Writer, Textile Artist, Plantswoman

Month: April 2020

Garden Update: last week of April

I’ve splurged on gardening—plants, compost, manure and, now, window boxes.

Back in 2017, I bought a few blue plastic window boxes and filled them with red geraniums and all manner of small plants to set those off. Last year I planted, in those same boxes now faded to gray, pink geraniums with lobelia. The flowers were lovely but the containers were really showing signs of wear—some had cracks in them and wouldn’t hold water.

This week, Magda at my local garden centre suggested these lovely wicker containers that were lined with plastic and, if I remembered to bring them in to the toolshed and store them over the winter, should last me years and years. They certainly cost more, but the difference in how they look and how well they suit our old cottage, they are definitely worth every penny.

I’m posting an image of the way they look today, freshly planted. And then I will add another image in a few weeks and at the end of May, so you can see for yourselves… sometimes you just need to splurge!

9-Patch Challenge Update: Basic instructions for any quilt

Yay! Several people have requested fabric packs and they have been collected or delivered to An Siopa Nua for pick up.

I realize that a simple set of instructions is needed for those who have never done patchwork before. I went back to the book I first used almost 40 years ago. It is now long out of print, but if you like patchwork and want to go on to bigger things than we are undertaking, there are a few used copies available on Amazon (UK version – USA version.)

I also found instructions for piecing the basic 9-Patch Block and for making the Half and Quarter Triangle squares needed for the other blocks we are doing. These can be found under 9 PATCH INSTRUCTIONS in the menu bar above. I’ll also be creating individual pages for the blocks under that menu.

I’ve had some spammer issues when I allowed anyone to subscribe to my blog so… if you are interested in getting a notification about new things being added to the Challenge section, let me know and I will add you as a subscriber.

The 9-Patch Challenge

Calling all those who like a bit of a puzzle and aren’t shy of picking up a needle and thread!!

You are cordially invited to join in on a 9-Patch Quilt Challenge. 9-Patch is both the name of a specific quilt block and a patchwork block construction method. Nine equal sized squares get assembled into three rows which are then joined together to make a square block. See this excellent explanation on The Seasoned Homemaker.

In the basic 9-patch block, the 9 squares are single pieces of fabric. In researching for this project I found 70 different blocks that used the same kind of construction — three squares to a row, three rows to a block. The variations have squares that are themselves constructed from smaller squares or triangles (or both! See below… ) I’m going to assemble a gallery page for all the blocks I found, but we don’t need to go into that to get started.


If you live in Clashmore or the surrounding area and are interested in working on some quilt blocks but don’t have suitable fabric (or thread), I have more than enough to go around and am happy to share.

In addition to making something for yourself, you can contribute a 12.5″x12.5″ quilt block to a community quilt that could be raffled off to support Clashmore Tidy Towns. Putting the whole thing together and quilting or tying it will have to wait until we can actually be in the same room together. In the meantime, working on some quilt blocks can help to pass the time. You don’t even need a sewing machine (although you can certainly use one if you have one.)

I can provide a sandwich bag with two, three or four pieces of color coordinated quilt fabric—enough for two or more 12.5″ blocks. I’ll also include a sheet with a basic template for each of the pieces for the four blocks above based on nine 4″ finished squares, yielding a 12.5″ block including the outside seam allowance. I can leave the pack to be collected at one of our two shops or with your area volunteer if you are cocooning and getting deliveries from our Community Response folks. To request a 9-Patch quilt block pack, simply fill out this form:

The materials you will need to have are:

Must haves for piecing patchwork blocks:

  • Good quality scissors (dull scissors will make a mess of your fabric)
  • Straight pins – any kind but the glass headed pins are easier to use
  • Hand-sewing needles – Sharps No. 6 to 9 (the larger the number the shorter the needle.)
  • Thread – any color dark or light.
  • Beeswax cake (or a beeswax candle end) for thickening and smoothing thread. You draw your thread through it before threading your needle. It thickens the thread and helps prevent it from knotting and tangling as you sew.
  • Steam iron for pressing seams. You will almost always press the seam to one side, the darker side so that you don’t have “shadows” of dark fabric on the front of the block.
  • A ruler — for INCHES. While you can certainly do metric conversions for your own quilts and blocks, if you are contributing to a group effort, everyone should be using the same measuring method and all of the blocks I will be posting will be in inches. A gridded transparent plastic ruler is ideal.
  • Cardboard or flexible hard plastic for templates.
  • A box for your supplies — excellent way to use up one of those USA biscuit tins left over from Christmas!

