Anthea Calender SAL

This morning I put the last few stitches in ‘December’ for the Anthea Calendar, this is the last one in the series of twelve beautiful flower designs by Faby Reilly. It’s been fun trying to guess what the seasonal flower would be each month (not very successfully!) and this month I got it three-quarters right!

I guessed hellebores, otherwise known as the Christmas rose, I have one in flower in the garden at the moment. I hoped there would be holly and mistletoe as I’ve stitched Faby’s holly and mistletoe humbugs so I know how nicely they come out. What I didn’t guess was poinsetta, these always remind me of my mum as she always bought one at Christmas, it never survived long into the New Year though! One year she bought a cream one and that was much prettier I thought, not quite so in your face as the red ones. Anyway, I digress…

So this month is a lovely colourful, Christmassy design with holly, mistletoe, Christmas roses and poinsettas. I remembered to take a photo half way through adding the back-stitch, it makes such a difference to the design…

Do you ever look at a word so many times you almost convince yourself you’ve spelled it wrong? I ended up showing my OH just to check the spelling of December!! I wasn’t too sure about the gold thread in the centre of the roses, but I trusted Faby’s design and as usual it works perfectly. I think it’s a beautiful design and very seasonal.

I’ve really enjoyed this stitch-a-long, the patterns are all still available on Faby’s website and they’re very reasonably priced too. Here’s the twelve months together…

Aren’t they gorgeous? I need to start stitching all these pages into a book with their correlating wordplay, then at the end of the month I just need to stitch a final wordplay and work out a front page then my book will be ready to finish.

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The Cottage Garden Quilt HQAL

It’s three weeks since I last shared with you my progress on the gorgeous Cottage Garden quilt, I am so enjoying making this one, I keep looking at it on my design wall and smiling to myself! It’s a design by Kathryn Whittingham and she’s put all the instructions in a lovely book. Three weeks ago I’d just finished all the embroideries for the bottom row…

This week I stitched them altogether…

First one tackled was the gorgeous pile of flower pots, I love this block! It’s surrounded by a narrow border in a darker red paisley and then a simple border of squares, it looks simple enough but it took me ages to arrange the fabrics in an order I was happy with! This block balances with the flower in a pot on the top row, which I stitched with the same red border. In fact this red border was the main reason I have stitched the bottom row before the middle row, as I wanted to be sure I had enough fabric left.

I’d already stitched a border on the beehive, but I wasn’t happy with the pink border fabric, it stood out too much, so I unpicked it and went for a sorter pink border instead…

The little pink heart is the centre of a log cabin block, this time I used fabrics with a hint of blue on one half…

The snail and the frog are the centre of saw-tooth stars, there’s also a flowery one which is the reverse of the star on the top row. The trowel has the same pink border as the fork on the top row…

I’d already stitched the border on the cute ducks, this has a light border like the three hens above. Finally I made four pinwheels and several blocks of squares as fillers in. The pinwheels are probably the only bit of the quilt I would change with hindsight, as I think they would have been better in a more dominating fabric, but having made the top row in soft shades I wanted the bottom row to balance.

So here’s the bottom row stitched together…

I’m glad I stitched the bottom row second as it’s helped me to balance the quilt, I realised fairly early on how Kathryn had managed too get a balanced quilt, which blocks correlated to each other. I’ve got the two pieces next toeach other on my design wall and I’m so pleased with how it’s working out…

I’ve just got the middle row to stitch now, though I’m not sure how much stitching I’ll get done in the next three weeks, but hopefully I’ll have something to show you.

Hand Quilt Along Links

This Hand Quilt Along is an opportunity for hand quilters and piecers to share and motivate one another. We post every three weeks, to show our progress and encourage one another.  If you have a hand quilting project and would like to join our group contact Kathy at the link below.

Kathy, Margaret, Deb, NanetteSharonKarrin, Gretchen, Daisy, Connie, Monica and Sherrie

I’ll also be linking up with Kathy’s Quilts for Slow Stitching Sunday, please follow the link for more hand-stitched inspiration.

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I’m on a bit of a roll at the moment, finishing various projects. In the autumn I stitched a Dimensions cross-stitch kit called Believe, the stitched border was like a patchwork quilt, at the time I was mulling over how to finish it…

As it’s less than a fortnight to Christmas, I thought I should get a move on and finish it. The general consensus here was that I should make it into a bigger cushion, rather than a cross-stitch small. I’ve sort of gone inbetween…

I bought off a facebook destash site a mini jellyroll of Christmas fabrics, the fabrics matched the cross-stitch perfectly. I couldn’t have chosen better if I went into a shop! I felt the cross-stitch needed a lighter border before the colourful Christmas fabrics, so I chose one with an ivory background and snowflakes on. I stitched it on and trimmed it so it would finish at about half an inch.

