More on Scraps

Last week’s post on being held hostage by my scraps and my brave deed of consigning some of them to the dark inners of a draft excluder generated lovely comments from you, dear readers, and got me thinking some more about scraps. I did not confess that I had saved the small slivers when squaring off the blocks for the blue scrap quilt. I then converted them into thread fabric. The following photograph is dedicated to you, Laura.

Slivers repurposed into fabric, using wash-away and grid stitching to hold it all together. 20 x 24 cm.

Confession number two: I collect threads in bowls — one beside my hand stitching couch and one beside my machine — and have converted some of them into thread fabric. Here’s the photographic evidence:

It has struck me that these threads contain the history or traces of the projects I was working on. I have plans to continue turning the contents of the thread-holding bowls into bits of fabric and to collate them into a book.

Then I also collect really special bits in bottles — one for shiny fabrics, one for bright cotton bits and yet another one for threads and cords.

Since last writing I have made another draft excluder and in the process of stuffing them both I did rescue some exceptional scraps. Here they are:

It has struck me that the word “scrap” has mostly negative connotations. Off the top of my head: to scrap is to fight; to be given scraps is to be given the dregs of the meal; to produce a scrappy piece of work is to show lack of care and effort. Of course I had to consult my trusted OED and was reminded that the word can also refer to a waif. The dictionary confirms that the word is usually used “in negative contexts”and refers to “useless remnants”. Ha! I beg to disagree.

Finally, in preparation for the class on Kantha stitching that I will be doing at the National Quilt Festival, I unearthed a bag of silk scraps that was kindly given to me a while ago. Just look at this treasure trove! (most certainly not useless remnants).


On Being Held Hostage by Scraps

Let me begin with a disclaimer. I have not lost my marbles and am aware that fabric scraps are inanimate objects with no function or power. But, I will argue, this is not really the case.

This week I was reminded that scraps have a practical and useful function when used as stuffing. Following a request for a draft excluder made from shweshwe fabric from someone who saw my giant pincushions at the TRADE market last Saturday, I unearthed a bag of scraps and turned them to good use.

It was surprising to see how that large bag of fabric scraps got swallowed up into the tube of fabric (snake?) for the draft excluder. One of my long time quilting companions, Margie Smith, graciously gave me the measurements and tips on how to construct it.

This is not the first time I have used fabric scraps as stuffing. They are also good for floor cushions because they give the cushion a solid and supportive base. This is my meditation cushion, which does not sag or sigh while being sat on for 20 minute stretches.

Large floor cushion, with thread sketched cover

I hope you have been convinced by my argument for the function of fabric scraps. To write about the power of scraps and why they hold one hostage is not going to be simple or quantifiable.

Other bloggers have written about their scraps: Tierney of Tierney Creates has an intricate system of plastic boxes and colour coding for the storage of her scraps. Mary of Zippy Quilts carefully collates her leftover strips and blocks and has made many a quilt from these, often as donations to those in need. Maria Shell of mariacshell recently wrote “But my scraps were calling me” and described how she made the most striking piece from leftover pieced strips. The work is called DNA. Maria, in reply to my comment about her post, urged me to tackle my “box of blues”, which contained a half finished quilt. And so I did. Here is the finished quilt top (thanks Maria), which I intend to use as the background for an appliqued tree.

It was while sewing this that I mused on the allure of scraps. It’s as if the fabric one is working with gets infused with energy and this makes it hard to stop piecing the bits. Hence my claim that the fabric takes on a life of its own and even the scraps end up wielding power over the quilter. It would be more believable to claim that this piecing together of the leftover bits it is to do with thriftiness. But that would be a lie, or at least an example of self-deception. Perhaps I should have given this post the title of True Confessions of an Obsessive Quilter.

Because this blue piece was made by squaring off log cabin blocks at an angle, there were interesting looking triangular shapes in the cut-off pieces. She I stitched them together. I also could not bear to put the leftover squares of Bali fabrics in the scrap bin, so I stitched those together too. I have used both these blocks on the back of the quilt. When I looked at them with more objectivity I realised that they were not worth showing off. It can be said that I have saved myself about a metre of backing fabric.

My next post will be written on my cellphone from the South African National Quilt Festival, to be held in Johannesburg this year. I am most excited about the workshops and lectures which I have signed up for.

On hand made objects

Last week this time we were on our way to Hogsback for a weekend with friends and family, and to trade at the craft market at the Winter Celebration. This meant I did not keep my weekly Friday writing date with myself and you, dear reader. And now I feel a bit intimidated by this blank screen. Let’s fill up a bit of space with a photograph.

