Friday, 28 September 2012

Beginner Tutorial 1 - Cutting Tools Part B : Cutting Mats

 A Cutting Mat is the necessary partner of the Rotary Cutter; it is hazardous to use a Rotary Cutter without one. The main purpose of the mat is to Protect your work surface, but it also serves to protect the blade from the work surface. They were not made exclusively for use in Patchwork. Like many things cutting mats were first used in an industrial setting with the principle being co-opted for a variety of domestic applications. As you can imagine they would be very useful in paper craft or model fact any activity where you use a sharp blade of some description.

There are 2 types of Cutting Mats
  • Self Healing
  • Hard
 Self Healing Mats
These are the style of mat that has been most commonly available. A great deal of mystery surrounds their actual composition, this is one of the few time Mr Google has failed me. I can tell you they are made of several layers, the core most likely some form of vinyl which acts to stabilise the outer layer of mystery polymer. This type of mat does exactly as the name suggests: the surface heals when it is cut. That first mat of mine, the one I showed in the previous post is the self healing variety. It may have been cheap, but it certainly stood the test of time. Name brand self healing mats will be at the higher end price wise,but my experience has proven that even a knock off will do the job. No matter the price you pay, this style of mat has one major draw back. They must be kept completely flat at all times or they will buckle. If they warm up ie the sun hits them through a window...they will buckle also and no amount of reheating and squishing will make them flat again.

Hard Mats
Thes are thinner and lighter than a self healing mat as they only have the one layer. The brand I am most familiar with is made from 100% recycled materials and is manufactured in a carbon neutral factory. They are also made in Australia by an Australian owned company. Somewhat surprisingly they come in at a more affordable price than the self healing variety which is not often typical of products manufactured at home. I am also told that the surface of the the hard mat is kinder on the blade of your cutter. Unlike the self healing mats, hard mats are warp resistant. (Trust me that is quite a big selling point)

Life span of either style will depend on how much you use the mat, how well you care for it and maybe a little surprisingly HOW you use it. Your actual cutting technique plays a significant part in the life of your mat AND the blade of your cutter. (There will be a cutting technique tutorial coming in the future.....)

Matilda's Own 17" Rotating Cutting Mat
You can buy anything from a 12" square travel style mat up to a 54" x 26" counter mat that is used in a retail store. There are also a new style of round mats, or smaller square mats that incorporate a Lazy Susan style mechanism. It is useful to be able to spin the cutting surface rather than disturb a neat pile of fabric. This also improves safety when cutting as it eliminates the temptation to cut awkwardly. What size you buy will depend on what money you have to spend and the space you have to use and also store the mat. When I worked in the house on the dining room table I had an 18" x 24" mat. I currently use a 22" x 34" self healing mat, but I now have the luxury of a large table in a dedicated studio. I am thinking of getting a counter mat, I mean why wouldn't I? Honestly bigger isn't always better, so don't fall into the trap of mat envy.  With the correct technique you can make good use of whatever size you can afford & store.

Mats that are designed specifically for patchwork feature an imperial grid with the addition of some 45 degree angle lines also printed on the surface. Some mats are double sided, and usually those that are feature a metric grid on one side, the typical imperial on the other. These lines aid you when cutting fabric for your quilts, but more about that in the Cutting Technique Tutorial.

Traditionally all mats have been a dark green with yellow writing. Lately I have seen mats in a rainbow of colours....the colour makes no difference to the performance.

So how do you choose? Here is my list of things to think about when buying your first or even upgrading your cutting mat. 

  • What size is practical in the space I work in.
  • What size is practical for me to store safely.
  • How much do I have to spend.
Yes the list is quite short, because in my mind they are the only 3 criteria you need to address. Let me give you an example. If you are a Grey Nomad who packs up for several months a year to travel the country in a caravan.... choose a small hard mat. Obviously space is tight in a caravan for using and storing a mat but also the warp resistant nature of the hard mat suits an environment where there is potential swings in temperature.

Pictured below are 2 mats by the same Supplier, one of each type. The size is not exactly the same but is the closest I could find for comparison. As you can see the difference in price between the 2 types is quite significant even factoring in the size disparity. In this situation spending more is not necessarily getting you a better quality product. You could ask why you would spend more when a quality product is available at the more affordable price? I have used both and find I have a preference for the Self Healing Mat....but if my circumstances or needs changed I would absolutely consider the Hard variety.

