Jewel Box Door Quilt (a squirrel project)

Jewel Box Door Quilt detail

Size: 26″ x 74″ (66 x 188 cm)
Design: Traditional
Fabric: 100% cotton batiks (various manufacturers) and Emma Louise black solid
Batting: Matilda’s Own 100% cotton
Pieced: 23-25 May 2023
Machine: Janome Horizon MemoryCraft 9400 QCP
Basted: 26 May 2023
Quilted: 27 May 2023
Bound: 28 May 2023

The house I’m moving to in Tasmania was built c. 1910, with hardwood floors and two fireplaces. I love it but it has one significant drawback — all the bedroom doors have glass panels which let the light in. Consequently, I decided to make a quilt to cover the one in my door (I have a feeling I’ll be making more of them for my cousins once my machines are down there).

I needed a quick and easy pattern, one that was adaptable to the door’s dimensions. After reviewing various alternatives, I settled on the Jewel Box block in a 6″ size (unit size 1½”). Four blocks across and twelve blocks down give 24″ x 72″, and I added a 1″ border for the final dimensions. This pattern also made it very easy to quilt in straight diagonal lines.
Batik fabrics
I picked out 48 of my batiks and cut one 4″ x 8″ rectangle from each colour, sub-cutting it into one 4″ square and two 2″ x 4″ rectangles. I also cut 4″ and 2″ strips from the solid black. For once I actually cut the backing and border strips before the blocks so I have borders on the warp grain, which is important for a hanging quilt.
Four-patch construction
I put the batik and black squares together and sewed either side of a drawn line to get the half-square triangles. Instead of cutting individual black rectangles for the four-patch units I used a technique I’ve seen online (I can’t remember which channel) where I sewed the 2″ x 4″ batik rectangles to the 2″ strips. I pressed them, cut each rectangle apart, drew a line down the middle and stitched a scant quarter inch from the line. I re-cut them, pressed them and trimmed the excess black fabric.

Once I had my HST blocks sewn I played around with layout, since it was a lot easier to do it with 4″ squares than with the completed blocks.
First layout
I wanted a value gradient from light at the top to dark at the bottom. My first attempt wasn’t too bad, but when I checked the black and white version I found that it needed several adjustments. Unfortunately when I started making those adjustments I ended up with very similar colours next to each other, which I did not want.
Second layout

My second attempt also used a value gradient but this time I worked on the diagonal, from top left to bottom right, with colour groups also in diagonal lines. This worked much better. There are some anomalies in the bottom rows but I had fewer colour options by that stage and I ended up making only one change (I swapped blocks 3 and 4 in the bottom row). Once the layout was settled, I did the rest of the sewing, pressing and trimming (so much trimming!).
Rows upside down
I tried really hard to keep all the blocks in their proper places as I assembled them and put them together, but after I had pinned the rows I realised that I’d webbed each row upside down, so the value gradient runs from top right to bottom left and the long diagonal lines of colour aren’t as clear as I had intended. My wrists hurt and I was on a deadline so I didn’t re-do it, and now that I’ve got used to it I think it may look better this way rather than having long lines of the same colour running along the four-patch blocks.

I added a narrow black border (I’ve mentioned before that I don’t like attaching bindings directly to blocks — it’s too hard to coordinate all those points) and took it to my sewing friend’s place for basting. I managed to cut my backing an inch too short so we basted what we could and I added a strip to the bottom before quilting. Borders, backing and binding are all the Emma Louise black solid so it wasn’t much of a problem, except that I obviously wasn’t paying attention when cutting the backing.
Quilting detail
Quilting was simple diagonal lines done with the walking foot. I used the same black Rasant thread I’d used for construction along the black diagonals, and then two different Gütermann 30 wt cotton variegated threads for the coloured diagonals. To be honest I wasn’t very happy with the end result of the variegated thread for two reasons. Firstly, the thread is loosely spun and the thread ends unravelled very fast once cut, making burying threads a challenge requiring a large darning needle. Secondly, I think it takes the viewer’s attention away from the colours of the fabric. With so many different colours, though, the only viable alternative was monofilament and I’ve never been able to get the tension right, no matter what thread was in the bobbin. I was pleased to note that my in-the-ditch quilting is getting better, although there is still room for improvement.
Hanging sleeves and corner triangles
I added a hanging sleeve to the quilt, but split it to allow the weight to be carried on three hooks as I wasn’t sure if I would be able to get over-the-door hooks and might have to use Command hooks which have low weight limits (not that this quilt weighs much, but the hooks may have to cope with cats hanging on by their claws). I added triangles to the bottom corners so that I could insert another dowel to prevent the quilt from moving too much.
Border and binding
Binding was attached to the back and pulled around to the front. Would you believe I used the lint roller not even five minutes previously? Those cotton fibres are worse than craft glitter.
Jewel Box Door Quilt
This has to be one of the fastest quilts I’ve ever made. I settled on the design on Sunday 21 May and would have started cutting except that my rotary blade was blunt. I bought new blades on Monday and did almost all of the cutting that day. Tuesday and Wednesday saw me sewing the block units; Thursday I completed the blocks and assembled the top; Friday was basting day at my sewing friend Sue’s house (hence the deadline); Saturday was quilting and Sunday 29 May was binding. I did my best to pace myself, doing a little at a time with rests in between, but my wrists are not happy so it will be several days before I can resume work on hexagons.

A final thought: my usual practice is to press seams open and then use lots of pins, but it does take about three times longer than pressing to one side and nesting. Since I was working to a deadline I opted to press to one side and I didn’t even spin the seams. This didn’t matter much for the HST units because I always cut large and then trim to size, but my four-patch units were all a bit small — sometimes more than 1/8″ too small — because my pressor foot and the way I position the fabric under the foot is calibrated for open seams. My seam intersections are a lot bulkier, too, but my machine powered through (luckily I was using a 90/14 needle — I think a smaller needle might have had difficulty). I’m not fussed about seams pulling apart, though, because this quilt isn’t going to be handled much and the quilting is quite close — every piece is quilted and no point is more than 1″ away from a quilting line.

Overall I love how well the pattern turned out and I would happily make another Jewel Box quilt if the opportunity arises.

