Creating an Amazing Space – Part 2

Oh my goodness.. we are about done ! Yesterday was the last big push. The GillyMac room upstairs is tidied, labelled, dusted and vacuumed. Downstairs we are leaner, with less clutter but still with some of the books I love on view for inspiration! 


In the next couple of days, the hooks will go up for the inter-changeable design walls. Then …  I think we are done…. in the sense that we are in good shape to maintain order, see what we have and enjoy and use what we have. Lastly we are putting up curtain tracks on top of the shelves so that lightweight calico curtains can be hung from them to protect the fabric from direct sunlight and to keep the dust down!


The Super Sale was a great idea and it will be something I will do on a more regular basis. It created a healthy turnover in stock, it shared the love and it made some cash to plough back into the business. I still have sale fabrics … so don’t be shy to ask… I think another sale will happen at the same time next year and I am sure that year on year the Super Sale will grow.

IMG_1895Measuring the pieces (as I discussed in ‘Part 1’) was a master stroke – Thanks to all who helped! At last I can see what I have and most importantly I know how much is there. I have 3 or 4 boxes of ‘bits’ left over. These range from ‘smaller than fat quarter’ to ‘less than a metre’ and I am going to turn these pieces into 3.5″ and 5″ squares as well as 2.5″ strips which can be used in creative classes and for the Young Quilters and after school classes. Then once this is done, my lovely pal Lindsey will have the remaining small bits for her amazing 1″ hexi project…

The outcome of all this sorting and tidying is a huge number of project ideas. There is so much scope to use what is here for many exciting things. Added to these ideas are the new techniques I have been researching over the summer. I want to dye my own fabric with my senior girls and I also want to add fabric stamping into some of the applique pieces we are about to undertake this term ! I have a folder with all my ideas in it .. my magic folder !

I love been more organised, but it has made me remember how amazing lucky I am to be married to a man who has allowed me to build GillyMac and who supports all that I do every day.


Why Don’t You …

I have no idea why it seems to be such a secret that to work with kids is just the best job (though teaching my two Thursday groups is a close run wonderful thing)!!  This Summer, I’ve had the pleasure to teach just over 60 children, either at home, on Young Quilters session, at the Festival of Quilts or a Claires Court Holiday Club. I am amazed it is so many!


We have made mini quilts, appliqued pictures, zipped pencil cases, frogs and owls, as well as tote bags and tie dye’d T-shirts. There are lots of pictures on my ‘Young Quilters’ page at the website.  Yesterday I looked at the cost of each activity per child. Ignoring my time, the cost was less than £4.60 per child per activity for each of the activities, except for tie dying where we created fabric bags as well as dyed T-shirts all in one session, but even that was only £7.  So the cost is not much really at all, yet everybody seemed to have a brilliant time.

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It’s not just the cost though, it’s opening their little minds to what they can really do. What they achieve can be all their own work and can be beautiful, brilliant and useful. It doesn’t need to be another thing that has to be sneaked into the bin, but it can be something you, they, friends or family can use or keep forever.

By mid-Summer I had created the classes for my after school groups. I am still reeling from their success at the Festival of Quilts and wanted to build on that. This term we are making bed runners (like table runners, but for the end of a bed with pockets for teddies and books), and we will be doing a variety of applique pictures. Later on in the term we will be doing some microwave dying and fabric stamping across to create our own fabric designs to use. I am also planning activities for 1/2 term at Claires Court Holiday club …so keep an eye out for that.

image1 (9)I am hoping that by the end of the year I will have a “Why Don’t You” page on my website. For those of us of a certain age there used to be TV programme in during the school holidays called “Why Don’t You” that encouraged children to get off the sofa (it would be ‘away from the computer’ now) and do something more interesting instead… I thought I could share my low cost makes and ideas to try and inspire even more creativity ! So watch this space !!


Having a Go !

For the second year running, the same group of girls from GillyMac Designs have won a prize at the Festival of Quilts. This year, Wizarding Magic, a piece created by my Senior Sewing Group came runner up in the Secondary Schools category. The GillyMac Senior Sewing group is an after school group that contains four 14 year old girls, who have been sewing together for a few years now. The journey involved in putting a piece together for the Festival of Quilts (FoQ) or any event is not hard, and I thought you may like to know how the girls came to put together Wizarding Magic as well as the two other quilts we submitted this year to the Festival.IMG_1467

Often when entering a competition, there will be a theme to work around. Last year for the childrens categories at the FoQ it was ‘In My Garden’ and my Senior Sewing Group created a large pixilated image of a Sunflower. This year the theme was ‘ Patchwork Magic’ and I had three young sewing groups all very eager to take part – and win ! Coming up with one great idea is hard, two is really tough and three is a hideously hard job. However this can be made so much easier by asking friends for their ideas, googling images of the topic and finally simply closing your eyes and allowing your mind, uninterrupted to come up with some images. I find the girls have fairly firm ideas of what they want to do and normally all that is needed is to add some help with the techniques to be used to make it happen !

