Meet Pearl the Singer

I’ve recently bought two lovely old Singers at auction and the first, dated 1939, was in a sorry state. She has become my first attempt at a mini restoration.

1939 Singer – poor condition

Tackling a revamp of an old sewing machine has always been on the cards but I’ve not actually attempted it before. I did a bit of online research and then took the plunge. These machines are well engineered, which is why they lasted so long, so there isn’t too much to go wrong other than not putting it back together correctly.

I confess to having a piece left over at the end and having to reassemble her again but it was easier than I thought. The hardest part were the small springs in the bobbin winder unit. These are sprung so the bobbin engages with the drive wheel at the back. The only thing missing is the small rubber disc which would connect with the drive wheel and turn the bobbin winder when the handle is turned. I’ll be on the look out for some kind of replacement.

Elbow grease, along with some sewing machine oil, and she is so shiny now.

Garden Flowers Blog Hop 2020

Hawaiian Garden, Helen Kent #GFBH2020

As you may know I write blogs for the website which is a wonderful resource for UK quilters. It’s a platform for small independent designers and shops from the UK to sell and interact with customers. It is also full of advice, free patterns and blogs on all aspect of P&Q. This month, September 2020, a new idea was launched – the Garden Flowers Blog Hop 2020.

I was lucky to have been chosen to publish the first of these blocks – a Hawaiian inspired block based on my own garden. I had been playing with a little Hawaiian appliqué for my new Doris sampler quilt and loved the process and effect. When the idea was suggested that the Bloggerati, as we call ourselves, come up with an idea for free pattern for blocks based on flowers I knew exactly what I would do.

I was stunned to see an example started that day by Zoe Davies from Fine City Quilting, someone I’ve not met before but what a wonderful example. She did a couple of things differently, such as edging the leaf with a Satin stitch rather than the traditional needle turned edge. It shows how you can play with a design to make it your own.

Hawaiian block, Zoe Davies, #GFBH2020

A new free pattern for a 12″ block is to be released every day so it’s worth checking out the site. Today’s is a lovely Gem Thistle block. This one was designed by a recent convert to quilting – Keren Baker. I love the modern fresh look this one has and in her blog, Keren has suggested different ways to use this pattern and turn it into different flowers, such a carnation or even an acorn! Very clever!

But how do you use these? I hear you ask… I was thinking a sew a row quilt would perfectly show off these blocks – the thistle below would look amazing!

I can’t wait to see what comes out in the following days and eagerly await the wonderful floral quilts which will hopefully be created….

Geo Thistle, Keren Baker #GFBH2020

Doris Day a Month Workshop Launch.

I am so excited to be able to bring a new sampler quilt to those who would like to develop their skills on an improvers course. This quilt, named ‘Doris’ after my grandmother, uses many different techniques from traditional ones to newer developments. I can’t wait to get started.

Doris Day a Month Sampler Workshop

The Doris Sampler Improvers Course is conducted over eight days held monthly. Each day will look at two different techniques working on two blocks a day, except for the large central Mariners Compass which will have a day to itself. You will be required to complete any unfinished blocks at home between the days.

We begin on day one with a recap on American style block piecing, both hand and machine options can be covered but I like to ensure everyone starts at the same level, knowing some of the hints and tips I normally include in my beginners classes. The first block, the Variable Star, uses both Half Square Triangles and Flying Geese and we look at how tonal and colour placement changes the look of the block. The second block, the Snail’s Trail, introduces working with triangles. Every session will included some ideas on how to use these blocks individually in a quilt design.

Day two we will look at the dreaded Y seam in the Le Moyne Star block and then move onto piecing curves with the Drunkards Path. Both are simple once you know how.

English Paper Piecing is a very traditional technique but I wanted to show that you don’t need to just use this for hexagons. The Dutch Rose is perfect using lots of different shapes. We then move onto the first of our appliqués – Hawaiian. I just love the simplicity of these designs which originate in the South Pacific and use needle turned appliqué.

Bonded appliqué comes next with some lovely Tyrolean Hearts, these are so cute, before moving onto Stained Glass Rose block. Inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement this technique uses bias strips to act as the lead in the window.

Day five we move onto our Foundation Paper Piecing, firstly with a Pineapple block. This we do on a single foundation but the Interwoven Star, which comes next, uses several sections which you learn to piece together. 

