More unplanned acquisitions

I really did think there would be no further quilts entering The Cupboard for the foreseeable future.  Wrong again!  I think that Myself and Himself probably need to curtail our occasional outings to antique fairs to a zero limit – we had a lovely day out at Antiques for All at the NEC in Birmingham last weekend where there were relatively few vintage textiles on display.  But then I turned a corner at the end of one aisle and there it was –

Tumbling Blocks quilt

and at an affordable price – what’s a quilter to do other than pay up and bring it home to be shared, enjoyed and appreciated?  Measures 88x 76inches, no provenance or information.  Possibly USA in origin the vendor thought and I think I’m inclined to agree.  The fabrics are a little more fragile than they first appear, beautifully handpieced (no papers), very thin cotton wadding, knife edge finish with one line of neat running stitch, an all over quilting treatment of clamshells (just about visible in a couple of the pics below).  I really couldn’t say if it is more usual to see the lines of tumbling blocks set across the width of a quilt but in this instance they run the length of the quilt.

Tumbling blocks quilt

quilt detail

quilt detail

quilt detail

quilt detail

quilt edge and back

A special touch though in the line of machine stitching near the edge of the quilt – this seems to fit pretty well with a guesstimated date of 1860 -1880.  Someone out there who has more specialised knowledge of early sewing machines would be able to help date this style of machine stitch – my uneducated guess is that  this chain stitch is earlier rather than later in the technical development of sewing machines … do add to this information/guess if you can.

machine stitching at edge of quilt

And, although this next acquisition doesn’t belong in The Cupboard and isn’t textile, I thought you might be interested to see it all the same.  Some of you know that I have a strong ceramics heritage within my family and also where I grew up, and our house is stuffed with quite full of various bits and pieces.  Which really explains why I felt obliged to bring this lovely early 19th century tankard home. It’s  hand painted and well-worn, with a typically sentimental verse and looks good sitting on the kitchen dresser above The Secret Drawer –


The verse reads ” Long may we live, Happy may we be, Blest with Content, & From misfortunes free”

Note the pin (lower centre)-  we quilters have a habit of leaving “clues” everywhere!

An interesting box

It was probably 30 years ago when I was given this unassuming sturdy cardboard box –

the box

because I might, as someone who taught patchwork and quilting, be interested in the contents.  Four charred pieces of wood and a small carding brush were also passed on to me.  The wood was damaged well beyond it’s original use as the component parts of a small embroidery/quilting slate frame, the small carding brush still usable.

Inside the box?  Well, it’s a fascinating glimpse into a little bit of quilting circa late 1940s – carefully saved embroidery transfers, quilting transfers, home made templates and handwritten instructions for quilting which are well worth reading

the instructions

instructions page two

box contents

corner of transfer sheet

Briggs transfer

card templates

Deighton's quilting pattern

transfer detail

home made paper template

second paper pattern

card templates

card templates

card template

circular card label

Even a card label (apparently from a paraffin heater) had been kept to use as a circle template – thrift prevailed!

Italian quilting transfers

card templates

And looking through this box again has started me wondering if it would ever be possible to distil ” a quilting life” down to just one box of patterns and templates….?  These days we have so much of everything readily available, or just a few clicks away – it’s an interesting comparison don’t you think?

Before I forget

It’s nearly two whole months since my Cairo visit and finally I’ve caught up with enough of the recent vintage quilt acquisitions to show you the pieces of Tentmaker work that came home in the suitcase.  In no particular order here they are – complete with cellophane wrappers in some cases!

Tentmaker applique

Tentmaker applique

(If, like me, you are a fan of blue you might want to take a look at Kathleen Tracey’s new “blue” blog – maybe I should send her some of these pics?)

Tentmaker applique

Tentmaker applique

Tentmaker applique

Tentmaker applique

Tentmaker applique

These two pieces illustrate quite well the variety of line and interpretation that is ongoing in this tradition – so different and so dramatic!

