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Sunday, 24 January 2021

2020 hindsight – my year in review

Over the festive season I participated in Ruth Singer's 'Gentle Goal Setting' for 2021. Truth be told, I'm still doing it. I was looking for a way to reflect on the momentous year just gone and plan for the year ahead – a process that would focus on my practice and what I want to learn and experience rather than numbers of social media followers, my marketing strategy or giving myself sales targets. 

Wanting to be present with family over Christmas (or as best as I could, after months of isolation) and then having a rather large work contract, means I'm taking longer to complete my planning, but being gentle with myself – as the process suggests – I'm OK with that.

1974 quilt machine and hand stitching
Detail of '1974', based on the stripe of a childhood jumper. Hand pieced, hand and machine quilted.
Looking back on 2020, the first thing that struck me was the number of rejections I got. Don't all rush to commiserate – I was also accepted for a lot of things and was given some wonderful opportunities out of the blue. Plus, I'm very good at giving myself a moment/day to be disappointed and then moving on – maybe I should give lessons? Seriously though, I applied for a LOT of things in 2020 so there were bound to be downs with the ups. 

Some of the rejections were for things I really wanted to do and others were about me supporting the organisation with my entry fee. Sometimes I didn't have the right work, even if I did want to participate. Some opportunities, once they were actually released, turned out not to be what I thought they were, and some I don't think I was quite ready for. Part of my reflection will be to go back and look properly at those rejections, to see if I can learn some more about what I should focus my time on. Was it something I really should have been applying for in the first place? Did it fit with the direction I want to take my work? Was my work suited?

Another reflection, came not from the course, but rather a moment just before Christmas, when a Covid outbreak started in Sydney, 11am rolled around for the morning's press conference and I felt a clench of anxiety in the pit of my stomach. It was only then I realised the feeling had been there for most of 2020. Worrying about when we were ever going to get out of lockdown, when I'd be able to see loved ones again, when I was going to get paid work. Of course, bad situations always end, but the lack of human contact I had for so long will take time to recover from, so I need to be gentle with myself there too.

Hourglass block quilt in khadi cotton
An hourglass quilt started during lockdown. Leftover khadi cut with scissors.
There were also two things that resurfaced during this process – things I clearly need to be reminded about, regularly. The first is that I don't like making to deadline. I think it's partly as my whole career has been so deadline-driven, but also because it's clear that I never produce my best work that way. Well not work that completely satisfies me. There are several projects I've walked away from over the last year and then come back to recently and they're so much the better for it. I'm never a great long-term planner, but there are times I think need to start thinking several years' out if I want to have the best outcome. I know for those who make dozens of quilts a year, this might seem insane, but it's just the way I roll.

The second thing that resurfaced is a reminder of what drives my making – authenticity and sustainability; a desire to keep learning; being generous with my time and my creative efforts; and, above all, my making should be a joy. Man, I need to be reminded about this a LOT. Especially when social media is telling me I need to release more patterns, tag or spruik someone's product, have more followers, make more videos bla, bla, bla. While I'm incredibly grateful for the people I've met through Instragram and the support I get – especially last year – this is the downside of social media for me. It's a constant pressure and it's exhausting. In the end, I feel I do make most of my decisions from the place that's driving me, but honestly, regular reminders are good and necessary!

Stack of Stitch & Yarn quilts
Quilt stack of my pattern releases up to mid-2020
So, what are my plans for 2021? Are they gentle? Hell no! They're ambitious as all get-out and way more specific than Ruth is intending, but I come from the school of 'bite off more than you can chew, and then chew like mad'. I will however, be gentle with myself if I don't manage them all, and having some flow into 2022 is also fine with me. My main aim for this year is to release an online course. It's is something I've been toying with for a while and 2020 gave me the opportunity to really work up the specifics. It's called Quilt Design School and is aimed at budding quilt designers – taking you from inspiration to publication. If this is all I manage to do this year, that would actually be OK. If you want to be first to learn more about it, then sign up to my email newsletter (above right) or drop me an email at the address below.