The Mariner’s Compass takes a whole day to itself. It is a striking centrepiece for which we will use Paperless Foundation Paper Piecing. A newer technique which is ideal for this as we use less paper, better for the environment and a little more practical too! We can also use this day to catch up and check that everyone is on course.

In the last of our block days, day seven, we use up our scraps in the Clam Shell block and finally our Improv block. This is a day to play and now worry so much about precise cutting but stitch those scraps to make a wonderful block using various techniques such as Stich and Flip. 

Finally we come to our last day in which we look at the border using strip piecing in the Seminole style. This was a form of patchwork devised by the Seminole indigenous peoples of the Florida region and uses strips of fabric to make row type patterns.

There will be an option to add an additional day for those who aren’t so confident in layering and quilting, should you need it. We have a wonderful location to work in at The Rolls of Monmouth and have a full Covid safe plan of action (and risk assessment) in place. Any questions or to book visit my Workshops page or email me at

Hope to see you soon. Helen

Workshop Safety

Hopefully, we are looking at the loosening of the lockdown over the coming weeks. Some outdoor activities have been allowed and we’re able to meet our friends or families in gardens and parks.  It looks like shops will be next on the list but how does this impact the workshops where we learn new skills, develop our techniques and generally get together for a nice days sewing?  Well, I’m lucky enough to be married to a heath and safety expert who is leading his company’s reaction to Covid-19 so I’ve been discussing with him the safety procedures we need to take on board to be able to operate fully in a workshop situation.  (Of course, I’ve also bribed him to write my risk assessments.) For this blog I thought I’d cover the health and safety aspects that I’m putting in place to reassure you that my workshops will be safe to attend in these difficult times.

I run workshops at The Cotton Angel, a small shop with a workshop area, and at The Rolls of Monmouth, which is a late Victorian Gothic mansion situated in a stunning golf course. The difficulties in both these venues are slightly different but the main idea the same.  Social distancing has become the by-word of the present day and 2 meters the defined distance for the UK, at present in June.  Direct face to face contact is the enemy as this is how Covid-19 spreads quickly so this is what we try and avoid.

You will, I’m sure, have seen physical barriers, such as at the clear plastic screens at checkouts of supermarkets, but these aren’t exactly practical or workshop friendly.  A clever option is to site your workstations back to back or facing the wall, significantly reducing the chance of virus spread.  So, with this in mind, in the shop we will be siting the workstations around the edge of the room, facing the walls. You will still be able to talk across the room to everyone but will be sited at a safe distance. At the Rolls we have the benefit of larger conference rooms which we can spread out at a much larger distance. I will be applying the same ideas, back to back or staggered work areas.

The Rolls of Monmouth Golf Club

It has been proven that being outside lessens the chance of picking up the virus and, if indoors, having good ventilation is ideal. For the shop we have the capacity to open windows, which will happen for the workshops so you may need to think about bringing an extra layer. It is horrible to be cold and certainly reduces your enjoyment of workshops so stick in an extra top or two if it’s a bit chilly. The Rolls, being a huge historic building, has plenty of opportunities for good ventilation. We may be sited in the Orangery, where we can open French doors onto the patio, beyond which the deer of the park regularly gather, or perhaps the ‘new’ dining room where a large bay window gazes majestically over the 18thhole. The building is heated but the rooms are large so again it might be a good idea to add a jumper to your workshop equipment.  

Talking of equipment – stick to using your own, not borrowing items as we used to. I will have items to lend along with plenty of hand sanitiser and wipes but if you can bring everything with you it reduces the risk of cross contamination. Hand washing is still the best way to kill the virus so wash on arrival and prior to departure as a minimum. Both locations have toilets and washing facilities so this won’t be a problem. 

The Cotton Angel, 2 Church Street, Monmouth. NP25 3BU. 01600 713548

We do sometimes use the shop’s sewing machines, if you can bring your own I would suggest that it would be a better option. All workstations and machines will be wiped both before and after the sessions. As we normally stick to our own it’s unlikely that there would be a problem but better safe than sorry. Following on from this, if you would like to wear a mask, I leave that decision up to you. I have a clear plastic face shield for when I need to come close to individuals.  This will significantly reduce any risk as I should be the only person that may need to approach within the 2 meter distance. 