Tentmaker applique

and version 2 of the same design

Tentmaker applique

Tentmaker applique

I have tried several times, without success, to get a good picture of this piece – the depth and warmth of the reds against the navy ground is very striking.  Not much luck either with a detail shot –

Tentmaker applique detail

Tentmaker applique

Tentmaker applique

And here’s my favourite of them all – a small traditional scarab design, the quality of work is amazing.  Perhaps in a future post I’ll return to this one and show some better pictures and close-ups so you can see for yourselves – in the meantime this “in the cellophane” picture will give you an impression of it –

Tentmaker applique scarab

Hope you enjoyed these – if you did, just a reminder that you will be able to see Tentmakers at work (and buy stuff!) at the British Quilt & Stitch Village show this month and, across the Atlantic, at the AQS show in Paducah.

Catching up #3 – vintage quilt #2

Original, eye-catching  titles for blog- posts definitely not my strong point!  But in an effort to get things up to date here’s a look at the second vintage quilt that has recently joined the contents of The Cupboard.  It’s simple, just 4 large blocks, measures 64inches square (approx) the greens have faded to sand colour, there’s double line echo quilting and, on the applique, the most exquisite close stitching I think I have ever seen.  Acquired in the US with no information/provenance etc.  I think you might like this one!

vintage quilt 2


vintage quilt 2 - block


vintage quilt 2 - stitch detail


vintage quilt 2 - stitch detail


vintage quilt 2 - border detail


hand stitched binding


vintage quilt 2 - block


I hope to get around to quilt # 3 and #4 really soon …

Catching up #1 – Tentmakers and Cairo

It seems as if months have passed since I was in Cairo, although it really is only a few weeks.  In that time the crowd-funding appeal for the documentary film on the work of the Tentmakers has reached its goal (but you can still contribute here), and they have been featured at quilt shows  in France,  the US and one to come here in the UK.  You can imagine that I’m mega excited about the UK show – British Quilt & Stitch Village – because it is virtually our local show, less than 20 miles away.  It will be very strange meeting up with Hany in my country rather than his.  Hany is one of the first Tentmakers I met and chatted to on my first visit to the Street of the Tentmakers in 2002 and I have several pieces of his work in The Cupboard my collection.

Hany El Saed Ahmed

Hany was at the show in Paris when I was in Cairo so there are no pictures of him from this last visit.  However, there was still plenty to see, admire (and buy!) in the studios that line the street

Tentmaker work

Tarek Fattoh studio

Ashraf's studio

Tarek Fattoh's studio

new design - Tarek Fattoh

lotus design

The last time I met Hasan, he and Tarek were demonstrating their skills at the Festival of Quilts in Birmingham.  It was good to see him in the studio again

Hasan at work

Hasan's studio

Two of the pieces being held up here found their way into my bag ……….!

Altogether, a wonderful trip.  The classes I was teaching went well, thanks to a great group of students who just dived right in to everything and were a lot of fun – great classroom too, well done Debbie!

view from the classroom


and there was cake!

day one - Marsha

dyeing day!

dyeing day - the aftermath

some of the dyeing results

Tentmaker style applique

working on points

Of course, there had to be a day of sand, atmosphere and history –


Debbie W, this is for you

tomb carvings

There’s a rumour about a return visit next year………… just try and keep me away!

Tentmaker applique – alert

Just putting the final things together to leave for Cairo with enough time to post an important link and appeal ….

For more than a decade I have had the privilege of visiting the Street of the Tentmakers  in Cairo then returning home to teach classes and promote their work and its history in lectures and talks.  You can imagine that an important textile tradition that is heavily dependent on tourism has taken a huge blow since the events of two years ago.  As a result, the skills and traditions of this profession may disappear within our lifetime – a chilling thought.  This year, there is a glimmer of hope – Australian film-maker Kim Beamish is gathering information and financial support for a documentary film about the Street, the Tentmakers themselves, their influence and importance.  You can find more information about the project, and how you can help, wherever you are, at  or

Here are just a few random pictures for flavour –


traditional Tentmaker hanging







This really is a situation where every little helps – I plan on contributing by buying and also by supporting the fundraising for the film, and will report back on my return.

Continuing vintage

Home from the chilly MidWest and shortly to depart for the rather warmer Land of Sand aka Cairo.  There’s just enough time to show you some more of the lovely fabrics from the bargain quilt top acquired last month –





Those loose threads you can see are the tacking threads which have been cut but not pulled out.  Look how thick the thread is!  I would say that the stitching of the hexagons is mostly the work of one person but some of the patches have possibly been inserted/replaced and stitched by a second person, for instance these blue patches



The first border is large half square triangles, sewn with running stitch



and you’ll notice, on the left, a line of machine stitching (looks like the stitch made by a fairly early machine) and also some whipstitching.  So all methods are included in this one piece!  It wasn’t until I laid the top out on the floor to take a flatshot that I realised what I had got – probably one third of a larger top which has been cut up/down/divided for whatever reason by anonymous hands.

quilt top

So there it is – fabrics ranging from 1850s to 1890s, never promoted to be a quilt or finished coverlet, hand and machine stitching, and a completely unplanned addition to The Cupboard upstairs.  Long time readers may recall that I once vowed not to increase the number of quilts in The Cupboard and I was even doing quite well with making plans to reduce the contents until this came along.   Plans have been temporarily put aside, because good luck and good things often arrive in pairs – as you can see from todays vintage bargain

Turkey Red strippy quilt


Turkey Red strippy


This quilt has only been in the house for a few hours, hasn’t made it as far as The Cupboard yet.  I need to take measurements, more pictures and just generally enjoy it for a while.

One of the topics under discussion during my MidWest trip was tiles as a source of quilting inspiration.  Rummaged through the bookshelves,  found relevant books, took some very rough pictures to send back and thought you might enjoy a taster –

medieval tile pattern


medieval tile pattern


medieval tile pattern


Now my mind is racing with all sorts of possibilities, and, after a week in Cairo it will be even worse!  Several classes to teach and the can’t-miss-it visit to the Street of the Tentmakers will deliver their own special inspirations.  I’ll sign off with a detail of one of my favourite Tentmaker pieces (and yes, it is in The Cupboard!) ….

Tentmaker applique detail



Just stuff …

At sea amidst stuff to pack for a quick trip to Quilt Market in Houston, stuff to finish for classes after Quilt Market, lots of paper stuff that might turn out to be patterns, and domestic stuff that needs to be taken care of before swanning off to warmer climes.  It all comes down to stuff and luggage in the end!   Despite the excess of stuff of all types and from all directions, I can report that my Secret Drawer/Stealing Time project is working quite well – the Antique Rose Star pieces are stacking up in their box and the drawer is now filled to a satisfactory level –

For anyone who has been bitten by the Antique Rose Star bug the indefatigable Shirley over at Stitcherydo has turned up a real treasure for you!  – it’s a phone app, but far too good for that and she is brimming with ideas to develop into cloth and stitch.  Do take a look ….


There was a little bit of time this week to mess around put some more lines on paper –

and have fun with mirrors

Still on the theme of “I wish I could” I really wish I could make descriptive lines like The Quilt Rat – if you don’t already follow her blog I can highly recommend it, masses of inspiration and fabulous lines of ink and stitch.  In the meantime I shall just potter on with my low-tech pencil and mirrors…

I was re-acquainted with one of my smaller vintage quilts yesterday – ok, it had been pushed to the back of various samples and been overlooked – and took a couple of pictures with a view to making a pattern.  The border, corners and background grid will be pretty straightforward, but the centre is proving a little more difficult to capture –

And there will be plenty of airplane time this next week that I can use to work on more scribbles and doodles, make plans and dream of Gibson guitars.  Happy stitching!

I wish I could ….

How often do you catch yourself saying this?  I confess that I do it all the time, particularly when it comes to quilting and design.  We are so lucky to have so many opportunities to see the work of other quilters and designers – shows, magazines, books, internet, YouTube etc – but sometimes the viewing and admiring can make you envious (or even despondent!).  Instead of getting envious (or despondent) on my own I thought I might, from time to time,  post a few pictures and links to quilters whose work I admire so we could perhaps share the envy and wishing we could!

Why not start at the point where I had the idea? –  in front of Borderline Quilter’s  (aka Kay Bell) quilts at this year’s Festival of Quilts   (Click through to Kay’s blog here to see lots more of her lovely work – and maybe leave her a comment too.)  Late update:  Kay has won Best in Show, Judges Choice and a whole fistful of ribbons at the Scottish Quilt Championships this week – very well-deserved!

I’ve wished I could quilt and design like Kay for a couple of years now – she has a particular gift for space and proportion in her custom designs which have a satisfyingly classic appeal.  Her feathers are graceful and really “flow” well.   And her machine quilting is pretty good too!

Also hanging at the NEC show this year was one of Andrea Stracke’s beautiful handquilted wholecloths – Andrea’s work is awesome in the true sense of the word.  Like Kay she quilts her own designs and the excellence of all aspects of her stitching is completely inspiring.  I had seen one of Andrea’s quilts at the Open European Quilt Championships earlier in the year.  On that occasion her quilt was hanging in one of the darker areas of the large hall so it was difficult to get a picture that did it justice.  Here’s a detail  –

And I know I wasn’t the only one battling to get a good picture of Andrea’s quilt at the NEC – the overhead sodium lighting turned the colour of the quilt from a soft lime green to a moderate yellow.  This was the best I could do –

Andrea’s work is packed with interesting design detail – she has certainly made her mark with her traditional style quilts.  Lots more on her website too ….

My major “I wish I could” for this week is to find some more time for stitching – there has to be a secret to this that I don’t know about.  Perhaps it’s too much blog reading or just the start of autumn, but I’m certainly not managing to connect needle to fabric in a meaningful way.   Not helped by a slight sidetrack into the murky world of quilting ufo’s (WIPs, PhDs and other stuff you never finished first time around).  Buried about halfway down my ufo stack is a set of about 40 handpieced Sawtooth Star blocks.  These were begun about five years ago as an aimless project, no deadline, just make cut up fabric and make blocks.  And so I did, and it was great – begun with fat quarters from “The Carriage House Collection” by WindhamFabrics, and others added to when they ran out.

An excellent carry-along project and much-used as demo pieces for various classes.  Then the day dawned when I’d had enough, knew that a reasonable size quilt could be made with them, and promptly put them away for when I had the time.  Does any of this sound familiar to you?  Two days ago I was enthusing about the Antique Rose project I’ve just started –

and we got onto the topic of handpiecing, how it’s become SO popular again, how easy and portable it is etc etc.  So I fetched out my various hand piecing projects that are waiting for the next stage, including the Sawtooth Stars, some Dresden Fans, the Whigs Defeat blocks … and then everything suddenly became clear.  Put the Sawtooth Stars together with the first Whigs Defeat block, use plain muslin for spacers and narrow borders and it will be much better than working with them separately.  Here’s the rough floor layout – what do you think?

We thought it looked quite good at the start when we were shuffling blocks around on the table, so this might be a possibility –

At the weekend I’m teaching a Tentmaker applique class, so not much time to pursue this right now.  Maybe next week ….

I should be quilting …

… but instead have found myself almost ankle-deep in yet another handpiecing project.  One of those Topsy-like projects that begin innocuously enough with a few scraps, quarters and eighths of repro. fabrics – some left over from previous projects, others yet to get involved, and indulging a passing whim to try out a particular pattern or block.  This time it’s an addictive tessellating kite shape – you’ll have seen it on other blogs and in various magazines and books – three kites = one triangle, three triangles = one larger triangle, six larger triangles = one hexagon and, well, you get the general idea. I first saw a quilt made with this block in the late 80s in the much-lamented US magazine Ladies Circle Patchwork Quilts.  The template & pattern I’ve acquired for “Antique Rose” is from Material Obsession via Petra Prins.  Here’s the journey over the last few days –

mark and cut out shapes

then arrange a section

which then becomes

then you find yourself marking stitching lines on two adjacent sides – this really seems to work well

then plunge further on and check the final outcome with a couple of mirrors –

Even better, at this point a long-standing quilting pal shows up and pronounces that this looks too good to be just for me – she wants to work with this shape and block too, only by machine.  Thanks for the boost Chris – exactly what was needed to get to the next stage!

Spurred on by Chris’s enthusiasm, I couldn’t resist fiddling around with the mirrors and looking at a couple of possibilities using the same shapes

Then we move to the essential set-up of a temporary sewing space at the kitchen table – note the vital items to hand!

Several readers will not be at all surprised by the arrival of another non-sewing essential –

– and, yes, he really does insist on being that close!

So from here it’s all moving on, more pieces cut out (enough for 4 mega-hexagons – they measure 16inches across when complete), 72 pieces and 7 fabrics per hexagon.

300+ pieces marked, cut and stitching lines marked in a very short space of time (ok, yesterday).  At least I’ll be well prepared with something to pick up in all those spare moments …

This week I’ll be teaching at Ardington School of Craft, so it looks like being several days of quilting, handpiecing and generally having a good time – what could be better?