31 July 2014

50 States Stitching: Week 3

I'm a little behind on my 50 States Stitching project this week. We were away for a few days last week so I'm playing catch up, while working on some tight deadlines coming up soon too! Week 3 was New Jersey; I can't even say that place name in my head without putting on my best Jersey accent! >.< can you?

I love how this little guy is shaping up for Connecticut, that Happy Go Lucky plaid print looks so fresh! Hopefully I'll be back tomorrow with my latest FWQ blocks, here's hoping! ;-)

29 July 2014

English Paper Piecing Basics: Week 2 // Hexagons, Grandmother's Flower Garden - Step-By-Step Tutorial

Welcome back to part two of our hexagon special on our English Paper Piecing series! We will be joining our shapes together today to form our hexagon flower. Just a reminder that all the images can be enlarged further by clicking on them.

How To Make A Hexagon Flower?

1. Place two pieces right sides together. I'm starting with my 'flower centre' and working on my first 'round' using a solid colour.

2. Start with a knot at one end of your thread, use a co-ordinating thread colour to match your fabrics. 

3. Needle through the fabric with right sides together. 

4. Pull tight and move up the hexagon side continuing this whipstitch. You'll want to aim for about 14-16 stitches per inch, I think that's about every 2mm? You'll start to recognise a 'safe' distance once you do it repeatedly. 

I've been asked a lot on the the first post, "how do I keep my stitches neat and invisible?". 

Answer: Try to catch only a couple of threads of fabric in each stitch, you don't need your needle to be 'eating' deep into the side of the hexagon - this is how they become visible. Likewise don't catch less than one thread of fabric, your work will eventually pull and become loose - trust me, I've been there. 

Also try to keep an even tension on your stitches, using the same distance each time; as with knitting I guess (not that I have any idea on that subject!). You will get more of a rhythm, and it will look neater from the front. 

Lastly. Practice! Lot's of practise, practise, practise! I can't tell you how much I have improved by doing it repeatedly. 

5. The corners! Make sure you get right to the tip of the corner - notice how in the picture above I'm not catching the folds at all in my last stitch. This helps keep it neat. 

Now onto the next hexagon, with an inset seam! These are easily achieved with EPP as you can bend and manipulate the papers to sew accurately. 

6. Starting on the outside edge; whipstitch as before until you reach the corner. Sew 2 or 3 stitches at the corner (where you are meeting the next hexagon) for a nice tight seam. Remember to only catch a couple of threads of fabric, not too much - so it won't be visible form the front.

"Oh, but there's a gap between my hexies!?". 

Not a problem. It's paper remember - just turn them together together and wrangle them so they meet; paying close attention that the tips meet perfectly. 

7. Right let's carry on whip-stitching up the other side. 

Remember to keep that nice even tension pulling the thread taught with each stitch. I've noticed in my previous EPP projects I've not pulled it tight enough and the shapes are slightly loose - which makes the stitching visible. Learn from my error!

It isn't very easy to demonstrate in photo's but to help keep my stitches even I like to run the needle along the side of index finger, which I find helps me keep balance, and stops me 'eating' into the fabric too deep. So imagine in this photo - my thumb out the way a bit, my index finger extended more and the needle on top of it...

Notice how I catch all three sides when I get to the inset seam - but not the fold of the hexagon, just the very corner.  It helps pull everything tight and neat, ready for the next side. 

Now continue with the next round using the same technique. 

Voila! One completed block. You can add in more rounds, then add in a neutral or contrasting 'garden path' in one or two rounds. Change it up as you wish! 

"But what about ladder stitch?", I hear you ask. I haven't tried it myself as it seems a longer way of doing it, and I'm pretty happy with how stitches look from the front to not try a new method. If you're interested in trying it out I've found a tutorial online here

Liberty Tana Lawns & Voiles

We all love those Liberty fabrics and voile cottons don't we? I know lots of people like using them in their EPP work too - including me! However, a word of caution because of their very sheer and lightweight nature, the fibre's of the thread could eventually tear the fabric because of the excessive drag when the papers are removed. I've included this method below of reinforcing your hexagon sides to make a very strong seam. Try it! 

1. Start your hand sewn basting as you would normally. Knot your thread, needle in one edge, and backstitch. 

2. Instead of whipstitching as you usually would - insert the needle in the next corner of the hexagon side, and backstitch to secure. 

3. Now whipstitch down the side of the hexagon towards the first corner. Notice you are catching that long 'reinforcing stitch' inside each whipstitch. Under and over, under and over...

