You’re not going to believe this…

…but I’ve actually finished the Birds in Flight quilt!  I made the binding for it last weekend, and then took advantage of the fact that I have a cold and it was raining yesterday to spend the day doing as little as possible other than sitting watching videos while hand-stitching the binding down (yes, I’m a glutton for punishment, but it looks so much better when it’s hand sewn compared to just top-stitching it).

And here’s the result (with bonus Parsnips in the background – I didn’t notice her there while I was taking the photos):

Other than the fact that I really should have added an extra strip of background fabric around the edges so that the birds aren’t so close to the binding, I’m really happy with how it turned out. I had a few doubts about my choice to use a scrappy binding while I was sewing it on, but now that I see it as a whole I like it again. And I’m really pleased with how the quilting looks, especially the contrast between the background and the birds.


(The duck is definitely my favourite bird on the quilt – I’m not normally a fan of orange, but something about the way the different fabrics combined just works here)

I love the way the quilting around the birds makes them show up on the back, too:

And talking of the back, here’s the full effect of the rainbow stripe (which, yes, is a bit askew. It wasn’t supposed to be, and I thought I’d lined everything up correctly when I basted the quilt, but obviously not…)

Other than the slight slant, the back turned out exactly as I’d hoped. In fact, I think I almost like it more than the front.

Just as I was finishing taking the photos, the sun finally came out, so here’s a couple of shots to show off how bright those colours look:

Not bad for three year’s and two month’s work (I checked, and I started it in January 2015).

And finally, just for the pretty, an artistic-type shot of the back:

Block of the Whenever #4

Another very traditional block, the Ohio Star.  But unlike the other blocks I’ve made so far, which have just used two fabrics (plus the background), this time I’m adding a third fabric:


Technically you can make an Ohio Star with just two colours (or even one, if you kept the central square the same as the points), but I think it looks much better with three.

What you’ll need:

Print: one 3 1/2 inch square

Solid 1: one 4 1/4 inch square

Solid 2: two 4 1/4 inch squares

Background: four 3 1/2 inch squares and one 4 1/4 inch square

Pair one green* square with the pink* square, and the other with the large background square.

(*Obviously, you don’t have to use green and pink – I just can’t be bothered writing “solid 1” and “solid 2” every time.  If the fact that your colours are different than mine is too confusing for you, possibly quilting is not the craft for you…)

This is another way of making half-square triangles.  It only makes two at a time, which actually works out nicely for this block, and also doesn’t end up with bias edges on your block like the four-at-a-time method.

Draw a diagonal line across each pair (the line doesn’t show up very well in the photo, but I could see it pretty clearly in person), and stitch quarter of an inch either side of the line.

Cut along the drawn line and iron open, to get two half-square triangles of each colour combination.

Now take each green/pink HST, and pair with a green/background HST, with the diagonals running the same direction, and the green on opposite sides.

Draw a diagonal line in the opposite direction, and sew quarter of an inch on either side of the line.

Cut along the lines and iron open, and you’ll have four quarter-square triangles.

The quarter-square triangles should end up 3 1/2 inches square.  Trim off the dog ears, and lay out the block.

Sew together as a nine-patch, and you’ve got your Ohio Star.

A couple of my points didn’t line up perfectly (there’s a lot of fabric coming together in those corners), so I did consider unpicking that last seam and trying again, but it won’t really be noticeable once it’s part of a big quilt, so I decided to follow the most important quilting rule of all: “Finished is better than perfect”

The fridge magnet was a free gift thrown in with my last order from the Missouri Star** Quilt Company, and lives on the filing cabinet next to my cutting mat – it’s a useful reminder sometimes, when I feel the obsessive perfectionism gene I inherited from Granny trying to come out – luckily it’s nicely balanced by my inherent laziness :-)

(**There seems to be a star block named after every state in the USA (now there’s an idea for an overly-ambitious sampler quilt for someone!).  I’m sure a few more will end up in this quilt, though maybe not the Missouri Star – I think it might be a bit too complex to work well at this scale.  Maybe if I run out of simpler blocks…)

Block of the Whenever #3

Racing along here!  The third block is called a Dutch Pinwheel.  It has a lot of parts, but they’re all the same: half-square triangles. So the instructions are pretty short.

