Monday, 14 January 2019

Templates and Precut Papers for EPP (and, as always, some random thoughts)

Just a quick post to let you know that there are now acrylic templates and precut paper pieces available from Paper Pieces for all the patterns in my book! Although I've always seen scissor-cutting paper pieces and creating my own templates as part of the process, I know for many this is a deal breaker with English paper piecing, so I'm really happy that these are out there. And actually, now I've experienced the ease of having them ready-made, I can see myself becoming a convert too.

I found the process of these pieces being created really interesting and when the samples arrived for approval, as someone new to using templates, I suddenly had lots of questions. I thought I might share a few of them with you here, just because I found it really interesting to discover the answers, and also because it may help you when it comes to using the templates if you're new to them too.

Q1. Does there have to be a brown backing on the templates? I'd find them easier to use if they were clear. This question ended up being a marginally embarrassing one to have asked, as the backings are actually really easily removable to leave beautiful clear templates like the ones at the top of this post - they're just there to protect the templates during transportation (this is similar to the time I was left not feeling overly enamoured by our new bath's lack of shininess, only to discover it had a fine plastic protective coating on it). If you don't fussy-cut fabrics and like a delicious surprise with each cut, you can leave the backing on as they probably give the templates a little more grip, but otherwise, just peel them off (yet to be peeled off in the photo below. Fully peeled in the top photo).

Q2. Why are the ends of some of the acrylic templates squared off, as with the kite shape above? Apparently some templates that go to a point can be really sharp, so PaperPieces cut them off to stop them from poking at people and also to stop them from sneakily cutting free of their packaging! As the squared off bit is so small, it doesn't interfere with using them as you would if they were still there when it comes to rotary cutting around them :)

Q3. Why do the paper pieces have to be on brown paper?  Several years ago, I'd looked into getting paper pieces cut, but I found when the company who cut those pieces for me sent some samples over, the laser had left unsightly burn marks on them and they looked really grubby as a consequence. It turns out Paper Pieces use brown paper for that very reason - although the laser burns are still there, they don't look or feel grubby on brown paper. Such a brilliant solution. (Nb. more standard shapes are die-cut, avoiding burn marks entirely, which is why you'll sometimes see shapes on clean white paper).

Interesting other points of note: 
  • Having never looked into templates properly before, I was amazed to find that you can choose whether to buy acrylic templates with a 1/4" or 3/8" seam allowance on the PaperPieces website. As someone who glue bastes (for English paper piecing, you temporarily wrap the papers with fabric and this requires some way of securing them - this is called 'basting'), I've always preferred a trim 1/4" seam allowance, but on the rare occasions when I've thread-basted, I've found I preferred a more generous seam allowance. 
  • You can also buy the acrylic templates with a viewing window (again with a 1/4" or 3/8" seam allowance); no viewing window (as pictured above); or with no seam allowance at all - useful if you want to hand piece with a running stitch, rather than EPP. 
  • For the three small rosettes from my book, you can buy papers for each block in packs of 1, 6 or 12. Buying in larger packs will allow you to sew lots of blocks together to make an entire quilt. In my book, two of the blocks are the same size and one is a little larger, but here, the three blocks have been made the same size, so that you can sew any combination of them together. 
  • PaperPieces don't breach designer's copyright by providing piecing instructions or diagrams, so you'll need the book to go alongside the paper pieces. 

When my samples arrived a few months ago, seeing the templates unexpectedly etched with Flossie Teacakes was quite a lovely moment. Similar to getting Moo cards delivered, it just feels nice to have your name printed neatly on anything that's one-step removed from yourself, as though you exist in another form, neatly packaged, more professional, and almost certainly more well-coordinated in an aerobics class than the creature that exists in reality (for the record, I no longer attend aerobics classes as it presented a hazard to the other participants to have someone who constantly interrupted the flow of movement from left to right and introduced an unfortunate 'human pinball' element to the workout). If you've never had your own Moo cards printed by the way, I'd advise you to do so, even if you only ever keep them in your own desk drawer and take them out to look at them from time to time - they're the best stationery you'll ever own and that little box full of cards seems to represent so much potential. Whether that potential ever becomes a reality isn't necessarily the important part - it's the possibility that matters. I last got some mini cards printed in 2012 when I ran my little shop site, Made by Florence, and I think I may have just have unexpectedly talked myself into getting another set made (blog posts are always meandering things...who knows where they'll end up).

