Making a Patchwork Bird Pond

Making a Patchwork Bird Pond

Around Easter time, our youngest son was home from London for a couple of days and it so happened that it was warm and sunny weather. He was lying on the grass in the middle of the garden while the rest of us were sitting on the terrace with our mid morning tea. All of a sudden he jumped up and declared ‘we should have a pond!’ and within 5 mins, he, along with my husband, had got the spades out of the garage and started digging.

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Yorkshire folk are renowned for their plain speaking, no nonsense way of doing things. I am not so good at this! Probably because I like writing and creating and all sorts of chattery nonsense really. But....being a 'recycling' kinda gal who believes 100% in using up and making everything pretty ... AND in order to not feel too bad about the amount of fabric in my sewing room...I decided today, to dig deep and have a go.

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Adventures in Dress Making with Alabama Chanin

Adventures in Dress Making with Alabama Chanin

So excited to write about this one - really, I cannot tell you how much.......Where to the very beginning, I suppose.   Last year, when I was finishing up my City & Guilds course, I was doing some research on 'reverse appliqué' and confess I was rather unenthusiastic about this part of the module.  That was, until I came across 'Alabama Chanin'.   It opened up a whole new world to me and oh is just totally fabulous.

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Making embroidery Modern!

This is one of my mantras - I confess.  I know I have said it before, but I am always on a mission to 'Make Embroidery Modern'.  It is such a beautiful and creative medium to express yourself and what's more, its useful too.  This week an impromptu project came along that whipped itself up into a day of non-stop stitching.   The result .... well, I was pretty excited about it.

A few days before hand, I had been to visit Cliffe Castle Museum in Keighly.  This is a charming small museum set in a house that was once owned by the family Butterfield.  In the 19th Century, vast fortunes were made in the north of England with the Industrial Revolution making it the heart of textile production in the World.  The Butterfields were an example of a family that were at the centre of this.  As with all great family fortunes... the first generation is the exceptional one, taking the risk and developing the business.  The second generation exploit and enjoy it and the third generation usually squander it and the fortune having been spread around so many descendants is thin on the ground and finally fizzles out.  So it was here, but in the gilded age, Cliffe Castle was a magnificent residence that supported an opulent and dazzling lifestyle. 

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Henry Issac Butterfield was second generation son, who made Cliffe Castle a magnificent place.  Splitting his year between America (there were Roosevelt connections in the family through marriage) and Paris and Yorkshire, he bought expensive furniture and furnishings on his travels and shipped them home to create a mansion in true high victorian style.  

Overloaded with gilt and heavily carved and embossed items, the rooms are chokingly opulent.  Magnificent chandeliers and fireplaces are the centre pieces of rooms in which every surface is covered with pattern.

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There is a small but lovely collection of costumes on display and as I always find, I am drawn to those beautiful embroideries on silk that embellished the bodices and waistcoats of the late 18th and early 19th century.

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Things were so much prettier in those days (if you were rich of course) and I love how the women were so feminine.  I looked at my jeans in despair!!!  That evening, I came home and browsed through my small collection of historical costume books, which frankly make much better reading than the fashion magazines of today.  Then something else happened. 

 We booked a last minute trip to Venice for a few days to celebrate our wedding anniversary.  Like all of us girls are prone to do....I flew into a not having anything nice to wear.  It is quite a while since we took a trip like this to a warm and sunny and exotic place and my wardrobe was sadly rather more geared up to windy and chilly Yorkshire days.  I dashed into our local town where we have a delightfully old fashioned department store called Harveys.  They have a fabulous selection of lovely and unusual clothes that aren't geared up for 20 year old stick insects and you even get wonderful customer service.  I picked up a few items and amongst them was this white linen tunic made by Phase Eight - which is actually easily available everywhere and not expensive.   I love White fabrics and although I sometimes get a bit cross with all the creasing that goes on with linen, I found the style of this top so appealing and comfortable that I bought it and knew the second I put it on, what it needed.   EMBROIDERY!

