Monday, 25 June 2012

Obsessive compulsive stitching


Ever since I made this hexagon bathmat for my mother a few years ago I've been wanting to give English paper piecing another try. Last week included a day with over five hours of train travel, so it seemed the perfect time to dabble once more with this surprisingly portable sewing activity. In retrospect 'dabble' may be the wrong word...


Sewing on the train

...I have quickly become obsessed with English paper piecing. I love everything about it: I love that you can use tiny fiddly pieces; that you can put everything you need to do it in a handbag; that it feels completely different to other sewing as you can put seams together that you may not contemplate with a sewing machine; I love that mistakes are easily picked apart; that it cannot be rushed because English paper piecing is like driving a Morris Minor behind a tractor in the countryside on a sunny afternoon (meaning that whatever happens it's not going to go quickly without the sides falling off, so you should just enjoy the lack of speed); I love that you can see it growing one cell at a time; that it really, truly has my care in the stitches, because every single one has been made by me; and that it's incredibly sociable and calms my restless fingers that would normally start to feel empty and under utilised were I to just sit and watch a film with nothing to sew; that because I'm not sure you'd go through this laborious process for anyone other than someone I love, it's fine to sew around my cats and get their naughty little hairs caught up in my stitches.




This is the very first star that I made. It had several mistakes in it. I love ladder stitch because it is perfect for creating invisible on the outside of a project, but I'd forgotten that this wouldn't be the best stitch to use for EPP, not least because there's no need to stitch on the outside of your work here and also because a whip stitch holds the seams much tighter in this instance. So I re-did it. I also pieced the star points one by one, which left a tiny hole in the centre. It was only when I asked on Twitter again that Ruth was able to tell me that I should stitch the diamonds into two pairs of three and then sew the two halves I'd created together along an easy straight central line - so simple, but it was a total revelation to me at the time. Which brings me onto the other thing that I've loved about this project. I feel completely enlivened by learning something from scratch again and how wonderful it is to do this surrounded by a community full of knowledge and kindness. When I said on Twitter that I'd chosen this pattern, but couldn't find any printable template shapes for it, Katy quickly introduced me to Ruth and half an hour later Ruth had emailed me the pattern pieces along with some helpful pointers. At various intervals, Ruth and Katy (both English paper piecing experts) have again steered me in the right direction and passed on the kind of tips that I think of as 'grandmother tips' - things that make your work more enjoyable, more perfect in its finish and remove the stress of discovery by trial and error - the kind of things where your grandmother would have said 'if you just try it this way you'll find it so much easier' and you'd see, as her soft, loose-skinned fingertips crossed your fabric to demonstrate, that she was right. (I am absolutely positive that neither Katy or Ruth has the aforementioned loose-skinned fingers, despite being in possession of grandmotherly tips).


Anyway, what will this quilt be like? It's changing constantly in my head, but the section I'm working on using the Connecting Threads pattern will form a small part at the centre of the quilt and from there a series of borders I'm planning in my head will hexagon their way around it. And it will all be in Liberty Tana Lawn, which thrills me as it's my favourite fabric and is what I've always dreamt of making an entire quilt from.


I have now made all the stars and am in the process of joining them to hexagons. I have always loathed our bedroom carpet, which is one of the few things in our house that is yet to be changed (it was actually the thing that I promised myself we'd do first when we moved in). Anyway, I am discovering there's a lot to love about having a carpet which you loathe. When I'm drafting dressmaking patterns I always pin my papers directly to the floor, and I've found again here, that it's a wonderful design board for spearing my paper pieced stars and hexagons to, as you can see in the photograph above.


Above is a photograph of a small section that's been completed. Ruth is currently working on the same pattern (but her pieces are twice as big as mine, so it looks a little different), and you might be interested to see her progress here. Oh, and if don't already do any of this, but feel enthusiastic to try, you could join Katy in a sew-along for her Hexy MF quilt (yes, that's a take on the Prince song - she always comes up with the best names) which is all English paper pieced. Katy wrote about this sew along a few weeks ago and I was desperate to sew with her, but decided against it in the end as I didn't think I'd find time to actually finish such a big project which was entirely sewn by hand. When I embarked on this last week, for the first few hours I was thinking it may be a cushion and I'd see where I got to with it...I hadn't realised that I would become so addicted that a quilt would suddenly feel so entirely possible. So while I'm not sewing along with the Hexy MF, I wish I was (although I'm quite enjoying free-styling my own quilt pattern now) and would implore you to do so, as even if you're having doubts about the size of the project, once you've started, you'll almost certainly wish for it to be endless.

I said to my husband that I felt I may not want to do anything else ever again, and that I'd love nothing more than to sit on the sofa and stitch hexagons together until the children break up for their summer holidays. Well,  that sounds like a great idea, why on earth don't you then? he asked in his lovely, generous way. Having someone who will indulge your obsessions actually makes it easier to rein yourself in and get on with other things that need doing, but it's nice to know he'd understand if I did decide to do that.