I then started to play round with the Christmas fabrics, I wanted it to be irregular and a bit random, like the embroidery, but that’s not as easy as it sounds for someone who doesn’t do random! I got there in the end though and with a bumbleberries red border to finish it off the front was complete.

For the back I decided I may as well use some of the strips from the jelly roll, so I stitched a few together, it looked best with the stripes going down, so after a good press I stitched them together.

I didn’t have a cushion pad of the correct size, so as it’s only going to be on display at Christmas, I decided to stuff it and slip-stitch the opening. It also helped to reduce the amount of stuffing I seem to have acquired in my stash! In an ideal world it would have been nice to embellish it with a little trim, but as I didn’t have anything suitable it will have to wait probably until next year.

I’m really pleased with how it’s come out, we have a delicate old ladies chair in the dining room and it looks great sitting there as it’s just the right size.

I’ll be linking up tomorrow with Kathy’s Quilts for Slow Stitching Sunday, please follow the link to see lots more hand-stitched inspiration.

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Advent Rings

For me the first Sunday in Advent heralds the beginning of Christmas, we usually have an Advent candle, when the children were little we had Advent story books and we’ve always had an Advent ring.

An Advent ring has four candles with the idea that you light just one on the first Sunday, two on the second and so on. A few years ago I bought a candelabra on Otley market (a bargain at £10!!) which has four arms and a central candle. It’s perfect for Advent as usually I put the Advent candle in the centre. This year, what with lockdowns etc, I missed the chance to buy an Advent candle, so I will light the centre one on Christmas day.

In the past I always used an oasis ring as the basis for the ring, filling it with foliage from the garden. Since discovering that it is not biodegradable I’vebeen trying to find alternatives. I’ve started using an artificial length of foliage I bought a few years ago. I circle it round the candelabra and then start attaching lots of natural and artificial bits and bats.

It’s a bit precarious at first, things are mainly just poked in, if I’m lucky I have a length of wire attached to curl round something. There’s fircones, poppy seed heads, cinamon sticks, dried clementines and limes, beech masts, some gypsophilea sprayed silver together with a few sprigs of artificial stuff. The last to be attached was a fine string of twinkly lights. Adding the lights does mean it isn’t just a feature when the candles are lit on a Sunday, it looks pretty every evening.

Now I’ve got used to attching everything, I rather like my new style of Advent ring, though I do miss the scent from the pine and the rosemary which I used to include. It does feel safer too when the candles burn low!

It makes quite a nice display on the sideboard with the gingerbread house, Christmas cake and all my Christmas smalls and of course my new Christmas cross-stitch on the wall.

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A Holly Jolly Christmas

I seem to be getting quite a bit of cross-stitch done at the moment, I’m self isolating for an operation just before Christmas, so I’m using my time productively! I usually cross-stitch during coffee breaks and tea breaks or when I’m cooking tea, being at home all the time means there’s a lot more coffee breaks!

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve stitched another cross-stitch for Christmas, as we’re nearly there I thought I should make it up straight away!

This is a free pattern from The Drawn Thread, it’s called First Snow. It’s quite quick to stitch with pine stitch for the leaves and smyrna crosses for the snow flakes, these are a basically a cross-stitch with a + over the top.

I didn’t take a photo when I first finished it, I started trying to work out how to mount it. I had a tree hanger which I wanted to use which I bought from Fabric Chicks on facebook last month. It was 6″ wide and the tree is only just over 2″ wide, so I needed to bunce it up a bit. I pulled out all my Christmas fabric and tried various combinations but nothing seemed to jump out at me. I remembered some white mini pom-pom trim I have, I had a rummage in my trims drawer and found it. It worked perfectly…

When I looked at my selection of Christmas fabrics I realised they were nearly all embellished with gold and next to the embroidery it just didn’t work. I was also surprised to see red worked better than green fabric, red picked out the birds whereas dark green just made the tree look drab. Having tried several combinations I remembered I had a pillarbox red bumbleberries fabric by Lewis and Irene which I bought for some blocks for quilts of Valour. I found it and tried it, it worked and with then simpler red next to it the red and gold fabrics were less overpowering. A length of red and white Christmas ribbon was just long enough to titivate the top and bottom too.

Having stitched the borders on I had to finish the back in some way. I decided to just hand stitch some red felt on the back, covering up all the raw edges. One issue I had with the red felt though was the slight tinge it gave to the cross-stitch linen through the plain fabric. To get round this I tacked a rectangle of dark green felt behind the linen which I think nicely enhances the soft green shade of the linen. I stitched it onto the hanger and the little white bow just finished it off.

