Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Summer Has Come From The Sunny Land ...

... finally!

And what a joy it is after so long in the waiting. And not only is the sun shining and the skies are blue but it is really hot. Of course there are plenty of places in the world hotter but 27 C feels pretty hot after the long spell of damp and chilly grey that has been the history of the UK summer so far. Not to waste any time, (because you never know, the sun may be here today but it may be gone again tomorrow or next week!), I have taken the Roman poet, Horace's advice of "carpe diem" at his word and, as far as other stuff has allowed, I've gone a bit lazy and summery for the last few days .

Lazy And Summery 1: There has been breakfast in the garden in the very early morning - one of my all-time favourite summer pastimes at the beginning of a hot day when even early in the morning it's warm outside and everything has a quiet completeness about it that simply isn't there once the day has got started properly. Drops of dew dance in the sunlight that is already beginning to dry them to nothing; just the pigeons are cooing gentle good morning noises; the frenetic swallows have not yet taken off in their swift-wheeling, calling flight that will criss-cross the blue sky like flashing, indigo sickles later in the day; the flowers that have closed up overnight are thinking about silently opening their petals to the sun and there is virtually no other noise at all. The odd car perhaps but almost nothing else. I love this time - it's as if time itself stands still for a moment or two and holds its breath before exhaling and moving on. And if you can catch it over breakfast, even if work is calling you and the business of the day is waiting, the day is somehow always better for being begun like this.

Lazy And Summery 2: There has been sewing in the garden later on, once it is too hot to sit out in the direct sun. An after-lunch idyll among the humming bees and drifting scent of sweet peas intensified by the heat. My mother always used to cart her sewing machine outside in the summer -  I recommend it. And I've had several containable sewable projects just right for an hour's sewing before the rest of life has cut in. I've been doing more sewing than crochet in my spare time lately - I think it's having my elderly sewing machine repaired and serviced and given a new lease of life that's triggered my amateur sewing mojo!

Lazy And Summery 3: The moment has come for my Summer Has Come From The Sunny Land blanket to sun herself! She is quite small as blankets go - about 36" square so more of a throw really than a blanket but I love her. She is everything I hoped she would be - summery, light and reminiscent of wallflowers, sweet peas, roses and lavender. I half expect to smell these flowers when I hold her to my face!

The pattern is Attic 24 Lucy's Summer Garden Granny Squares which you can find here and I've used a mixture of the Sublime yarn I bought on my Teensy Yarn Spree back in February and some Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino that I had in my stash. I added a border, the first I have done for a blanket which I modelled on Lucy's picot border that she added to her Granny Stripe Blanket which she shows how to do in her post here.

I think I should possibly have increased the number of stitches at the corners more than I did as they have a tendency to curl a little but not enough to worry about.

Hope you too are enjoying a bit of Lazy And Summery - life needs a bit of it in my book!

Friday, 20 July 2012


Neither my raspberry canes nor my blackcurrant bushes seem to have been deterred by the worst British summer seen in a long time. Despite the sun's conspicuous absence, berries on both have been ripening merrily. And as a result of all the rain, berries of both types are also deliciously juicy, although their high juice content also means that they don't keep for long unless eaten straight away or hustled pronto into the freezer or preserving pan. A good many of the raspberries have been eaten just as they were picked - nothing added, nothing taken away. Some have been made into raspberry ripple ice cream and a rather nice hot raspberry and lemon pudding as in the pics and I have squirrelled away some in the freezer.

The blackcurrants have posed more of a problem. They are too strong and too sharp to eat easily just as they are off the bush and they have more limitations than raspberries. Quintessentially English, easy to grow and frighteningly good for you - blackcurrants are packed with vitamin C and those bioflavonoid things that are in all intensely coloured fruit and vegetables - dare I say it, but I feel blackcurrants ought to be nicer than they are!

Not only is their taste very strong and very sharp, they are very pippy and a little of them goes a long way. They are full of pectin so they make jam easily and I've done this in previous years. But it's always the jars of blackcurrant jam that linger on the larder shelf the longest, long after their lighter, gentler, more rubicund cousins, the pots of strawberry or raspberry, have been demolished. Making blackcurrant jelly, rather than jam, gets rid of the pip factor but it's such a faff straining the juice overnight in a muslin bag etc and I seem to get everything in sight covered in a remarkably tenacious, purple, pippy mess every time.