Of course, I also have a list of quilts – from finishing one for my oldest niece through to a couple of exhibition quilts for later in the year and a pattern release or two. There are also applications, but they will be few and far between for 2021, while I look again at where I should direct my efforts. And last, there are steps I want to take towards long term goals... The flipping print table for starters – how many years have I been banging on about that now? 

'Lockstep' quilt, releasing in March 2021.
You know what though? Making quilts isn't saving the world, and no-one will die in a ditch if I don't do any of this, so quite frankly, here's to a year of inspiration, connection and joy in the making! 

So how about you? Did you get a chance to reflect on your work, or perhaps lack of it it, in 2020? Do you have big things planned for this year or are you just going to see what comes your way? Are you feeling wrung out after 2020, or are you inspired, full of hope and ready to dive back in?

Sunday, 1 November 2020

How to stretch a quilt over a frame

How to stretch a quilt over a frame by Stitch and Yarn

If you've been on a zoom call with me this pandemic, or indeed seen one of the interviews I've done recently, then you'll have noticed a large stretched quilt behind my head. That was my first go at this technique more than a decade ago – so much wrong with that one, and yet not enough to make me take it down and redo it.

In the last year or so I've been inspired to refine my process and develop something that doesn't look like my seams are going to pop any minute! Stretching a quilt takes some practice, so please don't start with your favourite, soon-to-be-exhibited work. Start small, with something not too precious and take your time.

My next tip is not to make your quilt to fit your stretcher bars, order your stretcher bars to fit your quilt. You'll get a much better fit this way. I order my stretcher bars already assembled and fractionally smaller than the finished interior dimensions (seam line to seam line where the borders will be attached).


  • Quilt top and fabric for a border
  • Muslin or calico for backing
  • Wadding
  • Stretcher bars
  • Cutting mat, ruler and blade
  • Sewing machine
  • Hand quilting needle and thread (if tying the quilt)
  • Pins
  • Fabric scissors
  • Pen or pencil
  • Iron (and a tailor's ham if you have one)
  • Staple gun or glue – my staple gun is electric which really gives it that extra bit of power

Before we quilt, the first thing to do is cut back the same size as your quilt top. We need enough so the edges are hidden behind the stretcher bars, but not so much that it adds bulk to the corners, so matching it to your quilt top is perfect. The easiest way is to lie the quilt top (or flimsy) face up on your backing and cut around it.


Now we can get onto quilting. I don't want my quilting to show here so I'm going to tie it. You can quilt your piece as normal if you like but don't order your stretcher bars until after you've quilted as the quilt will shrink.

Make sure you have enough wadding around the edges of your work to allow for the width of your stretcher bar and then some. I'm just allowing an extra half an inch in addition to my stretcher bar width, but if you're working with a larger quilt it would be hard to centre it in such a small measurement, so give yourself extra room.

Quilt ready for quilting

Next, baste the quilt. I've spray basted, but you could also thread or pin baste. Remember though, that pin basting may leave pinholes and you won't be able to wash the quilt to remove them with this technique.

I've just tied my quilt with standard sewing thread in the same colour as the block I'm going to be stitching through. Stitching in the ditch will mean your quilting will be invisible. 

Thread for tying quilt
These stitches are very small, made about a hand-width apart. If you're unsure how to tie a quilt there are plenty of tutorials online. Just remember, that instead of tying on the front of the quilt for effect, we're tying on the back of the quilt for stability. It's not the easiest thing to see, but below left is a picture of the back once the stitches have been made and below right is after the threads have been snipped and tied.

Be like Goldilocks with your tying – not too loose and not too tight, but just right! If the tying is too loose the quilt face can slip or puckers and if the tying is too tight it drags on the stitches when you're stretching over the frame and they become visible.

