The first Story Cushion I made was The Very Hungry Caterpillar cushion it’s in the blog for April 2014. You can see it here.
It had been in the making a lot, lot longer. It was actually the catalyst to my long path to free motion quilting and to my beginning patchwork. I had the idea for the cushion and realised it was something I would need to actually learn. I was lucky, I found a great teacher in Kate Higgins and the rest, as they say, is history.
Just before Olivia’s 2nd birthday she became obsessed with very same Very Hungry Caterpillar story so…… on to the net to order fabric and cushion number 2 was on the way.
The panel and the foods fabric were soon cut and the book pocket made.
The caterpillar and butterfly were outlined with this amazing multicoloured cotton thread. I love this and have it in several (rather expensive-but-worth-it) colour ways, this one is ‘primaries’, there must be around 50 colour ways.
Next it was on to the quilting and I have to sing the praises of another sewing thread here. I kept reading about this thread, it was everywhere; it was on just about every professional blog I read; it was in magazine articles; on pinterest; everywhere. You really can’t miss it and I decided to stop ignoring it and invest in this Aurifil. I bought mine from Barnyarns, simply because I’d had some freebees from them and they really seem to know about thread. I am converted, it is ultra smooth and it doesn’t break and I really have to say it’s made a huge difference to the flow of my free motion work. I’m totally sold and don’t think I’ll go back to quilting with anything else. I only regret not trying it sooner!
So it was caterpillar quilting for the caterpillar side
And butterfly quilting for the butterfly side.
Now there was one more thing. I’d made two story cushions and I have three grandchildren and although Heidi had the cushion that matched her quilt it’s not a story cushion with a pocket for a book!
So cushion number three. It could’t be the same as Dougie’s, I didn’t need a particularly good imagination for that bit of sibling interaction! So here is what my search led me to choose.
Once again I outlined the motives and then stippled in between on the outside of the pocket. But this time the top half was plain/plainish so I decided to write on that.
After sketching out a couple of font ideas this was my choice. Think I might use it again, simple but effective I think.
I can’t believe how quickly these two cushions came together. The first one took me so long. The quilting was so much easier, having a new machine since I first began has helped a lot. The Pfaff is so much more controllable and the Aurifil is a great find. Mostly of course its all down to experience and I must say that is pretty satisfying really. I think these two are destined to take up residence in the girls’ teepees where they both enjoy having stories read to them and where hopefully, in the future they will curl up to enjoy a book themselves.
It’s a great British tradition to complain about the weather and in January and February this year there was plenty to complain about. One of my favourite ways to keep reasonably fit is to walk in the glorious countryside around here. This January I regularly found myself paddling or sinking to my ankles in mud. In February it was the turn ‘The Beast from the East’ and storm Emma and general biting cold winds that upset us so much.
But – and it’s a very positive but – there was no golf, no gardening and so – there was a lot of sewing time.
Enough time to finish Olivia’s just-about-begun quilt, a story cushion for her birthday and a story cushion for Heidi just so that she didn’t feel left out.
And enough time for a few little projects along the way. The red scraps made their annual appearance just before Valentine’s day.
Olivia’s quilt had been an embarrassingly long time in the making. I was in the middle of making Dougie’s Quilt when we went on one of our long trips to Spain and I decided that while we were away I would hand appliqué the elephant patches. So far so good.
Well when we got back it was summer. Summer = golf + gardening = very little sewing. Then of course came the autumn and it was all stops out to finish Dougie’s quilt in time for Christmas. So the little elephant quilt was the no.1 priority for January. It was easy to piece together with yellow, grey and white patches to match her bedroom.
It needed a little bit of planning to get the balance right before piecing and once that was done
the next step was simple and speedy and I soon had the batting and the yellow and white pin-spot backing together and ready to quilt.
I wanted a quilting design to fit in the yellow, white and grey squares, the elephant squares would just have simple outlines. Here’s what I call ‘the pink claw of quilting’. My quilting gloves are actually cotton gardening gloves that have a fantastic bobbly surface perfect for ‘getting a grip’!
Now the next bit is worth posting, I’ll know where to find it rather than having to think really hard to remember it. I don’t have any idea why, but the sequence for binding around the corners just won’t lodge itself in my brain. So here it is – in pictures.
and in words:
having pressed a diagonal fold at the beginning of the binding (see last photo) sew the double thickness binding strip leaving a 5cm tail at the start, using a quarter-inch seam
stop a quarter-inch from the corner, secure and break thread
fold the binding strip 90º to the right
fold the binding strip back on itself level with the edge of the quilt.
sew across the folded edge stopping and turning the corner a quarter-inch from the edge. Do this on all corners
trim and tuck the end of the binding inside the folded tail before sewing the last 5 cms.
The corners turn back really nicely and it’s on to my favourite bit, sitting quietly folding the binding over and hand stitching to finish the quilt.
I hope Olivia enjoys her quilt, if she’s like Dougie and Heidi it will become her relaxing quilt probably becoming part of the soft furnishings of the teepee we gave her for Christmas – which leads nicely on to the next project … Story cushions’ But that’s for another day.
In SeptemberDougie started school, we did feel lucky to be involved in his first few days. With staggered starts to school there were days at the very beginning of term when we had him to ourselves and went off to visit gardens and farms and be given the ‘Dougie’s guided tour of Bristol Zoo’. He was a very bossy guide! We took him into his fabulous, ultra-modern, beautifully equipped ‘learning zone’ (previously known as a classroom) at the start of sessions and picked him up at the end.
At the beginning of December he turned five.
That’s FIVE years old. Five birthdays.
Five parties, five photographs!
