Little Steps with Mini Quilts

Hi Everyone,

My beautiful blue poppy, a gift from a friend several years ago

I’m sorry that I seem to have been away so long. It was my plan to have the whole of May to garden but May turned out to be wet windy and cold. I think I managed about three days in all and made very little progress. Then, as it turned to June, the days suddenly became hot and buggy and the garden exploded into huge patches of nettles. I feel rather disheartened as I made nothing like the progress I usually do. I will try again towards the end of the year when the swallows have gone, the weeds begin to die down a bit and the weather is more pleasant to work in.

I have planted around my duck area to make it look pretty and feel more secure but they do tend to trample over everything, so I don’t plant anything precious there.

The cows have become very interested in my ducks lately and spend hours staring at them over the wall. The ducks pretend they haven’t seen them.

Those peeping Toms

The pots in my courtyard are looking good but it takes all morning to water them. I usually keep things in pots until they are fairly large before they are planted or the deer eat them.

The sitting area in our courtyard

What has been really successful is all the cuttings I took of Hydrangeas last year. All of them have survived and are just beginning to flower. I will keep some and give some away to friends.

Hydrangea cuttings in our greenhouse

In the hours that the garden was inhospitable I did quite a bit of spring cleaning and sold some stuff on EBay that I had been wanting to get rid of for a while. And I came across a new and interesting product available for English Paper Piecing that I hope to try out and review, as soon as I can. It’s called Eppiflex, plastic laser cut templates in various shapes that can be used repeatedly without wearing out. They are transparent for precise placing and fussy cutting, bendable yet with edges firm enough for precise folding, whip and ladder stitch friendly, easily removable and heat resistant so you can press over them. They sound amazing. The down side is they are much more expensive than paper pieces (about £12 for a pack of 50) but if you used, for example, 2 inch squares in most of your projects they would probably be worth the investment. Anyway I will give them a try at some point and let you know what I think of them. If you have tried them, please let us know what your verdict is. (Check them out at Sewhot.co.uk or look for the video on Youtube)

I did get a little English Paper Piecing done here and there; not what I had planned to do originally (as usual) but I began a few simple mini quilts that I was in the mood for at the time. Of course they are not finished. I sometimes think it would be better to show you one thing that was finished, rather than a number of things part done, but I always seem to have several things on the go at the same time.

I plan to add more to each of them They are all a bit dull at the moment. The first one is a 8 inch block I am going to call ‘Wishing Star’. I have not decided what I want to do with it but I like the gold against the black.

‘Wishing Star’

The second one is a traditional American block called ‘Garden of Eden’, which I thought would be fun to complete with a garden of Eden theme in fabric, hence the leaves and apples. I plan to embroider something in the horizontal yellow bar, a leafy scroll, a couple of small figures, or perhaps a serpent. What do you think?

‘Garden of Eden’

It’s just sitting on its backing fabric of apples at the moment and is roughly tacked around the edges. Those stitches will disappear later and some hand quilting will make it look more interesting. It also an 8 inch block.

The third mini quilt I began was again a traditional block called ‘Castle Wall’. I thought as we have several castles dotted about Scotland I might add some tartan and enclose a unicorn (our national animal) within the castle walls (I did a previous post called ‘Scotland’s Unicorn’ in January 2019 if you are interested in scrolling back.)

‘Unicorn in the Castle Walls’

There are navy blue stars beyond the castle walls though you can’t see them very well here. I lived in a castle in Scotland for a year, once. Here is a photo of their courtyard. It’s quite something, isn’t it?

Megginch Castle courtyard, Perthshire.

There is more to say about the Castle Wall block so I will come back to it in another post, perhaps when this little unicorn quilt is finished.

Lastly I began a larger quilt of roughly 15 inches square, made from almost a whole Moda charm pack called ‘Once Upon A Chicken’. The strange thing is, though, charm packs don’t seem to have much tonal variety; not this one anyway. You can see how flat this one looks; there is not the depth that you can achieve with light medium and dark fabrics within the same quilt. Perhaps they are designed to be added to, so I could of course replace some of the pieces here with other darker or plainer fabrics but I think I am just going to leave it as it is. I am hoping that some dark brown quilting stitches and binding, and perhaps embroidering the chicken in the centre, will give the whole thing a bit more life. If not, I’ll know what I need to do next time.

‘Once Upon a Chicken’

It looks strange like this, all the paper pieces fabric wrapped but none of them sewn together.

Since my last post I have added a Contact page to this site (find the link at the top of my Home page) so that you can get in touch with me if you have any general questions about my work orA its availability. I have also added a Paypal button on my Shop page, which is for UK purchases only for the moment. I shall be listing many more products on my Shop page in the coming months. Purchases from abroad are probably better made on my Folksy site. This is all still a work in progress but will get sorted out in due course.

So, till next time….

This is Macz, sunning himself on the warm steps outside my back door.

EPP Mini Quilts, Finished and in Progress

Hello Everybody,

It’s wonderful to welcome the Spring and see lambs in the fields again.

I have some new followers; hello and welcome! I never know whether the people who join me here are experienced English Paper Piecers who want to move on from hexagons, or beginners who want to give the technique a try. Or, perhaps they are just interested in any kind of textile work, even if they don’t want to try it for themselves. I’d love to know!

The purpose of this blog is mainly to see what I can do with English Paper Piecing, other than the ubiquitous hexagon, so you will only find one post on hexagons, a unique pattern that was designed by one of my followers (see ‘Grandmother’s Posey Guest Post – A New Hexagon Design’). I want to see how small I can go with this technique, how large, how pictorial, how abstract. I want to embroider, quilt, paint and dye my English Paper Piecing backgrounds and designs and much more, so many of my posts are experiments with one thing or another. In between experiments I have been making small quilts, mainly wall hangings, with a Scottish theme, many of them featuring houses.

Since my last post I have been working hard on finishing a few quilts that have sat about unfinished for a while. It is always fun to do the top patterned part, but there are so many stages to a quilt that it is easy to put one aside once you have completed the top, in favour of starting another top. As I very much want to move on to something quite different in the near future, it is important that I get all this unfinished work completed. So, there may be a run of posts showing recently completed work with comments before I move on.