But still there are all these blackcurrants ripe and ready for picking - what to do with them? I quite like (an occasional) blackcurrant crumble or pie especially with a generous spoonful of thick, preferably clotted, cream on the side, to cut the acidic sharpness, but there are no other  takers in the household for these. And I can't bear the waste of just leaving them to rot on the bushes....

Enter what has emerged as a bit of a brainwave! While not many thanks are given here for blackcurrant jam and none for a blackcurrant crumble; blackcurrant syrup, on the other hand, diluted with fizzy mineral water is extremely popular. Why not make it oneself out of the real fruit instead of buying the commercial version?

I did a bit of research and lo and behold, there are indeed various recipes for such a thing out there on the Internet. I have adapted several recipes and come up with my own version, as detailed below, which is dead simple and the results are popular enough to mean I actually have spontaneous offers from my in-house teenager to pick the blackcurrrants required for the recipe! As this in itself is quite a laborious task, if you're talking large quantities (which we are - the bushes have gone berserk;) this is not an offer to turn down in a hurry!

What you need:

500g of blackcurrants, washed and mostly destalked but it's not too critical - another piece of good news as meticulously destalking each berry can be a task to drive you up the wall!
1 litre water
300 g sugar
a large bunch of fresh garden mint (optional, but a nice aromatic addition that I've found goes beautifully with the flavour of the blackcurrants. As my mint patch this year has also gone berserk in the rain this is a good way of using some of it up too.)

a steamer or a heatproof colander or sieve that can be set over a pan of boiling water
sterilised bottles to store the cordial in

still or fizzy water to dilute the result with (or a glass of white wine should you feel inclined to go the Kir route but don't want to splash out on a bottle of Cassis!)

Here's what you do:

Tip the blackcurrants into the top of the steamer or the colander if using. Pour a litre of cold water into the base of the steamer (or the pan over which the colander is sitting). Clap a lid on and heat until the water is boiling. Turn the heat down so that it's not boiling too fiercely but still definitely bubbling and cook for 20 minutes. Wash a large handful of fresh mint under the tap (don't bother to dry it, just shake off most of the water) and add to the blackcurrants. Carry on cooking for another 10 minutes, making sure the water is still bubbling happily. Then remove the whole thing from the heat and leave the juices to carry on dripping through for a quarter of an hour or so. Now lift off the top of the steamer or the colander which contains your spent fruit and wilted mint leaves and discard the detritus into your composter.

What you are left with in the base of the steamer or the pan, is effectively pure blackcurrant juice scented with mint. Stir in the sugar, bring to the boil and boil for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and bottle in warm sterilised bottles.  Once cool, I keep mine in the fridge. I imagine if you use plastic bottles you could freeze it, if you want to keep it for longer than a fortnight or so. If using plastic bottles let the cordial cool before bottling or you may have a meltdown!

H is so taken with this, he insisted I bought some of those old-fashioned cordial bottles with ceramic tops and swivelly metal fastenings (obtainable from Lakeland in the UK, if you're interested) but I also use (scrupulously cleaned!) old ketchup bottles which are great as they don't have too narrow a neck to pour into.

I have to say this is very popular with people of all ages, some of whom, to my certain knowledge, would not be seen dead with a blackcurrant under normal circumstances! I expect the heat does destroy some of the vitamin C but at least I know there are no additives or artificial anythings in my blackcurrant cordial and my conscience is clear because the fruit is used and enjoyed and not wasted.

Try it if you have a bush which has taken the rain and gone haywire with aromatic, shiny, black berries you don't quite know what to do with!

A Berry Happy Weekend everyone!

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Victorian Country Apron Giveaway and Tutorial

As promised, here are the three extra Victorian country aprons I've made this week to float around the garden in (if it's not raining) or the kitchen (if it is!).

I've emailed the first three people who expressed interest on my last post in receiving one of these: Sonia at FabricandFlowers, Lorraine at  FourHappyBunnies,  and Mrs H at TalesofMrsH so if you'd still like one, do send me your postal address, if you haven't already done so, and your apron will be on its way!

And, if you would like to make your own, here is my design and what I did. I've gone through it step by step, which seasoned sewers won't need, but for anyone who doesn't feel so experienced, I hope my instructions and pics will be easy and clear to follow. There's nothing more frustrating, especially when you are starting out on a project in unknown territory, to find that the pattern assumes you know stuff when you don't.

You need a metre (or about a yard and a quarter) of your chosen main fabric and a scrap of something contrasting to line the pocket with. I had some Liberty lawn off-cuts from a project some years back which made good linings for the pockets. These are the two main fabrics I used. One is a Tilda fabric and the other is a Tanya Whelan one.