Lessons Learned:
1. Measure twice, cut once!!!
2. Value gradients work better on the diagonal.
3. Pressing to one side vs pressing open has a significant effect on unit size.
4. If you are webbing your quilt from top to bottom you need to have the right-most blocks at the top of each pile or you’ll get everything back to front.
5. I don’t like 100% cotton thread for quilting, especially when it’s thick.

If it’s ugly but functional …

… it’s good.

I’ve been doing a little utility sewing this week — the result aren’t exactly pretty but they work and that’s the main thing.

A. Cat collars.

Cat collars
Cat collars

My cats are going on an interstate journey this week so they need harnesses. I bought the largest cat harnesses I could find but they were still too small, so I had to make some alterations. Every part except the neck loop had to be extended. The front strap was too small but was a good size for the back strap so is relatively unchanged. The back strap (which was doubled) was unfolded and became the front strap. The chest strap had to be enlarged by two inches for Vanima and almost four inches for Verya. I used 1.2 cm polyester woven tape because the smallest webbing I could find was a full inch wide and that’s a bit too much, even for my chonky girls. The chest straps are actually a little too large now but I retained the adjusting buckles so they can be tightened once the cats are secured.

Before you ask … yes, I have tried dog harnesses but the proportions are all wrong and the webbing used is a lot thicker — too much even for my strongest machine (the Janome Combi). I don’t anticipate moving the cats again but if so I might try to get narrower webbing and buckles and make harnesses myself.

B. Tote bag

Grey canvas bag side view
Grey canvas bag side view

Accompanying the cats will be four trays of cat food, already broken open and resorted into order of use (because I am functionally brain dead in the mornings and it helps that I only have to grab the next can in line). They are pretty heavy and I don’t have a suitable bag for them so I bought some canvas at Spotlight and made one to size. It wasn’t very difficult but of course I had to have a bright idea in the middle of construction that actually made things harder. The cat food trays are fairly heavy so I cut all the panels individually so that the warp grain would take all the strain and I didn’t have to waste any of the 150 cm fabric (I cut one strip of 12″ and two strips of 3″ for the handles). I also added a lot of reinforcing stitches. I decided to topstitch every seam as well, which is a good idea, but I chose to do it before attaching the base to the sides — while it was definitely easier to do at that stage it made attaching the base a lot harder and the corners are rather bulky as a result.

Grey canvas bag base
Grey canvas bag base

The handles go right under the base and are butted together, because I tried sewing the end seam and turning it but it was way too bulky and I wasn’t sure that the Combi would be able to cope with eight layers (nine if you include the base itself). Instead I sealed the ends with glue and stitched over the join several times.

I didn’t photograph the lining but it’s plain muslin, nothing exciting.

In spite of the mistakes I made I’m quite pleased with how it turned out. It fits the cat food trays and the chance of it coming apart because of the weight is minimal.

Edit: I know I was critical of the Wonder Clips a few weeks back when I was using them for hand piecing, but they were absolutely fantastic for this project — multiple layers of canvas were too thick for pins and the clips held everything together perfectly.

Lessons Learned:
1. Canvas needs half-inch seam allowances (they were starting to unravel towards the end of construction).
2. Don’t topstitch the side seams before attaching the base.

Koi to Neru (Sleeping with the Fishes)

Koi to Neru (Sleeping with the Fishes)

Size: 232 cm x 278 cm (92″ x 110″)
Design: Based on “Stained Glass Quilt Designed by Bob”, modified by me
Fabric: all cotton, various designs and manufacturers
Machine: Janome Horizon MemoryCraft 9400QCP
Batting: Matilda’s Own 60%wool / 40% polyester
Backing: Kennard & Kennard digital print 212, 108″ wide
Cut: January & March 2019
Pieced: April 2019.
Top assembled & basted: September 2022
Quilted: October 2022 and January 2023
Bound: January 2023

I’ve been attracted to bright, gold-accented oriental-style fabrics for many years — the Hoffman Antique Kimono fabric that I used for Serenity (still a WIP) was one of the first I bought, and at the time I thought it was the most beautiful fabric I’d ever seen. Since then I’ve bought more at almost every opportunity. Sometimes I was sensible and bought a pack of fat quarters, sometimes I let myself buy two or three metres. Some of them are authentic Japanese fabrics, but most are the faux-oriental designs by Hoffman, Kaufman, Benartex et al.

Obviously I was looking for a pattern that would show them to their best advantage, and that meant large pieces. On the other hand, some of the fabrics were quite small-scale and would appear dull in a large piece. Eventually I decided on a stained glass block which could accommodate all scales.
Stained Glass Quilt designed by Bob
My pattern inspiration was the “Stained Glass Quilt designed by Bob” which used to be on Craftsy/Bluprint but has since disappeared.
Block designs A and B
I changed the proportions to make an 18″ block and then designed an alternate block to allow for smaller fabric designs. I later found out that my altered proportions made the quilt very close to the Asian Scrappy Road design by Nancy Scott.

When I eventually hauled the orientals out of the cubby (which was full to overflowing) I found that I had 87 different fabrics … and that didn’t include the panels! I divided them into large, medium and small scale designs, and made sure that the square pieces were cut from the appropriate scale design. The rectangles were cut from the rest of the strips, taking care to ensure that horizontal and vertical rectangles were cut in the correct orientation. I decided not to use a few of the fabrics that were too white but I definitely used over 80.
KTN fabrics cut
It took me four days to cut them all, mainly because it was during the heatwave in early January 2019 and I could only stay in the sewing room for a half-hour at a time before I started dripping sweat on the rulers. Naturally, after finishing the cutting I found that the fabric pile looked no smaller than when I’d started. All the purple, pink and teal fabrics went into the Serenity 2 project box; the green, orange and brown fabrics went to the Autumn Leaves project box; and I used some of the red leftovers in an Aussie Heroes quilt which featured a dragon panel. I’ll have to think of something for the blues.
KTN sashing strips
KTN block and sash trimmings
The black sashing fabric is Emma Louise cotton (also from Japan), and all the strips were cut on 27 March 2019 (the wrong width — I ended up having to trim every single one). It’s a lovely matte black, very soft and easy to handle.
KTN blocks B &A
The blocks were sewn in April 2019. I then found that I had assembled some of the blocks incorrectly, but I would have had to take them completely apart to fix them and I’m too lazy for that. Instead I worked out how to arrange the blocks in a way that minimised the impact of the error.
KTN fabric detail
It was interesting to see that most of the real Japanese fabrics appear a little dull in comparison with the American fabrics and they never have metallic pigments — they only use gold in silk, never in cotton. They do, however, use textured weaves which add variety to the feel of the quilt. In the above picture, both fabrics at bottom right are Japanese — you can see the texture in the purple one. All the fabrics along the top are American, with gold accents.