We would normally have stopped for a refreshment break mid-afternoon, an excuse for cake, but this won’t be provided for the foreseeable future. You are welcome to bring your own drinks, perhaps in a keep it warm mug, but they will not be provided at The Cotton Angel. At The Rolls we may, as soon as they are allowed, have the option of a take-a-way service. Ask at time of booking as government advice is constantly being updated.

If you are feeling poorly in the 24 hours prior to the event, please let us know. We can simply move you to another date so don’t be worried that you will loose out. At the moment we all have to make allowances and if you happen to be worried you might be starting to suffer or have been asked to self-isolate – let us know. It will not be a problem to rebook you on a different date when you are feeling better or can return to society.

After all, this period of lockdown has been socially hard for all of us – although I have been working hard on new projects – but I for one can’t wait to see you all again. Take care and stay safe! 

Lockdown has been Useful!

I don’t know about you but I’ve been feeling a little bored/frustrated/sad lately. Perhaps the whole lockdown thing is getting to me? It’s Mental Health Awareness Week (18 – 24 May 2020) just when lots of us are starting to go stir crazy. Even my oldest son, who is furloughed like myself, is starting to want to take his brother to work just for the excuse to get out of the house and go for a little drive. 

Hares Wall Hanging, Helen Kent.

They say a good thing to do when faced with this mental lethargy is to look at what you have achieved so this is what I’m going to show you. I’ve finished a wall hanging which had been lying around in my sewing room for quite some time. Started at a workshop with Dawn Cameron-Dick at Midsomer Quilting, it is a reverse appliqué wall hanging with three hares leaping across the fabric. I fell in love with the pattern when I saw the workshop advertised and immediately booked on, along with my mum and aunt who both also quilt. (Any excuse for a day trip!) The quilt was a simple design for which I chose an Ombré fabric sprinkled with stars. We could position the hares in any formation that we wished and I went for three leaping across the sky using a dark batik for the under layer. After ‘storing’ for at least a year I decided it was time, during lockdown, to finish the piece. 

When faced with quilting I sometimes find it hard to decide what to do. Inspiration needs to strike and so it is not unusual for me to have a quilt awaiting completion. One night I was drifting in and out of sleep thinking of the quilt when I suddenly had that spark. Feathers, randomly floating around the hares were what I settled on. Free Motion Quilting takes practice. It’s not something that you can suddenly do and a smaller wall hanging, such as this, is perfect to practice on. 

Free Motion Feathers meandering around.

I mentally sectioned the top, filling in the larger areas first and then backfilling with extra feathers and curves. I especially love the way the curled feathers work around in a circle and doing this without drafting was fun. A watchpoint is to work out which way you are going to go so you know where you can stop and which direction to work towards. This helps you not get ‘locked’ in an area without an exit for your needle. I finished this with a contrasting walking foot quilting of lines on the sashing in a silver thread (love a bit of bling), repeating the feathers on the border. I now just need to get it hung on the wall, above the bed. Appropriate, in that sleep was where I found the method to finish it. 

Walking Foot lines in contrast with feathers.

Binding Options for your Quilt

Welsh Edge

Today I’d like to talk about binding – how to finish a quilt to give a neat and tidy edge, that will stand up to wear and tear and can be the finishing flourish to your quilt. 

There are many ways to finish the edging of a quilt. I love the very traditional Welsh edge, also known as the British, Knife or Butt edge. This was commonly used on antique quilts, especially the Welsh Wholecloth quilts. This is a simple way of finishing a quilt which leaves a clean finish and also has the added advantage of not requiring any additional fabric. For this you simply trim the wadding ¼” in from the top and backing and then fold these edges inwards, trapping the wadding inside. Traditionally this was then finished with a double run of quilting around the edge, giving a crisp finish to your quilt. I use this sort of finish quite a bit as some quilts don’t need the added frame that the below options provide.

One of the most common ways to bind the edge of your quilt is to use a Double Fold binding. The advantage of this sort of binding is that most of the wear on a quilt is at the edges and this method gives a more robust edge which can, if it wears out, be easily replaced. For this we take strips of fabric, fold in half and add to the edge, folding over to trap the raw edges of the quilt and then Slip stitch in place. There are many methods or doing this from the more usual hand finishing to fully machine applied. There are also several ways to neaten the joins and ideally we like to have a mitred fold at each of the corners. 

