Monday, 18 June 2018

Scrappy Patchwork Cross Stitch: Another Colourful Work-in-Progress.

As well as having an actual patchwork quilt in progress, one of my other UFOs (UnFinished Objects) is a cross stitch homage to patchwork quilts: a colourful patchwork of blocks stitched from Xs of thread instead of fabric.

I started this cross stitch back in 2014, as a way to make use of those scrappy bits of leftover embroidery thread which aren't big enough to be worth keeping but still have a few stitches left in them.
By March 2015 I'd stitched 23 little blocks of colour...

... and by June that year it had grown to 40-something blocks and looked like this:

I've been working on this in stops and starts over the years. I save up thread scraps when I have them, then sit down to add a little batch of blocks when I've got a decent amount of thread saved up.

I guess I could add a block at a time, each time I have a piece of leftover thread, but I quite like spending a few relaxing hours working on this from time to time. Plus, adding a bunch of colours at once helps me make the randomness of this project more of a controlled randomness - I can spread out the colours more easily, and get a more pleasing mix of tones and shapes than I think I would end up with if I added a block each time I had a scrap of thread to use up.

I like the randomness of this project and how the colour palette (and the speed at which it's growing) is entirely dictated by what other projects I'm working on, and the luck of what size thread scraps I'm left with... but I also want it to be something I love the look of when it's finished!   

By October 2015 it looked like this...

... and it grew a little in July and August 2016.

I didn't photograph it for a while, just quietly collected leftover threads...

... and added blocks in little batches, until it December last year when it looked like this:

That photo ended up being really popular on Instagram after it got featured by A Beautiful Mess (very exciting!) and quite a few people asked me for the pattern. I don't think this is something I could really do a proper pattern for, though, as I'd have to find matching colours for soooo many random bits of thread.

I am thinking about drawing a chart of the blocks when it's finished (in case anyone wants to copy the exact pattern of shapes I've chosen) but really the best way to replicate this project would be to use your own leftover threads from your stitching projects and make your own unique patchwork piece. I find it a really relaxing project to work on, and it's hugely satisfying creating something so colourful from scraps that would otherwise have just been thrown away.

At the moment it looks like this:

As you can see, I've decided to make this piece a square one instead of filling the whole of the fabric. This is because a) I think it looks great as a square (and it'll look fabulous when its framed) and b) I wanted to reign it in a little so I don't end up cross stitching little coloured blocks forever.

Now there's a limited number of spaces left to fill up, the end is in sight... but who know how long it will take me to actually have the scraps (and the time) to fill them and get this piece finished!

Friday, 15 June 2018

Summer at Kew: the Waterlily House & the Queen's Garden

One of the great summer attractions at Kew Gardens is the giant waterlilies.

British botanists first discovered giant waterlilies in 1801, later naming them "Victoria amazonica" after Queen Victoria (because if you're a Brit and you've got something big and impressive to name during the reign of Queen Victoria, you're probably gonna name it after Queen Victoria).

Kew's Waterlily House was completed in 1852 and is small but perfectly formed.


It's hot and humid (the hottest of Kew's glasshouse environments) and is home to the waterlilies, of course, as well as lotus flowers, ferns, and other tropical plants.

(You can also find giant waterlilies in the pond in the Princess of Wales Conservatory during the summer months at Kew - I'll share some photos of those in a later post).

I love this little glasshouse, with its round pond and dyed-black water - though I have to admit that I found the heat a little overwhelming at the very height of summer. I definitely prefer visiting Kew's glasshouses on cooler days! 

Another of Kew's summer delights is Kew Palace, which is open to visitors from April to the end of September.

Kew Palace was originally built as a mansion for wealthy silk merchant in 1631, but was leased by George II and Queen Caroline in the 1720s. George III later bought the palace for the Royal Family and lived here during one of his bouts of "madness", and George's wife Charlotte died here in 1818 after a long illness. You can read more about the history of Kew Palace here.

I enjoyed looking around the Palace and learning more about its history, but my favourite part of my visit to this corner of Kew was exploring the Queen's Garden next to the palace. 

The Queen's Garden was designed in the 1960s, is inspired by 17th Century formal gardens, and only features plants grown in Britain before and during the 17th Century.

In any other place, this garden would be full of people enjoying its loveliness but here at Kew it feels almost like a secret garden as everyone is off exploring the glasshouses and other famous attractions in the vast grounds. 


As well as the standard plant labeling, the plants in this garden are labelled with what they would commonly have been called in the 17th century, "plus a virtue or quotation from a herbal (plant book)".

It was really nice spending time in this quiet, beautiful place, reading a little about the plants and enjoying the garden and the views of the striking red brick Palace. I'd definitely recommend adding this little garden to your itinerary if you're planning a trip to Kew!

Click here to see all my posts about my visits to Kew Gardens, or click here to browse my entire archive of travel posts.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Making a Patchwork Quilt: My Longest-Running Work-in-Progress!

After finishing my patchwork mini squares blanket (which was a work-in-progress for six and a half years) and the Christmas quilt I made for my sister (which was a WIP for almost four years), I feel full of enthusiasm for Finally Finishing Things!

So, I've decided to tackle my biggest and oldest UFO (UnFinished Object): the patchwork quilt I started when I was a teenager. 

