Monday, February 25, 2013

Paper Piecing Torture

I started quilting in 2009 and saw an offer for a Block of the Month which would come by mail including pattern and all fabric the first of January, 2010.  The picture was GORGEOUS, so I decided that I would make that quilt.
Here's the picture.  Isn't it gorgeous?  Wouldn't YOU want to make it?  Little did I know what I was getting into.  It clearly said it was a Carol Doak pattern, but that meant nothing to me.  I was too new at quilting to know what she is famous for.
THE SAGA STARTS for my BOM (block of the month):
* In January I eagerly awaited my first package.
    It didn't come. Instead I got an email that said,
    "We're running behind. 
      We'll send the first one in February."
* In February another email arrived.
     "We'll send the first packet soon."
* In March the first packet arrived.  I opened it eagerly.
   Inside was a paper pattern, a bunch of different sized fabric swatches, and some instructions.  Being new at quilting, I read with dismay.......
PAPER PIECING.!  Gulp.  I had no idea what to do.  I had heard of paper piecing but had no clue what was involved.  My neighbor offered to teach me, but I knew she had a full plate with elderly ill parents.  The last thing she needed was my cluelessness.
A few days later I was talking to another friend who said, "No sweat.  I'll teach you.  Buy an add-a-quarter ruler, make copies of the pattern they sent you. Bring some scrap fabric your portable cutting mat, a stiff postcard, a rotary cutter, and your machine over to my house.  Do not bring the fabric for the actual quilt since what we're going to do is practice, not make the actual block."
A few days later, like battling sewing machines, I sat opposite at the dining room table at my friend Darlene's house. (  She showed me how to set up my ironing board right next to the table at sewing height and arrange my cutting mat and other materials close by so I wouldn't have to jump up and down.  She showed me how to use a postcard to fold the pattern over so the add-a-quarter ruler would sit snug.  She showed me that I could use big pieces of fabric, sew them to the pattern, and then cut them to size as I made each block.  What a wonderful lesson.  Thank you, Dar!  You are a great teacher and a great friend.
OK.  Now I knew how to paper piece.  Time to get to those BOMs. 
I carefully opened my January packet (you know, the one that came in March), spread out the patterns and fabrics and got to work.  Hmmm.  What's this?  Each pattern says, "Make 4" but the instructions said, "Copy the pattern 12 times."  Hunh?  I phoned the online quilting store that sold the BOM.  The nice woman on the phone said, "Oh yes, each BLOCK has 4 parts and you have to make 3 blocks.  That's 12.  Just make sure that you make half of the them red and half blue."
I answered, "So, I guess this isn't BLOCK of the month, it's 12 blocks a month."  and she said,
"No, it's all the same block this month, but there are 3 of them.  There are 30 blocks in all to the quilt, so if you made just one a month, by the time you got it done, it would take 3 years.  That's why you have to make several each month."
I GET TO WORK--Month One:
First I discovered that while what Dar taught me was thorough, making all those blocks and making them come out the way the picture shows is not so easy.  I called the store again and said, "The instructions for this block have the dark beige in a different picture from the pattern block.  Will that make a difference?"
She went to get the pattern in front of her and said, "Oh, yes, well, you know it's mirror image."  Then she paused and said, "I see what you mean.  But it shouldn't matter.  The blocks will still look nice with the beiges reversed."  I wasn't so sure, but one thing I knew--I wanted it to look EXACTLY like the picture.  So carefully I made sure to put the dark beige where the paper pattern said to put the light one and vice-versa.  When done with my first 1/4 block (remember each BLOCK is composed of 4 smaller block, I was happy with how it looked.  I was dismayed, however, that it took me THREE HOURS to do that 1/4 block.   Nevertheless, by spending all my available sewing time on this "BOM" I got three 12.5" blocks, each composed of 8 smaller pieces.  That's 32 pieces per block.  Little did I know that was EASY.
The second packet came before the month of March was up.  Fortunately I'd gotten all the blocks in the first packet done.  A notice came with it, "We're going to try to catch up and get your materials to you more quickly."  I eagerly opened the packet.  Not without a bit of alarm I noticed that each 1/4 block this month had 17 pieces.  That's 68 pieces per block!!!  And there were two blocks to complete that month.  I set to work.  Something odd about the fabric.  There certainly didn't seem to be enough of those pieces to do both blocks.  I called the store again.  "Oh, yes, she said, we're sending out a catchup packet with extra fabric.  You should get it soon."  Sure enough, within a week a nice chunk of fabric swatches came in the mail with a very sincere apology." Any body can make a mistake.  They certainly did send quite a nice packet to make up for it.  PLEASE REMEMBER THIS LATER.
