Guest Blog : The Making of a Baby Quilt by Jessica

Over February half term I decided to make a baby quilt, well more like a throw. I made it as a gift to my form tutor, as his partner has just had a baby. He’s also been my form tutor for the last five years so it’s also as a thank you gift. I go to sewing classes with Gill Towell of Gillymac Designs where I have made three different and unique quilts. We have also entered two quilts as a group for the National Festival of Quilts. We came 2nd with one and got highly commended in the other.

I started by looking for fabric suitable for baby boys and found that there were lots. I then had to work out what size I needed and how many squares I needed. I bought a fat quarter bundle which came with 5 different materials. As I was short of a few squares, I bought another bundle which I thought has colours in it which would bring all the fabric together  – which indeed it did!

I started off by drawing out my pattern and seeing which patterns would work well together. I then assembled it by making blocks of 9, 3 across 3 down. I decided to have 6 squares going across by 9 squares down. Once I had made the patchwork top centre,  I added the borders which I decided to have white so that it would accentuate all of the colours in the main panel. After that, I glued it to the backing using temporary glue. I then quilted the whole thing using a walking foot creating a grid design. I finished the quilt by making my own binding and sewing it around the edge. This gave the quilt a nice finish and made the whole thing come together.

The most challenging bit was adding the binding and trying to make it look neat at the corners. I also found matching the fabrics and making it look nice was quite difficult and took a long time.

My favourite part of the quilt is how it all comes together and how the colours work well. I like how the binding finishes the edges and how it brings it all together. I would definitely make it again as I had so much fun making it. There is so much effort and concentration involved and I have learnt so much from doing it.

I would do it the same way because it’s a great design and I like the way in which it turned out.

I am giving it away sometime next week before my form tutor goes on paternity leave.

FreeSpirit & What This Means For Us

The announcement this week from Coats (owners of FreeSpirit Fabrics) was shocking in its swiftness, but the writing has been on the wall for some time, had we chosen to look at it. Coats business is dominated by its ‘Industrial’ business (around 70%) – which sells clothing footwear, threads and materials to industry. A much smaller part of the business is the Global ‘Crafts’ business – which makes and sells things to crafters, just like us.

Last Summer Coats closed it’s UK Coats Crafts business. This restructuring was an early indication that their business model was not working.  In July last year Coats posted its Half Year Results and these showed how the Craft business was performing.  It shows the Craft business was surviving on margins of ~3% in 2016 and ~6% in 2017, whereas the rest of the business was running on margins double and triple this. Then late last year, in November,  Coats posted a Trading Update which shows a decline in Coats Craft sales by 10% year on year. So in summary, Coasts had a small part of its business which was underperforming the dominant part and which was now in decline. In this light, shutting the business down maybe wasn’t such a hard decision to make.

In the trading results, there is mention of a large customer of Coats who has now started its own brand of wool and the effect that this has had on the Coats Craft business. There is also mention of the poorly performing US market. These seem a little unbelievable as the key reasons for the business failure. However, when a business fails, you will often find that the reason for the failure is something to do with the external market and never how it was it was set up, the contractual terms it had previously agreed or the way it was run.

I feel qualified to talk about business failure, having worked in telecoms for 20 years. There was a business for which the writing was on the wall, but when the wall fell on us all it was shocking and painful. With the Coats Craft business, we maybe won’t know for a while why the business really failed. The contracts with the designers would not have been inexpensive. I understand that almost all fabric is printed in South Korea so were the base products, colours and dyes really significantly different from other manufacturers? I can’t see that they were. Maybe the contractual commitments made to designers and manufacturers were so out of whack with the market that the only option was to shut down the business.

Like in telecoms, it is sad for the Coats Crafts employees, designers and the manufacturers affected, but I wonder if there will be knock-on problems for some fabric stores here in the UK.  These stores will have created there business plans for this year and next on the basis of a number of drops of new fabric collections from Coats that we would intern buy. This will not happen now, as even if the designers sign quickly for other companies, there will be a delay in production and supply of at least 6 months. So actually, our indignation at not being able to buy a fabric collection when it was planned should really be a concern for our local market, as the more fabric shops there are, the more competitive the prices will be and the more frequent and lucrative the deals will be. Now is the time to support our stores and not rely on our stash if we want our piece of the market to flourish.


