quilting & piping

I have been using our throw pillows as small studies in the fabric arts. They’ve enabled experiments in knife pleats and kissing pleats and smocking so far. I’ve had a terrible time with some stubborn ruffles on a piece which may never recover, though I’m going to see if a few rosettes will save the thing. I’ve been warming up my quilting skills on another placemat and then on a cushion, before taking on the large quilts, and decided to throw in a small lesson in piping, while I was at it. I’ve never tried piping, very exciting.

quilted & piped pillow © elisa rathje 2011

I used a wide bowl and some tailor’s chalk to draw out the pattern. If you like things to be very precise you could mark out lines first, but I’m both impatient and fond of a handmade sort of drift and wiggle. I’ve simply cut a piece of cotton quilting batting and pinned it in several spots behind the linen.

quilted & piped pillow © elisa rathje 2011

Come into my dim and grainy evening studio for a bit. I bought piping cord a whole year ago with good intentions. You’ll need to make or buy some very wide bias tape, as it needs to stretch round the corners of the pillow without puckering. Cut it long enough to overlap generously. Fold it around the cord and pin the cord into place along the fold.

quilted & piped pillow © elisa rathje 2011

This would be a good moment to switch to a piping foot or a zipper foot, to allow the needle to move along snugly beside the cord. I confess, having neither for my vintage machine, and not quite having the patience (hmmmm) to wait for dear friends to post me one (thank you!) I went ahead and sewed the piping anyway, with the foot moving along on top of the piping and the needle dropping in beside. I know. It did work, happily!

quilted & piped pillow © elisa rathje 2011

Pin the piping round the cover, raw edges together, easing the corners and then notching them with little triangle cut outs to help things stay smooth. Fold one edge of the piping, and when you get back around to it, tuck the raw edge inside it so that they overlap cleanly, and trim. There are some good resources for how to do this bit. Stitch round, as close to the piping as you can get.

quilted & piped pillow © elisa rathje 2011

I chose a slightly rougher, slightly darker linen for the back. I pinned the back of the cushion cover on to the front, right sides together, sandwiching the piping, and then sewed around again following the first line of sewing precisely, and stopping with enough space left to both turn the cover right side out, and stuff the pillow form into it. Best to choose what kind of closure you want in advance – I’m happy just to handstitch it closed and toss it in the wash if it encounters some messy little hands.

quilted & piped pillow © elisa rathje 2011

Quilted and piped!


After drinking tea and cordial, eating jellies and faerie cakes and little sandwiches at the birthday tea party, we settled into a bit of bookbinding.

bookbinding © elisa rathje 2011

My children are very fond of bookmaking and often appear at my elbow with a stack of papers. I thought it would be lovely to try sewing several signatures together in a traditional way. The roomful of children was a cacophony of threading needles and punching holes, the elder ones helping the younger.

bookbinding © elisa rathje 2011

We kept the cover very basic and simply glued some heavy patterned paper to the outer pages, and then sliced three sides to open the folded pages and clean up the whole book nicely. We’d punched some placecards for the table, using calligraphy to write everyone’s names; many of the children pasted theirs somewhere in or on their books. They turned out very well! Wonderful to see how everyone set to embellishing their book, filling it with drawings or stories, collage, deciding immediately what they’d use it for. Their effortless creativity is astonishing to witness.


Before the cold weather sets in and returns us to dark, chilly mornings of tending the fire, I wanted to sew our children a warm nightdress each. I’ve had some beautifully cosy organic cotton for quite some time.

nightclothes © elisa rathje 2011

They’ve been requesting these for months, and planning their design with me, something old fashioned and very simple, long and comfortable. My tall child wants to embellish hers with embroidery and lace as well!

nightclothes © elisa rathje 2011

Now that my studio is mostly in order, I pulled the fabric out and set to cutting two patterns. I cut a variation of the Molly Peasant pattern that I’d made a summer dress with. It is a child’s version of my own peasant frock, this time using three-quarter sleeves and a much longer hem. I cut the little one’s nightgown particularly large with a plan to adjust the elastic a year or so on, to give her a bit more time to wear it. My tall girl isn’t growing quite so rapidly, though she is set to overtake me and it won’t be long before I can sew the same pattern for the both of us!

nightclothes © elisa rathje 2011

I’ve shuffled my antique machine toward the window a bit, I like the odd corner it makes with the ladder to the little reading room in the rafters, but I haven’t quite decided how to organise the space I’ve left. What a pleasure to sew again, here! It takes me such a long time to return, but I adore it once I’ve begun and then a hundred projects are added to my list. Making this dress is really very easy, I highly recommend it!

nightclothes © elisa rathje 2011

I’ve finished one little nightdress, to keep our small one warm as she recovers from a fever. She’s very fond of it and wants to wear it all the time. I’ll assemble the tall one’s nightclothes next, I wish I had enough fabric to make a third for myself! And I think a pair of felted slippers would be just the thing to keep them through the cold months ahead, if I can figure out how to make them.

peasant dress

Well, it never ceases to amaze me how quickly I can make something that I’ve been putting off until I have more time. My dressmaking plans seemed really ambitious, yet I finished a simple peasant frock in an afternoon.

peasant frock

Easy to make and easy to wear.

