Oliso TG1600 ProPlus Iron

An iron is an essential tool when making quilts and for general sewing. I’ve got several which I keep in my wonderful cabin at Strictly HQ but when I was offered the chance to test out the new Oliso SmartIron Pro Plus, I couldn’t wait. 

The box arrived and I expected to have to sit down, cup of tea in hand, and read through the manual. Nope! A simple three step start up and you are away. Fill whilst unplugged, choose your setting and steam level, plug in and, when the green light is steady, away you go. The side fill tank is so much easier too. 

Oliso Smart Iron

The new TG1600 has improved what is a first class iron. You may have seen these on YouTube or vlogs – irons that, when let go, arise magically to reduce the risk of scorching, burns and tipping. You touch the handle and the ‘legs’ slink back in leaving the new diamond ceramic-flow™ soleplate to smooth those wrinkles and banish creases. It really is a thing of beauty. The plate is also designed to ensure a swift and easy clean when using fusible products. (Although, woe betide anyone that mucks up my new iron!)  

One feature is the 1800 watts of power. I suppose I don’t normally worry about this but I was surprised at the speed it heated up, so it’s obviously made a difference. Something which also makes a difference is the extended 30 minutes shut-off facility, added especially with quilters in mind. The irons I have either don’t have a cut off or power down just as you need to use them. Really annoying when you have lots of units to press and find the iron has gone cold. 

Another thing I loved about this iron was the extra long power cord – 12 feet! This makes using in the cabin a dream as normal irons can be a little limiting. The cord also pivots a full 360 degrees giving easy movement in any direction.

But let me talk about how it actually works in an operational sewing studio. Well, let’s just say it has become one of my favourite tools. For those who want to take their piecing to the next level, pressing is one important element. One of my previous blogs covers pressing which you can find here. This steam iron certainly takes pressing up several notches. I don’t always keep water in my irons in the cabin as sometimes the water can go a little yucky if left for a while. This is not something I needed to worry about with this iron. The wide, side fill tank is not only easy to fill but easy to empty. This is recommended if leaving for a few days. The steam shot is good, powerful and can be used when pressing or when upright – handy if steaming clothing when dressmaking. 

As stated the cable length made it easy to move around with but I did find the iron a little heavy. This could be that my other irons are quite light in comparison. Having said that, the weight is well balanced and a heavier iron is helpful in getting a good flat finish. Now we come to the actual rising feature of the iron. I simply say – I love it. It took me a while to get used to just letting go of the iron rather than standing it up every time. After a little while of using it, this did become natural. I also realised that the claim that it saves the strain on the wrists was true. I found that just letting it go rather than lifting it certainly reduced strain. Of course, I’ll have to watch I don’t do that when I go back to my household iron! 

Overall this beast is certainly worthy of adding to your craft room. A solid piece of equipment, in an attractive bright yellow, is perfectly designed for the quilter. 

Jubilee Runner – Free Pattern

This year has been one full of events from the end of Covid restrictions to the beginning of the Ukraine conflict. Both of these have had an impact on my life, meaning I haven’t done as much blogging as I’d have liked. I am in need of a celebration and the Queens Platinum Jubilee is certainly one to break out the bubbly for.

Jubilee Table Runner

70 Years on the throne. What an achievement and we are hoping to hold an afternoon tea, albeit in the caravan. Is this where I show my age – I remember the Silver Jubilee, taking part in the fancy dress competition in an outfit my mother made. (I dressed as Britannia but the witch won – I was robbed!) To brighten the table I just couldn’t resist creating a Jubilee Table Runner which is quick and easy for those with a little experience but still easy enough to run up for beginners.

Lewis and Irene have brought out the perfect fabric with their Jubilee collection and I had been given a fabulous collection of Gütermann Threads. They are 30 wgt., thicker than I usually use, 100% cotton and in a lovely range of colours. When looking around my sewing room I realised there were the perfect trio of colours in the pack – red, white and blue.

You can download the free pattern in pdf form if you would like to make the runner and the fabrics are available from many of our Local Quilt Shops. You could go for the traditional red, white and blue mixture but I have also made this runner in a smaller size for my coffee table using a pretty spring charm pack. 