Like many of my quilting projects it was on hold for a few years while I concentrated on doll dressmaking. Eventually, in July 2022, I took the blocks up to a friend’s place and we spent an hour laying them out.
KTN layout
I knew that there would be some clashes of colour and some places where the same fabric occurred very close together in different blocks, but after several rearrangements and a few photos we settled on a final layout with most of the lighter fabrics at the top and most of the fishes at the bottom (for some reason my friend Sue was not at all comfortable with the thought of fish designs at neck level). The layout photo is courtesy of Sue’s phone camera.
KTN top at Sue's (upside down)
Assembly of the top was delayed for a couple of months while my machine went for a service but then it was back to Sue’s for basting, which was a combination of spray adhesive and safety pins.
KTN backing fabric
I found a multicoloured wide backing fabric that went well with the colours on the front, so I didn’t have to do any piecing on the back.
Batting test
Since many of the fabrics are quite dark I considered using a charcoal wool/polyester batt — I had one in queen size (95″ x 108″) — but I had to discard that idea for two reasons: firstly, there are a couple of fabrics where grey or white under the fabric made a big difference; and, secondly, my quilt top ended up being 92″ x 110″ which was too large for that batt (like an idiot, I’d only added up the block sizes and left out the border). As chance had it, I had one king size batt in the stash which I bought for Pentastic but hadn’t used and since I’m never likely to make a quilt this size again I figured I’d use it for this one. It was my first time using a wool batt and I was very happy with how it handled. I was expecting a lot more bearding but there wasn’t much at all, and it didn’t create as much “fluff” on the surface as a cotton batt does.
KTN quilting detail front  KTN quilting detail back
I knew that the size of the quilt would make it heavy so it needed a lot of quilting to support it. I also knew that the top is too busy for any complex quilting design to be visible, so I decided on a very simple triple diagonal grid, worked in a tan Rasant thread that looks gold when it’s stitched but isn’t as fragile as a rayon or metallic thread. On the back I used another Rasant thread in dark brown. I had done about 90% of it when the machine crashed with a bobbin jam and had to go back to the service centre so completion was delayed by a few weeks.
KTN quilting goof
The quilting looks fantastic from a distance but I know how many wobbles there are in those supposedly straight lines. There are one or two more visible goofs (as shown above) but not many. The quilting took about 20 hours and I went through at least 15 bobbins, possibly more.
KTN binding
For the binding I used more Emma Louise black — I toyed with the idea of using a gold-on-black fabric but I knew that the gold would wear off very quickly and it wouldn’t contribute anything to the design. The binding was attached at the back and stitched down by machine on the front, because our January sewing day was moved up a fortnight and I didn’t have time to do the binding by hand (I can only do a little at a time because of my hand issues, and I’d rather spend my hand-sewing time doing hexagons).
KTN full picture
I took the quilt to Sue’s place for photography — we had hoped to use her Hills Hoist but it didn’t go high enough. Her husband brought out two stepladders and he and I held the quilt up while Sue operated the camera. The shot isn’t perfect but our situation was perilous — as most of you know (or should know) the highest point on a stepladder, be it the top step or a guide pole, should never be lower than your waist. I was on the second top step with no guide pole, and my balance isn’t great at the best of times. I wish Keith had gone up another step (he’s holding the right side on the picture, the one that’s drooping) but while I can take risks with my own safety I can’t tell others to do the same.

If you’re wondering where the “incorrect” blocks are, they start at bottom left and go diagonally up to second top on the right. If you can follow that line without losing track you’re better than I am.

Finally, I had to find a better name for the quilt than “Oriental Stained Glass” which was its working title for four years. Given the number of koi fish in the fabrics I eventually decided on 鯉と寝る (Koi to Neru) which is a near translation of “Sleeping with the Fishes”. Yes, my sense of humour is that weird.

A few more detail pictures:
KTN detail 2
KTN detail 3
KTN detail 4
(Apologies for the spider webs in the background — it’s been so wet I haven’t cleaned the balcony in a long time.)

Lessons Learned:
1. Measure twice, cut once!
2. Have a block diagram beside your machine when compiling complex blocks (especially if you are making two similar but not identical blocks).
3. Massive quilts are a massive pain to handle.

Small Project

My big machine is still in the shop — I presume that they have had to order parts. I’m chugging along with maple leaf blocks but I’ve already made one post about that. Instead I have a new project to show you.

Table topper completed
Table topper completed

I’ve been watching a lot of quilting and other needlecraft videos lately and on Saturday I came across Emma Jones’ video on The Perfect Quilt Project, so I decided to try it out.

Table topper fabric
Table topper fabric

I pulled a length of border fabric from the stash and something suitable for the backing. I already had a set of hexagon templates so I picked one with 3″ sides as the inner (6″ point to point) and 3½” sides as the outer (7″ point to point), which I thought would give me a half-inch seam allowance all around.

first hexagon
First hexagon

The geometry of hexagons, however, means that the seam allowance was only 3/8″, and with the thickness of the batting it left me a turnover of only a generous 1/8″ inch. Of course I had cut all seven backing hexagons at once before realising this. Still, I went ahead with the first one, using my iron and some PVA glue to help secure the turnover.

hexagon 1 finished
Hexagon 1 finished

The result wasn’t great — not only was I battling with the small seam allowance, but the batting was quite dense and not easily compressed (it was an offcut from the batting I used for En Bourgogne in 2019).

Hexagon zigzag
Hexagon zigzag

I used a zigzag stitch to secure the edge on the remaining hexagons which helped considerably but the small turnover was still tricky. I also noted that the corners were a little upturned (something I will have to be very careful about in future).

Hexagons 2 & 3 finished
Hexagons 2 & 3 finished
Table topper reverse
Table topper reverse

I discovered about halfway through stitching it that I had assembled one of the hexagons with the backing fabric reversed. Since I had already decided by then that this was going to be a standalone piece I didn’t bother to undo it but left it as a testament to poor planning.