Quilt tying on the back


Now we're going to remove some of the wadding bulk, first from the corners. With your ruler overlapping your quilt edge by 1/4" (ie where the border will be sewn on) draw lines out beyond the quilt at either edge of the wadding.

Removing wadding in corners
Do the same on all four sides. Pin the corners out of the way and cut along the lines (I find scissors easier at this point) removing the corners of the wadding.

Removing wadding corners

Next, trim the wadding down so it will stretch down the side of the stretcher bars, but not around to the back. I prefer not to have my wadding go around the back of the quilt as it adds extra bulk and makes the corners trickier. However, it does make it easier to remove the staples if you need to, as you can get a flat screwdriver under the wadding more easily.

The distance to measure is the exact depth of the stretcher bars, with the frame sitting 1/4" in from the edge of the quilt – allowing for the seam allowance where the border will be attached. Basically, sit your stretcher bars along the edge of the wadding that's been trimmed from the corner (as shown below). If you want to have the wadding go around the back of the frame and not just around the sides, add an extra 3/8–1/2".

Trimming wadding to size

Back and borders

This is not the normal way of things with a quilt, but it's now that the borders are attached.

First pin the back to the wadding, lining it up at the visible corners of the front.  Place the pins away from the edges as they'll stay in place while the borders are sewn on the other side. You could spray baste (or thread tack) your backing in place if you prefer and that might be preferable on a larger quilt.

Pinning quilt back

I'm attaching my top and bottom borders first but it doesn't matter if you start with the sides.  The border top and bottom are the same length as the existing flimsy and the width is:

1/4" + the depth of stretcher bars + 5/8"

Attach them with a 1/4" seam, then before pressing open, clip the corners on both the front and the back of the quilt.

Attaching top and bottom borders
Left: Pinning top and bottom borders to the quilt. Right: trimming corners at the front and back after sewing borders.

Iron the borders back and then top stitch. Now iron the border and wadding to the back to create the crease line for framing. 

Top stitching and folding border
Left: top stitching.  Right: Ironing borders over.

Flatten out the quilt again and attach the side borders. They should be as long as the flimsy plus top and bottom borders and again the width will be:

1/4" + the depth of stretcher bars + 5/8"

Iron the border back, top stitch and then iron the border and wadding back to create the crease line.

The next step I do is to sign the back of my quilt. It's too hard to do once the quilt is framed. Just remember to allow for the width of your stretcher bars when signing. Note how the back looks on each edge – a row of stitching to attach the border and a row of top stitching. 

Quilt sides and back
Left: Sides pinned ready for sewing, pressing, top stitching and pressing back with wadding. Right: Signed back.

Creating the frame nest

This is the last step before stapling (or gluing) and it's here we're removing the bulk in the corners so there's no awkward folding later.

Working your way around each corner, with right sides of the border fabric together and the border seam line facing you, feel to line up the wadding edges on either side and pin. The reason you want the seam line facing you is that we'll be sewing just inside that line so the border seam won't be visible on the right side. This will mean that for two of the corners you'll be sewing from the corner to the edge and for the other two, from the edge to the corner. Reinforce the stitching at either end as this seam comes under the most pressure.

Reducing corner fabric bulk
Left: Pin corner fabric right sides together.  Right: Sew just inside the seam line as marked.

When you turn your corners out the other way they should look like this.

sewn corners
On the wrong side there will be a flap of corner fabric that can now be trimmed off. I trimmed my on the cutting mat with a blade and ruler and left a standard 1/4" seam. If you've got a tailor's ham it's worth giving everything a bit of a press at this point.
trim fabric corners 
Now place the frame inside the nest. Inserting one corner at a time, make sure the wadding is sitting flat and ease the corner seams either side, or to one side, of the frame.

Frame in nest 

Final step!

Now it's time for stapling or gluing. Stapling requires a fair bit of effort and pressure, so if your hands and arms aren't up to it, gluing might be a better option. In that case glue the wadding to the frame first, stretching it and then clamping it in place as you go. Clamps can be removed after the glue is dry and then the borders can be glued down and clamped.