Free Hearts Table Runner with Double Fold Binding

Another binding method is to use a single layer binding, ideal for wall hangings where little wear is expected. I have also used this option on a table runner where a thicker Double Fold binding can create a ridge which cups and glasses can topple from! A simple strip of fabric cut, a hem turned over and ironed in place, not sewn at this stage. The raw edge joined to the quilt and then the pre-folded edge of the binding turned over and Slip stitched in place. These can be added to each side individually or as a single piece all the way around the quilt. Adding them one at a time is simpler if you think you might struggle, the only thing to watch is to ensure you keep the corners neat by turning in the raw edges.  

Now we come to the decorative edges. These come in many different styles and techniques from Prairie Points, Scallops and curved edges. There is a huge scope for adding extra interest to your quilt and they are certainly worth investigating if you are making something extra special. The only thing to bear in mind is the use of the quilt. You may not want something delicate at the edge for a quilt which is going to get a lot of wear.

The binding is the last touch, other than a label perhaps, added to your quilt and I love attaching them. It really is the last thing to get a quilt finished and is so satisfying so whichever method you choose, have fun finishing that quilt!

To help you download my simple Double Fold Binding and Welsh Edge Tutorial which also contains my Backing and Double Binding Calculations:

Wadding or Batting

Today I’m going to talk about wadding or batting. The fluffy layer that goes in the middle of the quilt to provide the warmth. Again, this is primarily for my sewing groups and I’m not going to go into a huge amount of detail, just enough to give the beginner an introduction into what is available.

Wadding, or batting as it is known as in America, was originally made from natural products. In Wales, where I live and teach, wool was a common filler. The natural fibres sometimes being picked from the hedgerows and used directly in the quilts, twigs and all. This led to the pressing of seams ‘to the dark side’ as the natural fibres were loose and able to wiggle their way out of the tiny gaps between stitches. Sometimes woollen blankets were used as the thermal layer and I have known people to still do this today.

These days we have a much larger selection of products from wool, silk, cotton, polyester, bamboo and even recycled plastic bottles! Most are bonded in some way which keeps the fibers together so escape is not so frequent. They come in white, cream and I’ve even seen black. There are different properties to each and there is plenty of information either on suppliers or manufacturers websites to help you in your decision but here is a little guidance to get you started.

Selection of waddings

Cotton/polyester mix or 80/20 is a mixture (80% cotton, 20% polyester) which is ideal for quilts that are being used. Washable and easy to handle I guess most people will start with this as I did. It is a good, allrounder. The various makes will have a different ‘handle’ and ‘drape’. If you can it is good to attend a show to feel the difference between them but some suppliers do ‘sample packs’ which can be an excellent way to choose which ones you like.

I love bamboo wadding, which I have found to have a beautiful, gentle drape but I also favour 100% cotton wadding. Another that I use, and I am currently quilting a quilt by hand and finding it fabulous, is wool. Although it feels quite thin you actually get a lovely finish when hand quilting it. Personally I have edged away from using non-natural, polyester, waddings as I don’t like the idea that tiny plastic particles from this end up in the ecosystem. Although, there are few waddings which could truly be labled eco-friendly due to the manufacturing processes.

If in doubt, 100% cotton is one to go for. Waddings can be bought as cut pieces, as meterage off the roll or even as a whole roll if you feel you would use it. When buying for a particular quilt add on 10″ to your quilt top measurements which allows for the pulling in action that occurs when you add the quilting. If you are getting your quilt finished by a long-armer then you will need to check how much they require extra as sometimes this can be 8″ each side (a total of 16″ extra).

Don’t forget to keep your off cuts of waddings. They can be used for smaller projects and do come in handy. If you happen to have some larger pieces they can also be pieced together. You do this by butting the edges, make sure they are straight first, and then either join by hand with a Ladder stitch, as below, or run through your machine with a large Zig Zag stitch. Do use a matching thread though, I’ve used a contrast here for demonstration only so you can see it clearly! You only need to hold it together until you get the quilting done. We don’t overlap these pieces when joining as this would leave a ridge running down through the quilt.

Next time we’ll be looking at the different options of binding a quilt. Until next time, take care.

Quilt Backing

I have a regular patchwork and quilting group that normally meet on a Friday afternoon but since we are in ‘interesting times’ at the moment we aren’t meeting up. Luckily we are in touch via various social media groups but that still doesn’t help when they have reached a particular stage in quilt making and need some tuition. So the next couple of blogs are for them, and anyone else that needs a bit of help.

