Flossie Teacakes' Guide to English Paper Piecing: Exploring the Fussy-Cut World of Precision Patchwork

Flossie Teacakes' Guide to English Paper Piecing: Exploring the Fussy-Cut World of Precision Patchwork

by Florence Knapp

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781440247927
Publisher: F+W Media
Publication date: 05/29/2018
Pages: 128
Sales rank: 66,664
Product dimensions: 8.20(w) x 10.80(h) x 0.40(d)

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CHAPTER 1

THE WORLD OF ENGLISH PAPER PIECING

Since discovering English paper piecing, when we choose to sew by hand, as well as I've found it has slowly crept into more aspects of my life than I could have imagined. Its methodical processes and repetitive stitches have become my daily meditation. I find myself looking for pattern inspiration everywhere, noticing drain covers, floor tiles, and door plates. Its quiet portability has allowed creativity to spill into passages of time that would once have lain fallow.

As I have cut paper shapes, wrapped fabric around them, and then carefully sewn them together, my mind has often whirled with questions. Why do we delight in seeing things made at miniature scale? What draws us to symmetry and repeating patterns? Why is fabric-related terminology so deeply woven into the English language?

Ideas about the psychology of working with our hands also began to whisper at the periphery of my time spent paper piecing. I had a sense that creating small-scale order with these wrapped fabric shapes might somehow make the larger, less easily tamed aspects of life feel more manageable. I pondered if, the simple enjoyment of making a quilt, we're also instinctively engaging in something that's fundamentally good for us. And sometimes I considered the opposite and questioned why so many of us feel compelled to keep our hands in perpetual motion!

I've cast my net to take in the work of psychologists, neurologists, mathematicians, physicists, quilt historians, and fellow quiltmakers, to discover what evidence, if any, underpins these thoughts that may be familiar to many of us who work with our hands.

I've also gathered a feast of inspiration that may be enjoyed once the needle is put down for the day. In this chapter, we'll go on a day trip to the home of a renowned EPPer, the late Lucy Boston; discover the quilts of Albert Small through his granddaughter, Liz; discuss the novel, The Last Runaway with author Tracy Chevalier; and learn about Fine Cell Work, an English charitable organization that takes stitching into prisons.

First though, we'll begin at the beginning, with a brief history of English paper piecing.

A BRIEF HISTORY

| Where did English paper piecing begin and what of the lives of the makers? |

I ALWAYS BELIEVED that quilts were historically made for reasons of practicality and thrift and that it is only recently, in our centrally heated homes, that we have had the luxury of turning quiltmaking into an art or leisure activity. While that assumption is true of quiltmaking in general, in the case of English paper piecing, this isn't the case at all. Since its inception, English paper piecing is thought to have been an activity of the more gentrified and educated classes because of its time-consuming nature and use of more complex geometric shapes.

The 1718 Coverlet is the oldest known paper pieced quilt top in the British Isles, and several of the more geometric blocks it contains are typical of English paper piecing. Its historical relevance alone makes it breathtaking, but it's also an exceptionally beautiful and highly accomplished piece in its own right. Poignantly, we know nothing of its maker, only that the quilt bears the initials EH.

When studying older quilts, we can feel a startling imbalance between seeing the maker's hand in the now-fragile stitches, while at the same time knowing little about his or her life. A shared passion gives us a sense of affinity with the maker, but it comes juxtaposed with a sense of disconnect that she is simultaneously so unknowable.

We must often rely on clues for information. Sometimes the clues are overt — as in a quilt of hexagons that is made from the snippets of nineteenth-century dresses. In this case, from the quality and patterning of the fabrics used, quilt historians can make assumptions about the background of the quiltmaker and her family, such as how traveled, wealthy, and stylish they may have been.

Fragments of writing are also often found on the paper pieces left inside unquilted coverlets. Occasionally, these are personal snippets of a love letter or poem. Often though, they are more utilitarian — envelopes, recycled shopping lists, children's handwriting practice. Paper was once at such a premium that English paper piecers carefully repurposed it.

Other times, the clues are more subtle and taken on inference. When I studied the Lugley House Coverlet held by the Quilter's Guild in York, I was mesmerized by Catherine Eldridge's tiny stitches. They are consistent across the vast quilt of 5/8" (1.5 cm) hexagons, and when counted equated to around 27 stitches per inch! The neat, painstaking perfection of her work caused my imagination to draw all sorts of conclusions about her nature.

Initially, English paper pieced designs primarily featured squares and half-square triangles. But starting around 1790, the hexagon and other more complex shapes began to commonly appear. Quilt historian Bridget Long attributes this to an improvement in girls' education as well as the wider availability of geometry primers, such as C. Hutton's charmingly titled The Compendious Measurer (1786). Patterns could also be bought from tradesmen who drew up designs for ladies' work.