Nice to have materials and equipment:

  • Thimble – nice for piecing, essential for quilting.
  • Seam ripper with unpicked – for the inevitable mistakes. We all make them… it’s how we learn.
  • Fabric markers – pens or chalk. One light, one dark. This will be for tracing the seam line on your pieces. Experienced sewers may be able to just trace the cut line and eyeball, but if it’s been a while, you’re better off knowing exactly where your needle needs to go.
  • Tape measure or yard stick with small fractions.
  • A sewing machine for piecing blocks, if you are comfortable with its use.

Like lots of folks, I’ve been staying home, gardening, baking, cleaning and—finally—going through boxes and boxes of stuff shipped over when we moved to the village. Until now these stayed pretty much unpacked and stacked up in cupboards and spare rooms. Who had time back then?? The contents of these boxes were mostly quilt fabric, old needlepoint projects, and knitting yarn. I have no idea what I’ll do with the yarn for now but the fabric—sin scéil eile ar fad! (For the backstory on why I tackled this mess, see my Garden Notes for the week before Easter.)

Decades ago, I taught Patchwork and Quilting in our town’s Adult Ed program, and later at the Franklin Mill Store. I came across the handbook I used for that class in one of the bins of fabric, along with several quilt blocks I used in the class as demonstration pieces. I will be updating and adding to these materials to provide a resource here for anyone who might be interested in creating their own quilt.

I’m definitely going to get busy either finishing some projects I had packed away during one of my moves from house to house—or starting new projects. As I went through my stash of fabric (it took almost two weeks to wash, line dry and iron all that I had stashed away!), I kept coming across pictures of projects I really wanted to do. At this rate, I could be doing two full sized quilts a year and still not get to the end of my wish list! However, my first project, starting now, is to get this 9-Patch project underway and to provide this collection of posts as a resource for all of us that are looking for a new challenge!

If you have fabric already and just want to jump in, here is a PDF of the Quilt Block Templates used in the four blocks pictured above.


Construction method: The order in which pieces are assembled and sewn to create a quilt block.

Patchwork: The art of combining pieces of fabric together to create a new “fabric” design.

Quilt block: A set of pieces (usually geometric shapes) sewn together, arranged into a pattern that can be repeated or alternated.

Quilt fabric: Usually woven 100% cotton fabric, pre-washed so as to control shrinkage. Fabrics come in a range of colors, both prints and solids. The use and placement of dark, medium and light colored fabrics are the most important consideration in your quilt project. Each time you sew two or more pieces of fabric together, you are in essence creating a new fabric in color texture and design.

Quilting: The art of sewing together multiple layers of fabric, usually a top–batting–back or lining, to secure the layers.

Template:  A piece of cardboard or plastic that can be traced to create the pieces assembled together in a quilt block.

Tying: The art of using yarn or embroidery thread to securely tie the layers of a quilt together.


Block Patterns: If you want to find more 9 Patch quilt block patterns, there is an entire library of them at Patchwork Square, a site by Wendy Russell. Some designs are variations from those that I have learned, e.g. Weathervane—Wendy’s has a “flying geese” triangle in four of the patches. Be aware that there are lots of little “ads” buried in the site. To drill down to the actual pattern just keep clicking on the IMAGE of the block you want to learn.

