Pentagon – The One That Got Away


Whilst writing my book ‘How To Quilt for the Absolute Beginner’  the thought which kept me awake at night was the fear that hidden deep within the pages there was an error waiting to trip up an unsuspecting beginner.  I checked and double checked every project, measurement and decimal/imperial conversion to ensure everything was correct.  Quilting is so reliant on accurate measurements and any small discrepancy in the given dimensions can mean the final quilt does not come together correctly, so I knew it had to be right.  Once I had checked everything, the editor double checked it, then the proof reader checked it, then I checked it again.

Now, obviously everyone tries to avoid errors but maybe I wouldn’t have been quite so worried if the book wasn’t aimed at the beginner.  When you are learning a new skill the last thing you need is a book full of inaccurate information and we all know that this does happen – I have spent my life learning new skills from ‘How To’ books and have spent many hours trying to make things which have turned out to be impossible to make (especially for a beginner).  A particular woven button I tried to make recently springs to mind.  It took me almost a whole day to work out that the instructions given just didn’t work.  It’s not just ‘How To’ books which suffer from these types of errors.  Years ago, I spent Pancake Day fruitlessly trying to make pancakes for my little darlings from a recipe that missed out the eggs from the list of ingredients!  I just couldn’t understand why my mixture was more like glue than yummy mummy pancakes.

I can now make pancakes
I can now make pancakes

So when writing my book to say I became slightly obsessed with accuracy would be a slight understatement.  I had to avoid being responsible for a ‘How To’ clanger at all costs……..

Well, I am guessing you know what’s coming next don’t you.

I got an email from my publisher over the weekend.  They had been contacted by someone who had purchased my book and attempted to construct the Lavender Keepsake project, which uses the English Paper Piece patchwork technique. As instructed the novice quilter used the pentagon template provided at the back of the book, but it wasn’t until they had spend much time preparing their pieces and sewing them altogether did they discovered the template was inaccurate and their work was wasted.  The patchwork ball would not ever pull together correctly because the pentagon was not a true pentagon.  Oh the shame.  I was so busy looking at all the measurements that I missed a tiny error on the template.  It pains me that people will waste their time and think they are doing something wrong, when it is all my fault not theirs.

9. Pieces ready for assembly

So I hereby send my eternal apologies to the quilter who wasted her precious time trying to construct a ball using the inaccurate template provided by me and I thank her for letting me know.  Here is a PDF of  a whole page of correct pentagons to use instead.

Pentagon Template

Oh more shame.

Posted in Design, paper, paper cutting, Quilting, Quilts | 1 Comment

Bejewelled Beetle with Michelle Carragher

A few weeks ago I spent the day at the London Embroidery School  partaking in their Bejewelled Beetle Masterclass with Michelle Carragher.  Michelle is one of my embroidery hero’s – her work includes all of the amazing embroidery on the costumes for Game of Thrones and remember Helen Mirren’s costumes in the Channel 4 mini series Elizabeth I?  She did all the embroidery on those beautiful costumes.

helen mirren queen elizabeth I
Helen Mirren – Elizabeth I

Michelle was great, it was very informative hearing about her career and how she works with the costume designers to create the most breathtaking costumes.  Each one is a work of art and takes many, many hours to create.    I am not one for professional envy – but I have to admit I am in awe of Michelle’s talent and professionalism.

After hearing about her work, Michelle set us to work creating our own Game of Thrones stump work beetles.

It was an intense stitching day and one which I really enjoyed.  Michelle told us that it takes her about four hours to stitch one beetle, which gives you an idea how many hours goes into individual costumes, unsurprisingly I took quite a bit longer to finish mine!

But my little bug is now complete and I am very pleased with it.  I may use what I learnt to develop some brooches or similar I am not sure yet.  It was a great day  –  I learnt a lot and met some lovely people!

Bejewelled Beetle
Bejewelled Beetle
Bejewelled Beetle II
Bejewelled Beetle II
Posted in Design, Embroidery, Goldwork, stumpwork | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Portfolio Piece – I Can See Your Soul

I Can See Your Soul

My latest piece is part of a series of work based on medieval Northern European Christian Relics.  I first stumbled upon these when I was researching Klosterarbeiten (Monastery Work).  Whilst browsing online I found Paul Koudounaris’s  amazing images of medieval bejewelled skeletons.  His book is called Heavenly Bodies and it is truly amazing and a great resource to study medieval gold work techniques – I could keep busy on this for years.  Anyway  here is the start – glasses to see into peoples souls and a chin strap to keep your jaw from falling off (always useful).  More to follow

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How to Quilt – My first book!

Rachel's book
Rachel’s book

My book is finally out!  Available in all the usual places such as Amazon.  It is only out in the UK at the moment but will be coming out in the US and Australia soon.

I have long wanted to write a project book as I have been learning from ‘how to’ books since I was a child.  In fact, until the internet came along these types of books were my sole method of learning different sewing techniques, apart from what my mother taught me of course!

If you choose to buy my first book please let me know how you get on with some of the projects.  I will be posting some complimentary quilting tutorials on here but would be very interested to know how things turn out.  And if there is anything not clear then please drop me a question and I will put further explanations up for you.