Doubly exciting for me with my templates was that this was my very first non-paper item I've ever had my name on - it actually says Flossie Teacakes on them, rather than Florence, but it represents the same thing to my mind. If you grew up with a less obscure name than mine, you may have been lucky to regularly find your name on items in gift shops, but I was disappointed at every stand of key-rings, bookmarks and door signs I ever came across. We spent a lot of time adventuring with family friends when I was young, and I was always left feeling wobbly-lipped and covetous whenever the other children emerged from a shop or museum with a named item. If only I'd known that, aged 41, I'd finally get my name printed on a useful product related to my favourite-most EPP, I may have borne it with more grace. As it was, aged 6, I scowled and muttered dark thoughts to the small pig I kept in my bag. I modelled myself on Lotta at that point, so every pig I owned (and as a passionate vegetarian, I kept several) was named Bamsy, just like hers. The Lotta books were the less-well-known series of books written by Astrid Lindgren, creator of Pippi Longstocking, and I still adore them now in a way that I never really have with Pippi. Pippi was a different kind of character altogether and I found her slightly baffling, while Lotta's angry-at-the-world, youngest-in-the-family wilfulness was entirely relatable. I often wonder how much influence books have in forming a child's character at that age and if I identified with Lotta and Josie (from The Bossing of Josie by Ronda and David Armitage) because I saw myself reflected in them or, more worryingly, if I grew more like them because I admired them and their bold ways! Later, it was Flossie Teacakes who made an impression on me (that probably goes without saying), followed by Anne of Green Gables, who ultimately proved to be a more levelling influence. Were there any book characters who had a particular impact on you when you were growing up? Or even as an adult?

Florence x

Ps. I've often wondered how I used to write blog posts so often. Now I know: they were shorter. Sorry to anyone who'd braced themselves for reading this with a fresh cup of tea and then found themselves left with a half-full cup.

Monday, 7 January 2019

Adventures in tiny English paper piecing

I'd mentioned in my last post that 2018 was a year for letting finished projects go undocumented and you can probably see from the unseasonal flowers that these photos haven't been taken today. This project was the tiniest piece of English paper piecing I'd ever undertaken - there are exactly 200 pieces squashed into this medallion that has a diameter of 5.5" (just under 14cm).

The pattern for the medallion is based on The Ripple Effect quilt in my book, scaled down by 70%, with a few modifications to allow for the tiny pieces. Unusually for me, I took a lot of photos while I was piecing it together, possibly because it's much easier to photograph things when you only need a tiny portion of your desk to be tidy!


This was where I started. You can see that the tiny pink diamonds in the photo above were little bigger than the centre of one of the bobbins that sit next to them. They presented various problems...mainly that my usually diminutive glue pen suddenly felt large and unwieldy, but I found that if I could wrap something, then I could definitely sew it. Someone on Instagram later suggested cutting a little moon from one side of the glue, which is a super idea for reducing its girth.

miniature english paper piecing

These triangles are a bit bigger than the tiny diamonds, but you can still get a flavour of the glue pen issue - I wish someone would invent a miniature one.  

miniature english paper piecing1

I used a 1/8" seam allowance throughout, but even that seems quite bulky around these pieces. 

miniature english paper piecing4

For cutting the fabrics, I used an 18mm rotary cutter (the standard ones are 45mm), which makes a huge difference to how easy it is to cut tiny pieces. 

miniature english paper piecing5

Working at such a small scale meant that the production line felt fairly manageable in size - one can sit on a chair with everything nicely in arm's reach, which lends itself worryingly well to watching a boxset. I remember watching Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace while I wrapped the pieces and was totally mesmerised by the unexpected shots of beautiful quilts that cropped up throughout. Although disturbing, it's not nearly as unsettling as The Handmaid's Tale and I'd heartily recommend it (my 17 year old also watched and loved it - I think at the time finishing her GCSE art and textiles coursework, which now seems a long time ago as she's now started her A Levels). 

miniature english paper piecing6

miniature english paper piecing9

I like having everything in one easy-to-haul pot. This was the one I used for this project (although I now have another one that's even better - to be shared at a later date). 

miniature english paper pieicng 11

For the piecing, I used Superior Threads' Bottom Line thread in tiny bobbins colour-coordinated to my project - it's fine and strong. The wrong colour thread seems to show up more at this scale because each stitch is a larger part of the whole, so I found it's worth taking the time to blend them a little more carefully. 