While I was working to complete these quilts it occurred to me that not everyone is likely to want to make a quilt. There are so many stages to quilt making: Once you have finished your top layer with its English Paper Pieced pattern, you still have to add backing fabric and wadding/batting in the centre. Then you have to quilt it, add binding, a sleeve if you want to hang it and a label to show who made it. But English Paper Piecing doesn’t have to be just about quilts. Of course you can use the technique to appliqué patterns onto tote bags or towels but there are a few other possibilities too, that I would like to show you in future posts. So if you love the technique but are not sure if quilt making is for you, perhaps there will be something there to suit you.

In the meantime, here are the quilts that I have completed since my last post. They will be familiar to many of you from previous posts but maybe it will be interesting to see how they look now that they are finished:

It’s going to be a long, picture-heavy post, so buckle up!

This is ‘Windblown’, a six inch mini quilt made for a picture frame. The quilting is not easy to see but I chose a circular pattern to represent the strong winds we have up here in the west of Scotland. I find square quilts often look distorted when photographed from above, so I bought a small easel to eliminate this problem. This quilt has polyester batting/wadding in the centre, which causes the shapes to puff out slightly but if you want a flatter look, cotton or bamboo is a better bet.

‘Windblown’

Here is ‘Geese Flying Over’. I love seeing the geese flying over our house between late November and January each year. I can hear them coming long before I see them. The naturalist and writer Helen Macdonald described the sounds they make as “discordant bugles” and that’s exactly right. I have found that when quilting stitches run up and down or across from the centre it is important they are not pulled too tight or they pull the centres of each edge in a little, as you see here. I have started to get a bit annoyed that the edges of my pictorial quilts cover part of the pattern when the binding is added, so I need to thinking about this more carefully beforehand, or add ‘knife edge’ finishes instead.

‘Geese Flying Over’

This is ‘Attic Window’, a really useful block for beginners to try because it is made up of only three pieces and you can put anything you like in the ‘window’, in this case a little black Scottie dog. This tiny quilt is also an example of a knife edge finish, which doesn’t interfere with any picture on the surface of the block but it can look a bit unfinished somehow. It works ok for projects you put in a frame because the edges are covered but I feel that it wouldn’t be as attractive on a quilt hanger without a fabric frame. What do you think? This has thinner bamboo batting inside which makes it more floppy, as you can see by the kink in the top as I tried to balance it on the easel. Bamboo works better for a quilt designed to go in a frame where you don’t want the bulk/higher loft that you would get with polyester.

‘Doggie in the Window’

This is ‘Thistle Jam’. It looks rather Christmassy with the red and green though it was not intended as a Christmas quilt. Here the fabric frame around it doesn’t interfere with the pattern as it does with more pictorial surfaces. Something to bear in mind when you are choosing your surface pattern.

You will see that the mitred corners are open along the crease. I used to sew right up to the top of each corner to close the gap but it often looked pinched. However, I am not sure I like them open either. I think it’s probably best to give them a press and see if they sit neatly and if not you can always add some stitches later.

‘Thistle Jam’

Here is the back of Thistle Jam, in case you wonder what they look like on the back. The quilting stitches make a nice pattern. It is the same green fabric on the back with the same bright red quilting thread so I’m not sure why the colours look a little different in the photo below.

‘Thistle Jam’ (the back)

This is a wall picture made for a quilt hanger that I made some years ago but wasn’t happy with the embroidery at the bottom, so I removed it and re-did it. I would have preferred to just put ‘Welcome’ but the space seemed to want more than a single word which looked lost in the centre.

Welcome Home’ wall quilt

It has a slim sleeve on the back, for a quilt hanger.

‘Welcome Home’ (sleeve on back)

And lastly here is ‘Little Kitties’ a mini quilt of one inch squares surrounded by a border. A border before the binding is the best way to avoid the pictorial part of your pattern from being covered but of course it requires more work and more fabric. It does make the quilt larger, which does give it more presence on a wall. As I was attaching the binding, I was upset to discover a small flaw in the fabric near the corner, the sort of flaw that, with a little friction, could become a hole. The only way to deal with something like this is to mend it as best you can and then cover it. This is why there is a little kitty face in the top left hand corner. It’s not what I would have wanted but the only way to save the quilt.

‘Little Kitties’

The binding has finally been sewn on to “Over the Hills and Far Away’ (below), a much larger wall quilt. I am certainly pleased to see that completed. The binding, added separately, was sewn on by hand, both sides. I notice that there is no information, as far as I can ascertain, online, showing you how to sew on binding totally by hand. In all cases it is machine one side and by hand on the other. Sewing it on entirely by hand is done slightly differently and I hope to create a post on that soon, in case it is something you would like to try. Not everyone has a sewing machine. Most of my mini quilts (all those above) have the backing fabric brought to the front and folded into a faux binding. This works on tiny wall quilts because the edges don’t get the wear that larger runners and bed quilts might. It is also cheaper because you don’t need to buy extra fabric for the binding. However, proper binding, as in the example below, looks and feels so much better and is not very much work on a small quilt. In fact it is much less fiddly.

‘Over the Hills and Far Away’. This was a song that my dad used to play on his mouth organ.

The next batch of quilts I am trying to finish are those that I thought would benefit from some surface embroidery, so it may take me a little longer to get through those. ‘A Walk in the Glen (below) is an example of what I mean. I plan to embroider the man and the dog and scatter some French knots in shades of purples across the flowers to give them the quilt more ‘lift’ and texture. I’m not sure if I want to add the pinned on thistles at the sides, or not.

‘A Walk in the Glen’

And there are two or three finished tops still waiting to be quilted. Here is one of them:

‘The Hare’ Runner

So, until next time….

Here’s to new beginnings!

Gallery of Lockdown Quilts in Progress

 

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Swallow babies peeking out of their nest in our carport

 

Hello Everyone!

