Updated October 2021
English Paper Piecing
On Thursday evening the group was treated to a wonderful talk on English Paper Piecing (EPP) by Nancy Adamek, a talented and passionate German EPP quilter.
EPP is a popular hand-sewing method used in traditional patchwork and quilt-making. Originating in England in the late 1700s it was also known as 'Mosaic Patchwork' and it is one of the oldest patchwork techniques that has survived through the ages. The method involves the stabilisation of a fabric patch by fixating it to a heavy paper template (the 'paper piece') and then sewing the stabilised patches together into larger patterns, or quilt blocks.
Nancy’s career in quilting had reluctant beginnings. Her Danish mother, Lillian, was a keen knitter and needlewoman but she only discovered quilting on a road trip in the US with other family members. One stop on this trip involved a visit to a trading post where, in the back room, there were many quilts on display. She fell in love with them and the idea of them but they were very expensive so she decided she would make one of her own. And so her love of quilting was born.
Lillian returned to Germany after this trip and explored this new-found hobby to the full. She eventually ran quilting groups, held adult education courses and contributed to exhibitions and shows. She made quilts for everyone, family, friends, neighbours, neighbours’ dogs, everyone except Nancy. Nancy was slightly put out by this and when she mentioned it her mother suggested she could make her own but Nancy’s career at that time was in science and she has no interest in making one for herself. She couldn’t understand her mother’s love of the art of patchwork and quilting, she felt it was old fashioned and possibly a bit boring.
Nancy’s job took her to San Francisco for three months, where it rained a lot and when Nancy rang her Mother and complained of the boredom, of course Mum suggested she buy a pattern, some material and make herself a quilt. In her naivety, Nancy ended up buying a ‘New York Beauty’ pattern, not for the faint-hearted and certainly not for a complete novice. She bought some materials in desert-inspired colours and took all this back to Germany after her stay in the US was over. Her Mother was not impressed by her choices but agreed to help her make a full-sized quilt.
Nancy became very enthusiastic, even rising early to sew before going off to the day job, but she found making the quilt quite hard as difficult techniques were involved. It took about four and a half years to complete that quilt but by now she had been bitten by the bug and the next one started pretty quickly afterwards. However, at this time she swore she would never try English Paper Piecing, thinking it was too time consuming. She was not impressed by hexagons and felt that they resulted in quilts that were too old fashioned.
In 1998 Nancy came to the UK and put her sewing things in storage. With her then partner she bought a house that needed lot of work doing to it. Progress was slow and Nancy wanted a diversion from the mess and chaos of unfinished DIY so she decided to give hexagons a try, something easy to do on her lap. She made her first hexagon quilt, trying a random pattern in order to avoid her original perception of this technique as boring.
Nancy’s mother finally decided to make her a quilt and Nancy requested a red and white pattern and even sent the red material over to Germany. Unfortunately, during the creation of this quilt, Nancy’s mother was diagnosed with cancer and sometimes found it difficult to work on the piece. So Nancy helped with the quilt and it ended up being a joint enterprise. Sadly, her Mother passed away before the quilt was finished and understandably Nancy could not bring her herself to complete it for many years.
Nancy inherited her mother’s sewing things and a room full of ‘stuff’. Amongst the collection of fabrics and trimmings she found a significant number of made up hexagons and eventually made them into a quilt. Much of this was done when she travelled to conferences as part of her job, still in science.
At 50, Nancy felt that she had hit the glass ceiling in her scientific career and decided to rethink her future. She did consider becoming a teacher but was turned down through lack of experience. In a bid to get that experience she volunteered at a local grammar school and was given the difficult task of working with disruptive 13-year old boys with ADHD. Having decided that this wasn’t going to work for her either, she considered what else she enjoyed doing and thought about the patchwork and quilting that had given her much pleasure. She knew she didn’t want a shop, already understanding that was a lot of hard work. At a show, when talking to traders, she was advised to write a book and she felt this was something worth exploring. A friend in her sewing group suggested paper piecing as the subject. Nancy understood that most quilters were put off this technique as the production of the papers was too time-consuming. She realised that no-one was offering pre cut papers and concluded that there was possibly a business opportunity here. Having passed the idea by a business advisor, and been given the green light, she decided to press ahead with this new adventure.
So, in 2013, Lina Patchwork was founded. Nancy and Lillian had always dreamed of having their own quilting business together and Lillian’s legacy lives on: ‘Lillian & Nancy’ – Li-Na = Lina Patchwork.
Nancy’s friends were sceptical at first but her enthusiasm was undiminished. She had expensive die templates made for all the shapes she wanted to incorporate in her EPP portfolio: hexagons, pentagons, half hexagons, jewels, etc. In addition to producing packs of pre-cut shapes for sale, she started to teach workshops at shows. As the business, and her reputation grew, she spent much of her time making lots of samples to show what can be done with various shapes.
Initially Nancy was wary of talking to other exhibitors at shows, they were the competition after all. She still felt quite a novice amongst much more experienced traders. However, when asked what her biggest challenge was, Nancy admitted it to be making up enough samples for the shows, one kind stall holder made up some sample blocks for her. Nancy found such support and friendliness very welcome.
She was warned that she would probably never do something for herself again but decided to create her own quilt. This beautiful Stargate pattern is a 6-pointed star with 844 diamonds making up the centre of the quilt.
The effect is stunning. Nancy explained that each of the 6 ‘arms’ is made up separately by joining together rows of prepared pieces. In total she estimated it took her about twelve weeks to complete this superb quilt.
This piece is a great example of how carefully chosen fabrics really make the quilt.
Nancy’s sister offered her the loan of a quilt that Lillian had made for her many years ago. She though it a wonderful example of a hexagon quilt that could be displayed at shows and exhibitions. It is made up of 6,500 hexagons in units of 4.
In addition to many wonderful examples of this patchwork technique, Nancy shared great tips on how to produce the best results, taking away many of the misconceptions of the process. Through her books and other mediums she shows that with a little imagination, EPP patchwork can be varied and exciting.
Nancy’s website is full of information on future shows and workshops and showcases all of her products that are available to purchase. Check it out at www.linapatchwork.com.