I mentioned in my QuiltCon blog post that I intend to begin a La Passacaglia quilt. Naturally, I’ve begun with more research than can help me actually do the work and make the quilt. I thought I’d summarize some things for anyone else who wants to do this project because it is blowing up all over the interwebs!
THE BOOK THAT STARTED THE CRAZE
First, we’re talking about the La Passacaglia Quilt pattern from the book Millefiori Quilts, which features 19 of Willyne Hammerstein’s quilts.
All that Italian actually does a great job of describing the style: millefiori is a combination of the words “mille” (thousand) and “fiori” (flowers). Certainly the concept of a thousand flowers applies to the La Passacaglia, which has many rosettes/flowers making up the quilt. Passacaglia comes from the Spanish “pasar” (to walk) and “calle” (street). Think walking or dancing down the street—perfectly appropriate if you imagine winding, cobbled lanes and compare that against the many curves in the quilt.
Instructions in Millefiori Quilts are for machine piecing the quilts. However, if you’ve ever done a Y-seam, you can understand why a majority of people are choosing the English Paper Piecing (EPP) method instead.
I bought ALL THE THINGS to start this project from paperpieces.com. (UPDATE 2017: Since the link from paperpieces is no longer working, Karen of the DIY Addict was kind enough to send me a link to her site, where you can still buy the supplies!)
Items include the book, acrylic templates, and all the paper pieces necessary to make the quilt. I might have bought a smaller set of papers if I had it to do over again since you can just reuse them, but it’s nice not to have to. Between these items and the fabric, it’s probably going to be the most expensive quilt I’ll make… but have you seen how awesome it looks?! I’ve also seen acrylics on Etsy that have holes at the intersection of each seam allowance in case you want to machine piece and mark your Y-seams. LA PASSACAGLIA INFORMATION
The La Passacaglia Quilt includes approximately 2900 pieces in five different shapes/sizes as follows:
Piece A (1¼” diamonds for 5-pointed stars): 468 Pieces
Piece B (1¼” diamonds for 10-pointed stars): 206 Pieces
Piece C (1¼” pentagons): 640 Pieces
Piece D (¾” pentagons): 272 Pieces
Piece E (1¼” isosceles triangles): 1368 Pieces
This info comes from the number of pieces in paper piecing packs, rather than the pattern itself. I was surprised not to see any hexagons and also that there were only five shapes for the entire, very busy quilt top.
EPP GENERAL INFORMATION
Cutting the Fabric
Standard EPP protocol is to add 3/8” of fabric around each side. Common alternatives are ¼” or ½”. Acrylic templates are available in each of these size preferences.
Measuring the Pieces
In EPP, most pieces are the same measurement along all sides. (An exception from the pieces above is the isoscolese triangle, which is equal on the two long sides but has a shorter “bottom” that matches the length of the pentagon sides.) EPP pieces are measured along one of the equal sides.
Basting Each Piece
There are several methods of basting EPP pieces.
One method is to sew around the shape. Even this has several different versions. In one version, you just tack the fabric along each corner of the piece. In another, you weave your thread along the length of fabric between each corner. I plan to do the first of these since that’s the method I learned in my EPP workshop with Katy Jones of imagingermonkey. And it’s faster and doesn’t mean ripping any paper at the end of the project.
Another method is to glue baste. Some glue pens are specifically made for gluing fabric; I have the Fons & Porter version. I’ve also read that a plain, washable glue stick works well. (It worked great when I glue basted a zipper on this bag.) I have been gluing some of the fussy cut fabric pieces lightly to the papers to keep them from shifting while I hand baste around the edges. It’s been working pretty great. So far, I’ve only used the glue pen, but I’ll likely switch to the Elmer’s when that runs out.
Creating Patterns from Fabric (and being consistent)
Solids are a great choice for EPP. However, one reason I’m excited about this project is a chance to make repeatable patterns from fabrics. I’ve mentioned BEFORE that while I like the look of a repeatable pattern across an entire quilt, I deplore the monotony of chain piecing. Now is my chance to let precision shine! By “fussy cutting” fabrics, you can highlight a portion of the design. It works great with florals/swirls. I’m also thinking about including a few Heather Ross novelty prints. If you don’t know where to start, Google Amy Butler, Tula Pink, and Anna Maria Horner prints to see fabrics with repeatable patterns.