I don’t know where I got the idea that summer was going to be more relaxing than winter and that with Lockdown there would be stacks of time to finish things. Things are busier than ever, not just with sewing but all the other stuff going on. My husband is on holiday and painting the indoor window frames. Hmm, need I say more?  My Runner duck has sprained a leg and is  unable to walk, though she manages to hop around quite well. My Pekin duck, Lily,  (pictured) has cut her foot so she is confined to an indoor pen  until it heals.  She is quacking non stop, calling to the others outside. Both of them are on anti-inflammatory drugs so I can’t sell their eggs. I hate throwing them away.

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Lily, saying “Get me out of here!”

I had a similar ‘pen’ set up indoor when they were babies, so I could keep an eye on them but then they had only tiny, unfeathered scraps of wings to flap. Lily however, has managed to flap up a storm of sawdust all over the room. She is in here for just three days but it will take as long to clean it up when she is back outside.

On a happier note we have been getting lots of lovely fruit from the garden, strawberries, cherries and apricots  so far that seem especially fat and juicy this year

We had two pounds of cherries from the greenhouse this year. This was taken about a week before they were ready.

I mentioned, in an earlier post, that I have been doing two online textile art courses, sewing for various assignments in addition to my mini quilts for these blog posts. I did get behind for a while but I’ve had to catch up quickly as the first,  year-long, course (‘Exploring Texture and Pattern’ with Sue Stone) ends on July 15th. Only one last assignment to do for that one, now.

The second course, which is a ‘Stitch Club’ run by Textileartist.org has no deadline but we are given an assignment by different artist each week, (plus accompanying video and workbook)  for a period of three weeks. Then we have a rest week before it begins again with a new set of artists. I hope to tell you a little about the assignments and what I have learned, in future posts.

This post is mainly about the mini quilts that have reached the quilting stage during Lockdown but are not yet complete. They do look rather messy with temporary basting stitches in bright pink holding them together and ragged bits of batting sticking out the sides. However, once they are quilted and the binding is added, they should look a whole lot better. These are all intended as mini wall hangings and all but one feature the Scottish ‘bothy’ or small cottage.

The first is Thistle Jam:

‘Thistle Jam’

I’d like to work more with cotton tartans but as they are so hard to find in the right weight, I am settling for fabrics and scenes with a Scottish theme.

The next one is ‘Geese Flying Over’ This is a traditional American quilting block, of the same name, that I have altered to allow more room for the flying birds. I love to watch them flying over our house and if they are low enough you can hear their sound of their wings.

‘Geese Flying Over’

The third,  ‘Among the Daffodils’ was begun early in the year but wasn’t even pieced  in time for Spring. I have enjoyed using fabric that matches the theme in some of my recent quilts, because it reminds me of this area at different times of the year, but I intend to move away from that now and create my own backgrounds. I can’t decide whether I should add some windows to this little house or just let the honey bees stand in for windows. Does that work?

‘Among the Daffodils’

The fourth one, ‘Snowdrops in March’ is another one I had intended to have done by Spring. Conifer branches do grow low to the ground so the stump isn’t visible but I wonder if these trees would look better with a small stump, as in the Daffodil quilt above. What do you think?

‘Snowdrops in March’

The last one, below,  is another traditional American block called ‘Windblown’. I have included fabric that suggests thunder clouds, tossed blossoms and scattered showers and intend to add swirls of quilting to mimic the wind.  I do like black and white quilts with small pops of colour. Once again, a  pattern in the fabric stands in for windows in the house. This is something  I have not done previously and I can’t decide whether I like it enough to leave it that way.

‘Windblown’

In addition to the above ‘quilting ready’ projects I am continuing to piece two other quilts, which I will show you once all their rows are sewn together. And, annoyingly, I have sewn the borders on wrong in “Little Kitties’ below, so they will need to be unpicked and redone. You are supposed to sew them on in a particular order and for some reason, I didn’t. Lesson learned.

 

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‘Little Kitties’

 

Soon I hope to have a post on transferring an image onto your quilt and one on the American schoolhouse block, which I have always found so charming.

So, till next time….take care of yourselves as we move slowly out of lockdown.

 

New EPP Ideas for a New Year

A collection of eggs from my family of ducks. Aren’t they lovely?

Hello Everybody and Happy New Year!

I’m sorry there was no blog post from me in December 2019. My  husband and I caught a virus which we  didn’t manage to shake off until Christmas Eve. And then, two days after Christmas, with my son and his girlfriend coming to stay the next day, we lost power from all our sockets. We did discover two sockets on a different circuit and so we ran extension cables, attached to further extension cables, from these to whatever we needed to use. There were cables all over the house and up the stairs where individual items were constantly being unplugged, swapped around and plugged in.  I found I couldn’t have a heater and an iron on at the same time, or the washer and the dryer without overload and the result was a strong smell of burning that sent me running to disconnect  one of them. This went on until well into January.  It’s so easy  take these things for granted until they vanish, isn’t it? And now it feels so wonderful to have all the cables disappear and the power return. Despite the inconvenience it  was an adventure of sorts and certainly a holiday season that I won’t forget.

As we only used essentials my sewing light was not a contender and this is something I really need to be able to sew in the low light of winter. Before the power went, I did make a set of three, double-sided, accordion houses as a gift for my son’s girlfriend and made a start on a few others, which I didn’t manage to finish.

Double Sided Accordion houses with a Spring like theme.

Here are a larger set of unfinished ones, which are double-sided as well:

Above: Larger Accordion houses with a coastal theme Below: Larger Accordion houses with a farm theme

and a mini set of Japanese Indigo ones, also unfinished as yet. They are just one and three quarter inches ( 4  1/2 cm) from the point of the roof to the base!

After Christmas, in the little space between Boxing Day and New Year, I worked on a  block I started a while back and wanted to finish.  January was just around the corner, when skeins of geese fly over our house on their way to warmer climates and I wanted to record that in fabric.

