Travel cupcakes

During September I enjoyed an extended visit from one of my nieces.  She arrived from Australia at the end of August with her primary objective being to “swan around” beautiful places.  She had a pretty full itinerary, taking in London, Bath, St Ives, Paris, Florence, Venice and Monaco.  All great choices if beautiful places are where you want to be.

As a welcome gift, I made her these travel-themed cupcakes.
Travel=themed cupcakes

Travel cupcakes

Thankfully, she didn’t need the map during her trip (Professor Google was a more accurate alternative – until the internet connection went down – oh, no!).   She also had a much more reliable form of transport than a sugar aeroplane (although not necessarily a tastier one).

The best thing about edible gifts is that there is no need to find room for them in an already bulging suitcase.  Her case may have arrived flat however it certainly went back more rotund, filled with lovely treasures from her overseas trip.

When it rains, look for rainbows

Is there anyone who doesn’t love rainbows?  They are so beautiful; a symbol of hope and a promise of better things to come.
Rainbow over rooftops

Rainbow over rooftops

The beautiful colours of Fancy by Lily Ashbury simply lent themselves to a rainbow quilt.  Even the press information about this collection described it as being like “rays of sunshine on a cloudy day” and “gorgeous, lush, and drenched with colour”.  


The collection was missing a purple so I hunted though my fabrics to find something suitable.  This was harder than it might seem as purple, particularly a dark reddish purple, is not a common colour in quilting fabrics (they seem to tend toward lavender and bluish purples).  Thankfully I found two.  

Purple fabrics

Purple fabrics

The sharks tooth is a fabulous match as the pattern mimics others in the Fancy collection.  The second had little birds on it.  At first, I wasn’t sure if this would really work with the other fabrics.  But then I remembered that in the song, “happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow” so it was obviously meant to be.  


The spectrum of colours made a coin quilt design an obvious choice for me.  I had so much fun making my last off-set coin quilt, I decided to use this as the basis for my rainbow quilt.  For this quilt, I used a jelly roll and simply removed any duplicate fabric strips.  The fabrics were used in the same order they were presented in the jelly roll and the same design was used across a row in each of the five columns.  A Flurry spot (Dashwood studios) in light teal was the perfect choice for the background.   


I had no dilemmas about what to use for the backing fabric.  It just had to be unicorns.  I mean, what else would you expect to find behind a rainbow?  Visitors to my Bucks Open Studios event were asked to help me choose which unicorn fabric to use.


Unicorn fabric from Far Far Away collection

Unicorn fabric by Heather Ross

It was an even split between the green and the purple colour ways of this lovely whimsical design by Heather Ross from her Far Far Away collection.


In the end, the decision was taken out of my hands as I could only source enough of the green colour way to complete the backing. Either one would have worked however the green is a beautiful, soothing colour that is the perfect counterfoil for the riot of colours on the front. 


The lovely, swirly Curlz (it’s my favourite) was used as the quilting design and a glorious sunshine yellow from the Linen Cupboard collection was chosen for the binding.


Off-set coin rainbow quilt

Off-set coin rainbow quilt


This cuddly, warm quilt in cheerful, sunny colours cannot fail to  banish dark days and rainy skies.  

Cycling cupcakes

Cupcakes aren’t just for girls.  Men like cakes too and manly-themed cupcakes are great fun to make.  When decorating cakes I love creating designs that will have special meaning for the recipient – either highlighting a hobby or featuring some of their favourite things.


These chocolate cupcakes were made as a birthday gift for a man who – can you guess? – loves cycling.  


Bicycle cupcakes

Cycling cupcakes

He enjoys following the Tour de France (the yellow jersey) whilst the rosette and gold cup highlight his success in competitive cycling. Early in his career he worked as a bike mechanic – as represented by the handy tool kit.  


The bike might look a bit rubbish however this was deliberate as it is a representation of his first racing bike.  When he started competitive cycling, his first bike was a broken down standard bike and not a specialist racing bicycle.  He painted it black and called it his “black hack”. Despite its humble heritage it was still a winner as he rode it to many victories before trading up to a proper racing bike.