Allow Yourself a Bad Idea…

Yesterday I had an extremely rare term time Saturday off from teaching my lovely teen classes and attended a lecture by Tula Pink, a young Amercian textile designer, who now lives just outside Kansas City.

If you don’t know Tula’s work then it is really worth having a look at her Collections.  They are beautiful,  often with the larger designs based on aminals buried within intricate curvy patterns with colour choices stand apart from other designers in the market.

Whilst listening to Tula describe her design process, she said something that really resonated with me – and I know it will resonate with many of my pupils. She said that she has learnt to no longer be afraid of a bad idea, in fact, she encourages a bad idea. When she gets a new journal for her designs, she scrawls over the first page, as now nothing in the book will be as bad as that first page. She explained that, for her, a bad idea is part of the process of having a good idea. She also said that a ‘block’ occurs when you dont give yourself the chance to have a bad idea. She believes her ratio is about 9-1 bad ideas to good ones.

Let us just think about this. So now, if I follow her suggestions,  tomorrow, instead of getting frustrated that I want to come up with an exciting idea for a quilt I need to make for an exhibition this year (and my current ideas are a bit rubbish)… now I can relax .. this is part of the process – a proper, successful professional designer says so. It takes the stress away … I feel better already and more excited about designing a quilt.

Why have I not thought of this before? In some ways I have.  I tell my pupils that I can solve their problems because I have made every single mistake they have made myself. I often make Katie laugh in the car home from school.  telling her about all the mistakes I have made that particular day, as she tells me about a tiny thing that has gone wrong for her… I think these things are similar. However, I see teen and adult pupils getting cross with themselves when they dont get’ that point’ perfect or the quilting design nailed on the first try. So now I will try and remind them (and me) of these words from Tula… Don’t be afraid of a bad idea – it is part of the process.

From Monday 5th Feb 2018 to Monday 12th Feb 2018, GillyMac Designs will be running an Instagram and Facebook competition to win a Tula Pink’s “All Star” Fabric Bundle – available here a whole 5 weeks prior to market launch.

Tula’s Next Range – ” All Stars”


Dressmaking Basics : Part 1 – The Pattern & Cutting

With so much dressmaking in full flow at GillyMac Designs, I thought it would be an ideal time to share with you some tips on how to work your way around a dressmaking pattern.

  1. UNDERSTANDING THE PATTERN: Unless you are using a modern pattern, you will find that patterns are often written in a strange form of English. We all struggle with this (it’s not just you), but getting to grips with your pattern, and all the information it contains, is critical to making your perfect garment. Take time to understand it. Read it carefully and not quickly. This is all part of the process of dressmaking that you will come to love.

  2. THE PATTERN SLEEVE -The pattern sleeve contains a huge amount of information. Before you buy a pattern read the sleeve carefully. It will tell you about the sizes the pattern caters for, the size of the garments produced (there is a difference between the body size, for a size 10 and the eventual garment size for a size 10, so check out both). It will tell you about the amount of material needed for the garment as well as any other haberdashery (often called ‘notions’) needed. It will often also tell you about the complexity of the pattern and the required skill level needed to make it. If that isn’t included, the number of pieces is often an indication of sewing easiness! Finally, and very importantly, it will also tell you the type of fabric the pattern is suitable for.

  3. PATTERN TRACING: Most commercial patterns are printed on dressmaking tissue paper and have cutting marks for more than one size, and often the pieces for different versions of the garment as well. This tissue paper is very thin and will tear easily. Use Swedish Tracing Paper to trace off the size and pattern pieces that you want to use. Make sure you transfer all the marking and labelling to your traced pieces. your traced copy will be much more hard wearing and you will be able to alter it to record the adjustments you make to the basic pattern as you develop the fit for your body one you start sewing. Note: Modern patterns are often more expensive, however, they are printed on higher quality paper which will last much longer and is more durable to repeated tracing. Furthermore, the instructions in modern patterns are infinitely better than in the older style of patterns.. so although more expensive, it is money well spent.