While we now tend to use quilting cottons and fine lawns in our English paper piecing, historically a far broader range of fabrics were used. Velvets, upholstery fabrics, fine silks, and dress cottons were mixed together with masterful abandon and a lack of intimidation around tackling more bulky seam allowances! Although shades fade at varying rates and once-vibrant yellows will often have faded altogether from an older quilt, the colors of these fabrics often surprise me by appearing no less rich than those we see today.

As people began to move around the globe in the first half of the nineteenth century, so, too, did English paper piecing. British officials began taking their families out to the colonies and their many quilts accompanied them. These women's continued practice of English paper piecing in a strange new land must have offered a much-needed connection with home.

However, examples of English paper piecing are not entirely confined to affluent women. In the 1820s, prison reformer Elizabeth Fry identified English paper piecing's ability to provide spiritual nourishment to female prisoners. It also acquired some popularity among soldiers and sailors, offering an engaging way to perfect the needlework skills required for their work, relieve boredom, or pass the hours for those convalescing.

FABRIC AND LANGUAGE

| Why is the fabric of our language interwoven with so many sewing-related references? |

THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE is so rich with fabric-related terminology that it's hard to summarize this idea without making a clichéd reference about them being interwoven. It's perhaps telling that in Latin, both text and textiles share the same root word texere, meaning "to weave."

Indeed, fabric is so deeply rooted in our culture and society, it peppers everyday conversation. We talk about hanging on "by a thread," the "fabric" of society, "embroidering" the truth, a "close-knit" community, "spinning" a tale, the "thread" of a storyline, "patching up" a relationship, "weaving" a web of lies, someone "unravelling" at the seams, and "piecing together" events. We use this textile-based imagery knowing it will convey our meaning and be universally understood.

While the relatively breakable lone thread is often used to represent fragility, the cross- hatching of warp and weft strands, which are interwoven to form a rich and varied cloth, can represent individual elements that have come together to form a unified whole. We may not think about metaphors pertaining to the structure and construction of fabric in such an objective way on a daily basis, but over time they have become woven into our psyche to produce a language rich with visual imagery.

However, I don't believe fabric has crept into our language solely because it is a wonderful vehicle for metaphor. Thinking back to man's earliest times, aside from water, food, and shelter, fabric in one form or another was the only other true essential, albeit in the form of animal skins. Our need to cover ourselves in fabric is an instinctive one that has stayed with us all through the ages, eventually materializing in clothing and quilts.

Later, its use played another tangible role at a formative stage of our language and phraseol- ogy. The first edition of the King James Bible, for example, and many that followed were printed on pages made from durable, high quality cotton linen rag paper. In the 1800s, fabric and thread continued to have a physical presence as books were routinely covered in cloth and their spines bound with stitches.

Historically, people's lives were so inextricably linked with "making" that it's unsurprising the terminology used in their labors crept into the lexicon and filtered down through generations, giving our language roots, color, and a rich sense of history. For example, we talk about being "on tenterhooks" when we feel tense, which references the hooks that linen or wool was stretched on to prevent shrinkage as it dried. We say that a parent and child with similar personalities are "cut from the same cloth," referring to tailors using the same roll of fabric when making a suit to avoid inconsistencies. A traditional English nursery rhyme, still sung in playgrounds today, ends "pop goes the weasel," which refers to the spinner's yarn winder, known as the weasel, making a popping noise when it had measured out the correct amount of thread. In the American South, the phrase "in high cotton" is used to imply that life is easy because the cotton had grown so tall the picker didn't need to bend down.

Discussing these ideas around fabric and language with my mother one evening, she suggested our reverence for fabric can also be traced back to the story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. Immediately upon eating the forbidden apple they "knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons" in an attempt to cover both themselves and in turn their shame. I wonder if the symbolism of this story has become wedged in our collective psyche over thousands of years to give fabric and its ability to conceal a greater significance in our lives than we can imagine.

That textiles and the paraphernalia around their manufacture have been such a mainstay in our lives physically, spiritually, culturally, and vocationally seems to have put them at the very core of our being when developing our language. Our historical relationship causes these references to whirl around us in our modern daily lives without our even noticing their presence, so ingrained are they in our speech. Its deep-seated presence is evident in this quote from the physicist Richard Feynman, who even when discussing nature herself (for Feynman talks about nature as a female embodiment) used almost entirely textile-related words to describe her: "Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry."

Taking the prefix "im-" to mean "not," we can draw our conclusion about the importance with which we endow fabric by looking at the very existence of the word immaterial, which in its most literal translation suggests that if something is not material, it's irrelevant and without substance. As one who is obsessed by fabric, at times I'm almost inclined to agree!

