I wrote this blog post for my old blog and used Maureen Cracknell's beautiful Soulful collection, now out of print, for my examples. My plan had been to update the post with current fabric, but I've decided to leave it as is. One reason is that fabric is always coming and going anyway, and another is that my stash no longer has the kind of prints that show the possibilities as well as these by Maureen. I've taken to buying mostly basics and small, scattered florals for my EPP, and used those, with the occasional critter or intentionally placed geometric print in my most recent version of Lucy's Terrace Quilt.
My hope in keeping these examples is that you'll be able to use the information to find similar fabric you love to cut into and use for your own fussy cutting!
Fussy cutting is the central joy of English Paper Piecing for many quilters. Using an artist's work, and then creating your own unique, kaleidoscopic designs is a wonderful skill that opens your eyes to a whole new way of seeing and using the fabric you buy. One of the most iconic examples of this is Lucy Boston's Patchwork of the Crosses quilt, on which this quilt design is based.
While teaching myself to fussy cut, I used single collections, and bought large cuts of each. It gave me lots of practice and learning, finding new ideas from the same fabrics. Going back over prints I'd already used showed me the different effects of placement in my honeycombs. I learned that even though I naturally centered a design within the shape, if I moved the honeycomb down more, I made all new patterns, and liked the effect of negative space above the flower or design.
If you're just starting out, you might find that you don't really like what you come up with at first. Don't let it discourage you! The more you play with different prints and styles and placement, the more you'll become familiar with what you can achieve, and you'll become better at picking good parts of the fabric first go.
These days, I turn to my stash more, and enjoy using a mix of novelty prints, geometric designs and large florals. You can see my latest version of Lucy's Terrace here.
Finding Fabric Repeats for Fussy Cutting
One of the most common questions I get asked is about fabric requirements for fussy cutting. It's a pretty tricky question to answer because it depends entirely on the size of the print and how much you want to use it.
For this quilt, I bought a half yard bundle of Maureen Cracknell's Soulful fabrics, which has 20 prints. There's a real mix of large prints and small, just as there is in most collections. Many of these prints have SO MANY repeats of the same pattern in a small area, so I probably only needed a fat quarter of those. These are great for easy, minimal waste fussy cutting, but they don't hold a whole lot of options for interesting effects.
Then there are a couple of prints that only repeat twice on a half yard, so for four or eight cuts for my Lucy block, I really should have bought a whole yard or more. The image below shows most of a half yard cut of Floral Universe. When looking for the repeat, I'm not really looking to find the outside line of the exact pattern they printed over and over (which is technically what a repeat is), I'm just looking for the same part of the pattern over and over on my piece of fabric.
On the print below, I can only find it twice. This doesn't really bother me though. I can get creative! In a print like this, the artist will often flip over, resize, or reuse a central design with different elements. Even though there are only 2 repeats of the overall design, there are lots of repeated elements - leaves, sprigs, flowers. The whole honeycomb might not look the same, but you can still create a pretty design.
My favourite kind of print to use for a kaleidoscope effect is a medium design like the one below. As you can see, it has several repeats in a small area, but still enough variation for lots of fussy cutting options.
Maureen's Mandala Harmony has 2 different rows, each with 2 different mandala designs. (Isn't it beautiful?) To fussy cut this print, you can choose any side of any mandala to create a different secondary pattern. Keep in mind though, that you need to take from the same side of the mandala with each cut. I'll show you how next.
Fussy Cutting Tutorial
a whiteboard marker
a rotary cutter
a cutting mat (many people find a rotating mat helpful for cutting around your templates)
1. Choose your fussy cut
Find the section of the design you want to cut 4 times. Place the acrylic template over the print and mark the main outlines of the design on the acrylic template using a whiteboard marker.
2. Draw around or cut it out
If you're using a rotary cutter, cut around the acrylic template at this step. Often I draw around it in pencil instead, mark the next repeats, and then once I've got all I need, I cut all shapes out with scissors.
Line up the marks on the acrylic template with the next repeat and cut again. Do this 2 more times to cut out a total of 4 pieces.
(This is another large design with only 2 repeats, but I didn't notice until I was basting! I decided just to make sure my matching pairs were diagonally opposite each other. See photo below.)
4. Baste and play
Once you've cut 4 of each print, centre the paper on the wrong side of the fabric to baste. Then play around with your block layout! Turn the shapes around to see if you like the pattern more the other way around. Move the honeycombs to different positions in the block. Sometimes you want the most striking effect in the centre. Sometimes it looks even better in another section.
This block design requires 4 cuts for the first two 'rounds' and 8 cuts for the next two. But, because I always get a little surprise about which patterns look best where, I cut 4 of each first, have a play, and then cut the remaining 4 of the two patterns I put around the outside.
I decided to use the top right in the second photo as my block centre, followed by the crystals. So, then I cut 4 more of the other two prints to make up my block. You'll see the pretty blue print doesn't really create much variation in a secondary pattern, but I think that prints like this in a collection provide balance and support for the stars of the show. I like to have at least one in each block, and they usually end up towards the outside.
You can also see from the Mandala print that fussy cutting circles will often just create more circles! Putting them in the outside sections creates more interest. These created a great ‘border’ effect in my finished block.
Want to try fussy cutting for yourself?
My most recent version of Lucy's Terrace combines a mix of bright basics, fun novelty prints, and intricate geometric patterns to create a more scrappy Patchwork of the Crosses. I used all fabrics from my stash and just embraced the swiss cheese!
To get started on a beautifully fussy cut version of your own, grab a pattern, EPP kit, and acrylic templates below (save 10% when you buy all three)!