Now that I’m feeling a little more confident in my ability to sew a proper quarter-inch seam, I decided it was safe to start using some of my favourite fabrics from the layer cake.

I used the same four-at-a-time technique to make the half-square triangles as last time (mainly because the measurements fitted nicely into a 10-inch square). I think if I made this block again, I’d use a different method, because making them the four-at-a-time way means you end up with lots of bias edges, which makes it harder to sew all the parts together without anything stretching out of shape. These measurements are for that method, so if you use them, be warned it’s not the best approach.

You will need:

Print: four 4 1/2 inch squares

Solid: one 4 1/2 inch square

Background: three 4 1/2 inch squares

I won’t repeat the instructions on how to make the half-square triangles, seeing as I already did that yesterday, but you should end up with 16 of them, 12 with the background fabric on one side, and 4 with the solid.

Again, thanks to the edge being the hypotenuse of a isosceles right-angled triangle (sorry, the mathematician in me always comes out when I’m playing with shapes like this), there’s a fun √2 in the calculations, so the half-square triangles turn out a few millimetres bigger than needed. Trim them down to 2 3/4 inch squares, and lay out the block.

Sew each corner unit as a four patch, then sew those together into one big four-patch to get the finished block.

(Look! 9 1/2 inches again! It worked!!!)

Block of the Whenever #2

The second Block of the Whenever is a nice simple Churn Dash.  Nice and simple, but another block I’ve never tried before (possibly because of the whole “leap into the deep end before you try out the paddling pool” thing I’m so prone to…)

Because this block has a plain centre square, I picked out one of the fabrics with strong individual motifs so I could “fussy cut” one of the flowers to go in the centre.

For this block you’ll need:

Print: one 3 1/2 inch square
Solid: one 5 1/2 inch square, and four 2 inch by 3 1/2 inch rectangles
Background: one 5 1/2 inch square, and four 2 inch by 3 1/2 inch rectangles

The first step is to make half-square triangles. Everyone seems to have their own favourite method for doing this, each with its particular pros and cons. I haven’t settled on a favourite yet, so I think I’ll probably test out a few different methods over the course of this quilt, depending on how many I need to make.

The method I used for this one is another one of those slightly magic techniques that doesn’t quite make sense until you try it. First, place the two large squares right sides together, and sew all the way round, 1/4 inch from the edges.

Next, cut along each diagonal.

Iron the pieces open, and you’ll have four half-square triangles!

They come out just a millimetre or two larger than 3 1/2 inches square (because square roots), so you’ll need to trim them down to the correct size (and cut off the dog ears while you’re at it).

Next, the dash part of the Churn Dash. Pair the solid and background rectangles together, and sew along the long edge. When opened out, they should also measure 3 1/2 inches square.

And that’s all the components made. Again, there’s two possible ways to lay the block out:

Probably if I was just making this as a single block, I’d have chosen the second option, but I want to keep the background fabric actually as the background consistently across all the blocks (well, for now, anyway – I might change my mind once I’ve got more of them done and can see the overall effect).

Sew the pieces together as a nine-patch, and block two is complete:

And I can proudly say that this one turned out 9 1/2 inches square on my first try!  There’s something to be said for this whole being slow and accurate thing…

Let’s try that again

Not to keep you in suspense any longer, I made that block again, this time being a lot more careful about my quarter inch seams.  And it worked!

It’s still a tiny bit smaller than it should be (I actually think my sewing machine is slightly out of alignment, because the needle doesn’t come down exactly central in the foot, but I’m not sure how to adjust it), but it’s close enough to 9 1/2 inches to be usable.

The difference between the two blocks doesn’t look like much, but it’ll make a huge difference to the final quilt.

An important lesson in accuracy!

Block of the Whenever #1

A while back, on one of my “the shipping is flat rate, so I might as well add a few more things to my cart” shopping sprees from Missouri Star, I found a layer cake of Kaffe Fassett fabrics on special.  Kaffee Fassett is one of those fabric designers that you learn the name of very quickly if you follow any quilting channels or blogs, because everyone seems to be in love with his intensely colourful designs.  So as it was on special, I thought it was time I investigated the possibilities of this magic fabric.

