Thursday, October 13, 2016

"Piece" of Mind

English paper piecing is somewhat of a lost art, though it's seeing a resurgence thanks to quilters like Linda Franz, Sue Daley, and Katja Marek.  While I love nearly all aspects of quilting (except basting layers--UGH!), English paper piecing has a very special place in my heart.

The first EPP project I ever learned
was Lucy Boston Patchwork of the Crosses
I think one of the first things that attracted me was the portability.  I don't mind sitting at my sewing machine, but quilting can be a somewhat lonely endeavor, unless you belong to a guild, bee, or are lucky enough to have quilty friends or family.  But if you don't, extended periods at your machine might sometimes feel like a brand of solitary confinement.  (Perhaps for some of you, that holds its own particular appeal.)  In my case, I have a very solitary job, where most of my contact with people is through email or texts.  The last thing I want to do when I get home most days is go off and sit in a room by myself.  That's why EPP is so great.  It goes wherever you go.

Another reason I love English paper piecing is the opportunity for fussy cutting. I actually have a lot of fun creating kaleidoscopic images in fabric by finding repeats.  Once you've done it a few times, you can't help but notice fabrics that would be perfect for fussy cutting.  It becomes a quest whenever visiting quilt shops.  Although, fussy cutting does have its downside...swiss cheese fabric.

It gets easier to cut into the fabric after awhile.
You cringe less once you realize the really
cool results you get to look forward to.


Reason number 3 for loving English paper piecing: matching points becomes a piece of cake.  For new quilters, it can be intimidating getting fabric to line up just right on the sewing machine.  No matter how careful I am when cutting and sewing, I sometimes struggle to get everything to line up just so.  But with EPP, it's possible to be exact with lining up your pieces as long as you basted your fabric effectively.  For me, it's given me a new confidence and some additional control that I just don't have when hitting the accelerator on the sewing machine.
English paper piecing is also perfect for the space-conscious quilter.  I live in a 1200 sq. ft. house with four people and a large dog.  To say that there's not a lot of space for all of my stuff would be an understatement.  I always chuckle when people talk about being kitchen table quilters because I don't even have one of those.  I've been able to set up my space here and there in the house, and it works for the most part, but I can imagine there are those in even smaller spaces or with greater space demands that make it more difficult to make space for quilting. With EPP, you don't have to have a machine.  You just need your kit and a spot where you can sit down and sew.  A nice light is good too....and all you need is a clip on LED light and you're good to go.

Perhaps my favorite thing about English paper piecing is how, for me, it's a form of meditation.  I didn't start out with EPP thinking it would be therapeutic.  It was just a happy surprise.  I learned the how-to basics of EPP in a one-hour workshop at my LQS.  After that, I learned what I could from YouTube videos.  And I was hooked.  It was just a few months later when life drove me into a brick wall--I found out my mother was terminally ill.  During the next few months, her health deteriorated rapidly and she had to go into a nursing home because she was no longer able to care for herself.  As an only child, I was singly responsible for getting her paperwork processed for financial assistance, getting her apartment cleared out, and with getting her into a nursing home, all within a week.  Add to that the fact that taking care of a dying parent is one of the hardest things I've ever had to do.  All of that stress coupled with two young children at home and a full-time job...I was severely stressed out and rapidly losing my mind.  But I noticed that the act of hand-piecing my quilts was calming for my mind and my heart.  I put in some relaxing music, let thoughts happen as they rose, and then went back to focusing on my sewing.  It's not that I used EPP to ignore all of the mayhem around me.  It's that it gave me time to calm the maelstrom that was going on in my mind so that once I finished piecing for a bit, I was calmer and more able to handle whatever I needed to do.

Admittedly, EPP does have its downsides.  It takes awhile to complete a project, which is why I'll frequently have an EPP project going simultaneously with one that I'm machine piecing.  I still get that sense of completion while also having a project that is devoted to granting me some peace of mind.  EPP can also be harder on your hands than machine piecing--so be sure to take frequent breaks. It's also harder on your eyes--make sure you have good lighting.  And.....and I can't think of any other negatives.

I enjoyed quilting from the beginning, but I was intimidated by my machine for a long time.  (I still have a walking-on-eggshells type relationship with it at times.) But when I discovered English paper piecing, it was love at first sight, and I knew it was what I was meant to do.


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