I started this project around 2001 or 2002, I think. It's so long ago that I can't remember whether I started it in my final year of sixth form or my first term of University - either way, it was a while ago!

In fact, I'd almost completely forgotten that this quilt existed until January 2012 when I found the half-finished quilt top stashed in a suitcase under my bed.

Back in my teens I'd used whatever cheap fabric I could get my hands on to make the squares, then sewn them together pretty haphazardly. I'm sure the fabric is a mix of loads of different fibre blends, some pre-washed and some not (i.e. probably a disaster waiting to happen when it gets washed for the first time).

It wasn't the most well-made, well-thought-out project, and upon rediscovering it I honestly thought it looked rather hideous.... but the idea of just throwing it away made me shudder.

I wasn't sure what to do about it (maybe put it back in the suitcase under the bed for another decade???) until my mum said that actually she really liked it and could I make it into a proper quilt for her. Problem solved, challenge accepted, et cetera.

At that point, the quilt top was part-stitched...

... with a few already-stitched rows ready to add...

... and lots of unstitched squares left, too.

I worked on the quilt on and off that year, gradually adding the remaining rows and squares...

... until December 2012, when it looked like this:

The squares in one corner of the quilt top didn't really match up with the rest of the quilt, so I took it out. I obviously hadn't cared about the mismatched section in my teens but on rediscovering the quilt it really bugged me so it had to go. (This section hung around it my stash for years then eventually found a new home and got turned into a fabulous monster bag!)

I decided to use the remaining squares to fill in the gap left by the mismatched piece, then added as many extra rows as I could before my stash of squares ran out.

I stitched a few squares together in 2013...

... added five more rows to the bottom of the quilt in February 2014...


...and filled in the "missing" corner in March 2014.

By April 2014 the quilt top was finished and I excitedly wrote that it was "finally ready to be turned into an actual quilt!"... before then packing it up and not looking at it for another four years (oops). 


This spring I am finally making a start on turning the quilt top into an actual quilt. I ordered some wadding and white backing fabric to complete the quilt, spreading it out on the floor of my bedroom just before we started work in there as part of my flat renovation project.

Even with most of the room emptied out, I only just had enough space!

I thought about trying to keep it a secret from my mum that I'd started the quilting, so I could just rock up one day with a finished quilt and say "ta-da!". I soon realised this was going to be impossible - it's so big and bulky now the wadding has been added that it would be very hard to hide even if I wasn't in the middle of a big DIY project with boxes everywhere and no spare space for anything.

So, I'm currently keeping the in-progress quilt and the quilting hoop in my parents' spare bedroom and working on it when I go round to visit them (and when I remember!).

I'm keeping the quilting simple, sewing a line of stitching down either side of each seam using white thread to match the backing fabric. I've got a total of 90 lines to sew, more than double the number I had to sew for my sister's Christmas quilt, which was smaller than this quilt and made up of larger squares. It took me at least 132 hours to hand quilt the Christmas quilt, so this one is going to take me... a while.

Wish me luck!!

Friday, 8 June 2018

My Flat in Progress: April & May 2017

Time for another update from my fixer-upper flat...

You can catch up with the story so far with my posts about what we got up to in December & January 2016/17, February 2017, and March 2017.

In April 2017 the living room was still looking rather chaotic, but my dad and I were starting to get everything wrapped up in there. We did the last few repairs to walls and woodwork, and finished the last bit of painting...

... then hung up the curtains and the voiles.

These curtains (like the ones in my kitchen and bedroom) were a cheap as chips clearance bargain - they don't look particularly exciting but they're wonderfully thick, which is always a bonus in an old house.

We'd taken down the old curtain track in March to scrub it and remove years of dirt and old paint splatters, then refitted it ready to hang the new curtains. I scrubbed and reused the fixings, too. Just a small thing, but every penny helps!

The DIY-related chaos continued to make for some interesting photo set-ups as I juggled work deadlines and the flat renovation. (Click here to see how this photo turned out!).

With the living room almost done, we focused on finishing the spare room.

My dad stripped some old and knackered paint from the door (revealing some fabulous texture which I was almost tempted to keep as a feature)... 


... filled, sanded and painted over the patches of wall he'd repaired the previous month...

... then filled and the door, added knotting fluid, and began painting it.

Oh, and we painted the spare room skirting boards, too. 

I turned up the voiles in the bedroom and kitchen - a task which was slightly complicated by the kitchen curtains not actually being level!

I also took this photo, which I'm calling Assorted Objects Some Kid Stuffed Into The Keyholes In My Flat (mixed media, 2017).

(As well as being a delightful bit of found artwork - in perfectly on-trend millennial pink! - this is also item number 2367 on my ongoing list of "things I have used a knitting needle for, not including actual knitting".)

In early May we finished the painting in the spare room...

... then put the room back together. It's amazing the difference just hanging a lampshade and some curtains can make to the feel of a space!

I don't have proper before/after photos to share (not least because these rooms were not and still aren't totally finished) but here's a reminder of how the spare room and living room looked when I first moved in:

After five months and lots of messy hours of DIY we finally had these two rooms smartened up, painted white, and ready for carpet. Not bad and also Hurrah!