Table topper completed
Table topper completed

The seven hexagons were assembled by whip stitch without any further issues, and in spite of all the problems I like the finished result. I’m not one for quilted decorations but this would make a lovely table topper or centrepiece.

I may try this method again — it’s very portable. To be honest, though, I don’t think it will ever give a result that is as flat and smooth as a top quilted all at once.

Lessons learned:
1. Bind-as-you-go hexagons need a backing that is cut at least ¾” bigger in side length (or 1½” point-to-point length if you are using Matilda’s Own templates). A difference of 1″ (2″) is better if you have thick batting.
2. Zig-zag stitches around the edge of the fabric and batting make the turnover much easier.
3. Glue-basting is much better than pin-basting for this technique.

Queen’s Tile Quilt (a thirty-two-year journey)

Queen’s Tile quilt

Size: 184 cm x 215 cm (73″ x 85″)
Design: Queen’s Tile by Sharon Prettyman (Quiltmaker #14 Fall/Winter 1988) / Celtic Squares by Nancy Dudley (Quilter’s Newsletter Magazine #212 May 1989)
Fabric: cottons
Batting: Matilda’s Own 100% cotton
Pieced: 1990 (blocks) and 2009 (borders)
Machines: Janome Combi 10 (blocks); Janome Memory Craft 8000 (borders); Janome Horizon MemoryCraft 9400QCP (quilting and binding)
Basted: August 2022
Quilted and Bound: September 2022

In 1990 I made my third attempt at piecing. By this time I had identified the problem with my slightly-more-than-a-quarter-inch presser foot and had marked the quarter-inch line on my machine. I was also a subscriber to Quilters Newsletter Magazine and Quiltmaker so I was more knowledgeable about the process of machine piecing.

Queen's Tile and Celtic Square patterns
Queen’s Tile and Celtic Square patterns

Two very similar patterns had appeared within a few months of each other: “Queen’s Tile” in Quiltmaker #14 (Fall/Winter 1988) and “Celtic Squares” in Quilters Newsletter Magazine #212 (May 1989). In both cases it was a relatively simple block that produced a complex interlocking squares design. I decided to use the simpler corner pieces from Celtic Squares but used differing colours for centres and corners as Queen’s Tile did.

I was still living in Victoria at the time, in an area that has very cold, very damp winters. While I knew that this quilt would have to have a thinner batting than Autumn Mood I still wanted it to look warm, so I chose red, orange and yellow as the main colours, with grey to provide contrast. Although the block pattern was identical throughout, I varied the colour of the central square. The pattern was for a queen size quilt with 64 blocks but I was in a single bed so I reduced the number of blocks to 30 (35 would have produced much better proportions). When the top was assembled I realised I didn’t like the orange I had chosen for the centre squares (an apricot which turned out to look insipid) or the black in the corner blocks (too stark) and I had used two different red prints in the corners where one would have provided a more even background. If I had used a single fabric for both the centres and the corners (as Celtic Squares recommended) then the interlocking squares would have floated, but that didn’t register with me at the time. Consequently, this top, like the rail fence, was put in a cupboard for many years.

Queens Tile top
Queens Tile top

In 2009 I decided that I would live with the imperfect colour choices, and added the grey and seminole borders. The top after that stage was 72″ x 84″ — too small for the queen bed I was using by then (the photograph shows it on the sofa bed in the spare room).

Queen's Tile border plan
Queen’s Tile border plan

I thought about adding a 6″ red border to bring the final dimensions up to 84″ x 96″ (a small queen or large double quilt), but I didn’t have enough of the original red fabric and I didn’t want to add yet another colour. It went back into the cupboard instead.

Queen's Tile backing fabric
Queen’s Tile backing fabric

In July 2022 I decided that it had been a UFO for far too long and its size would be sufficient for a single or, indeed, for the double loft bed I’d been using for a few years. I found a suitable wide fabric at Hobbysew and basted it at the end of August with the help of my sewing friend Sue. I started quilting as soon as I got my Janome 9400 machine back after a service (it had broken a needle on a previous project and it always needs the timing tweaked when that happens).

Queen's Tile Free-motion quilting
Queen’s Tile Free-motion quilting

The quilting isn’t complicated, although it did involve far too much turning. I matched colours except for the orange squares and the seminole border, where I used clear monofilament with red Invisafil in the bobbin (my machine did not like it at all, even with the tension adjusted, but we managed to finish). All the straight lines were done with the VD walking foot that is a half-inch wide and so is perfect for quarter-inch outlines. The interlocking squares and the borders had outline quilting, while the centre squares had simple diamonds. For the print fabrics I decided to practise my FMQ and did scrolls (very badly, but they’re barely visible against the print). All told the quilting took me about twenty hours over ten days, with many more hours watching a DVD while I knotted and buried the threads (approximately 400 of them).

Queen's Tile quilting from the back
Queen’s Tile quilting from the back

This is the quilting as seen from the back. It doesn’t look too bad but I wish I could have been more consistent in scroll sizing and stitch length. There are bits everywhere but that’s because it wasn’t meant to be a blog photo — I was checking for any remaining loose thread ends and the light happened to be at the right angle to show the quilting.

Queen's Tile border and binding
Queen’s Tile border and binding

I used off-cuts from the backing as the binding. I had intended to bring the backing over to the front as the binding so basted it with a generous 3″ border from the edges, but of course I promptly forgot that and trimmed the excess batting and fabric off as usual before starting to quilt. Then I managed to attach the label to a side of the quilt rather than the bottom, but no one will see that when it’s in use so I’m not re-doing it.

Verya burrowing
Verya burrowing

Cat tax: another view of Verya burrowing into the quilt from a couple of weeks ago when I was still tying off threads.

Queen's Tile outdoors
Queen’s Tile outdoor shot

Here is the photo taken at my sewing friend’s place on Friday — it was very windy but you get a good idea of the size and the colours. The safety pin was a marker for the block with the best FMQ, shown above, which I had totally forgotten about until my friend told me she could see it.

So, after a long, long journey of thirty-two years, Queen’s Tile is no longer a work in progress but a finished quilt.