I’ve already hung my mini Christmas tree in the dining room, well ‘hung’ is a slight misnomer as it’s blu-tacked to the wall, hence the fircone in the middle to hide the bluetac!

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It’s beginning to smell a lot like Christmas

For many years I’ve decorated gingerbread houses for Christmas. It started when the children were small, I bought them flat packed from Ikea and decorated them with sweets and icing. I started making them for friends until I was decorating around twenty each December. The aroma of twenty gingerbread houses would permeate through the house.

These days I just make two or three for our family and I still love the smell. These days I buy the kits from Morrisons supermarket, although the houses aren’t quite so decorative (no open windows or chimneys) I think the gingerbread is much nicer to eat and there’s a store very near to us!

My son, being a very mature 26 year old, wanted a Haribo one! I bought the pack of Haribos which seemed to have the smallest chews in them and also a pack of jelly tots…

…I don’t think I could have fitted many more sweets on if I tried!

I prefer a ‘simpler’ style with just icing and a few silver draghees (not sure what they’re called in other countries but they are those little silver balls which break your teeth if you’re not careful!!)

I like the snowy cottage look! The ‘icicles’ on the edge of the roof look very delicate but once they dry they are pretty solid, I used to drive them into Leeds in the boot of the car and I never had any break. The icing loops itself into a nice even curve so long as it is secured at either end. I make royal icing with egg white and a drop of lemon juice, so it holds it’s shape and dries firm.

We always had a family rule that the gingerbread houses couldn’t be eaten until Christmas Eve, in the days when I used Ikea houses I would make lattice windows from icing and the first things the children would do was stick their fingers through the windows! The houses would be slowly demolished over Christmas week. Of course there was one year which has gone down in family lore when the night before I was due to deliver all the houses, Helen (aged about 3 or 4) stuck her fingers through one window in two houses…I was up til about 2am making another two houses! Two friends got a surprise gingerbread house that year as I was determined that Helen wasn’t going to benefit from her vandalism! Happy memories!

So Christmas cakes are made, gingerbread houses decorated, just need to make some mince pies and I’ll be ready for Christmas!

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It’s beginning to look a bit like Christmas…

I think I’ve finally got all my Christmas decorations up, it usually takes a couple of days to get them organised! In amongst the Christmas trees and the Father Christmases are my Christmas cross-stitch smalls.

Some years I hang them all on a tree but we’re a tree down (it spent too long inside last Christmas and never recovered!!) so I’ve displayed them all together on the sideboard.

Quite a few of these are Faby Reilly designs, the holly and the mistletoe humbugs are so pretty, there’s a couple of lovely ones from the Christie SAL she ran a couple of years ago, the red heart was a Valentine freebie last year and of course the Zoe box with the winter side facing out was a SAL from a couple of years ago.

The December small was only finished last month, about two years after I stitched the first ten months! The dachshund was a present for my daughter, she was rather keen on them at the time. The little gingerbread house was a kit from Nutmeg Designs in Reeth, I stitched it quite a few years ago. I think the mistletoe was a kit from Hobbycraft, it was originally hung on a card for my OH.

I’ve got quite a Christmas collection of smalls now, though I still have patterns for lots more – you can never have too many smalls!

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Stitching 4 the Soul Book SAL

It’s three weeks since I shared another two pages for my #stitching4thesoulbook which was a SAL organised by Anne Brooke of Hanne-made during the first lock-down. The videos are all still on YouTube so I’ve been working my way through them. I was hoping to have another pair of pages finished to share but I’ve still a little stitching to do, but here’s my progress so far…

The basis of this pair of pages was weaving, so we cut varying strips of fabric and pinned them to a base. Anne is stitching hers straight into a book made from wadding, whereas I’m using the individual calico pages from Untangled Thread, so I’m having to adapt things sometimes. I used quite a heavy furnishing fabric which was in the sample book I’m using as a starting point for these stitchings. Here is the first row of strips pinned on with a couple of trims already making an appearance…

Anne suggested leaving gaps for extra interest.. I then wove the shorter strips along, again the weaving is uneven to add interest. As you can see I also shuffled strips a bit to get a nice blue square of the base fabric, I tried to line the checks up with the crossways strips and also positioned the flower centre so it ‘worked’ with the flower going across. Once I was happy the strips were stitched down round the edge to keep the piece secure…

Now came the fun part, embroidering the piece! I’m trying once I’ve watched the video not to watch it again so I’m not too influenced by what Anne did, I can bring ideas and techniques to it whilst making it my own. I chose some embroidery threads, three blue, ecru and a couple of variegated ones. As you can see I also had a rummage in my button drawer…

The first thing I did was actually to cut down the centre of the backing and cut away a strip, I realised with the heavy backing fabric plus the weaving it was getting pretty thick to fold in the book. By removing a strip it makes the weaving strips can fold like a hinge and also adds interest with a ‘window in the middle. I’m blanket stitching along those edges as they seemed more liable to fray with movement.

