Friday, 26 March 2010



In light of the sadly lacking sewing experiences of school, it was hardly surprising that all my energies of youth were expended playing sport. On starting at the Grammar school we were put into competitive houses of Red, White or Blue. Following in the footsteps of my brother Ted and sister Gwyneth, I was put into Red House. Inter-house competition of every kind was encouraged and applauded and loyalties were established, built on the pride of simply belonging. Although I represented house and school in rounders and tennis as well, my particular love was hockey. I played right in the thick of it as centre forward; I played at lunchtime, after school and at weekends, for school, for local clubs and eventually for the county of Westmoreland. I suppose the pinnacle of my sporting career was reaching the ‘possibles’ versus the ‘probables’ for the England team! Although not accepted, it was gratifying to be considered.

This is a much better quilt for a young girl who loved her cats, with large shapes and bright colours. This quilt was tied with coloured embroidery threads so no time was spent on decorative quilting. Just the job!

Tam’s cat quilt

In 1984, we moved from Dorset where I had started to learn how to make quilts. My husband, Roger, worked as a civil servant, initially in the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries (MAFF) and eventually in the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). His head office had de-centralised from London to Bootle, near Liverpool and he was advised that a stint there would be good for career development. ‘Just for a couple of years’ was his persuasive mantra as we tearfully left the village of Milton Abbas in rural Dorset for N Wales. 26 years later we are still living in N Wales and it was here that I became known eventually as ‘Dilys the Quilt’.


Tomorrow I go to Alston Hall, near Preston to spend a weekend with the Shoreline Quilters. This has been a most pleasurable annual event for the last 15 years, where I am amongst friends rather than students and where friendship and laughter are as important as technique!

Poppies 14” x 36”
Poppies: Detail

Tuesday, 23 March 2010



Ulverston Grammar School was a 5-mile bus ride away from Dalton and I had to walk a mile before I got to the bus stop. I always enjoyed school, mainly for the social advantages and sporting opportunities and I performed moderately well on the academic side. I believed the one, single experience that put me off sewing for life (or so I thought) was making my wretched gingham apron, by hand, in domestic science! This torturous experience seemed to drag on for most of that first year. We sewed cross-stitch patterns on the pockets and waistband and constructed each section by hand. We watch the teacher’s demo, had a go, queued to have our stitches rubbished, took them out and tried again; queued, had our stitches rubbished … and so it went on. I don’t think I would ever have got to the cooking stage had I not been able to take it home during a long holiday and get my mother to complete it!

Aside: After mentioning this at a lecture several years ago, I was approached by an elderly quilter from the audience who sympathised with my early sewing experiences. Then added ‘At least you didn’t have to make the gusseted knickers my dear!’ Thank goodness for that eh?


Most of my early quilts were backed with a plain, backing fabric (Quilt Police cover your eyes: usually polycotton sheeting which often crept onto the front as well!!) As I learned to quilt by hand, I struggled to get even stitches on the back. As a result, I did just enough quilting to hold the three layers together which is, of course, one of the functions of the stitch. The decorative element of the stitches would have to wait!

Celtic Sampler: reverse (to show dearth of quilting stitches and the haphazard strips used to join the ready quilted blocks)

Whilst making this quilt, one of my daughters, at 11, just happened to have a pink bedroom, so this quilt became destined for her bed! I got her to choose some patterns and on the cat block I embroidered an impassioned ‘Sewn with love, Mummy x’. When it was finished, I put it on her bed and explained about the time that had gone into it making it and how she was to look after it. Imagine my horror when I saw muddy paw prints going diagonally across it a few days later. As I ranted and raved, Tam pondered the situation, then determinedly scooped the quilt off the bed, threw it onto the floor in my studio and said that she would rather have the cat on her bed!

Aside: This was a valuable, if not humbling lesson for me. I learned that if you want a child to love a quilt, you have to invite them be part of the whole creative process. You do not foist a complex and precious masterpiece on them and expect them to respect it!

Celtic Sampler: Cat block


Trying now, in haste as usual, to complete my challenge quilt for the Quilters’ Guild AGM next month. This involves copious machine quilting and texturing, to hold the small pieces of bonded fabric onto the background and the add detail to the elements of the design. This has now been submitted for the challenge and I will post pictures when it is returned to me.

In the mean time, here is a hanging in a similar style to illustrate the method.

Sunflowers 11” x 36”
Sunflowers: detail

PS Isn’t it thrilling as a teacher when you receive a picture of a quilt that has been directly inspired by your work. Here is a super quilt by Pinkie Leatherwood from Houston, Texas. She travelled to London with 2 friends and then made each an identical quilt to mark the occasion. That’s what I call a friend!
Note Big Ben and the wrought iron railings (and no rain!)

