East Dakota Quilter


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La Passacaglia & EPP Research

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.

Millefiori Cover

Millefiori Contents

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!)

Passacaglia set by East Dakota Quilter

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

 

Passacaglia Shapes by East Dakota Quilter

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.

EPP Measurement by East Dakota Quilter

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.

Glue for EPP by East Dakota Quilter

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.

Wet Erase Marker for EPP by East Dakota Quilter

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.

Superior Threads

RESOURCES

Other bloggers who have written about the La Passacaglia quilt that I found inspirational (obviously not an exhaustive list) include:

Flossie Teacakes – here and here and here

TheLittleRedHen – or here on Flickr

Mommy by Day, Crafter by Night

Lilabellelane

Michal Erika

Seldear

Pattern Jam (feat. Ashley Spilman)

 

You can see about a million more great passacaglia photos on Instagram. Check out:

tulapink (especially the behind the scenes in Artists & Makers magazine; you can see her Passacaglia in the background), lilabellelane, carriestraka, alexouq, kamiemurdock or hashtags #lapassacaglia and #passacagliaquilt

 

A few more on Flickr:

Michal Peter-Anderson (via Rossana Ramani), Melissa (@honeythorpe)

 

Lorena Uriarte of ikwilt doesn’t feature a Passacaglia but does great fussy cutting.

 

If you are interested in EPP but don’t know where to begin, here are some resources:

EPP: Where to Begin

How to Fussy Cut Fabric for EPP

EPP Basics

Stitching for EPP

 

OKAY, I’M READY TO START!

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.


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Quilt Planning & Practice

Quilting – Sampler Quilt

I paid to have both of the quilts I’ve pieced so far quilted for a variety of reasons: my domestic sewing machine is old , I didn’t want to bunch up the quilt under the arm, I was afraid I would ruin my patchwork by sewing crooked quilting lines, having someone else help was too inexpensive to pass up and a time-saver… But I wanted to take a new level of ownership with my sampler quilt. I wanted to do the piecing and the quilting. Plus, I wanted to highlight the shapes of some of the blocks with the quilting, and I thought it might seem lazy if I had someone else do it within such specific parameters. So I needed to learn about quilting.

Somewhere on Pinterest in the last year, I found an article that said rows of quilting should be 4-6″ apart. I am planning to use this quilt-as-you-go method with my sampler quilt, and I figured the 6″ guideline would be close to what I was planning. Some squares might be a little farther apart, some closer. Could it really be that big a deal? Having determined my quilting method, I promptly put the issue out of my head.

Now I have only a few of the 49 blocks left to piece. That means the time for quilting is almost upon me! Terrified, I revisited my previous research. I found this excellent article on Sew Mama, Sew! about the requirements for different types of batting. The article says most cotton battings (which I’d planned to use since I have leftovers from some baby quilts I made to practice) require quilting every 2-3″ because cotton shifts much more than polyester. That really doesn’t fit with the quilt blocks I made, which will be [about] 12″ finished.

My new plan is to use a blend: the Warm & Natural brand Amy suggests in her article. It was 50% off when I went to the store last week, and it says you can go 10 whole inches (!!) between quilting lines, so I bought 3 packages of queen-size batting. I plan to make my quilt 3 layers thick for extra warmth if I can manage it in my sewing machine. (For some reason, this makes me a nut job to other quilters.) The lady behind me in line at checkout couldn’t help telling me how amazing the brand is… and about the rag quilts she’s making for her granddaughters, one of whom is picky and a teenager. I love fabric outings where everyone wants to tell you about their current projects!

warm & natural batting

All that said, I wish I could use the batting I already own. My boyfriend (Johann) was funny the other day when he asked in a nonchalant way, “Oh, is this fabric new? It looks good…” He was quiet a minute, then added, “Didn’t patchwork quilts traditionally used to be made with leftover fabric from stuff like clothes?” Nuance is not normally his thing, so I found this endearing–not that it stopped me from buying 10 yards of fabric for the sashing and border. At this point, I figure I’m in so deep with fabrics and batting, I don’t want to ruin the whole thing by putting some ugly, low-thread-count sashing all over. I selected Moda’s Warm Memories in Chocolate Brown. I had an amazing afternoon looking at all of Moda’s fabric collections, past and present.

sashing

Embroidering – Barn Quilt

In the same way I have traditionally not quilted my own things because I was scared I’d ruin the patchwork, I was worried I would ruin a piece of embroidery I’m working on when it came time to add knots. I am making a tractor for my barn quilt, and I wanted to include rivets. Too many rivets. I’ll be a regular Rosie the Riveter by the time I finish!

French knots aren’t my thing. When I do them, they look floppy. Below are some French knots I did on the first quilt square I completed for the sampler quilt. They’re buttons on a coat. They’re ugly and really uneven.

french knots

Since the next-most-popular knot seems to be the colonial knot, I decided to try that for my tractor rivets. No practicing first, of course. (How often I have regretted this enthusiasm!) The finished product isn’t perfect, but it’s much better than the coat buttons!

colonial knot

I had read that colonial knots consist of figure eights around the needle (with the thread) and that you need both hands. That advice was useful on both counts. I used the graphic from this website to make the knots, and I pressed the knot against the fabric while pulling the thread through to keep the knots tight. Whew! Much more even than the embroidered coat buttons, which I have chosen to consider “charming” and homemade.

Another concern is the traced lines. Each block will be based on a photo from my childhood. Once I’ve finished drawing the template, I size it and trace it onto the fabric. (Wish I could freehand it, but let’s be serious.) I tried air-soluble ink, but that left me with NO LINES when I let the project sit for a few days. Not good. So I switched to water-soluble ink. I read that even water-soluble ink can dissipate in time due to humidity in the air. Since I don’t want to wash my quilt right away, even though the DMC floss I’m using is supposed to be color-safe, I am going to try to use the humidity concept to my advantage and take out the water-soluble lines with a steamer. Wish me luck!

tracing lines

Block Arranging – Sampler Quilt

While I don’t spend much time practicing the more critical techniques like knots or quilting, I spend all the time in the world drawing and computer imaging what the finished quilt will look like. I want to see the result well before the pieces are finished. Below is an image that shows where I started with my sampler quilt (a grid on two different-sized pieces of paper where I drew every quilt block I liked that didn’t have circles or applique or otherwise look too difficult) to where I was mid-stream (closer color approximations since I didn’t have the correct colored pencils when I did the drawing version) to how I expect the finished quilt to look with sashing, using a combination of finished block photos and computer images for blocks I’m still working on.

13 left progress