First you need to draw out your pattern on paper. You need a large rectangle 19" wide by 32" long (the skirt of the apron), and yes, it will be big enough because you will cut it on the fold of the fabric thereby doubling its width! You also need a rectangle 19" across by 9" wide (the waistband) and a parallelogram 5" by 19" by 4" by 19"(the ties) and a pocket piece. For this, draw a rectangle about 8" long and 6" wide and round off the base so that it's pocket shaped. Or you can simply leave it rectangular if you prefer. 

Lay out your fabric in one layer and then fold in one side of the fabric by 19". Lay your skirt pattern piece with the long side aligned on the fold of the fabric, pin and cut out through the double fabric layer so that you end up with a rectangle double the width of your pattern piece. Pin and cut out one waistband piece, two tie pieces and one pocket piece from the main fabric and a second pocket piece from your chosen lining fabric. 

Here are my pieces cut out and ready to assemble

To begin with, you need to finish the side edges of the apron skirt. You should have a selvedge on one side and this you can turn in just the once, as the edge of the fabric isn't raw. The other side will be a raw edge so you will need to turn in a 1/4" turning and then another 1/2" turning to hide the raw edge away. Press your turnings in place ready for stitching.

Machine stitch along the pressed side edges as in the pics.

Now get the pocket sorted. To do this, pin your two pocket shapes (one from your main fabric and one from your lining fabric) together, with right sides facing. Machine stitch around the outside leaving a gap at the top edge for turning. You don't need a massive seam allowance - about 1/4" is fine. Clip the corners as in the pic and clip the curves also. You can just see my scissors doing their clippy stuff on the curves in the bottom right hand corner of the pic below. 

Now turn your pocket the right way out, using a blunt knitting needle or something similar to poke out the corners. Go gently or it's easy to poke a hole instead of just a nice sharp corner! Press the turned pocket including the gap, making sure the turnings in the gap sit nice and even as you press. 

Now stitch across the top edge of the pocket, sealing the gap and making a nice crisp edge. Stitch as close to the edge as you reasonably can, as in the pic.

Now pin your pocket in position on the apron skirt. Mine is about 8" from the top and about 6" from the left hand side as you face it, but put yours where you will find it convenient. Stitch along the edges of the pocket to secure it in place, leaving the top open of course, or you'll get a patch and not a pocket!

Take your parallellogram-shaped tie pieces and fold them in half lengthways as I am doing in the pic. Press.

Starting from one end with the fold at the top, stitch down the short end and then along the long open side of the folded tie. Leave the remaining short end open.

Clip the corners and turn the ties the right way out. Deploy your crafty knitting needle again to poke out the corners neatly. Don't forget to go gently! It's mighty easy to push a bit too hard and go straight through the fabric!

Now press the ties flat, using your fingers to winkle the seam flat as you go, so that you get the whole width of the tie as you press with the iron. This is what they should look like:  

Now for the waistband. You need first of all to fold and press the waist band in half lengthways. Then press under 5/8" on one of the long sides. 

Now turn the waistband piece so that the right side is facing you, with the pressed turning at the top, opening out the central fold. Take your ties and place them against the sides of the waistband, just below the central fold-line, as in the pic, with the rest of the tie facing towards the centre of the waistband. 

Fold over the top half of the waist band so that the ties are enclosed within and pin the side seams. The result should look like this:  

Stitch the sides of the waistband securing the ends of the ties within the seam. Use a 5/8" seam allowance.

Turn the waistband right side out and you should have something that looks like this:

OK, we're making progress! The end is in sight! You now need to gather the top edge of the apron. You can do this using a long stitch on your machine, which is nice and easy, or you can do it by hand. Whichever method you use, stitch long machine stitches or running stitches 5/8" in from the top edge and pull the top thread to create gathers. You want to gather enough fabric up to fit the apron skirt within the waistband and create the nice, romantic, full effect we are after. I gather using the longest stitch my machine allows and find that the fabric begins to pucker up all by itself as I go. In the pic I've pulled the fabric round a bit so you can see the beginning puckering even though I haven't yet pulled on the thread.

Pull up the thread so that the gathered fabric will fit within the waistband.