No doubt you are now wondering, ‘Why the kangaroo?  How does that relate to cycling?’  It is no mystery really.  He is there because the recipient is Australian.  


Happy birthday, Skippy.  Hope you had a great day!  


(Note: the kangaroo design in based on a card tutorial I found on Pinterest.  If you are the designer, please let me know so that I can formally acknowledge your work).

Festival of Quilts – a picture post

On Sunday I made the journey to Birmingham (UK) for the Festival of Quilts.  It was almost overwhelming seeing so many gorgeous quilts on display (not to mention the shopping opportunities – but more on that at another time).  Rather than give an overview of the show, I thought I would share some of my favourite quilts.  They may not have been THE prize-winning quilts however they were all winners in my book.  

I loved the calm serenity of this quilt from the pictorial quilts section.

Quilt 67 - Marshwood Vale by Kate Dowty

Quilt 67 – Marshwood Vale by Kate Dowty

The sunny outlook and bright colours of this pictorial quilt I found very appealing.  You could find something new in this quilt each time you looked at it.

Quilt 60 - Good Morning Gorran by Brenda Thomas

Quilt 60 – Good Morning Gorran by Brenda Thomas

This close-up shows the amazing detail – all done a small domestic sewing machine.  Respect!

Quilt 60 - Good Morning Gorran (detail) by Brenda Thomas

Quilt 60 – Good Morning Gorran (detail) by Brenda Thomas

Here is one of my favourites from the contemporary quilt section.   A quilt covered in little dresses.  So cute!  And I loved the hats and shoes quilted in the background.  Can never have enough of those.

Quilt 718 - Nostalgia by Jannie Bloemers

Quilt 718 – Nostalgia by Jannie Bloemers

Quilt 718 - Nostalgia (detail) by Jannie Bloemers

Quilt 718 – Nostalgia (detail) by Jannie Bloemers

This quilt by Andy Brunhammer from the Art Quilt Category looked fairly nondescript until you looked at it through a camera.  Suddenly, the image revealed itself as the face of a sleeping woman (Bette Davis, no less).  How is this effect achieved?  I have no idea although it has “something to do with pixels”.  

Quilt 563 - Sleep Jezebel by Andy Brunhammer

Quilt 563 – Sleep Jezebel by Andy Brunhammer

I loved this tiny quilt by Joanna O’Neill.  It reminded me of the seven basic plot outlines – wo/man against something/someone, rags to riches, a quest and so on.  It is now difficult to think of a book that would not be improved by the addition of at least one cat.  

Quilt 8 - A Tale Worth Telling by Joanna O'Neill

Quilt 8 – A Tale Worth Telling by Joanna O’Neill

As lovely as these quilts were, I still prefer a quilt that can be used as more than a decorative piece.  I like quilts that keep you warm at night, share your picnic and that you can hide under during the scary bits in Dr Who (I still have nightmares about those statues!).  
This scrappy quilt, in which “no yardage was harmed in the making” was a delight.  Such a glorious collection of colours.

Quilt 327 - No Yardage was Harmed in the Making of this Quilt by Alison Robins and Krista Withers

Quilt 327 – No Yardage was Harmed in the Making of this Quilt by Alison Robins and Krista Withers

I also loved the blues and metallic gold fabrics used in this traditional sampler quilt.  Can you believe it was her first quilt?

Quilt 474 - Learning Curve by Janet Ann Bowden

Quilt 474 – Learning Curve by Janet Ann Bowden

And this one with a simple but very effective design of squares and half-square triangles.

Quilt 721 - Bank Holiday by Ruth Burdett

Quilt 721 – Bank Holiday by Ruth Burdett

Any of you who follow my Facebook page will have seen that I also entered a quilt in this year’s show.  Here it is on display.

Quilt 328 - Pot Luck Coins by Jen Kelson and Jenny Otto

Quilt 328 – Pot Luck Coins by Jen Kelson and Jenny Otto

And I received some very nice comments from the judges too.  All in all, a great day out.    