I began a little cautiously.  A few lazy daisy flowers in 12 weight cotton thread.  A couple of leaves followed and dispelled all inhibitions - I sewed and sewed all afternoon and into the dusk.  All the stitches used are basic embroidery stitches, most of them self taught from a book or Youtube.

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 Colonial knots (much better than french knots bye the way), Button hole stitch, Split Stitch and a simple Back Stitch were the basis for the design.   Drawing a rough outline with a fabric maker pencil helps to position your flowers, but otherwise just let your imagination run away with you. The great thing about doing something like this is that you can be as whimsical or as real as you like.  I mean 'a turquoise dandelion' - how lovely is that to wear around your neck?


I chose fresh and cheerful colours and I think the result is a sort of modern version of the all those 18th century costumes I love so much.  In fact, we are the lucky ones really... we don't have to wear all those 'take your breath away' corsets and strangling collars and frills and flounces.  We can simply take the best of it and translate it onto our own more modern, washable, breathable items of clothing.  

This little project has brought me so much joy and I can't wait to wear it, hopefully languishing on a gondola!!!!!


Next time, Alice in Wonderland....I promise. Love Ruby x

Snowy Days and a Winter Solstice Quilt

Our first January in our new home has brought us some lovely snowy days up here in the Yorkshire hills.  I suppose after overseas postings in Russia and Sweden, you could say that we are used to it and we are, but in fact in both cases, we were living in cities, in countries that are geared up for dealing with it - Yorkshire...not so much....LOL!   Actually, that is a bit unfair... the gritting lorries have been out and about, it is just that we live on a hill and with no winter tyres on the car... time to stay home and sew.   I do love those early morning moments though, when I glance out of the kitchen window and see this.....


 and even in this cold... signs of life in our garden

 Anyway, was in my sewing room, working on my embroidered cushion, when I spied our mischievous cat, Basil skulking into the basket under my sewing machine table and lounging around on my unfinished 'Winter Solstice' quilt.   When I chased him out, I saw it was completely covered in cat fur and he has obviously been sneaking in there without me knowing.   Time to get it out and finish it, I think.

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I started this quilt last year in Stockholm while we were waiting for the house purchase to go through.  I was totally enamoured with this fabric collection 'Winter's Lane' and knew it was perfect to go in our bedroom.  It also had elements in the design that would remind me of Sweden... and in fact the cherry blossom fabric, reminded me of Japan where we took an amazing holiday in 2012.   I blogged about this when I was piecing it, but just to  recap - the pattern I chose is from one of my all time favourite quilting books 'Simply Retro' by Camille Roskelley, who is probably one of the most popular modern designers out there at the moment.

It is a very large quilt - king size, I suppose and once layered with the backing and batting it is heavy and bulky to manoeuvre.  Of course, I wanted it to look like the one in the book, which has probably been done on a long arm machine by a professional quilter - mmmmmm!  I do like a challenge though - ok so let's go for it!

I chose a free hand feather design for the patterned pieces and a curvy diamond with stippling to fill in the blank squares.  I simply used a plate to outline the shape in pencil and stitched it with the free motion quilting foot on my machine.

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 I have to say that having the extra long arm space on my new Janome sewing  machine made a huge difference to this.  It is still a bit rough on the neck and shoulders, but I am pretty pleased with how it's going so far.  

It's not quite finished and I shall be post some photos when it's done and 'in situ'.  Got to dash now though as we are off to Houston, Texas for a week or so.   Super excited and especially as I will get to meet up with my dear friend and quilting teacher from way back in Paris... and I know she has a very special quilt to show me.... so watch out for that next time.... oh .. and the Alamo...... better go and pack....

See you soon, Ruby x

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But where was Mr. Darcy??????

England has been basking in unseasonably warm weather.  It is absolutely glorious up here in the Yorkshire Hills and easy to find inspiration for alsorts of projects.  However, a little exploration both on the internet and the winding country roads, enabled us to find a hidden 'gem' of house that was just bursting with history and treasures and ideas for embroidery.

