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

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 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 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 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 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.

Sew A Fine Seam – The Dark Side

The Dark Side – What is this mystical Dark Side and why do we want to go there?

I’m sure you have heard of the particular space film legacy where the “Dark Side” is of such importance. At Strictly Quilting headquarters it is a well loved favourite and in patchwork and quilting we have the same level of respect for the “Dark Side”. You will hear “press your seams to the Dark Side” regularly but why?

In this blog I’m going to answer that exact question – the reasons behind the Dark Side. This then gives you the information to understand when you can break that rule,  because you will find times when you’ll do that. But first, perhaps I should explain what the Dark Side actually is.

When you sew two patches together, you will normally have a lighter fabric and a darker fabric.  Obviously, this is not always the case but when you come to press the seam allowance over,  working from the back of the fabric,  you press it towards the darker of the fabrics. It is as simple as that. Let us now look at the reasons why…

Raw fleece

Historically, especially in Britain, we used natural wool fleece for our wadding or batting. This sometimes was washed and carded to clean it and make the fibres lie flat but sometimes it was picked off the hedgerows and utilised, especially by the crofter at the poorer end of society. Nothing was wasted but this did mean that those fibres were loose within the quilt sandwich, even those carded ones weren’t meshed together and could migrate when the quilt was used.  To stop this,  quilting tended to be denser.  You’ll see examples of that in historic quilts. Sometimes old wool blankets were also used along with scraps of woollen cloth. Fixing these ‘fillings’ also required dense stitching.

These days we have the advantage of modern production methods which bind the fibres in place to avoid this occurring.  As a note, your wadding or batting will have a minimum quilting distance. This can be up to 10″ apart but even then, I prefer to quilt closer than this.

To help stop these wadding fibres from migrating out through those hand stitched seams, the seam allowance was pressed to the dark side. This locked the seam, stopping the wadding fibres from wiggling their way out between the stitching of the quilt top.

Another reason for pressing to the dark side is to avoid seeing the seam allowance from the front of the quilt. When you press a seam you will be able to see it through a lighter fabric. By pressing to the dark you can’t actually see it through the quilt. There are times of course, when this is not possible, perhaps you don’t have a dark side to press to or we actually choose to break this rule. On these occasions you can think about how the quilt looks from the right side and make a decision based on that.  You can see below that by breaking the ‘dark side’ rule, we can spiral or pinwheel the centre seam junction. This significantly reduces the bulk of the seam at this point, allowing the quilt to lie flatter.

The last reason I’d like to mention is that of “In the Ditch” quilting. Another phrase you will hear regarding the actual quilting of the pieced top.  When you press to the dark side one side of the seam will sit higher than the other.  You then quilt, usually on a machine, in the ditch that is created on the front. When the fabric of the top relaxes after stitching this line it should be virtually hidden in the seam line.  If you press your seams open, your needle will just be stitching over the thread used to join the fabric patches and not catch any of the actual fabric.  This looses integrity, the quilting will not be strong enough and may break and wear out faster.  If you plan on doing In the Ditch quilting, press to the dark side…. Do not press open.

Pinwheeled junctions to reduce bulk.

But when can you press your seams open?  This is a big debate with quilters,  I have known many experienced quilters say “NEVER!” (With a strong Winston Churchill impression!)  But I don’t fall into this camp.  There are occasions when I have and do, press my seams open.  If I’ve had a quilt where the majority of the piecing is in the same fabric, such as a background made in white or light cream, I may consider piecing open to give the same look to each block from the right side of the top.  Sometimes,  pressing open helps spread bulk, such as in a Le Moyne quilt block or a Mariner’s Compass.  I have found occasions where I ended with a crisper finish by pressing these open.  BUT, remember what I said about the way these are then quilted. No In the Ditch for these quilts. 

In the next Sew a Fine Seam blog I’ll look at the actual pressing of those seams. 

Until next time, stay safe and keep quilting!

Quilters Graph Paper

When starting out with patchwork and quilting,  beginners frequently see a pattern or design they would like to make but are unsure how to translate that into a quilt.  I recently was given some 12″ by 12″ Graph Paper for Quilters and Papercraft pads from Sew Easy to try out and what a wonderful thing – perfect for designing blocks and quilts. 

Sew Easy Graph Paper for Quilters and Papercraft

You get 25, 12″ square sheets which are divided up into inch squares sectioned into fours – for the four quarters. They also have four, eight and twelve inch dividing lines to make it easy to grid out different sizes of quilt blocks.  

But how do we draft a basic design? 

I have a friend, Daisy, staying with us through lockdown at the moment and she has only just started her sewing journey.  She wanted to make some cushions and some glasses cases and so we used the Quilters Graph paper to plan the designs, going for a modern block layout rather than more traditional quilt blocks. 

These would make a lovely Mother’s Day gift which are quick and easy to make.  They would also be great for craft fairs or charity sales. It is suitable for children with help depending on age and also perfect for beginners who would like to make something useful and learn a few skills on the way.  You could easily change the size for larger glasses as I did for my sun glasses.  This is where the graph paper is so handy –  simply draft out a different size and calculate the pieces you need to cut. Sew Easy! 