  4. FABRIC PREPARATION: Wash, dry and press your fabric before you start cutting it. This minimises the risk of fabric shrinkage when the garment is complete. Don’t miss out this step.

  5. PATTERN PREPARATION: If your pattern is creased from folding and storing, then iron your pattern before using it for cutting. A crinkle in a pattern can make the sizing completely different. Ironing a pattern is easy, just use a pressing cloth and a cool iron setting.

  6. CUTTING AREA READINESS: When laying fabric out for cutting, make sure that you have a big enough space to work in. This can be tricky at home. The floor is fine if you dont have a big enough table. If using the floor is not an option, but space is limited, then use a cleared table and work only on the fabric that is on the table, then roll the piece up and work on the next part and so on.

  7. CUTTING DIAGRAMS: Patterns come with a cutting or layout diagrams. This would normally show where the fold is and where the selvedges are. The selvedges are the slightly bound edges of the fabric that run top and bottom along its length. The fold required for cutting is typically along the length of the fabric with the selvedges running parallel to it. Take time to look at your cutting diagram to make sure you are folding your fabric correctly. All the information you need will be there, just in pictorial form, so a long hard look is all that is normally required to get this step right. THere may be different cutting diagrams depending on the size you have selected to make, the width of your fabric or if you have directional fabric or your fabric has a nap (eg. like velvet or velour, it looks different when rubbed one way rather than the other).  Note: Read the guidelines in your instructions, some patterns call for the fabric to be folded right sides together before cutting, and others for it to be folded wrong sides together.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

  8. GRAIN: A piece of fabric has three grainlines, one that runs along the length of the fabric, parallel to the selvedges. This is called the lengthwise grain. The second runs across the fabric, from selvedge to selvedge and is called the crosswise grain. The third is called the bias grain and it runs diagonally across the fabric at 45′ to the selvedge. Your pattern pieces will come with a grainline marked on them. Unless it states otherwise, this will be the line of the lengthwise grain. That is the grain that runs along the fabric parallel to the selvedges. It is important to get your pattern piece arrows exactly on the lengthwise grain. A good tip is to measure the distance the pattern grainline from the selvedges at one end of the grainline and then again at the other end of the lin to make sure they are exactly the same distance … hence your piece will be running correctly along the lengthwise grain.

  9. CUTTING: Place your pattern pieces right side up on the fabric. You may be required to place some pattern pieces wrong side facing up, just check the cutting diagram key – this is normally shown as a shaded pattern piece. Some pieces may be required to be cut on the fold, other pieces not. Check your pieces and cutting diagrams carefully to get this right. Remember to align your piece on the grainline, then pin and cut. You may be required to fold the fabric again to cut different pieces. Use only sharp dressmaking scissors to cut fabric successfully.

  10. INTERFACING & FACINGS: Interfacing is a separate material, which is either sewn or ironed onto fabric to make it stiffer. In dressmaking, this will often be for collars and waistbands. Facings are made from the same material as your garment and are set just inside the neck or armband or in places you may get flashes of the inside of your garment and you wish the right side of the fabric to be displayed even if it is on the inside.

Voila! I hope you have found this helpful. In coming weeks I will cover pattern marking, common sewing techniques and fabric types…. :-). Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Instagram for the latest news and classes from the Studio, as well as tip and tricks to make your sewing go smoothly. If you want to join a class and it is full or you don’t see exactly what you need, call Gill on 07818 551232.

STOP PRESS : New Year Delayed until 1st Feb

Twenty eighteen may be well underway, but,  even though the tree is down, the decorations are away and my tax is done (hurrah),  the start of my New Year is on hold until 1st February to allow me to complete more of my  ‘2017 Finishing Off List’.

