Wednesday, August 2, 2017

English Paper Piecing Experiment: 3 Ways to Finish Project Edges

A couple of weeks ago, I showed off three 12" tops I'd made, as part of my new obsession with English Paper Piecing (EPP). The centers are Alex Anderson's festive pomegranate fabric.
That blog post included an EPP tutorial. I was deciding whether to combine them into one tablerunner, or finish them separately. Since then, I chose the latter. Here's #1, finished: 
The second one is also hand-quilted with motifs inspired by the central fabric: 
And below is the third, which my DD pointed out has a Thanksgiving feel. It's machine-quilted. Note: the hexagons aren't as symmetrical as in the first two. 
Here's why: the backs are different.
I used three different finishing techniques, as a semi-scientific way to research EPP finishing, and, if possible, reduce handwork.

English Paper Piecing is easier than regular piecing in many ways. Seam allowances needn't be perfect, and Y-seams are a breeze. Hexagons become child's play.

But EPP can involve a lot of handwork, which is tough on grownup hands, wrists, and shoulders.  Plus, finishing the edges is a challenge.  Regular patchwork has only three layers at the edges: top, batting, and bottom. Stitch on a binding that takes up 1/4" of the edges, and you're done.

But with EPP, the top edges are already turned inside. And somehow, the backing fabric also has to be turned under. That makes 4 layers of fabric at the edges, plus batting. A regular binding is not practical. But there's no un-fussy-way to hide the batting inside and turn the back edges inward.

So I did some experimenting.

MAT 1: Classic Same-Shape Lining 
Usually, EPPers suggest you make a backing that has the same number of paper-pieced shapes on the edges as the top has around its edges. For my first mat, I gave it a shot, just for the purposes of comparison. First, I traced the finished top (with templates still inside) on batting.
Used the batting to cut out a larger piece of backing fabric.
 Created a set of hexagons that match the top's edges. (Hand-stitched, alas!)
Put the batting down first; center the backing on top of it, and finally the back hexagon wreath on top of that. Pinned in position.
Remember, the batting is on bottom - the top hasn't joined it yet.  I stitched all the way around the inner edges of the hexagons with a machine straight stitch (You should use a matching thread).
 From the batting side, you can see the stitching.
 Lay the top on the batting.
Whoops, remove all the templates first. THEN pin in position, and carefully handstitch all the way around the outside tucking in and/or clipping off any batting the protrudes.
I used a straight hand-quilting stitch to join the edges, as you can see on the lower right corner. 
The quilting motifs were hand sewn with two strands of embroidery floss. Here's a closeup of the back: 
Not bad! I'm going to quilt the central area a bit more, to hopefully take out more of the fullness there. I'm giving this method a solid B. But it didn't achieve my goal of reducing hand-stitching.

MAT 2 - METHOD 2: One-Piece Backing
From the top, the edge stitching on this mat looks the same as #1. 
But it was easier and faster, because I made a one piece backing.  First, I had to make a one-piece template for the backing. 
I made mine out of old file folder, onto which I traced the top. My folder wasn't quite big enough, so I taped two pieces together - but I should have used a glue stick, so the tape wouldn't melt when ironing.

Pinned the template on the batting.
Traced and cut out the batting. Cut the batting back further, taking about a quarter of an inch off each edge.
Pinned the cardstock template on the backing fabric, and cut out the fabric 1/2"-1" larger all the way around.
Clipped into the concave corners, to within a few threads of the template.  Tip: If you drip a bit of fray-checking substance there, it will strengthen the corner.
 Pressed fabric edges inwards over the template.
Removed the cardstock and replaced it with the batting.
Placed the backing, good side down, with the batting inside of it. Placed the top on that, wrong sides together.
Straight stitched all the way around (a whipstitch would work, too.)
Closeup of my straight stitch along the right and bottom edge of this hexagon. 
I'm happy with the way it turned out. It was easy and required much less handsewing than method 1 (or as you'll see, method 3.)
Again, I may do some more quilting in the middle to reduce the puffiness. I'd give this method an "A", except that some of the concave corners look better than others. This has to do with how far I dared to clip (the more you clip, the smoother - but the more danger of holes on the back.) So I'll give this method an A-. 

MAT 3 - METHOD 3: Machine Stitched Multiple-Piece Backing. 
This is a variation of Method 1, and also recommended by many EPPers - create a backing edging, with the same paper-pieced shapes as the front, and then stitch it to the front, wrong sides out. Finally, turn the backing to the back. I took unfortunate liberties with this approach.

Like Mat 1, this approach required 12 handsewn backing hexagons, one to match each of the border hexagons on front. First, let us admire how neat and symmetrical the front hexagons were to begin with.
Here's how they look before the templates were removed. 
 Here's the backing set:
 It's all so perfect, right? But not for long. I used the file template I'd made for mat #2 to trace and cut out batting, then cut back all the edges  1/4" or more within the tracing lines.
I discovered you can do the cutting and trimming more easily with a rotary cutter.
  I also used the cardstock template to trace and cut out the backing fabric.
Again, I trimmed the fabric back by 1/2" or so, all the way around. This doesn't have to be neat or precise.
 Remove the cardstock templates, and  pin the backing hexagon set to the front edges, good sides together.
This is where I went off the beaten path. The experts say to whipstitch the backing hexagons to the edges of the top. But my shoulder was aching - so I thought, what the heck, what if I machine stitch all the way around? I sewed about an eighth of an inch in from the edges. 
 ...And began turning.....
 It did not go well.
The back was a hot mess too, with some scary creases in the concave corners, which I obviously had not clipped...
 Nevertheless, I persisted, smushing the batting and backing inside.
 Massaged it mightily to see if I could work out those creases....
Eventually, it became acceptable, though I did think seriously about ripping out all the machine stitches and doing the edges all over again with the hand whipstitch. Instead, I hand-stitched the inside of the hexagons to the backing fabric, with a running stitch that only went through the batting layer, not all the way to the front.
 The front remained non-magnificent. Some of those hexagons were severely distorted. (Like the one at the 7 and 8 o'clock positions.)
Next, I machine quilted the outer hexagons (with Invisifil thread). That flattened everything out, and it looked better, if you don't look too close. (The 2 o'clock and 10 o'clock hexagons are weird, too.)
 The back looked better quilted.
I am giving this technique a B-minus. I still think I blew it by using my machine instead of handstitching the backing ring of pieces to the front. That's what I will try whenever my next EPP piece comes along.

