Wednesday, 21 May 2014

How to fussy-cut fabric for English paper piecing (EPP)

I thought I might write a tutorial for how I go about fussy-cutting when I'm working on a piece like the one above. It's not difficult at all, just time consuming and a bit fiddly.

Most often fussy-cutting is about cutting a piece of fabric so that a motif is centralised. In these instances, a standard metal English paper piecing template is fine and eyeballing where you should place it works.

However, these metal templates don't work so well for something like the piece I'm working on above, firstly, because my piece uses pentagons (which there aren't a great deal of templates for - hexagons are more common in EPP), and also because if you want to place two pieces side by side and have them line up perfectly (as I did for my horses' heads), a little more precision is needed. 

This is also the case for matching stripes (these aren't actually sewn together - just placed for demonstration).

So on these occasions, I create my own templates, using transparent template plastic, which as you'll see a bit later, are fantastic for enabling the fussiest of fussy cutting.

Here's how:

1. Begin with the paper template that you're going to use to wrap your fabric around (this piece won't have any seam allowance). Place a larger piece of transparent template plastic over it and very carefully trace the shape onto the plastic using a pen (not a pencil, as you'll see later that these lines may be rubbed over). Biro is fine, although it can take a few times to mark the plastic.

2. Now it's time to add on the seam allowance. Typically this is 1/4" for English paper piecing. Again mark these lines using pen, tackling one side at a time - it doesn't matter if your lines overshoot and cross at the ends, as these will be cut away.

3. Carefully cut the plastic template out. You now have a template exactly 1/4" bigger on all sides that the paper template.

4. Place the template onto the fabric. When you're positioning it, remember that whatever is in the seam allowances won't be seen. While I've positioned my horse's head nicely here, I wanted to be certain that its forelock, nose and legs are in exactly the same position every time I cut the horse, otherwise the continuation between the pieces and the kaleidoscope effect I was hoping for would be lost.

5. This is where template plastic is much better than a template with the centre cut away. Using a pencil, I mark on some of the key features, so that every time I set my template down on the fabric from now on, I can position it identically each time. Because it's pencil, it's easily erasable if I get this wrong and also means I can reuse the template once I've moved on from cutting out horses' heads (this is why I said that the seam allowance should be marked on in pen earlier, as you won't want to rub that out).

6. Carefully cut around the plastic template with a rotary cutter - you'll need to be careful as your cutter will slice through the plastic relatively easily. Fussy cutting creates a lot of fabric waste - to make the rest of the fabric more usable, try to minimise taking a long run-up with the rotary cutter and just cut exactly around the shape.

7. Wrap the paper with an even 1/4" seam allowance on all sides so that your extreme fussy cutting isn't rendered imprecise

I used a SewLine glue pen to temporarily baste my fabric to the paper.

While I'm guessing flowers and stripes may be the more common subject of fussy cutting, I feel compelled to share with you that at the time I was creating these, I genuinely felt there may be no greater thrill in life than fussy cutting horses' heads, so must implore you not to overlook the unexpected joy that's to be found in textile equestrian pursuits (even experienced by one who is rather scared of horses outside the sewing room).

The half-flower above isn't actually sewn together…just placed, but it's another example where I used the above technique to try and recreate pieces featuring the exact same part of the fabric print each time.

If you haven't done much fussy cutting before, to gain the most impact in the finished piece, look for fabric prints with a strong, defined shape or pattern to them and a frequent repeat. You don't need to pick out a recognisable motif - just focusing on the same part of design, once pieced together, can have great impact (I've done this at the very centre of the piece I'm working on at the top of this post, and again in other places). Designers who regularly feature fairly defined prints in their fabric collections are: Tula Pink, Amy Butler, Anna Maria Horner, Joel Dewberry and V&Co (many of my sponsors at the top of the right hand column stock these designers).

And in the interest of completeness, I feel compelled to re-share my post about my favourite EPP thread - I really can't imagine using anything else now.

Florence x

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Fabrics for dressmaking

Every Spring, the dressmaking bug is reawakened in me after a winter of hibernation (seemingly beneath whatever quilt I've been sewing in its place), and with that, an interest in what new fabrics are around for dressmaking is also reignited. I thought I'd share what I found on my most recent trawl of the internet incase you too are looking for some suitable dressmaking fabrics.

The photo above is Essex Linen - it comes in several colours and the ones I'm showing here are Grey and Steel. I've often thought when I've used Essex yarn dyed linen for bag making, how fantastic it would be for dressmaking - it's soft, but very suitable for bottom-weight clothing (that's clothes for the bottom half of your body…not clothes that weigh the same amount as a bottom…obviously).

This interweave chambray has similar qualities, despite having an entirely different feel and comes in some amazing colours - the one I'm showing here is Slate. It has a much smoother, flatter weave than the linen and feels slightly crisper. I'm considering using it when I try to recreate this skirt below, which I wore a lot last summer - does anyone know of a pattern for a skirt that looks similar? I love this one by Megan Nielson, but it's much more A-line than the one I'm wearing here (and yes, it's hideously creased - it was because I'd spent all day sitting on the grass in the blazing heat making terrariums with my children - such a good day). I guess that's the real difference between the linen and the chambray - I'd make the Megan Nielson skirt from the linen because it has enough volume to carry the inevitable creases that linen brings with it, whereas for a more fitted skirt like this, I'd go for the chambray, which seems more resistant to looking rumpled (I screwed it up in a ball to check that one!).

Next is a blue and white geometric cotton lawn, but far softer than a Tana lawn, for example - it's much more drapey than that. This is exactly the kind of fabric I love using if I'm making a blouse - it doesn't have that awkward stiffness that makes a fabric stand slightly proud of the body - it feels like it would hang really flatteringly, but without clinging at all, due to it being 100% cotton. It could be used for lightweight summer skirts too, but it would very definitely need lining. I love this fabric - I wish that more designs were printed on exactly this substrate.

I love the colours of this next print. It's a double gauze by Tomotake. It's a different beast to the super-drapey lawn above, but would still be suitable for tops where the shape requires a little more definition, but I would have thought ideal for dresses and skirts. The way that the print has been designed, with the darker, mottled mustard spot, makes this design look very three dimensional and as though it could have a raised print, but it's actually completely flat! If you haven't worked with double gauze, I share more about my first time sewing with it here.

The next fabric is actually a double knit!

A double knit is actually constructed in much the same way as a double gauze, only with the addition of being stretchy. Here's a close-up of it. I always worry that double anything, carries the risk that the two layers will separate, which is what this photo may lead you to believe is about to happen. But the fabrics are actually ingeniously bonded together at the regular points where the sweet needle-prick pattern is visible and there's no risk of them making a break from one another at all.

This knit is ridiculously soft, beautifully coloured and feels very stable (so would be less challenging to sew with than many knits) and makes me long for a top with a Peter Pan collar made from it. It also feels like it would feel cool during the summer months. Its only fault is that there's not much of it - it comes in a width of just 32", so you'd need to plan for that if you order any yourself as if it's a more voluminous top, the back and front pieces may not always fit side-by-side on the fabric when cutting it out. 

Finally, some delicious jersey. About 65% of my wardrobe is made up of stripy tops, so I love the look of the new stripes that Annie has got in recently, as well as the solids. Although I am a big fan of the amazing drape that a bamboo jersey offers, these knits are a little more stable than that and so would be easier to sew and also less likely to cling to every lump and bump in the way that a bamboo knit can! They'd be perfect for Colette's new Moneta pattern, which I'm really tempted to make - I love patterns with longer arms…even in extreme heat I often like to have my arms covered (for those that don't - it also comes with pattern pieces for short sleeves…or no sleeves at all!).

I'm actually planning a few more of these posts, as I love shopping for dressmaking fabrics - trying to obtain the combination of perfect drape, perfect feel, perfect weight and perfect print is a tricky business and I quite enjoy the challenge! 

Florence x

Ps. And I'd really love to hear if you know of a skirt pattern like the one mentioned in this post…or any amazing dressmaking fabrics you've spotted yourself. 

Monday, 12 May 2014

The strangeness of it all

It feels quite curious that I somehow haven't mentioned here on my blog yet, the English paper piecing project that I'm currently working on, especially when I've been documenting each step in its progress over on Instagram. I try not to do things in that order, as for me, I enjoy the process of writing about making things, just as much as I do the actual sewing element. I wonder how others feel about this - is Instagram beginning to replace the need for actual blog posts for you - either as a reader or as a blogger/Instagram user yourself?

I like the instantaneousness of Instagram and also how easy it is to comment on what other people have posted, but I prefer blogs for getting a sense of the bits in between the photos. Occasionally, in the middle of cutting hundreds of tiny pieces of fabrics up and wrapping them around paper I'll suddenly be hit by a sense of 'what's it all for'. I feel slightly like an alien that's landed from Mars in my own life and am momentarily perplexed by these strange processes that I go through or the floor that is littered with carefully cut pentagons - what could be motivating them? For me, my blog somehow makes sense of this intrinsic need to 'make' in a way that the photos alone don't. Writing about it pulls it all together.

Sometimes I feel unnerved that quilt-making may lack a sense of true purpose in a modern age, other than to give the final user a quilted hand-made cuddle…but does that really require so many hours, weeks, months of work? In unheated houses, quilts were once functional things made to give warmth and it was up to the maker as to whether to go about that task attempting to also make the quilt aesthetically pleasing. Ditto clothing. But while we still need clothes to hide our nakedness, we no longer need quilts for the reasons we once did…and so there is a strangeness to the activity and I sometimes feel as though I am sewing with some unseen gravitational force from my quilting ancestors being channelled through me, because I'm not sure how else to justify the urgency I feel to spend my evenings feverishly hand-sewing or my need to fill all our over-stuffed cupboards with  more quilts, but it feels right and balancing in the most inexplicable way.

Anyway, the photos above show the beginnings of the Passacaglia quilt from Willyne Hammerstein's book that I mentioned in this post last year.

Above is just a small part of the quilt taken from her book - it's a series of partially completed cogwheels that interlock in a crazy, non-symmetrical mishmash of deliciousness randomness. Or at least it gives the impression of randomness - Willyne's pattern drafting skills leave me in total awe as I can't even comprehend how she planned this.

I think it's probably a rather long-term project. Over the weekend my son was helping me pick out some fabrics while studying the picture in the book and suddenly said: I think it's actually going to take you years to finish this. That's possibly a fair assumption when it's taken me three weeks to (nearly) complete just one cog, but that's mainly because I was paralysed by fabric indecision for several days at a time trying to pick fabrics for each new round.

The pieces you see here have mainly been fussy cut (cut so that exactly the same part of the print shows on each piece) from Tula Pink fabrics and a little bit of Anna Maria Horner. The Eclectic Maker currently have nearly all of Tula's Fox Field range in stock - I love the Sunrise colourway especially (and I don't think anyone folds a fat quarter more beautifully than Jo and Simon with their unique origami style - I love their parcels arriving!), while Annie at the Village Haberdashery is the only source of Anna Maria Horner's True Colours and Dowry ranges that I've found in England, so I snapped some of that up quite speedily too - again, it's great for fussy cutting.

I love making things that work in a round - it gives a really satisfying feeling of growth and progression each time a round is completed and I enjoy the feeling of starting afresh every time I move on to the next one.

I'll hopefully show you the finished cogwheel later in the week.

I'm really enjoying working with these fabrics. I was discussing what exactly the unique appeal of Tula's prints might be with someone on Instagram last week and eventually decided that it was the high creature usage, cleverly disguised in grown-up patternry and also how much she uses tone-on-tone colours. And also that her prints are crazily good for finding bits that can be fussy cut. I think I may have nearly exploded with the joy that was cutting out horses' heads and sewing them together into a whinnying union!

I'd love to hear your own thoughts about blogging, Instagram or whether you're also sometimes hit with a sense of oddness about your own quilt-making.

Florence x

Thursday, 8 May 2014


A while ago, I somehow quite badly scratched the lens of my favourite (and actually, my only) proper camera. I tried several curious techniques that I found online in an attempt to remedy my carelessness and I discovered that other people are able to magically remove scratches by rubbing peanut butter over their lens…but that I am not. I decided that as I invariably rely on my iPhone's camera anyway, that maybe I could do without a proper camera altogether. The only thing I minded about that, was that it's not great for close-up macro shots, so a quick Google search later and I had discovered the Olloclip! 

This tiny device can be clipped on and off an iPhone and gives the option of a 10x zoom, 15x zoom or wide-angle lens (it also has some fish eye capability, but I haven't tried that out as fish eyes make me feel a bit unwell both as an item on a plate and as a photography style. I prefer them just on live fish).

Its limitations are that it offers no in-between range of zoom - it's either using the phones inbuilt camera or going for extreme close-ups with the Olloclip. This can be quite limiting as often I'd prefer a wider angle than this offers.

However, I am really enjoying using it and I find that the extreme close ups that it takes are far better than I ever achieved with my point-and-shoot camera, largely because it blocks out far less light when going up very close to something than a conventional lens would because it's so incredibly tiny.

It can mean that although you can capture the delicious colours of fabric, you fail to get any sense of the overall print. But it's perfect for flowers…

And water droplets...


And bugs...

It takes a little practise to get used to and I've read in reviews that even professional photographers who carry one for snapshots often take several photos to get one that they're happy with…which I found reassuring, as that's been my experience of it.

I have very little technical knowledge about photography, but I do enjoy taking photographs hugely. I am possibly one of the most risk-averse people to be found on the planet, but put a camera in my hand and I will scale trees that I'd never normally feel compelled to climb, go dangerously close to cliff edges and put myself at risk of being stung by angry bees…I'm yet to take a really good photo of a bee, but I will keep trying. This was my best attempt from last weekend.

Despite the new wonder of the Olloclip, my husband, probably rightly, insisted that it was craziness to abandon conventional cameras altogether and we did need one in the house that didn't take photos blurry with combination of scratches and peanut butter, so ultimately, this isn't a replacement, but a nice thing to keep in my bag for when we're out and about as it's so incredibly tiny and light. I thought I'd share it here as I know many of you use iPhones too. I bought mine from the Apple store. I have no idea where the name comes from, but I love it as one of my friend's has a child whose nickname is Ollo and it reminds me of them every time I use it.

Florence x
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