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.

 

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.

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.

Inspiration

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!

 

 

Working from Base Camp

I am no stranger to working on my holidays. After years of corporate life, where everything was urgent, nothing could wait and my phone was constantly ringing (with bad news), not working would be shocking. However now working on this holiday, isn’t really work, it is building a small business, creating projects that I think people will enjoy, whilst using fabrics that I think will inspire. In the Lake District, I can do this whilst Katie and Brian fell walk – everyone is happy

We’ve been away for two weeks, staying on Ullswater. It is the only place in the UK, other than the Hebrides, that I’ve been where the daylight changes the colour of the surrounding landscape so dramatically, often hour by hour and certainly every evening. I love doing anything by this light because almost every time you look out the window the palette of colours has changed again.

We don’t particularly come here hoping to get good weather. Good weather is a bonus, but slowing down our pace of life and changing the way we operate for two weeks is all we truly need. My business allows me to be a ‘base camp’ for Katie and Brian who like to plan a walk, get dropped off in one location and get collected somewhere else. Katie is becoming quite an accomplished walker. She knows how to plan, what to take and how to both fuel and pace herself. I think this year is the first that she is setting the pace rather than Brian, but she sees it as a team game and that is all part of it.

This afternoon I have come down to Glenridding to plan my class schedule whilst they take out a rowing boat. It is cooler today, but they are still keen to get out on the water all the same. Later, I will be back at base camp, looking out over cattle and fields and further onto Ullswater.  I am able to sew with a magnificent view, preparing Winter class samples and writing spartan notes that will eventually become class methods. Perfect !

Gill’s new class list is now on the website and pictures of her sewing whilst away in Ullswater this year are on the website gallery.

GillyMac Dawn til Dusk Sewathon

If you didn’t already know (how could you not know !) , on 22nd September we held a Dawn til Dusk Sewathon in support of Macmillan Cancer Support. From 7am until 7pm there was a flow of adults and then after school children and teens arriving at the studio in Westfield Road. The participants enthusiastically sewed squares together all day, making 15 quilts over the 12 hours.
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Julia’s First Ever Patchwork

It was a great team and community effort. Pupils, past pupils, friends, and neighbours came together to sew and eat cake ! By sewing precut squares into blocks of three by three, Deborah Ransom and Jean Cozens co-ordinated the assembling of colourful quilts in cot size and bed size. The day flew because of the boundless energy and enthusiasm of the flow of people through the studio on the day. We even had some very young helpers !

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Allegra having a rest !

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Jordi enjoying the Tuffet !

For me, the day was a moment in time of the spirit of sewing within a community of volunteers. That spirit is continuing through a group of volunteers that are helping with all the quilting and binding need for each of the quilts.
All of the quilts made are being donated to Project Linus, a charity which provides handmade quilts to poorly children and child carers across the UK. The quilts made during the Sewathon will be distributed across Berkshire. The day also raised more than £650 for Macmillan Cancer Support which I have just dropped off at the bank.
This isn’t something we can repeat annually as it takes an awful lot of effort by all those involved, but I hope we can have another Dawn til Dusk event in 2018 and maybe even try and break our record of 15 quilts ! I’ll keep you updated with how the completion of the quilts go and the reception we get when they are handed over to Project Linus in November.
Thank you all very much for taking part – it was amazing !
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The GillyMac Club is Launched !

Now that there quite a few people coming along to classes and so many brilliant things are being created, it has been on my mind to find a way to share more of what we do just between ourselves.  I already post some of the work in my gallery page on this website,  and of course there is the very active facebook page I run for GillyMac Designs, however many of you are often doing similar projects but are in different classes, and it would be great if you were able to share your work directly without it being in an open forum.

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Earlier in the year Tracy and I were discussing how to create such a group and  luckily for me she has come up with just the thing ! We haven’t solved the problem if you are not on facebook, but the majority of you are and I will continue to think about how we can include everyone. Now, if you have been to a GillyMac Class, you can apply to access the GillyMac Club, where you will find (currently) 26 photo albums from each of the various classes I teach, full of class samples made by me, or items others have made in classes. There are over 700 photos uploaded. I know I am missing some of your lovely work and so if you have made something in a class and you cant find it … don’t despair, you are able to upload photos to albums yourself and I would encourage you to do so.