It was high time that I finished the quilt I had begun in January and that I should give it to him at Christmas. The idea and materials for the quilt went back to a visit to the annual, autumn West of England Quilt Show with my daughter. We spotted this pattern and as it was going to be my first big appliqué project I was more than happy for some help. This was going to be quite an undertaking.
I was keen to get started but there was Christmas sewing in the pipeline so it wasn’t until January that I tentatively began cutting the pieces for the vehicles. My plan was cut and prep in the evenings while watching TV. So I began to trace shapes on to the freezer paper and rough cut them and I could very quickly have been drowning in tiny pieces of paper. The easy solution was an envelope for each vehicle. I have to admit that I still struggle with the orientation when I’m doing this job and it didn’t help that each row of vehicles changed direction.
Eventually I had chosen and cut the fabric pieces for the first two vehicles and a set of traffic lights and had wisely made the decision
to raw edge appliqué the pieces. The fabric edges should rough up quite nicely with wear.
I was immediately pleased that I had invested in this ‘Steam-A-Seam’ freezer paper. Pieces can be moved around, after the backing has been removed, which made life a lot easier and meant less likelihood of multiple annoying and time-consuming mistakes! I’d definitely use it again for a similar project. Bit more expensive but well worth it.
It was really enjoyable seeing each vehicle coming together and every bit of progress was very satisfying but there were things about my organisation that would make working easier.
There were a lot of fabrics lying around and I seemed to spend a lot of time sorting through them making sure I had a good variety of colours and patterns so eventually I made a washing line of fabrics to choose from. It did make that part easier and speedier.
Since this was my first big appliqué project I decided to match my thread to the fabric (less obvious wobbly sewing of tiny parts was called for) so this meant numerous reels and matching spools. There were a lot of them and they were messy and easily knocked off the table to roll around the floor and come undone.
Another of my pastimes came in handy here. Golf tees are now my way of keeping cotton reels and spools together, it works really well!
Dougie’s first visit during the early stages of making threw up a glaring omission to the range of vehicles. There was NO fire engine. Not a fire truck, nothing with a tower ladder, a turntable ladder, with a hydraulic platform or stabilisers, no airport crash tender. No fire fighting apparatus what-so-ever. This was a BIG omission and had to be rectified. A fire engine was quickly designed in the style of the other vehicles, simple it may be, but Dougie, a four year old expert in rescue vehicles was satisfied!
There were times when progress was painfully slow, there were other, smaller projects to fit in sometimes. We, as usual, went off on our travels on occasion, Spain, Turkey, New York and Anglesey were somehow fitted into the itinerary in 2017. The garden, my other passion, could not be put on hold. So there were times when it was not just slow.
On one of our visits to Bristol Dougie asked: ‘Nain, how’s my chillax quilt getting on?’ Chillax quilt! He cracks me up, he loves to have a quilt when he has a relaxing time watching TV or just chilling on the couch, hence the ‘chillax’, he’s been using one that me and my daughter made together a few years ago but couldn’t wait to have one of his own.
On one of their visits here Dougie asked; ‘Nain, how’s my quilt coming on? Would you like me to help you?’ We did some cutting out together but he soon decided I could manage without him! Shame it wasn’t more straightforward really.
Inevitablely mistakes were made. Some were easily put right possible to adjust. But then there were others that had just gone too far and just had to be left as they were.
A car going in the wrong direction, for example, just has to become ‘Spot the silly driver!’.
At long last, some time in November the quilt top was finished, 72 vehicles, at least 6 pieces each, signage and an additional two rows of traffic light spots trimmed and ready to sandwich.
I have to say here that I am so pleased to have Aberdashery back, under new management and with quality stock growing back to capacity. I’ll always miss Jane for her good advice and easy manner but it is a consolation that the business survives. The town somehow didn’t seem complete to me, and many others, without that very special shop.
So I was able to just go into town and buy wadding and backing quickly and easily, no driving anywhere or waiting for delivery. Simples.
On to the quilting. Most of all it had to be quick and by definition, simple, I had just a couple of weeks for quilting and binding, while also continuing with all of the other million Christmas preparations that don’t seem to come to an end until the mince pie, carrot and Santa’s sherry are put ready on Christmas Eve.
So it was straight lines with squared looping that really didn’t take very long at all. My only worry now was the red and white striped fabric I had chosen for the backing. I had pre-washed it and the water was a bit pink. Would it run on to the white quilt top? I think I put about 5 colour catchers into the washing machine, just in case the colour ran. It didn’t, phew!
We had a lovely Christmas with our Aberystwyth family but it was the in-laws turn to have the Bristol family, so on the day after Boxing day we set off to have a toned-down second Christmas in Bristol. The present opening was as exciting as ever and I decided to leave the quilt until late in the day.
Every moment spent on that quilt was worth it when Dougie opened it up. his face was a picture and he lay down and hugged it. He had known it was coming sometime but he loved the surprise of actually having it.
It was a little while before he got up and began to examine the quilt and look at the vehicles and comment. He loved it and he said ‘I didn’t know Nain, I didn’t know.’
He examined it carefully and got wrapped up in his old favourite blanket and his new quilt before going off to enjoy playing with all the new toys with his sister and cousin.
When bedtime came, with a full house and a necessary sleepover in his sister’s room Dougie hunkered down with his makeshift bed half in and half out of Heidi’s teepee (last year’s Christmas present), snug and comfy, and with his Furby, under his new quilt.
Over the next couple of days I tried unsuccessfully to get a picture of the cousins together and all looking at the camera at the same time! Unfortunately it turned out to be a bit like herding cats!
But we had a great time together. Oh and by the way, it was ‘year of the dolls house’ for the girls.