I then stared embroidering…I continued a leaf on to the strip above and added more stitching to the blue embroidered fabric. I used feather stitch down the two blue and gold strips, sometimes it ‘goes under’ with the fabric and sometimes it carries on over the top. The darke blue square is embroidered with pistil stitch which is a bit likea french knot on a stalk. My original plan was to have a button in the centre of the square, but I’m undecided on that one. ..

…I used rice stitch on the woven ivory strip, it’s a coarse enough weave to count it easily. Anne stitched a square of running stitch which covered several strips of weaving, I didn’t have an area where that would work but I hit on the idea of circles centred around a button. I laid some round dies on to see what it looked like and liked it, so I traced round the dies and stitched it with the darker blue.

I still need to stitch the blue circle over the flower, I’m thinking of pistil stitch again for that one. Some of the lace still needs stitching down and I’m still tempted with the ‘handmade’ button, maybe on a strip of frayed gauze. Then there’s just a couple of areas to stitch on, decide how to finish the ends of the strips and then stitch it onto the pages, hoping my idea of a ‘hinge’ works!

This stitch-a-long is organised by Avis from Stitching by the Sea. We post our progress on our chosen project every three weeks, just long enough to keep us motivated. Please follow the links to see what everyone else is stitching.

AvisClaireGunCaroleSueConstanzeChristinaKathyMargaretCindyHeidiJackieSunnyHayleyMeganDeborahMary MargaretReneeCarmelaSharonDaisyAnneConnieAJJennyLauraCathieLindaHelen

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Words for November

Over the last couple of days I’ve stitched the wordplay to go opposite the flower page for November in my Anthea SAL book. The SAL is organised by Faby Reilly and her designs are beautiful. This was the penultimate month of this SAL and the flower was the Chinese Lantern, or physalis, which has unusual round flowers which become like skeleton leaves as they age.

It does vary how easy or hard it is to think of words for a particular month, I was surprised to have more than enough ideas for November especially as we haven’t really done anything! Dates I didn’t have room for include Mischief Night on 4th November, this is more of a northern England thing I think where kids play pranks like knocking on doors and running away, it seems to have been superceded by trick and treat for Halloween. The last Sunday before Advent is called Stir-up Sunday, It got its name from the beginning of the collect for the day in the Book of Common Prayer, which begins with the words, “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people”. This was taken as a sign or a reminder that it’s time to make the Christmas cake and pudding as both need to mature for several weeks. My cake is now made and decorated with a simple stencilled top and a few stars.

Bonfire Night is on 5th November when we celebrate Guy Fawkes getting caught before he blew up the houses of parliament. Guy Fawkes was a local man, living at Farnley Hall just across the river, the head of the family there is always called Guy Fawkes, we had a talk from him a couple of years ago with WI. From what I recall it is part of the deal that if you want to inherit Farnley Hall you take the name of Guy Fawkes. As a twist to the story, when I was researching my family tree, I found the Bickerdikes (my maiden name) of Low Hall who were recusants back in the days of Henry VIII, so they refused to denounce their Catholic faith and suffered greatly for it. It is said in the folklore of that branch of the family that Guy Fawkes plotted the foiled plan on the kitchen table of Low Hall, though I’ve never found anything to corroborate the story! I’m not a great lover of fireworks, but I do like sparklers. I like watching fireworks from the safety of indoors! Having said that, someone who lives further up the Chevin has a huge professional firework display most years as a private party which the rest of the town enjoys. One year it was in the summer, I sat outside on a warm evening with a glass of wine, thinking this is the way to watch fireworks, never mind the freezing cold nights in November!

This year Remembrance parades were all cancelled and the laying of wreaths at cenotaphs across the country was a quiet socially distanced affair, it seemed to make it all the more poignant.

Faby Reilly Poppy Humbug

I saw a goldcrest in the garden in November, it’s the first time I’ve ever seen one so it was quite exciting. They are one of Britains smallest birds alongside their rarer cousin the firecrest.

