Monday, 26 April 2010



I have to admit that I have always had to fight to do what I wanted to do. With 7 ‘O’ levels and 3 ‘A’ levels, the last thing my father wanted me to do was to go to PE College; he doubted that it was a good career choice. (‘What happens after a handful of years when you get too old to run about!) If I was honest, I probably saw it as the easiest and most enjoyable option. So when I announced to my parents that I was going to apply to join the British Volunteer Programme, they were very much against it. My father reasoned that if I was patient for a couple of years, I would gain experience and then I could travel AND get paid for teaching. But this girl wasn’t for turning and, after a rigorous weekend of interviews, I was accepted for VSO and I awaited my posting on finishing college.


At this point in my quilting journey, it’s worth reflecting on how I came to quilting in the first place. Whilst in Dorset I enjoyed being at home and looking after our young family. I was no career woman and there were certainly no thoughts of being brain dead or unfulfilled. Come the day though when I had to check with my husband whether there was enough money in our joint account to buy him his birthday present! In other words he was buying his own present and I had nothing to contribute. I needed to earn some pin money but how?

I decided to pick up my crochet hooks again and started to make fashionable shawls that were popular at that time. I used all types of yarns, and colours and made different shapes and sold them, with little profit it has to be said, amongst friends and at local craft shops. At one craft shop, the owner constantly and laboriously knotted her way through the process of making macramé lampshades. She complained that they took too long and, as an aside, challenged me to crochet them! I took up the challenge, experimented with materials, and in the flash of a crochet hook ‘Shades of Dorset’ was born!

Initially I bound each metal frame with tape, a time-consuming process that slowed production, but once I discovered plastic coated frames, I was into mass production! I started to experiment with yarns and eventually stumbled onto dishcloth cotton. This gave a chunky effect if I worked 2 balls at a time, and, oh joy, it was washable! (Having never considered the problem myself, I was amazed at how many potential customers fretted about whether the lampshades would get dusty!) A variety of patterns soon followed and I was ready to go out and sell and that was the worst part of the process for me.


I have just returned from a fabulous birthday trip to London with our close friends. Part of our trip was to visit the V&A museum to see the exhibition of quilts. This exhibition was excellent and so well put together! There were plenty of quilts to enjoy, with much variety, and some were those iconic quilts that are only seen as pictures in books on quilting history. Superb!

My main creative endeavours at present are concentrated on the construction of a prancing horse in my current ‘Painting with Fabric’ style. This wall hanging, half constructed at this stage, will be large and here’s a sneak preview. It looks a bit like a moth eaten pantomime horse at this stage but, because my design wall isn’t wide enough, I have had to create the front and back in stages and construct them independently. You will perhaps note that the image is created from squares made with diagonal strips of fabric. These are pinned onto a rough large-scale pattern for guidance and assessing progress.

Prancing Horse: front

Prancing Horse: rear

Monday, 19 April 2010



I had a rude awakening at college when it slowly dawned on me that there was a huge difference between playing sports and having to teach them! I was no stylish games player but I could score goals in hockey and win points in tennis in a crude but effective fashion. BUT the college lecturers had different ideas and systematically pulled my strokes to bits in an attempt to rebuild them so that I could efficiently demonstrate them to future pupils. This was a real disaster for me and took all the pleasure out of participating in any sport; it all became too cerebral and contrived! Teaching practice was such hard work, with only a few girls really interested in PE. It was fight, struggle, goad and push all the way.

I began to look for a possible diversion (or escape) and that conveniently and thankfully arrived during my final year when a new lecturer joined the staff. She had just returned from Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) and my excitement started to build as I homed in on the possibility of combining travel as a brand new certified teacher!


In the same breath as saying that I dislike the English Patchwork method, I have to admit that one of my favourite quilts is my hexagon quilt, which I now have on the bed in my guest room. It was made with the help of Kate Spencer, a local friend who boasted that she only did hexagons! I sent fabrics to her for her own use whilst she lived in Ireland and in return she made the flowers for me. Eventually these were joined together randomly with greens varying from lights in the centre, through mediums, to darks around the edges. I appliquéd this onto a leafy border and machine quilted it.

Hexagon Quilt

Hexagon Quilt: Fabric Border


I continue to work on my Gresford Sampler, following Jennifer’s instructions. The latest blocks are shown here. The rectangles were cut with a rotary cutter and machine sewn. The lozenges were constructed over paper, using the English patchwork method. For accuracy, you can’t beat it!