Quilting Tutorials: Jordan Fabrics in Grants Pass, Oregon, have loads of YouTube quilting videos. In case you were wondering how to complete your patchwork project quickly and easily, hand tying is a great way to make sure your three layers are securely fastened for years of washing. Donna Jordan demonstrates how to quickly tie a quilt from her UFO (Unfinished Objects) bin—an “Around the World” quilt she made years ago using florals from Concord Fabrics, which is, alas, no more. Lucky for me, I have a lot of those fabrics in my stash!

Making and Using Templates:

Templates – Making and Using | Lessons



Garden Update: End of Easter Week

The weather has been wonderful up until yesterday. The sun, the air, the warmth of the soil, the plants in the greenhouse—all contributing to a deep sense of well being that evaporated yesterday afternoon as the skies darkened and the air grew chilly. Thankfully, we got the potatoes in. We’re trying a “no dig” method, although we actually had to dig because of all of the rocks and roots. Even that felt good. At one point I was beginning to feel a bit low but an hour of forking over the strip between the hedging and the raspberries had me feeling lighter at heart. The very air itself felt tingly and sweet.

The “no dig” method has the seed potatoes (properly chitted) planted and covered with compost instead of with the heavier garden dirt. The hilling up will also be compost and mulch and the hope is that the harvesting will be a simple matter of pulling up the stems. At least that’s what Charles Dowding says.

We have two long drills, an early variety ‘Orla’ and a main crop ‘Cara’. We also planted up three potato bags with varieties you can’t buy in shops here like ‘Setanta’ and ‘Maris Peer’, and ‘Yukon Gold’ which is common in the US but not in Ireland.

I had my first disaster. In the joy of the warm weather, I planted out my ‘Blauhilde’ climbing beans and they seemed to get on really well for a couple of days. And then I came out and they were all shriveled and unhappy looking. I was worried about leaving them in the greenhouse because they were getting a little too tall for the shelves… so I planted them out. I really should have put them in the cold frame for a full week or two to harden off. Lesson learned. I’ll sow some more and be more careful. Everything else that looks ready has been moved to the cold frame where it will stay until at least next weekend (May the 4th be with you, little seedlings!)

Things are slowly shaping up. I’m seeing great signs of beauty to come. The peonies are pushing up, the transplanted Heuchera looks happy in its new home, the climbing roses are leafing and budding, the valerian in the stone wall is just about to flower, and the jasmine has wound itself around the greenman on the gable end of the shed. And May is less than two weeks away!



Garden Update: The Week Before Easter

Wow! It’s been 10 days since I last posted anything here. Where did the time go? In fairness, the weather has been so good that being out in the garden or the gazebo has been the main attraction. We had our first picnic meal of the season out under the gazebo a week ago Friday — fresh hake from a Duncannon, Wexford fishmonger who sells from his van in the nearby SuperValu carpark. Getting there early is key and I was, for some reason, up with the birds, and out to the shop for the OAP time slot because we needed a few things to get us through the weekend. Add to that, salad made from our own spring onions and lambs lettuce (and a tin of peas for Robbie—because it’s fish, after all), and you have a feast!


I tackled the first of many small garden paths—this one in brick because it follows the clothes line and it’s critical to have a solid, dry path to follow when you’re hanging laundry in the winter months.

I had plenty of beautiful old bricks, (from Mark at Landmark Salvage) and just enough sand for the small strip that will eventually feed into the main path, yet to be dug out and currently marked by a lot of blue cardboard. With all of the paths, we want to have them look like they’ve been there since the house was built over 200 years ago. I have left myself with a problem as there’s quite a drop off at the end where the main path will be gradually sloped. It will be fine in the end but, for now, I have to mind myself so I don’t step out into thin air while hanging on to a clothes peg!

I have to confess, I rather like hard landscaping. You really get to see what you’ve accomplished by the end of the day. Plants, on the other hand, take a while to settle in before filling in the spaces you’ve left for them to grow into. It’s slow and takes patience.