Nostell Priory is a magnificent Georgian House, nestled in the Yorkshire countryside.  Built between 1733 and 1785, it is just the sort of place that you imagine Jane Austen's heros and heroines would be quite at home in.  Infact it is constructed on the site of a 12th century monastery that was destroyed in our 'ever notorious' King Henry V111's rampage and reformation.  In 1654, a wealthy family of textile merchants by the name of Winn, bought the land and existing dwelling and ruins with 'big big ideas' for a new country house.  After the upset of the english civil war, the savy Winn's backed the winning side and the King and in return, were rewarded with a 'baronetcy' to sit nicely with their growing fortune and estate.  The architect James Paine would work on the house for 30 years to create a Rococco feast!! 

In 1765, the title passed to a new generation in the Winn family and as it always goes, the new baronet - now established in the world of aristocracy and fantastic wealth, married a beautiful Swiss lady who came along with her own grand fortune and even grander ideas.  This fashionable couple insisted on nothing but the best and employed the great interior designers of the day - Robert Adam and Thomas Chippendale to make sure that their home had one of the greatest collections of fine furniture and georgian style in the country.  Many of these original bespoke items are still in the house today and it is completely 'splendid'.

The ceilings had a 'wow' factor for sure and I loved this mixture of colour and shapes.

Fireplaces too, had beautiful details on them - oooooh, I think this one especially is cool for use in applique, don't you think?

The library was perhaps our favourite room...

There's an idea in there for sure and there were amazing textiles everywhere....

The gardens too, were magnificent and on such a glorious day it was bathed in autumn sunshine and perfect for some photographic shots.

Not sure about that bridge though!! especially in long petticoats!!!!  

The back yard!!!

And finally my favourite shot of the day - the bulrushes ......


So where is my notebook?.......ah there it is and a little doodle design inspired by my day.

I know exactly what I am going to do with that, but you will have to pop back in a while to see.  Oh and incase you are interested - working with circles is so much fun with a few helpful tools - Circular template rulers by Lori Holt of 'Bee in my Bonnet' and a whole ring of mega useful plastic discs called 'Bigger Perfect Circles' by Karen Kay Buckley, all of which are available at  

Bye the way, Nostell Priory is owned and run by the National Trust today and you can find more info about it on their website if you should get a chance to visit.   I have to say that after years of living abroad, the National Trust is really a National Treasure - I am not sure there are many other countries in the world that do this sort of thing as well as they do.  I probably never told you about the times I visited 'Arckangelskoye' in Russia - the once grand country house of Felix Yussopov.... and wished the National Trust was there to rescue it.  But that's a whole other story...maybe next time.  Meanwhile, it was a totally glorious day at Nostell, but really...... the main question of the day was......where or where was Mr. Darcy? LOL!  Ruby x

'Oh to be in England now that Autumn is here....'

I think Robert Browning got it wrong - Autumn is the time.   Living in the cold climes of Russia and Sweden, it is easy to forget how the seasons weave their magic in England.  One thing about living away for so many years is that we get to appreciate our country from a completely different perspective now that we are back.    I find myself thinking that England is a beautiful country with such a gentle landscape and I had simply forgotten how lovely english gardens are.  The colours, the sheer variety of plants and flowers that flourish in our mild climate and the long rolling lawns that englishmen cherish so much - it is all still here and now that the general chaos of moving and all the comings and goings of summer are over, we can settle down to consider where we have landed and what we would like to do with it.

We are so lucky to have such a beautiful garden which has lots of different areas to enjoy.


There is one area of the garden that is about to become a major new project!


Used by the previous owners as a children's play area, this little sunken garden lends itself to all sorts of possibilities.  But we have an idea......!!!!!

Two years ago we took a trip to Japan.  I loved every single day there, but most of all, I loved the Japanese gardens of Kyoto.  Famous throughout the world for their sense of calm and order, the zen rock gardens are particularly striking.  Don't you think this would be a great idea?  Need to do some planning and research for this project, but hope you will follow our progress on's going to be an adventure.