I didn’t have any particular project in mind for it, so it may have ended up waiting in my stash for months until inspiration struck, except that the other day I was in Lincraft buying another spool of the blue thread so I can finish quilting the Birds in Flight quilt (which I will get round to finishing soon, I promise), and discovered they had a new range of cheap fat quarters in super-bright solid colours.  Which, I realised, would go perfectly with the colours in my Kaffee Fasset layer cake.  And that was enough for inspiration to strike on exactly what sort of quilt I wanted to make with it. So I bought a handful, plus some dark navy to use as a background colour, and came home and scribbled a few sketches, and a lot more calculations, in my little quilting notebook (which is actually just an old maths exercise book), and a design was born for a sampler-style quilt.

And along with that, an idea for a series of blog posts was born.  Everyone does those “Block of the Month” or “Block of the Week” quilts, with accompanying blog/YouTube posts for each block (I’ve even seen one that’s Block of the Day!), but there’s no way I could ever be that dedicated – my creativity comes in fits and bursts, not on schedule once a week.  So instead, this is a Block of the Whenever quilt.  I’m going to try and make a blog post for each block, but I’m making no promises about their regularity.  If I get inspired, you might get a run of several posts all at once, or if I’m too busy with other stuff, there might be long gaps between blocks.  But if all goes according to plan, the entire quilt will be documented as I go.

I also don’t promise these will be full-on tutorials.  How much detail I go into will depend greatly on how many photos I remember to take of the process as I go, and how inspired I feel to write it up afterwards.  And anyway, I’m intending that most of the blocks will be traditional block patterns that you can find a million tutorials for all over the internet.  But as I’ve had to do the maths to convert patterns for various sizes of blocks to fit the size I want (which is a 9 inch finished square*), I’ll try and at least share the measurements and enough basic instructions that someone who understands the principles of how blocks go together could reproduce them (and actually, mostly my aim here is just to produce a library of blocks for myself, so I can make them again in other quilts – that’s the traditional purpose of a sampler, after all).

[* In theory.  Except, spoiler alert, my quarter inch seams in my first block turned out to not be quarter inch, so my first block turned out too small.  I promise you the maths is correct though, it’s just that I need to learn how to use my quarter inch foot properly…]

Also, most of these blocks and techniques I’ve found repeated in multiple places around the internet, so I’m not going to give sources, because I’ve got no idea where they originally came from (so many quilt blocks come from long traditions of being passed from person to person, with no attribution).  But if there’s any that do seem to be someone’s original pattern, I’ll of course give credit.

Right, with the disclaimers out of the way, here’s the first Block of the Whenever: a Flying Dutchman (which I’ve also seen called a Double Pinwheel, or a Dutchman’s Puzzle).

The first step (and hardest part) was choosing the fabrics.  I didn’t want to start off with my favourites, just in case I messed the flying geese up (it’s the first time I’ve made them using this technique) and wasted the fabric, but it’s the first block of the quilt, so I wanted it to be a nice combination.  I think this one works, though:

And then the really brave part: cutting into the fabric for the first time.

You need:

  • Print: one 5 3/4 inch square
  • Solid: one 5 3/4 inch square
  • Background: eight 3 1/8 inch squares

This flying geese method is one of those quilting techniques that seems totally impossible.  You look at that combination of pieces, and there’s no way it adds up to eight flying geese.  And that impression continues all the way through until you iron open the final unit, and somehow it’s worked.  It still seems totally magic, even after I worked through the maths of it while I was working out the measurements.  Here’s the unlikely steps:

Mark a diagonal line across each of the background squares, and place two on diagonally opposite corners of each of the bigger blocks.

Sew quarter of an inch away from each side of the marked line.

Cut along the marked lines.

Iron open. So far, nothing like flying geese. More like weird fox faces.

Take the remaining four background squares, and line one up on the nose of each fox.

Again, sew on either side of the marked lines.

Cut along the marked line.

Iron open, and magically, you’ve got flying geese!

The units should each measure 5 inches by 2 3/4 inches. Mine didn’t. That’s because I was running the edge of my quarter-inch foot along the inside of the chalk line I’d marked, instead of the outside, and those few millimetres’ difference, added up over multiple seams, were enough to make the final units about an eighth of an inch too small.  Which means I really should scrap this block and try again.  But I decided as I’d got this far, I might as well carry on, just to see what the final block looked like.

