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How To - Favourite Tips for English Paper Piecing Patchwork


**** I have tried many different types of patchwork, but I always seem to come back to this method. Many feel it is too slow for them and want quick results. Maybe I'm more patient (I wouldn't have thought so!) or maybe I'm a diehard traditionalist, maybe I just get too frustrated with my sewing machine, but it suits me. My budget won't allow me to buy up yards of material all in one go and then find that the project is over and done with within a couple of weeks. I may not keep shops in as much business as they like (although there's always a widget, gadget or book to buy), but my enthusiasm is as great as the biggest spender!

**** It is extremely accurate method of sewing, as long as the papers are accurate. The amount of unpicking I do is infinitessimal compared to my attempts on the machine!

****It is ideal for carrying around with you as small areas can be worked on, and then put onto the larger project later. It is sociable - you don't have to tuck yourself away to do your work unless you want to. Ideal for long vigils by sickbeds, and often a good talking point with others.

****I sew whenever I can. I have said I want to be buried with my thimble on! With a lap tray in the car I need very little light when preparing the material over papers as it's basically done by feel. However, I also use a booklight attached to a tin which gives me enough light for all but the smallest of stitching.

**** Using a computer drawing program to create a grid of hexagons gives you the freedom to have exactly the size you want - if you are working with shop fabric samples for example, then you may well want a size that is smaller than is commercially available. This is the one area of work that must be accurate - cutting the material is less of a precise art.

**** Don't use too thick a paper as they will be unwielding when sewing. I was often asked about the chore of cutting out hexagons when I did my 25,000 piece quilt, but it really wasn't a big deal. Cutting through several sheets at once gave me a supply that would last for many days.

**** Staple several sheets of typing paper together before cutting out the shapes. Lots of staples around the edge meant that the paper was always secure and didn't slip. You need only print out a grid on the top copy. Recyle old paper where you can. By using several sheets, the paper is less likely to flop about and it gives a sharper cut. Use paper scissors, don't spoil your best fabric scissors.

**** Use a fresh paper each time, don't try to reuse them as paper quickly loses its crispness as you handle it while sewing, especially when sewing round inset corners, and those sharp corners can be lost.

**** When the material is on the papers now is the time to iron them. Whatever happens later to your work, the sharp seams have already been ironed. This is particularly useful if you like to take the papers out as soon as you can - I always remove them frequently as it would be a huge chore at the end to do all of them at once. It also makes the quilt easier to handle. But don't take a paper out until all the sides are surrounded by other shapes.

**** When reaching the end of a shape side do a knotted stitch (just pass the needle through the loop and tug a little) to stop the stitches slipping. When starting the next edge do the same. This means that at every intersection of hexagons (for example) there are SIX strong stitches. This can make all the difference to the strength of the quilt. You can just about get away with sloppy stitches down the edges, but not at the intersections! Try and sew into the furthermost end of a side each time - this will help prevent gaps at the intersections.

**** If you are doing a more complex piece and there is the risk that the shapes won't fit together if they are turned round a different way, then number your pieces in such a way that you always sew the right pieces together in the same order as they appear on paper. Incorporate those numbers into your master copy. Remember to keep the numbers upright - the same as they appear on the paper.

****Oh, and if you haven't learned to use a thimble, I would highly recommend it. A friend's mother told me many years ago to wear one around the house so that you get used to it and it becomes a part of you. I didn't, but I took her point that it doubles the speed of sewing as you can stab and push the needle in one movement with no risk to your finger. I use a cheap stainless steel one, nothing fancy, but there are of course many variations on the market.



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