Really strong! and you can't even see it ;-) 

Contrasting Fabric and Thread Choices

So what if you are choosing two completely different fabric colours, what thread do you use? From what I've read it's been told to take the darker thread of the two. However, I've found I get better results from going lighter. I thought it would be best to show this in action!  Here I have joined bright red and white fabric shapes together. 

On the right I have used a matching red thread, on the left I have used an off-white thread. As you can see the off-white is practically invisible, whereas the red thread is visible slightly. So I would always go lighter when there is a contrast. If you have to contrasting bright fabrics - a grey thread is always a good go-to option if you're stuck. 

I hope I've covered this section in detail so I've answered most of your questions on this and how to achieve a neat finish. Just drop a comment below if you wanted to know anything else, likewise feel free to share your tips for other readers. I love hearing new things! Next Monday we are doing diamonds!! My favourite! See you then, xo

28 July 2014

English Paper Piecing Basics: Week 2 // Hexagons - Grandmother's Flower Garden, Rotary Cutting and Basting + Giveaway Winner!

Welcome to week two on our English Paper Piecing Basics Summer Series! This week is all about the humble hexagon! And in particular the much coveted Grandmothers Flower Garden quilt. In this special two-part post (because there's a lot of info!) I will guide you through the two methods to baste your hexagons. Hand sewing and the Sewline glue pen method. Part two is all about joining your shapes together and achieving a neat finish. 

As I mentioned last week in our brief history of English Paper Piecing (EPP), the Grandmother's Flower Garden or Hexagon Flower Garden as it's sometimes known was hugely popular in the 1920's and 1930's, and it's not hard to understand why! They are truly beautiful! They can be dated back to the 1700's in England (known then as mosaic's or honeycomb patterns) and from what I've read on the subject the revival that came about in the 20s and 30s were much to do with the general Colonial revival in quilting at that time. There seemed to be a national wave of nostalgia in the U.S. at that time so the nations 'colonial' past was suddenly all the rage - and quilting  heirlooms were in! So modern women of that time set about re-creating them.

If you are a regular reader of my blog you will know that I adore vintage and antique quilts, which inspires much of my quilting work. The GFG quilt is a shining example of the intricate, labour intensive sewing work many women did all those years ago. I particularly love this design because they are all so different; the endless colour combinations and ways the blocks can be set together makes each one completely unique. Couple that with some divine feedsack fabrics and you're on to a winner!

The GFG quilt above is most definitely in my top five favourite quilts of all time! Those bright colour's just pop against the white so well. Traditionally the centre's were often yellow, surrounded by a ring of solid colour and then pattern. Between the blocks there is often a single or double 'garden pathway', most often it was white or green but women creatively changed this up to suit them. I just love the flowers with the dark colour way below. 

Below are some flowers I've made and others are from my vintage collection, which I was fortunate enough to win at auction a few years ago. I got a lot of pre-basted hexagons and cut fabrics ready for sewing! Feeling sufficiently inspired now? Good! 

Have you got your supplies from last week ready? OK, great - let's get started!

Rotary Cutting Fabric For EPP

So, you want to know "how can I cut my hexie shapes quickly and easily?". 

1. Firstly, fold the width of your fabric over. Take one of your selected hexagon shapes, and line it up 1/4" from the edge of the fabric. 

2. Using a rotary cutter cut the fabric 1/4" from the side of the hexagon. You should now have one long strip. 

3. Fold the strip in half again, you should have 4 layers of fabric. Using the hexagon paper template again, line it up on the fabric 1/4" away from the edge of the fabric - and begin cutting segments from the strip. 

4. When you get to the end of the fabric strip, cut off the very edge - to lose the folds of fabric. Add this to your pile of 'rectangle' segments. 

5. You can stop here if you wish, and baste the hexagons using it as is, or you can trim further. Using a small rotary cutting mat - place a stack of 4 fabric layers and rotary cut the edges to form the hexagon shape, turning the cutting mat as you go. 

I use the ruler on one side and then judge by eye the seam allowance for the opposite side, and then repeat this for the other side. This allows for two less turns of the cutting mat - saving time. Also, this doesn't need to be a precise 1/4" seam allowance as with regular piecing, just remember to leave enough fabric for turning over. 

Acrylic templates are a great way of cutting fabrics for EPP; useful when you don't require multiple's of the same fabric. For my own hexies, I use my Sizzix machine, which is a great little die-cutting machine, which is able to cut through fabric (amongst a multitude of other materials) I have a couple of hexagon die cuts which I use for my 1" hexagons.

