gap.

The following photographs explain how to create the box when you have reached this stage. (The February newsletter, where I was showing how to put the lining and zip into a pouch, simultaneously, explains all the stages, up to this point).

You must decide how much “box” you would like to create. In the photo of the pouch lying on its side, you can see that there is “depth” to the pouch.  The finished width of the “box” was 1.5″, so I had to cut a corner square away, measuring 3/4″; i.e. half the finished required size. Had I wanted a 4″ box, I would have cut away a 2″ square.
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Although we are stitching with 1/4″ seam allowance, the measurement  of the square to be removed, is made from raw edge to raw edge….not to the stitch lines. This can be seen in the photos above.  The ruler is identifying a 3/4″ square. I drew a pencil line around corner of the ruler, and cut out the square on the line. This  was repeated at the opposite corner.

DSC00725 (2).JPG  The next stage is to open out the corner, so that the side seam and the base seam lie on top of each other. Notice how the seams butt up against each other, and lie flat.

This should be pinned securely, and then prefer to draw 1/4″ seam allowance  before stitching accurately on this line, as well as reinforcing the stitching at both ends.


It is important that you check that the seams in the opposite corner of the pouch lie similarly, as shown below.

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The final photograph shows that the same procedures are then followed with the lining.

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Please refer back to the February tutorial, to read about pulling the bag through the gap, and finishing the pouch neatly.

I follow Stephanie Redfern’s blog, and found the April one about collage and owls particularly inspirational this month;

It certainly inspired me to look at collage in a different light! I have read and re-read it several times, and have no doubt I shall come back to it several times more!!

Diary Dates:

Sat 28th April 2018 – Sat 5th May 2018. (Excluding Sunday)  10am – 4 pm.  George Room, Subscription Rooms, Stroud GL5 1AE. An exhibition of textiles by Pauline Cullimore, Janet Grist and Sylvia Hammond. “Three by 3:  Homage to Vivaldi”.  Part of SIT Select 2018   Admission Free. These are three very talented ladies, (ex students of mine),  who will have a very varied selection of work on display, and for sale.

Malvern Quilts Spring Show 17th – 20th May; Three Counties Showground Severn Hall MalvernWorcestershire WR13 6NW.  10:00am – 5:00pm (4:30pm on Sunday).

Festival of Quilts – NEC 9th -12th August

Cowslip Summer Fair – 21st & 22nd July. Cowslip Workshops Newhouse Farm St.Stephens Launceston Cornwall PL15 8JX.

Happy Stitching!