Posted in Book, Quilting | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Dorset Buttony for Kids

Untitled 111
Simple Dorset Button in Progess

Last year I was asked by the Farming and Countryside Education (FACE) and the Heritage Craft Association (HCA) to write a Dorset Button tutorial which teachers could use to introduce this tradition regional craft to primary school children.  I was asked to include a brief history and instructions which were easy to follow for a complete beginner.

Easy I thought – seeing as back in the day, children as young as six were making these fiddly little buttons as a full time occupation, of course I can explain the process to today’s little darlings.  Well, I can tell you it wasn’t as easy as you would think.  Now, I am not one who believe’s that today’s youth is beyond hope, brain’s addled by too many screen hours.  However I have spent years teaching Art and Craft in primary schools and I know that most young children today would struggle to make a traditional Dorset Button.  Also this tutorial had to be used by a non specialist teacher with a whole class to supervise.   So simplification was in order.

Simple Dorset Button


It was a great project to be involved in and I hope that the instructions are as easy to follow as I intend them to be!   Download the tutorial here – DorsetButtony.  If you want to explore other countryside craft tutorials that have been written for Primary Schools there  are more here – Countryside Crafts


Posted in Buttons, Design, Embroidery, How to Make a Dorset Button, Tutorials | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Silk Flower in a Box

ancient paper flowers
ancient paper flowers

Just started working on a new series of pieces based around these amazing paper flowers.  They are from the 7th-10th century, I found this image on the Victoria and Albert Museum website and I don’t know why they caught my attention, maybe it was because they are so unbelievably old.  I thought the structure of the flowers was interesting too and they would make a good starting point for a project.  Didn’t realise at that point what an interesting history they had!

They were found in a sealed up cave called ‘Cave 17′ in the Mogao Grottoes, which is a shrine site on one of China’s Buddhist pilgrimage complexes, near a town called Dunhuang.  A man called Sir Marc Aurel Stein who was a famous  archaeologist, took them out of the cave and took them back to London with him.  (It is interesting to note that in Britain Stein is considered a noteworthy victorian archaeologist whilst in China he is know as ‘The Great Burglar”!!)

Anyway without boring you with too much detailed history (more here if you want to find out more) I looked a bit deeper into what on earth they were for, how they were made and how they ended up in a sealed up cave along with loads of other dusty stuff.

Most people agree that they were probably Buddhist votive offerings, (no, I didn’t know what votive meant so click if you don’t either!) and were stuck to the Buddhist sculptures at festival times.    Why they were sealed up in a cave is a bit of a mystery but “The Great Burglar”  didn’t worry about that and unsealed Cave 17 and took them out.

After I had worked out what they were, I wanted to work out how they were constructed and they weren’t as easy as they looked.  I couldn’t help wondering when scissors were invented.  It seems that whoever made them would indeed have had a pair of scissors to hand.

Once I got the hang of it, I made quite a few!!

paper flower - layered cut outs
paper flower – layered cut outs
cut out paper flower - layered cut outs
cut out paper flower – layered cut outs
paper flower - layered cut outs
paper flower – layered cut outs
square cut outs for the back of flower
square cut outs for the back of flower
And in pink
And in pink
Next stage is to start making them in silk and see where that takes me.
Posted in Design, Embroidery, Fabric Manipulation, paper, paper cutting, textile flowers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to…Make a Suffolk Puff (Yoyo’s)

A Suffolk puff is simply a circle of material gathered in on itself to form a smaller, double thickness, puffier circle.  Puff’s can also be stuffed for extra puffiness. Originally, Suffolk puffs were made from scraps of fabric and sewn together to make quilts as a method of reusing old material.  They were also traditionally used to create toys, I remember snakes and clowns being rather popular in my house.  Nowadays they have been adapted and used for all sorts of things;  brooches, cushions, hair slides, christmas tree decorations to name but a few.

They are so easy squeasy to make they don’t really need a tutorial, but I am just doing this so it’s easy to find.  Also I want to see how many times I can say puff, puffy and puffiness in one post!!

You will need

Material, scissors and strong thread

How it’s done

1.  Cut out circles of material  (double the diameter you want your puff to be plus about 2cm).

2.  Take a long piece of thread with a knot on the end and run a running or gathering stitch around the edge of the circle, folding over the edge about 5mm as you go to form a basic hem. If the centre of the puff is going to be covered then you can skip the hemming.  Also if using a thin material then you can poke the raw edges inside of the puff as you gather it together, rather than bother with the hem.  But if you are a stickler for detail then hem, as it is so much neater.

3.  Make sure you end you stitching with your long thread finishing on the same side as the knot otherwise, it is hard to tie the ends off.

3.   Pull the thread from both ends to gather the puff together.

4.    Tie thread ends together, or sew them in if you can be bothered.  Pull the knot towards the centre before cutting the ends.

5.    Flatten your puff, easing the central hole so that everything is nice and neat.

gather, tie and puff
Good to go

That’s it – told you it was easy.

NB.   With thicker material, like the calico I have used in the photos, the gathers mean that you have a central hole in the puff and the smaller the running stitch used, the larger the central hole as there is more pleats created.  With thin material the hole is completely closed.

See here for suggested uses, or send me images of you creations!


Posted in Fabric Manipulation, How to Make a Suffolk Puff, Quilts, Suffolk Puff, Tutorials | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment