Further south

On from Nynehead Court to the delights of Exeter for two high temperature days with South West Quilters – most appropriate to be presenting the talk on Tentmaker applique and a class based on Tentmaker applique. ( As a quick aside, those of you who are Facebook people may know that there is a page for the Tentmakers (try The Tentmakers of Chareh El Khaimaya) which will give you the latest news and updates on their current situation. )  Before the talk I had the unexpected pleasure of seeing a finished project from a previous Tentmaker class


a very large Tentmaker piece, commissioned back in the 80s from one of the studios in Cairo

commissioned Tentmaker piece

commissioned work

and a super quilt based on the blocks in my Egyptian Treasure pattern book – (still available via www.barbarachainey.com)

the maker

quilt section

quilt section

I think everyone who teaches and/or designs will say the same – it’s a unique thrill to see finished work that is based on your ideas and patterns, and seeing these pieces was a real highlight of the day for me.

The class on Sunday was held in one of the most perfect village halls – exactly the right size for the number of students, with windows and doors open to the equally perfect weather.  Everyone was most industrious and soon had the design marked onto the background fabric ready to begin placing the bias tape and building up the lotus flowers point by point.

part of the class

bias in placeDSCN4142bias and points

stitching in placestitching in placepreview

setting out the work

There were some seriously covetable hand-dyed fabrics in the room – here’s just one set –

selection of hand dyes

Here’s a tiny section of one of my class samples –

section of sample

and a reference picture of the full-size, real thing covering a space on the street in Cairo. A timely reminder of the original scale of these amazing textiles –

Tentmaker hanging in Cairo

Thanks to all the organisers and volunteers who made the weekend such a success – hope it’s not too long before we meet again.

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.

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  http://pozible.com  or http://www.chareh-elkhiamiah.com/

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



Another week

Crosscountry to the wide open spaces of Norfolk a week ago for a Quilters Guild day to talk about the Tentmakers of Cairo in the morning and conduct an informal quilt “surgery” in the afternoon.  Region 9 of the Guild has a lot of activities, exhibitions and special days organised – a very busy region.  I always enjoy giving the Tentmakers talk as it gives me a chance to share my love of the country, the city and the craft.

For the afternoon I had been asked if I would discuss quilting possibilities to answer “How do I quilt it? What do I quilt?” quandaries, so lots of ladies were generous enough to bring in quilt tops that were waiting for just these answers and we had a good time chatting through ideas and suggestions around the tables.  During the day I had a chance to catch up with Liz Nally, one of the Brave Volunteers earlier this year.  Liz had brought a couple of her quilts to show me – made from The Essential Quilter Project Book – don’t they look great?

I had to get home in good time – Shirley Sherratt was due to inspect my progress on the Secret Drawer project the following day.  Of course, inspection can work two ways, so Shirley was able to check out my new storage arrangements and some of the Antique Rose star project

and I got to see one of her almost finished projects

and a glimpse of one of her current projects

as well as a third project which has used up a lot of ingenuity and VERY small pieces of fabric –

Shirley gets lots done because a. she is a speedy hand stitcher and b. she is highly organised as her travelling sewing box will show

My take-along pouch looks more like this, most of the time –

Kind of speaks for itself doesn’t it??

At some point during the week (I think it was Norfolk) I found myself with some time to scribble and doodle in a notebook.  Sometimes the results are good, sometimes not so good and I’m not sure yet how these will turn out.  It’s quite some time, at least a year, since I put a pattern book together or sent any new designs to the stencil company (Stensource /Quilting Creations) and I think I should try to put a sketchbook into the Secret Drawer so that I make time to doodle on a more regular basis and be more productive on this front.  See if you think there’s anything that might be useful –

It’s been a fairly busy week – evening classes and a Saturday class as part of the growing Chris & Barbara Empire, plus a teaching visit to one of my favourite destinations, The Bramble Patch in Northampton.  No pictures from this class, we were far too busy getting to grips with hand quilting, but I am hoping to see some of the finished samples eventually …

Time to go and drink tea and survey the contents of that drawer ….

Background work

A week of preparation plus the usual ritual packing and unpacking of teaching boxes.  The preparation has involved delving into That Cupboard, hauling out one set of quilts and one set of Tentmaker pieces so that everything can be numbered, checked, measured again, double checked and put in hanging sequence and the information sent through to the lovely Ada, organiser of the Open European Quilt Championships.  I was completely bowled over when Ada invited me to exhibit some of That Cupboard’s contents at this year’s show and I’m really looking forward to it. The plan is to fit everything –  all the exhibit pieces, samples, materials and kits for the 2 classes I’ll be teaching there, plus a few samples and pattern books to sell alongside the exhibit, my personal luggage of course, and my trusty travelling companion/organiser and her luggage – into the new(ish) gas-guzzler that is sitting out on the yard and drive across to the show.  Might prove to be a little Thelma and Louise, but it should be fun!

So the only thing I have to share from this week is a set of really quick glimpses of some of the quilts that are stacked up outside That Cupboard ready for the final stage of laying out flat and in sequence and adding sleeves.

When this background work is done, I’m hoping to move on to a different heap – the unfinished quilt tops that have been sitting quietly waiting for their moment for more than two years.  Somehow their time seems to have arrived …

happy stitching!


