English Piecing and Me

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Back in the 1980’s I was at my local library and trying o find any books about quilting.  They were few and far between.  I did check out one that had quilts over the past centuries and found the quilt that was to start a passion, obsession that is still going on.

On page 76 of whatever the quilt book was appeared this quilt.

I have no idea what the title of the book is and have not been able to find it since.  I photocopied the picture, at the library (nobody had a copier at that time) and the internet wasn’t even around.  I carried that picture around for many, many years.  It was in black and white but I can see that quilt to this day.

The quilt maker used silk and velvet and the most gorgeous jewel tones.  I thought about that quilt and how I would go about doing it.  I’m a good seamstress and y seams don’t really bother me, but I just wasn’t ready to tackle the project.  So again, I carried that quilt picture with me, in my heart and on paper.  It survived a big move to another state, raising 3 boys and still not started.

Until, I came to learn about English paper piecing.

I found many more quilts that I fell in love with and was determined to make it work and I did!  After many trials and in my opinion errors, I found my answer, MYLAR!  These precut templates are a dream.    They are precut, laser cut and totally accurate.  They won’t crinkle and crumble so the basting process leaves you with precise, crisp and perfect shapes.  And the best part, you can’t sew thru them, you just can’t so your needle glides across the top of the pieces you are sewing together.  The result, small stitches and accurate piecing, amazing!

So finally, my version of the quilt is made.  I’m still in love with handwork and am right now making a smaller version with a pattern.

Now to 2001

Back in 2001 I found a magazine in my local Quilt Shop called Patchwork and Quilting.  There was a story in this issue about a quilt made by a woman named Margaret Neve.  The quilt was seen by a husband an wife as they traveled the English countryside.  This inspired the author to find out more about the quilt and the man who made it.

Margaret lived over 3 centuries, she was born in 17— and died in 19— at the age of 110!  The history and the events this woman lived and witnessed, amazing.  I became fascinated with this woman and with her quilt. Thus started my English Piecing obsession.  I knew a little of how to do English paper Piecing, and considered myself to be an experienced quilter.  I cut out my hexagons, cut my fabric and started to sew.  But wait, why did I constantly catch the paper?  Why weren’t my stitches placing as accurately as I intended?  The paper, it kept buckling, crinkling, not allowing me to be precise!  What was going on? Ok, get a grip and use different paper, nope, cardstock, nope, freezer paper, NOPE.

How can this be so frustrating?  I know how to sew, what can I do to make this FUN?

I found many more quilts that I fell in love with and was determined to make it work and I did!  After many trials and in my opinion errors, I found my answer, MYLAR!  These precut templates are a dream.    They are precut, laser cut and totally accurate.  They won’t crinkle and crumble so the basting process leaves you with precise, crisp and perfect shapes.  And the best part, you can’t sew thru them, you just can’t so your needle glides across the top of the pieces you are sewing together.  The result, small stitches and accurate piecing, amazing!

So, I want to share with you my journey as I make my quilt – an homage to Margaret.  Join along!

It all started with a hexagon. I decided to do the quilt in workable sections.  I chose my Oakshott cotton to use.  Margaret’s quilt was made with some silks and I decided use Oakshott Cotton, cotton that looks like silk.

So I started making hexagons, lots and lots of hexagons.  I planned on doing my little flower sections first.  This is simply 1 center hexagon surrounded by 6 hexagons.  This would give me the small flower sections and also a start on the larger flowers, these would be the small flower surrounded by 12 more hexagons.  From there I could build.

A quilt exhibition came to Charlotte, where I live, in 2003.  My quilt guild was allowed to take a behind the scenes look at the quilts, oh happy day!

That’s where I truly fell in live with English Piecing.  This quilt appeared before me, all laid out and ready to view.  And another connection to me, it was not finished, just a quilt top, I could so relate.  The docent turned over the quilt and there appeared bits of papers and letters used to make the hexagons.  The writing was still readable on most of the bits of letters and the quilt was dated to 1845, quilter unknown.

It was a sweet design using only 1/2″ hexagons placed in a design I hadn’t seen before.  I had to make this quilt.

So I started making my 1/2″ hexagons and building my design groups.  I broke them up into large groups, muslin groups, and muslin onesies, made sense to me.  I had to start joining all my groups together and finally my little quilt was finished.

Now how to quilt it and finish it.  The thing about 60° shapes is that they will never create a straight edge.  You can get a zig-ag straight edge but not completely straight.  I looked at a lot of vintage designs and the a lot of them were simply cut off.  I did that on the very first English Pieced quilt I made and it almost broke my heart to whack off those hexagons, I didn’t want to do it again!

So after a lot of thought I decided I would use the left over hexagons and make a type of binding on the back.  I really like how it turned out.

As for the quilting, because the hexagons were so small, there was a lot of bulk in the quilt top already.  I decided to quilt it through the top and the batting first, then added the backing and quilted it in other areas, not as much as the first quilting.

I love English Piecing and have so many designs that I am planning all the time.  I hope you give it a try and I’d love to hear about your projects and what inspires  you.

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