Ali Wilkinson

Penny Sampler

Needle Down

Needle Down

I’ve been meaning to blog about this quilt for some time. I made it in the first few months of 2014 from a class by Rachel at She ran the class in late 2013 but I had a few projects n at the time and so I followed her instructions from the e-book all participants received at the end.

Rachel’s instructions are awesome! She includes lots of step by step photos, especially for tricky stages or finicky blocks.The e-book runs to over 100 pages, it is that detailed!

The sampler teaches different techniques and then provides a number of blocks to use those skills. Techniques used were paper piecing, different types of appliqué, standard piecing, and Y seams. I had never paper pieced before this class but by following the detailed instructions I was able to not only learn but become quite proficient.

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I found it quite tough choosing the fabrics to use. I started by choosing the two large pieces of fabric which were largely untouched and grounded the quilt from each side. These were Tilda prints in a coral and a blue colour. The prints were quite gentle, with one in a pretty damask and the other of hanging Chinese bird cages. These influenced the rest of the fabric I chose, which included some Tula Pink, more Tilda, Art Gallery Fabrics, Carolyn Friedlander and some I have had in my stash for over a decade.

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Where possibly I fussy cut, as can be seen on the mitten and the diamonds on the right of the photo below:

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I used a variety of very low volume creams for the backgrounds. A lot of sashing was made too and called either Penny Candy (like the strip to the right of the teapot above) or Penny Crosses (like to the left of the teapot).

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I made a conscious decision to make the big blocks first and then fill in with smaller blocks and finally the sashing so that I could try to balance the colours and values across the entire quilt. At that stage I did not have a design wall and so laid it out on the floor in our lounge!

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Rachel helpfully provided a chart o the layout which enabled me to use coloured pencils to assist in the colour balance process, and also to label each block as I progressed.

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For a sampler like this it had to be custom quilted and Suzet Pont did the most amazing job. Each block has a different design, and the level of detail still blows me away – the houses in the town block even has smoke coming out of the chimneys! And the teacups have steam rising. Suzet put a few little words on there too “a cup of tea”, “tea for two” and my name.

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These photos are not the best and I will replace them with better ones when I get better light.

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I strongly recommend this class, and point you in the direction of the Flickr group for this class where you can see all different renditions of the quilt and be amazed by the way different colour palettes can change it up while keeping it the same. I don’t know if Rachel will run the class again, but I am sure that you can buy the e-book off her website and from my own experience I can tell you that just working from the e-book will be fine for most people!

Ali Wilkinson

FMQ Lessons

needledown_nz_FMQ_lesson_ 1Does free motion quilting scare you? It terrifies me. I’ve read Angela Waters’ books and watched countless YouTube videos, and I understand the theory, but when it comes to actually putting it into practice I find all the excuses in the book not to take that first step. So now having bought a decent machine with big harp/throat space, acquired an extension table for the machine and the correct darning foot, and decided I can’t go on paying a small fortune to long armers to do basic edge to edge quilting for me, I realised that the rubber must hit the road and I have to get on with this and learn.

I am part of a group of quilters in Christchurch and we call ourselves Stitch Sisters. Actually, the rest o them meet far more than me as I am a bit reclusive at times when sewing and my work and family commitments don’t fit well with the sewing get togethers, but I am there in mind! The Stitch Sisters organised with Verina to have a series of lessons on how to FMQ. The first one was two weeks ago but I missed that due to my burst pipe, so today I had a bit of catching up to do.

Our project was a small bowl. I chose some Anna Maria Horner fabric from my stash to make mine and a bit of left over Tula Pink for the bidding. I started off with a calico quilt sandwich learning about hand placement and how to move the sandwich in rhythm with the speed of the needle and stitches. I have to say that the latter was somewhat tricky and I am far from mastering it. I’d also say that I am not super smooth yet, as can be seen from the spiral quilted onto the sandwich I turned into the bowl.

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I found that in some directions as I spiralled around and around that my hands were not moving at the right speed and this resulted in very tiny stitches compared to the parts of the spiral where I was more in rhythm and where the stitches are nice and even. On the calico practice sandwich I found that where I could see the entire quilting pattern I was able to sew evenly and with consistent stitches, but where the sandwich was moving away from me the presser foot prevented me from having a clear view of where I was heading and so I subconsciously hesitated and slowed down which made the stitches shorter. This is something to practice.


The bowl was a great project to practice that hand placement and steady feeding of the sandwich. It was a simple project that just involved making a sandwich of two fabrics and some batting, quilting a free motion spiral from the centre to the size of a dinner plate and then cutting the actual circle. Then we gathered the edges and sewed on some binding. Et voilà!