‘Geese Flying Over’ 8 inches square

I chose a blue grey palette to suggest our  overcast January days and added a group of fussy-cut geese (these may actually be swans but let’s not go there), all pieced together in a  traditional Flying Geese block. I have called it ‘Geese Flying Over”. Now I just have to appliqué a house into the bottom left hand corner and the top will be done. Still lots more work to do before it’s finished, though.

What should you expect from this blog in 2020?  My plan is to add some ‘special’ posts between my ‘work in progress’ posts to feature a variety of experiments with fabric. I hope to include flower pounding and leaf hammering, vegetable dying, fabric bead making, the use of crayons, coloured pencils and paint on fabric, weaving with fabric, fabric collage, writing text onto fabric and a whole lot more.  Each of these techniques can be used to enhance any EPP project and I hope to show you how. I will also experiment with more of Deborah Boschert’s Design Guides, flag up some of the best tools for EPP , try out some new wall quilt ideas and make one or two traditional American schoolhouses as I just love them. All these in addition to my usual Scottish-theme- incorporated-into- traditional-American block-pattern mini quilts for the wall.

Till next time….

 

Books on EPP – Worth Having?

 

 

I love nasturtiums and I’ve gone a bit crazy over red at the moment. I’m sure you will see it showing up in my quilts very soon.

So, is it worth buying books on EPP?  The short answer is yes, for various reasons, but some are likely to be more useful to you than others, depending on what you are looking for. But let me give you the l o o o n g answer too:

As EPP has become more and more popular over the last few years, a rash of new books have become available. These fall into various categories:

  • There are those all about the hexagon (and in many people’s eyes EPP = hexagons ) One book all about hexagons and the shapes that join together to make hexagons, is:

Hexa- Go-Go: English Paper Piecing by Tacha Breuchern(Stash Books)

Promotional photo from Amazon.co.uk

I don’t own this book as I am not much of a hexagon fan but I have seen it recommended over and over. It contains 16 quilt  projects and I’m told it has a great resource page and   author website worth a look.

However, the book is very expensive at the moment due to the huge popularity of hexagons but if you love hexagons, there is plenty of free information and tutorials online and  free patterns too. Check out Youtube and Pinterest.

  • Then there are  the books that give you the tools and techniques you need to make a number of shapes beyond the hexagon.  These also include a variety of projects that you can make with the techniques you have learned:

My favourite for this category is:

 ‘Quilting on the Go – Paper Piecing. Patchwork you can take anywhere: techniques, patterns and projects’ by Jessica Alexandrakis. (Search Press)

EPP is not mentioned in the title which is a bit misleading especially since Foundation Piecing is often referred to as Paper Piecing,  but  this book is only about EPP.

What I love about this book is that it covers everything you need to know at each stage from choosing your tools and joining your shapes, to adding edges and borders and then binding and quilting. There is plenty of information online about assembling a quilt by machine but it’s good to see someone showing you how to do most of it by hand. We don’t all own sewing machines.

There is also useful information about working with fabric colours and patterns, something many beginners struggle with, and information about being a quilter in a digital age.

The book includes ten different sized projects to master, ranging from a photo frame to a throw, and, in addition,  pages with suggested patterns for some of the most popular English Paper Piecing shapes with templates in case you prefer not to make any of the projects.

EPP is a celebrated here as portable hobby, so guidance is given about making a travel kit and working with scraps. The Resource page includes links to online UK supply companies

You know what though? I really wish all these books were ring bound. It makes it so much easier to work with a book alongside you that opens out flat. Quite a few embroidery books are appearing ring bound now, so maybe we can look forward to this in the future.

  • Fussy Cutting is all the rage at the moment and one of the first books to include this, in addition to EPP basics and a range of projects, is:

Quilting on the Go: English Paper Piecing by Sharon Burgess.

Promotional photo borrowed from Amazon.co.uk

It is unfortunate that this book has a similar title to the one above as it makes it easy to confuse the two. This book includes a large and varied number of  practical projects including a runner, a mini quilt, bunting and placemats.

Burgess has published two other  English Paper Piecing books:

Promotional photo borrowed from Amazon.co.uk

‘English Paper Piecing: A Stitch in Time‘ which is essentially another project book.

and a more comprehensive book:

Quilting Bible for Beginners: English Paper piecing.

 

Promotional photo borrowed from Amazon.co.uk

In this book, in addition to a new series of projects, she gives guidance on a broader range of subjects such as hand and machine sewing and using digital photography when planning a quilt.

Although it suggests that it is essentially for beginners, most EPP shapes are not difficult and I would say that Jessica Alexandrakis’s book above and Dianne Gilleland’s book below are equally useful for beginners and will take you beyond beginner stage when you are ready.

  • Then there are the books that I love best, the ones choc full of tips and techniques, so you can make make and fit together a variety of shapes to create designs of your own, and which don’t  include any projects to make. I don’t seem to be inspired by projects in books, preferring to come up with my own (much less practical) creations. For this reason my favourite EPP book of all is:

‘All Points Patchwork – English Paper Piecing Beyond the Hexagon’ by Diane Gilleland

Much of the same important advice is covered in this book but the emphasis here is on encouraging you to build your own designs, either by computer or hand drawn, rather than copy someone else’s. However, ‘Project Inspiration’ photos are included to show you the sort of thing that can be done with a shape once you have made it.

Nowhere else have I found step by step advice on how to tackle basting at very narrow angles. Triangles drove me crazy until I found this book. You are also shown how to appliqué your shapes if your prefer not to piece them. I feel that the absence of projects has allowed the author to include many more pages of tips and techniques for us to apply in our own way. There is an interesting resource page including books on basic quilting, EPP bloggers (not me, sadly), online tutorials and online supply companies.

  • Published recently and something different from all of the above is:

‘Flossie Teacakes Guide to English Paper Piecing (exploring the Fussy Cut World of Precision Patchwork’  by Florence Knapp

This is the newest addition to my EPP library (How delightful is the name Flossie Teacakes? I loved this name so much I named one of my ducks Flossie after I got this book. I’m not sure Ms Knapp would be flattered).