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To find the group – simply search for it in the top search bar on your facebook book page. I have invited a number of you to join it already. When I am sending you the invite you will automatically get access. Alternatively, you can proactively look for the group and ask to join. It may take Tracy or I 24 hours to approve you, so just hang in there we will do it as quickly as we can. Everyone who has been on one of my classes at home, at Liberty, at Juberry, Lady Sew and Sew or at the various quilt groups I’ve spoken and taught at can join. The group is accessible from whatever device you use to view facebook – however for the best access to the photos and the albums I have found it ideal to use my laptop.

I have written a few words about the protocol of the group. This is just about not reusing photos that are not your own. Please would you scan over it. I’m sure there will be no issues.

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So that’s it. I hope we can make it a useful forum to share information and pictures… Gill

Liberate Me …

Earlier on this year the GillyMac Thursday evening patchwork and quilting group started on a project of Liberated Quilting, inspired by book of that title by Gwen Marsden. Our quilts started along the same lines as Gwen’s, but soon, as with all our Thursday evening projects, everyone made their own adaptations and the quilts all ended up in different places.

GillyMac's Liberated Quilt

GillyMac’s Liberated Quilt

Liberated quilting has few rules. You don’t need to quilt a 1\4” seam, you don’t have the iron your seams one way or the other, you don’t need to measure your pieces (in fact I would say you shouldn’t measure, but that would sound like a rule) and you don’t need to restricted yourself to any design and there are no patterns. The one thing that I did suggest to the group was that after 4 or 5 pieces they should iron their growing artwork. With pieces, and small ones, at that being joined every which way it would be easy to get rucks and ripples caught up in the piece. Regular ironing allow you to check for this and adjust any mistakes, it smooths out your piece so you are unlikely to make such a mistake with the subsequent pieces and it is a natural pause and review point for you to consider where to go next with your piecing.

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Pink Wonky Log Cabin

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Green Geese Block

The use of colour was vital for me in constructing my own piece. I chose fabrics with small to medium modern prints in vibrant colours. I grouped colours together and started off by creating wonky log cabin blocks in blue, or greens or yellows or reds or oranges. Whilst making the log cabins I alternated between strong colours and weaker colours in the colourway I was using. A great tip to check on how you are doing on this front it to take pictures of your cabin and turn them into black and white, In this way you will get a much better picture of the difference in strength of adjoining pieces. Having made a number of log cabins, I stacked them and cut them, rotating the pieces to make new blocks with a variety of colours, adding yet another dimension to my work.

 

Another three techniques we investigated were “Free Range Geese”, “Liberated Stripping” and “One-of-A-Kind Stars” … I made up these names! The geese were made by stitching and flipping pieces diagonally across a (goose) rectangle.

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Wonky Star

The stars were a development of this. The points of the stars were made in the same way, except the diagonal pieces are over-lapped, and background square are added to the corners and for the centre of the star. The Wonky Stars would make great centres for a Medallion styled Liberated Quilt. Finally, Liberated Stripping is really simple and very effective. Strips of fabric are sewn together ( foundation piece style) one onto the other onto the other and then shapes are cut from the resulting pieces and sewn together.

After constructing the centre of the quilt we needed to make the borders. I made a number of sample borders for the class to work on and follow. For my own quilt I was inspired by Karen Lewis’s Blueberry Park fabric to use her black and white (ish) fabrics to create a striking frame for my quilt. I’m still working on this. If I am truthful, I have slowed not only because of my own workload at the moment, but also because I had no idea how I was going to quilt this piece.

Often I find if I get ‘stuck’ with a piece, the solution comes eventually. In this case, my thoughts are forming around a very simple quilting format. Using irregular shapes and straight lines to build up a liberated quilting framework to complement the piecing! … I’ll keep you posted on how this goes.

For now I’ll end with the work of the Thursday evening group. Everyone of this group is a star and their work shines just as much as they do !

Liberated Quilting

Sue’s Liberated Quilt

 

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Jean’s Liberated Quilt

GillyMac’s Top 10 Patchwork & Quilting Apps

Recently I have been researching the world of applications for patchwork and quilting to see what’s out there. In teaching,  I already regularly use a few, but I was ask to write an article for an online publication so I thought I’d share my top tips. Below you will find a mixture of free and paid for applications all for use in an IOS (Apple) environment. I’ve noted the version and latest development date, as this will also give you an indication of the progressive nature of the app.

