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.