What this  book offers us, over and above the other books, is a sizeable amount of the history and background to English Paper Piecing,  the work of some well-known modern EPP’ers such as Sandra Cassidy (below). NB: Not all the featured modern quilters are fussy cutters.

It’s only right that I should showcase a Scottish EPP’er!

Here we get an in depth look at what’s needed to create beautiful fussy cut quilts.  Included are tips about design, the best  fabric to choose, how to make rosettes featuring a range of patterns from symmetrical to conversational, and in the last pages you are invited to bring these techniques together to make the ‘Ripple Effect quilt  top that the author has designed.

  • From Australia comes a book that teaches basic EPP skills alongside needle turned appliqué.

‘New English Paper Piecing. A Faster Approach to a Traditional Favourite  by Sue Daley’.

Promotional photo borrowed from Amazon.co.uk

This is a book offering 10 different designs using hexagons  squares, circles, pentagons, that fit together to  create these and further designs.  We are shown how to piece shapes using EPP and then apply them to a whole cloth background. There are some great videos of hers on Youtube if you want to explore her way of working.

 

  • Two English Paper Piecing books  that would suit people who like traditional designs with added embellishments are produced by ‘That Patchwork Place. These are :

‘English Paper Piecing: Fresh New Quilts from Bloom Creek’ and

‘English Paper Piecing II’ ,  both by Vicki Bellino. 

The photo shows the first book but both include a series of quilt patterns for you to copy,  with links to a website to download patterns.

There are so many patterns and ideas online, especially on Pinterest these days and, given that you don’t need  pattern instructions for EPP as you do for machine made quilts (unless you want to make the specific quilts or projects included in some books), you only really need one or two books that tell you as much as possible about technique.

A couple of the books in this post were  reviewed earlier on my Book Reviews Page on this site.  Why not check it out if you have a moment. It includes other low cost titles that were not intended for EPP but are perfect for beginners,  as well as other related subject area like appliqué embroidery and hand quilting. I will be adding to it from time to time.

And, wonder of wonders, I have a new, tiny mini quilt in progress, which I hope to show you in my next post.

Until next time…..

 

EPP Loves the Hexagon. Why?

 

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Beginning a ‘Grandmother’s Flower Garden’, l979

I have never been drawn to the hexagon as a shape but like most English Paper Piecers, it is the shape I started with. The above picture shows my first attempt at ‘Patchwork’, which is what we called it then, this circle of hexagons around another in Laura Ashley fabric which was so popular at the time, the late 70’s and early 80’s. I have not sewn a hexagon since and, as you can see, the above practice piece never developed into anything. It languishes in a box with other practice pieces. I moved on to the diamond, which became my first completed quilt in 1982 and then I stopped.

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‘Tumbling Blocks’, a finished baby quilt for my daughter, 1980

It was to be more than 30 years before English Paper Piecing returned to my life. I went abroad, got involved in the lives of my children and in writing. Then after the death of my parents and my brother and a move to Scotland, I felt I needed to find something slow and healing to do in my spare time. Short Story writing was about other people’s, often dismal, experiences. I wanted to replace it with something more joyful and to learn a new skill.

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‘Tulips and Roses’ in simple squares, 2016

I didn’t return to the hexagon or the diamond. This time I began with simple squares and rectangles but found, in time, that I was less drawn to patterns than to pictorial quilts, though these might have a pattern as a background. I was hungry to learn as much as possible about EPP, everything that could be achieved, and yet I found only the hexagon over and over. I couldn’t understand why, when there are so many shapes to use. Books on EPP do cover a few more shapes but I have seen almost nothing on animals, human figures, pictorial themes, landscapes, or improvised modern shapes using this technique.

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‘Welcome’ – an experiment in making figures with EPP

I belong to an English Paper Piecing online group that brings piecers together from all over the world, many of whom enjoy working with hexagons. I asked the group what drew them to the hexagon (also known as hexie) shape in particular, when there are so many other shapes they could make using this technique. What follows is a selection of what they said, followed by their names:

“I discovered EPP when i found a quilting and patchwork magazine 2 years ago. It had 1000 free hexagon papers and that was the start of my journey. I have discovered that they are very forgiving and i am hooked. I am in very poor health and my attention span is very low so i find great pleasure in hexies. I have now made them in 3 different sizes and i use the method of drawing, cutting, basting and sewing together as mindfulness to calm my mind. They are soothing and enjoyable and personally i dont think it matters what shapes we choose. We are all at different skill levels and at varying times in our journey. I am in awe of members talent and dedication but for me, for now, hexies get me through each day. I EPP almost every day and i cant relax fully without them. Its a wonderful new hobby.” (Fiona keel)

 “It’s a very satisfying shape as all the sides and corners fit round without sticking out when basting. They fit together perfectly without thick clumps of backing at the corners. A bit of tradition, feeling you are carrying on a piece of history that goes back hundreds of years.” (Michelle Beard Pearson)

“For me, it’s the way the corners naturally tuck under. I can mindlessly baste hundreds without a plan and when the ‘perfect ‘ pattern comes up … I’m ready to join. I do the other shapes but my first love is the hexie.” (Irene Paulus)

“I’ve done lots of other shapes but there’s something very soothing and satisfying about hexagons. I particularly like doing them in modern fabrics and colours; traditional with a twist. ” (Pippa Wellard)

” I love hexies as there is so much you can do with them . . they fit together so well and because they can be based round the 360 degrees of a circle they can be made up of so many other shapes (hexies, triangles(equilateral, right angled, isoceles), squares, rectangles, kites, trapezoids/half hexies, diamonds/parallograms, jewel . . the list is almost endless) . . you only have to look at the new hexagon blocks :0)”  (Riva Mollison)

“One reason is that I can cut the papers myself. Some of the patterns are hard to cut and expensive to buy.” (Cindy Barratt)

“Fiskars has an extra large hexagon punch. It makes a one inch hexie. I make my own, from junk mail cardboard. We take long camping trips and if I run out, I can always grab a few brochures from the rest areas, etc. ” (Donna Becker)

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Photo via farmwifejournal.blogspot.co.uk showing Fiskars Hexagon Punch.

