I am so in love with this quilt - Jen Kingwell's My Small World pattern is sublime, and I'm so excited to be expanding it up to double bed sized so I can enjoy it every single day once it's finished.
I detailed my expansion plans in this post, and I haven't (yet) changed any of my initial plans. You can see that so far I have completed my extended panels one and two, and add an extra hyper-extended panel two on the outside of panel one. This panel forms the right hand edge of my expanded quilt, so I feel like I've got one whole corner completed now. I've also made a start on a cloud and some of the appliqué for my two panel fives.
I honestly can't remember the last time I enjoyed sewing this much. This quilt has turned into the most incredible skill builder for me, but what I am loving most of all (and I say this as someone who used to raise an eyebrow every time I read this on other quilting blogs) is the process. Picking the fabrics for each little block within each panel, researching any new techniques needed, putting each block together and then seeing the whole panel coming together at the end is just enormously, ridiculously satisfying.
Following the progress of the #mysmallworldqal on Instagram and seeing all the amazing quilters out there has been both inspirational and educational, and made me really think about what I value about the time I have to sew (which is strictly limited, given the whole two-businesses-three-children-and-no-childcare situation). The people who appear to be getting the most out of this quilt-along are those who are taking their time to enjoy every step of the process, sifting through scraps, piecing teeny weeny seams, auditioning more fabrics, maybe unpicking a bit that isn't quite right, embracing the occasional bit of wonk but being prepared to unpick when it goes horribly wrong and generally investing in the entire process of constructions rather than racing towards the finish line. I never used to be this sort of quilter, but the more time I spend on hand pieced quilts and projects like this, the more I become so.
This enjoyment of the process is essential for a quilt like this, where the hours spent in no way reflect the square footage of quilt created. This isn't a quilt that will in a single weekend bust through a fat quarter stack bought in a moment of madness; rather it is one for sorting through and using up hoarded scraps and precious fat eighths and sixteenths of fabric over weeks, months or years.
I've started mentally terming this enjoyment of the process 'slow quilting' - where the goal isn't just a finished quilt, but also of having spent happy hours enjoying every tiny victory along the way; appliquéing that first imperfect petal or choosing the perfect pairing of fabrics for a 2" pinwheel block.
I've got some more thoughts on what slow quilting means to me and how I make the most of every step of the process, but I'll save that for another day, and meanwhile share some of the tips I've picked up through trial and error on the first three panels of my #mysmallworldqal quilt:
- You hardly need any pins. Honestly. Most of the blocks are made up in one or two inch units, and it's easy to hold a 1" or 2" pair of pieces together while you sew, and then when sewing together rows of blocks there is a seam line every inch or two that you can line up. I've really only used pins for holding half square triangle (HST) squares together before sewing, to hold paper pieces in place for english paper piecing (EPP), or for holding appliqué shapes in place. Oh, and for the odd bit of sewing curves. I know that in theory it's possible to sew a curve without pins, but having tried it once for a Single Girl quilt, I want no part of that insanity.
- I am not strip piecing the sky (strip piecing is visibly not-random when you see the overall finished product, which is great if that's the effect you want, but it never looks totally random), but I do have a method to my piecing of the millions and millions(ish) of 1.5" and 2.5" squares that make it up. I piece 1" squares into pairs, then piece the pairs into double rows of 2"x1", 2"x2", 2"x3", 2"x4", 2"x5" and 2'x6" (i.e. 2 squares by 1 square, 2 squares by 2 squares, and so on). These double rows each then get a 2.5" square pieced onto one end, and I piece them together at random, with the odd extra 2.5" square or 2"x1" block thrown in, until I have lots of 2"x12" rows, then piece those rows together to make 12" square blocks. These blocks aren't yet pieced together, as I am making blocks a couple at a time and I want to distribute any new low volume prints I incorporate throughout the quilt rather than having them end up bunched in one corner. I'm making a couple of blocks each time I finish a panel, as I have something like 24 to make in total (I've made 9 so far, I think). I don't think I could face making all of that sky in one hit!
- Persevere with the appliqué if you aren't any good at it. Seriously. If you like the look of a hand pieced quilt you don't need to give in to raw edge machine applique if you don't want to. Yes, your first couple of petals won't be brilliant, but how do you think great hand piecers get that way? They were all terrible once. I've been doing EPP for a long time now, but my appliqué and hand piecing skills were more or less nonexistent at the start of the quilt. Even after two panels I can appliqué a tolerably good flower petal or circle (the third photo down has a closer shot of my most recent flower). My appliqué skills are entirely learned from Sarah Fielke's quilting books, and she has a craftsy class if you don't have one of her books to hand - I thoroughly recommend her techniques if you are a novice.
- For english paper piecing and hand piecing, see point 3 above ;-)
- Use either your ruler or your cutting mat as a guide for cutting 1" squares. Mine are a hair different, and over the width of a 90" quilt all those hairs of difference add up, and can make piecing a tricksy business if you haven't been consistent.
- Saying that, it is possible to jiggle things together a lot if your cutting has been a fraction out here or there (and I mean really just a fraction. You can't regularly be 1/16" out on these blocks), with the number of seam lines you have to help line things up.
- I am vacillating between minimal contrast (panel 1), lots of contrast (panel 2) and the odd bit of contrast (panel 3) and I think panel 3 is the winner for me. I don't want the buildings to look too flat and uniform, but I went for too much contrast in panel 2 and it isn't sufficiently high volume in comparison to the sky, really (not that I'm about to unpick it. Skill builder quilt, not perfect quilt, remember).
- Small scale prints are your new best friend. I thought I had lots of reasonably small scale prints in my stash, but actually the prints need to be really quite tiny if you want to fussy cut or see more than a tiny part of a design in the smaller blocks - 1" finished HSTs, anyone? If I ever make a similar quilt I will make sure I have a wider range of narrow stripes, pin dots, tiny florals etc. I may yet try to track down a small bundle of tiny scale prints - let me know if you see anything good!
- Mix different styles of fabric - Jen mixes ornate Liberty prints with minimalist Carolyn Friedlander prints, with a good dose of her signature retro inspired prints in between. This isn't the quilt to be self controlled on (if you want it to look like the pattern, that is. I know some people are simplifying and/or using solids specifically to create a very different look).
- If you get stuck, ask the IG community for help! I went begging for help when I realised I had no white on white prints for my sky, and a handful of wonderful IGers out there from the very local to the very far flung were kind enough to send me some scraps from their stash. I've also asked for help with appliqué techniques, needle recommendations, design choices and a million other conundrums.
I think that's everything I have to share for now, but I'm sure I'll have more as I sew another panel or two. And if you want to join in with my new slow quilting obsession (not just for the My Small World pattern!), I'll be adding the hashtag #slowquilting to some of my posts on Instagram and posting further thoughts about it as I go. Enjoy the process, people.