© elisa rathje 2011

With the pattern cut out, I assembled the bodice and prepared the skirt, then tucked them right sides together to join.

© elisa rathje 2011

Not much to it after that but to thread elastic into the cap sleeves, neckline and empire waist, and secure.

Very simple, the best kind of homemade everyday dress. I might have to make a peasant dress every spring. It’s nice to see the investment in the pattern I bought for last year’s linen dress go a long way, just updating with fabrics and details.

I’m still considering a narrow ruffle for the hem, or lace, and I’ve cut out a couple of pockets to add to the front, as I like to carry around my trusty writing book and fountain pen. Now for the little-girl dresses!


Something about bunting is so joyful. I love garlands and pennants and flags. I spent some time gathering beautiful fabrics to make quilts and bunting for our children when they first had their own bedroom together. I sewed it in time for a birthday party, when we were living in London.

bunting-party © elisa rathje 2011

Just the thing for a little girl’s old fashioned tea party, with elderflower cordial, scones with jam devonshire cream, a sparkling raspberry jelly, and faerie cakes.
bunting © elisa rathje 2011
Gather lots of fabric, and a very long length of ribbon or bias tape. I cut a paper triangle the size and shape I wanted, folded the fabric in half, right sides together, then pinned the triangle with one edge along the fold. Keep in mind the pattern of the fabric and arrange how it will lie before you fold. Cut it out.
bunting © elisa rathje 2011
Jovial shapes and merry patterns! I sewed along the cut side, clipped the tip of the triangle a little, and turned it, making sure to gently poke that tip cleanly with a knitting needle. You can sew along the the folded side as well to give it definition, if you like, but I don’t see the difference unless I’m right up close.
bunting © elisa rathje 2011
Press them flat with lots of heat and steam. Such cheerful things, I think.
bunting © elisa rathje 2011
First decide on a pleasing arrangement of the flags. I like the fabrics to pick up on colours or patterns in their neighbours. Theme and variation. Pin them along some ribbon with a lengthwise fold, or some bias tape, so that the raw edge of the flag is tucked into the fold. I used a white sateen ribbon, to blend just a little into the girls’ white room, though I’ve also seen linen ribbon used to great effect. Best to measure this to keep things consistent, once you see what kind of distance looks best to you. I liked a slightly smaller width than the flags themselves. Sew along this ribbon, catching each flag as you close the fold. That’s it!
bunting © elisa rathje 2011


p>The bunting looks awfully sweet in their little cottage gable room (so extraordinarily little, it isn’t so easy to get a picture of it!). Every time I find new fabric I’m tempted to reserve some for a few more flags.

knife pleat pillow

There’s something about desaturated colour and the textures of fabric that I’m so drawn to. The intricacies of textured fabrics are fascinating, heart-quickeningly so, and I’m able to rest in the quieter shades, like a happy Taoist in the open spaces of a drawing. Therefore when I began to sew things for our home to make it softer, warmer, comfortable, I began to work with un-dyed natural fibres, wool, linen, cottons, to draw out their textural capacities. I long to do the same in clay. Soon.


Like the kissing pleat pillow, simple pleats were ideal for creating a sculptural effect with some stiff, heavy linen. I’m experimenting now, learning to sew as I try different techniques. A very basic one, then, the knife pleat. I began by marking out my linen with tailors chalk and a quilting ruler.


I followed some clear directions to press and sew and press and sew pleat after pleat. Best to use a very hot, steaming iron, and to first set the seam closed as it was sewn, then flip the fabric, so that the pleat lies in the direction you’d like it to face, and press the seam open from underneath.


I cleaned up the edges, the rotary cutter is my best tool for this. Then I turned it wrong side out, hemmed the edges, and sewed the pillow form in. I will likely regret this, an envelope pillow case is my next study.


Quite content with a knife pleat pillow. Well, I am dying to learn how to reupholster the sofa, but otherwise content. I’ve begun the next cushion experiment today, using shirring elastic. A sort of training for frocks. What happened to skirts and frocks and quilts? Soon – soon!