Have you tried any of these techniques? What EPP finishing methods work for you? Any machine methods you recommend?

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Mug Rug: Ugh? Or Luv?

Mug rug. Ugh. The name reeks of cute. In the quilt world, a mug rug is a mini-quilt upon which one places a cup and a small nosh, maybe a nice piece of pastry. When someone first explained the concept to me a couple of years ago, I thought it was the silliest idea ever. What's next, Carrot Carpets? Munchie Mats? Fondue Flooring? Borscht Blankets? Toothbrush Tapestries?

And if you image-search mug rugs, speaking of toothbrushes, you'll need to use yours - the results are even sweeter than the potential pastries. A lot of mug rugs out there are decorated with snowmen, mittens, hearts, and flowers - all of which I'm cool with, in small doses.

That's the downside of mug rugs. But despite my prejudice, I deliberately put myself in a position where I had to make one. Because I knew it would be a great way to trick myself. 

One of the hardest things for quilters is to get out of our own way. With every new project, we aspire to make something that's merely better than anything we've ever made, or even seen. That attitude spells creative doom.

So I tell myself I'm just practicing, on something insignificant. Then, anything I do will wildly exceed my expectations!

And therein also lies the  conceptual greatness of potholdersArtist Trading Cardsfiber postcardsinchies, twinchies, betwinchies, and come to think of it, bed quilts - women aspiring to make bedcovers sometimes create museum pieces. Like the Gee's Bend quilts - I rest my case.

Will museums show mug rugs one day? That would have sounded crazy to me,  until I received Esther's.

When I signed up for  my very first mug rug exchange, I was lucky enough to be assigned to receive one from quilter Esther Bartels of Massachusetts. The theme of our swap was "Climb Every Mountain," and Esther made me this amazing piece in batik earthtones, with an embroidered rock climber, fish in a stream, and the Hebrew word  "ramah," for "heights," on top. 
I'm sorry, Esther, but this is no mug rug.  I would NEVER allow a buttery croissant  or a sloshy cup-o-joe anywhere near it. It's a beautiful little art quilt. Thank you!

For this swap, I only had to make two, but I had a special event coming up, and needed gifts. I was also in the midst of my English Paper Piecing (EPP) and handstitching obsession. So I made a pile of 3" cardstock hexagons, and used them to cut hexagons from a bunch of whimsical red, white and black prints. I ended up making a half-dozen mug rugs.  And they turned out....well, darnit, cute. I can never scowl at a sweet mug rug again. 

I hand-stitched the hexagons together, which doesn't take as long as you'd think. Here's the back of one of the hand-stitched tops, with the cardstock still inside. 

The more I made, of course, the more I began to enjoy them. Even handstitched, they are fast gifts. For some, I machine appliqued the tops to a red felt backing, with nothing in-between. The first step was to remove the cardstock templates, then pin the top to felt.  
Straight stitch all the way around the circumference. (I used invisible thread.)
The back:
Cut away the excess, an eighth of an inch beyond the stitching.
So fast! Optional: Machine (or hand) stitch around the central hexagon. 
The alternative way to finish them - with a quilt batting in the middle, and then a turned edge on the backing - is more time consuming. 

Ph.D.s in mugrugology dispute how big one should be. I've seen sizes ranging from 4" to 8" on a side, up to a foot! Usually they're rectangles, sometimes squares, circles, hexagons, even octagons. Bigger than a coaster, smaller than a potholder or placemat, is how I now think of them. 

After viewing the diversity of mugrug shapes online, I realized I had numerous potential mug rugs. not to mention toothbrush tapestries, lying around my house - specifically, in my UFO and orphan blocks department. Like these recent leftover EPP blocks from a quilt project:

Hey, I could just finish their backs, declare them mug rugs, and move them out of my house! But that begs the deeper question: Do our friends who haven't enrolled in a swap really want mug rugs? Will they use them? Do their neighbors and relatives drop in all the time for tea/coffee/hot cocoa/miso soup, like on TV sitcoms? Mine don't. Basically: Shouldn't we just declare them art and encourage our friends to hang them up instead of laying a trip on them that they should start making cocoa and brownies for non-existent hordes of mitten-clad sweet-toothed visitors? (Also: If the neighbors do drop in, and you put your home-baked goodies upon the rugs, how are you going to wash the oil and butter and coffee stains out of these things?) 

While doing my 13 minutes of research for this blog post, with my newfound love of the artform, I saw many fun, artistic, and interesting mug rugs.
  •  I like the scrappy pieces on this page, especially the one made from selvages.
  • An Etsy artisan makes beautiful, artistic mats that look like leaves. They're sold for a ridiculously modest price. Find them here.  Save time, buy them and support her/him! (No affiliation!)
  • Want to learn foundation paper piecing? Do it while having fun making these sincerely adorable octagonal mug rugs here.
Have you made mug rugs? Would you want some? Would you use them?