22" x 28" Hard Cutting Mat RRP $35.00            24" x 36" Self Healing Mat RRP $89.95                  

So my final word? In this case you are spoiled for choice. I truly believe it is hard to make a wrong decision.

You will not presently find Cutting Mats listed on my Website. I am still working through which is the most user friendly size, generally speaking and the safest most cost effective shipping method. In the meantime I will happily special order anything I don't have. Or if you would just like some more advice, drop me a line.

NOW for today's treasure hunt! Can you make out the Brand name of the mats I have featured in this post?? See if you can, and then see if you can find out where their Head office is...leave your answer in a comment here!



PS Don't forget to share this blog.....the more the merrier!!

PPS I may not have Cutting Mats...but I have LOTS of other awesome why not stop by the store anyway..... SHOP HERE!

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Beginner Tutorial 1 - Cutting Tools Part A: Rotary Cutters

Commencing any new craft adventure can be expensive. On top of the materials you need, there can be a long list of equipment that is seen as either necessary or at the very least desirable.  In this first Tutorial we shall look the basic cutting tools that are available to assist you in making quilts.  It is important to understand that the 3 pieces of equipment I will introduce must be used together to cut fabric. There is a lot of information for all of the components and this post could quickly turn into War & Peace: Therefore I will present a post on each part over the next couple of days. Today our topic is Rotary Cutters.

Let me just say before I go any further, that you can make beautiful quilts with a pair of good fabric scissors, some chalk or a pencil and any old ruler! Prior to the late 1970's it was the only option available and there are AMAZING quilts from around the world as evidence of this. I don't want anyone to think that you MUST have the equipment I am going to talk about.  Just know that you can Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can. When you are ready to invest in this specialist equipment, you will have the knowledge you need to make a good purchase. If you already have a Rotary Cutter, I hope this information will still be useful and interesting.

My first set of cutting equipment.
When I began quilting, a friend offered to lend me some of her tools, but that was not good enough. For me, waiting is not an option: I want all my OWN tools, yesterday. Pictured here on the left is my very first set of tools. I purchased the mat & the cutter from a discount store, around $20 for both and the ruler which came from Spotlight was probably also around $20. None of it the best quality available but it certainly did the job for a while and obviously I still have them. I hope this post will explain why I upgraded sooner rather than later, and why I might have been better to spend a little more in the first place.

 There are 2 basic styles of Rotary Cutter:
  • Classic Stick (4 Blade Sizes: 18mm,25mm,45mm & 60mm)
  • Comfort Grip.(3 Blade Sizes: 25mm, 45mm & 60mm)
Classic Stick
This is the original style of Rotary Cutter as invented by Yoshio Okada in the late '70's. As such a 45mm Stick cutter is the most common you will find, available in a lot of different brands with a huge difference in prices. It is always tempting to go for the cheapest, but I discovered the hard way that you get what you pay for. On the original "cheap" stick style cutter I purchased, the mechanism for retracting the blade back and forth was decidedly uncooperative. This made opening and closing the blade a perilous activity. I therefore tended to leave it open, which was also flirting with danger as I had 4 small children hovering around me while I worked. The device cut the fabric adequately but I purchased another quite quickly rather than risk my hobby becoming a blood sport!! If you are counting your pennies, a Classic stick is probably your best buy, but choose a reputable brand and if possible try one out to see how it feels.

Comfort Grip
The name says it all really! If you are doing a lot of cutting, the handle of the Stick style just doesn't cut it (Ha, yes pun intended) The Olfa cutter pictured is called the "Deluxe" for a reason. The manner in which you grip the tool for starters lessens fatigue in your hand. This one also features a trigger grip handle. As you can see the blade is currently retracted safely. As soon as you grip the handle, the blade moves to the open position and is ready for use. Once you put the tool down, thereby releasing your grip on the trigger, the blade pops back to it's safety position. There is also a one touch locking button that can be used to lock the blade either open or closed. The cutter shown is the 60mm size which I have recently upgraded to. It is right at the top end price wise, but it will be the last Rotary Cutter you need to buy.