Bluebird Park quilt – a tutorial

This quilt I made was one of the most popular at my recent exhibition for Bucks Open Studios.  I have to confess, it is one of my favourites too.  
Bluebird Park quilt

Bluebird Park quilt

A number of people have contacted me since asking for the pattern. The world definitely needs more quilts so here is a tutorial to enable you can make your own version.
What you’ll need:
1 layer cake* (I used Bluebird Park by Kate and Birdie for Moda)
0.5 metre fabric for binding
3.5 metres backing fabric (more if you need to match patterns)
Wadding or batting approx. 60 inch by 66 inch (I used 100% cotton Quilters Dream Select)
Co-ordinating cotton thread
Cutting instructions:
To make the quilt top, cut each of the fabric squares from the layer cake into a 6 1/2 inch square, a 3 1/2 inch square, and two rectangles, each 3 1/2 inch by 6 1/2 inch.  The picture below will make it clearer as to how to cut your fabric.
Cutting diagram for Bluebird Park quilt

Cutting diagram for Bluebird Park quilt

You don’t need to always cut the largest square from the top left if the design placement would work better if, for example, the large square was cut at the lower right.  You just need to ensure that you get all four shapes.  Before cutting, I also checked that my layer cake squares were exactly 10 inch square.  It is probably not essential to do this so if you’re more of a “let’s get stuck in” kinda gal, then just get cutting.
Whilst you have your rotary cutter to hand, from the binding fabric cut 6 strips, each 2 1/2 inch wide, across the width of the fabric.
Sewing instructions:
Once you have cut up all your layer cake squares, you can start to have some fun. You now sew your layer cake squares back together using a different fabric design for each of the four positions in the cutting diagram.  
Using a 1/4 inch seam, sew a rectangle to a large square and press the seam toward the square.  Then sew another rectangle to a small square, pressing the seam toward the small square.  Finally sew the small square strip to the large square strip, nesting the seams where the points of the two squares meet.  This large square forms the block for the quilt.   
The quilt is comprised of 42 blocks which means you will use all of the layer cake.  If you wanted your quilt to go on a single bed, then I would make it as 7 rows with 6 blocks in each row.  If you wanted your quilt as a sofa throw like my version, then lay it out as 6 rows with 7 blocks across each row. 
Here is some printed card that I cut up to show the layout for the blocks.  
Bluebird Park quilt block layout

Bluebird Park quilt block layout

I couldn’t show the full quilt layout however there is enough that you should be able to see the repeat of the pattern.   The first four blocks in rows one and two form the repeat.  So row four would have the same block placement as row two.  This means your first block on row four would have a small square in the bottom left, the next block would have a small square in the top right, the third block would have a small square in the bottom right and so on.  
*Update:  the block orientation of the first two blocks on the second row is not correct.  The large square and small squares should be diagonally opposite each other.  The small squares in the first two blocks on the second row are in the correct position however the large squares in these blocks need to be moved from bottom to top and top to bottom respectively.  Many apologies for the error.
If you are using a directional fabric, such as Bluebird Park, you might want to lay out your quilt design before making up your blocks so that you don’t end up with bikes riding sideways or rabbits standing on their heads (unless you don’t want your quilt to have an obvious up or down).
Once you are happy with your block placement, sew blocks together for each row and then sew the rows together.  You will now have finished your quilt top, yay!
Sew your backing fabric so that it makes a piece at least 4 inches bigger on all sides than your quilt top.  Baste the backing, wadding and quilt top together then quilt as desired.  Finally sew your binding strips together to make one long strip and attach it to your quilt.
Congratulations!  You now have a lovely soft and cuddly quilt.
I hope you enjoy making your own version of my Bluebird Park quilt.  If you have any questions regarding the instructions, please do contact me.  Have fun!
 * layer cakes are produced by Moda and comprise 42 10 inch squares from a single fabric collection. 