So now we have our fabric shapes cut, we can baste them! There are two ways to baste EPP shapes hand sewing or glue pen basting. I have done both, and I like to switch and change between methods personally, depending on my mood - and how organised I am. For instance if I'm going on a long car journey I won't bring my glue pen to baste as I find it's a little tricky on the move, so normally I would prep my hexies - glue basting them, sometimes though, I'm just not that organised so I'll sew en route which is totally fine with me. My diamond quilt I'm currently working on was all basted by hand. The Christmas stockings I made last year were made with the Sewline glue pen, as well as my current EPP project. Just find whatever suits you. 

Hand Sewing Tutorial (The Corner Tack Method)

I love this method, I know there are lots of people that sew through the papers - but I find this way a lot quicker - there is no need to remove the basting stitches once the hexagons are joined together. The paper templates can be easily popped out, so they will last a lot longer and you also won't dull your needle by continually sewing through paper. Simple ;-)

(Note: I am a leftie! Apologies to right-handed sewers - you would just start from the opposite way, beginning your first fold from the right hand side, instead of left as pictured. I am using a bright red thread for easy viewing, although you can use any thread colour for this part as it will not be seen from the front. Also, all images below are enlargable for close-up viewing!)

1. Thread your needle and knot at the end.

2. Place your paper template over your cut fabric shape, bend over the first side. 

3. Fold over the next side and bring your needle down to catch that folded corner you've just made. Back-stitch through the fabric - not the paper template. 

I like to think of this as the sewing equivalent of the "hospital corners" in bed-making. Remember those?! Well I use flat sheets on my bed on occasion and this method of folding and folding again for a neat and sharp finish is exactly the same principle. 

4. From the starting point, sew through the fabric again. 

Great, that's the first corner done!

5. Fold over the next side of fabric as before.

6. Needle in ... pull the thread ...

7. Needle in the starting point again, through the fabric and pull. 

8. Fold the next corner over and repeat the basting technique until all edges have been folded and back-stitched.

9. Finish your work by repeating a couple of stitches to secure. 

Glue Basting Tutorial (Sewline Glue Pen)

Next up, glue basting! Now this really is a quick way to baste a whole bunch of hexies, and I love it! People have asked me is it easy to remove the papers after. Yes, they are. Though if you're working with really tiny shapes it can get a little more difficult, to save time pulling out tacky papers you can use one of these paper-craft hole punches. Just punch a hole in each hexagon and you'll be able to pull out the papers no problem. It's also a good practise to do this for hand sewn basting too. As well - have you seen these needle grippers? I haven't got a pair yet myself but I think they would be a great little tool for removing the papers. 

1. Glue down one side of the hexagon. Hold the glue pen between your fingers just as you would do a regular pen. Swiping the glue from the side, this way you won't put too much on. 

2. Fold the next side over and glue.

3. Repeat for all sides of the shape. Note I don't let go of the glue pen, I keep it held in my hand. You'll whizz through this once you've got the knack. 

See, wasn't that quick! The good thing is I find they last for aaaages too! You can buy the Sewline Glue Pens from Sew and Quilt, as well as the refills - which just click into place. 

As this is a super long and, hopefully in-depth post on this section. I will do part two of joining the hexagons together tomorrow! And I know you're all dying to know who won the giveaway last week!? Congratulations Elizabeth Morden! Please drop me an email with your address and I'll get your goodies sent out to you...

21 July 2014

English Paper Piecing Basics: Week 1 // A Little History, Supplies + A Giveaway!

Hello, and welcome to our first week on the basics of English Paper Piecing! I'm hoping to cover a range of topics to help you with your English paper pieced projects. There will be step-by-step tutorials, inspirational ideas, free patterns and more, I'll be posting each Monday for the next 10 weeks or so - I have to get organised and sort out the finale schedule ;-) so I do hope you'll join along with me. English paper piecing (EPP) has become oh so popular again in recent years, which I for one am really happy about! It seems so often in quilting and life in general nowadays, to speed everything up. Don't get me wrong there are lots of times when I want to do just that, and if there are new tools or methods to make the lives of us quilters easier, then I'm all for it! Also I know not everyone has the luxury of endless sewing hours but I love the contrast of hand sewing and watching a quilt project grow and develop over time; enjoying the slower pace and process. 

So, What Is English Paper Piecing?

Well, in short - it's an age old technique that is used to make quilts by hand. Fabric is basted over a pre-cut paper template and then the templates are sewn together to form a quilt. Sounds simple, yeh?