The tricky part about fussy cutting is ensuring all the pieces are consistent. Florence of Flossie Teacakes had the genius idea to make her own plastic templates and draw with pencil the outline of her repeating fabric pieces. Modifying this concept, I have been using erasable marker on the acrylic templates I purchased. It is working great and wiping off cleanly.
Selecting the Right Thread
For the back of your EPP, you can use any thread you want. I still use Aurifil brand thread for this because it doesn’t break or tangle as easily as other threads, but since you aren’t relying on it to hold long-term, you can use anything that will last until you stitch your pieces together.
For stitching pieces together, some threads are less visible than others, so you can decide how “handmade” you want your EPP to look. A woman in my EPP workshop said she swears by silk thread for connecting pieces. Florence blogged about a polyester thread (Superior Threads brand, Bottom Line type – bought mine here) that piqued my interest.
I can’t tell whether I like it. I admit the end result is much prettier/less visible stitching, but the thread is kind of “bouncy” to sew with. When I pull the thread tight at the end of each stitch, it’s kind of like a bungee cord; it stretches longer than it seems it should, then bounces back to a resting position. So it feels weird to sew with but looks fantastic! I think I will continue to use it. I hope it’s durable when I’m putting so much time into one project! I’ll post photos of my first Passacaglia rosette when it’s finished so you can compare.
Other bloggers who have written about the La Passacaglia quilt that I found inspirational (obviously not an exhaustive list) include:
I plan to make my La Passacaglia in blue and orange. It’s my favorite combination, and I found a crazy amount of inspiration from @elisabew’s Farmer’s Wife and blue & orange Marcelle Medallion quilts. I’m concerned the cogs might flow together a little bit, but Pinterest user Quilt Passion (Åsa Holmér) did a good job of distinguishing hers using only a blue and white palette. My quilt will have blue and orange AND white, so with a whole extra color, I should be fine… right?!
Well, I think that about covers EPP generally and La Passacaglia more specifically. There’s nothing left but to dive in. Which is exciting… but also a little unfortunate since the planning/research is my favorite part, aside from having a finished quilt to show off. Since it’s going to take me forever, I have a WIPs page (tab at the top of the blog) available so it is easy to track my progress on this and a few other long-term projects.
Disclaimer: This is going to be a LONG post. I have a few goals:
First, I want to share photos for anyone who wasn’t able to attend QuiltCon this year.
Second, I had a lot of questions about what to expect for my first-ever QuiltCon experience, so I want to share tips for future attendees.
Third, I bought a Janome machine at QuiltCon and thought it might be helpful for others to know how the negotiation process worked. (Spoiler: I paid the price they asked, but it was way below retail.)
Awhile back, I noted I was in the market for a new sewing machine. Fellow members of the DCMQG told me I should consider buying my next machine at a show, that their purchases were made significantly below retail value. That decided it for me: I would use my anticipated savings to attend QuiltCon. It was a bit of a gamble, but it totally paid off! And I had the best time.
Before I go any further, let’s look at some of the awesome quilts in the show. I obviously didn’t photograph them all, but here were some that caught my eye:
The quilts above are: (1) [The American Context #16] Christina’s World by Luke Haynes, (2) Holy Sh*t, Sherlock by Kristy Daum, (3) Woodcut by Holly DeGroot, (4) Wavelength by Lee Heinrich, and (5) Huckleberry by Bryan House Quilts.
A few of the quilts begged for a close-up.
Above is [The American Context #68] Double Elvis by Luke Haynes. I’d always wondered what his appliqué looked like up close!
(A) Bauble by Emily Cier, quilted by Angela Walters; (B) Geometric Rainbow by Nicole Daksiewicz; and (C) Eggs and Darts by Amanda Leins, pieced by Susan Bishop.
The next four quilts have unknown makers but are all from the collection of Bill Volckening:
Okay, now where to begin with my experience? I got into Austin, Texas, late Friday night, arriving around 1am.