IMG_0341For Wizarding Magic, we started off with a drawing of a Wizard.  Anything ‘Magic’ made us immediately think about Harry Potter and Wizards. So we had our central character right there ! We knew that all wizards had owls (of course) and we wanted to incorporate the iconic black cat. Our wizard, like all wizards, didn’t walk about in daytime, so he would be a wizard at night, holding an owl, with a moon in the background. Simple ! In reality it is never that simple. We had loads of ideas some were great, many were rubbish and there was lots of discussion before we started as to the things we thought we’d like to do.

20150512_161527078_iOSFor my Junior Sewing Bee, we had seen designs by a lady in Devon, Jacqui Bignall of FlapDoodle Designs, who drew amazing fairies and so we asked her to draw one for us and she accepted the challenge. For the GillyMac Saturday Sewing group, we wanted to stick with a Wizard, but focus on his hat (like a ‘Sorting Hat’, for those of you who are Harry Potter fans) and so we looked at many images of hats before we came back to one of the first we had seen and settled on that.

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Finding the right design is all part of the fun. It doesn’t happen quickly, but for me it is as enjoyable as the sewing !

SubstandardFullSizeRender (1)When we started turning the design into a sewn piece we knew from last years experience that the judges like there to be many elements to the design. The categories we would be judged on would be

  1. Design Construction (theme, originality, composition, colour and choice and suitability of materials)
  2. Workmanship (handling of materials and finishing)
  3. Quilting Surface Decoration (appropriate use of embellishment and technique)

For one evening a week for 6 weeks the girls divided up the tasks and built their designs. Joe Bennison of Jellies Quilts, supported the teams with showing them how to use a long arm quilt machine and with that help and with lots of tie dying, beading and embellishing we were finished and the quilts were sent off to the event organisers with their labels and tags on.IMG_1288

Once the quilts are returned after the event you will get your feedback whether or not you have won a prize or not. My experience is that the judging is really fair and the points they make are great tips for areas to work on and progress your sewing as an individual or team. Even though not everybody won, all the girls worked really hard and their quilts will go on to be shown around Berkshire over the coming year.

So next year why not have a go either as a group or as an individual ? The competition forms are already available for Malvern and Sandown next Spring and Sumer via the Grosvenor Shows website.  If you are a Young Quilter based locally you can always contact me for help with any elements of your work and more importantly I would just love to see what you are up to!

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Contact Gill Towell via :

Creating An Amazing Space – Part 1

This past week … Armed with a labelling machine, oodles of card and the amazing enthusiasm of Tracy… We have been sorting, clearing, cleaning and tidying the studio and the GillyMac stash. This activity has been precipitated by an increasing need to declutter the studio space, the obvious need to understand what we have (to stop me buying more) and the arrival of my Long Arm Quilting Machine.


As with most tidying, it is necessary to create a mess to sort things out and with this task, that was definitely the most hideous part! We started on Monday morning and by that lunchtime I was completely overwhelmed by the scale of the task ahead. However, made of strong stuff, box by box we pressed on …

I love a list and this task definitely called for one!  I created a list of all the categories of items GillyMac owned  e.g. fabrics , haberdashery, paints, beads and ribbons, everyday threads , couching threads, wadding, Vilene, felt, wool, Accuquilt dies .. and the list went on. I then highlighted those categories that were in frequent use. Other than fabric, frequent use categories would stay downstairs in the studio, the rest would be stored in the bedroom I have taken over upstairs. Simply because of the volume of fabric I own, this had to be stored upstairs… But it has to be stored better that it was currently, in large plastic tubs, sorted by colour.

Our plan on fabric storage was built from Pinterest research and common sense. Now I have it I want to share it as I believe it is a good one. It is as follows:-

  1. Fabric bought less that 6 months ago or gathered for a special purpose stay stored in “collections” e.g my Cotton & Steel Christmas material, my Natural History Fat Quarter Collection, my Aussie stash for Annie’s Uni Quilt and bundle of fabrics for a quilt waiting to be made for my friend’s son.
  2. Everything else gets sorted first by fabric type e.g dressmaking, upholstery, quilting cotton, and then by colour following the rules below.
  • Fabric lengths of >3m are wound back on a bolt, (empty bolts are sourced from a local shop that discard them after use.)
  • Fabric lengths of <90cm are put to one side to create fat quarters and 1/2m lengths.
  • Fabric lengths of between 90cm and 3m get measured, folded down the length of the piece and wound around A4 card, secured with masking tape, on which the length is recorded.



