Introducing Sunday #sewingscope

I'm baaaaaaaaack!

Yes, after a ridiculously long hiatus, I have picked up my beloved Patchwork Quill again. So where have I been, you ask?

Well, I plunged headfirst back into the world of self employment mid-2015 with the launch of my content writing business, and early 2016 is when things really started to get busy.

I had taken on a massive, risky project that ultimately wasn't successful (as is often the way with massive, risky projects).

It was an experience I learned huge, valuable, lifelong personal and professional lessons from - but in hindsight, it really knocked my confidence and left me feeling deflated for quite some time.

I've since started working with a lovely client on a brilliant blogging project, but one that has still demanded enormous swathes of my time and mental energy - on top of the part-time job I have to keep the bills paid until I become a millionaire entrepreneur.

Although it still takes up a lot of my time, systems and processes I've put in place are beginning to tick along as they should, and this has coincided with the return of my creative mojo!

I finished a cute circle skirt I began sewing back in June - and I live-streamed it! I posted a picture on Instagram of me wearing the finished garment - and at time of writing, 100 people have liked it, making it my most popular post ever.

So it would appear you lot like it when I step out of my comfort zone and in front of a camera from time to time, and who am I to deny you?

From now on, every Sunday I will be broadcasting a live #sewingscope from my Periscope channel that is also available via Twitter live on my Twitter feed.

The most recent video is below - let me know what you think and get in touch if there is anything you'd like to see on the weekly PQ #sewingscope.




Monday Makes: Sock it to 'em!

Pamela Emerson (AKA The Crafty Historian) needs your help to create The NI Big Sock!

Pamela Emerson (AKA The Crafty Historian) needs your help to create The NI Big Sock!

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Pamela Emerson, AKA The Crafty Historian. Fascinated by social history, and an experienced and talented crafter and teacher, Pamela is deeply passionate about Northern Ireland's creative industries and projects.

She is involved in the fabulous Voluntary Arts / Voluntary Arts Ireland #loveto campaign, actively encouraging people to get involved in creative arts projects.  

Pamela is a member of the #artsni creative collective, and also a keen supporter of #NI2030 - an ambitious and energetic campaign to see Northern Ireland regarded as the creative capital of Europe by 2030.

She told me how all of the above led to her latest project - an attempt to put Northern Ireland on the map by hand-making the world's biggest patchwork Christmas stocking!

Her previous patchwork projects have been historically significant and fascinating pieces of work, including a recreation of the Changi Quilts made by female prisoners in Singapore during the Second World War. Below, the original quilt is on the left, Pamela's replica is on the right.

January was Voluntary Arts #lovetoUPCYCLE month, so what better way for a crafter to do her bit for Northern Ireland's 2030 ambitions than to kick off the new year with a world record attempt, using scrap card, paper and fabric?

Pamela needs to create a working stocking larger than the world's current largest - a knitted sock measuring an eye-popping 51 x 21 metres!

But she can't do it alone - she needs your help!

It will take several thousand paper-pieced hexagons of fabric sewn together to create this record-breaking festive garment. Here's how you can help:

1. Sew up some hexagons yourself

Full instructions for making these are in the pic below. 

You'll need a hexagon template which Pamela will provide. Only hexagons made using Pamela's templates can be accepted as each one must be strictly of uniform size in order to be used in the stocking. 

These can currently be collected from Top Floor Art in Saintfield, or you can contact Pamela through the NI Big Sock Facebook page. She's hoping to add to the list of collection and drop-off points soon (see point 3!)

2. Donate card, paper, fabric and thread

Old Christmas and birthday cards, cereal boxes - these are ideal sources of the thin card needed for the hexagon templates. For the paper pieces, thick sturdy paper - such as old calendars, takeaway menus, brochures and magazines - is required.

Fabric and sewing thread is also needed - do you have any scrap fabric measuring at least 3" x 3", maybe even old pillowcases or clothes destined for the charity shop? They need to be either red, green or dark coloured and of a light to medium weight. If you happen to have any Christmas fabric - all the better!

Any thread donations would be very gratefully received - thread you don't need, maybe the end of a spool, or perhaps some sewing groups or retailers would be able to donate any surplus stocks of thread they can spare?