“Hexagons are considered the most efficient building shape in nature, which is why bees use it. Probably not why it was used all those years ago but it most likely was fashionable at the time. I use them because of tradition and they’re easy to find templates for.” (Brittany Duncan)

“I don’t know why I like them so much, but I have two quilts made. One is a GFG, and the other just random. I have hundreds of hexies completed and in boxes. Not sure why I keep making them, but it is relaxing hand work when I just don’t want to sit at the machine anymore.” (Sharon Dickman)

“I think it’s that it’s the most easily recognized and you don’t need to buy patterns or books and more templates, etc, so easier and more economical to do. After you get your feet wet, and the bug bites you, you can move on to another. Lack of materials available in some areas, too. Not everyone shops the web!” (Colleen Karels Barber)

“I have used many different shapes but always come back to hexies, hate the little ears e.g. diamond shape make.” Nicolette Mathee

“It’s an organic shape. Straight from nature and honeycombs. I always have hexagons on the go.” (Sue Morgan)

“Readily available as a starter and you can do a design such as grandmother’s flower garden with just hexies.” (Brit Staven Eddy)

“I’m in Australia, and the family I married into have made a load of EPP quilts, all hexies— so for me, I continuing the tradition” (Hayley Smyth)

A number of people said carrying on a tradition was an important reason, though I found it interesting that they appeared to be referring to an EPP tradition that had grown up within their own country rather than the original English tradition, which did include other shapes.

There were several references to the shape of the hexagon being common in nature (honeycombs, snowflakes, organic molecules, quartz crystals etc) as being a reason to find it attractive; someone suggested that I should Google Brian Cox talking about hexagons  ( https://www.youtube.com/watch/?v=kxDEcODUEP0); another mentioned the ‘The Honeycomb Conjecture’. This states “that a regular hexagonal grid or honeycomb is the best way to divide a surface into regions of equal area with the least total perimeter. The conjecture was proven in 1999 by mathematician Thomas C. Hales.” (Wikipedia)

“Ahhhh yes! The Honeycomb Conjecture! I’d forgotten that. I adore bees and hives and skeps and was drawn to hexagon EPP over the other shapes. Now I know why! 😃 (Viki Sprague)

So, in sum, people find the hexagon attractive for its natural shape, for ease of making because materials papers and patterns for it are more readily available. Moreover, it is easy to sew. The fabric wraps around a hexagon paper very neatly and leaves no protruding ‘ears’ as in many of the other shapes. You can get into a steady rhythm making them, while watching TV or travelling. And you can add many other shapes to them, if you choose to branch out a little eventually. It all makes perfect sense. So now I know, and you do too 🙂

On a slightly different subject (!), I have acquired a Mallard duckling.

I now have yet another time consuming thing to distract me from everything else. One of my cats brought it in and dropped it, unharmed, in my living room. It was too young to put back outside, so it has joined our family. My husband is busy making it a home and a run, while I wake at dawn fretting about whether it is eating or drinking enough and whether it is warm enough.

Until next time…..(perhaps there will even be some stitching done!)

 

Inside, Outside and All Around the House

Hello Everybody,

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I love planted pots all around the house

There’s not a whole lot of sewing going on here at the moment but I thought I would check in so that you know I am still here; I haven’t fallen off the planet. I stopped sewing in April for my annual tidy up in the garden but rain prevented any decent progress for weeks, after which it suddenly turned very hot. Now the sun is fierce, the ground too hard to weed successfully and insects multiplying, so much of my time in the garden is spent watering. I am however, pleased to say that I have repotted all the plants in our courtyard and around the perimeter of the house, something that hasn’t been done in a while and a job that I was able to do in the shade.

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The stone wall between our courtyard and front garden, lined with small plants

When I haven’t been in the garden, I have been spring cleaning my house, re-organising my wardrobe, visiting family in England, buying (even more!) plants and enjoying some of the lovely outdoors that is on our doorstep.

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A walk around a nearby loch on my birthday in May

I love watching the farmers busy on their tractors at this time of year and the birds following them up the hill and down again.

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The view from one of my windows

I have made a few tiny things recently but just for family. I made another matchbox for my son and a small embroidery for my daughter. Unfortunately both were rather rushed as I left them until just before our trip down South and they took longer to finish than I anticipated. My son is head arborist at the Royal Horticultural Garden Wisley in Surrey, England, so my matchbox had to reflect his love of trees and woodland.

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My daughter is very happy at the moment but often has some spells of feeling low, so I made her a little bear to help her believe in herself and inspire confidence. The photo was taken before I stitched the edges and sewed all around it with a bright turquoise blanket stitch.

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A Bear Hug from a pattern found on Pinterest via dubout.tumblr.com

Last Christmas, I had a spell of making little paper houses; four for my son, a few for my daughter and one of her friends and then a couple for a friend of my own, for her birthday. Finally I have made one for myself. The houses are so charming, just under two and a half inches tall, with an LED flameless candle light hidden inside so you can light them up at night. I used pale pink and blue tissue paper in the windows but dark colours show up even better. I love the idea of a whole street of tiny  paper houses lit up on my windowsill!

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Lit (below), and unlit (above) paper houses, on my bookcase.

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Most of the things I make are for other people, yet there are wall hangings and runners I would love to make for myself. This probably means buying more fabric to make them something I can’t really justify, given that I still have half a dozen unfinished quilts in various stages and quilts I bought both pattern and fabric for years ago but have not got around to starting.

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A Clematis in flower on the back patio

Then there is the itch to try more arty things, to experiment with styles that are new to me, like the American primitive patterns, or new techniques like needlelace and other surface stitching ideas. These blog posts of mine must often seem far from what is generally thought of as English Paper piecing especially when, for so many people, it centres around the hexagon. Not a hexagon in sight here, so far.  But it is all part of the same journey; to discover what I can do with English Paper Piecing, beginning with a  simple base, enhancing, adapting and pushing traditional boundaries wherever I can. And, if possible, giving it a little flavour of Scotland at the same time 😉

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A single Allium at the front door

 

If you ever have questions, please ask. Maybe thinking about the answer will lead me to further experiments.