Trim off the dog-ears, and lay out the block.  There’s two possible layouts, depending on which fabric you want to make most prominent.

I went with the print block on the inside, because the orange dominated the block too much when it was on the inside.

Sew the flying geese into pairs.

Then sew the pairs together as a four-patch for the final block.

In theory, it should measure 9 1/2 inches square (which would be 9 inches finished, because you lose quarter of an inch off each side when you sew it to another block). Mine is only just over 9 inches, so I can’t even pretend to myself that I’ll be able to hide the difference in the seam allowances in the final quilt.  It’s just wrong. But it’s such a pretty block!

So now I need to decide do I want to try and make another identical block with the correct seam allowances (I do have another piece of that same fabric in the layer cake, and I’m only planning on having 30 blocks in the quilt in total, and there’s 42 pieces in the layer cake, so in theory I can afford to waste a few), or do I try and adjust all the measurements for the rest of the blocks so they all end up this size (which would make the final quilt quite a bit smaller than I intended, and also mean the measurements I gave you for this block would make it bigger than all the rest of the blocks, if you were following along at home)?  I think the most sensible answer is to make it again, isn’t it?  It would give me a chance to practice getting those seam allowances right before I move onto the next block, too.

Yep, I’m going to have to make it again.  But not tonight.

Super social

Most important thing:  I finished the Lego quilt last weekend, and Lytteltonwitch delivered it to her friend, who apparently loved it.  I was pretty pleased with the finished product too:

The invisible thread, even though it was a bit of a pain to work with, worked out really well, giving texture to the blocks without standing out too much, which is what I wanted. And I really liked how the quilting in the border turned out.

It’s backed with some amazing Buzzy Bee fabric that Lytteltonwitch found, which goes really well with the colours and theme of the quilt. And I gave it a scrappy binding made from the left-overs of the block fabrics.

So, my first commissioned quilt successfully accomplished. Apparently my payment is going to be in the form of dinner at the Noodle Markets tomorrow night – seems like a fair trade to me :-)


I meant to post the pictures of the finished quilt sooner, but I’ve been incredibly busy – mostly at work, where we’re very close to launching another big project (I can tell you about it next week :-) ), which we’ve been working on for the last year or so, and which has been taking up the majority of my time for the last month (to the extent that I ended up working on Waitangi Day, just to meet a critical deadline).  I’ve been busy socially, too:  I’ve already been out three nights this week, plus I’m out tonight and tomorrow night as well – this must be some sort of record for me!

Tuesday night was Toastmasters, and I decided that would be my last meeting.  The club president had said something in his closing remarks a couple of weeks ago encouraging us to reflect on our aims for the year, and I realised I don’t actually have any Toastmasters-related aims.  I joined the club with the aims of improving my confidence, and to not be so nervous when I had to give presentations at work, and I have definitely achieved both of those things – I’ve spoken at conferences, and run meetings, and all sorts of things I couldn’t have imagined doing a few years ago.  And I’m not really interested in the competitive side of Toastmasters, or in learning to become a motivational speaker or anything like that – I’m good enough at public speaking for the kinds of public speaking I need to do, so I don’t feel greatly inspired to learn more.  Which means the only reason I was still going along to Toastmasters is for the social side, and I haven’t even been getting as much of that out of the club lately – a few of the people I used to get on with really well have left, and while new people have come along to replace them, it hasn’t really been the same (plus, as in any club, there’s one or two people who are annoying, and without the buffer of lots of people I do like, it’s harder to tolerate them).  Anyway, as this week is proving, I’m not exactly short of social activities!  So, as Tuesday was scheduled to be a short meeting followed by drinks, I decided to make that my last meeting, so I could go out with everyone for a drink afterwards and say goodbye.