COVID Distraction

Speaking of laundry, the major distraction of the past week is COVID-19 related. A little over a week ago, I read a report in The Guardian suggesting that everyone should be wearing a face mask because you may be carrying the coronavirus—indeed, are your most infectious—for up to a week before you even experience symptoms yourself. This is disquieting. So, my first notion was to see if there was a way I could help people out by supplying them with bits of fabric from my (it turns out) humongous stash of quilt fabric… everything from small pre-cut squares to 9 yard swathes intended for backing bed-sized quilts. I didn’t BUY all of this fabric. Bins of it was gifted to me by my friend Delia who was moving from a grand Victorian in Newtonville to a tiny apartment in New York. No room for her to quilt, let alone to stash fabric.

9-Patch block alternated with Hourglass block using scrap fabric.

That had to have been 20 years ago or more and I’m only now appreciating how much fabric she gave me. While Delia’s interests shifted way from quilting to writing and NYC cultural diversions, my life took a turn with a change in jobs, a jump to a 70 hour work week and a return to Grad school. The quilt I was working on at the time got rolled up and stuffed under the bed where it stayed until the son for whom it was intended, decided to get married. A new wedding quilt in the works meant taking THAT quilt off the frame and folding it up to be continued at a later time—and place. That turned out to be here, in Ireland, in our new home where it graces our bed in the winter time.

Back to COVID. The mask idea was not a great success. The no-sew versions didn’t work really work with quilt fabric and the ones you could sew really needed specialized fabric and elastic that, while I know I have yards of it somewhere, I simply cannot find. Besides, I didn’t want to get involved in the manufacturing of face masks given that there’s no guarantee they would prevent the spread of the virus. They are just another of the many precautions that help. If it was at all feasible, I thought I could offer my friends and neighbors something to do while they were on “lock-in,” if they were so inclined. But now I was knee deep in the fabric I had dug out of boxes and bins, washed, line dried and ironed—yes… IRONED! I, who have avoided buying any clothes that require pressing of any description for the past decade, have spent hours every evening of the past 10 days ironing yards and yards of fabric.

The Challenge

Well, I’m deep into it now… stacks of folded colorful fabric all over the sitting room. My husband says our house smells like an industrial laundry—which is not a bad thing. There are certainly worse! I’ve always loved the smell of laundry fresh off the line after a day of sunshine. Ask anyone who’s been a neighbor of ours over the past 40 years.

Here’s my little confession: I think I was just waiting for an opportunity to get all those sewing and quilting things sorted out so I could get started on a project. Clearing the decks, visually organizing what I have to see if there’s an idea buried in there. It’s difficult to see ideas if everything is in a box buried deep in a cupboard. That goes for writing a book, making a garden, or designing a quilt.

I willingly gave up on the mask idea, but when I admitted that to our Community Virus Response leader, Richard, I also mentioned that I thought it was too bad we couldn’t make a community quilt. He seemed to be intrigued and, when I told him I used to teach Basic Patchwork years ago, he suggested I put a plan together. His idea was that we could make something to hang in the Heritage Centre. My idea is that whatever we make could be raffled off to benefit Tidy Towns or some other charity. Richard suggested I put together a plan and “directions” and he’d put it up on Facebook to see if anyone is interested.

The basic 9-Patch quilt block. Notice that this is one of the two blocks in the quilt shown above. *

I went back to the premise of my first Basic Patchwork class: a Sampler quilt based on 9-patch construction. Any block design that can be constructed from 9 equally sized squares will follow the same construction method: Three squares per row, three rows per block. Each square can be constructed from other shapes: triangles, rectangles, squares. As long as each of the 9 squares finishes at 4″ and each block is 12″ plus 1/4″ seam allowance all around, you can combine all different kinds of 9-patch blocks into a harmonious quilt top. Of course, other construction methods work too… but this is about learning simple techniques that get progressively more complex while using the same basic framework.