I hope you are all having a warm and wonderful summer.

Till next time…..

 

 

 

This Tartan Seat is Taken

Spring seems to be springing this morning and, though the ground is a little frosty, the sun is shining, the daffodils and crocuses are out and look what I have just seen in my back garden!

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Over and over I have found that when I have finished piecing the surface of a quilt and I am ready to do some hand quilting or embroidering  I suddenly stop for a few days.  Part of that is about thinking how best to tackle it, letting my subconscious work on it for a while, but it’s also the fear of making a mistake and ruining what I’ve done so far. I have to gather courage and while this is all going on in the background, I make something else.

Recently I have made some more matchboxes. This one was for my husband for Valentines day:

 

Around the edge it says “There’s no Sunshine when you’re gone.” Those goggly eyes made him laugh!

And this was one for his birthday. The vegetables inside are edible cake toppers:

 

Each side has a different garden tool on it and around the inside it says, “Happy Birthday Special Gardener.”

I have also made some paper houses –  but more of those in a post coming soon.

Remember this first picture of an empty tartan chair? It was on one of these blog posts about three years ago:

 

How time flies! Eventually I added a hook and put a cat on it. Now I’m thinking I might stuff the arms to match the seat cushion and put it in  a box frame. I want it to look more soft and comfy and protrude towards you in the frame:

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I have just laid the chair in the frame, to get an idea of how it might look. I definitely need a solid fabric background behind it though. Off-white like the cat, or white like the frame? Or another colour, a very pale mint green perhaps? What do you think?

I had always intended to make a series of these chairs with cats and dogs lounging on them, so I’ve made a start on a few more. I thought it might be fun to make a chair with a box pleat on the base like this one in progress:

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This is how I began the one above; with a drawing:

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In this drawing I made the chair too wide, so I folded in a middle section until it looked about right. Then I usually play with ideas of adding a button back or fancy arms, little stumpy feet, or a fabric cover over the back. And then I like to add a cat, or maybe a dog. I want them to look as if you would never want to disturb them in the chair.

I photocopy the drawing of the chair and in true English Paper Piecing style, I cut out each paper shape, place them onto fabric and cut around them (leaving a seam allowance) until it all looks like this:

 

Then the fabric is tacked around the paper shapes and they are all sewn together until they resemble the chair in my initial drawing. The chair has a back too, and this will be sewn to the front with interfacing between, to stiffen the chair slightly.

 

Here is my initial drawing of this chair, so you can see what it will eventually look like:

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I think I might add a cushion, in that space between the cat and the left hand arm of the chair. The cat looks adrift.

I have begun a third, that I think will have fancy corded curls on the arms and little wooden-ball feet, and perhaps a dog on it….?  I haven’t quite decided, as it’s very unlikely that I will get more than one or two of these chairs finished before I am drawn back to the pile of quilting that is clamouring for urgent attention.

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So, until next time….

thanks for visiting.  Comments, suggestions, or experiences you’d like to share, are always welcome!

 

 

‘Over the Orchard’ & 5 Lessons Learned

The Glen

One of my saved projects, a small quilted wall hanging called ‘The Glen’ with Scottish themed fabrics from Lewis & Irene.

I bought stacks of fabric years ago for quilt patterns that I was longing to make but wasn’t brave enough to start immediately, as I didn’t have the knowledge, skills or even the tools that I have now. In a sense I’m glad I did buy the fabric then, because it costs twice as much now but, at the time, I couldn’t imagine a day when these patterns would not seem challenging enough, or that I might want to create my own designs.

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My plastic box of multiple saved ‘To Do’ projects  

Now I am playing catch-up, trying to make up to twenty quilts in traditional designs (Attic Windows, or Courthouse Steps blocks for example) when I really want to be experimenting with a whole range of new approaches and realising my own ideas .( Lesson 1 – Don’t plan (and buy) too far ahead).

I suppose I could disregard the patterns I bought and use the fabric for other projects but I am not drawn to the same types of fabric anymore, either. Now I might select more solids than prints;  choose more muted shades as backgrounds for appliqué and embroidery;  buy linen and linen blends, tone on tone or textured fabrics;  work with layers (perhaps of muslin or cheesecloth); try new approaches to quilting like Bengali Kantha and Japanese Sashiko; experiment with vegetable dyes, create my own prints and incorporate paints, coloured pencils, inks and crayons into my designs. And I find that I am moving away from mini quilts and table toppers to fabric pictures and wall hangings that tell my own stories. (Lesson 2 – Realise that your tastes will change as your knowledge base grows.)

I don’t want to waste any of those early projects and fabrics that I have set aside (I still like them and can learn from them) so I have decided the best way forward is to tackle  one traditional quilting project, followed by one new experiment, until all the saved fabrics and designs are gone but I have also reserved the time to try new things. I am certain that I will come across a quilt pattern that I am desperate to make from time to time but I will never buy for the future to the same extent again.

In my last post I was playing with embroidered faces. In this post I am re-creating most of a pattern from a book called ‘Quilts Baby!’ by Linda Kop. It’s called ‘Over the Orchard’.

I will incorporate more or less the same colours but I plan to add different appliqués and give it a different title. Maybe it will end up being called ‘Over the Hills’ or ‘Across the Fields’, though that doesn’t have the same ring to it, somehow.

I was so busy following the pattern that I didn’t look at the picture very closely and after I cut out all the pieces from my saved fabrics, I wish that I had. The pattern tells me to gather “1/2 yard of at least six light-coloured cottons: light orange  light teal or blue, and off -white. And then 1/2 yard of at least six dark-coloured cottons: grayish blue, orange and teal.”  These are to arrange a frame of squares of varying value around the quilt. So this is what I started to do:

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Beginning the outer frame of squares

However, when I looked at the picture again, there seemed to be many more off-white or creamy colours around the frame than suggested by the directions (Lesson 3 – Study the pattern and the accompanying picture together before you begin.) My frame of squares was much brighter, and though I had tried to put different values next to each other (dark light, dark light, all the way around), the end result was more vibrant than I wanted it to be, and with nothing like the same difference in value suggested by the picture in the book.

