On Waiting for the Rain

This week has brought days of soft and gentle rain, interspersed with a few summer thunder storms. We are slowly breathing out as we breathe in the moist air and dare to hope that this may be the end of a long drought in the Eastern Cape. The vegetation has responded by turning green, almost overnight. Today I put the final stitches to my latest work, Waiting for the Rain.

Waiting for the Rain (50 x 93 cm)

The quilt got its name a few days ago when I spontaneously began making another small quilt of houses, this time with vertical lines of quilting in the brightest blue thread to represent the rain. It was then that I realised why I had hesitated to stitch grass and trees onto the background of this set of spotted houses — vegetation did not match the outside world, or my mood. For me, the quilt reflects the dry days of these past months.

The maroon brick road in front of the houses suggested itself after trees and plants refused to materialise. I used the Kantha stitch called bricking to create the effect. Janet Haigh’s work has inspired me. She creates magical effects using Kantha stitch. Click on this link for some examples https://janethaighherwork.com/gallery/kantha-stitched-skies/

Here is a close up of a portion of the maroon brick road. It is stitched in no. 12 hand dyed perle thread. (I bought a hank of it from House of Embroidery and will be sorry when the thread is all used up as it is a joy to stitch with it. If you would like to take a peak at their range of threads, the website is https://www.houseofembroidery.com/ )

The houses are from a set of Kaffe Fassett spotted fabrics, which are machine appliqued onto the whole cloth background. The spotted fabric frayed easily and it took a few rows of small machine stitches to “seal” the edges. The doors are pieced into the houses, but the windows are also machine appliqued. The advantage of having “free standing” houses (stabilised onto a backing called tear-away) is that they can be placed one in front of the other onto the background, to create a stacked effect. Once the houses were in place the hand quilting began. I used a range of embroidery threads in soft greens and blues to stitch the land and the sky. Before appliqueing the houses I painted the sky, using a diluted wash of fabric paint. Here are some in-process pictures to show the effects of the painted sky and of the close rows of horizontal stitching.

And so I have written my first post of the year, despite being rusty. Excuse the jerky style and the poor quality of the photographs.

This self-imposed weekly blogging date does have the advantage of spurring me on to finish a project so that I can write about it. Last night I stitched until late to get to the end of that road! Next week I will write about my happy discovery of using ink instead of fabric paint to create the background. How’s that for a self-imposed prompt?

Poem #27

The Rules of Quilting

for Elisma

At your sampler quilt course

I learnt the basic rules

of quiltmaking – the shortcuts

and where corners can’t be cut.


Like the grounding of grammar

or of mathematical theorems,

one must know the methods and formulae

of cloth and stitchery.


You taught us how the time-worn

designs of traditional quilts

were originally hand-sewn 

from scraps, in thrift and for warmth.


Those resourceful women named

the patterns they patiently pieced,

created templates that have stayed

like well-loved tales in a storybook.


Railfence, Little Red Schoolhouse,

Logcabin, Drunkard’s Path,

Flying Geese, Wild Goose Chase,

Granny’s Fan, Nine Patch, and more.


Starting with Railfence – the simplest one –

you showed us how to cut and sew

our way through strips, squares, oblongs,

triangles, circles, stars, and crazy patching,


all the while teaching the use of colour,

its tones and hues, how to create contrast

by following another kind of grammar

contained in the cogs of the colour wheel.


True teacher, you let me stray

with my outsized blocks, warned 

I’d struggle to make a neat squared-off quilt, 

corner to matching corner.


But helped me anyway to devise

a rural scene of houses and fields

with baskets of fruit and friendly stars 

– a nice blanket for our Hogsback bed.


Nice Blanket.

On Reviewing 2019

It’s been a year of changes and indulgences. In keeping with the latter, I am ending my blogging year with two posts on one day. This second post comes with a warning to readers — I intend to boast and repost photographs of the quilts I made this year.

It’s a well known fact that in order to be a quilter one has to be a bit obsessive. Because of this I keep lists of the pieces I have made (title of quilt, its measurements, and selling price). While musing on whether to write this post (thanks, Chela for the encouragement) I tallied up the list of quilts made during 2019 and found there are 19! Here they are, three by three and in chronological order of their completion.

(The photograph of 19th quilt appears in today’s earlier post https://marissthequilter.wordpress.com/2019/12/19/on-noticing-the-details/). I have written about the making of the works in the above photographs during the year. Thank you to my faithful readers and commenters. (I have just made up that word. I don’t have my trusted Oxford English Dictionary to hand to check if it is a real word. Commentators doesn’t feel right.)