A quick talk about quilt backing today. Once you have finished piecing the top of your quilt you need to layer it up with your particular wadding (or batting) and the backing fabric. This can be decoratively pieced making it a double sided quilt but more often people use a single fabric. When working out the backing fabric meterage you need to measure across the width and length of your quilt.

The standard width of quilting fabric is a workable amount of 106cm (42″). This allows for the removal of the selvedge. It is worth checking your chosen fabric for this measurement. You then need to calculate how many ‘drops’ of fabric you will need to cover the back of the quilt, in a similar way to calculating curtain fabric. Unless you are making a lap or smaller sized quilt you will need to join the fabric either lengthwise or across the width. Use a ½” seam and press open.

It is advisable to not run a join or seam down the middle of the backing. This may weaken over time, as quilts inevitably get folded in half, so it can be worth offsetting the seam or cutting down one of the ‘drops’ down the middle and joining it either side of a central ‘drop’ giving two offset seams. If you wish to pattern match you will need more fabric to allow for the pattern repeats of your particular fabric.

There are wider fabrics which can be more economical to use, look for 100% cotton.

Free Pattern for Ring Pincushion

This free pattern has appeared in my blog for the website UKQU before but it’s such a handy and simple thing that I had to share it here too. I find it perfect for appliqué when you have pinned an area, are sewing along and need to remove the pins quickly whilst holding a piece firmly. A quick slip of the pin out and into the ring pincushion and Bob’s your Uncle, you can continue sewing easily without loosing your grip.

The pdf download is available if you would like to keep a copy and all you need is a 4″ square piece of fabric. You can see I fussy cut the square, positioning the heart in the top half of the square. To fill any pincushion there are a variety of products which can actually help look after your pins – worth doing if you’ve invested in specialist ones for particular tasks. Wool fleece, actual wool that I’ve collected from sheep fields, is good as the lanolin helps oil the pins, stopping any corrosion. Crushed walnut shells are said to be great for helping keep your pins sharp. You can buy this online. Wire wool is another option for keeping pins sharp but I have to favour the walnut shells myself. To help fill your pincusion with the shells make a funnel out of paper to pour the shells in through. It helps if you lay some paper underneath to catch any loose bits! To help bulk out the cushion you can then fill with toy stuffing.

Ring pincushion.

We always like a free pattern for a little gift for ourselves or for a friend so why not make up one of these little cuties.

Free Heart Table Runner Pattern

Strictly Quilting – but we may end up wherever our needles take us!

As we are in lockdown at the moment and, finding I have plenty of spare time on my hands, I thought I would tackle some of my scraps. I keep far too much from tiny triangles snipped from making Half Square Triangles to narrow strips. (Yes, I also admit to keeping selvedges too!) It’s about time I used some up. I’ve been meaning to make a little runner for my kitchen Welsh dresser, which has heart cut outs and so inspired this simple, but so cute, Hearts Runner. 

The hearts had inspired the design but I did want it to be a quick make so I searched up different patterns with hearts. There are so many out there but I settled on the Dancing Valentines block, partly because it gave me plenty of hearts but on a smaller scale which is perfect for using some of my scraps. I even used some lovely red shot taffeta on some of them…

It really was a quick make until it came to the quilting! Some projects just don’t go well do they? This fell into that category. I love using smaller projects to practice my Free Motion Quilting and I decided that a variegated pink thread would work really well with a swirly line with some hearts in the centre cream square of the blocks. You know when you start something and begin to think you don’t really like it? Yep, that’s what happened but I thought, just carry on. When I had nearly finished one side I realised that I’d caught some of the backing! It had folded under without me realising. At least I could change from the pink! I unpicked the lot and started again with a cream and a gentle meandering pattern. Much better until the thread broke! I rethreaded and started again only to find, a while later, that the thread was not playing ball and I had huge ‘eyelashes’ all over the back! Jack the Ripper made another appearance and finally I finished! 

I am really pleased with it, the meandering quilting across the cream certainly helps the hearts to ‘pop’. A clever trick when quilting. This would make a lovely gift and would be wonderful for a romantic meal.

The pdf is free to download here:

Until next time and don’t forget – Keep Calm and Quilt On!