My squares were basted around paper pieces but not sewn together, so at this point I could have removed some of the colours and put in more off-whites, creams or pale yellows, but I didn’t really want to cut up more fabric when I couldn’t be sure if it mattered hugely, or not. I decided to run with what I had.

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The inner border is now sewn to the squares except at the lower right hand corner, and the horizontal strips are sewn together but not to the frame.

When I had sewn all my squares together, I started on the inner border. Some of the long brown rectangles should be 15″ pieces. I didn’t have any paper that long, so I had to split the measurement into two pieces. I think that works OK because there are other smaller sections in the same border.

When I started to put the horizontal strips in place, I decided to remove the darkest shades I had originally placed there, to soften the look. I am hoping this means I can add the odd dark colour to my appliqués without feeling I need sunglasses to look at whole thing. It is still going to be a bit over-bright though, don’t you think? (Lesson 4 – Think more carefully about differences in value when you begin to gather your range of fabrics and colours)

The next step is to sew in the solid inserts between the horizontal strips. The pattern suggests using linen but I imagine that will look far too heavy against the surrounding medium weight cottons, so I have gone for a similar weight of cotton with a linen texture. I think this will give a better result.

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My appliqués will all be different from the quilt in the book: a different design of house, a different range of trees and a different flock of birds (yes, they are supposed to be birds). It’s fun to be able to follow a pattern and to put your own spin on it. It helps you to maintain what you loved about it but it’s not an exact replica.

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Possible appliqué shapes from my stash of Tree templates

One idea might have been to use plaid fabrics and use the appliqués to suggest a Scottish landscape. (Lesson 5 – Give some thought to making possible and potentially more interesting variations on the same theme, instead of rushing to replicate the original.)

Anyway, we’ll see how it turns out. There are plenty more projects in that plastic box for future lesson learning.

Till next time….

Arrgh, Those UFO’s!

IMG_9480I have come to realise an uncomfortable truth and I suspect I am not alone in this; I accumulate UFO’s; not the flying saucer soaring through the sky kind but the UnFinishedObject lurking in a box kind.

I have an idea for a quilt and get excited. I find the fabric and decide on the pattern; all things I love doing. I piece the top, loving how the idea comes to fruition. Then I make the quilt sandwich (top, back and wadding/batting in between), tack the layers together….and then start a new project. Why?

It’s partly to do with needing a bit of time to decide on an appropriate quilting design and partly to summon the courage to start quilting, or embroidering , on the surface of something I have taken days to piece, knowing that I risk ruining the whole thing when I am this far along. So I put it away for a while, (chicken out ) and forget all about it. I have about five or six unfinished quilts. I say that in a whisper, eyes downcast, as if I am at a Quilters’ Anonymous meeting. My name is Lesley and I have more than FIVE unfinished quilts. And, (mumble, mumble) a few other smaller projects.

Last week I dragged them all out of their boxes,  laid them out on the dining table, and realised another uncomfortable truth. UFO’s that hang about lose their shine. I don’t like them much anymore. The thing is that UFO’s stay the same but you move on. You have new ideas, learn new ways of tackling problems, grow more experienced. And then you look at your UFO’s and realise they scream Old You, a You that you don’t want to be anymore. A much less experienced you, and it shows.

I am an English Paper Piecer and the quilt police have put it about that modern English Paper Piecers are not expected to have stitches showing. My stitches don’t show anymore, but in these quilts, the first few I  did before I learned how to hide them, before I learned to quilt designs on the surface, before I learned to match thread more carefully to the background, they SHOW.

Of course if I was to hang the quilts on a wall, so I am looking at them from a distance, I  the stitches holding it all together are no longer visible. But I know how they look. These quilts no longer meet my expectations. They make me feel unprofessional. All I can hope is that there are people out there who doesn’t give a hoot about stitches showing, that they know every one is sewn by hand,  over many hours, and love them for that. Thank heaven for those people! Are they any?

So here is the first completed UFO. My ‘Bows’ quilts from the old, traditional, Bow-Tie pattern, in summery Moda fabrics. It measures  24 x 32 inches (or 61 x 81 centimetres).

I am now a reformed being. I have set myself the goal of finishing these quilts (well, as many as I possibly can) over the next month, so that I can get on with new ideas that I am itching to start. And because my box is full and I am NOT going to start another one.

The Moral of this Post:

Start very small, so there is more chance of finishing what you have started.

Don’t try and quilt before you can stitch. Create little samplers that are not so important and try techniques out on those.

If you are like me and can’t do sensible things like that, don’t put your UFO away. Leave it lying around where it bugs you, so that you tackle it at intervals until it’s finished.

Plan a reward:  ‘When I finished this quilt I can….’ Maybe get a friend to help. When you’ve finished it you can do something together that you’ve both been wanting to do.

And if you really hate it, unpick it (shock, horror!) and begin again. It might be worth it in the end.

Here are two of my other offending UFO’s: a Burgoyne’s Quilt made during the last Olympic Games in the UK (still no idea how best to quilt it – any suggestions? ) and an Owl Four-Patch which I am working on next. I’ll post them when they’re  finished. It could be some time….

and THIS ONE, below, (more shock, horror) I began in 1981 !! I thought it would be nice for my daughter to have a quilt when she moved from her cot to a single bed. I didn’t attempt another quilt until 2014.

This was as far as I got: A pieced, appliquéd cottage on a plain background with a single border, in pink and blue Laura Ashley fabric. A few trees are still waiting to be appliquéd on. There are curtains in one window and not in another. I don’t like how incongruous the flower patches look. I can embroider my own on, now. And I hate the stitches. They are WHITE. I probably only owned white and black thread then. This one is going to be taken apart completely and I will start again. Maybe I will finish it before her 40th birthday.

Do you have any UFO’s languishing somewhere? Quilts? Paintings? Poems? Drag them out into the light, get the pesky things finished and, who knows, maybe they will fly!