With right sides together, pin the gathered top of the apron skirt to the long edge of the waistband which has not got the turning on it. You can see the seam where I have pinned but not sewn it, with the turned in edge of the waistband folded back a bit, to keep it out of the way in the pic above. You can baste the gathers in place if you feel nervous about just pinning it. Either way, then machine stitch the apron skirt to the waistband. Make sure that you keep the long side with the turning on it free from getting caught up in the sewing. As previously minuted in these pages, I am not a great baster and didn't bother here, but purists would say you ought to and if you are inexperienced I would say, go the extra mile and save yourself potential trouble. But if you think you can wing it, go ahead! 

At this point you really are on the home straight. Fold the waistband back over the top and pin the turned edge over the seam securing the gathers, hiding all the raw edges tidily from view. You can now  try on your romantic apron in front of the mirror and admire the effect (mind the pins though)! All that remains is to hand-stitch with hem stitch the turned under edge of the waistband over the seam securing the gathers as I am in the process of doing in the pic below.

Finally make a hem at the bottom. For this, fold up 1/4" turning and then another 5/8" or so and press and stitch in place either by hand or machine. 

Cut the threads and knot them off and don your apron to go out in the garden and pick raspberries, blackcurrants, sweet peas, roses or whatever your heart desires. Or (if it's raining again) go in the kitchen and give new life to a Victorian recipe for an old-fashioned cake or scones!

Talking of which, here is my great-grandmother's recipe for the lightest scones I've ever tasted. The original recipe goes back at least to the time of the First World War and more probably the 19th C. I have tweaked the original just a fraction by substituting half live yoghurt in place of just milk to mix the dough but, if I may say, this tweak is with good effect. It's foolishly easy too, especially if you have a food processor to hand, in which to perform the first half of the operation.

8 oz self-raising white flour
2 oz unsalted butter or a pure vegetable margarine
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
1 tbsp caster sugar
c 1/4 pt milk (or half live yoghurt and half milk for best effect)

Preheat the oven to 200 C. Whizz the flour, cream of tartar and bicarbonate of soda in the food processor or mix by hand. Whizz in the butter (cubed) or rub in by hand. Tip mixture into a bowl if you've been using the food processor. Using a blunt knife mix to a softish dough with the milk / milk and yoghurt mixture. Tip onto a floured work surface and press gently into a round about 3/4" thick. Cut into fluted rounds, triangles or hearts and place on a baking sheet lined with non-stick silicone paper. Brush the scones lightly with milk and bake for about ten minutes until risen and golden. Cool on a wire rack. 

They are as light as a feather the day they are made but they go stale quickly so freeze any you don't need immediately and defrost as required. (They freeze beautifully.) They are wonderful with homemade jam and clotted cream or just the jam. And if you're worried about calories, make the scones on the small side and remember that scones are low in fat and sugar compared with other cakes and as I say, you don't need to load these with cream to enjoy them.

E x

Friday, 13 July 2012

"Where is the summer, the unimaginable zero summer?"

Despite TS Eliot's rather pessimistic outlook on the season in question and despite the non-appearance of much that gives us in the UK any tangible experience of what we usually call summer, it is not unimaginable. No, siree! We've got the imagination all right; it's the reality we're lacking!

Extreme times call for extreme measures and I've found it time to deploy the head-in-the-sand approach. It is summer. It just doesn't feel like it. I like the summery notion of being in the garden bare-foot and picking sun-drenched flowers just as my forebears did, not that far from where I live now in some cases, attired in suitably, sun-drenched, flowery garb.

I am not willing to give in to the rain-soaked alternative reality, as the sum total of this summer's story so...
... my sweet peas are blooming and, although sparkling with rain drops rather than summer sun, they are beautiful. I am going to pick them and enjoy them.

The grass, although soaking wet underfoot, is green and soft ... so it is time to dispense with shoes and go barefoot.

There has been not a lot of time to sew a flowery, country summer dress full of romantic tucks and gathers but there has been time to dream up something smaller and quicker so ... I have made a flowery country apron not for the practical use of my earlier business-like Spring Aprons but for unashamedly ditsy and impractical use.

Let the reader understand: this apron has no serious practical use - if you wear it to whisk a bowl of cream, you will probably end up with cream all over your clothes; if you wear it to replant your cuttings or wash the patio, it will probably do no more than shield you from half the spillages; if you wear it to prepare supper that consists of anything more lively than a serene salad, you will probably wish for something more business-like; but if you wear it to feel in touch with your Victorian forebears and the inhabitants of country cottages and country gardens I guarantee you complete and utter satisfaction!

Not an entirely hypothetical question as I plan to make another couple over the next week or so to give away. Anyone like one? Let me know, if so. (Sweet peas not included, I am afraid, as they are too fragile for posting!) I'll post a little tutorial in case you prefer to make your own apron anyway.

