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Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Working with chintz in patchwork and other sewing projects.

Working with chintz in patchwork and other sewing projects.

Chintz has been used in patchwork since 17th century when it was imported from India.   I started using chintz in 1984 after receiving a commission from Charles Hammond Ltd and have been using it ever since.  Unlike craft cotton it is covered in a thin layer of resin creating a glazed effect.  The colours are vibrant and rich and slightly harder to hand sew.  Use a sharp fine crewel needle.  

Whilst chintz is a wonderful fabric to work with it does have its disadvantages.  

If you are buying chintz for the first time compare the glaze and quality from brand to brand, in general the more you pay the better your fabric.  Locate quality soft furnishing showrooms or curtain makers.  In past I have brought excellent quality end of rolls in markets but these finds are few. Buying online can be tricky, always ask for samples before committing to an expensive purchase. 

Try the rip test, the harder the pull the stronger your fabric.  Some chintz snags when you rip and I have found these brands to be inferior.  If the fabric rips easily avoid.   Compare density, richness of colour and general feel. Some chintz feels thin and fine but has high density weave and high in gloss, I have known these to be excellent quality.  Some chintz sold as cotton almost feels like polyester, so perhaps it is. Avoid sateen because it is more loosely woven.  In the past I have asked for chintz and been sold sateen, its something to watch for.  

If you are making an item that needs washing avoid red as it tends to bleed. Wash all your chosen fabrics first because chintz does shrink a bit and poor quality chintz looses its glaze.  Pre-washing is not necessary if making wall hangings or items that will not be washed.  The benefit being retaining the lovely shiny glaze.

Chintz is notorious for creasing these creases are very difficult to remove.  To an extent you can remove a crease by using the hottest iron setting, spray with a fine plant sprayer filled with water and not the sprayer on your iron.  If ironing strips of chintz hold the fabric taught and iron as you go along, this seems to help a bit.  If this fails camouflage, yes camouflage, there is always a way around it!

To camouflage a crease:  the simplest way is to run a straight machine stitch over the crease whilst the fabric is in one piece then use as per normal.  I love the extra texture this gives and also the surprise of seeing it blend into work.  If using small patchwork shapes I would not bother with this method, although if the crease becomes irritating hand embroider over it.  Another way is to machine couch wool over a crease.

So to summarise, look for a nice shiny glaze, a strong feeling texture with plenty of vibrant colour.  
good quality chintz
machine couch wool over a crease

Left: chintz patchwork. Right craft cotton patchwork
single line of machine stitching hides the crease

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Do I need to spend time and money on a sophisticated website?

Do I need to spend time and money on a sophisticated website?

How much actual monetary value is gained spending time updating websites/social media?  I really wonder? My unsophisticated websites work fine, people email me,  can make purchases, phone to ask questions or arrange studio visits.  I achieve sales and people know where to find me.  Check these out if you are curious:,,

The question is:  Do I want spend time updating websites and social media to compete with the latest trends, promotions and flood the airwaves with more images, hashtags and comments or spend the time working on textile art, pushing creative boundaries, accomplishing work which is dimensional, tactile and pleasing to some eyes.

I felt angst and pressure this morning returning from a refreshing sea swim thinking,  "should I be doing tech updates on social media/websites this morning when really I wanted to crack on being creative with my hands." Opening my studio door I found the answer glaring straight at me.  Pinned on my noticeboard was my first business card circa 1983, it is handmade, two hexagons are covered in fabric in the traditional hexagon patchwork format and hand sewn together, then sewn onto the card.  The background was crudely spray painted using a gold aerosol and the words are handwritten. This basic form of communication predates the internet, served its purpose perfectly as I remember people saying to me "oh, I will keep that, thank you."  Result, some 34 years later my work goes from strength to strength.

I think this answers my question.  No, I do not need to spend time and money on a sophisticated websites.  My basic websites will do very nicely indeed.   I would like to point out this is my personal view which works for me.  

Jackie Wills, first business card 1983.

Monday, 24 October 2016

19th Century compared to 21 Century Traditional English Hexagon Patchwork.

19th Century compared to 21st Century Traditional English Hexagon Patchwork. 

 In this fast world of technology and advancement I think it is rather special the basic tools used to create traditional hexagon patchwork in the 19th century are still the same the 21st century.   Fabric, scissors, thread and paper templates were tools used then, just as they are now.   

Thoughts reflect to the scarcity of paper, the precious commodity of fabric and the availability of thread.  Another essential requirement for the sewers of the 19 century was light and eyesight. Electricity was not used until the late 1880's.  I guess to create beautiful stitches sunlight would have been the only option.   It is easy in this age to take for granted night time rooms filled with false light supplied by electricity and to purchase spectacles as eyesight changes as we get older.

The image above on the left shows a sample piece of hexagon patchwork sample dated 1857.

Fast forward to 2016, the tools and method are still exactly the same. Using modern gadgets like rotary cutters, seam rippers, freezer paper and technology to aid accuracy of preparing paper templates.