We went for a couple of muddy walks this month, many fields are getting waterlogged so we end up doing big detours round a field to try and find somewhere reasonable to cross. I always think of mist and fog when I think of November, we haven’t had much fog this time but a lot of misty mornings.

Schizostylis is the Latin name for kaffir lily, it’s a very pretty flower which looks far too delicate to flower in November, but it’s flowering it’s socks off in my garden at the moment!

It’s the first Sunday in Advent at the end of November, we always have an Advent ring which has four candles on a foliage wreath, the idea being that you light a candle on the first Sunday, then two on the second Sunday etc etc. In the past I’ve used an oasis ring as a base, which works really well but it’s totally unecological as it never breaks down! Last year I tried a straw based wreath but the foliage died too quickly so I replaced it with an artificial wreath which I bought years ago, titivated up with lots of other bits and bats, it looked great. So that’s what I’m doing again this year…I just didn’t quite get round to it on Sunday!! To give you an idea, this was last years…

The poem I’ve chosen isn’t as maudlin as it sounds. It’s interesting looking back at the quotes I’ve used over the year. I went to my notebook of poems and quotes which I started back in my twenties, I was planning to use one which starts ‘Launch a dream, watch it rise…’ as I’m pretty close to finally having a website! Then I wondered about the remembrance one, ‘For your tomorrow we gave our today’ . But as soon as I read this one I knew it was the right one. We’ve had a pretty rubbish year, even without covid, but I have friends who have had a much worse year,made much more difficult by covid. The poem is by David Lyons…

If thoughts were flowers & words could heal our pain, I would give my friend a garden filled with songbirds where tree leaves whisper to a stream.

And summer evenings hang with the scent of warm gold sun, the petals floating for her bed, soft as heather wine.

And on the tops of the hills, around where the garden lies, I would gather wood in piles and set a ring of fires to destroy the frosts of winter and singe the storm clouds with their dragon tongues.

And if flowers were thoughts, the blue of the gentian would humble my words for ever and, in the cathedral of trees, peace would descend like pollen motes upon our hair.

I think the imagery in the poem is just beautiful.

I embroidered the skeleton petals from the original design, however rather than using gold thread, I used the variegated brown which is used for cross-stitch all the months, I think it’s pretty effective in the brown.

So, here’s my wordplay for November…

December’s pattern will be released early next week I think, the last one, then I need to start stitching the pages together.

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Crisp Autumn Walks

A couple of weeks ago my walking buddy and I went on another local walk. This one was in a leaflet called Another Four Walks round Otley, it was from Otley to Pool Bank and back over the Chevin, about 6.5 miles which was just the sort of length we wanted. We walked from my house which added another mile on in theory…

It turned out to be one of those lovely autumn days, a bit crispy, blue skies after a bit of mist first thing, much better than the weather forecast reckoned! The low sun at this time of year makes the photos look a lot darker…

We walked into Otley, picked up some extra supplies, like a sausage roll and a Belgian bun, and then followed the route out towards Pool. The route soon took us off the roads and onto old lanes and then tracks and paths, following along side the old railway line. The low sun made for some long shadows…

We sat on a stile for our morning coffee, one on each side of the step, not a bad view for a cuppa, by this time the mist had cleared and it was quite warm in the sun…

The instructions in the leaflet were OK, but we did have a few moments trying to work out how far along we were, not helped by trying to negotiate some very wet fields. We finally reached Old Pool Bank where the old toll cottage is, which was the turning point for our walk. I was surprised to see we had already walked five miles as this was about half way! Alarm bells started to jingle about just how long this walk was going to be!

We ate our sandwiches and set off back over the Chevin and up to Surprise View, time for our sticky bun break, though the skies were now threatening rain so we didn’t dilly dally for long.

The path took us right to the other end of the Chevin where it’s much quieter. We descended via path I’d not been able to find before which comes out on West Chevin Road. It was pretty steep and rather muddy. We took our time but I still ended up on my bottom and had a near miss too!

Once we finally reached the bottom it was just another mile home along the old railway track at the back of our house. We sat outside for a much welcome cup of tea in the garden, my friend checked her fitbit, we had walked 10 miles!!! My OH was trying very hard not to say ‘Told you so’ as he had reckoned the day before that it was nearer ten miles!!

We were quite impressed with ourselves for walking ten miles, it was a bit of a challenge towards the end but we did it. We’ve come to the conclusion over the years that however long the walk is, the last mile is hard work!

I soaked my aching muscles in a lovely hot bath and they hurt even more when I got out!! I limped for two weeks with a painful knee, but I’m not sure if it was the walk or the digging in the garden the day before! It was a good walk though, undulating on the whole and a lovely autumn day.

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