Either way, look on the front side first and make sure your frame is sitting evenly in the nest. Stretch the work as you go and keep checking the front as you work. If stapling, first place a staple in the centre of each side of the piece.

First staples 
Continue working from top to bottom and side to side, out from the centre staples. Leave yourself a bit of room at the corners to fold the fabric under. Using a butter knife helps push the fabric neatly in place. 

Stapling progressAfter stapling the corners you might still need one more staple either side of each corner.  Sometimes I need to hammer a staple further in if it doesn't quite hit the mark. If your arm is getting tired, it's better to stop and rest as wonky staples can be difficult to remove and sometimes snap off in the wood, making them extra difficult, if not impossible, to remove.

Hopefully after stapling the back looks something like this. I'm slowly getting neater each time I try this technique – practice makes perfect!backside of frame showing staples

And there you have it! I'd love to hear how you go with this technique. There are plenty of tutorials online and I've just taken what works for me. Definitely get in touch in the comments if you have questions, or even letting us know how you stretch quilted works if you have additional tips.

Finished stretched quilts

Friday, 11 September 2020

Quilting denim – it's not as hard as you think

I've been making quilts from denim for a while now and I thought it was high time I shared some of my tips for quilting it. Denim has some quirks that are good to think about before you embark on quilting, especially as one of those quirks is that it can be a real pain to unpick if the quilting goes along the grain of the fabric.

First though, let's talk backing. Denim quilts are heavy, so think about the quilt's end use beforehand. If it's going to be a bed quilt, you might want to go with a really lightweight backing like a double gauze, a shot, lawn, or some other lightweight cotton. I've mostly backed mine with a fine Indian block-printed cotton. 

blue giant quilt back
The Blue Giant wall hanging backed with mud resist, block printed, indigo dyed cotton
Or, you might want to go with a single layer and back the quilt with a blanket, thereby removing the need for batting. This makes a great option if the denim quilt is going to become a picnic rug.

Now to quilting... I really love the effect of hand quilting on denim, but honestly, you have to be slightly nuts to do it. It's really hard on your hands, but I do believe the result is usually worth it. When I'm hand quilting denim, I use sashiko thread with a sashiko needle, a hard thimble on the middle finger of my right hand above the quilt (to push the needle through) and an adhesive thimble pad on the middle finger of my left hand, below the quilt so I can feel when to direct the needle back up. 

Close up of hand quilting on a denim quilt
The original Blue Giant quilt, all hand quilted.
I don't use a hoop as the fabric is too bulky, but instead lie it flat on my dining table and work from there.

Now let's look at quilting on a domestic machine. The sample below, from left to right, shows thread in weights 50, 40, 28 and 12. The lines here are sewn running parallel, or along, the grain of the denim. The needles used were a 70 for the first two thread weights an 80 for the 28 weight and a 90 for the 12 weight. The thread in the bobbin was the same 40wt across all the samples. As you can see, the thread really disappears into the grain of the fabric when using the lighter weights. 

Different thread weights quilted on denim along the grain
The next sample shows exactly the same threads with exactly the same needles on the same denim, with the same stitch length, but this time the lines are sewn ACROSS the grain of the fabric. It's a big difference isn't it?

Different weight threads quilted on denim against the grain

Let's look a couple of other considerations...

This first pic shows what happens when you're quilting along the grain and then you swap to a quilting fabric and back to the denim. It also shows what happens when your seams are pressed towards the fabric. See that ridge running across the centre of the fabric section? That's the dip between the two half-inch seams – and yes you still get it on quarter inch seams (I sew the Blue Giant with half inch seams due to the piece sizes).

Different weight threads quilted on denim and fabric

This next picture shows what happens when you sew from denim to fabric to denim when you're sewing across the grain of the denim. In this picture there is very little difference between the appearance of the thread on the two materials. This time, the seams are pressed open and there is no ridge across the middle of the fabric.

