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!

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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.  

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

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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. 

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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). 

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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). 

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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 appliquĆ©ing 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 Kent...it 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

19 comments:

  1. This is just so lovely! English paper piecing truly is magical and you have completely inspired me to recreate a mini ripple effect quilt myself!

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  2. This is pure amazing Florence! I don't think I'd have nimble enough fingers for such a tiny EPP masterpiece. Happy New Year to you, too.

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    1. Happy new year to you, and thank you so much Christina. x

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  3. Unbelievable šŸ˜® beautiful work . Truly a masterpiece.

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  4. Oh my, this is stunning. I would go nuts working with such tiny shapes, especially trying to take out the paper without ruining it all. You are a wonder woman!

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    1. I don't actually take out the papers! Because I frame pieces like this, I can leave them in and the paper helps to stabilise everything.

      And thank you so much! I will totally give my cape a twirl. x

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  5. wow! That's amazing! I am so glad that you found a background that you liked so much. It really deserved it!

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  6. This is stunning, the background is so perfect and balances it beautifully

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  7. Loving that last photo that has been mounted and framed - almost hypnotising when looking at it. Inspired me to get my backside into first gear and get back into the swing of things

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    1. I'm so pleased it's had the effect (but nice to have had a restful start to Januray). x

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  8. Absolutely fantastic job you have done here. And Thank you for sharing with us

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  9. i just love this small piece, I too find it very satisfying doing small pieces, plus they are very portable to carry around.

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  10. I’m glad you’ve found joy in teeny EPP this year, some years are so tough, but I love how, as makers, in time your memory of the year is softly enhanced by the things you made in between the stuff you had to live. As ever, thank you for such honest and authentic blog posts, and for referencing Jane Brocket who is also my go to on all things real life vs digital life :)

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    1. That's so true - thank you for leaving such a thoughtful comment that reminded me of that. x

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Florence x

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