There is something particularly satisfying about completing projects, and for me, there is a balance between having things on the go that I am enjoying making, which add variety to my week and which can showcase the business and then, on the other hand,  having way too much on my plate of which very little will ever get finished. Apart from in the Summer, when the push to get the girls’ projects finished for the Festival of Quilts consumed my every breath, I’ve not done too bad – thanks in the main to help along the way from Deborah and my lists to keep me focused.

I have just loaded the GillyMac gallery (see tab above) with the final images from 2017 with many of the gorgeous items made here this year. They are just a small sample of the creativity of the GillyMac Pupils.  I know that there is never a time when I will have everything completed and that thought can be overwhelming, but I started sewing to enjoy the journey, not just to complete the task… and when it all gets too much and Annie’s quilt is still not finished, or the PJs for the girls I wanted to make for Christmas are left unmade, or the quilting for the Linus project is not even started…… I need to remember to enjoy every moment of my creative time – as it is precious and important for being what it is… special time.

Making Presents – Should We?

I have read soooooooo many posts online these past few days, where people are upset that the gift they have made has not been properly appreciated or even appreciated at all.  It is sad, and I can feel all the frustration when I read each story.

I don’t have lots of time, and so when I make something, just like everyone else, it is a big deal to me. Late at night in October and November, I did wonder if I really should be making presents, not because they wouldn’t be appreciated, but because of the time involved… and could or should I be using it better – but I had it in my mind that it was a good idea to make some gifts, and so the course was set!

It was a push to get it all done and there were things not made (for my daughters), but I was pleased with all the things that did get made, wrapped and gifted.  There were (2) handbags, (15) coin purses, (12) make-up bags, each with a personalised design on them, (6) pillowslips, a tuffet and two sweatshirts.

This morning, I bumped into the father of a girl in Katie’s hockey team that I had made a gift for. He was so lovely. He stopped me to tell me how great the bag was and how much his daughter loved it. So yes, it is worth it… it was all worth it just to make one girl smile!


Defining Your Own Colour Story

It is very easy to buy a bundle of fabrics, all from the same range, because the colour combination (often called a colour story) will have been worked out for you. In the Tula Pink Tabby Road Collection, the ‘Strawberry Fields’ colourway has red grouped with pink, aqua, green and cream and it looks fantastic. I’m not sure, if faced with a blank page, I would have come up with this group, but actually, I should probably have more faith my understanding of colour,  because the basics aren’t so hard. First, you need some inspiration, like a fabric, or colour or pattern. Then you need to find fabrics and check the colour value or tone to get a good mix. So in three steps, you have it cracked? Yeah … well … maybe there is more to it …. but really, not a lot more. Let’s go through the steps.


You need a starting point. That is your inspiration… as I said, it could be anything as simple as a fabric you like, or a picture you want to create a quilt around, it could be the favourite colour of the person you are going to give the quilt to, it could be seasonal colours – it could be anything.

Colour Combination

Once you have a colour to start with, then you need to understand the colour wheel.

In the colour wheel above, the solid triangle is pointing to the Primary Colours of yellow, red and blue. Those are the colours which are used to create all the others on the wheel. The dashed triangle is pointing to the secondary colours. Those are the colours that are created by mixing the primary ones. For example, red and blue create purple and so on. The colours not touched by either triangle are the Tertiary Colours – these are created by mixing primary and secondary colours. There are many shades of tertiary colours. These colours around the wheel are often referred to hues of colour.

Next to learn is how to combine colours successfully.  Colours opposite each other on the colour wheel are complementary. So, referring to the colour wheel above, yellow’s complementary colours are plum, purple and violet, and red’s complementary colours are green, turquoise and lime. Colours that are close to each other on the colour wheel are referred to as analogous and can be clearly seen to co-ordinate. Finally, the colours from yellow, clockwise around the wheel, finishing with plum are known as ‘warm colours’ and those from purple around to lime are know as ‘cold colours’.