Jacob’s Ladder is the block used in the runner. A traditional block with its roots in the Pioneering age of America where many blocks gained their name from the one book which was commonly taken on the waggon trips across the many thousands of miles – the Bible. It is also known under other names such as Stepping Stones or Road to California. Apt for the journeys these people made. 

I used the Gütermann threads to piece the blocks and it went together smoothly with no excess lint, gave a neat finish and sank into the fabric nicely when pressed. All these features help to give a perfect finish to your piecing. Having a pack such as this was perfect as sometimes you want to make a project quickly and being able to dip into a thread collection for just the right colour is brilliant.

The packs contain 12 reels in a variety of popular colours including the very useful white and black, dark and mid blue, red, cream, gold, mid and dark brown, mid and dark green and a grey. There are 300m per reel and these threads can be used for many applications. Gütermann threads are one of my go too ones. Reliable, good quality, I never have a problem with them. Coupled with the fact they are reasonable priced I do keep them in for most projects from dressmaking to quilting.

I decided to use some of these to complete the quilting on the borders, the darker blue for the narrow border and the red for the outer border. As I was practicing my Free Motion Quilting I decided to go for a thread which wouldn’t be seen quite so much on the main blocks as I wanted the fabrics and their wonderful patterns to shine through.

If you would like to download the free pdf pattern you can do so here:

The Gütermann Creativ value packs can be found in all good retailers. 

Bird of Paradise Cushion Workshop

As you may know, I blog for UKQU website – a wonderful resource for anyone interested in the world of fabric and also where my shop is hosted. They sometimes set challenges and we had one in 2020. (I was typing last year but it’s two years ago! – Where did that time go?) Way back in the first lockdown. I’d lost all my work that year between the stopping of workshops, redundancy and a ‘career break’ so I had found myself with plenty of time but a bit down. Luckily the sun was shining and sitting outside sewing was a good remedy.

2020 Free UKQU Flower block.

But what to do? I’d been playing with Hawaiian quilting and I do like a bit of hand sewing, so I decided to do a British take using leaves and flowers from my own garden as inspiration. The free pattern download for the smaller version can be found here. The full sized version ended up appearing in British Patchwork and Quilting magazine and was a good lesson for me – not really liking it until the quilting was added. The echo quilting made a huge difference and now I love it. This version was called Hawaiian Staycation as there was no way anyone was going on holiday that year!

The 2022 flower challenge was set and mine was the Bird of Paradise flower. Strelitzia Reginae, also known as a Crane Flower, native to South Africa and a stunningly, exotic choice.  Another one that reminded me of far away locations.

You may remember seeing some of the Dragon wall hangings which have also become workshops. As it happened, I was hosting one of these for Black Mountain Fabrics up in Abergavenny the weekend the challenge was set so I decided to use the same Draw, Stitch and Trim appliqué technique. This is relatively new onto the P&Q scene but one I came across some years ago. It’s very like painting by numbers, only with fabric.

For this one I found a beautiful piece of variegated batik fabric which was reminiscent of a tropical sea…. The flower itself, as we know, is bold and beautiful so again, batiks were my go to choice with the stunning orange taking centre stage.

What to make once the flower was completed was the next question. It was about the right size for a cushion and so the decision was made. A simple envelope back and it was done. (Don’t forget – use a cushion pad larger than the cover to give it a luxurious feel. My cover is 18″ square, the cushion pad 20″.) I’m really pleased with the result and am thinking it will look stunning on the garden furniture in the summer.

If you would like to make your own version of this cushion and learn the Draw, Stitch and Trim technique you can join me at the cabin for a day workshop on Saturday 9th July. Just email me at Helen@strictlyquilting.com for more details.

Beginners Day Workshop

Begin your patchwork and quilting journey with Helen from Strictly Quilting.

Sat 19th February, 10 – 4, £50.

We will begin with choosing your fabrics, learning which fabrics make the best choice. How to cut using traditional template or rotary cutters, which make things much easier. Perfect piecing is the key to good patchwork and we have lots of hints and tips to take you through how to sew your patchwork together.

Layering and quilting will be explained and finally, we will bind our project to finish the edges.

There are many different techniques and avenues patchwork and quilting can take you down but the first step is the hardest. Helen is on hand to make this easy and you will often hear her say “you are only ever sewing two bits of fabric together, nothing to be scared of.”

