Caning begins

This is what frustrated quilters do…

…they find another hobby that takes more hours than they really have to spare while they wait for Christmas and spangly new sewing machines that will quilt.

This is my great-grandfather’s chair. It needs a little love and lots of attention, so I’m going to restore it. For a piece of furniture that is about 150 years old, it’s in pretty good condition. It needs re-caning (perhaps that’s obvious); having its wobbly legs seen to and a bit of polishing. I am under no illusions that that little list is going to take me a while to get through, not having much experience at all with furniture restoration.



So far, I have removed the cane seat. I used a knife to take off the main seat area, then drilled out any remaining bits of cane and all the glue from the holes.


The cane has been well worn by my ancestors. I’ll keep hold of it to use as a guide for when I start re-caning.

The pattern is called Double Victoria and is not the easiest for a complete beginner to start with. Oh well, I managed a king-sized patchwork quilt top for my first quilting project. Caning is surely a similar test of patience and pattern-building?

I can’t wait to get going!


I’m going to be brave…

I have just quilted this practice piece in a sort of loopy pattern with a couple of points to get back to where I needed to.

The tension was right, so the back looks just the same as the front. I wore washing up gloves, which made it easier to keep the action smooth.

Wish me luck as I take the plunge and start on the real quilt!

Final preparations for quilting

Here’s an insight into the jobs I have done in the days between finishing my patchwork quilt top and getting to the point at which I can start quilting.

Saving time by not caring about seam allowances for once

Turn nine metres of blue vintagey floral fabric into a 2.6 metre square for the back of my quilt.

I did this fairly quickly, not worrying too much about perfect right angles or cutting selveges off. To me, this was one of the most tedious jobs of the whole project. However, I saved time by not caring about seam allowances for once.

Sewing long lines of straight stitches is not what I started a quilt for.


Lay backing fabric on floor (wrong side down) after pressing seams.

You can see that even by moving a sofa and turning a TV unit around, I could not fit the whole thing so that it lay completely flat with space to move around it in my sitting room.

I did consider doing this job in my classroom, as there is nobody at work in the summer except caretakers and seagulls.  In the end I decided I would pretend I had enough space at home, even if half of the quilt was on carpet (not ideal for basting with safety pins) and half on the wooden floor (much better for basting).

Lie flat, will you?

Lie batting on top of the backing fabric, then quilt top on top to make a ‘quilt sandwich’. Pat it down to make sure it is all flat and then baste it with safety pins.

I thought this part was going to take me a really long time and used my son’s (precious) one day of the week at nursery to do this. Actually it only took two hours. I worked from the centre to make sure I could smooth any ripples out as I went along.


Check that the basted quilt fits under the arm of my machine.

It does.

Ill-fitting darning foot

Check that the darning foot my husband chiselled so that it would attach to my machine actually works on my machine.

It doesn’t.

Look at that enormous space between the foot and the fabric. The needle will bounce up and down uncontrollably and the stitches will be all over the place and non-uniform.

This is a bad thing.

Checking whether the quilt fits under the arm of my friend's tiny machine

Swap to the very small machine lent to me by a kind friend and check that the quilt also fits under that arm.

It does, much to my surprise! Hooray!

This is a far better machine than mine and should make the quilting entirely hassle-free once I have read the 90-page manual to teach myself how to use it…

WP_20130815_001 (1)

Watch lots of quilting tutorial videos and practise different patterns.

Here you can see my frankly laughable first attempts at stipple, pointed stipple, paisley and repeating shells.

I felt I was getting the hang of it as I filled up the last section of my practice quilt sandwich, and was silently congratulating myself on having chosen the right upper thread tension and needle (after snapping three. Yes, three.) to match the thread, when I turned it over and found…



I am utterly confused.

When the upper thread tension was really high (7) the stitches on the back were perfect, but the needles snapped. When the tension was really low (2), the quilting action was smoother and my wrists ached less, but this happened to the thread.

Go to see the experts and look at lots of their perfect quilts.

I went to my first Quilters’ Guild event today and the guru there told me to keep the tension low. She checked that I was using the right needles and thread. She gave me lots of confidence about using the stipple pattern and told me how large to scale it and how to practically fit such a big quilt onto a table and around the side of my sewing machine. She invited me along to monthly meetings. She laughed at my little boy’s burblings.

I felt I was high and dry and all I needed was to get home, switch on the fancy new machine and start stippling.

Mope around a little longer with an unfinished quilt.

Sadly, the title of this post turns out to be incorrect. I am going to have to make my final final preparations for quilting after even more practice quilt sandwiches.

Admit to everyone that the members of my family are all obsessed by little squares.

My poor two year-old. I have damaged him by taking him along to a Quilters’ Guild event. When we got home, he arranged his blocks in his block cart and said, “this is my quilt”.

My husband’s artwork uses small, colourful squares with lines of poetry on them that can be rearranged by the reader/viewer to create their own poems.

My quilt is is made of hundreds of little squares.

What is to become of us?

Evidence of my little square-obsessed family

Evidence of my little square-obsessed family

Jim jams to match my quilt

I ordered far too much fabric for the quilt back and found that even after I had stitched a 2.6 metre square of it together, I had enough left over to make a pair of pyjama bottoms for myself. I am looking forward to co-ordinating with my patchwork quilt top and also to being able to lie, entirely undetected, on the quilt back.

