Tuesday, 5 May 2015

La Passacaglia - My Process

This is my Passacaglia sitting on my design wall. It only just fits and it doesn't photograph very well here as the light is not very good. I shall have to find another spot to take pics from soon.
A few people have been asking me questions about my process, so today however I thought I'd share my method and a few of the tools I'm using.

The pattern is in this book (it's shown on the front cover) and is the work of Willynne Hammerstein. The quilt I'm making is officially called Passacaglia with Mr Penrose. Sir Roger Penrose is a mathematical physicist who, amongst many, many other things, explored tiled shapes, some very similar to the design of this quilt.

The finished quilt will measure 56" x 70" (144 x 176cm). My colour palette is very different to Willynne's. I'm using mainly aquas and pinks with some lime, blue, grey, orange and purple thrown in. 
Willynne pieced hers by hand. I'm using English Paper Piecing for mine. It's a lot slower, but I find it very relaxing. The nice thing about this project is that it is so portable.
There have been many comments on the blog suggesting I must have a lot of patience to undertake this. No, I don't!! This is slow, but it is accurate and therefore stress free. You should see my lack of patience when I've tried machine piecing something and then find that my points are truncated or seams don't match accurately. There is certainly no patience displayed then !!

For English Paper Piecing you need templates and papers to fold the fabric around. When I first started this at the beginning of the year there were no templates available to buy specifically for this pattern. I traced the templates given in the book onto overhead projector film, added a seam allowance, cut them out and drew around them onto the fabric. Yes, it was a tedious process and it's not the most accurate method, so for the first rosette, I didn't do any fussy cutting.

Several of the shapes used are popular english paper piecing shapes so I was able to download free pages from which to cut some of the papers. You can find these at www.incompetech.com.  Others I had to trace from the book several times until I had enough to fill a page and then photocopy it.
This pattern has since become so popular! I post regular photos of my progress on Instagram and the number of people making this pattern is incredible. Just search the hashtags #lapassacaglia and #passacagliaquilt to see some of the amazing work that is being created by quilters all around the world.
The upshot of this popularity is that you can now buy acrylic templates and papers specifically designed for this pattern from several places.

I bought acrylic templates from www.Etsy.com/shop/SunsetSeams

You can choose the colour of the acrylic and whether you want 1/4" or 3/8" seam allowances added.
You can also get them from www.paperpieces.com

Papers specifically for La Passacaglia can be bought from www.paperpieces.com and from www.sewandquilt.co.uk

There is a lot of possibility for fussy cutting in this quilt.  I fussy cut the centres of the rosettes and sometimes the diamonds in between the stars. It is fun seeing the different designs you can make with fussy cutting, but the reason I do it is to create movement. I want to keep the eye moving around the quilt and fussy cutting helps to create circles and therefore movement. The other way to create movement is to have areas of light and dark as in this rosette.

Without the light areas the circular motion would not be so pronounced.

I use the templates to help with the accuracy of the fussy cutting.

I use a Frixion pen to draw around the templates and to mark sections of the design right onto the template when I create my first shape. Then when I move onto the next one I can use  the drawn lines to ensure I'm placing it in exactly the same position on the fabric as I did with the first. I also mark through the little holes at the seam allowance intersection. When I've finished a set of fussy cutting shapes for a particular rosette, the lines on the acrylic can be simply rubbed off.

I hadn't done a lot of fussy cutting before I started this project and if you are thinking of buying fabric purely for this purpose I would suggest being a little cautious. Often a fabric that you think is going to fussy cut well ends up being problematic, whilst others you already have in your stash surprise you  with how useful they are. 
I have got a lot better at choosing fabrics to fussy cut as time has gone on. My local quilt store is now used to me wandering around with templates in my hand, pulling out bolts and laying the templates on to see if they'll work. I would suggest buying as the need arises rather than making a lot of purchases at once.

When I first started I was determined to baste the pieces in the traditional way with needle and thread. I soon changed my mind and swapped to glue basting.