Different thread weights quilted across fabric and denim agains the grain
So, what if your denim pattern pieces go all different directions? My preference is to use a heavier weight thread and pick a quilting pattern to suit. The wall hanging version of the Blue Giant quilt is a good example.  These quilting lines are sometimes parallel, sometimes perpendicular and sometimes diagonal to the grain (all seams half an inch and pressed open).

Blue Giant wall hanging

The lines were all quilted in the 12wt hot pink in the samples. The two, more horizontal lines shown below disappear into the quilt a bit (they're the ones going along the grain), but it's not so much that I'm concerned about it.

Blue Giant wallhanging with pink quilting
I only ever quilt with my walking foot, but thankfully I know some talented people who've quilted my patterns in other ways. First up we have Beth (@bessielouwells), who has quilted her Blue Giant on a long arm with an edge-to-edge pattern. Beth told me she was surprised it was so easy, given it was her first time loading denim up on the machine.  
Close up of long arm quilting on a denim quilt

It's a variegated thread used here – a whole 2000 yards of it! – but that, and the pattern she's chosen, work really well with that tendency for denim to have the threads pop out or disappear depending on which direction you're sewing. Beth used a cotton wadding and a flannel on the back, but I'll let you head over to her feed to keep an eye out for a full reveal... Don't want to spoil that one!

Close up of long arm quilting on a denim quilt

So, now to the Laid Back quilt. Here, I used that same pink 12wt thread going along the grain of the fabric. If I'd kept stitching from the denim over into the normal quilting fabric, the stitching would have looked very different on the two types of fabric. To avoid that, I had two choices. The first would have been to quilt a horizontal pattern on this quilt or the second, and the option I chose, was to quilt the fabric sections differently. The reasons I didn't horizontally quilt this are first, that the seams are pressed towards the fabric in this quilt (it's to do with avoiding bulk at those two cross-quilt seams) and the second is that I just liked the idea of echoing the vertical lines of the piecing. 

Laid Back quilting detail

Luckily for you (and me), my pattern tester Katy (@whatkatydid_handmade) took a completely different approach to quilting this one, and one that I would never attempt – free-motion on the long arm. Katy told me she would have preferred to use something heavier than 40wt to quilt her Laid Back quilt, but with lockdown, travel restrictions and a tester deadline, beggars can't be choosers! As you can see Katy anchored her panels with a 1/4" seam and then she did a range of free-form patterns, that were different on each denim panel.

Katy Laid Back quilting detail
My favourite part? Where she quilted the name of the pattern into the quilt!  I could not love that bit more :-) As you can see, Katy left her fabric strips unquilted as they're quite narrow. Again, I think I'll let Katy do the full reveal first over on her feed, so make sure you pop over to check it out.
I hope that's given you a few things to think about when you go to quilt your next denim project, and also shown you that it's really not that hard to quilt denim. A bit bulkier maybe, but nothing that a good thread and a sharp needle can't handle. Be sure to let me know below though if you have any other questions.

Happy quilting!

Thursday, 6 August 2020

Making the Checks and Balances quilt your own

Pictured above is the original Checks and Balances quilt. I don't know what it is about this pattern but for me it inspires play – I'm constantly coming up with new options for it.

I think I've made five or six versions now and I decided that instead of continuing to make them myself, I'd show you the ideas, so you can use them with the pattern as the basis for your own quilts and I can get on to other designs!