The workshop runs from 10 – 4 on Sat 19th February at Strictly Quilting HQ, Dingestow, just outside Monmouth. Cost for the day is £50. We have a maximum of five people to ensure all receive individual attention.

For more information and to book your place, please email Helen at Helen@strictlyquilting.com

Happy Christmas

I don’t know about you but Christmas has arrived so quickly this year. Time has slipped by and what a year it has been. This time last year I didn’t believe that the cabin would be up and running and successfully introducing people to the wonderful world of sewing. 

We’ve continued to offer our regular Sit and Sew groups on Monday mornings and will be starting a new session on Friday mornings from the New Year, restrictions allowed. The Sit and Sew sessions are perfect for those who would like to work on their own projects with like-minded people with Helen on standby for help, designs and tutoring.

These are booked on a week by week basis which allows for flexibility and ensures that you don’t loose out when you are unable to attend.

We also held our first larger event with Michelle from Sew Thimble Wood designs. Hosted at The Rolls Golf Club in the fabulous orangery in the gothic mansion. This was a fun packed day sewing Rudolph Christmas decorations and wine gift bags. Lunch was included, a buffet with plenty of choice for everyone, along with treats to go with your teas and coffees. We have already scheduled Michelle for another two dates next year, Sat 7th May when we will be making Mr Chips the Seagull, and Sat 3rd December for a Christmas themed item yet to be decided.

The Doris Sampler Quilt is running again this spring at Black Mountain Fabric in Abergavenny. This quilt leads you through many different techniques and is aimed at intermediate or confident beginners to patchwork and quilting. 

The Dragon workshop, draw, stitch and trim appliqué, is also running on Sunday 16th January. If interested in booking either of these two workshops then you can do so by contacting Black Mountain Fabric directly. 

We are also delighted to announce that Cecilia Slinn is joining us to teach her three part, Free Motion Quilting course. The dates for the three days are Saturday 12th February, Sat 12th March and Sat 9th April. These days will be held at The Rolls and include lunch and refreshments. 

Cecelia is one of the UK’s leading quilters providing tutoring and talks. Her three day Free Motion course will take your quilting to the next level. From design ideas and concepts, discussions and practical sessions – come join us for a fun, free-motion packed day. There are only 12 attendees on this course enabling everyone to have a positive learning experience. 

Her work has recently been selected for display at the Autumn series of Grosvenor Shows. She is a very busy lady so this may be your only chance to work with her this coming year! 

If you are interested in this course, get in touch with Helen on helen@strictlyquilting.com for further information and to book your place.

For now, I would just like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Helen, Strictly Quilting.

Sew A Fine Seam Part 4 – Scissors

In the next (long awaited) instalment of the ‘Sew a Fine Seam’ series I thought we would look at one of the basic pieces of equipment we need – the humble scissor.

It is believed that scissors probably originated in ancient Egypt. Earliest examples in existence come from Mesopotamia and date from between 3 and 4,000 years ago. These were spring loaded, like early sheep shears, not pivoted scissors as we know them today. These were invented by the Romans, around 100AD. 

In the UK, William Whiteley and Sons (Sheffield) were making pivoted scissors by 1760 but the company are believed to have begun trading earlier. The first trade mark was issued in 1791 and the company is still producing beautiful scissors today.

But what scissors does the patchworker actually need? Let’s have a look at the different types and their benefits. 

Shears, also known as dressmaking or tailoring shears, are the largest of the scissors we use, 7” or longer. The long blades form a straight edge through to the handle to enable flat cutting of larger areas of fabric. These are great for cutting your backing fabrics or, as the name suggests, dressmaking.

Quilting/patchwork scissors are a smaller pair of general fabric scissors which are ideal when cutting smaller pieces of fabric. Look for a blade around 6” or slightly less, with a sharp point. 

Embroidery scissors, traditionally in the shape of a stork as they originated from the small snips midwives carried to cut the cords of babies. These have now developed into swan shapes or even unicorns and have a sharp point with thin blades to snip threads close to the fabric.

Appliqué scissors, also known as duckbill or knife edge scissors. These are a speciality tool for trimming excess fabric from your appliqué. I find these useful as they have a flat blade, in the shape fo a ducks bill, and a thin cutting blade. The flat edge sits against the base fabric allowing excess appliqué fabric to be trimmed without cutting into the background by accident. You can get a ‘close shave’ neatly. These are brilliant if you are planning on joining one of my Draw, Stitch and Trim appliqué workshops such as the Dragon workshop.