Who said aprons were a functional rather than a decorative accessory!? I don't know and I don't care. Wearing this one makes me feel summery, timeless and a bit floaty. All good in this humdrum world in which "human kind cannot bear very much reality"

I began with TS Eliot and I'll end with him. These lines from the first of his "Four Quartets" might make a suitable elegy for the English summer of 2012.

"And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight,
and the lotos rose, quietly, quietly,
the surface glittered out of heart of light,
and they were behind us reflected in the pool.
Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty.
Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
what might have been and what has been
point to one end, which is always present."

(TS Eliot: Burnt Norton)

Not TS Eliot's "lotos" but the first waterlily to bloom on our pond. No wonder it's at home, with all the rain!
Sorry the pic is a bit blurred - unless I stepped into the pond I couldn't get a close-up without the zoom which doesn't do very well when cropped.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Rosy Pillow Cases

Rosy cushion, rosy jam, now rosy pillow cases! OK, OK I have a rosy obsession at the moment! Call it "a midsummer night's dream" rather than "twelfth night", but still "what you will"!

In the July issue of "Country Living" there is a rather tempting offer on some beautiful, rose splashed bed-linen. Anyone else been tempted by this? I think it's summer personified.

I say "offer" because it is  - bed-linen on offer at substantially reduced prices. But still a double set  comes in at between £40 and £50. Which is not so much of a bargain if one doesn't really need any new bed-linen. But the rose theme is very beguiling and I have a hankering for some rose-covered pillow slips, at the very least. And what do you know? in my fabric stash there is just the thing for making some. Here it is!

Very rosy and perfect for the job in view, I think. There is one snag. A big snag, as it turns out. There is not very much of it. It was an end of season, end of roll bargain. There is just over a metre of it, 1 metre and 21.5 cm to be precise! Enough for a pair of pillow slips? Surely, there must be! Sadly, when I got to draw out the pattern with that treacherous deep turning to contain the pillow end,  I found that this was rather too optimistic. By the time one has allowed for boring old seam allowances, let alone the turnings that make up the functionality of the thing, a pillow slip clearly uses more fabric than it looks as though it does, (or than I think it reasonably ought to!)

Between meetings yesterday afternoon, I pondered obsessively whether, having cut one pillow slip I couldn't hodge* together enough from the remaining fabric to make a pair, despite all the evidence pointing emphatically in the opposite direction. Inspiration then struck in the form of extending what I had with the addition of a bit of this bright pink quilting fabric, bought just because I loved the colour.

Let this be a lesson to you, Mrs T: those bargain bin end pieces of fabric that you think you ought not to buy "because you can't see an immediate use for them" are in fact the ones that will one day rescue a creative dream from the slag heap! Nota bene!

* Hodge - a technical(!) term meaning "cut corners and see if you can get away with what you shouldn't be able to, by splicing, merging or otherwise sticking together random bits and pieces"!!

And voilĂ , I cut two top pieces intact from the rosy fabric, and I had enough to cut six slim panels from the leftovers which can be mixed with the plain, bright pink to make two backing sides for each pillow slip. It was touch and go, mind you - this is all that I had left over!

Of course what I failed to do was to think about the arrangement of the panels as the pillow slip would look when finished so my nice even distribution of the two fabrics is not "nice and even" at all on the finished article but never mind! It's only the underside and I am so pleased at getting a pair of pillow slips rather than just one. Much more useful.

I am very happy with this little frugal effort! Far more so than if I could have cut both sides of each pillow slip from the original fabric without a murmur, which is a bit crazy I know!

And of course once the pillow slips are deployed, nobody will see the underside anyway!

Anyone else go to these kinds of lengths to achieve what is really unachievable but un-give-uppable?!

If I were paid for my time, which I'm not, it would probably have been far more economical to buy the whole set of bed-linen but my frugally, eked-out pillow slips give me rosy joy of heart and set summer bells a-tinkling and a-jingling in the rain! So go on, dig out that piece of beautiful fabric that isn't quite big enough to create what you want - think laterally, refuse to give in and you'll find a way to put roses all over your door, metaphorically speaking!

I am sure there are pillow slip-making tutorials out there on the Internet although I haven't actually had time to look today and they will probably be more sophisticated and professional than my method but this is very simple and very quick so in case any of you would like to run one up to brighten a rainy July afternoon, here's what I did and you can do too:

Ideally, for making a pair of pillow slips without piecing bits together, you need 2 m (2 and a quarter yards) of fabric But you can get away with less, as I did!