10. Doodle Buddy (v1.7 2016)  free – To improve you skills in free motion quilting you need to practice practice practice!! This isn’t always possible at the machine, but using your iPad or iPhone the Doodle Buddy app is like an Etch-a-Sketch (for those of us of a certain age ) allowing you to practice drawing out your quilting designs over coffee, in front of the TV, waiting for kids on the school run or at sport etc… This app is really useful and a must have.image5
9.  Photo Pen HD  – lite version (v1.4 2012) free – having practiced your Free Motion Quilting, (FMQ), now you need to decide how to quilt a real block or quilt. Using this app you import a photo of your block or quilt and use the app to draw your quilting designs on top of the photo. It’s easy and effective. The resulting picture can be saved to your photo stream and printed out to have beside you as you tackle your project on the machine. Brilliant ! We use this application often in my classes.

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8BlockFab (v1 2010) – free.  This is not a quilt design tool but is a library of 70 blocks that you can view in a number of preset colour combinations and as a group of blocks. The app calculates the fabric required for a block, but not for a quilt. The most useful part of this app for me is the preset colour combinations, These are good colour mixes which I have used in other applications and for ideas for my own quilts colour choices.

7.  Quilting Wizard (v1.0.2 2013)- £3.99. This is a low cost quilt design app that allows you to import your own fabric images and incorporate them into over a 100 different preset blocks. Quilts can be made square on or on point, with bindings and sashing options. Fabric requirements are generated, however there is no ability to created your own custom block design.

 6 . ArtRage – ( v2.1 2015) – £3.99.  Built for art drawing with a strong professional development team behind it, this app can be used for patchwork design as taught by Lady Sew & Sew (www.ladysewandsew.co.uk). With this application you are able to import pictures of your fabrics and build bespoke quilt designs (there are no preset blocks). Great for those artists among us who don’t want to be constrained by traditional blocks. ArtRage does not calculate fabric requirements, but you should never rely on apps that do so without calculating fabric requirements yourself anyhow. If you want to use this app for P&Q you will need to go on the course, as currently there is no book or user notes for this use of the application. It is all very useful for free motion design practice as well !

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5 . Craftsy – (v3.3.3 2016)  free – There is nothing like a face-to-face lesson, but coming a close second is the Craftsy platform. This is available on a PC as well, but the Craftsy app is designed for optimum use with Apple devices. Use of the platform is free and you purchase patterns and classes as you want them, however there is a plethora of free stuff available as well. Don’t be the last person to find out about Craftsy – it is great !

4. QuiltingCalc by Robert Kaufmann (v2.3 2014) – free -This is a super useful free app. It calculates the best way to cut shapes from a piece of fabric, how much fabric is needed for backings, borders and bindings, as well as having many different basic measuring features. This is a really useful app to have on an iPhone which can be used in the heat of shopping !

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3. Free Motion Quilting Ideas ( v1.1 2016)  – £2.99 – I bought the book first (Free Motion Quilting Idea Book)which is packed with ideas  and practical applications for quilting basic shapes. The app is just the same, walking you through 16 really useful basic designs and then developing your FMQ by applying those designed to triangles, rectangles, circles etc through the use of embedded videos (so there is no need for WiFi connectivity to use this app).

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2 . Quilting Tutorials by Missouri Star Quilting (v2.3 2015)  – free – I love Jenny from the MSQC she is very entertaining. This application is regularly updated with new classes, as if the 100s of tutorials and quilts already available are not enough. Each tutorial I’ve watched is engaging, and full of useful tips. With this number of tutorials as well as the ability to order fabric via the app you could stay at home for years quilting with Jenny.

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1 . Quiltography –(v1.41  2015 ) £10.99 – yes it is worth it. For the cost of a couple of magazines and a coffee, you will get hours of fun from this application. Use the extensive library of traditional blocks or build  your own custom one on a grid size of your own choice. Photograph and import pictures of your own fabrics and create quilts with borders and sashing with customer or traditional blocks. In addition, for those of us who like pixilated quilts, the app allows you to import a picture, pixilate it using however many colours you wish, and created a pdf pattern for you to follow which includes fabric requirements. There are limitations, I find the fixed nature of the use of borders annoying, but all in all it is easy and enjoyable to use and has all you need to create some great quilts.

