Welcome to month one of London Town, Westminster Abbey.
All aboard the tour bus: our sightseeing excursion around London Town is about to begin and this month we’re exploring Westminster Abbey.
Most recently the venue for our beloved Queen’s funeral, Westminster Abbey has been at the heart of national life for a thousand years. It's hosted every coronation since William The Conqueror’s in 1066, along with many a royal wedding and service of remembrance and is also the final resting place of seventeen monarchs and thirteen royal consorts.
Founded by Edward the Confessor in 1065, it became known as the west minster to distinguish it from St Paul's Cathedral - the east minster - in the City. Unfortunately, when his new church was consecrated on 28th December 1065, Edward was too ill to attend. He died a few days later and was buried in front of the High Altar.
His 13th century successor, Henry III, was particularly devoted to Edward - adopting him as his patron saint - and demonstrated his devotion by… demolishing the Abbey. He rebuilt it in the splendidly fashionable Gothic style, giving it the highest nave in England. Traces of Edward's abbey can still be seen in the round arches and massive supporting columns of the under croft and Pyx Chamber, but the only depiction left is, ironically, in the Bayeux Tapestry.
Two centuries later King Henry VII added the Lady Chapel, with its gravity-defying, fan-vaulted ceiling. But then his son Henry VIII closed all of the monasteries, so Westminster Abbey has not, in fact, been an abbey since 1539. Henry granted it cathedral status - sparing it from destruction - and his daughter Elizabeth I made it a royal peculiar: a church responsible directly to the monarch, which it has been ever since.
Buried alongside the great and the good in the Abbey is a humble Shropshire farm labourer called Thomas Parr, who won Royal patronage by claiming to be 152 years and 9 months old. Invited to London to meet King Charles I, Thomas left Shropshire never to return: rich food and a lack of good clean, country air caused his demise within weeks of arriving and the King decreed that he be buried in the Abbey.
Our quilt block shows the Abbey’s magnificent West Entrance. Its flanking towers were left unfinished in the medieval period - with one slightly taller than the other - and they weren't actually completed until 1745. Just inside the West Door is the Abbey’s most poignant memorial, the grave of the Unknown Warrior, buried on Armistice Day 1920 to represent all of the men and women who never returned home from the First World War.
The fine gothic stonework on our Westminster Abbey block is fashioned in Tilda Hometown’s Neighbourhood, Berrytangle and Applegarden prints. Remember to hang on to your scraps for later blocks and take a look at the techniques box, right, for my hints on snowballed corners.
This month's parcel includes the London Town Pattern Book – with a smart, spiral binding so you can lay it flat as you sew – plus two notions to set aside for future months: a bias tape maker and some fray check.
We’ll be using the latter next month, but until then, happy sewing :-)
This month's technique...
Snowballing the corner of a piece of fabric - by adding a 45º triangle of another fabric - gives the illusion of a rounded corner, or in this case, a gothic window frame.
It's one of my favourite techniques and I think I've tried every trick in the book to make my snowballed corners accurate.
Here are my favourite tips:
a: If you are sewing with a directional print - like Neighbourhood - 'test' your square in place first, to make sure it's the right way up, before marking the diagonal line;
b: When sewing small pieces always pin. It seems like an unnecessary step, but it's so much quicker than unpicking a wonky seam (ask me how I know...);
c: Use a sharp pencil - or fine marker - to mark the diagonal line, place it exactly in the corner and sew directly ON the line. What will really improve your accuracy is using a lovely, fine thread (I love Aurifil 50 weight);
d: Press your top square first, to check that you're completely happy, before trimming away the back layers of fabric. Again, it might seem quicker to trim first then press, but once those back layers are gone, they're gone!
Just a quick note to let you know that an error has been noticed in step 6 of the Westminster Abbey directions - my thanks to Diane for bringing it to my attention - and it should read: …snowball both top corners of a 2½” aqua square with 1½” gold squares…