Friday, 10 November 2017

The Lost and Found Fibonacci Patchwork Quilt

The Lost and Found Fibonacci Patchwork Quilt

I swim every day in the sea at Torre Abbey Steps in Torquay, often joined by other regulars who share the same enthusiasm and pitch up at the same time.  Topics of conversation are wide ranging but often refer to sea state, weather conditions and the inane comments that people make when passing.  There are only so many ways you can answer to "Is it cold in there?" or "you are brave"  My general response is to smile and reply nicely that the sea state is Caribbean......

Anyway one day I was talking, unusually off topic about my love of textiles and in particular the fibonacci quilts and waistcoats I created at Cockington Court. See  and A regular swimmer called Laird overheard the conversation and had a recollection of me teaching his late mother, Elizabeth over 25 years ago.  It was rather wonderful to recall to Laird what a clever and dedicated needlewoman she was.   I talked about the regular Tuesday group and how she added her enthusiasms and things we talked about.   We discussed the work she created and I could recall one very large hexagonal quilt which Laird had inherited and another wall hanging created using glazed cotton chintz that he did not recall.

This piece of work suddenly re-surfaced after he mentioned it to another family member.  It had been hiding, folded and unappreciated in a cupboard.  Laird showed me and it was a delight for me to see after all these years and wonderful that Laird has been reunited with a stunning piece of work so lovingly sewn by his late Mother. 

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Mind Cleansing. Letting go and passing on cherished possessions.

Mind Cleansing.  Letting go and passing on cherished sewing possessions. 

Today, feeling stressed, unwell and tired, my thoughts focused on the massive quantities of textiles and haberdashery I have collected over the years, most of it vintage and beautiful.

I ventured to an ottoman and opened a box to find numerous boxes and tins from the 1960's to 80's, Crawfords Petticoat Tails shortbread tin, Benson and Hedges cigarette pack, and a beautifully faded Christian Dior 'Miss Dior' perfume box plus a well preserved toffee tin, each containing buttons matched by size, colour, texture, most in miniature plastic re-sealable polythene sachets.  All with the good intention of being 'used one day'.  I cruelly cut corners off polythene bags so the contents fell into a modern plastic container ocean full of miscellaneous buttons, clasps, buckles and hooks and eyes

I know my mind will be cleansed and less cluttered if I pass on some of my cherished vintage beautiful haberdashery and textiles to people I know, who will appreciate, be creative and inspiring with stuff I will never ever have the time use.  Its time to let go and immediately, I feel better.  Its wonderful to mind cleanse.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Driven by negative thoughts whilst deep in the creative process.

As a year round sea/river swimmer and hiker often going out at night,  I was not happy with the range of hats on sale with the ability to be visible and keep head warm in the sea as well as a bit quirky and unique.  The answer was to design my own.

Last night I was working late into the night sewing on my machine making my new hi-vis neon swim/hiking hats.  Tweaking and improving the design before adding a range for sale.   Will probably need to make about 20 hats before I am happy with one I can use as a general template.  This is good news for my outdoor friends whom I will give the prototypes too!

Actually promoting my new hat range is not the reason of writing this blog post, the reason I am writing it is because late last night it occurred to me I was being driven by negative thoughts whilst deep in the creative process.   I was having thoughts about things that were highly personal, for example people who had upset me, recalling deeply unpleasant word by word conversations and actions, upsetting news concerning family and friends and past sad personal situations which only surface when deep in the creative process.   Thinking back to the start of my professional creative life in 1984, I recalled in each instance when developing something new and challenging,  my creative drive was coming from personal anxieties, angst and sad situations.  I was really surprised by this.  Has anyone else experienced it?

I would like to add that this emotion only occurs to me when developing something new, not when design is sorted.   Once design sorted, the creative process of making is always with calmness, positivity and happy thoughts.

Interesting stuff.

Images below of some of my new Hi-vis neon outdoor hats:  Each one is unique. Two pics of me wearing on Dartmoor a couple of days ago.  Further information will be posted on my website in due course:

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Working with chintz in patchwork and other sewing projects.

Working with chintz in patchwork and other sewing projects.

Chintz has been used in patchwork since 17th century when it was imported from India.   I started using chintz in 1984 after receiving a commission from Charles Hammond Ltd and have been using it ever since.  Unlike craft cotton it is covered in a thin layer of resin creating a glazed effect.  The colours are vibrant and rich and slightly harder to hand sew.  Use a sharp fine crewel needle.  

Whilst chintz is a wonderful fabric to work with it does have its disadvantages.  

If you are buying chintz for the first time compare the glaze and quality from brand to brand, in general the more you pay the better your fabric.  Locate quality soft furnishing showrooms or curtain makers.  In past I have brought excellent quality end of rolls in markets but these finds are few. Buying online can be tricky, always ask for samples before committing to an expensive purchase. 

Try the rip test, the harder the pull the stronger your fabric.  Some chintz snags when you rip and I have found these brands to be inferior.  If the fabric rips easily avoid.   Compare density, richness of colour and general feel. Some chintz feels thin and fine but has high density weave and high in gloss, I have known these to be excellent quality.  Some chintz sold as cotton almost feels like polyester, so perhaps it is. Avoid sateen because it is more loosely woven.  In the past I have asked for chintz and been sold sateen, its something to watch for.  

