I’m not one to shy away from a challenge, and so I jumped at the chance to be part of the UKQU blog hop – especially when the theme was flowers. I instantly knew what flowers I would choose – tulips.

The inspiration for my flowers and leaves came from bobbin lace making. Back in 1994 I was able to join a group of ladies (together with a few men – young and old) on a trip to Barcelona, for the OIDFA Lace Making conference. As one of the delegates, I was able to get the pattern book from the conference. The book contains patterns submitted by some famous names in the lace-making world. In it, I found a pattern for tulips, and a few years later I started working on the pattern (after I’d finished university). I remember looking in plant books for pictures of tulips (home computers with internet were not very common, and when you used the internet you couldn’t use the phone – I’m sure there are quite a few of you out there who remember those times!), and being amazed at the variety of colours and shapes.

Bobbin lace flowers I made, including a few of my own design. The red on in the middle is made to the original pattern.

For my block I started with the bobbin lace I had made – I looked at the original piece, and then the subsequent tulips I had made; even then I was adapting patterns to make each flower unique. I saw that I had designed a bud shape / less open tulip; my plan had been (and possible still is) to create a picture of a field of tulips of different shapes and colours. These suited my needs for the appliqué block, and I drew round them and the leaf shapes and cut them out. I also drew some more buds, altering the size to fit in with the rest of the flowers.

Drawing around the bobbin lace tulips I had made

The lace patterns I drew out and then pricked to give more variety

I also consulted the internet for tulip and leaf shapes and colours, saving pictures and printing them for reference later on; this is my preferred method of research. I could just save them all on a computer and look at the screen, but I find that having images printed is an easier way for me to work. It is the way I have researched designs and ideas for quilts, wall-hangings and challenge pieces previously.

Inspiration printed out, as a reference guide

The next step was to try to put down on paper what I wanted my block to look like. This was more difficult than I expected it to be, as I am not much of an artist with pencil and paper. I roughly drew some ideas, and then I had a bit of a light bulb moment; I had the shapes that I had already cut out and I placed them on a sheet of A3 and drew round them, adding more elements over the top, and removing those that didn’t fit in. The flowers went on first, and then I started to add the stems and leaves.

The initial stages of the final version
A bouquet – but how to get the bow right was the issue, and thinking about how it would look on a 12 inch square
A field of tulips was my first idea – but this seemed like too much work!

I ended up with what looked like quite a messy sketch, but it was something to work with. I used biro and OHP pen (having been a teacher when we had OHPs – Over Head Projectors – I still have pens that work, 20 years after buying them) to define the pattern. The OHP pen made it very easy to see the pattern through the fabric, and also to create a ‘clean’ reverse copy – one without all the pencil marks and rubbing out.

I selected some favourite fabrics I wanted to use for the tulips; fossil ferns and batiks work particularly well here, as does Moda Grunge – this goes for the flowers and the leaves. I used a few others as well, using those with small prints and prints that would not stand out too much. The fabrics selected reflect the variation in colours found in tulips.

I have tried various types of appliqué in my time; using bondaweb, raw edge, needleturn, using freezer paper. Each of them has their place, but I have come to love and appreciate back-basted needle turn appliqué. The main difference of this method is that the pattern is drawn on the back of the background fabric, so there are no pattern lines on the right side of the fabric. You pin the fabric you are applying to the right side of the fabric, making sure it covers the area you want, and then baste / tack it following the pattern lines on the wrong side of the background fabric. You then turn the background over to the right side, and removing the tacking stitches one or two at a time, needleturn the pieces to attach them. The tacking stitches leave little holes that act as guides as to where to turn under the seam of the applied piece, and where the needle needs to go down in the background fabric. The instructions with my pattern show this in more detail, with photos, and like for so many things these days, an internet search will provide a wealth of places to look for more information and tutorials.

I am indebted to Jo Colwill of Cowslip Workshops for showing our group how to do this type of needleturn appliqué back in 2012 / 2013 (I forget the exact year, but know it was one of those two). Jo does classes to teach how to do this type of appliqué, and they can be found on her website. At the time of writing I can see one class taught by Jo including appliqué, but do check back as I’m sure she will be adding more in time.

It is by far my favourite way to do appliqué for a variety of designs, as you can get very sharp points, and curves really are curved – none of those steps in them. Like any method, practise makes perfect; it is not a very quick method but I find it quite therapeutic. Perhaps it is not so quick for me as I like to leave the tacked pieces in place for a day or so, so that the holes where the tacking is stay in place. It is something that I can do while watching TV in the evening, and not so fast-paced as other projects.

I hope you like this block – using whichever method of appliqué you prefer. I like the idea of adding some embroidery to the flowers – perhaps some vein lines, or maybe even playing with Inktense pencils to add some details in. Whatever and however you decide to do this block, have fun!