Give Cushions a Chance

I’m halfway through Book 5 of my ‘How to…’ series of craft books. The working title is ‘How to Design and Make Fabulous Cushions’ although that may change, as they usually do..

But, believe it or not, this blog post isn’t a sales pitch, it’s about my thoughts and sympathies for the humble cushion.

Cushions don’t even get a bad press. They’re more or less ignored. Lined up by the hundreds in department stores, dumped in trolleys and baskets, taken home, placed artfully on the matching sofa and never really noticed again – until it’s time to change the colour scheme.

As I’ve been writing, I’ve begun to realise that cushions don’t have to be dull, boring and unnoticed. They can be used for more than slouching, sleeping and receiving dribble. They can be fun, interesting, educational, inspirational and informative.

They can convey your feelings about your favourite possessions…

'Don't Mess With My Camper'

‘Don’t Mess With My Camper’

They can remind you of a favourite place…

My Favourite Tea Shop

My Favourite Tea Shop

They can remind you of those that are no longer with you…

A family photo quilt

A family photo quilt

They can remind you of your holidays…

What I Did on My Holidays

What I Did on My Holidays

They can remind you of where you used to live…

My Childhood Home

My Childhood Home

But cushions can also be an education aid for children and those with disabilities. At the Industrial Museum where I volunteer, we regularly have visits from groups of deaf/mute children and their carers. Children like this only have touch as a means of communication and, as I was told by several of their carers, tactile cushions and soft toys are an invaluable education aid.

So as I work through my book, I will be rethinking the role of the cushion and its place in modern living. If you have any ideas or thoughts on how cushions could take a more active role in our lives, I’d love to hear them.

All my craft books are available on Amazon in eBook format, and, by the end of this week, in print format. You can find details of these and get lots of free sewing tips and videos on my website at


How To Dye Your Own Fabrics – Why I Dye

Why Do I Dye?

I have been teaching machine sewing for over twelve years and have been dyeing my own fabrics for most of that time, both for my students and for my own creations.


My nearest, decent, fabric shop is an hour’s train ride away. They sell a wide selection of plain and printed fabrics in most of the well-known ranges, but often I cannot find exactly what I want. This is no reflection on the shop, but since I have discovered fabric dyeing, shop-bought fabrics seem pale and uninteresting. They just cannot deliver the zing that my home-produced, procion-dyed fabrics can.

The variety and intensity of the coloured fabrics you can produce are entirely under your control.

Wall hanging for the local Brickworks Museum shop

Wall hanging for the local Brickworks Museum shop

A Whole New World of Colour

When you visit a fabric shop, or even buy on-line, your choice is limited to whatever is on offer. But once you get the hang of dyeing, you can create whatever colour you want and even a good many that you didn’t want – at first…

One of the most exciting things about dyeing is the element of surprise. When you’re not in need of any particular colour and you just allow yourself to experiment, you will be amazed at what you can come up with. Some pieces you may not like at all, but you can change them. If you’re using a good quality fabric – and we’ll get to that in a minute – you can overdye any that are not quite your thing, until they’re just right.

A Safe and Easy Process

Dyeing is not difficult. There are chemicals involved, and a fair amount of mess, but with a bit of care and attention to detail, home dyeing is easily achievable by almost anyone. Very little specialist equipment is required and you probably have most of the general equipment already. Anything you don’t have can usually be picked up cheaply at a supermarket or discount store.


Commercially-dyed and printed fabrics are expensive and, as long as labour prices in the Far East continue to rise, the price will keep on rising. High quality mercerized cotton fabric, ready prepared for dyeing and printing (PFD), if you buy it in lengths of at least 10 yards (or metres), can work out at less than half the price, per metre, than commercial fabrics. And it is usually 60” wide; instead of the traditional 45” width of those you buy.

I buy my dyeing fabric, in 60m bolts, from a former mill town in the North of England. I am not under any misapprehension that it is woven there any longer, but it is heartening to be able to buy it in the same country!

Initial outlay for dyes and chemicals, can be quite expensive, but you need only three basic primary colours to begin with, and black. I say begin with, but I have been dyeing for over five years now and still only buy basic primaries and black. I may buy a different shade of primary occasionally to mix things up a bit, but I still prefer to experiment with mixing my own colours rather than buy ready-mixed.