For each pillow slip you need two rectangles of fabric; one longer than the other. I am afraid I tend to sew in imperial measures so apologies to all you more up-to-date UK metric sewers for my old-fashioned imperial dimensions.

For mine, I used a bigger rectangle of 35.5" by 20" and a smaller rectangle of 32" by 20". This produced a finished standard UK pillow case size of 28" by 19". I allowed half an inch seam allowances.

On the bigger rectangle, fold over one end by 7" to the inside and press. This flap is going to make the envelope style pocket to contain the pillow at the open end of the pillow slip. Open out the flap again and press under 1/4" turning on the raw edge. Fold the pressed edge over again to the inside in another turning of about 1/2". Press. The raw edge is now neatly enclosed inside the turning. Keeping the flap opened out and separate from the rest of the rectangle, machine stitch all the way along the pressed edge. Press. Fold the flap back to the inside as you originally pressed it and re-press if necessary.  Pin at the sides to secure temporarily in position. This rectangle will be the top of my pillow case. If you are making a pair of pillow cases, repeat the process for the second.
Flap end of bigger rectangle showing where the pressed turning creases are.
Now take the slightly smaller rectangle and fold over one end by 3.5" to the inside and press. Open out the flap again, exactly as you did before, and press under 1/4" turning. Fold the flap back in position and stitch it in place through all the layers of fabric along the pressed edge. Press. This rectangle will make the bottom of my pillow case. Repeat the process, if you are making a pair.
Flap end of smaller rectangle showing where pressed turning creases are.
Now pair your rectangles off, top rectangles with bottom ones. You should find that each pair is now exactly the same size ie 28.5" by 20".

Pin the rectangles together, right sides and raw edges together, making sure that the flaps of your top pieces are lying nice and flat in their pressed position (remove those temporary securing pins or your sewing machine will eat them!) and check that all the edges are pinned so that they will be secured in the side seams. The flaps of your bottom pieces of course are already stitched down so you don't need to worry about these.

Stitch the rectangles together along the long sides and the end which still has raw edges, in a continuous seam with a 1/2" seam allowance. Do not, of course, sew the end where the pressed flaps are or you will have nowhere to insert your pillow! Clip diagonally across the seam allowances at the corners and turn the right way out.

That's it!

Insert your pillow(s) and prepare to sleep on a bed of roses!

If, like me, you are short of fabric, you can get away with piecing together the off-cuts of a smaller piece with some additional toning or contrasting fabric. I had half a metre of the bright pink quilting cotton to make the four panels I interspersed with my rosy off-cuts and I had a bit of the pink left over, but not much, so I guess a total of 1.7 metres of fabric is about the minimum you can get away with, unless any of your fabrics are wider than the standard 112-115 cm.

How you do it will depend on the precise amount of fabric you have and how you want the finished pieced panel to look. It may also be affected by the way the patterning on your focus fabric works. Florals generally, but not always, are good tempered about being turned through 90 or even 180 degrees enabling you to use every off-cut to maximum effect, but an obvious pattern repeat or stripes, say, may need more considered handling.

Remember that the more pieces that you stitch together, the more fabric you will lose in seam allowances so ideally go for the minimum number of seams in any pieced panel. And however big or small your pieces are, remember always to cut them along the horizontal or vertical grain of the fabric, never across it on the diagonal, or they won't lie flat when you stitch them together! Once you've stitched your pieces together, press all the seam allowances open and flat and proceed to make up as above.

For what it's worth, I would recommend choosing a relatively plain foil to your focus fabric. Either go neutral or pick up an accent colour from your focus fabric. But there is nothing to stop you using more than one toning fabric or even simply using a different fabric for the back rather than fiddling about, piecing off-cuts together. Try to make sure that whatever fabric you use, (whether pieced or not), is the same composition and weight as your main fabric.

Some of the prettiest fabrics, unfortunately, can also be the most expensive. But a small quantity of even a very expensive fabric can be a more affordable outlay for a project so this approach may free you to make something to show off a pricey fabric you love but which you don't want to spend the earth on. Or, like me, you may have a remnant of something not particularly expensive but very pretty, which at first sight looks too small to achieve what you want with. Plain fabrics to mix with more showy ones can be picked up very cheaply. Keep your eyes peeled for bin end neutrals or plains to fit flexibly with whatever show-stopper fabric fires your imagination and makes your heart skip a beat! Or is it only me who reacts to fabulous fabric this way?! Please tell me it's not!