When you think of English Paper Piecing; sometimes known as 'mosaic patchwork', hexagon quilts usually spring to mind, largely because It's the most popular and  predominantly used shape throughout the history of the craft. The hexagon pattern originated in England during the 1700's and became a popular design in both Europe and the U.S. during the last quarter of the 18th century - when all thing's English became highly fashionable. Apparently this is how the name 'English' Paper Piecing was coined, it was a marketing stunt! The most recognisable of all EPP patterns; the Grandmother's Flower Garden rose to popularity in the 1920s and 1930's most likely because it can be made easily with scraps, which was so important during the Depression of that time. You can often still find antique EPP quilts with the paper templates intact, which were recycled from books and documents. 

What Materials Do I Need?

So the first couple of posts in our summer series is about getting started, for which you need materials! The great thing about EPP is that you really don't need much to get going. Above are my personal favourite's and tools I use for EPP but by no means is this a definitive list - swap and change to adapt to your preferences and sewing kit you have on hand.

First up you'll need some fabric to chop into! There is a vast supply of 100% cotton quilting fabrics available to us now, so take your pick! When choosing your selection keep in mind the importance of value; you'll need a mix or light and dark fabrics to really make your quilt projects stand out. If you want to try fussy-cutting, look for fabrics with a good repeating pattern (if you have no idea what I'm talking about - don't worry fussy-cutting will be covered later in the series!). You may also want to pre-wash your fabric before starting to test for colour-fastness and allow for shrinkage. 

My personal choice of needle is a Gold Eye Sharps. Size 11. though remember that the thicker the thread the thicker the needle required, so keep that in mind depending on your thread choice. 

I use Aurifil 50wt thread for hand sewing, it's a lovely fine strand so it glides through the fabrics well. However I have heard from the lovely Florence; an avid EPP'er, that she has recently tried Superior's Bottom Line, a strong polyester thread which apparently rarely tangles - so I'm hoping to test that out soon! 

Small scissors are vital for snipping threads as you work through a project. You'll also need some paper scissor's if you choose to make your own paper shapes. 

I like to use my rotary cutter to cut fabric shapes ready for basting, I find the smaller 25mm size is ideal. Though you can use fabric scissors for cutting if you prefer. And a cutting mat of course!

You may also want to try out the Sewline glue pen, which has set the quilting world abuzz since it's release. You can use this instead of hand-sewing the shapes (we'll talk more about that next week), so it really speeds up the process and allows you to crack on with the fun sewing - sewing the shapes together of course! 

And last but by no means least, pre-cut paper piecing templates. We sell a large range of these at Sew and Quilt, and they are certainly my preferred method. I have made my own shapes in the past which was fine, but I soon realised it took up so.much.time. and not fun crafting time - cutting time! Being a leftie, it really wasn't an enjoyable part. I also know when I'm using the pre-cut paper pieces they are die-cut so accuracy is spot on, which is critical for EPP.

How Do They Measure?

Pre-cut paper pieces are sold in various sizes to suit your design needs. Geometric shapes are measured by measuring one of the equal sides. This hexagon below is the 1" size.  

With the curved paper pieces we measure these slightly differently, they are measured across the diameter. The apple core shape below is the 4" size, and the clamshell is the 3" size. 

Almost any shape can be used for EPP, a wide variety of shapes in various sizes will fit together just like a jigsaw so the opportunities for creating individual pieces of patchwork is unlimited! You can finish a quilt made entirely of interlocking shapes or combine completed blocks with needle-turn appliqué to create endless possibilities for design. We'll go through step-by-step ways on finishing EPP quilts later in the series. 

So I figured what better way can I kick off the new EPP summer series than to offer a giveaway for some English Paper Piecing goodies! This is a fantastic starter pack of supplies from my shop Sew and Quilt. One lucky winner will receive a selection of five fat quarters, three packs of Paper Pieces and some needles to get sewing straight away! Oh and a Sewline glue pen!


How To Enter

For your chance of winning leave me a comment on this post telling me one (or more) things you would like me to cover during the series / or what EPP project you are working on.

For additional entries please share this on any of your favourite social media sites; Facebook / Twitter with an additional comment for every share. 

You can also find me on Instagram @messyjesse1 where I will be offering an additional entry.

Winner will be announced on the blog next Monday 28th July 2014. Competition closes Midnight Sunday 20th July. International entries welcome. Next week is all about the humble Hexagon and getting started! Hope you can join me! Have a great week.