The funny thing is that it’s technically terrible — no seam is straight (and some are puckered); no block is square; the designs don’t line up; the pressing was awful and every yellow piece has dark threads showing underneath. And you know what? — NONE OF THAT MATTERS. It’s a quilt. It’s finished. I don’t care if coffee gets spilled on it or it drops on the floor or the cats poke holes in it. It won’t be “kept for best” — it will be used until it falls to pieces, and that’s really what makes a quilt a quilt.

Lessons Learned:
1. When using blocks set side-by-side, think about the pattern as a whole, not just within each block.
2. Fabric suggestions in the pattern aren’t always the best options (except when they are).
3. Think carefully about the final dimensions before finalising the number and layout of central blocks.
4. Unless the quilt is square the borders affect the width proportionately more than the length.
5. Finished is better than perfect!

One last note: I placed the last stitches in the quilt while watching the funeral of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. It struck me that the colours of the quilt are very close to those of the royal standard — completely unintentional, of course, but sadly apposite. The title is also a reference to royalty, but to the House of Hohenzollern rather than Windsor.

Blue Christmas – Additional Photos

I took this quilt up to my sewing friend’s place yesterday and she assisted me in getting a couple more photos.

Blue Christmas indoors
Blue Christmas indoors

This is the “straightest” photo I’ve been able to get — I’m holding it up at the corners. It’s yellowish because it was inside.

Blue Christmas outdoors
Blue Christmas outdoors

This is the most colour-accurate shot but it was extremely windy and there was no way it would hang straight at all. As you can see, I have added two five-pointed stars in the top corners of the main panel and I’ll add others over the next couple of months — I still have twelve weeks until Christmas, after all.

Blue Christmas

Blue Christmas quilt

Size: 137 x 170 cm (54″ x 67″)
Design: Robert Kaufman panels in my own arrangement
Fabric: 100% cotton
Batting: Matilda’s Own 100% cotton
Machine: Janome Horizon MemoryCraft 9400 QCP
Pieced: September 2019
Quilted: 2019 and 2022
Bound: September 2022

This began life as a Finish-A-Long project back in June 2019. After finishing En Bourgogne I wanted a smallish project and decided on a Christmas Tree wall quilt. I didn’t really care for most of the tree panels I saw — too garish or too cutesy or too plain — but then I saw a couple of blue and silver tree panels and I realised that blue is a much better colour for Australia, being cooler and lighter. I also found two sets of small panels and some coordinating silver and grey fabrics.
Blue Christmas fabrics
It took me six weeks to get a layout finalised. My initial plan was to use all 16 small panels around the tree, in pairs to cut down on the number of seams. That plan was soon discarded because the spacing between the panels was 3/4″ between horizontal pairs and and 2″ between vertical pairs and it would have looked bizarre.
Blue Christmas layout long version
The second plan was to use the small panels with sashing between them. The small panels are 9.75″ and the tree panel was 23″ across (22.5″ finished) so I needed 3″ vertical sashing to make the measurements fit. With four panels across the top and six down the sides, 3″ sashing made the whole quilt 54 x 79″ — the width was acceptable but the length was too long, and it would require an extra few inches be added to the panel. Reducing the horizontal sashing to 2.5″ and then 2″ didn’t help much and made the quilt look unbalanced.
Blue Christmas layout short version
In the end I decided to discard two of the small panels down the sides and use 3″ sashing both vertically and horizontally. This brought the measurements to 54″ x 67″ — a little bigger than I wanted at the start, but manageable.
Blue Christmas cut pieces
When I finally got around to cutting out the panels and the sashing strips I was disappointed to find that not a single one of the panels was actually square — if you look closely at the finished quilt you can see some slivers of blue and silver panel sashing visible around the edges.
Blue Christmas backing fabric
Once I actually started sewing, the top was put together in a single day and then I procrastinated again while trying to find a fabric to use as a backing. Because this was destined to be a wall hanging the backing fabric had to be on the warp grain, which meant I needed at least 142″ (3.6 metres) of fabric. I didn’t have enough for two complete lengths in any blue or grey print fabrics so I ended up using a 2.5 metre length of a navy print and piecing the extension — not ideal, but it was better than going out to buy more fabric just for a backing.

Quilting started out well. I completed the walking foot lines along the sashes and the silver-on-white panels and started free-motion quilting on the main panel but then for some reason it stalled — it’s so long ago I can’t remember why. The quilt was set aside for three years until I picked it up again last week. My FMQ skills had deteriorated in the interval but I was in a “get it finished any way you can” mood so I completed the quilting around the ornaments and did pseudo-pebbles in the blue panels.
Blue Christmas sleeve and binding
For the sleeve I used an offcut from the backing and for the binding I used a medium grey Kona solid which went better with the quilt than any of my blues.
Blue Christmas quilt
All in all I’m fairly happy with how it turned out — the ornaments on the tree look amazingly three-dimensional (they’re not, really) and it will look great on the wall in December. I wasn’t going to add quilting in the background because it’s not a bed quilt and won’t be handled much, but having seen the wrinkles in the centre panel I think I’ll add a few five-pointed stars to hold the layers in place.

Lessons Learned:
1. Panels are weird sizes and never, ever square.
2. No matter how much fabric you have, you never have exactly what you need.
3. I need to do more FMQ practice.

Human clothes (with bonus cats)

Three tent dresses
As I planned at New Year, I have made some clothes for me. They are extremely basic — three tent dresses.
Tibet dress
They were inspired by a dress I bought a few years ago in a shop selling items made in Tibet — it’s a very light, loose-weave cotton patchwork and it had been overdyed with purple, which I didn’t realise until the dye disappeared after a few washes. I don’t like the olive colours remaining so I’ll have to re-dye it and hope that the dye lasts longer this time.

Front pattern V3 Back pattern V3
To make the pattern I roughly traced around the neck and armhole openings, front and back, of the Tibet dress. I didn’t add seam allowances as I intended to bind the openings, but I made notes on the pattern where they should be added. I had to extend the side out a little further because the dress wasn’t actually based on a square as I had thought. After the first dress I realised that the armholes were very large so I moved the side seam up by three inches, but that was a little too far so I had to drop it back an inch for the third version and that was almost perfect. The front pattern piece is extended down so that I can cut a lining if required, but I didn’t need it for these fabrics. For the hem, I marked a line 12-13″ / 30-33 cm up from the point and then used my French curve to draw a line up to the edge of the fabric.