3 great quilt binding tutorials

Binding is a really important component of your quilt as it is the frame that adds that finishing touch.  When I started quilting, I struggled to get a binding finish that I really liked.   For me, my first bindings looked a little too flat when I wanted them to be full and plump.  I also wasn’t keen on the appearance of the commonly used binding finish where one end is tucked inside the other (shown here on one of my first quilts).  
Binding tucked inside

Binding tucked inside

What I really longed to do was to sew a continuous binding which looks so much neater and less conspicuous.  Fortunately, there are lots of very experienced quilters worldwide who are happy to share their knowledge and skills via the internet.  Thanks to their generosity, and a bit of practice on my part, I now routinely sew a continuous quilt binding (you can just see the seam next to the little bird – neat, isn’t it?) and they always come up plump and puffy.  
Continuous quilt binding

Continuous quilt binding

If you have struggled to achieve a professional appearance for your quilt binding, then here are my three favourite binding tutorials that I used to hone my technique.
Tutorial 1
Rita, from Red Pepper Quilts, is one of my favourite quilters.  It was as a result of reading her blog that I first realised that a continuous binding was even possible.  Even better, Rita has a fabulous tutorial on her blog that clearly shows how to sew a continuously seamed binding.  She also shows in detail how to machine sew the binding on the reverse, rather than hand sewing, although I haven’t tried this myself.  
Tutorial 2
Next up is Kimberley from the Fat Quarter Shop who has produced a great YouTube video.  In the video, Kimberley shows how to sew a continuous seamed binding using a binding tool.  I don’t have the binding tool and instead use my corner trimmer to achieve the same result.  I also don’t have a Simplicity bias tape maker although it is on my lust list.  As an added bonus, Kimberley shows how to trim the quilt so that the backing and wadding is slightly bigger than the top.  This is the secret to creating a fuller binding.
Tutorial 3
Finally, this tutorial from Sewing4home.  This very comprehensive tutorial covers all aspects of cutting and sewing quilt binding.  It has loads of hints and tips including information on how to calculate the amount of fabric you need to bind your quilt.  
So there you have it.  Three fabulous binding tutorials to help you achieve a professional binding for your quilt.  Happy sewing!   

Raspberry and almond friands

If you are looking for a simple but delicious tea time treat, then you really should try friands.  These dainty individual cakes are made from butter, egg whites, almond meal and icing sugar.  Originally from France, I’ve been told they are now very popular in Australia and New Zealand.
Raspberry and almond friands

Raspberry and almond friands

You’ll find the recipe I used in the latest edition of the free Waitrose late summer harvest recipe booklet and it is also on their website.  
The recipe calls for 4 medium egg whites.  If you don’t want your kitchen cluttered up with left over egg yolks, then you could try using liquid egg whites which are readily available in the fridge section of most supermarkets.  Not sure how much egg white is equivalent to 4 medium egg whites?  I didn’t know either so I weighed the egg whites as I made the cakes and can reveal that they were 140 grams (always good to know). 
The only change I made to the recipe was to substitute raspberries for the plums.  It would also work well using other soft fruits, lemon or even chocolate.  Really, you could be as creative as you like.  
Friand, according to my French-English dictionary, means “fond of”.  Once you have tasted one of these lovely, light as air cakes, you will be fond of them too.  Enjoy!

Bespoke hot water bottle covers

Last week I was busy making some hot water bottle covers that were a custom order destined as presents for some special people.
Firstly, I was asked to make a hot water bottle cover suitable for a 13 year old girl.  It could not be too pink or overly girly as the recipient is a bit of a tomboy.  This quirky dog fabric from the Best in Show collection by Maude Asbury fitted the brief perfectly.  It is so cute!  There is also a cat design in this collection if that is more to your taste.
Customised hot water bottle cover

Bespoke hot water bottle cover

A pinky-peach toned spot fabric (shown as the background) was used for the lining and I used Kona solid in Cactus for the binding.  The spots were a great choice in another unexpected way.  Their fortuitous alignment meant that I could easily quilt the fabric by simply joining up the dots.
Customised hot water bottle cover

Bespoke hot water bottle cover showing lining

 The second cover was for someone who I was told would live in The White Company if they could.  For the outer cover I chose the white large rose fabric from the Petal collection (sadly now discontinued) by Tanya Whelan.  
Bespoke hot water bottle cover