Gresford Sampler 3

Gresford Sampler 4

Monday, 12 April 2010



Student life was really enjoyable at Anstey PE College (1967-70). In Year 1, I lived in one of the student houses with 7 other first year students and 4 responsible (!) third year students. In Year 2, I was allocated lodgings at Sutton Coldfield and Year 3 saw me ensconced in the college building itself. Life was a whirl of physical activity in some form or other, interspersed at regular intervals with lectures and food high in carbohydrates. I have never been so fit in my life and I swear I had pains in muscles hitherto unknown to man!

Part of our regulation uniform was a pair of grey, tailored and pleated PE shorts which had to measure 4” from the knee. Underneath were our ample grey knickers, affectionately called ‘harvester’ because all was safely gathered in! Black hooded cloaks were part of our uniform too and these were worn when cycling to and from games fields and swimming pools. We must have looked like demented bats streaming en masse out of the college gates.


Another enquiry on moving to Sychdyn, North Wales, took me to the local library to find where the quilt-making classes were being held. There was nothing in the my area in 1984, so with a teaching certificate and three quilts to my name, I felt that I was more than qualified to start one. Fliers were sent home with 100+ school children and eye-catching posters were displayed wherever space allowed. But, when enrolment night came, all the ladies who walked through the school door signed on with the dressmaker who was also offering classes. One lady, however, was kind enough to come over to say that they thought that they had all done patchwork, and they hated the hexagons they had sewn!! I obviously needed to put my quilts on display to convince people that there was more to quilts than the dreaded hexagons!

English Patchwork: Hexagon Flower


I mentioned in an earlier blog that I was teaching a group of friends at Alston Hall and this is the sample I was working on as a demonstration piece whilst I was there. It is a fused background waiting for some flowers to be prepared and stuck in place, just like the Poppies and Sunflowers samples I have shown previously. What will it be this time, perhaps Irises or Hollyhocks, I don’t know yet!

Alston Teaching Sample

Notice the sweetie jars filled with fabric scraps. Whilst looking cheerful and decorative, they may even get used sometime in the future! And just to prove that I too work in chaos here’s my work surfaces at the moment whilst I am in creative mode, working on a galloping horse!

Creative Clutter

Everything to hand!

I have just had my 94-year-old mother staying for 3 weeks and it is always a relief to get her back to her bungalow and the support of the carers and my sister in one piece! I took her to the Welsh town that bears the longest name in Britain, to visit her sister.

Here it is: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch

And this is what it means: Saint Mary's Church in the hollow of the white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio of the red cave.And yes I CAN pronounce it!

Thursday, 8 April 2010



Always last minute and working to the deadline of exams, I did manage to scrape through on the academic side to gain 7 O levels and 3 A levels. I was the last head girl of Ulverston Grammar School, which became a comprehensive school the next academic year. I presented the aged head master, George Longbotham, with one of his many retirement gifts and skipped off happily to PE (physical education) college. This seemed a logical career choice for me, with my love of sport.

Anstey PE College was a very small college (approx 150 students) in Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire and was one of only 6 women’s PE colleges in the UK. The college was sited on the A5122 at Erdington, a major road into Birmingham. The main building was a huge converted and adapted mansion, with enclosed grounds, lost behind, and protected by, surrounding residential estates where students were housed. Bicycles were an essential requirement to get between sports fields, swimming baths and parks.

It took us a while to find our next home, Llain Delyn (Welsh for "harp shaped piece of land"), in Sychdyn, Mold, Flintshire. It was right next door to the village school where the girls settled quickly and from where Roger made the arduous daily journey to Bootle through the Mersey tunnel.

Llain Delyn, Sychdyn, Flintshire, UK

I started to make reluctant noises about returning to teaching now that our daughters were 7 and 8 and duly went for a chat with the local headmaster. His first question of ‘Can you speak Welsh?’ put me firmly in my place. As a non-Welsh speaker I realised instantly that I would have need to travel into the neighbouring county of Cheshire to continue my teaching career. What to do next eh?


I have just returned from my residential WE at Alston Hall where I was teaching two contrasting techniques. One involved the Log Cabin technique to make Sampler Quilt blocks. A paper foundation method was taught to produce accurate results of the precise blocks. Here are samples of work that was produced.

Log cabin sampler blocks

I just love the apparent chaos of workshops and the projects that blossoms from it. I don’t think that the words creative and tidy belong together so it was great to witness the shambles over the WE. Although plastic bags were strategically placed around the room, the floor took a real battering. I too work in a shambolic, free-flow sort of way and I don’t tidy up until the project is constructed and ready for the quilting process.

Paper foundation detritus

Carol in turmoil

Freda’s bits

Here are some of the creative backgrounds in progress for poppies or sunflowers.

Jan’s background

Susan and Thelma’s backgrounds

The technique is based on a 3” square constructed on the diagonal to give a sense of movement behind the added flower. Hopefully I will see pictures of finished work … eventually!