I had bough three metres of the white stripe some years ago to use for laundry bag linings, but it’s good quality fabric and I realised that the diagonals would be vertical in a bias dress so chose it for the prototype. The second dress was a pink and white polka dot cotton and the third was also a quilting cotton but it’s a poorer quality — the threads are thicker and the weave coarser (but not so coarse that it needs a lining).

Surprise inspection by Verya
I had a surprise inspection by Verya while cutting the pink fabric — I heard a meow from above me and there she was, looking down from the loft bed.

Vanima helping me to cut fabric
Vanima turned up shortly afterwards — she hates to think she’s missing out on anything.

I used purchased bias binding for the neck and arms in all three dresses. The first two dresses had (years old) polycotton around the neck and cotton around the arms. For the third I bought new polycotton which was much easier to stitch through but also wrinkled in the wash — I’m not sure why, as I’m always careful to pin my bias parallel to the seam and pull it over with a perpendicular motion. I’m fairly sure it was all the same brand, too — Birch is what most shops sell.

I used 100 wt silk thread for the seams and bias binding, and 50 wt white coton à broder for the hems and seam allowances.

The tent dresses were made entirely by hand, for no other reason than I prefer hand sewing to machine sewing. Since the side seams were cut on the straight grain I knew that they would fray rapidly so they were my priority. I marked out a line half an inch from the edge and pressed a double-turned quarter inch. I then did the same around the hem. I stitched the side seam allowances down with a running stitch and then whip-stitched the seams. Once that was done I stitched the hem in place, also with a running stitch. I bound the neck and arm openings with bias binding, using applique stitch on both sides and an invisible join. Each dress took me about 10 hours over a few days, excluding futzing around with the pattern and cutting the fabric.
 Vanima helping me to sew V3
Vanima tried to burrow into the dress while I was binding the armholes, and when she couldn’t manage that she plonked her very hefty butt on the fabric instead (luckily she didn’t end up on the pins). It took three passes with the grooming brush (which she hates) to shift her back down to my feet.

[There are no pictures for this — I tried to photograph the fit around the arms, as that was the part that needed adjusting, but I couldn’t manage to hold the camera still enough for the autofocus.]

These are not dresses for a petite woman. They’re not particularly flattering but then that is not their purpose — they are for casual wear around the house in hot weather. They are very cool as the fabric swirls around and creates draughts around my legs. NB Why I chose the coldest summer we’ve had in years to make these I have no idea.

Also, if you spotted the stains on the front of V1, well done you! I was eating a cheese and tomato sandwich the day I wore it and of course all the tomato slid out and landed on the dress. I thought it would wash out without specific stain treatment but I was wrong.

Comfortable summer dresses can be made in a few hours even by hand.

Lessons Learned:
1. Even loose-fitting garments need to be tweaked for individuals.
2. Polyester cotton bias is a lot harder to stitch through than cotton bias binding. NB the polycotton bias in the first two dresses was pretty old and very stiff but I had to buy new for the third and it was a lot softer, so they have obviously changed the material or the stiffening agent.

Notes for future versions:
I think I’ll tweak the back neckline and armscye a little more, as in V3 it still feels just a bit tight around the back of the shoulders whenever I reach for something.

If I ever want to make facings rather than bindings I’ll have to make the shoulder straps a bit wider.

I took enough photos while cutting and sewing V2 that I could make a tutorial on the dress and/or the binding. Would anyone be interested in seeing either of them?

1750 Underpinnings

Gabriela in chemise, stays and petticoat
1750 Underpinnings modelled by Gabriela 1 (America Girl)
Note: I didn’t see the scratches on her face until I was working on the photos. I have some fine sandpaper so I’ll buff them out.
Also, my apologies for being a day late — I was catlapped by Verya and by the time she left me I was too tired to complete all the editing.

T&A 1750 Underpinnings
For this outfit I used 18th Century Underpinnings by Thimbles and Acorns. The chemise in Swiss batiste cotton was described in the previous post. For the stays I adjusted the boning channels (see below). The petticoat was quilted and made with one tie at the back rather than two at the sides. For the panniers I lengthened the top of the hooped section in an attempt to make them a little more vertical at the hip.

Fabric & notions:
Stays: a very old quilting print backed with cream cotton drill for the stays — the print is anachronistic but this was my first try at stays so I didn’t want to use “good” fabric. For the boning I cut up a clamshell pack that originally housed a crochet hook (waste not want not!), which allowed me to cut 1/8″ bones. I used purchased cotton bias binding for the edging on the stays, and crimson ribbon for the shoulder ties and the lacing.

Petticoat: the same cotton print, white flannelette filling, white cotton muslin for the backing and six white metal eyes for lacing.

Panniers: white polyester cotton with polyester bias binding for the hoop channels. I used ¼” strips of clamshell plastic for the hoops.
Gabriela in chemise
Gabriela is wearing the batiste chemise that I described in the last post. The white ticket around her leg is my new way of labelling the dolls (since the pinned cards were always getting lost).


Petticoat front
I used the same cotton print for the skirt as I used for the stays — still a little anachronistic but it looks fine from a distance. I cut the fabric 25″ long for a 2:1 reduction at the waist.

The “batting” is a single layer of white cotton flannelette and the lining is cotton muslin. The flannelette stopped at 1½” inches from the waist seam line and then the lining was folded over the top and felled down with an invisible stitch — I needn’t have bothered with that bit, actually, as the fabric is held down by the quilting. At the bottom edge, the flannelette stopped at the seam line and I trimmed the muslin to the same point. The hem was a double turned quarter inch that was basted into place to protect the raw edges while quilting.
Petticoat quilting
The design at the hem (four parallel rows and a single chain) was done by hand in backstitch over four nights and then the diamond pattern was stitched by machine because I didn’t want to spend a whole month on it. Unfortunately I was marking the lines quite late one evening while watching a DVD so I made a couple of mistakes, which you can see quite clearly on the reverse (blue arrows). This meant that I didn’t have one long uninterrupted line of stitching but several shorter lines, so more ends to knot and bury. I also made one mistake while stitching and went down to the second parallel line instead of turning at the first (red arrow). Luckily the print is busy enough that the errors aren’t visible from the outside.

I worked two rows of gathering stitches along the top, just above and below the stitching line. Unfortunately I used white polyester thread which meant that I wasn’t able to see the stitches to make them parallel, so the gathers aren’t particularly neat. On the other hand, I was able to leave both rows of stitching in place rather than removing them and they don’t show.