If you are making an item that needs washing avoid red as it tends to bleed. Wash all your chosen fabrics first because chintz does shrink a bit and poor quality chintz looses its glaze.  Pre-washing is not necessary if making wall hangings or items that will not be washed.  The benefit being retaining the lovely shiny glaze.

Chintz is notorious for creasing these creases are very difficult to remove.  To an extent you can remove a crease by using the hottest iron setting, spray with a fine plant sprayer filled with water and not the sprayer on your iron.  If ironing strips of chintz hold the fabric taught and iron as you go along, this seems to help a bit.  If this fails camouflage, yes camouflage, there is always a way around it!

To camouflage a crease:  the simplest way is to run a straight machine stitch over the crease whilst the fabric is in one piece then use as per normal.  I love the extra texture this gives and also the surprise of seeing it blend into work.  If using small patchwork shapes I would not bother with this method, although if the crease becomes irritating hand embroider over it.  Another way is to machine couch wool over a crease.

So to summarise, look for a nice shiny glaze, a strong feeling texture with plenty of vibrant colour.  
good quality chintz
machine couch wool over a crease

Left: chintz patchwork. Right craft cotton patchwork
single line of machine stitching hides the crease

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Do I need to spend time and money on a sophisticated website?

Do I need to spend time and money on a sophisticated website?

How much actual monetary value is gained spending time updating websites/social media?  I really wonder? My unsophisticated websites work fine, people email me,  can make purchases, phone to ask questions or arrange studio visits.  I achieve sales and people know where to find me.  Check these out if you are curious:,,

The question is:  Do I want spend time updating websites and social media to compete with the latest trends, promotions and flood the airwaves with more images, hashtags and comments or spend the time working on textile art, pushing creative boundaries, accomplishing work which is dimensional, tactile and pleasing to some eyes.

I felt angst and pressure this morning returning from a refreshing sea swim thinking,  "should I be doing tech updates on social media/websites this morning when really I wanted to crack on being creative with my hands." Opening my studio door I found the answer glaring straight at me.  Pinned on my noticeboard was my first business card circa 1983, it is handmade, two hexagons are covered in fabric in the traditional hexagon patchwork format and hand sewn together, then sewn onto the card.  The background was crudely spray painted using a gold aerosol and the words are handwritten. This basic form of communication predates the internet, served its purpose perfectly as I remember people saying to me "oh, I will keep that, thank you."  Result, some 34 years later my work goes from strength to strength.

I think this answers my question.  No, I do not need to spend time and money on a sophisticated websites.  My basic websites will do very nicely indeed.   I would like to point out this is my personal view which works for me.  

Jackie Wills, first business card 1983.

Monday, 24 October 2016

19th Century compared to 21 Century Traditional English Hexagon Patchwork.

19th Century compared to 21st Century Traditional English Hexagon Patchwork. 

 In this fast world of technology and advancement I think it is rather special the basic tools used to create traditional hexagon patchwork in the 19th century are still the same the 21st century.   Fabric, scissors, thread and paper templates were tools used then, just as they are now.   

Thoughts reflect to the scarcity of paper, the precious commodity of fabric and the availability of thread.  Another essential requirement for the sewers of the 19 century was light and eyesight. Electricity was not used until the late 1880's.  I guess to create beautiful stitches sunlight would have been the only option.   It is easy in this age to take for granted night time rooms filled with false light supplied by electricity and to purchase spectacles as eyesight changes as we get older.

The image above on the left shows a sample piece of hexagon patchwork sample dated 1857.

Fast forward to 2016, the tools and method are still exactly the same. Using modern gadgets like rotary cutters, seam rippers, freezer paper and technology to aid accuracy of preparing paper templates.

Back in the 1970's I used isometric paper to accurate create hexagon paper templates and is still my preferred choice. In the 19th century hexagons and other master shapes were made of wood or metal to draw around.  It was a family occupation, often the men taking care of the design process as the women sewed.

The choice of extensive fabric only a click away.  For me there cannot be a finer pleasure than sifting through my fabric stash to find the exact remnant for a chosen project as can be seen in the images below.  Vintage on left and Victorian on right.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Anonymous Chintz Patchwork Waistcoat by Jackie Wills

Anonymous Patchwork Waistcoat 

Last Saturday the postman delivered a large padded jiffy bag parcel with my name written in large felt pen, clearly not an online purchase!   I struggled to prise open the staples and peeped in side.  I could see a patchwork of strong chintz colours and embroidered thread, baffling but also a tad familiar.

The garment slipped onto the polished walnut table as I stared in silence and disbelief.   Yes, it was definitely a waistcoat  I created more than 20 years ago, inspired by the windows at Buckfast Abbey.

A beautifully typed letter slipped from  the garments folds.  Some of the words are reproduced below:

"Dear Miss Wills

We brought this waistcoat from you at an Exeter Cathedral Summer Fayre many years ago.  We couldn't bear to just give this to a charity shop.  It's a beautiful into which you clearly put a huge amount of time, effort, skill and devotion.  It's still in excellent condition so we are sending it back to where it will be still loved and appreciated.

With sincere thanks for this waistcoat and for the time it belonged to us.

Very best wishes


Anon, if you read this I am sincerely touched and hugely overwhelmed by your gesture,  I will keep it and wear it myself as it fits a treat!  A happy reminder of past stitches, time and creativity.

Thank you.