How to frame English paper piecing and other sewn things
Recently, Agnes, who'd purchased a copy of my Ring-a-Roses English paper piecing pattern (below), wrote to me and asked if I'd write a blog post giving advice on how to frame things like this. I've now framed quite a few of my sewn designs and so I'm happy to share what I've learnt along the way. Before beginning, it's worth saying that this is the more expensive route to hanging your work on the wall - it's possible to bind the edges or sew on a hidden binding (that's another post) and simply hang it from a wooden batten or pins at very little cost. This post doesn't cover either of those options, but there's a wealth of tutorials on the Internet showing you how.
For several different reasons - aesthetics, preservation of the piecing, protection from sunlight and dust, and protection when being placed in the middle of a busy home - I like to frame the things I make for the wall in a glass frame, even though the first time I did it, it felt like a complete self-indulgence. However, after that initial time, it's something that I realised I feel it's worth spending the money on, not only for the practical reasons I listed above, but in part because it feels like it's saying something to myself about the value of the work that I make, as when I buy someone else's artwork, I tend to frame it, so why not my own? Knowing that I will invest in a frame, has also made me much more careful in thinking through exactly what I'm making. As my production rate is slow, it's an affordable approach as I think it tends to work out at about two frameable pieces per year. It's a very different mindset to the one which I have for my quilts, where mostly, no matter how much time and care has been poured into them, I'd rather they were used, loved and treated without too much care or thought, than be preserved carefully in a cupboard. I'm unsure why this differentiation has formed in my head between the two things, but it's a dichotomy that sits comfortably with me. I'd love to know your thoughts on these things and whether you've also created any of your own mental partitions around things like this. And I realise that I've made the assumption of aligning 'quilting' with 'art' in one of my earlier sentences - that again is a whole other blog post!
Anyway, on to some framing tips.
- All of the framed pieces in this post have been created using English paper piecing (EPP). I always leave my papers in place when hanging a piece of EPP. It adds stability, allows the piece to sit very evenly within the frame, and prevents the seam allowances from being visible if the fabric is light coloured. And it also saves me the job of taking all those tiny papers out! When you know that your fabrics are stabilised in this way, it also gives you carte blanche to ignore whether you're piecing on the grain/bias or whatever, as any rule breaking is unlikely to have a detrimental effect. I'm imagining that there may be a case for leaving papers in place when creating a piece for the wall using the foundation paper piecing (FPP) method too, but I'm less familiar with that technique, so wouldn't say that's a definite.
- For the very first piece that I framed, above, I used light card for my EPP templates. In retrospect this was a mistake: if you're going to leave the card in place it can create a slight tension within the piece that paper is malleable enough to avoid. While with the Oakshott Rubies this was fine, because it created a very slight undulation which allowed the fabrics, which have different thread colours for the warp and weft, to hit the light at slightly different angles and added to the iridescence this creates, generally, not sitting completely flat would be rather maddening. I really advise using paper, not card, if you're planning to frame something.
- With any patchwork piece, at the point where several seams meet, you can end up with quite a chunk of seam allowances gathered behind your work. This can mean that when you come to frame it, some areas will bulge out toward the glass more than others. To solve this problem, simply line the back of the entire piece with quilt batting (you may want to lightly spray baste it), carefully cutting little holes away where you can feel any bumps beneath. This allows the entire piece to sit flush against the back board of the frame and sit at an even level from the glass. (Nb. You need to be really careful not to accidentally cut your work when cutting blind through the quilt batting)
- You'll notice that on many of my framed pieces, there is a border of fabric running around the outside of the main design. This is a really handy thing to add to any piece which you're intending to frame as it gives you some wiggle room when getting it to sit nicely behind the mount. Additionally, if you look at the Rubies piece above, if I hadn't added the line of dark red around the outside of the piece, the mount would have cut off the tips of my triangles on each side. It's easy to create a border, even for English paper piecing - simply cut mitred pieces of paper to the right size, wrap them in fabric and attach in the same way as you would for any shape in an EPP project.
- If you don't want to create a mitred border, if the design allows it, you can choose a mount that overlaps the finished edges by just a fraction of an inch, so that you lose barely any of your sewn work. I did this for my most recent piece, Ring-a-Roses, but be aware that even if your piecing has been absolutely precise, very slight inconsistencies can add up across a piece of sewn work leaving your work of varying height and width at different points. If this is the case, get your mount cut by a picture framers to your exact dimensions.
- Sometimes getting a frame custom made for your finished piece of work can be the simplest option when it comes to framing, just because unless you're working with simple squares, it's very difficult to design a pattern that has an exact finished size that happens to match a standard frame size. I'd rather design exactly the pattern I want, than work to the constraints of a predetermined frame size. I usually get my frames made at the local picture framers if I'm going for this option. Never get your frame made up until you've finished your sewing - sewn work often comes out at a slightly different size than you're anticipating and it would be an expensive mistake. Both of the largest pieces in this post (the Oakshott Rubies and the large blue one) have had custom frames and mounts made.
- For my latest piece, I happened to have a square oak frame from Habitat in the house. So, I used this pre-bought frame, but got my mount cut to my specifications - this is by far the cheapest option. The frame cost around £25 in the sale and the mount cost around £6 and was cut in an hour while I pottered around town one morning. I took my work in with me, so that the man was able to make sure the mount would overlap the edges by just a fraction and he did an absolutely perfect job - I'm really happy with this more budget route to framing.
- If you don't have a local framing shop, you can also get frames and mounts made online to your exact specifications. Often these come with acrylic 'glass', rather than real glass, for safer posting. This is the option I went for for the piece above. Because of the postage costs, it's possibly a slightly more expensive route to framing, but you possibly may have access to more choice.
- When it comes to glass there are a couple of different options. There's the acrylic which I talked about above. This apparently looks identical to glass, but when I 'know' it's not glass, I find it hard to make the mental shift over to this alternative, however, it's now widely used in museums and galleries and it's incredibly light to hang on the wall, which you may be grateful for if you're as poor at drilling heavy-duty screws into walls as I am. For both acrylic and glass you can also choose add-on higher-priced options, such as anti-reflective, UV protective, anti-glare. I'm interested to try the anti-reflective glass at some point, but I've gone for regular glass in all the frames that you see here.
- The nice thing about framing your work is that you don't need to worry about the tiny dog's ears that you can sometimes be left with from English paper piecing. If you were framing the piece above without any borders, all these tiny protruding pieces of fabric could be left in place for framing (even borders will produce tiny dog's ears). I prefer not to trim any of the seam allowances away as the bigger the piece of fabric, the less likely it is to unravel and work its way through to the fabric that sits on the front your your work.
- When it comes to actually setting the finished piece of work into the frame, I find giving the piece one final press with the iron is essential. However, people vary on whether they press English paper pieced work and how hot and hard they'll press and some make special consideration to what type of thread they've used (for a poly thread, they may reduce the heat). Personally, my iron is scorching hot at all times, but pressed down quick and sharp to avoid shine or scorch marks. You really have to be led by your own feelings on this - it is your precious work that you are dealing with, so proceed however you feel most confident.
- I use masking tape (the easy peel-off cream stuff, not the brown shiny parcel tape) to tape the finished piece to the reverse of the mount board. Sometimes this will involve a bit of jiggery-poke and repositioning. If there is a fair distance between the glass and the work and it's very large, sometimes it can help to very lightly spray baste the piece to the back board of the frame, to avoid the middle flopping forward.
I think I've covered everything I can think of sharing with you there. If you know anything else which you think might be helpful, please feel free to add it in the comments, as well as any questions if you think I've missed something.