I cut the waistband 2½” wide so that it could be worn under the stays without revealing the chemise underneath and also so that it could be placed lower on the hips if it’s being used as an underskirt. Before pinning the gathers to the waistband I double-turned the seam allowance at the centre-back opening (which I had cut at 1/2″ precisely for this reason) and felled it down.
Stitching the petticoat waistband
Rather than stitching a standard seam (which would require stitching twice to catch all the folds, as I have had to do in the past) I used a Victorian technique as shown by various costume YouTubers — I pressed both the outside and inside seam allowances down on the waistband and applied them over the gathers, making sure to catch every fold.
Verya helping me make the petticoat
Just for a change, this is a photo of Verya “helping” me attach the waistband (it’s usually Vanima but she’s down by my ankles — you can catch a glimpse of her at top right).

Once the first (outside) seam was done I added a 3/4″ strip of cotton batting so that there wouldn’t be a sudden difference in thickness above the seam allowances, stitched the ends closed and then secured the inside of the waistband to the inside gathers. I found that even though there was a 1½” distance between the waistband and the batting, the stiffness of the quilted portion made it very difficult to pin, baste and stitch at the waist. There are four rows of stitches along the waistband (done by machine) to hold the batting in place.
Petticoat back
I didn’t enclose a tape but attached metal eyes along the edges for lacing (again, a little anachronistic but I didn’t think that I could stitch neat eyelets through batting).

Since I had already finished the edges I wasn’t able to sew the back seam in the usual way. Instead I whip-stitched the seam closed and opened it out gently once finished. You can barely see the stitches from the right side even with magnification and I didn’t bother to take a photo. Once that was done I undid the basting around the hem and fell-stitched it in place.

Stays front
Stays flat
Stays inside view
The first step (stitching the bottom hem) was done by hand but then I switched to machine for the rest of it as the cotton drill was a little stiff and my hands were hurting.
Stays revised boning channels
One thing that struck me as I was tracing the stays pattern was that the channels on the back piece of the pattern don’t make sense — there isn’t enough room for the 1/4″ bone to pass under the armscye, even allowing for the fact that there is no top seam. Also, on checking the photos in the pattern, the boning in the garment does not match the boning in the pattern. Having already made up my mind to use 1/8″ bones instead of 1/4″, I re-drew the channels, using an HB pencil. The centre front remained the same (3/8″ channel for a 1/4″ strip) but all the other channels were redrafted to 1/4″ for a 1/8″ strip. These channels ended up being a little large but trying to mark and/or cut 3/16″ was way too much hassle.
Stays front inside
Stays front strap inside
To reduce bulk along the top edge I used a Hong Kong finish (also anachronistic) — the bias was pressed open, turned over the edge, stitched down from the front and then trimmed. I’m sorry about the photo quality – I was trying to use the macro function and it never turns out well, but at least you can see the stitching.
Stays front strap
Stitching around the rounded ends of the shoulder straps was extremely difficult but I was pleased to see that it doesn’t look too bad from the outside. And yes, that is a very pretty eyelet, if I do say so myself.

Finishing the stays was delayed for a couple of weeks while I tried to find my eyelet punch, but eventually I gave in and stitched them by hand using a tailor’s awl to make the holes (I ended up buying a new punch once the lockdown was over and then found the original behind a chair).
Stays lacing
I started off by using 3 mm crimson satin ribbon for the lacing. All the ends were wrapped with polyester thread and then sealed with fabric glue to prevent fraying. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough length and when I went to get more I couldn’t find where I’d put it, so the stays are laced in white for now. I also made a small mistake in the lacing which I didn’t pick up until I was cropping the photo, but I’m not re-doing it.

For my first attempt I used homespun (because it was cheap and I had plenty of it) and commercial quarter-inch boning but it was a disaster — the homespun was too loose and the boning too stiff.
Gabriela panniers
For the second attempt I used polycotton (65% polyester. 35% cotton) from Lincraft. I stay-stitched along all the seam lines by machine and finished the seam allowances before stitching the channels and seams. I also used 1/4″ strips of clamshell plastic instead of commercial boning and I stitched the seams between the channels on the second side before inserting the bones.
Panniers 1
Panniers 2
The bones hold the shape when not under any pressure, but I’m not sure that they will hold up a skirt. The waist channel proved to be too small for 6 mm cotton tape so I used 3 mm white satin ribbon instead — it’s the same as the ribbon at the neck of the chemise so it doesn’t look out of place.

Stays look pretty good. They aren’t meant to compress as tightly as the 19th century corset, but I was able to pull Gabriela’s torso in a little — about half an inch. I’m not sure how the eyelets will stand up to that sort of tension, though.

Petticoat. The petticoat fits well but is very stiff (and could almost double for a French farthingale). The quilting is hard to see (I had to use a strong sidelight) but at least there is no visible stitch line around the top of the batting.

Panniers. The panniers sit a little bit higher on the hips than I expected, especially since I had added a little length to the upright portion, but a lot of that is the underskirt. I’m not sure how well they will stand up to any sort of load as the clamshell plastic is very soft, but I think I can get around that if I stuff them with Polyfil.

Lessons Learned:
1. Cotton drill is too thick to stitch by hand.
2. Commercial cotton bias binding is too coarse for a visible edging (the polycotton bias is much better but also much harder to stitch through).
3. Boning is extremely stiff and difficult to manage at this scale, while clamshell plastic is good at this scale for non-force-bearing curves but not if any force has to be exerted.
4. Quilted petticoats should be cut a maximum of 1.5 x waist circumference.
5. Flannelette is a bit stiff for quilting an underskirt, but I think it will be very good for stiffening or quilting around a hem.

Notes for future versions:
1. Try a thin wool batting for a quilted petticoat – although technically thicker, it compresses well and will drape more easily.
2. Use a densely woven bias strip for the trim of the stays. I may even sacrifice some poplin and make my own, since I use a lot of white bias binding.
3. Use boning/zip ties for stays and clamshell plastic (perhaps doubled) for panniers.
4. Cut the panniers with a half-inch seam to allow a double-turned edge finish in the upper part.
5. Stay-stitch all the seams before putting anything together. It might also be useful to darn the areas at the ends of the boning channels to reduce the chance of the boning poking through.
6. Reinforce the seams at the bottom of the upright portion as this will be under a lot of tension once the boning is in.