3. Offer a premises as a drop-off and/or collection point for people to leave completed hexagons or collect hexagon templates.

Perhaps you can offer your business, office, or other premises? This could be a great opportunity for a craft, sewing supplies or fabric shop!

Click the image to download the infographic.

Click the image to download the infographic.

I happen to have a few hexagons myself and I'm more than happy to act as a drop-off point for anyone in and around Lisburn - so just get in touch if you'd like to get involved!

Don't forget to share your hexagon-making pics here, and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and please download and share the infographic above too.

Vote for me in the UK Blog Awards!

Welcome to 2016, Quillians! A brand new year - and a whole new set of blog awards to get excited about!

The Patchwork Quill has entered two categories of the amazing UK Blog Awards - and you can help us win! There's a public vote to decide the finalists - and it is open NOW!

If you click the button below you'll be taken to The Patchwork Quill's UK Blog Awards profile page.

Here, you'll be able to vote for us in the Arts & Culture or Lifestyle categories - or both if you like.

Vote for me now in the UK Blog Awards #UKBA16

You can vote from any desktop or mobile device once per day from any one email address. Voting closes at 9pm on Monday 25 January with the finalists announced on Friday 29 January.

I would be so thrilled to bring my little celebration of Northern Ireland culture, crafting and creativity to a national awards ceremony - please help me! Take two minutes a day to vote, and please spread the word!

Bringing home silver from the brand new #bloggies!

If you follow the PQ on social media, this is old news but... we won silver in the Arts & Culture category of the Blog Awards Ireland 2015!

To say I am delighted is an understatement. I've engaged with the 'bloggies' since they launched in 2012, almost exactly a year after The Patchwork Quill did.

I was shortlisted that first year in the Best Craft Blog category, shortlisted again in 2013 in the Best Designed Blog Category, and was a finalist in 2014 for Best Craft Blog and Best Arts & Culture Blog. 

So as the awards have evolved over the past three years, it seems the wee PQ is keeping up, doing a little better every time! 

Ready and raring to go for the roaring Twenties-themed awards!

This year saw a change in management, with Ashville Media taking over from co-founders Amanda Webb and Lorna Sixsmith.

The 2015 awards got off to an ever-so-slightly shambolic (but reassuringly Irish) start, with a queue still snaking up the street from the entrance of the new venue, The Tivoli Theatre, about half an hour after doors opened.

Looking at the Facebook photos, it seems they'd been asking attendees to pose for pics as they arrived in their flapper finery, as per the 'roaring Twenties' theme, and thus created a bit of a traffic jam in the tiny theatre lobby!

They soon abandoned the photocall and before long we were all in, greeted with goody bags of freebies, a complimentary glass of bubbly, plus tokens for grub and a couple of pints.

The Tivoli was a really cool venue choice; reminiscent of The Black Box, with a Sunflower/Hudson-esque courtyard adorned in colourful street art.

The funky outdoor space played host to a selection of 'street food' outlets, offering kebabs, fries, veggie food and salads. As a vegan, it was great to be able to have something to eat that wasn't yet another bowl of chips!

The benchrows we sat on for the awards ceremony were a far cry from the plush round table elegance of the 2014 bash, but I actually preferred it - informal and intimate. We had great chats with the girls we were perched beside, including the gorgeous blogger behind Where Wishes Come From, Sadhbh Devlin (who I fell in love with a little bit).

The Arts & Culture category was the first announced, so it wasn't very long before I got the amazing news. The last couple of months leading up to the awards have been so busy work-wise that I've been kicking myself for missing this event, or not getting that piece up on the blog... so the silver prize honestly was a very happy, but very real shock. 

This year they split each category into a Company and a Personal Award, with each of those awards having silver and bronze winners too. In one fell swoop, they multiplied the number of category winners by six, meaning the ceremony format was updated to keep the night flowing smoothly and quickly.

The only downside was that I didn't get a little 'moment' in the spotlight, as only Gold winners went up to collect a trophy and have their photo taken - but this was a great logistical call on the organisers' part and I am more than happy with my shiny silver blog badge!