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4 more FMQ lessons to go – next time we will do free motion loops, then we will quilt to follow a pattern printed on some fabric and then the big mother project of all will be a quilt sampler on a solid whole cloth and I am really looking forward to that. Photos to come later, of course!

Ali Wilkinson

Navigating the Drunkard’s Path

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The online curves class continues and this week we tackled precise curves using the classic Drunkard’s Path as our subject. I think I have said before that I have avoided curves as much as possible until now, but through this class I am finding my feet and gaining confidence though I think I still have a lot of practice to do before I can call myself competent!

This week’s project was to make a pot holder using the DP pattern. Rachel demonstrated several techniques and offered a number of tips, the best of which have to be to use starch to reduce bias stretch, and to use tweezers to hold the last part of the quarter circle as it approaches the needle.

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As I rummaged in my scrap bin I noticed that my scraps tend to be strips no more than 2.5″ wide. I wonder how that happens? Perhaps I have so far been pretty good at using up fabric within the projects it was bought for. Who knows but I now realise a project made of strings has to be happening in my future!

Anyway, back to topic…. I was pleased to find the above fabrics amongst the few larger scraps I have, and was pleased to see that they work well together. That blue and lime fabric was part of a fat quarter bundle I won a while back and is by Prints Charming at Spotlight. I have no idea about the spots but have a feeling they might be Michael Miller, and the stripe is one of my favourite ever Tula Pink designs (from Saltwater).

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I decided to use the pinning method for this first attempt and you can perhaps tell that I was nervous and eager to make it work properly through the abundance of pins I used! (just as an aside I would like to draw attention to the pins which are from Clover and are the finest pins ever and so very, very useful).

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My first block was the one in the top left corner and you can see quite clearly that as I progressed clockwise around my technique has clearly improved! Luckily those creases you see are not puckers and I think are as a result of the starched fabric being pinched. I also realised after I had done the first two that I was sewing them together upside down (doh!). I had been sewing with the quarter circle on the top, and I noticed a huge improvement when I placed the quarter circle on the underside.

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I used InsulBright batting and quilted following Rachel’s suggested simple design. Binding is a shot cotton.

This was a pretty quick project to complete taking about 2 hours in total. I plan on making more, perhaps as thank you or hostess gifts, and I am sure that I will get quicker and perhaps even progress to sewing without pins! Now that’s something to aspire to!! LOL. The potholder finishes at 8″ square, so these were quite small DPs to work on for a first go. I have the book A Quilter’s Mixology which is entirely filled with quilts and cushions made with the DP block and presents many imaginative designs – see here for a book review and images of some of the fabulous quilts in the book. I am still inspired to make a modern quilt using the DP, and it will be added to my running wishlist of projects to do before I die.

Here’s the backing which I left plain:

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This is a finish for Quarter 1 of the 2015 Finish Along – hurrah!

Ali Wilkinson

Improv Curves


This week in Curves Class we learned about improvisational curves and how to sew them. The project I chose was a simple table runner called Rainbow Road, though in my case it is more like Coral Cruising. I had been feeling quite daunted by this project and saved it until the last day of the week to do at a sewing social I was set to attend today. I think my theory was that in front of other sexists I would have to fake it till I made it! (also I knew that if I got into strife I could ask one of the more experienced ladies there to provide some assistance)

I used left over fabric from a previous quilt and sewed random strips into four long pieces before cutting the improv curves and sewing those four strips together. I squared it up, spray basted it to a piece of home decor weight backing and quilted it with zig zags across the width. I decided not to use batting at all as I don’t want this to be anything other than a decorative table centre, and I thought if it was padded visitors might assume that it’s a heat mat and I don’t want hot pots placed on top of it.

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The backing was a piece of Koi swimming by Rashida Coleman-Hale and the binding is Kona White.

Now all that remains is to hand stitch the bidding down – which I confess is the job I procrastinate over the most!

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This is a finish for Quarter 1 of the 2015 Finish Along. Hurrah!



Ali Wilkinson

Learning Curves

needledown-nz_learning_curves_ 1After previous successes with online classes run by Rachel at Stitched in Color I signed up for another, this time focused on curves. Curves are my kryptonite so I am hoping with Rachel’s guidance I will get to grips with sewing them.

This week we kicked off with basic curves and the first project I made was some scallop bunting using Kona Coral solid fabric and this super cute Go Fish design by Hoodie. (I saw it ages ago on Pinterest and finally tracked some down on etsy).

This project was really quick and a good intro to curves!needledown-nz_learning_curves_ 2

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This is a finish for Quarter 1 of the 2015 Finish Along