I am pleased to report this approach really works… I have maximised the amount of useable pieces and created a huge stash for my Young Quilters (Guild) and Duke of Edinburgh volunteer work.

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The rooms both upstairs and the studio downstairs are not quite finished (there is still slot of folding) to take place which has turn into a community activity, with friends popping by and offering me an hour here and there to help me get through it ! I am now working towards the GillyMac Super Sale on Bank Holiday Monday at 10am .. Where all fabric will be £4 or less per metre and fat quarters will all be £1. Bargain!!image3

image1Part 2 to follow …..


Nearly Right is Wrong !

At school, my maths teacher, Mr Collins, used to say to me, “Gill, it’s no good being nearly right. Nearly right is wrong!”. The problem is that when something is nearly right, you want it to be right soo much it is very hard to make that leap of faith and start again !

Currently all of my children’s classes are making competition pieces for the Festival of Quilts at the NEC in August. Last year was the first time the girls had entered and it was great fun. At that time I had two children’s classes, and the older ones won a prize !! This year I have three children’s classes and all of them were super keen to enter ! The theme this year is “Patchwork Magic”.

Thinking of one super duper Patchwork Magic quilt is easy, two is more difficult and three is tough ! Especially when each group expect you to come up with the winning design just for them !! No pressure !!! This year, for one of the designs I was lucky enough to have the support of Jacqui Bignell of FlapDoodle Designs, who drew a fairy, just for my Junior Sewing Bee.


The Junior Sewing Bee comprises five girls from 9-11 years of age. Once we had the design, I think we all thought that it would be easy after this ! The girls and I took time to choose all the colours for the fairy, but I chose the background colour. I picked silver.


Half was through it was clear that is was just not right. ! Added to this the girls couldn’t understand how the fairly could be throwing out stars in the daytime. I chose to ignore then for one lesson (even though I knew they were right), but when they insisted it was strange for a second lesson, it was clear something had to change!

At this point it takes a lot of confidence to change direction. Five worried faces can be quite intimidating. However, like Mr Collins said, if it’s not right it’s wrong and so we jumped ship, cut the fairy off the silver background and ordered more material for a navy background. The girls were immediately happier with this, and we progressed. The thing I found most surprising was that by using a navy background a whole new colour palate could be used, allowing me to change the grass to a colour I much preferred.


Latterly it has been her hair that has caused an issue. The girls made the hair using a seminole patchwork technique, which was lovely, but looked really flat (and boring). Again there was much angst… But a trip to Sew Crafty for ribbon and the application of the most expensive thread I have ever bought (saved for a special occasion) seems to have solved the problem.


It is not easy with anything to change course,adapt a design, unpick your work, but ultimately you know if something is wrong and in my experience it is worth taking that leap of faith to move from nearly right, to correct.

The piece will be on show at the N.E.C in Birmingham from 7th- 10th August. I’ll let you know how they get on. Fingers crossed !

Free Motion Fear


It’s not just you… it is me too…. !

Just lately I have been backing up things to quilt. Sometimes it just happens. I end up with a number of requests for classes and I get the tops made and then slow down at the point of quilting. Often it is because I am musing about a designs to use, but it is regularly about the ‘will it be good enough’ fairy siting on my shoulder (she sits there quite often). The thing is, as with almost everything I do, if a task is simplified,  broken down into chunks and sometimes even scheduled, it all gets done and most times is great !

Here are the quilts that I am working on. There is the Northern Lights Modern Quilt Group Challenge, there is the Circles Table Runner Project and there is the super Library Quilt. Each had their own challenges


Northen Lights


Circles Table Runner


Library Quilt


The Northern Lights Quilt was an opportunity to stretch myself and practise new designs, but there was much blank space, with no lines or seams to use as guides. So the challenge was to decide what to do, and to start.. just do it !

The Circles Table Runner was a class sample. It needed to be quilted with clean clear, well executed designs which could be replicated in classes. I wanted this to demonstrated how effective walking foot quilting could be.

The Library Quilt was a large project which was daunting in itself on a domestic machine. I wanted to quilt the books using a walking foot, to define them and make them stand out. This would be simple quilting, but will involve a lot of twisting and jiggling of the quilt through my machine. Then for the background (blue) behind the books I planned to do some stiff free motion work. Maybe a paisley design. This quilt is a wall hanging, not a functional quilt and this lends itself to heavier quilting. The size of the quilt means that FMQ will be easier on the machine.