Pro tip: I didn’t have extra vacation time, but if you can swing it, I definitely recommend arriving at the start of the show. I missed the Moda Party, some of the Cotton + Steel fabric I had hoped to buy was sold out, I missed some of the workshops/lectures I would have found most interesting, and I missed certain other promotions. It wasn’t the end of the world, but I think the extra few days would have been worthwhile.
Registration on Saturday started at 8am. The process was professional and easy. I scanned my barcode (received in an email and printed out at home), although you can also search by name. Then my official nametag was printed, and I received a sweet swag bag.
Pro tip: Each nametag has a barcode that is used to scan the attendee into sessions (s)he has registered for.
I showed up promptly at 8am. There was no line. I was finished in less than 3 minutes. My workshop didn’t start until 9am, and the exhibition hall didn’t open until 10am, so I went to check out the contents of my swag bag, review my schedule, and get a coffee. Here’s a photo of some of the contents of the swag bag (charm packs of fabric didn’t fit into the photo):
My first workshop was English Paper Piecing with Katy Jones (on Instagram as @imagingermonkey… but you already knew that!). I thought the session was great. She picked a project with enough different shapes so skills will translate to other projects. There was fairly minimal instruction. She showed us how to do each shape the first time, then let us make repeat pieces. Once we’d worked for awhile, she showed us how to connect the pieces. The cool thing about the class was having someone check our work and give one-on-one feedback (increase stitch length, don’t pull so tight, etc.). The class size was less than 30 people, so we all had the opportunity to ask questions. As Katy joked, I feel confident in my new English Paper Piecing skills because I learned them from someone English!
Pro tip: Full-day sessions have a two-hour lunch break from 12pm-2pm. Vendors are in their booths during this time, and the quilt show is open. There are also some demonstrations that are open to all attendees.
The workshop was scheduled from 9a-5p. Honestly, I wasn’t sure how I would do handwork for that long without getting squirmy. I needn’t have worried. First, there was a lunch break. (This also answered for me when I would contact a sewing machine sales rep about getting a good deal.) Second, Katy said she would buy a drink for anyone who made it even halfway through the project; she didn’t think it was possible. I’m hugely competitive, so that was all I needed to hear. I worked like a madwoman. I got close but didn’t make it. Here we are with the work I completed in class:
(Dunno why my face was flushed like I just ran up the stairs to the top of the Empire State Building, but a little B&W adjustment fixed that!)
Katy teased me about the template I made with Microsoft Word and brought to class. But I know it made me cool, haha.
During class, I learned that Katy’s magazine, QuiltNow, is finally being sold at Barnes & Noble in the U.S. I haven’t seen it in stores yet, so I’m really excited to get my hands on a copy!
I had my sights set on a Janome Horizon Memory Craft 8900 and told my fellow EPP classmates while we stitched away. They had excellent news! A Janome rep visited all the workshops a day or two before I arrived and said the 8900 was the machine being used at the show. Attendees could get a machine (used in workshops for the 4 days of QuiltCon) at an extremely reduced rate. The only “catch” was that only a limited number of machines were available.
If you think talking about money is gauche, please skip the next paragraph. However, it’s difficult to find sewing machine prices online, you don’t always have a ton of local vendors to be able to shop around, and so I appreciated reading past bloggers’ experiences. I want to share mine in case it helps someone else.
I already knew the Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) had gone down $1,000-2,000 to $4,000 recently. Other bloggers mentioned getting their machines at a show for $2,500 or $2,300. I was hoping for a rate like that. Instead, I got my machine even less expensively… for just under $1,900!!! The rate included shipping to my house and was either inclusive of taxes or not subject to taxes (because Texas).
After the show, all the machines are going back to the local rep’s warehouse, and they’ll ship from there within the week. I also bought a table to go with the machine. They’re not sold by the same company, and the tables ordered for QuiltCon didn’t arrive in time, so that will ship approximately 3-4 weeks from now. I’m sure the rate was somewhat reduced, but nothing near the 50% discount on the machine!