The Procion dyes I buy are very economical and a little goes a long way, as you will find when you start to clean up after a dye session.

All the other equipment you will need is cheap and readily available, if indeed, you don’t have it already.

So give dyeing a go – you’ll love it!

This post is an excerpt from my new eBook ‘How to Dye Your Own Fabric’. If you’d like to get the book for yourself I’ve given you the link below:


How to Dye Your Own Fabric – Types of Fabric

Fabrics for Dyeing

The success or failure of any dyeing project depends largely on the fabric you choose. Fabrics come in a huge range of weights, constructions and compositions and it is very important to choose one which will give the best possible results for your project. Not only will this prevent you having to go back and repeat the whole process again but it will be a huge boost to your confidence in your ability to dye your own fabrics.

Fabric Construction

First, let’s talk a little about how fabrics are constructed and why some are suitable for dyeing and some aren’t.

Fabric generally falls into three types: woven. non-woven and knit.

Woven Fabrics

Woven fabric is the most commonly used for home dyeing. It is formed from two sets of threads, the warp, which runs lengthwise, and the weft, which runs widthways. Woven fabrics are available in simple or complex weaves. Simple weaves can be muslin, denim and some types of sheeting while complex weaves can be corduroy or towelling.

Examples of Woven Fabrics

Examples of Woven Fabrics

Non-Woven Fabrics

Non-woven fabric is generally defined as a set of threads or filaments which are entangled, by some mechanical means, and then bonded thermally or chemically. They are commonly made with by-products from the plastics and oil and petrochemical industries and are used for making very specific products. These can include single use, bacteria-resistant products for hospitals and schools, tea-bags and packaging. Non-woven fabric can be made with some recycled materials and does not require the raw materials to be turned into yarn before construction, so it considered to be quite ecologically friendly – but not great for dyeing.

Knit Fabrics

Knit fabrics can be divided into two types, warp knits such as tricot, which are generally used for t-shirts, and weft knits, which are generally hand or machine-knitted. The main difference between the two is that weft knits unravel when cut but warp knits, while they may fray a little, don’t unravel.

Examples of hand-knitted fabrics

Examples of hand-knitted fabrics

Knit fabrics can be dyed providing they are made from plant-based fibre such as cotton, rayon or hemp, or protein fibres such as wool, alpaca or mohair.

Get the Book

This post is taken from my new eBook ‘How to Dye Your Own Fabric’. If you’d like to get the book for yourself I’ve given you the link below:

How to Make a Living From Crafts – Part 4 – Group Sessions and Parties

In these posts, I want to share some of the main points of my ebook, ‘How to Make a Living From Crafts’ with you. The book is available on Amazon and I’ve given you the link at the bottom of the page.

You can also catch my trailer video at:

Group sessions – (sewing sessions that is!) are a great way to earn some extra income for your craft business and a great way to give customers a great day out. The traditional hen night where everyone gets roaring drunk and makes a fool of themselves seems to be becoming less popular. Lots of hen groups are looking for themed days where making or doing something as a group will be a day to remember instead of a day forgotten the next morning… I have had several hen parties of between 6-10 people come along for a full day on a Saturday. One group made a couple of  patchwork squares each which I then helped them join into a wedding quilt for the bride. One group wanted to learn how to make Roman blinds so they could help the bride furnish her new home.

How to Make a Living From Crafts has this to say about Group Sessions:

You might also be able to offer special rates for groups or parties of friends. Offering workshops to readymade groups has many benefits. You will instantly have a full class, which has saved you a lot of time and advertising costs. The members of the group already know each other and are likely to tell other friends and groups. You may even find that some of the group want to join your regular weekly sessions.

But it doesn’t have to be a special occasion. Some groups of friends just want to get together and do something different from their usual hobbies. I had one group of upholsterers who, deciding they wanted one afternoon a week doing something other than cover chairs, booked a 6-week session on curtain-making.