After a week of work … and a lot of ‘having a go’, oodles of tea , the Northern Lights and Circles quilts are finished and the Library quilt is a ‘looking good’ working progress.


Northern Lights – Reverse View


Nothern Lights – Quilted Top


Up Close Northern Lights


IMG_5737-110 Circles Table Runner – Quilted !


It has been really rewarding to just throw myself into it and not worry about small mistakes. I love the finished effects… Now it is your turn… go on.. have a go !

Never Too Many Projects…

At GillyMac I have projects I am doing for classes, I have the childrens’ class projects all here in baskets ready for their next lesson, I have projects on my design wall for new patchwork classes, I have projects on the mannequin for my next sewing class, I have cushions ready to be covered for next weeks class and I have Kaffe Fassett material cut for a project I said I would do for Vanessa at Lady Sew and Sew. I also have oodles of notes around the studio for the 3 childrens entries to the Festival of Quilts this year and yet more project ideas partly written up in my note book ready for .. whenever. ….. Is this too many projects.. ??


In my past life I ran project teams across Europe, the Middle East and Africa all of whom were at various stages of installing or commissioning optical networks in those locations. The pace of work was very fast and the workload was back breaking. At any point I was expected to be able to talk about the margin, deployment timescales and cash position of each project.  It was difficult for me not to want to know the minutia of each project – which was impossible and an ever decreasing circle of stress.

Now my projects are different… I can list them and I can know every detail of them. I can control them without needing to trust employees or partners far removed from me… It is bliss ! My project secret these days is the invention of the Zip Lock bag, not about the lastest voice over Ethernet technology.


This afternoon, I have used my ‘free time’ to sort out my filing and prepare my projects. All the projects are now placed in zip lock bags of various sizes, with Post-It notes (another top invention) detailing my current thoughts on how the project should look and the timescales I am working to. I have scheduled all these projects in my on-line calander, and worked out the realistic chance of getting them all done in time, whilst looking after the girls, Brian, the cat and the PTA. The outlook is good ! ..

You can never have too many projects when you love what you do… just put them in zip lock bags, don’t hide them away in cupboards, stack them within sight all ready for the day they become ‘the’ current project and are written up ready to share with others !


A Perfect Fit …


Bias Flare Skirt

This week is the final lesson of my first “Skirt Sloper and More” class.  A skirt sloper is a garment which is built to mould to the shape your own body using a single dart for each quarter pattern and with no design features added. It is a revelation to many of us that by taking some basic measurements of our own body, often helped by someone else taking the measurements and then going back and double checking them, it is possible to make your own sloper pattern. There are a couple of industry standards that we adhere to. For example, the size and position of the dart, the length of the dart and the seam allowance variations within the garment. However as these are simply read off a table, even applying these standards is easy. 


Skirt Sloper Finished

Once a sloper is drafted, it is made up in calico or some other cheap woven material. At this point we can ruthlessly adjust the garment to get the perfect fit. In this month’s class, three of the slopers were perfect first time based on measurements alone and three needed adjustment along the low hip. Once there is a successful fit, the sloper pattern is recreated in card as it will be used over and over again and needs to be robust 

With the perfect mould of the body, it is a super simple exercise to add in a small amount of flare for an A-Line skirt. A greater amount of flare and cut on the bias for a bias cut flare skirt, a circle skirt, a pencil skirt with a pleat, a box pleated skirt …and the brilliant thing is that each of the skirts is built from the sloper. There are no great fit considerations for you as these were all covered with the sloper fitting. Now you are creating patterns for skirt designs that you can use multiple times


Bias Flare Skirt Pattern

Once the pattern is created it takes less than 20 minutes to create and sew a skirt  … How brilliant is that. Now I can really enjoy finding fabric, as I don’t have the worry about fit ! 

The next set of Sloper classes starts on 5th May for 4 weeks for £85 inc. dressmaking paper, card and calico for the sloper. To book, email to book.


A-Line Skirt


Handbag Projects

3-102-2There is a friend of mine who has introduced me to the concept of having a “handbag project”. She always seems to have a zip lock bag in her handbag which has something creative she can do when she gets the odd moment. She finds this really useful as her children don’t go to school locally and they do a lot of sport, so there are many car journeys for her each week and lots of hanging around and she finds it enjoyable to be able to pull out a few hexagons and sew them together whenever she can.