The machine-buying experience, which I’d planned to span the 2-hour lunch break, was complete in less than 15 minutes. (When I asked the rep whether it was the fastest sale he’d made, he responded with a curt, “No.”) I have to admit that, as awesome as QuiltCon was, the next few hours were a tiny bit anti-climactic after the awesomeness of buying a machine. For hundreds less than anticipated. With a table into the bargain.
QuiltCon was surprisingly smaller than some of the other shows I’ve attended (blogged here and here). That said, I felt the vendors present were more targeted to the type of quilting I enjoy, so the smaller size wasn’t at all a detriment. (Example: I’m not the biggest fan of batiks, so it was nice to have one or two batik vendors instead of having to navigate between what seemed, at other shows, like a million of them.)
One of the most-photographed booths at QuiltCon had to be Cotton + Steel. It was divided into sections. To the far left was the Tinsel line and a mock fireplace. To the right of that was a sewing station. You could pick through boxes of C+S “scraps” (some of which were bigger than FQs) to make either a pincushion or a headband. To the right of that were the apparel fabrics. And on the far right was a temporary tattoo booth and the B&W prints, many of which were part of a Halloween theme.
I was most excited about the Tinsel and Black & White lines of fabric when I arrived, but Melody Miller personally pointed out to me some new rayon fabric that will make great apparel (it felt amazing and draped beautifully), so now I’m equally excited about those. This also comprised my most embarrassing “sewlebrity” experience. I got completely tongue-tied. I think all I told her about the rayon was, “This is great.” Then I went and stood in line for a temporary tattoo—not because I was disinterested in the fabric or talking with Melody Miller, but because I knew I couldn’t be counted on to say anything more intelligent than that! Talking with Sarah Watts about a temporary tattoo was easier because at least there was a clear course for the discussion – “I like this tattoo best. Here’s my left arm. Thank you.” Haha. I did stick around long enough to learn that B&W comes out in April, other lines in May, and Tinsel in July.
Pro tip: You will get to see a lot of the new fabric lines at QuiltCon, but you won’t actually be able to buy them yet. Manufacturers make display items from the strike-offs to show their lines before all 3,000+ yards are printed and available to the public.
All the C+S girls were friendly and gracious. One of the cutest QuiltCon moments for me was watching them help some up-and-coming quilters sew their projects at the sewing station in the booth. Here are Alexia and Melody helping:
Alexia also took a photo with me. I am so excited!!! You might recall that I sewed her Marcelle Medallion pattern awhile ago. It is still my favorite quilt pattern.
I was also really excited to see a photo of my Pixelated Panda quilt on display in the YouPatch booth. Andi was kind enough to take a photo with me and a photo of the quilt:
In terms of other booths, there was great fabric from all the vendors, but I think the one with the widest selection on the bolt and therefore the longest lines was Island Quilter. Many of the other vendors focused more on half yards or FQs. It makes sense: pre-cut fabric is way easier to transport. It was also a nice way to get a wide vareity of fabrics.
Kona Cotton’s booth had a popular game where you could try to name 30 preselected fabric colors in 2 minutes. After your guesses, you could spin a wheel to win a pin, a FQ, or a color card. (I got a pin.) Elisabeth Woo was the rep by the color cards when I was there, and I had another sewlebrity blank-out moment. I’m blaming this on the adrenaline crash after buying my new sewing machine for such a fantastic value!
Pro tip: Check in advance which booths are manufacturers versus retailers if you’re looking to buy something specific. Aurifil’s booth was right next to the Kona prize wheel. They had a lovely display, hosted a game with prizes, and, as sponsors, provided nice things in the swag bag, but I was surprised you couldn’t buy vast quantities of Aurifil thread on-site at the Aurifil booth. Similarly, you couldn’t buy C+S fabric at the C+S booth. Both were sold at the booths of their retailers. However, they were great about directing you to the appropriate booths.
