I've been staring at this first picture of my Crossed Paths quilt for about 10 minutes now, wondering what I will say about it. When you hand stitch a quilt, as I did this one, you become intimately acquainted with it. You know every crevice. Remember the feeling of putting two gentle prints together, or two clashy ones. You remember being unsure about that bright red, or that dark olive, and just hoping that the Scrappy Way will work it's magic. You remember that road trip to Bendigo where you stitched most of the crosses, or the rainy day you spent ignoring the mess while your three children and four nieces and nephews asked if they could play with the pretty plusses and help arrange them. For a few weeks or months, that quilt infiltrated every corner of our world.
But then what I sometimes forget to do is stand back, like I did today, and see it as a whole. I mean, I took a few photos for my Instagram feed here and there, all inside, in gentle, natural light, but today as the clouds cleared, and the sun shone, making my photo shoot more tricky than I anticipated, I feel like I captured a quilt I didn't quite recognise.
I had expected my little paths of solid plusses, which I made from Free Spirit's Designer Essential Solid in Natural, would stand out more, creating a strong pattern for the eye to follow rather than a random swirl of colour. I'm not sure I achieved this, though I'm also not sure that is a bad thing. I find the random swirl in this quilt quite hypnotic, but still restless. I was going for more rest. But perhaps it's difficult with Tula Pink's rich, clashy rainbow of shades, to do so. Perhaps a quilt needs even more order, a more controlled palette, for a more certain feel. I find this quilt to be inquisitive, rather than certain. She's like my Evie, dashing from one topic to the next, dancing with her hair in a constant tangle (which is actually a whole lot like me, but without the dancing), as opposed to my thoughtful, solid, and sure oldest boy. And that makes me think that this quilt is actually very happy and beautiful, even in the dither and noise. What do you think?
This quilt was inspired by Mollie Johansen's tutorial which also features a printable template. I'm not sure what size her templates are, but I drafted mine to be 1 3/4" wide, which fits neatly on a 2.5" strip, which makes it the perfect scrappy quilt size for binding bits or jelly rolls. I also find it an incredibly easy width strip to rotary cut, probably because it's my most common, and therefore doesn't take a whole lot of concentration. If there's one thing I'm learning about this little English Paper Piecing heart of mine, it's that while I don't mind the stitching to be slow (thought I've been timing myself, and I'm getting faster!), I want the rest of the process to be fast. Rotary cut fabric and pre-cut templates for me all the way. And I'm not sure if you can tell by any prints you may recognise, or against the size of my husband's average sized leg, but they make a very pleasing finished plus. 5 1/4" across, to be exact.
I cut all my fabric rectangles first at 2.5" x 3.25", and neatly cut enough for 12 houses, or 3 plusses, from one strip of fabric, or one 10" square (I happened to have a layer cake of Chipper, by Tula Pink.) I can't tell tell you how happy this made me. All up, I used 28 different prints/strips and 9 strips of Natural Solid (for 25 plusses). Then I basted everything, threw all those little houses in a shoe box and proceeded to take it everywhere and stitch plusses together. I found this part very satisfying. The plusses end up a similar size to a hexie flower, but with only 3 little seams, 2 stitching two houses together twice, and the third from stitching those pieces together to finish the block. I made 108 plusses. 108! It certainly didn't feel like that at the time (ok, maybe it did when I was stitching those long, last rows together!) And I used 20 single houses around the edges in the gaps. My finished quilt is 50" square.
If you'd like to make this quilt too, you can buy the templates here. You'll need 452 houses, which is 2 1/2 packs. For this quilt I kept all shapes in until it got too heavy for me. I liked being able to arrange them once they were all stitched up, snap a photo, and use that as my 'pattern'. But you can easily reuse my shapes if you prefer to buy less templates. If you make this quilt, be sure to show me on Instagram and use the #talesofclothEPP so we can collect a colourful mountain of inspiration!
I experimented with stitching plusses together randomly, and stitching in diagonal rows. I decided rows are definitely my favourite way to go. Less breaking the thread means less breaking momentum.
I was asked during this process if I thought this way was better than arranging squares on a design wall and machine sewing the same kind of design together, and I guess the answer depends on how you like to sew, and what bits you prefer to avoid. I like to sew brainlessly. I like to stitch while I ponder, and drink tea with visitors (and rope visitors in to help me!), and homeschool, and watch movies, and sit through meetings. I don't like getting up and down from a design wall, or getting to the machine and trying to remember which way the square was supposed to feed into the machine. Some people find this part easy. Maybe they are also the people who find foundation paper piecing easy. I don't. It makes my brain turn inside out.
It's funny the place that hand-stitching has taken in my life over the past year or so. I think most see it as a side show, the thing you have going when you don't want to be machine sewing, or the easiest way to avoid y-seams. That was certainly me. But when we decided about a year ago to try and start selling paper pieces, I knew early on that I wanted examples of each shape I sell, so that you could see them in action. And now, many millions of stitches later, it feels like this obscure piecing method has become my craft, like one would think of crochet or knitting or embroidery. I hand stitch, not because it's easier or faster, but because it's more me.