I’ve just given you a flavor of my book ‘How to Make a Living in Crafts’ in my posts as it is too long to reproduce completely but if you want to buy the book in it’s entirety, here’s the link:

Front Cover3

If you’re in the US:

or if you’re in the UK:

New Year, New Cushion!

As a brit, born and bred, I love heraldry. The pomp, the colours, the designs. So after a few visits to Salisbury cathedral and a few books from the library exalting the beauty of Minton Gothic revival tiles (the copies of which can be seen on the floor of the Cathedral Chapter house where the Magna Carta is on display), I just had to make a few cushions.

When I have a fabric dyeing session, there are, for some reason, always a lot of golds, oranges and yellows which I don’t always know what to do with. Here was the answer.

I am also very fond of the rusty wine red colour obtained by mixing 85% red, 10% yellow and 5% blue procion dye in solution.

So after much printing, photocopy enlarging and cutting out of lion fur shapes, not to forget of course a flurry of free embroidery, here are the results.

Should I have a fanfare here? Imagine that!

Set of two Heraldic Lion Cushions

Set of two Heraldic Lion Cushions

The cushions are edged with a diagonally striped piping cord which I made by sewing together loads of 1″ wide strips and then cutting them into bias strips, joining them keeping the pattern straight and making them into piping. If you do this, make enough for several cushions as it’s a pain!!

There are hundreds of heraldry images out there and I’m planning to use them in fabric and glass. Oh you can see my heraldic glass efforts at .

Thanks for reading.

More on Embroidery

After a myriad of computer problems during which I probably deleted some vital element that I shouldn’t have – which consequently stopped me being able to download photos onto my blog – I’m back. A little slower than I was (only in a technological sense of course!) but definitely here.

I’ve been working on some new embroideries and, since I very recently sold my over-engineered Bernina 830 embroidery machine, doing them all on a Bernina 230. This is a base level machine which has proved to be a very dependable free-arm embroidery tool. I don’t know why I ever bought the 830. I’ve never been that interested in programmed embroidery or fancy stitches but I do have a weakness for gadgets – that is until I realise their limitations and get fed up with them!

Anyway enough of the technology. Back to the embroidery…

I am still currently practising, using pen-and-ink drawings from books and the internet as inspiration for the embroidered line, but would really like to be using my own photographs. But therein lies the problem. Buildings in photographs do not have that  hard line around them and adding it in the right place to bring the scene to life – in textiles – is proving a little challenging. I have considered joining an art course to learn pen-and-ink techniques but am not sure if this is really the solution. I would be interested in hearing if any of you have encountered these problems and how you got round them.

Here are a few of the pieces I have been working on lately:

Will be spending some time over the weekend trying to turn some of my seafront photos into pen-and-ink images and subsequently embroideries. Wish me luck!

An Embroidered Town

A busy day today with my chef daughter home for the weekend and a trip to see possibly Johnny Depp’s worst film to date – Dark Shadows…

A sewing-filled day yesterday saw the completion of my Ptolemy Dean – inspired cushion using fabric instead of paint for shadows. Here’s the result:

A Cobbled Street in Rye, Sussex

As you can probably see I did resort to using some fabric paint for the deepest street shadows and the rolling hills behind the buildings. But even though it blends in reasonably well, I think fabric may have been more subtle and blended in better. What do you think?

Rye Cushion Detail

Very much enjoyed doing this cushion and love the way the black embroidery thread emulates ink pen.

As it was such a large area, and because my perspective was a little off in the watercolour version I tried earlier, I used a dressmaker’s fading pen to sketch in the angle of the buildings first.

I then cut out all the shadow pieces from subtle shades of hand-dyed fabrics and applied steam-a-seam to the back of them. I will use the lite version next time as the strong version does make the whole piece a little stiff and gums up the embroidery needle!

I then stitched, for quite a few hours until my back hurt. Another problem with the Bernina 830 is that it is so big and heavy that it is impossible to chock up the back with a hardback book without worrying that it is going to land in your lap – the machine that is, not the book.

The paint was added after all the buildings and windows had been stitched, dried with a hairdryer and then the cobbles and outlines of the hills added.

I have now made it into a cushion as I prefer to turn my artworks into something useful instead of something that is just decorative.

Hope you like the result