After my EPP class, I also attended the keynote by the quilters of Gee’s Bend. It wasn’t at all what I expected! Instead of talking exclusively about technique, they also talked about their experiences growing up and sang songs, my favorite of which was, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” Mary Ann Pettway is the head of the group. She said she works on many projects at once. If someone wants to buy a quilt of hers, she says, “Go ahead and pick out your favorite of my WIPs. If you can wait 2 years, I’ll get around to it!” Haha. The next day, I ran into her on the floor of the quilt show, and she took a picture with me!
The coolest part was that she wanted to show us the label on the back of her quilt. As attendees, we obviously aren’t supposed to touch the quilts, but she pulled up a corner to our audible gasps. She said, “It’s my quilt! I suppose I can touch it.” She was friendly and so funny!
After the keynote, I went out to explore Austin, settling on Stubb’s BBQ for dinner. I think moving QuiltCon to other cities is a nice idea (the next event is in Pasadena, and the one after that is in Savannah) so more people can attend locally, but am sad that not everyone will experience Austin. It didn’t feel like other Texas cities where I’ve spent significant time (Houston, San Antonio, Dallas). I think a whole blog could be—and probably is—dedicated just to the facial hair of Austin. Ginormous beards were the norm. I saw some interesting variations, too. One guy dreadlocked his beard and tied up the strands at the top of his head. Another had a waxed moustache that stuck out at least 3 inches past his face on each side. (He also wore a top hat.) Studded jackets and military gear were everywhere. I noticed that although some of the style is “tough,” the people I talked with were universally friendly. I loved that.
I was back to my hotel around 8.30pm. Probably I should have gone out with other attendees, but I was exhausted! It was weird. I know I got in late the night before, but I spent almost the whole day sitting in one spot, working on EPP. That’s not exactly exhausting work! However, I noticed the same thing the following day: being bone-tired as soon as the events were finished for the day.
Pro tip: For this reason, I suggest traveling with or meeting a specific friend so you are forced to make the most of your time. I didn’t fight it and instead got halfway through my EPP project by staying in.
The next day, I already knew that the vendor hall/quilt show wouldn’t open before my workshop, so I got a later start. My class was Compositional Drawing with Krista Withers (on Instagram @lolablueocean). It was fantastic!
My current Singer machine is great for piecing but is a total pain for quilting. It is difficult to get the tension even on both sides, so I’ve been resigned to straight line quilting, and even that has unfortunate puckering for any crossed lines. There’s also no speed control, and the foot pedal sometimes stalls, then drives about 100mph. Needless to say, I am SO excited about getting a new machine, and this class was perfect for helping me know where to start with quilting.
Krista’s method (which I won’t describe in detail since it’s not mine to share) involves breaking the quilt into sections and then quilting those sections across the quilt. It’s weird, but I actually felt a sense of relief in the class, like, “Wow, I’m not going to have to figure this out on my own once my machine arrives.” Watching her do her thing was my favorite part of the class.
She assured us we can develop muscle memory in quilting. I hope to goodness that’s true. I need the help. Since my flight was canceled in the middle of class, I spent a lot of time on phone with the airline and skipped using my ruler for most of the session to save on time. My test piece is UGLY as a result. Seriously. Still, I got great ideas to bring home. We also got some plastic to practice with in the course kit, so I will be drawing on the plastic (set on top of the fabric) over and over before my new machine arrives!
At the end of class, Krista also agreed to take a photo with me.
My afternoon lecture on Sunday was the time slot I was most excited about. I attended Heather Ross’ discussion about what she’s learned over 20 years of designing fabric. I don’t plan to start a line or anything, but I am a huge Heather Ross fan (not just the fabric; her books are SO worth reading!) and found that most of the concepts she discussed apply equally well to creative ventures more broadly. I am impressed any time a speaker can have a “conversation” in a huge room with an audience. It felt a lot more intimate than it was—although it was a smaller session than I’d expected. Heather’s lecture was funny, heartfelt, informative.
Pro tip: The show is WAY emptier the last afternoon as everyone heads for the airport. If the stuff you want to buy isn’t sold out, it’s a much quieter time to make purchases.