With miniature piecing I've found an appropriate home for my usually irritatingly-dense number of stitches - here, it was actually welcome and worked well. Really dense stitches don't work so well on larger pieces because it takes forever to sew and because it causes an unnecessary nightmare if you need to unpick anything, but for tiny piecing, a greater number of stitches ensures your pieces aren't held together by just one or two stitches, which is a bonus (although no less traumatic to unpick). 

miniature english paper piecing rosette

The photo above and the one at the top of the post show the finished medallion. I thought you might also like to see the back - it's so thick with seam allonwance that it feels a bit like a little mat, but somehow very little of the bulk transfers to the face of the medallion - the main place is where those eight seams join right at the centre. 

reverse of miniature english paper piecing

I'd originally planned for the finished piece to go on this peachy coloured backing, but once I'd spent several hours carefully appliquéing everything in place and it was ready to be framed, I stood back and realised the colours of the medallion no longer seemed as vibrant as they had against the pink flowers in our garden...and so I very carefully unpicked it all! With the distance of time, I'm now unsure what I disliked about it, but maybe it looks better in the photo thank it did in person. 

I spent days returning to trial different backgrounds and eventually decided on this blue one. I ironed a very fine, soft layer of black iron-on interfacing to give the fabric a little more stability and all was well...

...until at some point, I pressed it again and tiny black glue dots from the interfacing appeared all over the front of backing fabric. I was devastated, especially as I've used iron-on interfacing hundreds of times and never experienced anything like this. 

If you tap on the image, you'll be able to see the dots in all their vile bespeckled glory! For a while, I tried to live with it and tell myself the dots didn't bother me too much, but when I took it to my sewing group and chatted about it with them, I realised it really did bother me. And also that I wasn't convinced the blue backing fabric even worked anyway. In fact, I found it horrid and the square blue border, which worked so well with the peach background, just faded away against the blue. So all in all, it was an abomination that needed to be hacked at AGAIN with a seam ripper. I'd worried doing such a thing TWICE may leave me calling my sanity into question, but I felt so relieved once it was done that I realised the task heralded the preservation of sanity rather than its destruction. I talked it over a bit more with Carolyn, and she suggested that if I was going to choose a different backing fabric, I could go for something non-directional, which suddenly felt like it made a lot of sense as the circular piecing means the block is non-directional.

After weeks of quibbling over backgrounds, suddenly a choice of two presented themselves and after more consultation, I went with the green. I have no good photos of the final thing - the shade of green seems to change in photos - but I'm actually really happy with it in real life. It sits on a shelf and every evening during dinner my eye catches on it and I realise the combination of colours and piecing just make me feel happy, and even more so beside this beautiful green dish. (The dish was given to me by the editor of a Japanese sewing magazine when she and her photographer came over for lunch one day last year. It brings back memories of a really lovely day and the two greens look deliciously satisfying together - I'm not sure when the photos from that day will appear in the wild, but hopefully at some point during 2019).

One Saturday, when Sussex Sewing Group met up at Pincushion (which, contrarily, is in was something of a field day out of Sussex, although closer to home for me), I was talking with Nicky while we shopped and said that I'd changed out the background and it was now finished; she asked if I was happy with it and when I said I was, she spontaneously gave me a huge hug. I was really touched that she instantly understood how much I'd wrestled with this project and saw finally finding the right background as something worthy of such a celebration. 

Even though it sits on the Favourite Things I've Made list in my head, it's a highly flawed item with one shape in particular proving a visible challenge to piece (if you want to see which, it's the outermost round of pale pink diamonds, every one of which is slightly misshapen). I was so sure the piecing could be improved upon, that over Christmas (in between board games and eating chocolate), I started a second version, which I'll share with you just as soon as I get over the obstacle of taking a photo of it finished (I already have a lot of in progress photos to share)! 

Wishing you a happy week, 
Florence x
A few of the books/products that I link to on Amazon from my blog contain affiliate links and very occasionally, I'll mention a product that I've been given free of charge. I choose the things that I recommend carefully and my priority is to only share things that I love.