Some might say that faffing around with floral pyjamas is a waste of time when I have a quilt to, erm, quilt.

I would generally agree.

However, I am having rather a frustrating time getting myself organised for the quilting and have been unable to properly kit my sewing machine out with the correct darning foot. So, while waiting for things to arrive and having basted the quilt top to the batting and quilt back in only a couple of hours after expecting it to take all day, I found I had quite enough time to make a cheeky pair of PJs.

Just got to stitch this lot together now

Ready to sandwich

Ready to sandwich

Stitchers have friends too

My friend and I had no idea when we were performance poetry-obsessed, urban Uni flatmates that thirteen years later we would choose to sit inside on a sunny afternoon by the coast, each with an embroidery hoop, rather than swim in the sea or build castles on the beach.

Here we are, though, having a whale of a time. She’s making an incredibly detailed cross stitch picture based on a Victorian wallpaper. I’m embroidering a toy patchwork tortoise shell for my son. Both are far more useful to the world than performance poetry. Discuss.

Embroidery friends

Embroidery friends

Embroidered tortoise shell

My embroidered tortoise shell

My friend’s cross stitch

My son more-or-less demanded that I make him a patchwork tortoise after he helped me so expertly to wrap one up for a new baby last week. That was the second one he has seen leave the house destined for the clutches of other children. I think he was right to suggest that it was his turn to own one. As I said in a recent post, every baby should have a patchwork tortoise.

Here are some pictures of the patchwork tortoise under construction. I am using the English paper-piecing patchwork technique, which makes a lovely change from all of the sewing machine chain-piecing I have been doing for my quilt.

Pieces of shell pinned to paper templates

Pieces of shell pinned to paper templates

Back of tortoise shell. Pieces sewn together with tiny hand stitches. Paper will be removed when all shell pieces are sewn together.

Back of tortoise shell. Pieces sewn together with tiny hand stitches. Paper will be removed when all shell pieces are sewn together.

Front of tortoise shell almost complete

Front of tortoise shell almost complete. You can see the basting stitches I used to keep the paper in place under the fabric.

Almost ready to quilt…

All I need now is my 9 metres of backing fabric to arrive, a friend with a really big wooden floor (check) and hundreds of safety pins (check).

Finished quilt top 3

Cheeky, pleased “I’ve made a quilt” smile and a bag of cotton batting
Finished quilt top 2

You can see the colours really well in this shot

Every baby needs a patchwork tortoise

While taking time out from my quilt for making those tremendously tricky decisions mentioned in my last post and finishing off the academic year, one of my greatest friends had a baby. This, of course, meant that I was compelled to make a present or two for the little one. Here’s the first:

Patchwork turtle

Patchwork tortoise

And here’s the second:

Books not sewn or included in baby's present

Books not sewn or included in baby’s present

Because every baby needs a patchwork tortoise and matching, personalised bunting.

I’ll get back to my quilt soon, as soon as my summer holidays start. I know you’re all waiting with bated breath for quilting news.

Look what fell out of my quilt

Leftover block
When I pinned all of the patches around the quilt ready to sew as the border, I found I had a gaping hole. This was intensely annoying as I had counted and recounted and then counted again all of the patches as I was making them. I KNEW I hadn’t made a mistake. But, as quilting is basically all about counting and ironing, and I am not much good at either, I accepted that I would have to cobble together a replacement patch from my poorly cut leftovers. Then this fell out of the thing while I was sewing the border on.

Perhaps I should use it in my next quilt. Or even build another quilt around it. Maybe I should leave a patch from every quilt I make in future to carry on to the next one, sort of like a quilt version of a chain letter.

Anyway, enough of this procrastinating. I have decisions to make:

1. What shall I use as the batting for the quilt – big, fluffy polyester or thin, dense, warm (expensive) cotton?

2. Am I going to quilt it by hand or by machine? There’s no way polyester would fit under the arm of the machine, and I’m not convinced that even cotton will be easy enough to move around. I need to have a practice at quilting something a bit smaller before I let myself loose on this quilt as I have never done anything like this before and I’m not sure how tricky it’s going to be to sew straight or loopy free-hand lines on something so big. I don’t even have the right feet for my machine yet, although I do have an excellent, Textiles-teaching friend who can source them for me and hopefully show me what to do with them. I like the look of hand-quilting and I am ready with a huge embroidery hoop, but I don’t want it take months.

3. Depending on my choice of quilting style, I will need to baste the batting and the quilt back to the quilt top with safety pins or a needle and thread. Both methods are likely to take hours and I have nowhere at home to lay the quilt out for long as it’s a small place with a small boy running around it.

4. What fabric am I going to use for the back and the border? I can’t decide whether I want to emphasise the bright reds of the quilt or give it a really dark border. I think I need to take the quilt top with me to a fabric shop (and a couple of friends) to hold it up against different options.

These are my conundrums. I enjoy having them. I’ll let them fester for a while. But now I’m going to take a day off quilting and watch Andy Murray play his big match. Bet he doesn’t give a monkeys about quilting.

Redesigned By M

DIY-er who loves to redesign, repurpose, and reorganize just about everything.

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