First, decide on the overall size.  For the glasses slip case, we went for a 7 1/2″ square.  Check with the actual glasses you want to put inside them – mine are quite small but some have larger lenses which would need an increase in size. Easily done with the graph paper.

We then drafted the design and used colouring pencils to decide on the fabric placement. Each block is then easy to count how many inches it needs to be BUT don’t forget to add seam allowances!  I draft my pattern’s finished size and just add half an inch to all dimensions. Easy to remember and it works for me. 

Then cut your pieces of fabric to the required size. You can either use your rotary cutters and rulers or go ‘old school’ and make templates. These are again easy, I still have mine cut from cereal boxes when I was first learning.  They still come in handy and they don’t have the associated cost when starting out. Rotary mats, cutters and rulers are expensive!  Make sure your templates are accurate (including the seam allowance) and then use a pencil to draw around them on the wrong side of the fabric. Use scissors to carefully cut out the shapes.  

Daisy made her glasses case fully by hand whilst I went for speed and used my sewing machine. If sewing by hand,  it is handy to mark your sewing line, 1/4” in from the edge. Again, use a pencil to draw the line on the wrong side of the fabric. Then you can sew the sections together. 

We added a scrap of wadding and quilted the outer as this provides additional protection to the contents.  It’s a great way to learn how to quilt and simply have a go if you haven’t done it before. 

Cut another square of lining fabric, you can use any cotton or poly/cotton for this as it won’t be seen.  Using up old shirts or bedding is something I do but make sure it isn’t stretchy. 

We also added a little tab to pop a button on to hold the case closed.  You can use your machine or hand sew a button hole or use a press stud.  A little piece of velcro is another option – hook piece on one side,  hoop piece on the other.

If you used Velcro or a press stud you can still add a decorative button which gives a professional finish to the case.

You can find the full pattern in my shop here.… Happy Mother’s Day!

Sew a Fine Seam – The Scant Seam

Welcome to my next instalment of the Sew a Fine Seam series of blogs. 

In my previous Sew a Fine Seam blog I mentioned the ‘scant’ seam.  You will hear this quoted as the only way to get accurately pieced blocks but what exactly does it mean and why? 

When we see a block we would like to make it’s usually drawn or printed on a page of a book or magazine. This is a 2D image which we try and make out of a 3D substance – the fabric.  Fabric has a depth, albeit a tiny one, but we have to accommodate this thickness.  

(As an aside, fabric is graded by weight rather than thickness.  The weight of one square metre of fabric will give you the grade of fabric. The heavier the weight usually means the fabric is thicker. Quilting cottons are usually of a medium weight.)

Once we have joined our seam we need to press the allowance on the back over to one side – ‘the dark side’. (Yes, remember that space film and I’ll cover this in the next blog.)  The folding process reduces the size of the seam allowance by a scant amount, meaning that this will change the actual width of the block. To try and stick to the perfectly drawn 2D image of the quilt block we are trying to create,  we need to allow for this tiny amount and so we sew a scant seam.  Literally a tiny bit towards the raw edge of the seam allowance. 

So, how do we get a good scant seam?  I now introduce the 1/4” foot for your machine or drawing a line to sew along for hand piecing.  Let’s look at these separately.

For machine sewing a quarter inch foot is a handy guide to help BUT these are rarely accurate and they can bend a little too! The best thing to do is to check the seam allowance of your particular foot and, armed with this knowledge, you can change your needle position to make the required adjustment.  If you are unable to move your needle position,  you can adjust where you guide the fabric to make the relevant change.

1/4″ Foot. The guide on the right side sets the distance from the needle.

To check your 1/4” foot take three pieces of accurately cut fabric: 1 1/2″ by 2 1/2″ Rectangles. Sew two of them down their length.  They should finish to make a 2 1/2″ square.  Take the third rectangle and sew it across the top.  It should fit exactly. If not, it will indicate exactly how much your foot it out.

Hand sewing – I do like to mark my seam allowance which is easily done.  You can use your clear rotary ruler which should be marked with the 1/4″ but I find a Quilter’s Rule useful. Not so cumbersome and much cheaper.  They are around £2 and you can get them in both 6″ or 12″ lengths.  They are a 1/4″ square of plastic which you position against the raw edge and draw a line done.  

Drawing the line also needs attention. Use a sharp pencil or marker and make sure the nib sits right up against the ruler.  If you just draw without care you’ll find your line is millimetres away from where it should be and is a common mistake. The advantage to hand sewing is that it is more forgiving. You can make minor adjustments as you go along to ensure those points aren’t lost. 

Another tip is to position your rule with the 1/4” just off the edge, and I mean a tiny amount. Then, when you draw the line, the mark will be precisely at the 1/4 rather than being 1mm to the right of where it should be. 

These little hints and tips can help you improve your piecing and get to grips with the magical world of patchwork and quilting.  Next time we’ll take a look at pressing which can make a world of difference…

Until next time, stay safe and keep quilting!