So, guess what! This is the first time ever, in my whole life, that I have written a blog. It’s exciting (for me at least) and, with a bit of luck and a following wind, enjoyable for you. Shall I tell you a tiny bit about me? I’m a crafter! I’ve been crafting, one way or another since I was a little girl, which was a very, very long time ago!!! Sometimes husbands, children or work have slowed me down but, like flotsam, crafting has a way of floating back to the surface.

Recently I was crazy enough to move house at the same time as I retired, so initially, all that lovely free time was spent painting, decorating, constructing units, gardening etc etc etc. Having survived the ‘best’ of my homemaking I was casting about in 2017 for things to keep me out of mischief – I call it the year of my ‘Ps’ because I began with PILATES (which I highly recommend for quilters – great for the arms, shoulders, back etc), then a little later I started a POTTERY and sculpture class (creative and relaxing) and finally in September a new friend introduced me to PATCHWORK and quilting. My hat trick was complete!!!

Since the autumn, I’ve ventured into a few ‘quiltie’ things but, as yet, I haven’t finished a project (I just know I’m not alone here)! And I certainly didn’t mean to design a pattern – my head is just full of ideas which I make a little note of if they persist for longer than the memory of a goldfish. Luckily, we have lots and lots of feathered visitors to the garden, both to feed and to nest, so it was only natural that I would be thinking about bird houses at the same time as I was making my first forays into piecing and quilting. The Birdhouse Carousel is the result of those musings.

Original drawing of the Birdhouse Carousel

Although I am new to all this malarkey, for some strange reason I haven’t let that stop me. So, there will be talk of using templates and foundation piecing as well as choosing fabrics. I’ve also included some reverse appliqué (which I’d never even heard of before I joined the UKQU facebook group) as well as the usual sort of appliqué. There’s a bit of ‘stuffing’ and embroidery and some ideas to personalise the Birdhouse Carousel. Like all good projects though (remember Blue Peter) I began by making myself some templates out of clean pizza boxes and used these to cut out freezer paper shapes.

Templates made from cardboard

I wanted to use a different fabric for each Birdhouse, so that’s 20! But it wouldn’t be a problem to use a selection of 10 or even 5 fabrics. And if you want to bust your stash you could even do this!

Example of  a scrappy birdhouse

I’ve done mine in purple (of course) but different colours do contribute to a different flavour. It’s fun to select for seasonal differences such as spring or Halloween, or just to choose for a person or a colour scheme.

Example of a Halloween colourway

My background is just one piece of fabric 25 inches square, ready to shape up later to 24 inches square. But no reason why the background material couldn’t also be pieced. I would suggest not too many pieces, and preferably of similar colour value, so as not to distract from the Carousel itself. As I didn’t really know what I was doing at this point (I’m often in this state lol) I cut all my Birdhouses full size after ironing freezer paper templates to the wrong side of the fabrics.

Freezer paper templates ironed on fabric

Actually, this gave me a chance to adjust and re-arrange my birdhouses until I found a balance of colours that I could manage with my fabrics. Also that ‘black & white’ trick was enormously helpful with this.

Mono image for colour value

For some reason, cutting the birdhouses down to their various sizes was quite exciting. I suppose, for the first time, I was beginning to see what this evolving project might be like!

Birdhouses cut to size

The Birdhouse ‘holes’ have been reverse appliquéd as I wanted them to really recede into the darkness. I’ve never done this before but I didn’t find it too difficult, just a little bit fiddly, and I fussy cut the insets for best effect too. I tested the technique first on a circle and I quite liked it so decided to use that piece for my central ‘garden’ (see later photos).

Reverse appliqued  birdhouse ‘holes’

Strips of picket fencing were turned and appliquéd before attaching the whole Carousel to the background fabric. I really wanted to make sure it would all go flat at this stage, although I realise some of these stages may seem a bit back to front for those who are more experienced! Now to the stuffing and embellishments – this is a good way to use up your scraps of batting. I stuffed bits and pieces as I went along, starting with every other Birdhouse (in other words the smallest ones) with a low level of padding and close quilting so that the fabrics laid relatively flat.

Close-up of picket fence

I’m working my way round to the medium and tall Birdhouses – and you guessed it, I’m not finished yet!! I’m having fun though, stuffing these much more fully and popping on roofs, chimneys etc to add a bit more life. The ‘garden’, inside the picket fence, is in the process of being embroidered – flowers, birds the usual stuff. But this centre really lends itself to being seasonalised or personalised. I was delighted when I found that a ‘second wedding anniversary’ was symbolised with fabric – so what a delightful gift that would be! If you were doing one for Easter just make a nest in the centre circle and appliqué some eggs in there, perfect! Birthday or retirement wishes and messages of love are always appreciated, but house numbers are also nice! I’m going to add an embroidered snail as my (grown up) daughter loves them.

The state of play so far

When the pieced, padded and embroidered top is finished (this might still take some time) it will be sandwiched with batting and a backing fabric. At this point I’m not sure how I will quilt it but (message to self) must be careful not to overdo! Most probably I’ll just tie them and do some FMQ on the background. Will certainly have to shape some birdies in the sky too, and maybe some fluffy clouds. I’m intending to make my Birdhouse Carousel into a cushion cover but I guess it could be a wall hanging or a table centre or even the middle of a bed quilt. It’s just such a lot of fun making it and trying various techniques (some I think I might have made up myself). I think it’s just great to try, even if (like me) you don’t really know what you’re doing at the start, and I encourage you all to do that! Happy quilting and crafting to everyone.