Paper and Cloth & Old English Patchwork

Hello Everybody,

I hope you had an enjoyable Easter break. It was bitterly cold here in Scotland but at least it was dry!

An Easter Bunny escaping his basket!

At this time of year, as the weather warms and brightens, all the stuff you didn’t do over winter starts to pile up. I realise why people used to Spring Clean. Suddenly it’s bright enough to see properly into dark cupboards and give them a good clear out. The days get longer and you realise you should be fitting in more of those unfinished projects but in the midst of all that you are drawn outside into the long awaited sunshine. I have a big garden and there is a lot of work to do out there in Spring, before the grass gets longer and the buggy things come out to bite.

I haven’t been doing any EPP lately as I have turned my attention to my textile course for a while. It’s always difficult juggling the two, especially when both lots of projects take so long to make. The textile course teaches me so much that is new and gives me more space to express small personal things but I am constantly drawn back to my small blocks of EPP, finding the repetitive nature of their patterns soothing; a sort of mindful exercise that gives me time out from busier things.

This will seem rather an odd post; not really about EPP though distantly related.

Recently I have been working with paper, something I really didn’t expect from a textile course, and I want to share my latest project with you for reasons that will become clear (I hope):

We were given several disconnected elements to make, which we were invited to combine into a composition of some sort, using some or all of them. Each of them were paper versions of items usually made in fabric, and many of them patchwork designs that were very popular long ago both in Britain and America: A Pocket, a Suffolk Puff (known in America as a Yo-Yo) a Rose and a patchwork block which the tutor descried as a ‘”Cathedral Window”.

This is what I did with them:

‘In Memory’

I used the project to create a tribute to my parents who were in love their whole married lives. I used black and white vintage papers with a little red stitching and a red button. The typed area in the background is a poem my dad gave to my mother. Another poem, written to her on Valentine’s Day in 1942, is placed inside the pocket. The ‘Cathedral Window’, set on point here, is a nod to their wedding in St Andrew’s Cathedral, Dundee, Scotland. The roses are for love and for Valentine’s day, and the butterflies for all the hopes, dreams and wishes that they shared. (I didn’t add the Suffolk Puffs)

After I finished the project I tried to find out more about a few of these old patchwork designs. The making of ruched rosettes or “Puffs”, were first recorded in 1601 and said to have originated in Suffolk, England. Their size meant they could be made from tiny scraps of fabric and used either by themselves as an embellishment or joined to make an open work coverlet. The first recording of their use as ‘Yo Yo”s in America was in the 1920s but it wasn’t until the 1930’s that they became popular enough for patterns to appear on pages of weekly publications.

Pockets were made to hang from belts from the 1300’s but patchwork pockets were much used from the 1700’s through the 1800’s in Britain. They looked nothing like the shape of the more modern pocket in my composition above but were more like large pouches sewn into men’s outer garments. I think pockets could be used more than they are in patchwork and fabric collage projects these days, especially if they were transparent and you could see what was inside them.

The ‘Cathedral Window’ design had been used for centuries in the Far East on non-fabric items before it found its way onto fabric in Europe and America, its growth in popularity attributed to its suggestion of the stained glass windows of our churches and cathedrals.

By chance I discovered that the ‘Cathedral Window’ pattern I was taught in the project above is not the original ‘Cathedral Window’ design but is in fact called ‘Secret Garden’, a pattern generally made in a solid fabric that revealed a part hidden or ‘secret’ floral fabric through the gaps. Below is a modern example in reverse, with the floral fabric on the outside and the solid fabric hidden inside.

‘Secret Garden’ from the book ‘Quilting Step by Step’ by Maggi Gordon

The pattern below is the original and genuine ‘Cathedral Window’ design, but because of the similarities in the patterns, the same name if often used for both patterns.

‘Cathedral Window’ from the book ‘Quilting Step by Step’ by Maggi Gordon

Both of these are examples of Folded Patchwork and there are more examples such as the amazing ‘Folded Star’ that can also be found in Maggi Gordon’s book. Folded Patchwork designs were not generally made into quilts though, because they didn’t require a backing or batting (all that would have made them too heavy) and the multiple folds made it difficult and unnecessary to stitch through them with quilting stitches. However, they could be made into beautiful, decorative, coverlets and cushion covers.

There is another pattern, also made from two harmonising colours, and strikingly similar to ‘Secret Garden’ and ‘Cathedral Window’, called ‘Rob Peter to Pay Paul’l (or sometimes Rob Peter and Pay Paul. It is so called because part of one section appears to ‘pay’ the part that is robbed from another. The phrase refers to times before the Reformation when Church taxes had to be paid to St. Paul’s church in London and to St. Peter’s church in Rome, and often one was neglected to be able to pay the other!

Image from p59 of ‘101 Patchwork Patterns’ by Ruby McKim

‘Rob Peter to Pay Paul’ looks like a simpler rendition of ‘Cathedral Windows’ with no folding involved, just regular curved piecing that was more user-friendly for quilt making. In America, it was also known as ‘Orange Peel’, or ‘Layfayette Orange Peel’ and sometimes ‘Dolly Madison’s Workbox’.

Antique ‘Rob Peter to Pay Paul’ quilt in Turkey red and white, found in Derbyshire, England. Image borrowed with thanks from

The name ‘Orange Peel’ is likely to have come from the repeating pattern of circles with pared back edges when the blocks are set together, whereas Dolly Madison was America’s fourth First Lady. Perhaps she had a workbox that featured this pattern.

Incidentally many of these patterns are properly referred to as Mosaic Patterns which exist in almost every culture and since they are based on small geometric shapes laid out in combinations to form patterns, often repeating patterns, that rely on the juxtaposition of light and dark for their effectiveness, it is not hard to see how they found their way over time, from glass and stone, into fabric. This is why English Paper Piecing is, and was once, more accurately called Mosaic Patchwork since its inspiration came from the wider world. It is only really since it crossed over to America that it began to be called English Paper Piecing. It also gets confused with Foundation Piecing which also uses paper as a base and is often also referred to as Paper Piecing. However, the paper part is important, as it is a technique that sets it apart from most other sorts of quilting. It feels weird living in Scotland and promoting English Paper Piecing as if it is something exclusively English. Perhaps it should be called Mosaic Paper Piecing.

So, this week I have taken fabric designs and turned them into paper rather than the other way about. What a strange and unexpected thing.

I am going to have a little time off now, just until the end of May, to do what I can with my garden before it explodes into furious growth. However, if/when those April Showers eventually appear, there may be time to sew and post during May.

Until then, take care of yourselves….

Casualties – a mix of rescued daffodils that my ducks stood on and broke the stems. It gives me an endless display in Spring!

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