English Paper Piecing (EPP) is particularly good for handbag projects. ExplIMG_5202-100ained simply, you would draw a shape on paper, (I used freezer paper as it has a wax layer on one size and will temporarily stick to fabric when heated) and cut it out. Hexagons or other basic shapes are easy to start with. Once you have cut around the shapes, iron (or place) them onto the wrong side of the fabric and roughly cut them out. Next fold and iron down the overhang of extra fabric and tack it in place. IMG_5203-101

For a handbag project the roughly cut pieces, a needle, some thread and small scissors can easily be put in a zip lock bag and ported from place to place to be continued whenever the moment is available. This worked really well for me my adventure with Katie to Australia last year, as from Heathrow, there is no problem having small scissors in your hand-luggage. However, Katie was utterly embarrassed when at Singapore, as we changed planes, we were treated as potential terrorists when the scissors showed up on the X-Ray scanner. Our boarding cards were written on and we had to stand at the end of the queue in shame… So if you are taking a handbag project on a plane… check you know the rules of any transiting airport as well as your departing one !

Once there are a number of prepared paper pieces, these can be joined together to form a new textile piece, which maybe an item to be used as embellishment, as with my flowers above, or a new textile based from which to make a quilt, or a smaller item like a bag or a cushion.


My friend has been using her time all these months to prepare and join tiny 1” hexagons together. A 1” hexagon needs only a tiny scrap of fabric, so she has been doing just that, and using all our scraps up. The resulting piece is still growing and is now only just small enough to be considered a handbag project. Without a doubt the resulting piece will be an heirloom after all this work.

Lindsey's Masterpiece ... So Far ...

Lindsey’s Masterpiece … So Far …

Quilted Eggs Cracked …


Quilted Eggs Cracked..

I saw these eggs in a post on a North American website. They looked great and as well as being a timely project as we head towards Easter this year, I liked the three dimensional look of the fabric pieces… Thinking ahead I could imagine that the owl in the Senior Girls entry into the Festival of Quilts this year could usefully apply this technique.

The most taxing part of making the eggs was sourcing the Styrofoam eggs themselves. It is easy to buy oodles of little eggs, but finding solid eggs that are 4″/10cm or bigger is difficult and consequently expensive.  Anyhow, I did find them on Amazon, but for about £4 each including shipping, I have now sourced them cheaper .. The smaller eggs are obviously cheaper still and will be quicker and easier for the smalleIMG_5129-104r girls to manage. Solid eggs >15cm seem only to be sold in the US..maybe I could get a friend to send some over …  but then maybe I am going egg crazy !

Once you have your Sytrofoam eggs, then you will need 300 or so cheap dressmaking pins (the ones with the tiny steel head) and pieces of fabric cut 2″ x  3″. I used three different fabrics for both eggs.  To start, you need to mark the centre of the top (narrower end) of your egg. Then fold one of your rectangles over by about 1/8″-1/4 ” and drag your nail down the fold to create a crease.Now fold the fabric rectangle again along the longest side and create another. This should allow you to see where the centre point is along that fold.

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At the top of this mark, place a pin through the fabric and into the egg, just a tiny (incey wincey) amount below the centre dot you marked earlier on your egg. You now fold the edges of the fabric down and overlap them slightly and pin them, and finally secure the other points of the formed fabric triangle with two additional pins. Now repeat this again, placing the fabric directly opposite the first piece. Then fill the gaps either side of the pieces 1 and 2.


To create the next row needs a little measurement. The point of the first triangle in row 2 should be 3/8″ below the point of the first triangle in row 1.


When I was making my eggs, I did do the measuring for row 2, but after that I just guessed and all went well .. so don’t despair.. throw away the tape measure once your confidence builds.  Creating rows down the eggs just continues in this way. As you get close to the bottom on the egg, you will find that some of the pins are visible and no longer hidden. When this happens, you can fold the tails of your triangles to hid the pins. When you get to the last row, finish your egg with a piece of material over the tail ends and hold it in place with pins, but this time you can put the pin through a sequin to give a more polished final piece.


There are lots of designs I have thought up. Instead of working all the way down the egg, stop half way and build the egg up from the bottom (fat end) and then put a ribbon or piece of material around the centre where they join… this has quite a Faberge look about it. Another thought would be to use a larger final piece in the shape of a flower which comes up the side of the egg, this would look a little more acorn like. This technique can be used for Christmas decorations too…

I will be using my eggs as part of an Easter display, hanging from branches in a vase on my dining room table (sounds naff but will look GORGEOUS !)… when I finish the display, I will post a picture ! For now, I will be holding a class on making eggs on Monday 30th March, from 7pm-10pm £25pp including all materials to make 3 eggs each (one large-120mm  and 2 small-70mm).