WORKING WITH OUR HANDS

| What are the positive effects of handsewing on our physical and mental well-being? |

WHEN I WAS eight, my adored maternal simple pattern on a pillow. The results revealed grandmother gave me a sewing basket for Christmas. Lined in red satin, it contained pins with shiny pearlized heads, a rainbow of cotton threads and embroidery flosses, and an array of neatly packaged needles. As that year drew to a close, my grandmother and I sat quietly on her leather Chesterfield sofa while she taught me embroidery. We created petals using lazy daisy stitch and flower heads from dense clusters of French knots. I've long since forgotten those embroidery skills, but what I have retained is the memory of the calm contentment that washed over me as I tried to perfect my stitches that day. It was a feeling of absorption and peace entirely different from anything else I'd experienced.

As an adult, instinct has told me that needlework offers a myriad of benefits for mind, body, and spirit. And while researching this book I've enjoyed discovering that those instincts aren't just "Florencisms" built entirely on my own beliefs and conversations with others. Rather, they are ideas substantiated in a wealth of studies conducted by researchers, psychologists, and neuroscientists that offer fascinating insights into why sewing might make us feel so good!

In 1995, Robert H. Reiner conducted a clinical study in the Department of Psychiatry at the New York University Medical Center with fifteen novice sewists and fifteen experienced sewists. Researchers monitored the women's stress indicators, including heart rate, blood pressure, and perspiration, while they performed a range of typically relaxing activities. These involved reading a newspaper, painting at an easel, playing a solo card game, using a handheld games console, and sewing a that the heart rates of the sewists dropped by as much as eleven beats per minute, with similarly significant drops in blood pressure. Conversely, heart rates actually increased across the other four activities. Even Reiner seemed mystified by the difference in results. It's been suggested that perhaps it is the soothing, repetitive rhythm of sewing, which occupational therapist Marian Scheinholtz compares to the experience of rocking in a rocking chair.

Rhythm and repetitive movement have indeed already been shown to increase the release of serotonin in the brains of animals, lowering stress levels as a consequence. I'd always believed the sight of a rocking gorilla at the zoo was indicative of an animal at the point of a critical mental breakdown. And while that may be true, its repetitive movement is also an act of self-preservation. Researchers have found that farm animals that engage in this kind of coping strategy develop fewer stress ulcers than more passive animals. In the context of humans and English paper piecing, everything from cutting papers to wrapping pieces and whipstitching them together seems to offer an endless stream of repetitive movement with which to lower stress levels.

However, the mental space one enters into when absorbed by sewing may also play an important role in understanding its benefits. Sewists commonly talk of the "meditative quality" of sewing, asserting that with their eyes open and needle in hand, they're able to gain the same sense of calm and grounding associated with meditation. This idea is reflected in a study of more than three thousand knitters conducted by Betsan Corkhill in conjunction with the Royal United Hospital in Bath. From the study, Betsan concluded that knitting enables a much wider cross-section of society to experience the benefits of meditation because it doesn't require a person to actively understand or accept the practice itself, it just offers these benefits as a natural side effect.

The Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi believes that this meditative state induced while working with our hands can more accurately be described as "flow," which he defines as "a state of joy, creativity, and total involvement, in which problems seem to disappear and there is an exhilarating feeling of transcendence."

According to Mihaly, when someone is completely immersed in skilled creative endeavours they can become temporarily divorced from their identity and body, due to so few of the brain's resources being left over for monitoring thirst, hunger, or tiredness. I've experienced this, having lost count of those times when I've barely noticed it's grown dark until I find myself unable to see my stitches or haven't felt hungry despite having forgotten to eat lunch or dinner. This also offers an insight into why many have successfully used needlecrafts as a way of managing chronic pain. Presumably the brain's ability to pick up on pain signals is diminished for these same reasons.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Flossie Teacakes' Guide to English Paper Piecing"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Florence Knapp.
Excerpted by permission of F+W Media, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction, 4,
Chapter One: The World of English Paper Piecing, 6,
A Brief History, 8,
Fabric and Language, 12,
Working With Our Hands, 14,
Creating Order in Chaos, 18,
The Quilt in the Cupboard, 20,
Fine Cell Work, 21,
Symmetry and Repeating Patterns, 24,
A Life's Work, 28,
The Quilts of Albert Small, 31,
Quilt Tales, 34,
Considering Distractions, 37,
The Patchworks of Lucy Boston, 38,
The Last Runaway, 42,
Chapter Two: Spotlight on Modern EPPers, 44,
Linda White, 46,
Jess Williams, 48,
Miss Leela, 50,
Dittany Matthews, 52,
Jodi Godfrey, 54,
Sandra Cassidy, 56,
Sally Amberton, 58,
Lorena Uriarte, 60,
Chapter Three: Introduction to English Paper Piecing Techniques, 62,
Chapter Four: The Rosettes, 106,
Holmwood Rosette, 108,
Pyegreave Rosette, 110,
Billilla Rosette, 112,
Chapter Five: The Ripple Effect Quilt, 114,
Acknowledgments, 124,
Bibliography, 125,
Index, 127,

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