I use a Sewline glue pen. It is widely available and you can purchase refills for it. I like the precision of this glue. Some of the pieces like these star sections are very small and I use the glue very sparingly. Just a very fine line from the edge of the glue stick or a couple of dots is all it needs. That way they come out easily when I want to remove them.

Finally I want to show you the thread that I use.

YLI silk thread is very fine and the stitches just blend right into the fabric. I use a small quilting needle and short lengths of thread so that it doesn't shred and break. I don't knot the thread. Instead I hold down the end of the thread with one finger and work 2 or 3 stitches in the same place before starting to progress along the seam. I do the same when I finish the seam. It's how I was taught and I'm a creature of habit! The thread is quite pricey so I've restricted myself to a range of neutrals and they seem to be working very well.

Well if you've read this far, then Thank You! You certainly do have patience! I hope this has been of help to anyone considering starting this quilt. It won't be a quick project, but I hope you'll find it enjoyable. I certainly am!

Linking up with Lorna at Let's Bee Social @Sew Fresh Quilts


  1. Fantastic Julie. I'd like to get some plastic templates for the hand project I'm doing, I'll have to take a look at the site you've used.

  2. This is a beautiful project and thank you for all of the information! :)

  3. Wow, this is going to be a pretty amazing quilt when you are finished! Love your colour choices.

  4. Just love this project!

  5. First of all Julie, I am in awe of your rosettes. You have done wonderful work with your piecing and with your fabric choices and fussy cutting! Your whole post is very inspiring and informative and helpful! I am bookmarking this post in case I ever get the gumption to try something this complex. Right now I will be happy to learn to do simple, fussy cut EPP. It is funny and helpful to know that you are actually not such a patient person as we imagine.

  6. I have been enjoying watching your progress each week.... And I find this post particularly interesting. It's nice to see your processes and find out what works for you! Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and all this helpful information, Julie!

  7. Such tiny pieces! I can never English paper piece anything which is smaller than 2". Thanks for the update and I'm looking forward to seeing the finished quilt.

  8. Wow that is beautiful and a LOT of work - but it will all be worth it when you're finished, I'm sure.

  9. Thanks for sharing your process. These rosettes intrigue me, and I discovered your blog from your Instagram feed.

  10. Thanks for sharing your process. These rosettes intrigue me, and I discovered your blog from your Instagram feed.

  11. is this Passacaglia design in the first and second book of Willyne Hammerstein? or just in the first book?

  12. Thank you for all this information! I am going to start mine soon and I can't wait. I thought that with the seam allowance added in the acrylic templates, the choice was to use acrylic template and hand (or machine) piece or use the paper templates and do epp. I don't know but I got the feeling that the paper pieces didn't have a seam allowance built in. Right now, I think that the acrylic template would make it easier to cut and wouldn't take as much prep (basting), but maybe the accuracy wouldn't be as good for matching the designs. I think I am going to try both methods on a sample piece to see which one works better for me before committing.

    1. Yes, if you hand piece them as Willyne did, you will need to add a seam allowance, so the acrylic templates are good for that. If you EPP them, you still need to add a seam allowance when you cut out fabric pieces, but you need the paper template to baste them around as well. i wish you well with your project!

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  14. I am fascinated! I think I have been living under a rock because I hadn't seen this particular project until Mary's post recently which linked to yours. I would be nervous of investing so much time and effort not to be sure if the whole will come together well. I wouldn't be confident of my fabric choices. Perhaps I should start with something smaller, but it doesn't grab me like this does!

    1. You don't have to make it the size in the book, Camilla. You could start with a fairly central rosettes and just work outwards until it was the size you wanted!

  15. Hi Julie,

    A little late to this blog post! Love the fabric choices. Did you happen to prefer to the Silk compared to Gutermann's extra fine?

    - Karen

    1. Yes, I did, Karen. The stitches just blend into the fabric better. It took a little tim to get used to sewing with it though. It's a little slippery and therefore harder to handle.


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