Tone and Value

The first step is all about understanding what colour tone (sometimes called value) actually is. It is not complicated to understand this, so let’s take an example. If we take green – any green – then there isn’t just one tone of the colour, there are many. Think about a paint colour card. In the diagram below various amounts of whites and blacks (shades of grey) are added to the green base colour to create this range of tones. Often you will see a colour wheel with the colours around the outside and the tones of those colours merging inwards toward the centre. So if you decided to use a green – first pick the right hue of green (for example a lime green or a moss green or an olive green etc)  and then pick the right tone for your project.  When people talk about colour value, this is all they mean. What we call ‘rich’ colours have a  deep tone (high value) and pastel colours have a low tone (light value).

If you want to check the relative value of a group of fabrics. Lay the fabrics out together and take a picture of them – then turn the picture to black and white. In this way, you can immediately see the values. Try and aim for a mix of values in the quilts you make.

In Summary

So that is it – now you are ready to create your own colour story using your inspiration for the starting point, the colour wheel to get the right base colours and then a good mix of tones/values to create interest in your piece.   Don’t forget to give your colour story a great name,  like “Strawberry Fields”, or “Marmalade” which Tula used in her Tabby Road Collection!

In saying this, the most important thing in picking the colours and fabrics for your quilts is that you like them – so treat all this as a guide and not a rule!

Should you want to go on and create your own colour wheel, then Tula Pink’s free pattern “Moxie” could easily be used to do so by replacing the recommended fabrics with solid colours in the right tones.

Good Luck and please feel free to share your work with me @gillymacdesigns on Instagram or GillyMac Designs on facebook.

Good textile-focused colour wheels can be purchased from Lady Sew and Sew and Plush Addict  I haven’t found a good one yet on Amazon!



Go On – Touch the Tension Dial!

When I was at school, for the short time I was allowed into the sewing machine room, the whole class was warned never (NEVER) to touch the tension dial. We were all terrified of that tension dial and what could possibly happen if we altered it.

Actually, when something is understood, it is easier to fix and tension isn’t hard to understand and doesn’t need to be a mystery or something to be concerned about. The best way I have found to explain tension is by thinking about a tug of war match. In a sewing machine, you have two teams – one on the top, the top team and one in the bobbin, the bobbin team.  Now think about those two teams taking up the tension on the rope, the flag in the middle of the rope sits perfectly on the line between the two teams.  How this translates to your sewing machine, is that the meeting of the two threads (from the top and from the bobbin) happens perfectly within the thickness of the material sewn – so the bobbin thread is only seen underneath your work and never on top and the top thread is only seen on the top of your work and not on the underside.

So, by understanding this, we can now look at what ‘bad tension’ refers to. It means that the two teams aren’t pulling with the same strength, they are not balanced. There are two outcomes from unbalanced pulling, or tension.

  • When the top team pull too hard, or the bobbin team slacken off, then the flag moves towards the top team. On our sewing machine, this means that the bobbin thread is seen on the top. So, if you see your bobbin thread on the top of your work, it is either because your top tension is too tight, or your bobbin tension is too loose.
  • When the top team slacken off, or the bobbin team pull too hard, then the flag moves towards the bobbin team. On our sewing machine, this means that the top thread is seen on the underside of the fabric. So if your top thread is visible on the underside of your work, it is either because your top thread is too loose, or your bobbin tension is too tight.

This concept is a really easy way to decide what is wrong with your sewing if tension is the issue. It will help you decide which changes to make to correct the balance of tension and get your sewing back to perfection. However, before you change any dials, always check these three things first

  1. Is the machine threaded correctly? In every case unthread your machine (completely) and rethread it.
  2. Have you got the same type and thickness of thread in the top and in the bobbin? They dont have to be the same colour, but they should be the same type. Some sewing machines are more forgiving of this than others.
  3. Is your stitch length appropriate for the thickness of the fabric bulk you are sewing – for example, two pieces of quilting cotton would normally have a stitch length of between 1.8-2.2, but sewing up curtain fabric will generally require a stitch length of around 2.8-3.2.

So now you are ready to conquer the world! Go forth – touching that dial should never worry you again!

Understanding Your Overlocker

With the Singer Overlockers on sale in Lidl this week and with the use of overlockers on the TV series, The Great British Sewing Bee, more and more of the sewing community has access to an overlocker.

