This is the story of a present for a special birthday.

Last year a dear friend was about to celebrate her 90th Birthday. Now this isn’t something that happens every day and I was in a complete panic about a suitable gift. She didn’t need anything for the house, she would be well catered for with food and drink at the party. Flowers didn’t seem to quite hit the spot and my good ideas cupboard was completely empty. At least I had a few months to sort something out. However, after spending my life as a designer I knew how quickly time could disappear, especially if I didn’t make a decision about what I was going to do.

She would say not to worry about a gift, because she is lovely, which seemed to make it more important that I came up with something.

So I began to try and work out what may be important to someone of that age. Comfort was the first thing that came to mind so a cushion maybe ?? I have made loads of cushions, so that didn’t seem to be too daunting, and was about the right size of gift. However it would have to be some sort of special cushion. I now know a lot more about silk than I did then and would probably not use it now, but it is regarded as something special so I went and got some raw silk and a feather filled cushion pad.

Feeling that I had spent a suitable amount of money I got to work cutting out the square for the cushion cover. I had seen Lady Hamilton’s silks on her bed on the Victory and wanted to get a bit of that antique feeling into the finished article (My friend lives in Portsmouth). I found a very traditional quilting pattern (Feathered Heart) and, using a light box and pens which disappear with heat, I traced this onto the front of the cushion cover.

I then started to embroider the 90 flowers which I had decided was going to be the special touch. I roughly sketched out the outlines or middles for placing the flowers and tried to randomise the colours. I got about half way through then left it for a while, picking it up again about a month later remembering I had a deadline.

I go to a Sunday group at Midsomer Qulting. A very friendly and supportive environment where it is nice to share projects, problems and progress. It was at this group I finally admitted I was running into problems. I am great at jumping into things and hoping I will swim, well this time I had to get my friend Birgitta to throw me a lifeline. (She is wonderful, and can answer the trickiest questions.) “Birgitta, I am making holes in the silk”, “Why don’t you back it up with something ?”, “I didn’t think of it and I don’t want it going stiff” “Wait there”. She came back with something like thistle down (apparently it’s ultra-soft iron-on binding). This solved all my problems, enough body to stop me making holes, but soft enough to retain the quality of the silk.

Who can spot the deliberate mistake? After the elation of solving the holes problem had died down and I had started to enjoy doing the embroidery again I realised, in my excitement, I had ironed away all the careful pen marks defining the feathered heart !!!! As it happened, when I went home the tracer was still on the lightbox, so quite easy to repair !!

A couple of weeks later I bought a crewel embroidery book and almost the first paragraph explained the need to back up your fabric before starting the embroidery – now I find out ! Still, an enjoyable learning curve.

90 flowers a bird and a butterfly later I then, finally, got to do the quilting (by hand with Gutermann Hand Quilting Thread).

I am an old fashioned girl at heart and refuse to use zips. If anything is going to break, be it a cushion cover, a makeup bag or a pair of jeans, it will be the zip. So I make foldover cushions (like pillow cases) with buttons to hold them closed.

I was cheeky and entered it into our town show before it was delivered and it came first in the cushions section, so I am proud of that.

It is loved, so well worth the effort. I have some silk and the binding left and have just found out how to do quilt as you go in a way that makes sense to me, so I may be tempted to create more panels as part of the vintage-style quilt I always mean to be starting on.

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