The display of Nonsuch Woodware and Fabrications at the market at Butterfly’s Bistro held during this year’s Hogsback Winter Celebration

It was good to be back on the mountain and visit with the other traders at this lovely spot. Tomorrow (August 3) we will again set up our table of wares, this time in Grahamstown-Makhanda at the TRADE market at 135 High Street. If you are in the area, don’t miss the market. It is TRADE’s last event and therefore your last chance to see the range of various locally made goods all in one place. Thank you Tracey Jeffery for all you have done to promote local hand craft in our little town.

I have been thinking about the allure and value of hand crafted items. Last week a few satisfied customers returned to buy another of Andrew Stevens’ hand turned and planed wooden spatulas, saying they preferred to cook with these than with manufactured spatulas which either scratch the non-stick surface or melt. I know I am biased, but this is true, his spatulas are a joy to use. We have an array of different ones for different purposes — from long handled ones for stir frying, to smaller ones for scrambling eggs. Some of them are 20 years old! Here’s a photograph of the collection in our kitchen, splashes and all.

So why do hand crafts appeal to some people? Perhaps it is the care, energy and thought that has gone into the making of the object. The catch is that these come with a price tag which not everyone can afford. So be it.

It is not for nothing that the word “hand” is heavily loaded. It has many meanings, one of which is “style of workmanship, handwriting, etc.” Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable then gives the example “he is a good hand at carpentry” (Ha!). Brewer’s also notes the phrase “he writes a good hand”. (Note: this dictionary was first published in 1870, before gender sensitivity.)

Talking of writing (neatly) by hand, I have made customised covers for Moleskin notebooks. These notebooks have lovely paper and I was pleased to find that one can buy “paperback” versions in packs of three, in different sizes with either lined or blank pages.

These covers are designed to be reusable, so once the notebook is filled you can insert a fresh notebook into the cover. I also make covers for hard covered, less expensive standard sized notebooks.

A6 (i.e. pocket sized) notebooks with removable covers

Another new “range”of my hand made fabrications are these crocheted sling bags.

I enjoy making things by hand and playing with new ideas. Another plus of trading at markets is the interesting people one meets and the conversations about the items on display.


In the last post I wrote about finishing WIPs (aka UFOs, PhDs or PQs (pending quilts)) and brazenly showed pictures of the offending unfinished objects. Since then the smallest of these has been finished (yay!) and here it is in its completeness:

Table runner, called Mermaid’s Purses. 50 x 25 cm.

And now I am going to return to my sewing machine and finish off a quilt from my “box of blues”. Until next week…

On finishing quilts

This is not another post about whether it is better to bind or to face a quilt to get the best finish. It is also not a moan about what a bind it is to stitch the quilt’s edging. Instead it is about those UFOs, WIPs, or PhDs — the bane of every quilter’s life.

It is telling that quilting parlance has devised not one, but three terms for this condition. And why, I wonder, have we chosen to use abbreviations to refer to our unfinished works, as if it is unmentionable or slightly unsavoury. The OED lists “disagreeable”and even “disgusting” and “morally offensive “as meanings of unsavoury, so perhaps it is too strong a word for this context. But it is safe to say that these unfinished items are a source of irritation.

For any non-quilting readers, the codes refer to UnFinished Objects, Works In Progress and Projects Half Done (with apologies to you, Asta, and any other real PhDs who are reading this).

Over the past number of weeks I have been working hard at getting some of my pending quilts (PQs?) finished or, in some cases, closer to being finished. The National Quilt Festival, with its feast of workshops, is a month away and I want to try and clear my cutting table to make space for the works in progress that I know I will bring home. In a previous blog I wrote about my excitement at signing up for workshops with Dorothy Tucker from the UK, and two South Africans, Marlene Turner and Sue Cameron. (See the entry about the Interchange Quilt Festival at

The smallest works, but also the completely finished ones, are two house quilts. They are called Cornish Houses #1 and Cornish Houses #2 and measure 27 x 23 and 35 x 30 cm each.

Some of you may remember that at the beginning of 2019 I brashly declared my intention to sew a house a weekend. Alas, resolve failed and so I decided to construct a small village and a portrait of a set of semi-detached houses so that I would have small pieces to quilt while sitting on the stoep during the National Arts Festival. The semis were sold.