Wednesday was a much more fun outing.  Jacq invited me to go to a recording of a podcast (The Nerd Degree) which their partner is sometimes in the cast for (though not for this episode).  It’s a brilliantly funny podcast, and even better in person (it was fun putting faces to the voices I’d been listening to online, plus you get to see all the facial expressions and other visual stuff that doesn’t translate to audio).  It’s recorded in a small studio in Ferrymead that’s just big enough to have a small audience (I think there were maybe 20 people there), so we were encouraged to make as much noise as possible with our applause so that it would seem like a bigger audience.  There was no problem with not making enough noise when it came to laughing – everyone was killing themselves with laughter!  They’ve got a small bar at the venue, plus you can order pizza to be delivered from Winne Bagoes, so we shared a couple of pizzas for dinner during the interval.  A great night all round (though very hard to wake up in time for work the next morning!)

Then last night I went round to Dana’s place to watch anime with her and her friends.  We’ve been watching a series called Inuyasha, and I can never remember the names of the characters, so I started calling them things like “Dog boy” (a lot of the characters are demons, so they look half human and half animal), “High school girl”, “Little fox boy” and so on.  Dana picked up on this, and now she sends me messages asking if I want to come round and watch Dog Boy with them :-)  It’s technically a children’s series, but it’s very entertaining, especially because we’re watching it in Japanese (with subtitles, of course!), so you get all those over-the-top anime voices.

I was actually double-booked for tonight, socially, because I’d invited Dan and his partner round for dinner, and then the Gwilks invited me over for a games evening.  But it turned out that Dan had to cancel, so it all worked out nicely, and now I’m going round to the Gwilks’ this evening (actually, I should really go and get myself some dinner, or I’ll be late – might have to finish this post off in another post tomorrow…)

Building blocks

I still haven’t got round to buying more of the blue thread I’m using for the Birds in Flight quilt, so in the meantime I’ve been working on the Lego quilt.  This time I’m quilting it much more loosely (to keep the quilt nice and soft, seeing as it’s intended for a baby), so it’s been going much faster.  There’s only a bit of the border area left to go:

I’ve been using a monofilament thread to quilt it, which has been… challenging (especially because I only just noticed the bit on that page where they recommend not using it in the bobbin… which I have been… oh well, it seemed to work ok anyway).  It sews great once you get going, but the thread is so fine and almost invisible (which is the whole point) that anything that requires cutting the thread and restarting (which means having to tie off the loose threads and threading them into a hand-sewing needle to bury them inside the quilt so they won’t work loose) is very hard work – just seeing the thread well enough to be able to tie a knot in it is hard enough, but threading a needle was almost impossible!  I did a lot of back-tracking over previously sewn lines to get to new areas of the quilt just so I could avoid ever breaking the thread!

The invisible quilting does look nice though, especially on a quilt like this where whatever thread colour I’d chosen would have stood out too much.  But I don’t think I’ll be using it on a regular basis – it’s just too difficult.

As you can probably see in the wee sample in the photo above, I used the different “bricks” of the Lego to experiment with different quilting patterns (inspired by Angela Walters’s Shape by Shape book, which is a seriously useful resource – although I don’t think I actually ended up using any of her patterns exactly as she has them in the book, they’re a great leaping-off point).  I’d originally planned to just pick a single design and use it in all the blocks, but I couldn’t find one I liked enough to repeat that many times, so I decided to use a few different ones.  In the end I think I managed to have no two exactly alike across the entire quilt (though some of the variations are pretty minor).  There’s a few bricks that didn’t turn out quite as well as I’d like, and one or two places I might have been tempted to unpick and redo if that wouldn’t have been so hard with the monofilament.  I suppose that’s one way to learn not to be such a perfectionist – make it too hard to unpick mistakes!  Hopefully none of the mistakes are too obvious – I keep telling myself that nobody knows what pattern I was aiming for, so they won’t know that I got it wrong :-)

Slow progress

Four spools of thread gone on the Birds in Flight quilt (and they’re 500m spools, so that means there’s 2 km of quilting in this quilt already!), and still a few areas haven’t been quilted.  I thought four spools would be total overkill, but I ended up quilting pretty densely, which uses up a lot of thread (and takes forever – next quilt I’m doing with a really loose quilting design!).  So I’ve run out of thread, and finishing off the quilting on it will have to wait until I can go and buy some more of that colour thread.

Hopefully it’ll be worth it once it’s finished though. It’s hard to get a real idea of what it’s going to be like when it’s all piled up on the machine and you can’t see the full effect, but I think it’s going to look really cool.