Regardless of which Style you use, you also need to choose the most suitable size for the work you are doing.
  • 18mm & 25mm: Used for cutting around the curves of patchwork and applique templates
  • 45mm: General patchwork
  • 60mm: Perfect for cutting larger stacks of patchwork fabric or heavier fabric
The 45mm blade is almost considered the "standard" size for use in patchwork and this size will serve you very well. As I mentioned I recently upgraded to the 60mm, but as you can imagine I do a LOT of cutting.

Care of the Blade
The retractability of the blade not only serves to keep YOU safe, but helps to protect the blade from damage when not in use. It is extremely important to only cut fabric and to only do so on a self healing mat (which I will tell you more about it Part B of this post). These cutters are brilliant for cutting card and paper, but I have set aside one of my old Rotary cutters for this specific purpose. Replacement Blades are readily available for all size, and in my experience have been universal (ie  I usually have one on hand, because Murphy's Law dictates that you will need a new blade when the shop is closed! You can also purchase a blade sharpening tool for each of the 25mm, 45mm & 60mm blades. This can't return your cutting edge to it's original degree of sharpness but it will remove any bumps or burrs and extend the life of your blade significantly. I keep the blades from my fabric cutter and demote them to the paper cutter for use before I finally throw them out. 

Just one final word on safety: A good friend found out that an Olfa cutter will insulate you from electric shock! How did she ascertain this interesting and valuable fact?? By slicing through the power cord of her sewing machine......I KNOW! Not something I recommend and it certainly highlights the importance of keeping all power cords safely away from your cutting area.

So how do you choose? Here is my list of things to look for when buying your first or even upgrading your rotary cutter.
  • Is the blade retractable
  • Does the blade lock
  • Is the blade reversible (to suit left handers)
  • Which size will best suit my main purpose
  • Which handle style is best for me
  • What can I afford to spend
In the years I have been Patchworking, I have tried many brands and styles of Rotary Cutter.  This trial and error process has led me to the Olfa range of cutter which I use, recommend and now sell exclusively. Why?? Because they tick all the boxes I have mentioned, simple as that!

Visit the Patchwork Promises Online Store to see the range of cutting tools I stock! If you have any questions about this post you can email me on



PS Fancy a treasure hunt? Visit the Olfa website and find out why Yoshio Okada decided to make the Olfa products Yellow. Leave you answer here in a comment to be in the running for a fabulous prize. SO wanna know what the booty is?? At the end of this 3 part series I will gift someone the PERFECT cutting tool starter pack! (There will be a chance to enter in each part of the series and yes you may enter at each one giving you multiple chances) TELL YOU FRIENDS!!


Thursday, 20 September 2012

How did I get HERE?

Some days I feel like I am doing exactly what I am meant to be doing, others leave me fighting the urge to run away screaming and pack it all in. But mostly I just wonder at how I got here at all. Right here, just now?? I remember always wanting to have my own business, the first I made a dash at was Madonna style mesh singlets in the mid '80s. (You remember the ones, right?? lol)  In fact I come from a line of women filled with entrepreneurial spirit: plans, dreams and ideas in plentiful supply. And despite a lack of measurable success a tenacity to just keep chipping away coz one day, ONE DAY something might just work! Every idea that I can think that we thought of over the years had a common thread, it was always an idea based on some form of creative pursuit. For me that has meant dabbling in a LOT of different types of craft. Most I have left behind, except Patchwork.

This week I have been mulling over some longer term plans for the business and somehow in that internal conversation I began to reminisce. Just how DID I end up here, in a Shed in my backyard, doing what I do? I believe it can be traced but to 1 event, and 1 person.

I have always sewn. I was given my first sewing machine at around 12. I had access to fabric and SCISSORS and the freedom to make whatever I wanted. My first job at 15 was on a production line in a womens clothing factory. Upon leaving there I worked in retail, but ended up back at school in my late teens studying dressmaking and design. Then marriage, children and part time jobs sewing or in retail. Really just variations on a theme over many years. Until my best friend of the time was turning 30 and I was stuck for a gift. I wanted the type of gift that money couldn't buy, a gift that expressed my feelings and was also a representation of me. A new friend (Yes Elizabeth Poland I am talking about you), suggested that I make a small fabric wall-hanging. Over a cup of tea one afternoon we poured through her quilting magazines to find a suitable project. I was a little amazed by the projects we found. I mean, who had thought of using a sewing machine for anything else other than bridesmaids dresses, clothes for the kids and the occasional set of curtains? Well I had made a doll for my eldest daughter, but dressing her had been the best bit! We selected something small and manageable in the time frame that included a touching verse about friendship and away we went. First want me to hand stitch the applique design?? lol The project was finished and gifted and I think appreciated (it was a long time But more importantly it set some embers smoldering, got the old brain ticking over.