Frankie’s Quilt

Sunday, 14 March 2010


Whilst still smarting for the injustice of destroying my own handiwork at 7, I went on through Green School in a whirl of marbles, skipping ropes and tag to be sent to Nelson Street to prepare for my 11-plus. This girls-only school was meant to settle me and focus my mind on academia, as well as coach me for the big exam. It did just that!

After assembly each morning, before the headmistress ever arrived in class, we were programmed to recite our tables from 2x through to 16x and chant our number bonds from 2 to 10 (as in 7 + 0 = 7, 6 + 1 = 7, 5 + 2 = 7 etc). When she arrived, we stood up and blew our noses (and heaven help us if we had forgotten a handkerchief!) ready to go through pronunciation exercises to help our diction. Spelling tests were common and script writing was obligatory; this was a good all-round, traditional education.

Mind you, the headmistress was a fearsome individual with a hooked nose and never-miss-a-trick eyes. She used her glasses removal technique and frantic stare theatrically to scare the living daylights out of us! Boy did we respect her. And yes she got me through my 11-plus so, in1960, off I went to Ulverston Grammar School, to class 1S.


Whilst making these early traditional quilts, I was beginning to learn some valuable lessons. Accuracy in cutting shapes for patchwork is essential. Finishing was my aim at first and I would bodge and manipulate the shapes to fit. This wasn’t good enough when I began teaching and I knew all my work would be scrutinised by students.
On the other hand, I found that appliqué was more forgiving, with room for gentle manoeuvring; perhaps that’s why I liked it immediately! And this led me onto another appliqué sampler quilt:

Celtic Sampler. Celtic Sampler 84” x 84”

The 4 centre blocks were made using patterns from a book by Philamena Durcan. I taught them as a class project with great gusto and then wondered what to do with them (not more cushions!). So I decided to place them medallion-style in the centre of a quilt, but I hadn’t a clue how. ( I think if I had realised that maths was involved in quilting I may never have got started!) All I could think of doing was to lay the ready quilted centre blocks on a larger piece of fabric and cut generously to fill in the corners! The bouquets of flowers and smaller appliqués camouflage the bodging that went on to make it all fit together! As with earlier quilts, each block was hand quilted before it was joined into the body of the quilt.

Celtic Sampler block: hand appliqué, hand quilting


I am continuing to work on my Liberty Logs Sampler and the latest block is Clipper Ship. It is pictured next to small embroidery scissors so that the scale is apparent. There is a lot of intricate work in each block so progress is slow.

Liberty Logs: 6 ½” square

Thursday, 4 March 2010



I started school at 3 years old and can remember vividly the open fire at one end of the classroom, with a fireguard in front. Our morning milk (gill) was placed between the guard and fire to warm up before break time. I cannot bear the taste of warm milk to this day. I also remember the camp beds being put up in the classroom during lunchtime for our afternoon nap, can you imagine that!
I also remember learning to knit when I was about 7, using a ball of crinkly wool and small needles with 10 stitches on. The idea was for us to knit vertically upwards but most of us, rather creatively I thought, increased and decreased stitches with impunity. Dropping stitches gave such a pretty lacy effect too. But it didn’t matter how we did it, more important was that we should have been able to take our endeavours home to show our families. Not us, we had to remove our needles and rewind the crinkly wool back onto the ball for next year’s suckers to repeat the process. What an experience for a 7 year old eh?


As mentioned in BLOG 3, I have returned to the sampler quilt again for inspiration, combining it with the log cabin technique. This is a ‘barn raising’ Log cabin quilt I made in 1986.


It was made before I knew about rotary cutters, boards and ruler! I drew lines on either side of a 12” ruler, added a seam allowance and cut out the strips with scissors. This was such a laborious process that I almost lost the will to live! But I finished and hand quilted it because I liked the effects of the yellow and green fabrics together.

(Aside: It is just so important to like the fabrics you are working with, then you are more likely to finish the project.)


I continue to work at a steady pace on my Liberty Logs. My blocks are 6 ½” when finished so both accuracy and attention to detail are all important. I believe there is no surer way to achieve such precision that with the paper foundation method.

(Aside: The paper foundation method sounds a bit like a contraceptive to me. ‘Oh I use the paper foundation method, it is the only way to practice safe patchwork!)
Light, medium and dark values

I am using Liberty Lawns, ignoring colours and concentrating on the values (lights, medium and darks) of the fabrics. Deirdre Amsden established this method of making quilts based on value. Later, American Quilters, who referred to it as watercolour quilting, developed the style.
Here is the 9-patch Maple Leaf, the logs are a fraction over ¼”. I hope it’s worth the effort!
Liberty Logs: Maple Leaf 6 ½”