Talking of four, there was a wee earthquake last night in the small hours – only a 4.0, but it’s a sign of how long it’s been since we’ve had any decent aftershocks that it actually woke me up fully enough that it took me a while to get back to sleep.  I remember the days when I wouldn’t wake up for anything less than a 5.0 (and no thank you, I really don’t want those days to be back again!!)


Cicada season has begun, which means that (a) sitting out in the garden can get quite deafening, and (b) Parsnips keeps catching them and bringing them inside.  Being woken by a cicada loudly protesting at being pestered by a cat is almost as disturbing as being woken by an earthquake.  They also have a tendency to escape from her and end up in hard to reach places like behind the fridge.  I can report that fridges have absolutely no muffling effect on the sound of a cicada.

My finger is famous

Damp day again – I think January swapped its weather with December, so instead of the heatwave we’d normally be getting now, we’re getting rain and general “are you sure it’s summer?” weather. Oh well, at least it’s damped down the fire risk (literally), and I’m sure the farmers are happy.  It would be nice if we could find a happy medium between “stinking hot” and “cold and miserable” though…


Went back to work on Monday, and had hardly finished clearing my emails when a colleague dropped into the office to tell me that a TV news crew would be visiting the university to look at the Canterbury Roll (because we’ve got a scientific team visiting from the UK to do image analysis on it), and they might want to interview me about the digital edition.  Which meant I had to quickly dash home and get changed, because every day is casual Friday in the Lab over the summer, when we don’t have any students in, so I was wearing my usual jeans and a t-shirt, and thought I should probably try and be a bit more professional looking if I was going to be representing the Lab on TV.

I made it back to campus just in time to meet the UK team and help set up the room they’ve been working in so that it would look suitably “sciencey” for the cameras (and ever so subtly make sure that the banners advertising the various departments involved would be seen in the background :-) ).  When the reporter and camera operator arrived, we were all introduced, and it was pretty obvious that the reporter was only interested in the Game of Thrones angle that most of the newspapers have picked up on (the connection is pretty tenuous – the Roll was written during the War of the Roses, and Game of Thrones is loosely based on the War of the Roses – but of course the media love talking about it.  The Daily Mail even somehow twisted it into meaning that our Roll directly inspired Game of Thrones (and that’s not the biggest thing they got wrong in that article…)), and had absolutely no interest in the digital edition.  But I still had to hang around just in case, so I spent the next couple of hours standing around and occasionally being an extra body the camera person could instruct to point at things on the Roll while he was filming.  It meant I did end up in the background of a lot of the shots they used in the news item (not on purpose, I swear – it just seemed like wherever in the room I stood, the camera would end up pointed in my direction!) and my finger featured prominently in the teaser they used for the segment, but I didn’t get to actually talk about the important part of the story from the Lab’s point of view, how the digital edition is opening up a previously hidden document to the entire world, and using technology that’s never before been applied to historical documents.

Oh well, it was interesting watching the camera operator work, anyway – as well as the normal big news camera, he was using a little Go-Pro for some of the shots, especially the panning shots along the length of the Roll.  And it was really interesting chatting to the scientists about what they’re doing, and seeing some of their preliminary results – they’re basically photographing the Roll using different wavelengths of light (from UV to infrared), and using the colour profiles that gives them to identify what materials the pigments were made from.  Some of the colours also turn out to be transparent at certain wavelengths, so they can see what’s underneath (which is really important for our Roll, where there are all sorts of erasures and additions by later scribes, depending on whether they supported the Lancastrians or the Yorkists).

Then yesterday I got an even better chance to find out what the scientists are doing, because we had a day-long symposium to discuss the next phase of the Canterbury Roll project, so all the different teams that have been working on it presented the work they’ve done so far.  And this time the Lab’s work was well represented, because I talked about how the digital edition works, one of our directors explained its theoretical importance, and a couple of students who’ve been working with me on the next phase of the mark-up explained what they’ve been doing.  Presenting to a small academic audience isn’t quite as good exposure as being on the news, of course, but it’s more important that our academic colleagues know what we’re doing anyway.


Otherwise, this week has just been settling back into work.  I haven’t managed to finish the quilting on the Birds in Flight quilt yet, but seeing as the weather is so horrible, I might settle down with a podcast and get some sewing done this afternoon….