I love how the colours of our landscape change and for sure this time of year yields spectacular pickings for a fledgling photographer like myself who is searching for inspiration to turn into embroidery projects.  Today was one of those warm sunny late September days that just called out for a few snapshots. In amongst them were some stunning details.


and my favourite photo of the morning....

Its amazing too how nature allows clashes of colour to flourish together.  Having taken these pics, I wanted to use them in a sort of mashed up collage for a possible embroidery design.
I am not an artist by any stretch of the imagination, but these days I just don't worry about that anymore - there is such freedom to just interpret these things in your own way and textiles and thread allow you to experiment with shapes and forms to make new patterns in an individual style.   I used some of the imagery from my photos to try put together  an embroidery design.



I have never really tried this before and think it's really fun.  I wonder how it will look if I stitch it on linen or maybe on top of a cotton print.....ooooh I have never tried that before... Ruby x








Crossing a line

This week, I feel as if I crossed a line with something unexpected - Cross stitch.  But let me back up a sec.... it would seem that I have been preparing for our return to England, way way longer than I realised.  As I unpacked endless boxes,  I discovered that I had been picking up things  here and there on our travels, dreaming of the day when we would have our own home.   One of the things that I found in a yet another box (there were rather alot!!!)  labeled dubiously 'sewing room' was this linen hand towel with a blank peice of aida along the bottom for cross stitch.  I know where I bought it - about 5 years ago, in a beautiful little shop in the picturesque town of Marly-Le-Roi, which is near Versailles, called 'Justin Petite Point' - You can check out their blog for ideas.  I also know why I bought it - I liked the dark red trimming (of course), but I have to say I am not a great fan of cross stitch, even though it was how I began with embroidery.  On discovering it though, I felt compelled to use it - new rule 'No stuff to be left in boxes, everything must have a use or it GOES'!!!! mmmmmm......   So it wasn't difficult to decide what to do with it.  I stitched the name of our new home in matching thread.   I used a fancy alphabet from this rather lovely book...also a french purchase.

The french actually do 'cross stitch' way better than anyone else.  First of all they call it 'Petite Point' which not only sounds prettier, but usually is.  I think they generally work on a smaller scale and it all looks totally wonderful.  Also, cross stitch fabric is generally very hard wearing and once embroidered it is really quite a durable thing that I suspect would stand up to much wear and washing. 

I wanted to put a small picture of our house in the middle and actually this proved much easier than I anticipated.  I browsed the internet a little and there is a wealth of ideas and material out there to help you decide on what to do and how to stitch the windows etc.  Our house is a pretty straight forward design really and once I got the colours right - it was done in an evening.  Then to cover up all the  'not all that neat' back of the fabric, I decided to add a fabric backing which would show alittle at the bottom. I cut a strip of fabric 1" wider than the towel and folded the shorter edges over twice and pressed them so that it was then the same width.  Then I machined along the bottom edge, right sides together.  I pressed it and made a fold at the bottom edge so that about half an inch was showing.  Then I hand sewed the sides and turned over the edge on the back and hand sewed that down too, as I didn't want anything showing on the right side.

I machined a double row of stitches along the bottom border to firm it all up and it was pretty much done.  I know I had a ready made towel, but actually it would be a simple thing to make.  Just take a peice of linen, a strip of aida and some pretty trimming and ribbon.  The measurements are 22" by 33.5".  One other thing that is really rather handy is that on the back, stitched on the diagonal top corner is a peice of tape for hanging the towel up - it works perfectly....such a great idea.


Whether or not I really want anyone to actually use it..... well, that's something else....but in general I have to say that I am now looking at cross stitch in a rather different light.  Also in the box was a long piece of aida ribbon ... have to think about what to do with that!!!  meanwhile it's a lovely summers afternoon....time for a spot of gardening with my lovely shiny new red wheelbarrow.  Au revoir Ruby x