In my last post we looked at planning a mini quilt and various ways of finding or creating a pattern of your own. So, once you have that decided, what’s next? How do you choose fabric? What paper pieces should you use? What are the best stitches to use to sew the shapes together?
There is received wisdom of a sort to help with fabric choices but there are not really any rules and sometimes the most surprising combinations work beautifully. However, if you are a beginner, there are some useful tips on one of my Pages on this site. It’s called ‘Help with Fabric and Pattern’, so to save repeating it all here, why not check out the page for yourself? If anything is not clear, please let me know.
Regarding paper pieces I will just point what were the advantages and disadvantages with each type for me, though that doesn’t mean you will feel the same way. You can:
- Use sheets of shapes which are available to download online, print out and cut up. You can then colour them in to get an idea of how certain colour placements will work.
2. Make your own templates out of paper and cut them out, or make templates from sheets of plastic and draw around these to make your own paper shapes.
3. Print out blocks you like on printer paper and then cut out the individual shapes. This is what I tend to do because I like to play around with the position of the shapes in a block .
Each of the above three option are cheap and readily available but you have to cut out the shapes very carefully. The smallest slip can cause inaccuracies that make piecing difficult later, causing points not to meet as they should. Not that this can’t be fixed. One of the advantages of EPP is that is it is much easier (though just as tedious) to unpick and redo shapes than if you were stitching by machine. I can’t tell you how many quilts I have redone, sometimes over and over, because the paper shapes didn’t align properly and often the whole quilt would be affected. It can put you off forever unless you are pretty determined to redo it until it’s right.
Paper tends to be very thin, too, and when you are folding over the seam allowance the paper edges and corners can easy bend slightly or fold without you being aware of it, making your rectangles (for example) dip in the middle or narrow towards one end. Papers can be reused if they are in good condition but some are just too crumpled after being in your quilt for weeks, months or even years. Some people don’t sew through their paper inserts and so they do last longer. I do because I want to make sure they keep still!
I know some experienced EPP quilters who prefer to make paper pieces using flyers that come through the door, or magazine pages which have a little more stiffness to them. Some use thin card from food packets. I’ve never done this so can’t comment on its effectiveness.
Having bought some packets of paper pieces recently though, I would go for these every time if I could afford them. I have begun to buy the shapes that I find in a block I like and re-assemble it on my desk and then play around with the pieces. This has meant no more printing or cutting out; it is easier to make the block any size I want (provided that shapes working together are available in the size you want) and, what’s more, piecing is a breeze because each piece is die cut and therefore exactly the same. The ‘paper’ used is actually thin card that keeps its shape when used over and over. No contest, as they say.
I’m not going to say much about stitches because there is so much information available online, as well as video tutorials. It might be worth trying out each of the stitches to see which you feel most comfortable with.
In recent years there has been a wave of discontent around EPP stitches showing, although there is still a school of people who don’t care if stitches show because it proves that the quilt is handmade. I think there is a middle road. They can look ugly if they show too much, like pale teeth lurking between shapes. There are ways to minimise this look and ways to hide them completely, depending on how much effort you want to put in to ‘get the knack’ of it.
The traditional stitch is the Whip Stitch. This is because it is the strongest. Whipped stitches don’t need to show but often do unless you know how to do them properly and it can take a good while to perfect them. The secret is to hold the fabric (around the two sides you are sewing together) with your thumb and forefinger right at the top edge and take little stitches, skimming through the very top of the fabric, across the papers and your finger tips. Tip your work slightly upwards as you hold it, encouraging your needle to lift slightly as it moves from the back, straight across the top of the fabric, towards you. Holding the pieces on the horizontal (parallel with your chest) allows you to dig down a little with your needle as you cross from one shape to another, causing the stitches to show.
The next secret is in the thread colour. Use a neutral thread like a light grey on multicoloured fabrics; otherwise match your thread to your fabric colour, and if joining a dark piece to a pale piece, use the same colour thread as the darker piece.
It seems growing numbers of EPP quilters are disenchanted with the whip stitch. They don’t want to work at getting the knack, they want instant no-show stitches and there is nothing wrong with that. Some people need to feel they are making fast progress. For them the Ladder Stitch or the Flat Back Stitch is the answer. Feather Stitch, which is actually an embroidery stitch, can also be used and this is also done on the back. Personally I find these stitches slow and tedious. Flat back stitch does not allow the seams to fit as snugly together, either, but they all give an instant no-show stitch result.
None of these stitches are as strong as the traditional Whipstitch but if your quilt is not going to be washed over and over, or is going on a wall, it’s not going to matter much. In the end you must use the one you like. For me it is always going to be the whipstitch because I enjoy using it and I love that is is the traditional way.
So, that’s enough of the mechanics of EPP for now. What have I been making since my last post?
Last month was a UFO month for me and I am pleased to say I have made good progress on three. I am close to finishing ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’. Just some little flying geese to add to the right hand side of the topmost section and then I can make my quilt sandwich.
I finished the top of ‘Whitley Bay.’ (The problems I encountered doing this will feature in a future post)
I managed to put a wee Scottie Dog into each of my Attic Window blocks. I’m not sure what I am going to do with these.
And I finally completed ‘The Sweet Life’ quilt that has been waiting years for a binding. I learned how to make binding and hand sew it to both sides of a quilt only last week
and I am super excited to see the quilt finished at last.
Next post – I thought I might look at some common mistakes and how to put them right. Would that be helpful? And, you never know, maybe some un-quilted minis will get quilted in the meantime.
See you then….