Appliqué or Duck Bill scissors

Snips are ideal for keeping close to your sewing machine for trimming threads and can be bought quite cheaply.

Pinking shears are a similar size to the flat shears described above but cut leaving a zig zag edge which helps prevent fraying. Useful in dressmaking but I don’t tend to use these in patchwork as they can lead to inaccuracy.

Scissors can come with flat or serrated blades. Why? Because the serrated blades are great for slippery or delicate fabrics. The serration helps ‘hold’ the fabric as they cut, allowing greater accuracy with difficult fabrics.

This seems a long list but you really don’t have to have all of these at once. I would recommend a pair of shears or mid-sized scissors to start with. The old adage of get the best you can afford works here as these will last you years. Add a pair of embroidery scissors to your Christmas list and, as your sewing develops, you will then know which area of fabric crafting interests you most. You may decide that dressmaking is ‘your thing’ and get a pair of pinking shears. Perhaps you will fall in love with appliqué making a pair of duck bill scissors useful. As with our ‘stash’ of fabrics, our ‘stash’ of equipment tends to grow with time….

There are many makes out there to choose from and these days you can get them in many different finishes but look after your scissors as they are a essential piece of equipment for all us crafters.

You can find the other blogs in the Sew a Fine Seam series here:

Part 1 – Why Imperial?

Part 2 – The Scant Seam

Part 3 – The Dark Side

Beginners Patchwork Course

September is the traditional time to begin to learn something new. The kids have gone back to school and I always think it is a time for taking a little time for yourself before the rush of Christmas. The Autumn and Winter months are also an excellent time to quilt. Traditionally the harvest would have been brought in. The nights drawing in and the weather deteriorates leaving the makers of the past to settle down with their needles and make the quilts to see them through the winter.

Nowadays we don’t need to worry quite so much in our centrally heated homes but there is nothing like a quilt to snuggle up under on a blustery night watching a film or with a good book. You might also be considering making a quilt as a Christmas gift for someone – I usually have something on the go at this time of year for just this reason.

Rainbow Fabrics

My very first quilt (quite some time ago now) was a Christmas one which still comes out. (I thought if it didn’t turn out very well I could hide it for most of the year!)

So if you would like to learn the wonderful craft of patchwork and quilting, by hand or machine, I am starting some beginners courses at Strictly Quilting HQ. On Monday evenings, from 7 to 9, we will cover all the basics from what fabrics are best, how to cut with both templates and rotary cutters and how to piece each block successfully. The ‘Beginner’s Quilt’ is in the American Block style and you can choose from various blocks to ensure that each one is unique.

The course will run for 6 weeks, starting on 20th September, and costs £160 which INCLUDES fabric.

If you have any questions email Helen@strictlyquilting.com or visit the on-shop to book your place.

Three New Workshops Launched

At long last the cabin is ready to launch some fabulous workshops. I have a regular ‘Sit and Sew’ on a Monday morning from 10 – 1 and two full day workshops booked in, with more coming soon.

The Sit and Sew sessions are for those who perhaps need a bit of ‘me time’ to get a project done with the added advantage of having design or project help on hand.

We have two full day workshops scheduled so far. The first is the Cathedral Windows workshop. On this course we look at the method to make them but also have two different design options; the Rainbow Cathedral or the Classic Cathedral Window. These finished pieces can be made into either cushions, used as a start of a quilt or as a table mat or bag.

The second day workshop is one closer to Christmas on Saturday 20th November. This time we are going to have some seasonal fun stitching some Christmas Redwork. I’ve made some lovely hearts which string together to make a mini bunting decoration but you can choose from a variety of designs or make up your own. We look at transferring the design, the embroidery stitches used and how to finish your item.

If you would like to book onto either of the day workshops, you can click the links which take you to my shop on the UKQU website. Once purchased, you will be sent a form to fill out with your contact details. Confirmation and joining instructions will then follow.

To join the weekly Sit and Sew sessions, please email me at Helen@strictlyquilting.com to see if there are spaces. These are on most Mondays from 10 to 1 and cost £15 per session. We have six workstations which can fill up quickly.