My third packet arrived in mid-April.  That was pretty good.  They were catching up. In the packet was a duplicate of the first month's pattern but instructions to make 8, not 12 quarter blocks.  In other words, only two blocks were to be made.  I realized they were the spacer blocks, alternating between the much more complicated blocks with 68 pieces.  Since I was still working on packet two, I didn't get to start packet three right away.  Good thing.  A few days later a package of fabric arrived in the mail, almost exactly like the packet that arrived the prior week because in this packet was a big CAUTION:  It said, "Our apologies.  the pattern we sent you this month was printed off the wrong size.  Here is the correct size pattern.  We are sending extra fabric in case you already made the blocks because you won't be able to use them in the quilt.  If you haven't made them yet, please use the new pattern we are sending you or the one from the first month."  I got caught up and made the two correct blocks.
By now you could understand my being a bit wary and rightfully so.  A notice came in the mail that said something like, "Sorry we ran out of fabric.  We did not anticipate 200 people signing up for this Block of the Month, and we have to wait for the new fabric to arrive because it's got to be the right colors.
By now I was totally frustrated.  Not only did I take on a project that was beyond my skill level at that time, but also the company really needed to get its act together.  I put all the finished blocks (eight by then) in to a plastic storage bin.  Each month as new packets came in, I added them, unopened, to the storage bin.  I tried to forget about it, let it fade from my memory.  For the most part I succeeded.  There was one point where my memory was triggered.  I received a DVD of the project--all patterns corrected, tested, and complete.  I threw it into a drawer and tried to forget it again.
OK, by now I'm pretty good at quilting.  I've made several quilts, won an award at a quilt show (3rd place, but the competition was fierce) and I pretty much was caught up with UFOs.  One day my computer died and I got a new one.  I dug out all my computer DVDs to reinstall programs and lo and behold, there was the DVD for the quilt.   What the heck, I thought, maybe I really can finish it.  So I got to work.
First I dug out all the unopened packets and put them in order.
I found the extra fabric packets as well.
I made sure that I printed copies ONLY from the DVD, not from what came in the mail.  Didn't want another nasty surprise.  Also, I had the special Carol Doak copy paper to print the patterns on.  Good to go. 
It took me 5 hours to make the first quarter block, and I was totally wiped out.
It took me only 3 hours to make each successive quarter block, but with a lot of interruptions, it was 10 days before I was done.  Still, it was DONE!
On  the second block in that packet.  By now I was pretty much completing quarter blocks in 3 hours or so, but with a lot of ripping out and repositioning the fabric.  After getting the second quarter block done I realized there didn't seem to be enough of the light blue to complete the rest of the block.  OMG!  There was no way I could duplicate the exact color.  It's been THREE YEARS!  I considered remaking the blocks, but I didn't have enough of the other fabrics to do that.  So I gritted my teeth, gathered all the scraps together and pieced the pieces!  Here's what I had to resort to in order to get all four quarter blocks done. A couple only took one or two seams, but by the time I was at the last section of the light blue, I was sewing tiny scraps together to make a piece large enough to cover an area 3" long by 3/4" wide.  Here is the wrong side of it on the ironing board.  There are six seams in it.  I'm hoping that when I quilt it, I can disguise all those seams.
AS OF NOW, February 25, 2013, three years later, I've now got the blocks of the bottom two rows done. 
1) Don't try to follow the color chart by numbers.  Make an extra copy of the pattern, cut all the pieces out and pin them to the color they represent.
2) Before you start on a block, make sure there's enough fabric of all the colors.  If there's ANY doubt, see if you can find another color close enough to work with the pattern or go out and find something as close as you can before you sew any pieces.  You don't want to have a tiny strip like the one in the picture above pieced out of 6 different scraps.
3) Use the whole swatch to line up each color.  Pre-cutting to approximately fit the grid will mean you rip things out over and over.
4) Be VERY careful cutting the outer edge--use a square ruler to get it exact or disaster could strike.
5) Use anti-slip grips on the bottom of each ruler--the really thick stuff, not the little dots.  One slip when cutting the 6.5" quarter block almost gave me a heart attack and I had to piece over a section being careful not to lose my points.
6) Don't do paper piecing when you're tired, stressed, or when you have a tight schedule. 


  1. Replies
    1. Pat: Thank you for reading my blog! And for the commenting on it.
      I tried replying on my iPad, but the text was small and I didn't realize that autospell had done some weird things to the words so I had to delete it. I love my iPad, but the autospell sometimes throws me for a loop.
      I love YOUR blog. It is so crammed full with wonderful stuff. I know I am going to love the online group as well.