Two of the quilts were made for specific challenges. Honky-Tonk Blues (photograph #4) was exhibited at the FynArts Festival in Hermanus, and Turkish Delight (photograph #13) was selected as a finalist in the South African section of the Brother Competition, My Favourite Things.

It was a satisfying exercise to review my stitching year in photographs. That said, many of them are small and the only large work was the tree Autumn Shade which I had been working on (on and off) for years. If I have a wish for the year to come, it is not to make 20 quilts during 2020, but rather to tackle a large work.

Part of the reason for stitching up a record number of quilts this year is that at the end of March I retired (early) from my full-time job as an archivist in a literary museum. So I have had more time to indulge my urge to play with fabric and thread and to stitch away. (It has been a boon to come to the end of the year with energy to spare for Christmas preparations and the “great trek” up the Hogsback mountain for a month of reading and thinking and, of course, stitching.)

Stopping working has not been my only indulgence. I have attended a slew of workshops which I thoroughly enjoyed and where I learnt new things and was inspired by good teachers. Again, I wrote posts about these during the year. To recap the classes were given by Rosalie Dace (Here and Now); Doortjie Gersbach (Japanese folding and hand stitching); Dorothy Tucker (Kantha stitching); Sue Cameron (making a fabric book); Marlene Turner (hand applique); Chiquita Vosloo (introduction to embroidery) and Angie Weisswange (making fabric beads).

This was also the year when I worked at a range of textile goods to sell at markets and when, along with The Woodworker, set up a stall on the stoep (verandah) of our house during the National Arts Festival, held in Grahamstown-Makhanda.

Perhaps I should also tell you of my physical activities during the year. I clocked up my 137th parkrun this past Saturday and, earlier in the year, The Woodworker and I walked a 300 km stretch of countryside, which included the magnificent Baviaans reserve.

One last indulgence. Part of the reason for writing two posts in one day is to use up the gigabyte of data that I purchased for the day. Getting my cellphone to act as a hotspot for my computer was quite a challenge and so I am making the most of that accomplishment and the bundle of tansient data. It is also one of our last quiet days before the family arrives.

If you are still reading, I send wishes for a peaceful and pleasant holiday season. Until 2020…

On Noticing the Details

During quiet moments in the bustle of preparing for a family Christmas I have been stitching on a small piece (31 x 29 cm) and thinking nostalgic and grateful thoughts.

Eight Patch

This design is Gustav Klimt’s and comes from a small detail in his painting Portrait of Fritza Riedler (1906). The patches are from a set of taffetta decor samples, which are appliqued onto a cotton background. The photograph hopefully shows how much stitching fun I have had during this past week in our rustic family shack on the Hogsback mountain. Before we left, I baste quilted the piece and attached the binding with my sewing machine. The remainder of the stitching has been done by hand.

This is not the first time I have worked with taffetta. This fabric responds beautifully to being stitched, probably because it is shot (different colours used in the weft and the warp) and because it is a shiny textile. In anticipation of this I took photographs to document the effect of the stitching.

To explain the title and the reason for my grateful thoughts : I would never have seen this small gem in that Klimt painting if I had not been given a calendar containing twelve reproductions of his works. The calendar hangs above the kitchen table and so I spend 30 days worth of mealtimes looking at the image for that month. And this is how I came to notice and study and then want to copy this block of eight patches nestling in the background of the splendour of Fritza Riedler. The calendar was given to me by my son-in-law’s mother (my mother-in-common) because, she said, it made her think of me when she saw it. And for this I am grateful.

Seeing as I was so “snap-happy” during the making of this piece, I also photographed the back before I stitched down the hanging sleeve.

Answer. The first photograph in the series is upside down.

Poem #26

Rainbow’s edge

The pulsing undertow

of blue, indigo, violet

unfurls as a rainbow.


The end colours of the curve

shades of purple-blues

rise up like ghosts from the grave.


These spectres alight 

from the spectrum’s edge,

prefigure the elusive pot of gold.


Measured in steps, then 

swept along by hidden melodies

the quilt dances its own song.

Dancing on the Edge of the Rainbow. 72 x 57 cm.

On Stitching Christmas Trees

Christmas is coming and the shops are stocked to the brim with shiny things and luxury foods. My pre-Christmas indulgence has been to make small Christmas tree quilts (as a variation on the theme of my tree-stitching obsession). Both happened as if by chance. First the photographs and then the stories:

The first quilt came about because a pile of red triangles accumulated on my sewing table while I was trimming the corners for card wallets in Christmas fabrics. How could I throw them away when they were shouting “Happy Christmas Tree” at me.