Hemline Easy Grip Pins

Pins are often underestimated when we consider the equipment we use for sewing.  How many of us have pins which we have had so long their origins are lost in the midst of time?  I know I have some that were probably from my mum when she taught me dressmaking for my Cindy and Barbie dolls. They are short, a little too thick and now as blunt as anything so,  I decided to look around for some new ones.

Easy Grip Pins

Hemline is a well known name in haberdashery and I was kindly sent a box of these Easy Grip Pins to test for Groves.  (Email them at groves@stockistenquiries.co.uk for stockist information.) They come in Hemline’s recognisable plastic box which is perfect for storage and transport, they are 42mm long and you get approximately 60 to a pack.

The pins themselves are delightfully sharp – something you don’t always get with cheaper varieties.  (I bought some recently which were atrocious – lesson learnt, you get what you pay for!) They also have a larger, bulbous head which makes pinning so much easier.  They definitely do what they suggest;  provide an easy grip and are less fiddly to use.

They also lie reasonably flat which is an advantage for patchwork,  something I also like when dressmaking as I’m too lazy to fully tack my pieces prior to sewing.

Selection of pin cushions

Overall these pins are worth investing in as they will give you many years of use but how can we improve the life of our pins?  The box these come in is great for taking to workshops or travelling but I do like a nice pin cushion.  

At Strictly Quilting HQ we love to make different kinds from mini quilt blocks to dachshunds, caravans to embroidered cushions which, being a little larger, are great next to your machine.  I find a smaller pin cushion is difficult to stab at with a pin when I am concentrating on operating the machine.  A larger one to my right and I can hit it every time without taking my eyes from my work.

Another advantage to making your own is to fill them with something that will help keep your pins sharp.  You can use wire wool but I like to use crushed walnut shells and have some with a lavender scent.  Also useful for discouraging insects and is relaxing.  Adding some natural wool, I picked some from the hedges on a walk, can also be of benefit.  The lanolin in the sheep fleece helps keep your pins rust free, but as these pins are nickel plated carbon steel I don’t really thing I’d have to worry about this.

So, if you feel you are in need of some new pins, these are certainly worth considering but also think about a new pincushion.  Also great for using up scraps from other projects!

Crease Marker from Sew Easy

Do you ever get to that moment when you’ve finished piecing a quilt top and get a little bit daunted by the next stage – the quilting?  

When quilting,  I sometimes quilt by domestic machine, using both the walking foot (which I think is very underestimated) and free motion options.  I also love quilting by hand but whichever method I choose I find I can get a little stumped as to how to mark out the design on the quilt top.

Sometimes I know exactly what design to use, sometimes I have to put the top away for a while before inspiration strikes but, once I’ve decided, how do we mark the top so we can quilt it out?

Introducing one of my favourite pieces of equipment (also fabulously cheap in comparison with a lot of must have tools) the Crease Marker from Sew Easy.  

This wonderful little gadget is a simple piece of firm plastic, which has a spatular like blunt blade at one end, the other a handle. Used against a ruler you get perfectly straight lines but I also like to ‘freehand’ with it to create curves, such as leaf shapes I recently hand quilted.  You can also use a template to draw around,  such as a heart which I also used in conjunction with the Crease Marker.

The thing I like most about this gadget is that it leaves a crease line in the top which you can follow but doesn’t leave any chalk or ink which can sometimes be a little hard to remove.  My image doesn’t really do it justice, you can see the indent.  If sewing in poorer light it sometimes takes a little adjustment of the angle to be able to follow the crease on darker fabrics but I’ve only found this a problem when hand stitching on an evening.

I’m hand quilting a large quilt at the moment (and will be for another few years I’m estimating!) and am taking it one block at a time.  It’s slowly getting there and I would have struggled to mark the many different ideas without this tool.

I recently started to organise my equipment as I’m setting up a new teaching studio.  I can hear the builders digger as I type and,  rather than fumbling around for hand quilting needles,  thread and all the little items I use when hand quilting,  I gathered them all together into a hand quilting kit – in a lovely tin,  of course.  This has made it much easier to find everything I need and the Crease Marker has earned its place there.

Overall I can certainly recommend this little item and special thanks to Groves for letting me test the Crease Marker from Sew Easy.