The original Checks and Balances works in vertical columns of colour that are randomly placed across the quilt. In 'I would be art', pictured below, there are two columns of blocks that change colour along the vertical. These columns are then repeated across the quilt. This variation is my Bauhaus version of the pattern, as it was inspired by the women weavers of the Bauhaus movement, specifically Benita Koch-Otte.
One version I've been playing around with uses a solid paired with an ombré panel, in this case Jennifer Sampou's Sky range, in Spa, Blush and Opal colourways.  You could simplify it even further by just using one ombré panel. I think a version like this would make a really lovely baby quilt.
Next is a colour block version mocked up in a variety of solids. I suspect I won't be able to stop myself from making a colour block Checks and Balances at some point. This mockup is really a wall-hanging size, but by adding a few extra columns and rows it would make a great single/twin bed quilt for a bright hit of colour in a kid's bedroom.
I was imagining this next one with the blue rectangles done in denim. I've seen a few quilts similar to this variation on Pinterest, but I thought I'd include it anyway. All the pieced blocks in this one have a red centre and the outside rectangles are improv strips of colour. I could imagine that even selvedge strips might work here.
My last mockup is done with Kaffe Fassett caterpillar and multi stripes paired with pieced blocks of shot cotton. Again, I suspect I might get around to making something like this one day... I just love the movement of colour up and down the columns in this one.
The last quilt pictured here is the simplest version of all, and it's the variation included in the pattern instructions, along with details for both quilt yardage and making with upcycled shirts.
When designing quilts I always ask 'what if?'. What if I tried the colour moving across the quilt rather than down? What if I made the fabric a solid instead of a stripe? What if I changed the order of some of the blocks. This is the kind of process I'm incorporating into the quilt design course I'm developing. If you're keen to hear more detail, sign up to my email newsletter at the top of the page.

Note that I've not done any of the yardage measurements for the mockup quilts (nor will I be, unless I make them myself), but they wouldn't be too difficult to figure out using the pattern as it stands.

OK, now that these are out in the world, I'm hoping they stop nagging at me so much to be made and I can move onto other quilt pattern ideas!

Thursday, 25 June 2020

Stitching my frustration on protest flags

Flag by Beka Hannah.
It's hard to believe it was only the beginning of this year our country suffered disastrous bushfires with many lives lost, towns destroyed and others covered in thick smoke for months on end. And still, in Australia, and across the world, climate change is treated as a partisan political issue and not the emergency it is.

Like many who have protested, donated, made lifestyle changes, written letters and signed petitions over many, many years I was at a loss as to what else I could do. In sheer frustration I started stitching a protest flag – maybe as a kind of therapy. I posted it online and others joined in – sending me their angry missives and heartfelt pleas.
Flag by Tal Fitzpatrick.
And then Covid-19 arrived...
For a lot of the time since then, continuing with stitching and quilt making has seemed pretty frivolous and in the beginning I was too confused, uncertain and worried to be able to focus on the flags – but life has a funny way of pushing you on regardless.

Having lost my normal work in March, quilt making really is my only income at the moment and so the quilt making continues. Then Sydney Craft Week announced their theme for 2020 as 'Change Makers' and so I determined to try and get the protest flags shown – the application went in yesterday.
Flag by Kerry Martin.
A goal to work towards made me think seriously about how to construct a cohesive piece from the flags. I've decided to stitch the flag tops between a header piece and backing fabric and then each of these blocks will be stitched together. This way the flag still hangs free and the whole work will form a banner of sorts. All the fabric pieces are upcycled shirts and the backing will likely be an upcycled blanket.
climate protest flags
From top left to bottom right: Tara Glastonbury, Diana Vandeyar, Tara Glastonbury, Anne Foy, Pip Porter.
My hope is that I'll largely be making the banner on site during Craft Week and would like to have materials there for people to stitch their own protests to add to the final piece.

In the meantime, if you're based in Australia, you still have time to stitch a flag and send it to me. The template can be downloaded here. Once you're done, email me at the address at the base of the blog or DM me on Instagram and I'll let you know how to get it to me.

To be clear, I don't think either side of politics has covered itself in glory on this one and a lot of the flags reflect the anger present during the bushfires – how you reflect your wishes for climate change is up to you – the more flags, the better!
Flag by Linda Knight.