Florence x

27 comments:

  1. Florence your piece looks utterly beautiful so far - this is the sort of patchwork I'd love to have a go at myself, I much prefer stitching by hand but definitely need to learn to drive my sewing machine too! :-)

    The patterns and colours you have used are so happymaking and cheerful - once finished it will brighten up and room!

    Jem xXx

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    1. Mmm, for the first time I'm appreciating that in some ways hand-stitching could be a more valuable, versatile craft - so I'd have fun with it rather than feeling obliged to learn how to drive properly if that's what you're most drawn to!

      Thank you for your lovely comment. x

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  2. I just love paper piecing, it is so relaxing for me. You fabrics are vibrant and so beautiful. You have an eye for color.

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    1. Thank you, Gisela - yes, it's incredibly relaxing, isn't it.

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  3. What a delightful 'telling of good things'. I have checked my fingertips and find them reassuringly baggy, it’s a good thing to pass on our knowledge as if we don’t pass it on no one else can. So share your secrets, pass them on, that way future generations can know the little things of life.

    Florence, my heartfelt advice is take the time, sit upon the sofa and sew with love.

    Ruth x

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    1. Thank you and I'm so pleased you didn't mind me sharing some of your secrets.

      Do you know, Ruth, your last sentence stayed with me all day and kept appearing in my head! x

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  4. ah I love paper piecing too, I have 2 projects on the go that I take with (almost daily on the commute) on train journeys. I tried doing it in the car once, and it made me car sick :( The fabrics you are working with are gorgeous!

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    1. That's so funny - I would get car sick too then probably as I suffer similarly. Wouldn't it be lovely to see a fellow patcher on the train - I never see anyone sewing, just occasionally some knitting.

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  5. thanks for the advice, I'm making an EPP laptop case and i will now use whipstitch :) makes me smile to see most of my fabrics in your photos cos i bought a scrap bag from the little stitch co after your scrap challenge :)

    asiya

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    1. Oh, how lovely! I love that we're using many of the same fabrics. i hope it turns out well. x

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  6. I'm so glad you've really and truly taken up this with love. I cant seem to get fed up with english paper piecing, it just feels so relaxing, even if it is snail slow.
    You hexagon stars are gorgeous, and it's taking every ounce of strength not to start my own version!

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    1. I have truly! And thanks to you, as I think it's harder to fall in love with something immediately when it's full of frustration and trial and error. I am loving the stars. The next section I have plained is some plain hexing, but I'm planning to revisit the stars later in the quilt as I love them so much.

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  7. I have never done EPP, after looking at yours you have given me encouragement to have a go. Maybe with some trepidation i will try the sew along. I will let you know. x

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  8. Your husband sounds like my Dad, who has always indulged my Mums passion for sewing with the same true generosity of spirit that I hear in your husbands remark. True love indeed! And a happy reminder of my parents, so thank you. :)

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    1. Oh that's really lovely to hear - how lucky your mum was :)

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  9. I love the combination of stars and hexagons! I'm not that fussed with hexies on their own because they're a bit too repetitive, but I feel the love for them with stars. Is there a name for the combination and is it possible to figure out the shapes without losing your mind do you think?

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    1. I don't know the exact name, but I know that Miss Katy mentioned something about six-point diamonds and hexagons, so I'm wondering if that would be the technical term. Losing my mind in a happy way...I think it's more fathomable when you're making it rather than viewing it, if you see what I mean.

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    2. Cheers for the correct terms to search for - I found a free pattern over at Connecting Threads that is identical - Hex and 6 point diamond. It's interesting what a 3D effect it has when you see it set out graphically like that.

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  10. I've recently discovered paper piecing and it is so utterly absorbing and satisfying! I've turned an old fudge tin into my paper piecing tin in which I keep a small pair of scissors, needle and thread, my paper hexagons and some squares of fabric and whenever I find myself at a loose end, either between knitting projects or when the brain is too tired to keep a pattern in my head but the hands need to be busy, I reach for the tin. I recently just finished a hexagon pieced cushion for my sister's birthday and I have to say I think it was the best thing I have managed to make so far. After seeing your project I am looking forward to trying some other shapes with paper piecing now!

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    1. Do you feel hungry for fudge every time you do your piecing though? I think I would.

      So lovely to hear about how much others are enjoying it too. x

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  11. oh bother, you have been hand stitching and I have been waiting to comment that you should change the name of your blog..... probably not an original thought but I think it should be.....
    Florence and the (sewing) machine.

    ta da.... I know small things... small minds but its been making me smile all weekend!

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  12. You have a fabulously indulgent husband!! I love english papaer piecing, I have made a few bags with it this year and am wondering what to do next.

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    1. I do - I feel entirely lucky with his kindness.

      EPP bags sound lovely - I bet they attract lots of admiration.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a message - it's always really lovely to hear from people.

I now tend to reply within the comments section, so please do check back if you've asked a question or wish to chat.

Florence x