I started doing research from my library of quilt books and magazines (when I wasn’t washing, hanging out on the line, ironing, or gardening) and found over 60 different quilt blocks and a few lovely variations that were roughly the same as another block but carried a different name. The original course I taught was 12 weeks long so we concentrated on 9 patches and the last few weeks were focused on assembling and fastening the quilt layers. The original patches included the simple ones, each week learning a new design:

  • Row 1: 9-Patch, Shoo Fly, Monkey Wrench,
  • Row 2: Ohio Star, Variable Star, Swamp Angel,
  • Row 3: Tulip Lady Fingers, Quatrefoils, Weather Vane.

Not everyone wanted to move on to the more difficult squares so they were able to do variations on the easier blocks by reversing the lights and darks of the fabric pieces. It never ceased to amaze me how the dullest or most garish of fabrics, when combined with others into new patterns yielded something beautiful—it was a magic revelation with each new piecing.

So I will put this together and start a new category on this blog called 9-patch Quilt Challenge. To be frank, even if no one is interested, I will start creating one of each of the 65 different “9 patch” quilt blocks I found. I have a head start. At the bottom of one of the bins of fabric I found two completed blocks, Shoo Fly and Pinwheels, and lots of squares and triangles already cut!

Back to the Garden

However, this is a GARDEN post, so here are a few images I collected over the week… and my intention to make something out of all the “garden” titled quilt blocks I’ve found.

This week in the garden…

* Note that the sample blocks are grayscale. The color value of the patchwork piece (from light to dark) gives you an idea of how the block is set up so that the maker can decide whether to follow a simple monochromatic design (all the pieces in different shades of blue) or a polychromatic design (two or more hues of varying shades.)

Garden Update: Almost the weekend

The first tulip to bloom!

I seem to have become obsessed with the vegetable side of gardening. I wonder if that has anything to do with food anxiety—like, “If this COVID thing goes on for months, will we have any food??” I’m sure I’m not the only one with that thought because all of my favourite online garden sites have temporarily stopped taking orders. It’s only for a little while, they tell us, until they can catch up with the deluge of orders they got once people realized they would be stuck at home for weeks with nothing to do. Well, at least the flowers seem to be doing okay on their own. I’ll just have to wait to put in new bedding plants.

In the 10’x12′ greenhouse garden (so-called because it’s the garden bed closest to the greenhouse), I finally got the 25 strawberry plants in the ground. This was a huge undertaking because we had been walking over that section while we built the compost bin system and it had pretty much dried into concrete. I spent a couple of days forking it over, then raking it and pulling out stones and roots until I had a reasonable tilth. I then mounded, added compost and went to work putting the bare root strawberries in place.

This is the same bed with the new Crabapple tree and the Rhubarb. I’m still dithering about what I’ll put in the middle but I think an herb garden is the front runner.

In the greenhouse itself, things are happening… some faster than others.

The corn germinated but the climbing beans have taken off! True leaves are out and I swear they grew three inches in one day. I’m concerned that I’ll have to put them out too early. But maybe not. We are in the “sunny south” after all — Don’t laugh! That’s what we call it.

Here’s a list of everything sown (or planted) in the greenhouse since the Equinox:

  • Sweet peas
  • Sugar snap peas ‘Nairobi’
  • Oregon Sugar pod peas
  • Regular peas
  • Climbing beans (Blauhilde)
  • Sweet corn
  • Buttercup winter squash
  • Rainbow chard
  • Lettuce ‘Roxy’ – I just HAD to!
  • Lettuce ‘Matilda’
  • Dwarf beans ‘Helios’ and ‘Maxi’
  • Runner beans ‘Enorma’
  • Comfrey (nowhere near as much as I need though!)
  • Lemon balm (from the free little Lidl peat pots)
  • Thyme (from the free little Lidl peat pots)
  • Delphinium
  • Tomatoes, ‘Gardener’s Delight’,
  • Basil
  • Cape gooseberries
  • 2 Dahlias
  • Cornflowers
  • Courgettes from a free MiracleGro peat pot
  • Cucumbers from a free MiracleGro peat pot

And out in the upper level of the garden, we sowed a bee-friendly wildflower patch — but I might need to get some yellow rattle to keep the grass from regrowing there. The question is, will I be able to get those seeds if the online seed sellers aren’t taking orders.