After the lecture, I went to her book signing at the Stitch Lab booth. I’m on my fourth copy of How to Catch a Frog since I keep recommending and lending it to people. I would buy the book twice as many times again… although I won’t be lending out this copy:
My favorite essay in the book is about the Polar Bear Plunge. Her husband is the hero of the story, and I read it while wedding planning, so it stuck with me in a big and happy way. Of course, when she asked if there was anything in particular I would like her to draw, I realize in hindsight that a strawberry or cat or flower or frog or ANYTHING featured in her fabric lines might have been a more obvious choice. But I just love this book and the sketch! After my book was signed and I was already walking away with a big dumb grin on my face, she asked, “Do you want a picture?” “Um… YES!”
The best part about the book signing was obviously the book signing experience itself. But the next best thing was seeing who else was in the line with me. It was almost like scrolling through my Instagram feed of all-stars!
Heather’s new collection is called Tiger Lily by Windham Fabrics. She said it should be in stores in July. A FQ bundle arrived at the Windham booth just before her lecture, and I stopped by to see it after the book signing:
It was still wrapped with a bow when I saw it, but check the Instagram feed of @emmylizzy to see it spread out. You can at least see the colors in this photo. We also got to see a few sneak peaks during the lecture, and I’m really excited about the Climbing Trees print. Heather said it was one of the more difficult prints to design since it includes lines (vertical lines of tree trunks). It’s hard to see much of it as just one FQ (guess I’ll just have to buy some yardage!), but it looks incredible! Many thanks to Windham for the charm packs of Far, Far Away from when I stopped to coo over Tiger Lily.
And with that, QuiltCon was over. My flight situation didn’t really resolve itself. Due to weather, I was delayed a day. The silver lining is that late last night, I finished my EPP project! Hooray for one less WIP! I still have to make it into a cushion/pillow cover and quilt it with some contrasting thread, but it was fun.
Now I’m thinking about starting a La Passacaglia quilt. Sewing all 2900 pieces by hand. Because I’m insane. I may have already invested a small fortune on the pattern… although, compared with competitors’ prices, my purchase at Paper Pieces was reasonable. I even got 20% off by Googling a discount code – EPPFB. Until Paper Pieces bought 200 copies of the book, it was difficult to get in the U.S. So I’d rather have the option to spend a lot of money to get the stuff I want than not have that option. Besides, my husband is perfectly content with ramen noodle dinners, haha.
Katy mentioned La Passacaglia as the ultimate EPP project in her class, and Jenny Fox-Proverbs from Love Patchwork & Quilting magazine, in conjunction with the C+S team, gave a demonstration of how awesome each cog of the quilt can look.
As many photos as I’ve included in this post, there are so many moments I didn’t photograph. I saw a ton of designers (of fabric, quilt patterns, and otherwise) I admire. I didn’t go out of my way to run into them. In fact, like I said above, I was so tongue-tied that I needlessly avoided some. But just to give you an idea of the awesomeness of QuiltCon, I saw the following people with my own two eyes: Katy Jones, Krista Withers, Katy Jones, Alison Glass, Nydia Kehnle, Tula Pink, Alexia Abegg, Melody Miller, Sarah Watts, Rashida Coleman-Hale, Kimberly Kight, Denise von Minden, Holly DeGroot (@bijoulovely), Heather Jones, Alex Veronelli, Gemma Jackson (@prettybobbins), Jen (from Love Patchwork & Quilting magazine), the quilters of Gee’s Bend, Lizzy House, Sherri Lynn Wood, Kristi McDonough (@schnitzelandboo), Cat (@hellofromcat of Cat and Vee), Elisabeth Woo, Matt Wheeler, Andi (from YouPatch). I’m sure there are more I can’t remember at the moment; my method of listing them was a casual scroll through my IG feed. I might be bragging, but that’s not my intent. What I really want to illustrate is just how accessible the entire quilting community is at QuiltCon! It was amazing!
I blogged about the QuiltCon registration process here. I hope to review my new machine soon. If you have other questions, I’ll be happy to try to answer them in the comments section. I’m not sure I’ll ever be lucky enough to attend another QuiltCon (I did just spend a bunch of money on a new machine, after all), but this was a really great experience. Thanks to the MQG for putting it together!