The entertainment was superb; I only wish I took more photos, but I was too busy lifting my jaw from the floor at eye-popping aerial, burlesque and hula-hoop artistry. I was lucky enough to get chatting to one of the fabulous performers - the stunning Shir Madness (pictured below) - after the show, and I'm excited to hear she is performing at The Belfast Burlesque Festival which runs between the 27th and 29th November 2015. 

It's corny, it's a bit hackneyed, but I don't care - The Patchwork Quill would not have a chance of reaching awards finals and winning silver trophies if it weren't for you - my loyal band of Quillians. Reading, sharing, nominating, tweeting, voting... thank you all so much for supporting the Quill for four fun years.

I'm inspired anew to fill the PQ with bigger, brighter, better content in the year ahead and who knows - maybe there'll be gold on the mantelpiece next year...?

Thrifty Thursday: Budget boutique with artistic vision

The public realm regeneration in Lisburn's Market Square finally looks to be drawing to a close, much to the relief of retailers at the top of the town. Business owners have been vocal about the delay in completing the extensive building work, which has significantly restricted pedestrian access in the Square.

Perhaps this is why the Action Cancer boutique, which opened on Valentine's Day this year, has yet to see the outpouring of love it so richly deserves. I discovered this little gem of a shop on Monday and instantly fell for it, heads over heels. 

Action Cancer boutique in Lisburn's Market Square

Action Cancer boutique in Lisburn's Market Square

Shop manager Amy Brereton says although there is a steadily-growing stream of customers, every day she sees new faces, each (like me!) saying they are here for the first time.

Amy is an art graduate and her appointment really is a smart move. From her amazing handmade window-display dress to colour-coordinated rails, trend-aware outfits and artfully curated displays, her creative vision is evident throughout the store.

Shop manager Amy Brereton's artistic expertise is evident in every corner.

Shop manager Amy Brereton's artistic expertise is evident in every corner.

Action Cancer has transformed all of their clothing stores into boutiques - a rebranding trend I first noticed in Northern Ireland's not-for-profit retail sector about ten years ago, with the launch of Oxfam Vintage Belfast and the Oxfam Bridal shop on Bangor's Main Street.

Our ongoing love affair with vintage and pre-loved clothing, coupled with tough economic times, means charity shops are competing more than ever with thrift stores and cut-price high street retailers, and relying on donated clothes to do so.

It's a challenge that fashion-loving Amy enjoys, and says she's had no difficulty in keeping the store up-to-date:  "The quality of clothing we get here is really good - every time I go through donations, I can see things that reflect the catwalk trends."

Like every good charity shop, it doesn't just offer fashion bargains. There's an impressive record, CD and DVD collection, loads of books, a beautiful display cabinet full of ornaments and trinkets and even a guitar and musical equipment for sale. 

Seeing vintage typewriters and Singer sewing machines dotted around the shop as well brought me real joy. Little touches like this really catch my eye, and it supports what Amy says about donation quality. I have bookmarked this as a little treasure trove I will return to time and again.

(Yes, I know I'm in shot in that last photo. Couldn't get the pic at any other angle!)

You can keep up to date with the Action Cancer boutique and furniture store on social media via the links below.

The Lisburn boutique holds a fashion show on 12th November in Crumlin Road Gaol, which the PQ is really looking forward to! Working with local designers, they will showcase a range of outfits upcycled from their own pre-loved shop stock. Tickets are £25 and I'll update the post with ticket purchase info and a poster as these become available.

Unmasking Lisburn's potential...

Last weekend, Sat 7 March, I had the pleasure of seeing my home city of Lisburn come to life with colour and creativity. A one-off event - the Music Masquerade - brought street theatre, arts workshops, superheroes, princesses and live music to every corner of the city. There was a samba workshop, pop art classes and a live graffiti art masterpiece happening at R-Space; fire dancing on Bow Street; mask-making in Lisburn Square; animation sessions with Left Hand Cinema in Music Matters...meanwhile Iron Man casually wandered through town posing for pictures!

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'Trash' Fashion is for keeps!

If, like me, you have even a passing interest in clothes alteration, upcycling, green living and repurposing, you'll be familiar with 'trash fashion'. It's a term used by a number of projects and groups across the world to describe the practice of taking used materials, old clothes, scrap, even actual rubbish, and turning them into outfits instead of landfill

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