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Q&A with Jessica Alexandrakis on Her New Book, Quilting on the Go


Jessica Alexandrakis has the perfect craft for those long summer vacations, when you can’t be at your sewing machine.

This quilter and author of Quilting on the Go puts a new spin on a traditional technique called English paper piecing (or EPP, for short).

With just a tiny travel sewing kit and scraps of fabric, Jessica creates stunning, intricate quilts that are surprisingly easy to make. In our interview, Jessica shares what she loves about this technique and tips to make it even more enjoyable.

CrafterNews: For someone new to EPP, what is the one tool you find indispensable?
Jessica Alexandrakis: A thimble! I piece with an open-topped metal thimble, and I’ve gotten so used to it that if I don’t have my thimble, I won’t sew. Thimbles are a very personal item, so try out a few different types until you find one that feels comfortable to you. If you protect your fingertips, you can stitch a lot more without it hurting.

CN: Do you have a favorite project or pattern in the book?
JA: The Travel Quilt is definitely my favorite project in the book. This quilt is actually the third 60-degree diamond EPP quilt that I’ve made and carried along with me everywhere. On my blog, I tagged all posts about the quilt with “Travel Quilt #3.” I remember where I was when I pieced some of the stars in the first two quilts, but I wanted a way to help myself remember more of the journey the quilt made as I was stitching it. Some of the notes on the stars may not seem like much, but I don’t keep a diary any more and I find it’s easier to help me remember the quilt’s story this way. In fact, now that it’s done I want to start another so I can keep recording dates and locations.

CN: Your book is chock-full of information about combining fabrics. What’s your favorite way to choose colors for a project?
JA: I love projects made from my stash, and when I buy fabric, it usually isn’t with a specific project in mind. I buy what I like, or what’s on sale, and I really enjoy coming up with ways to combine it all when I get home. When I start a new project I usually have a mood or a feeling I’m trying to capture with the colors. I often I start by thinking where the finished project is going to be used, and how I can affect the atmosphere of that room by the colors in the quilt. Sometimes I just pick one fabric and hold it up to everything in my stash to see what it wants to be combined with. Or I’ll pull out all of the stash fabrics in a certain palette, lay them out, and eliminate fabrics one by one until the final choices just look “right” to me. Playing with fabric is definitely one of the best parts of quiltmaking. It can get messy, but it’s worth it.

CN: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve run into with EPP, and how do you try to solve it?
JA: There are two—a big problem and a little problem. The little and annoying problem is when you accidentally remove a template before you’ve stitched all the sides. . . then what? Oh, no! The first time it happened, I think I panicked. But I have since learned that you can gently tuck the template back in place with a little effort. Or, you can slip in a half-shape, such as half hexagon for a hexagon pattern, and held carefully, it stitches up just fine.

The bigger problem I’ve encountered is what to do when you start running out of your background fabric. See, I’m not usually one who plans out how much I need before I start. Sometimes I don’t even know how big I want the quilt to be at the beginning, but I just dive in. Then I’ve got to get creative with a solution. I like older quilts where it is obvious that the maker ran out of fabric and needed to do a last-minute substitution to finish the top. I don’t want to make things so obvious, but if I can find a fabric that is similar, I’ll start using that as soon as I think I might run out, and then use the two or three fabrics interchangeably throughout the rest of the project. That way, a third of the top has multiple background fabrics, instead of just the last 10 inches in one corner being completely different.

CN: Do you work on one project start to finish, or do you have multiple projects going at the same time?
JA: I always have many projects going at once. Sometimes it’s hard to stay focused, but because each project has its own box or pouch, it’s easy to be deliberate when I plan to quilt on the go. On a recent road trip, I purposefully packed one star project in my purse to work on in the car, and a different project in my suitcase to work on when I had time during the trip. I find I usually work on whatever I see first, so I try to leave my current EPP project box close at hand (on the sideboard in my kitchen, most likely).

CN: Are there any other EPP quilters you think our readers should check out?
JA: Anyone curious about EPP or slightly intimidated by hand piecing should definitely check out Clare at selfsewn. She has made many beautiful quilts and projects and isn’t scared to stitch any shape with English paper piecing.

CN: Where’s the most unexpected place you’ve ever quilted with EPP?
JA: I have quilted in a few spots, including the library and café, at the university where my husband and I work. I once sat down and pieced for four hours in a crowded lounge of the university library during exams.

CN: Where are you planning to quilt next?
JA: This summer my family will travel from Athens to the island of Paros. I don’t expect to get much sewing done on the beach with a five month-old, but there is a four-hour ferry ride each way and you can bet I’ll be stitching then.

To learn more about English paper piecing, check out Quilting on the Go and visit Jessica at Life Under Quilts.



About the Book
Quilting on the Go
English Paper Piecing Projects You Can Take Anywhere
Written by Jessica Alexandrakis
Category: Crafts & Hobbies – Quilting
Format: Paperback, 144 pages
On Sale: June 11, 2013
Price: $21.99
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