Elizabeth then invited me to a craft class at her church. It was to be a mixed craft kind of class but one of the first projects on the list was the fabric wall-hanging pictured here on the right. As you can see FULL of applique, some simple piecing and embellishments. It caused me SOOOO much stress! Thankfully with the guidance of Elizabeth and her partner in crime Sally,  it was finished and finished well. When I look at it now I can see so many things I would change....but really how can I consider it! This is the piece that really started me on the path to where I am now and Elizabeth and Sally have to be credited with giving this dressmaker an excellent grounding in Patchwork. Their willingness to advise and explain some of the peculiarities of the craft gave me the confidence to branch out and tackle larger projects on my own. I remember those classes and their kindness with much fondness. Because you see I wasn't always a compliant willing student. I KNEW how to sew for goodness sake, I have been been doing it since I was a child. The more I think about it, the more I wonder they didn't throttle me!

I need you to bare with me, I know I have just taken you down the garden path but I do have a point and now that I have told you a story I might just be able to get around to

I asked the FB group this week where and how they learned to patchwork. (and you thought my "Question of the Day:" was just random...but is important research!!) Surprisingly few attended formal classes, some were instructed by friends or family members. But leading the way undoubtedly are the self learners. Gathering information from books, magazines, trail and error and maybe not so surprisingly in this day and!!

I LOVE to teach. I taught dressmaking at a Bargain Box store in a previous life, so the progression to teaching patchwork was a natural one. I have been lucky enough to facilitate a class to the same group of ladies for a close to 4 years now. We started of meeting monthly, and this year increased that to twice monthly. I truly believe I have gained as much as I have given and I want to do it MORE! Especially focusing on those just dipping their toe in for the first time. I will be seeking more in person type teaching opportunities, but I have also decided that I can do that right here?? This blog can be anything I want it to why not turn it into a resource for those who are remote or housebound or wanting to learn at their own pace in their own space.....

I have been mulling this for a while....but now IT MUST BE DONE!! Still working out the schedule and content but you have been warned. WATCH THIS SPACE!! LOL Tutorials are coming!!



PS got any idea for content?? Shoot me an email!! You gotta give the people what they want!

PPS if you haven't had a look at the website should! New fabric has been added and it is YUMMY! Click here to visit the Patchwork Promises store!

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Confidence......'s a tricky thing! I have been pondering this word a lot lately...and in particular business confidence.

As you know I have been making changes to Patchwork Promises over the last year: I have re-branded,  created a new selling platform, developed an actual marketing strategy and I am adding new products & designs. I had pottered along for the first 5 years, honestly only working Patchwork Promises as a hobby. The construction of the Studio was the first step needed to start building something a bit more serious, but taking the leap that I finally have this year, well they took a little longer to eventuate. Why?? Confidence or rather a profound lack of it and in particular BUSINESS confidence.

The decision to step up was not taken lightly and the closing of the ebay store was the defining moment. Initially I felt liberated, giddy even..... free to make decisions about what face I wanted to put on MY business. Set my own terms....give MY customers a unique shopping experience that was mutually beneficial rather than one designed to line the pockets of the middle man. Unfortunately that first flush of bravado didn't last long and recently my business confidence has taken beating. Because while I was busy having meetings and issuing instructions to web developers and graphic designers, while I was booking print advertising and ordering stock, I realized that some of assumptions I had made just weren't panning out. Some of the things I had counted on, just didn't eventuate. Have you heard the term analysis paralysis?? Well I got myself in this vicious never ending thought pattern, trying to work out what I was doing anything wrong, was I in fact doing anything wrong?? Apart from the fact that I couldn't make sensible business decisions, I  also created a MASSIVE creative block. I started to question if I have the skill to design, write and teach in this industry. "HHhhmm Maybe that is the problem, doesn't matter if my business skills aren't designs and my work just aren't up to isn't as good as blah blah blah...." I think you get the frame of mind I have been in!

