English Paper Piecing Quilt, Part 1

It’s taken me 1 year and 5 months to finish enough of the quilt to justify writing a Part 1 blog post. I wouldn’t expect Part 2 any time soon… since, really, with so many adventures to do, crafting adventures are SO EASY to set aside.

Why English paper piecing?

When we set out on our grand adventure in early winter 2012, I decided that in addition to books and blogging, I needed a small handcraft project in the van. The only question was, “What am I going to make?” It had to be an RV friendly craft project: no sewing machine necessary, no cutting table, and something that doesn’t take up too much space.

Back in 2004, a friend had taught me to knit but I never got beyond making 6″ of a 6″ wide scarf. The unfinished project floated around in my stuff at my mom’s house until I was in graduate school and realized that I’d forgotten how to do the stitches. Same goes for crocheting: my grandma taught me the basics when I was about ten…and I forgot. I suppose I could have retaught myself either of these skills but I just really didn’t want to. Besides, we were in the desert and how many scarves, sweaters, or hats could I really use? My next choice was cross-stitch or some other needlepoint project. I did a fair amount of this when I was growing up but the fact is that I don’t really like cross-stitch as a decor choice which would mean a lot of work for something I won’t use.

Quilting seemed like a bit of an impossibility since we weren’t hauling a sewing machine around in the van with us until I remembered reading about English paper piecing ages ago. By January 2013, I’d decided to give it a try. Since I only like useful crafts and try not to do things in half-measures, I decided on making a queen size quilt. I also chose to make hexagons that were only 0.85″ to a side… I attended exactly one meeting of Ajo’s Peacemaker Quilt Club where they encouraged me to make a potholder or small pillow to start since quilters often end up with UFOs: unfinished objects.

Early on, I realized that this quilt could not be a UFO. If I let it lapse, I’d have bags full of the most time consuming confetti ever made…

Van Crafting

The project started by cutting out two sheets worth of paper hexagons (I used a PDF from CiasPalette.com with 28 hexagons per sheet). Then I started covering them with some blue and yellow fabric scraps I found at a friends house (later, I added green to the loose color scheme). I did some more research and realized that I was going to need over four thousand of these little things for a quilt and that I was going to need a better system than making piles of hexagons willy-nilly.

I knew that for this project to be successful that it would have to take up a minimum amount of pace. As I realized exactly how much space the pieces my quilt was going to take, I revised “minimum amount of space” to “the working part of the quilt has to take up a minimum amount of space.” I developed a system where I would keep the paper hexagons in one sandwich size baggie, fabric squares in another, and finished pieces in yet another sandwich bag. All three bags went into a gallon size ziploc with scissors, thread, and some spare needles.

Armed with a sweet travel package, I launched into making hexagons. Eventually, I filled my very first sandwich baggie to the brim. Of course, I couldn’t help but wonder just how many pieces I had made so I dumped them out on the bed and counted. Two hundred and sixty pieces. I’d worked for at least two weeks and all I had was 260 pieces. Since I was going to need to know how many pieces I’d made so I didn’t quit too soon (or worse, keep making pieces forever and never generate a finished product) I took ten of the pieces out and moved them to a new bag. From that point on, I worked in groups of 250.

With the 250 plan in place, I set aside actually sewing hexagons to cut the thousands of paper hexagons I would need. Interestingly, I have since learned that you can buy the paper pieces pre-cut. They’re not cheap but I will totally do this if I ever make another one of these things. (I have to confess, I’ve already started dreaming about another one where I actually plan the colors and the patterns and how they’re going to fit together.) I made fifteen more sandwich baggies with 250 paper hexagons each and placed the whole lot inside of a gallon size bag. I didn’t count out fabric pieces and instead just cut squares relatively free-hand. A rotary cutter, mat, and ruler would be really helpful here (and something that could fit in a van or RV) but I didn’t have one on hand and improvised with a school ruler, a sharpie, and scissors.

Each time I finished covering a set of 250, I came back to this bag and grabbed another set of hexagons and stashed the bag of finished pieces. Eventually, I got tired of recounting how many bags I’d made and started keeping four sandwich bags in a gallon size bag as a convenient batch of 1,000 pieces:

So many hexagons…

Just before I left for Jordan, I realized that I was almost done. I took along my travel bag with me and made some pieces on the bus while we were in the country and made a whole set of 250 on the thirteen hour return flight. (I replace the TSA unfriendly scissors with fingernail clippers for flight.)

Last week, I finally wrapped up the hexagon making (with an almost complete seventeenth bag to use up the last of the fabric I bought). Suddenly, it was time for all the old pieces to come out of hiding. I went to the store and bought a couple of plastic bins to see which one would hold all my pieces. I had a misguided hope that a 10 quart box would hold them and quickly realized that I was going to have to use the 20 quart version…

It was really cool to see all the patterns laid out together. For awhile I’ve been nervous that the colors would all look awful together and I was going to find out that I’ve completely wasted my time.

Then came the fun part: dumping all seventeen bags into the box. (The not so fun part of this? Realizing just how many hexagons 4,100 is and how long it’s going to take to stitch them together…)


I made my first group of seven hexagons yesterday. I’m cautiously optimistic that this project will be finished someday…

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