Back in the 1970's I used isometric paper to accurate create hexagon paper templates and is still my preferred choice. In the 19th century hexagons and other master shapes were made of wood or metal to draw around.  It was a family occupation, often the men taking care of the design process as the women sewed.

The choice of extensive fabric only a click away.  For me there cannot be a finer pleasure than sifting through my fabric stash to find the exact remnant for a chosen project as can be seen in the images below.  Vintage on left and Victorian on right.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Anonymous Chintz Patchwork Waistcoat by Jackie Wills

Anonymous Patchwork Waistcoat 

Last Saturday the postman delivered a large padded jiffy bag parcel with my name written in large felt pen, clearly not an online purchase!   I struggled to prise open the staples and peeped in side.  I could see a patchwork of strong chintz colours and embroidered thread, baffling but also a tad familiar.

The garment slipped onto the polished walnut table as I stared in silence and disbelief.   Yes, it was definitely a waistcoat  I created more than 20 years ago, inspired by the windows at Buckfast Abbey.

A beautifully typed letter slipped from  the garments folds.  Some of the words are reproduced below:

"Dear Miss Wills

We brought this waistcoat from you at an Exeter Cathedral Summer Fayre many years ago.  We couldn't bear to just give this to a charity shop.  It's a beautiful into which you clearly put a huge amount of time, effort, skill and devotion.  It's still in excellent condition so we are sending it back to where it will be still loved and appreciated.

With sincere thanks for this waistcoat and for the time it belonged to us.

Very best wishes


Anon, if you read this I am sincerely touched and hugely overwhelmed by your gesture,  I will keep it and wear it myself as it fits a treat!  A happy reminder of past stitches, time and creativity.

Thank you.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Spooky True Story about a Waistcoat

Spooky True Story about a Waistcoat

It has been on my radar to write a blog post for several weeks. I was surprised last post was June 2015.   I struggle with juggling home life, work life, creativity, swimming adventures and technology

Yesterday morning I opened and found a message and a couple of photographs from AB.  I instantly recognised the work in the photographs to be a long sold waistcoat.   Distinctly my style, distressed blue denim with hand painted bamboo and abstract hearts along with added embroidery.

AB asked if I could confirm that it was one of my garments and if so what year.

Well, I could definitely confirm that it was one of my waistcoats, I just hoped that I had a photo to prove it.   I searched through my content and found the exact one, referenced TY 724.  In those days I would make a garment, take a random snap for personal reference and sell it.  The date looked like the year 2000.   In those days photos were non digital and and would be printed out via  by the excellent services of Trueprint.

TY 724 is reproduced below:

AB lives in Spain,  he came across the waistcoat in a charity shop.  He said it had been well looked after and in good condition.  Anyway AB wore it to work in Spain and a few people commented on it. Apparently one person knew the designer (me). Right now I cannot think of anyone I know in Spain! How is that for a spooky coincidence!!

Naturally I am delighted that TY 724 has retired to Spain and has found a new owner who will cherish it as much as the first.  


Friday, 12 June 2015

Idea for Patchwork or Needlework Sample. Create Wearable Pocket

Idea for Patchwork or Textile Sample.  Create Wearable Pocket.

So annoying when you are chasing around, phone rings, stops before you reach it or you want to read something quickly and glasses are in another part of building.   For convenience and practical working I need to have mobile and landline phone, plus glasses and handkerchief all in one place without having to search.

Clothes with pockets never seem to work and light purses or bags can be cumbersome around the neck.

Looking for a practical use for a patchwork sample created recently, a wearable pocket was a clear winner.

Easy to make using no fraying fabric.  I used a light nylon mesh.   Cut a rectangle double the size of needlework.  Allow extra around the edges and for seams.   Cut long strip for tie, enough to go around your waist and to make a bow.   I folded tie length in half.

Sew together. 

Monday, 1 June 2015

Helen in the Sea - Textile Pictures by Jackie Wills 2015

Helen in the Sea - Textile Pictures by Jackie Wills 2015

Blog has been neglected recently, partly due to distractions and developing new ideas.

I was inspired to submit some work for selection for the 'Just Add Water' exhibition at Hannahs, Seale Hayne near Newton Abbot.  

I wanted to create a textile painting of wild sea with a swimmer.  Below is Helen in the Sea One.  

Helen in the Sea One by Jackie Wills

This work was inspired by my lovely friend Helen.   Over the years we have shared many fantastical adventures wild swimming, often in extreme conditions in the sea and rivers of Devon.  We were at the Ness Beach at Shaldon, it was a horrid day, the beach was deserted and the sea was crazy. Red stones growling as they rolled in the surf. It was agony to the feet.  I took a photograph as Helen walked in and tamed the sea.  I used my image to create three very different pictures of Helen in the Sea.

Helen in the Sea, building interpretation with paint on canvas and denim

Using ecru canvas on the left and distressed denim on the right I built my interpretation with paint. Texture was applied with machine embroidery, couching with thread and wool. Voile provided further subtile texture. A few other haberdashery oddments were sewn in to finish.   The works then framed.

detail, Helen in the Sea Two by Jackie Wills

Above:  Helen in the Sea One by Jackie Wills 2015