I think I will have to turn my attention to the flowers tomorrow. If I don’t weed those beds soon, I’ll have three times the work later—by which time I’ll be too busy putting out all those vegetables!

Netflix — Where did my show go??

The Great British Bake Off - WikipediaLike many of us stressed out on COVID news, I retreat to two particular shows to soothe my nerves. Gardeners’ World and reruns of the original GBBO.

I’m not interested in reality programming as a rule. I don’t care about bachelors or bachelorettes or amateur singers or nasty judges or dancing priests or any of the other weird and unreal/surreal “reality” refuse that’s on offer. The ONLY exception for me is the original, The Great British Bake Off (renamed, for whatever licensing reason between the BBC and PBS, as the Great British Baking Show)—the one with Mel and Sue, sweet Mary Berry and severe and exacting Paul Hollywood. Why?

Because I learned something new and interesting about baking and cooking in every single program. Even though I am coeliac and cannot eat 90% of what is baked on the show!

I think that’s what draws me to Gardeners’ World as well. I’ve been hooked on gardening shows ever since our move to the U.S. in the ’70s when our local PBS station, WGBH, produced and aired Crockett’s Victory Garden. With four small children, my television viewing then was an accompaniment to folding baskets and baskets of clothes. On Sundays, I could sit for hours watching Masterpiece Theater and Mystery! 

When we are under stress (and raising four children is pretty stressful—and rewarding) change is not a welcome thing. I was devastated when Jim Crockett died and was replaced by Bob Thompson. It took me YEARS to feel the same way about Victory Garden, although I remained a faithful viewer. When ‘GBH dropped Mystery! my Sunday evenings were destroyed, my TV viewing life in ruins. I felt betrayed. Apparently, I am a creature of habit—or I am an incredibly loyal and devoted fan of quality programming. I prefer to believe the latter.

In looking back over the programs that punctuated my life I find the following stand out:

  • The original Star Trek and most of its offspring, especially Next Generation. (I’m sorry, Netflix, Picard is just another shoot’em up action flick entirely missing the intelligence, sophisticated allegory and empathy of STNG.)
  • Anything written by Aaron Sorkin, especially The West Wing (a civics lesson in every episode) and The Newsroom.
  • And a host of PBS programs: NatureThis Old House, anything with Bill Moyers, especially The Power of Myth, and Bill Moyers’ Journal.

So… why this sudden examination of television programming? We don’t even HAVE a television right now. We can find whatever we want to view on our computers or iPads. Up until last night. Here is the transcript of my “chat” with Netflix:

Two nights ago, I was watching The Great British Bake Off… last night it disappeared from My List and I am no longer able to see it…WHY? Things are bad enough without losing programs I find soothing — the other Bake Off spin offs and wannabes are simply not the same — they are inane.
Netflix Chat Person
Hi there! Thanks for waiting. My name is XXXX!. Let me help you with your query. Let’s start with the email address on file and your name?
Let me check… I believe it is *****************
Name is Roxanne O’Connell
Netflix Chat Person
Okay just be online while i locate your account and check it for you.
Netflix Chat Person
All right so i checked and it seems that the show is no longer available in Netflix
So… not your fault, I get that. I offer a friendly user experience tip for you — this will save customers hours of time trying to figure out why things go missing — Give us an EMAIL or a NOTICE on our account that lets us KNOW what’s happened. I spent an hour trying to find out what happened and I was pretty pissed off with Netflix as a result. And I’m a shareholder! Something like “Netflix license for this program has expired and we can no longer offer it.” We are stressed enough in lock-down without things we rely on arbitrarily disappearing. Thanks — I’ll have to find some other way to see the rest of the program.
Netflix Chat Person
I apologize for the inconvenience caused

I think what blew me away was the word “inconvenience” — that falls WAY short of how I feel about it. I guess, I’m beginning to crack under the COVID pressure. I had better get out into the garden.

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