 Amongst all this negative chatter....there has been one phrase that will occasionally pop into my head:


In truth, this has seemed too simple to be the answer that I have been seeking..... I have spent hours trying to reason out answers and justifications for my predicament and I am tired from it...exhausted even. So from now on I surrender to the simplicity:


I will no longer seek to hide or explain away my short comings. I am who I am. I bring a LOT to the table and what I don't know, I am capable of learning.

My work is good, in fact it is better than good. I will not stifle the creative process by comparing myself to others. I will find my niche, I just need to embrace the journey.

I AM IN BUSINESS....aspiring to make money is not a bad thing. I will no longer undervalue my work or my time!

Goodness, that feels good!!

Today I put all that into action....It has been an interesting kind of day. AND I took one very particular bold step! Once the details are fleshed out I will fill you in....but until then you will just need to wait!!

The line is drawn....and I am powering on!



Thursday, 6 September 2012


Specifically online friendships: are they real? Can they translate into real life? Do they NEED to move into reality to be valid or is a purely cyber friendship as meaningful and deep as an I.R.L. (In Real Life) relationship.

Not beating around the bush with this opinion YES they are real, meaningful AND personally some of the most valuable friendships I have. The responses on my FB page to this particular question overwhelming support my experience and some of the stories are quite amazing. For example: I have three friends, yes THREE friends who have built relationships online that have turned into love and marriage!! And these were situations where meeting up for coffee to see if it would work wasn't an option....we are talking oceans between them!!

I felt that I knew someone so well from our online interactions, that when I did meet her in person for the first time I was quite blase. We said a quick hello and I remember a funny look crossing her face which I didn't really understand. I sat down, started my work and then the pieces of the puzzle connected in my head: we had never actually met!!  I had the sense to find her and apologise for being so flippant with what was obviously a momentous occasion. Thankfully she was gracious enough to understand and accept my apology and we are still friends....yes Gail Pan..I am talking about YOU!

But I guess what prompted me to even ask these question of myself was a sudden and tragic event in the life of one of my online friends this past week. I am sure there are a lot of my readers who are also friends with Di Jobbins, and like me are probably still reeling at the sudden death of Di's husband Boak. I met Di once, for a total of about 5min....I had never met her husband. WHY was I so distraught at the passing of a man I had never met? Simply, my love and respect for Di was such that no other response was appropriate. And that for me is the true measure of friendship, no matter it's origin or form, the bond is REAL and totally grown and nurtured in cyber space.

Now, mostly my experiences online have been positive...but I know just like I.R.L. friendships, cyber friendships can go pear-shaped. It is so easy to "over-share" online and FB particularly, if we let it, allows daily, hourly or even min by min insights into our lives. I am sure we have all had the experience of bumping into people we have not seen in months, and being reminded that they know EVERYTHING that has happened to us lately...I learned very early on to check what I post before I post it. I have honestly deleted more status updates and comments to posts than I have actually posted....and yet there are some that I deleted after they had gone live and still others I WISH I had pulled down. If I have learnt anything over the last few years, it is that EVERYTHING we do and say is subjective: that my understanding of a situation WILL be VERY different from everyone else's...even if we all saw, read or heard the same thing at exactly the same time. 

In light of this understanding I now look at my friendships very differently, whether they be I.R.L. or cyber friendships....I seemed to constantly have my feelings hurt, people and friendships never lived up to my expectation and I was always sad and disappointed. WHY do people treat me like this, WHY are they mean, WHY do they hurt ME??!! Truth is they weren't hurting ME...they were just going about their business with their own understanding and expectations. Truth be told we all just stumble through life don't we....mostly making it up as we go along? In all relationships there is a need for a HUGE dose of grace! Meet people where they are....remember that we all have bad days, lower your expectations and most importantly learn to apologise....of all the things I have learnt this has been the hardest and yet the most rewarding. And sometimes....well sometimes you need to draw a line....there is nothing wrong with deciding a friendship has run its course....everything has it's season.

So my final word...I am grateful for ALL my friends. My intention is to no longer classify them as I.R.L. or online friends and most importantly, to longer feel the need to justify calling my online friends simply friends. I have been places and done things at the encouragement of "those" friends that I would never have dreamed I would do....I am supported, encouraged and blessed in so many ways every day by the people who are in my life. Thank you!!