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So that it … hours of fun for you with these apps ahead ! Enjoy ! … and in you have questions email me at mail@gillymacdesigns.com.

Creating an Amazing Space – Part 2

Oh my goodness.. we are about done ! Yesterday was the last big push. The GillyMac room upstairs is tidied, labelled, dusted and vacuumed. Downstairs we are leaner, with less clutter but still with some of the books I love on view for inspiration! 

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In the next couple of days, the hooks will go up for the inter-changeable design walls. Then …  I think we are done…. in the sense that we are in good shape to maintain order, see what we have and enjoy and use what we have. Lastly we are putting up curtain tracks on top of the shelves so that lightweight calico curtains can be hung from them to protect the fabric from direct sunlight and to keep the dust down!

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The Super Sale was a great idea and it will be something I will do on a more regular basis. It created a healthy turnover in stock, it shared the love and it made some cash to plough back into the business. I still have sale fabrics … so don’t be shy to ask… I think another sale will happen at the same time next year and I am sure that year on year the Super Sale will grow.

IMG_1895Measuring the pieces (as I discussed in ‘Part 1’) was a master stroke – Thanks to all who helped! At last I can see what I have and most importantly I know how much is there. I have 3 or 4 boxes of ‘bits’ left over. These range from ‘smaller than fat quarter’ to ‘less than a metre’ and I am going to turn these pieces into 3.5″ and 5″ squares as well as 2.5″ strips which can be used in creative classes and for the Young Quilters and after school classes. Then once this is done, my lovely pal Lindsey will have the remaining small bits for her amazing 1″ hexi project…

The outcome of all this sorting and tidying is a huge number of project ideas. There is so much scope to use what is here for many exciting things. Added to these ideas are the new techniques I have been researching over the summer. I want to dye my own fabric with my senior girls and I also want to add fabric stamping into some of the applique pieces we are about to undertake this term ! I have a folder with all my ideas in it .. my magic folder !

I love been more organised, but it has made me remember how amazing lucky I am to be married to a man who has allowed me to build GillyMac and who supports all that I do every day.

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Why Don’t You …

I have no idea why it seems to be such a secret that to work with kids is just the best job (though teaching my two Thursday groups is a close run wonderful thing)!!  This Summer, I’ve had the pleasure to teach just over 60 children, either at home, on Young Quilters session, at the Festival of Quilts or a Claires Court Holiday Club. I am amazed it is so many!

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We have made mini quilts, appliqued pictures, zipped pencil cases, frogs and owls, as well as tote bags and tie dye’d T-shirts. There are lots of pictures on my ‘Young Quilters’ page at the website.  Yesterday I looked at the cost of each activity per child. Ignoring my time, the cost was less than £4.60 per child per activity for each of the activities, except for tie dying where we created fabric bags as well as dyed T-shirts all in one session, but even that was only £7.  So the cost is not much really at all, yet everybody seemed to have a brilliant time.

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It’s not just the cost though, it’s opening their little minds to what they can really do. What they achieve can be all their own work and can be beautiful, brilliant and useful. It doesn’t need to be another thing that has to be sneaked into the bin, but it can be something you, they, friends or family can use or keep forever.

By mid-Summer I had created the classes for my after school groups. I am still reeling from their success at the Festival of Quilts and wanted to build on that. This term we are making bed runners (like table runners, but for the end of a bed with pockets for teddies and books), and we will be doing a variety of applique pictures. Later on in the term we will be doing some microwave dying and fabric stamping across to create our own fabric designs to use. I am also planning activities for 1/2 term at Claires Court Holiday club …so keep an eye out for that.

image1 (9)I am hoping that by the end of the year I will have a “Why Don’t You” page on my website. For those of us of a certain age there used to be TV programme in during the school holidays called “Why Don’t You” that encouraged children to get off the sofa (it would be ‘away from the computer’ now) and do something more interesting instead… I thought I could share my low cost makes and ideas to try and inspire even more creativity ! So watch this space !!