Overlockers are sadly often misunderstood tools. They can do so much more than just sew stretch fabrics. Overlockers are designed for

  • encasing seams on all fabrics to neaten and prevent fraying
  • sewing seams without puckering, stretching or gathering on more troublesome fabrics such as knits (stretchy fabrics) and fine wovens (for example, voile)
  • creating specialist stitches such as flatlock seams, rolled hems and others
  • making decorative edges by using decorative threads in the machine loopers

Although I have had an overlocker for a couple of years, it is only in the past six months that I have used it regularly and it is a brilliant extension to my sewing machine work. It had been threaded and ready for use for some while and from time to time I did get it down to use, but with hindsight, it was a poor attempt to use it.

The machine is different from a sewing machine in a variety of ways. It has no bobbin but instead uses loopers to create stitches. It has the ability to cut fabric as it sews. Most newer overlockers have two feed-dog systems, one of which can be altered to move quicker or slower than the other, creating the differential feed which is so useful when dealing with difficult fabrics.  To add to this, each thread, and overlockers sew with two, three or four threads has it’s own tension settings. All this combines to make a machine with lots of variables, so it is important to find your basic stitch (I call this an anchor stitch) and see what happens when you vary one thing from this point.

The basic stitch or anchor point for each overlocker will need slightly different initial settings for each machine. For my own Juki overlocker, I get a great basic 4 thread overlock stitch on woven fabric, using a stitch length 2.5, no differential feed (set to N or 1), a cutting length of 2 and all thread tensions set 4. Once you have found your own basic stitch with woven fabrics, like me, you can create a book of stitches by first changing the length to 1 and checking the stitch, then to 2, then to 3 and so on up to the maximum setting. Then set the length back to 2.5 and varying the cutting length in the same way. Doing this, and recording your findings in a book of stitches, will be invaluable in understanding how your overlocker works and what it is capable of.

My next overlocker class with spaces available is over two nights on Mondays January 22nd and 29th. Email for more details or to book a place.


Extra Easy, Very Special Pencil Case

I have no idea how many of these beauties that I’ve made. Lots and lots. This Summer I taught a friend of my daughter’s  to make them, and she went on to sell them as part of a Young Enterprise competition at her school. She did really well.

The essence of this pencil cake pattern is wadding, scraps of fabric, a zip and lots of machine sewing. You don’t even need wadding. Interlining is the stuff that goes in between the lining and front of curtains, it is cheap and readily available. Anywhere that sells curtain material will sell interlining – John Lewis for example. A 1/4m would be plenty to make a few pencil cases and should only cost you a few pounds.

I first used this ‘Quilt as You Go’ method in an online class about four years ago. I then went on to create a range of projects using it. For this pencil case project, a small piece of material is placed in the centre of the wadding. Then the sewing machine is used to sew parallel lines back and forth over the fabric. Adding the lines of thread over the fabric and through the wadding changes the texture and feel of the combined fabrics. It becomes firmer and more substantial which is perfect for the exterior of a bag, wallet or case.

Moving on,  another, different, piece of fabric is added to the wadding.  It needs to be slightly larger than the side that you are joining it to of your initial piece. To join the new piece to the original one, place them right sides together and sew a 1/4″ seam along the desired joining edge. Now fold the new piece back against the wadding (right side now facing up). Next, once again sew parallel lines over this second piece. I like to keep my lines parallel to the way I have joined that piece to the last one, so for example, if I joined the two pieces by sewing vertical up/down my project, then I would sew my line up and down.

The task continues now, to add further pieces of fabric and sew over them, all over the wadding. I find it easiest to work clockwise around the initial piece, but however you choose to do this, I suggest that you either work from the centre out or from one side right the way across the wadding to the other side.

So that is as difficult as it gets ! You can click below to download the full instruction to complete the pencil case. Once you get the hang on the method you will find it a great way to use up scraps and make bespoke accessories for yourself or gifts for others.

Here are some of the pencil cases made using this method!

[embeddoc url=”” download=”all”]