The next work in progress is the quilt that was born at a workshop on birch tree blocks (thank you Karen) with my local quilting group and which I wrote about earlier this year. (See This has been sandwiched (hence the safety pins) and I started quilting it. Usually the needle leads me as to where to stitch the next row, but this time I was not sure how to continue after I had hand quilted along the central angled lines. So I put it away for the time being. This is quite a big piece and will measure about 200 x 120 cm when it is finished.

Since Doortjie Gersbach’s recent workshop on folding techniques and hand stitching, I have been enjoying stitching a block or two of an evening of the mermaid’s purse shapee. There are now nearly enough for a table runner and I intend to finish it this weekend when my oldest friend (who is the same age as I am and therefore not that old) comes to visit. We will catch up and I will stitch as we chat. Note the gap in the photograph below: that will be filled up with a nine patch of the smallest size block. Apologies for the bad lighting of the photograph — I did not want to move the blocks from the table and and upset the painstaking order.

And last, but not least, there is the quilt top, finished this week, of the stars that I made at Doortjie’s workshop a year ago. I cheated a bit in that I did not make all seven of the star designs she gave us. When I pinned up the stars that I had completed, I decided that I needed one more large star to balance things and ended up making another Ohio star rather than starting from scratch with the templates for a new star. I am looking forward to quilting this one. It will probably jump the queue while I ponder on how to stitch the birch tree, indigo quilt above.


It is a windy afternoon and so conditions were not ideal in the “photograph studio”, which is the outside patio. The bigger quilts were pinned to my polystyrene pinboard, and the wind kept blowing it over. At least the light was okay on this overcast day, but the photograph session was quite a challenge. Here’s evidence of the measures I resorted to.

Poem #22

Lime Squares

Echoes of hot days,

the tonic of gin

with lots of ice to spice

the cooling clink

against the glass

Soda fizz and sliced lemon

in zestful curlings

tango on the tongue,

as the heat recedes 

with each slow sip.

On Sitting on the Stoep, continued

It is another wintry Friday afternoon and, like last week, I am sitting on the front verandah of our house, thinking about things in general (i.e. stoepsitting) and about what to say in this week’s blog post in particular. Uppermost in my mind is how nice it is to be in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the festivities of the Village Green craft market at the National Arts Festival.

I see a couple pushing a double pram (twins?) along the road, I hear many conversations in the foreground as people stand at the gates to the Green and chat, I also hear live music coming from the beer tent and the sound of the occasional car driving slowly down the road. I smell the aromas coming from the food stalls. Then I stop writing to chat to people who have come to browse.

Here is photographic evidence of the carnival atmosphere of the street.

The week has flown and now it is the start of the final weekend of the Festival. The music seems to have gotten faster, the buzz on the street louder, the mood even more jovial.

They say it pays to advertise so I am unashamedly going to add another set of photographs of the Nonsuch Woodware and FABRICATIONS “stoep-stall”. Here goes!

Photographs by Amy Stevens

I hope you have enjoyed the virtual tour. If you happen to be in Grahamstown, please pop in ovthis weekend.

On Sitting on the Stoep

Stoepsit is an old South African tradition, which literally means to sit on one’s verandah and, figuratively, to sit there and think about things. I did not expect to find the word in the good old Oxford English Dictionary and so googled it instead to double check that I had the meaning correct. Google only gave names of many restaurants and guesthouses, so I checked the OED anyway and found that a stoepsitter is described as “a person who habitually sits idly on the stoep of a house”.

This week I am writing from a corner of the generous verandah of our home. Why? Not because I am being idle or because it is a balmy winter’s day and pleasant to be outside, but because we are trading from our Stoep Stall during the National Arts Festival. The craft market at the Village Green is right across the road and so we decided to display the Nonsuch Woodware and FABRICATIONS creations on our stoep. Nonsuch Woodware includes a range of turned wooden objects, made by Andrew Stevens.

Here is a photographic tour of our pop-up, home-based shop on the stoep.

Our home, photographed from the street, with quilts galore on display
The scene that greets you as you enter the front gate

On the left hand side of the stoep is a display of Nonsuch Woodware, surrounded by quilts (!) and on the right hand side are more quilts and a display of other fabrications, such as cushion covers, pincushions, bags, and covered notebooks.

Andrew Stevens’ beautifully turned bowls
Close ups of the Nonsuch Woodware range

And, finally, some more photographs of the quilts.

If you happen to by at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, please pop in. You will find us at 11 Huntley Street, opposite Gate 3 to the Village Green. Or, just look for the double storey house festooned in quilts.