Examples of the card wallets made from Christmas fabric.

The idea for making card wallets to sell at the Hogsback Christmas market was prompted by a post by Tierney ( https://tierneycreates.com/2019/10/13/the-madness-returns/ ) on her blog called Tierney Creates ( https://tierneycreates.com/ ). Thanks for the inspiration, Tierney. It was also a good opportunity to use up the Christmas fabrics in my closet!

I arranged the triangles on a background of gold lame and machine appliqued them down without thinking too much about it. Lame (with an umlaut) is surprisingly stable and is (I repeat) my favourite shiny fabric. I also like it because it takes on magical properties when it is hand quilted.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

The second Christmas Tree also came about through a set of happy coincidences. At the Christmas dinner with my quilting group, the QUOGS (Quilters of Grahamstown), I chose the “Secret Santa” gift that was wrapped in lame fabric and this very fabric became the background for the next tree. At the same occasion I was given hand dyed perle thread in shades of red and orange. So, what does a girl do with a piece of gold lame and a skein of red thread in the weeks before Christmas? She stitches a tree.

It struck me that the Kantha stitch called “stepping” could form a nice neat triangle and therefore echo the shape of a traditional Christmas tree. So I drew a triangle onto the fabric and started stitching from the outside, at the bottom left of the triangle towards the centre line and then down the other side of the triangle to the bottom right. And then back up again, row after mesmerising row. I did find that stitching at night under electric light was a little hard on the eyes because of the reflection from the gold lame.

Again, the lame held up against the intensive rows of stitching. It obviously felt different to stitching through soft cotton or silk (in the more traditional Kantha style) but was not unpleasant. I used a very thin layer of batting between two layers of lame. The tree is reversible as the stitching shows on both sides.

I struggled to get a decent photograph because of the reflection off the gold fabric. When photographing it flat in the shade did not work, I tried hanging it up. There was a breeze and the quilt kept moving, which gave me the idea of making a short video. Alas, I have not been able to upload it, so will have to be satisfied with showing a still photograph.

The Kantha style Christmas tree, titled “Happy Christmas Tree #3”

I know I have at least one reader who will have spotted that Happy Christmas Tree #1 is missing from this post. That quilt was made a year ago. I did post a photograph of it last December, but here it is again for good luck and because it’s nearly Christmas.

There’s more than one way to make a zipper pouch

It’s been a time of utility sewing for my Christmas market stall. Thanks to tips and links on some of the blogs I follow I could use tried and tested tutorials to make zipper pouches from fabric. The generous sharing of patterns saved me hours of either searching the internet or trying to design my own patterns through trial and error. So, thank you for the early Christmas gifts, Chela (https://colchasymas.blog/) and Mary (https://zippyquilts.blog/).

On the Zippy Quilts blog I read about making a pouch with all the seams hidden. This seemed (ha!) to me an impossibility so I went to the link Mary provided and gave it a go. It worked! (The link is https://noodle-head.com/2012/06/open-wide-zippered-pouch-diy-tutorial.html ). The tale does not end here. The zip broke as I was admiring my handiwork and pulling the zipper closed on the newly finished pouch. As it turned out, this was a happy accident because it led to the discovery of a new trick. This is to attach the zip on the outside of the pouch. I could not face unpicking the bag, so cut off the broken zip at the seam line and then experimented with attaching the new zip as if it was a decorative tape.

Here are a set of photographs, taken on a makeshift “studio” alongside my sewing machine as I made a new bag using this method, in case someone else wants to try it. (Make separate bags of the interfaced main fabric and the lining, leaving the top open. Nestle them together, right sides facing, and sew around the top edge, leaving a space for turning. Top stitch the top edge. Pin the zip to the outside of the top edge and sew, first along one side and then the other. Cut off the end of the zipper if it is too long, and cover the end with a fabric tab. Sew together the ends of the other side of the zip.)

The finished zipper pouch, with a tab to close off the end of the zip

Then I read about making a boxed purse on Chela’s Colchas y Mas blog and watched the video tutorial, Marcela’s Purse ( https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmWodbepSJoCqECXdyJEOEQ ) This pouch is very neat because all the seam edges are hidden and the boxed shape means that the zip lies flat and does not bunch where it meets the seam line. First I made some as gifts, using Christmas fabric.

Fabric “Christmas Boxes

I made a batch from pretty decor fabric and found that the preparation — the cutting of the fabric and lining, and the application of the interfacing — took almost as much time as to sew them together.