Three Chemises

Three chemises
Chemises modelled by Australian Girl Matilda, American Girl Samantha and Our Generation Sage.

This was originally going to be part of the 1750 underpinnings post but when I ended up making three versions I decided they needed their own post. The stays, petticoat and panniers will be posted tomorrow.

T&A 1750 Underpinnings
For this outfit I used 18th Century Underpinnings by Thimbles and Acorns. The chemises were made without significant alterations to the pattern but I did make some changes to the way the garments were constructed.

Fabric & notions:
Version 1: cotton voile
Version 2: Swiss cotton batiste, rayon lace
Version 3: cotton muslin, rayon lace.

All stitching was by hand, using 100 wt silk thread for the seams and some of the seam finishes. Single strand white embroidery floss and 50 wt coton à broder were also used for some seam finishes.
Voile, muslin and batiste, showing transparency
As you can see, there is some difference in fabric transparency: from the top they are the voile, the muslin and the batiste (1, 3 and 2 below).

Version 1: voile
Voile chemise, modelled by Matilda (Australian Girl)
Voile chemise, inside view
Construction was fairly simple as the body was one piece with a shaped neck facing. All the sewing was by hand, which went fairly quickly, but I definitely need more practice sewing buttonholes. I made pleats rather than gathers to reduce the sleeve fullness at the wrists but forgot to add pleats to the shoulder edges so the sleeve opening is much larger than it ought to be. This was a lucky mistake as Matilda’s hands are a bit larger than Samantha’s and Sage’s and she only just fit through the cuffs. Edges were overcast with cotton floss. I used 6 mm cotton tape for the drawstring at the neck.

Version 2: batiste
Batiste chemise modelled by Samantha (American Girl)
Square gussets
Batiste chemise, inside view
Because I only had 50 cm of the batiste I split the pattern into a front and a back and added shoulder seams. I also cut 1½” square gussets instead of the larger half-square triangles (the squares looked more authentic but were a lot harder to sew). Instead of overcasting I decided to trim one seam allowance to 1/8″ and fold the other over it, but the fabric frayed and some parts around the gussets and top of the sleeves were very difficult.
Lace buttonhole

For the neckline and cuffs I used some soft rayon lace and sewed it over the single-turned 1/4″ edge which both protected the raw edge and formed a casing. This worked very well and I’ll used this technique again for future chemises. And yes, you can sew a buttonhole in lace — I put some PVA glue outside the buttonhole outline, went three rounds with a running stitch, cut the opening and then went three times around with blanket stitch. I threaded 3 mm ribbon through the neckline and two lengths of hat elastic at the cuffs (not authentic but I didn’t want ties at the wrists).

I didn’t enjoy hand sewing with this nearly as much as I expected to. The fibres are very fine but the weave is relatively loose (which I guess I should have anticipated from the transparency). It was quite slippery, requiring careful pinning, and it frayed very quickly. I also found that the 1/4″ seam allowance was too small to allow trimming and turning a fell seam comfortably — in some places only two or three threads remained intact.

Version 3: muslin
Muslin chemise modelled by Sage (Our Generation)
Musline chemise seam finishes
Muslin chemise, inside view
I wanted to see if was possible to finish all the edges before sewing the seams but I didn’t have enough batiste so I used muslin for the third version. I traced new versions of the patterns and trimmed them to the sewing line, then added 3/8″ seam allowances when cutting, except for the neck opening and facing, the bottom ends of the sleeves and the cuffs, all of which had the usual 1/4″ (you can see some of the marking around the neck facing as I made a mistake and had to draw the seamlines twice – it will wash out). The hem was pinned up first and then the shoulder seams were turned and stitched. After that, all remaining seams apart from the neckline, sleeve bottoms and cuffs were double turned and secured with a running stitch in white coton à broder.
Muslin gussets detail
I whip-stitched the seams which went a lot faster than I had anticipated, but the gussets proved difficult — I had cut them as triangles, as the pattern dictated, but the small size and acute angles made it very difficult to achieve a consistent finished size while covering the corners — you can see how blocky and awkward they look in the detail picture. The lower ends of the sleeves were pleated and then the cuffs were attached with a fell stitch on both sides, which I have found is more accurate than a normal seam. For the hem I turned up 1/4″ to the outside and covered it with rayon lace — the lace is more open than I usually use for this technique and I should have double-turned the hem first, but so far there aren’t any loose threads protruding. For the drawstring I used 6 mm cotton tape again but whipstitched it so that it became a long narrow tube. I think it looks a little more in scale than leaving it at 6 mm.

After some consideration I decided that the best fabric for this pattern was the muslin. The batiste is the lightest and most transparent, but was very slippery and difficult to handle. The voile was the “heaviest” and most opaque but was acceptable for 18th century and will be ideal for more robust 14th-17th century shifts. The muslin is only slightly less translucent than the batiste and was much easier to handle — and since it’s also less than a quarter the cost of the batiste I think this will be my fabric of choice for any future 18th-19th century chemise. I definitely liked the little bit of extra definition at the neck when I used lace for the casing (in the batiste chemise), so that will be something I continue to use.

The easiest construction method was to follow the pattern directions and finish the seams after sewing (duh!); however this led to much fraying in both voile and batiste versions. Finishing the seams immediately after cutting and before sewing seams reduced the fraying and was generally successful except at the gussets, where it was difficult to achieve the correct shape and dimensions. I have three possible solutions for this issue:
1. Revert back to square gussets;
2. Retain the triangle gussets but don’t worry about protruding corners on the long sides until after the side seams have been stitched; or
3. Delete the gussets entirely, since the sleeve opening is large enough without them and dolls are rarely posed with their arms above their heads.
Whichever method I use, I will have to reduce the “gathering” on the sleeve as the armscye beyond the gussets is a little tight on the batiste and muslin versions.

As for fit, the chemise pattern is designed to be very loose, and although I’ve had problems with fitting American Girl patterns to Australian Girl dolls in the past, Chemise V1 fitted Matilda quite well (the sleeves are a little shorter but not so much that it looks awkward).

Incidentally, I like the combination of finished seams + whip stitch so much that I have since used it on two human garments (which will be posted in due course).