November slips away

I distinctly remember clearing and tidying spaces and surfaces in my room and I’m sure it really wasn’t that long ago.  However, as everyone knows, nice clear surfaces are only lying in wait for stuff to re-group and re-gather and so it has proved.  Over on the cutting board there’s squares cut and part-pieced ready to get going on a 30th Birthday project for my local quilt group

At the side of the cutting board a jumble of strips left over begun as class samples has appeared and seems to be a few steps further along the way to becoming a real quilt top that could, in time, join the to-be-quilted pile

On the table there’s a growing number of almost-finished things, starting with 2 samples from the lovely volunteer team – Maggi and Liz have already sent their “homework” back and very fine it looks too –  here’s a glimpse of Liz’s homework with the Oakshott fabric I think I will use for the border

and a glimpse of Maggi’s piece with the fabric I’m considering for this border

You can imagine how delighted I was with these samples – huge thanks to both of you.  I shall show them in their full glory (and with full credit!) once the borders are in place.  The fabric shown with Maggi’s piece may get used a second time to frame an old sample that I never bothered to finish properly

– or I might use some Cherrywood fabric, now that it has been liberated from its hiding place under the table

These two balls of yarn also re-appeared and are hard to resist – I may need to follow Shirley’s example and use them to crochet something useful

Hiding somewhere in the next few pictures is a whole set of designer Kindle and iPad covers – all that’s needed is a few decisions and some of that elusive time that is in such short supply.  The Liberty/Grayson Perry fabric with the faces will probably get used for ritzy linings for the covers.

One thing that desperately needs some order restoring is the cheap document case that carries my handsewing essentials.  After a term of heavy use for classes it has achieved a record level of messiness and clutter

Some really useful fabric was added to the heaps last week – all sorts of piecing projects come to mind just looking at it, the printed strips are 2 1/2″ wide, the colours are yummy and the difficulty will (as always) be deciding what to do first – split hexagons, split triangles, split diamonds…??

All the Tentmaker stuff had be taken out of the upstairs cupboard last week and sorted and packed for a talk and class.  When I was putting everything back again I couldn’t resist adding this piece to the must-do pile.  The colours remind me very much of the work of William De Morgan, and four of these blocks would look really good together don’t you think?  Which is another reason why the sewing kit needed to be sorted out……….. I need everything to be rather more organised than it was if I am going to make any progress.

So here we are at the end of the month and the festive clock seems to have started ticking.  Thank you for all your kind messages on the loss of our dear old collie – no further news to report as yet. but in the meantime there’s lots of sewing to do, lots to enjoy and look forward to.

happy stitching

Untitled …

Zero stitching for the past few weeks, lots of life’s ups and downs instead.   My view of the great outdoors no longer looks like this –

-and there’s not much to say except that she’s gone after 14 good years, there’s a huge gap in our lives and the house feels very empty.  We may explore the possibilities of taking on an old-timer who needs a home, but its early days yet.

In search of consolation we spent a day in our favourite city – Liverpool – and visited the excellent Maritime Museum down at the Albert Dock.  Warm sunny weather (what a treat for November in England!) helped too.

Lots of interesting shapes and textiles in the Museum – here’s a sampling

A reminder of how we got the nickname “Limeys” ………

and a reminder of other costs –

No new stitching of my own to show (but thanks again to the volunteer crew who, I know, are beavering away behind the scenes on samples for next year) but a quick look at some old stuff.  I needed to supply images to accompany teaching contracts as well as purple prose to describe some classes – Cording & Quilting, Tentmaker Applique for the Open European Quilt Championships next May, and Essentials of Hand Quilting in various UK locations.

So, it’s rather light on text this time around but lots of positive plans taking shape – watch this space!  Happy stitching …

Creeping back

– or straight back into it, I can’t decide which.  Either way, time has simply gone by and been filled with lots of activity but no blog posts.  I really don’t want to get into the whole guilt and apology thing, so I’m just going to start at the furthest point and work forwards with a few brief posts about “what I did from May to September” and then get to grips with all the things that are currently swirling around.

One main focus over the past few months has been Tentmaker applique work – both teaching it and revelling in seeing the working exhibit at Festival of Quilts.   Some of you will know that I have been enthralled with this work for the past 10 years and more, given lots of talks and classes, and of course, actually bought pieces on the Street of the Tentmakers on my trips to Cairo.  Many of you will also know that you can find wonderful pictures and information in various places such as Jenny Bowker’s blog “Postcards from Cairo” .   Tentmaker applique is one of my favourite classes to teach and I always enjoy seeing students reactions to the work and understanding some of the processes involved – the pictures below start at a class for Southport Quilters in June, continue to the same class for Brockhampton Quilters at the end of June and finish at Festival of Quilts in August.

As you can see from the picture above, Brockhampton Quilters run a really well-organised workshop!  Although this additional “facility” was not of their organising, it raised a lot of chuckles especially when we read the notice pinned above –

Southport and Brockhampton Quilters are both talented and productive groups (and a lot of fun too!)  There were any number of interesting bags at each class and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to picture just a few of them

And here we are at Festival of Quilts – I had met Hassan and  Tarok previously on visits to Cairo, and it was wonderful to see so many people crowding into the exhibit, fascinated by their  work and skills.

The whole experience of this exhibit at Festival was enhanced by a visit from my good friend Debbie Wendt who was responsible for inviting me to teach in Cairo back in 2001.  Debbie took me on my first memorable visits to the Street of the  Tentmakers so it was very special to be able to see this exhibit together – even if she did have to travel several thousand miles to do so.  Debbie is one of those multi-talented quilters and I managed to sneak a picture of her twirling a longarm machine around –

Finishing with a detail from one of the Tentmaker pieces from my “collection” and getting ready to give a talk on this tomorrow – more catch-up news next time.

Happy stitching!