Bespoke hot water bottle cover

The lining is a sage green spot fabric and I chose a deep red solid for the binding.  In this case, I couldn’t take the easy option of just joining the dots when quilting as these spots were irregular.  Instead I drew lines on the fabric with a water soluble pen and used these as a quilting guide.   
Customised hot water bottle cover

Bespoke hot water bottle cover showing lining

Some might think it a waste to use such lovely fabrics for the lining, especially when it is not on show.  I disagree.  To me it is a secret surprise only seen when the cover is opened for filling.  It is that little extra that makes it more luxurious and a bit special.
When making the covers I used Emma’s fabulous instructions as previously.  The only change I made was to quilt the fabric as a block first and then cut the pieces, rather than quilting the pieces individually.  I found a block of fabric easier to manipulate on the sewing machine and there was the added bonus that the quilting lines on the pieces matched beautifully (yay!).
Hot water bottle covers make a great gift for people of all ages and at any time of year.  Pick colours and fabrics that you know they will love and you will be giving a gift they will treasure.   Do get in touch if you’d like to order a customised hot water bottle cover as a gift for yourself or for someone special.   I’d love to help you make the perfect present.


Gender neutral baby quilt

When I saw this gorgeous rabbit fabric, I knew it would make a lovely baby quilt.  It is sweet without being overly babyish.  The stylish choice for all modern babies.
I have used it to make a whole cloth quilt using the same tutorial from Brighton Sewing Centre that I used for a previous quilt.  The only change that I made was to cut the main fabric one inch larger on all sides to allow for shrinkage.  
Crib quilt

Baby quilt

I chose the rabbits in a gender neutral aqua however it also comes in an equally pretty peach.  The backing is a gorgeous fluffy cloud fabric from the Storybook collection from Moda.  Perfect for sweet dreams.  
After auditioning lots of fabrics for the binding, I finally settled on this gold spot print which adds just the right amount of colour.  As before, I quilted in straight lines by eye whilst taking care to avoid the rabbits.  
Crib quilt

Baby quilt

The final quilt is about 1 metre square and has been washed to give it that lovely antique look.  And as it is 100% cotton, it feels cuddly and soft.
If, like me, you have fallen in love with the bunny fabric I have used (part of the Dress Me For The Playground collection by Dear Stella), it is available from Fabric HQ.  

Foundation piecing

Triangles and me; we don’t get on.  I have tried but found them just so tricky.  My triangle blocks did not come out square and as for matching points – what a nightmare!  There had to be a better way.
Thankfully the fabulous Karen Chapman came to my rescue.  She has years of quilting experience and claimed that sewing triangles and matching points was as simple as sewing on a line.  She promised to reveal all at an introductory workshop on foundation piecing held recently at Fabric HQ.  I did not have to think twice before booking a place.
So what is foundation piecing?  It is a traditional technique where fabrics are sewn together through a foundation material (could be paper or fabric) that has the block pattern printed on it.  The fabrics are placed right sides together, pinned to the back of the paper and then you sew along the stitching line with the paper uppermost.  Easy peasy!  
Foundation piecing - materials

Foundation piecing – materials

Above are the materials that I used for the class, (plus an Add a Quarter ruler and an old postcard – not shown).  Notice how tiny those inner triangles are?  Thank goodness this class was a triangle-cutting-free-zone.  Instead we got to work with nice, well-behaved squares and rectangles.   Just in case you were wondering, the numbers on the foundation paper indicates the order in which the pieces are sewn together.   I neglected to take any photos as I was piecing the block however there are loads of tutorials on the internet if you want to find out more about the process of foundation piecing.
So is foundation piecing all that it claims?  Absolutely!  Check out the triangles on my finished pincushion and judge for yourself.  
Pincushion - foundation piecing
Pincushion – foundation piecing
Thanks to Karen I have now overcome my fear of triangles.  I can’t wait to use this technique to make stars and other more elaborate quilting blocks over the coming months.  Watch this space!