Exercise In Frugality: Storm At Sea (With Paper Piecing Tutorial)

(Collage of my favorite Storm at Sea quilts on the internets)

I know, I know, I just finished a big quilt.  I’ve loved the Storm at Sea pattern for longer than I can remember; earlier this year I vowed to make one.  Your lovely comments on the Drunkard’s Path quilt inspired me to start this one, especially the comment from Karin:

” All this perfection in quilts is a new thing…I don’t think any one in the 30s or 40s considered themselves “a quilter” or expected the perfection we do now. My great grandmother would have been boggled by a quarter inch patchwork foot and the like. She just stitched things together by hand slowly and wonkily in the increasing free time of her old age.” 

Hey, that’s right!

I like the waves around the edges on this version of Storm at Sea, though mine will be every color of the ocean.

I have piles of scraps, recently sorted by color.  Here’s my blues and whites/creams:

Many of the smaller scraps come from my last two finished quilts.  I was trying to be a “quilter,” so tried to carefully match fabrics and overbought.  My cutting was wasteful of time and fabric.  How did my quilting become an exercise in excess rather than an homage to thrift?

My sewing corner looks like someone puked scraps all over every surface.  I decided to use apparel fabrics as well as “proper” quilting cottons from my scrap bin.  I have linens, hemp, jersey, silks, some seersucker from a dead blouse and I’ll sneak in some of the cord scraps from my WW2 jacket.   Rule: Don’t use the same fabric twice in each block.

I’m using a lightweight fusible cotton woven interfacing to stabilize the wiggly, stretchy or delicate fabrics.

How to make so many perfect little triangles and squares, with best use of fabric, and not have to cut each piece individually?  English Paper Piecing, of course.  I used the Quilter’s Cache printable templates, modified.  My small corner squares have an extra row of triangles.  I stacked some newsprinty paper under the template and stitched along the template lines with an unthreaded needle- easy and effective way to make 8 foundation templates at a time.

A friend gave me this hilarious white whale fabric, perfect for the centers of the big blocks, don’t you think?  I made sure to center the whales inside the square and pinned.

I grabbed a piece of off-white linen at random, put it up against the whale fabric and stitched along one of the lines of my template using a smaller than usual stitch.  The smaller stitch makes it easier to tear.

I folded away the paper along the seam line and used a ruler to trim the seam allowance to 1/4″.

I opened out flat and pressed.  Then I grabbed another piece of fabric for the bottom of the whales- that is, opposite where I just stitched.

It happens to be a slub knit cotton.  I needed to trim it down a little bit, so the extra fabric wouldn’t interfere with other seams.

I positioned a piece of silk (Drunkard’s path leftovers) face down on the whales, flipped it over, and stitched the seamline along my perforated guide.  Once you get the hang of paper piecing, it’s pretty brainless.

Another Drunkard’s Path reject.

All the “whites,” next the blues:

Opposite corners first.  I trim the whites along what will be the next seamline, then position the blues, then trim the blues.

Oh boy, this will take a while.  I have an old thermal 100% wool blanket with the binding falling off- perfect for batting.  If I can get away without buying a backing, this will be a “free” and frugal quilt- making good use of tiny bits of material and a throwaway blanket.

Aside from pleasing my inner skinflint, I’m overjoyed to begin working on a project I’ve dreamed about literally for years and years.  At the moment, I’m not finding the same joy in apparel sewing.  It feels like work; perfectly understandable under the circumstances.   Don’t worry, I’ll need to start dabbling in dressmaking again soon, if for no other reason because I want to use the scraps!

Also, one of my quilting teachers told me to wash my Drunkard’s Path quilt, dry it, and steam it to remove the ripples.  She said it will come up like a dream.  I might try it when I wash it, but I won’t go out of my way.

Thoughts?  Do you find the completion of a big projects spawns similar new projects?  How do you use scraps?


  1. This is going to be gorgeous. I have always wanted to make a quilt and I certainly have enough fabrics here to make many. I like the comment about the older woman having more time to sew quilts together, without the worry of being perfect. Good advice for quilt making.

  2. It's so refreshing to read your take on quilting. I want to make one too, but am so intimidated by my lack of experience–even though my favorite quilts are sewn with wobbly seams, crooked blocks and odd fabrics. The paper piecing looks like my kind of sewing. And yes, finishing a big project can be quite exhilarating !

  3. when I used to teach quilting, I always encouraged my students NOT to be perfectionists! I think that mistakes often make the quilt better. Plus since quilting should be fun, and if you're constantly stressing over perfection it won't be fun. I always feel great when I finish a big project, and ready to tackle another. Your quilt is going to look great. Scrappy quilts are my absolute favorite. It is fun to look at them and remember where all the fabric came from. Oh, I love corduroy in quilts it's so soft, and gives a nice texture to the quilt too.

  4. It is good to take a break from garment sewing for awhile. That tiredness is a signal. It looks like your quilt block is coming right along. Years ago I took some old electric blankets and pulled out the cording. Then I used them for quilt bat. Whenever I use the quilts I still feel a bit of joy over that small measure of frugality.

  5. Mmm… I have a half made quilt somewhere…I'm also 'collecting' scraps for a scrappy quilt – you need heaps of different cottons to stop it looking like repeats, so I pick ups bits and pieces of old clothes/fabrics at opshops whenever I see them!For me part of the attraction of a quilt is the handmade quality – imperfection just adds to that appeal.

  6. Erk, not loving blogger, it ate my first attempt to comment! LOVE this quilt, fantastic. What you're doing Steph we call foundation piecing – I thought for one horrible moment you were going to hand sew this baby! Mind you a hand sewn quilt is a thing of beauty, but it is a Long Term Project.When I foundation piece I do it onto calico or voile, so that the foundation stays and helps to stabilise the fabrics. Great for silk and other non cotton fabrics. Also then you don't stress the seams when pulling the paper off, although I'm sure the genius method you've used to pre perforate the paper makes it much easier to rip away. :)Scraps in my house end up in tea cosies, or blocks of the month, and other small projects, as I have WAY too much uncut fabric to choose from yet to be turned into things and consequently become partly scraps :)

  7. Mrs C- Is the difference between the two whether or not it's hand-sewn? Like, is English Paper Piecing done by hand, and foundation piecing done by machine? In that case, the false advertising was completely unwitting. I used to sew quilt blocks by hand, when I was 14 and living in the middle of a Laura Ingalls Wilder fantasy….Sherry, I'd love to see a quilt you would make. Gail- it's really not that hard. For me, it's just a long long process. Though I do hope this one won't take me two years!Sewista- I think that's a great idea… I wonder if it would be nasty to scour thrift stores for material to use as batting? Hmmm….Thanks, Erica. I'm feeling a little daring for using fabrics other than fine quilting weight cotton, but the effect is rather charming…

  8. What a beautiful quilt! I love straight line quilts that look curved, and the visual motion they create.I believe Paper and Foundation Piecing are just different terms for the same technique. Thanks for the technique for creating multiple templates at once. Newsprint is a great idea, easy to tear.I just finished an Ohio Star quilt top, now to layer-baste-quilt-bind it. Then give it away, to parents of a preemie.

  9. English paper piecing to my understanding is where you cut out paper templates, fold the fabric around them and tack it down then sew together by hand. Like with hexagons. It's how I learnt to patchwork in my own similar teenage historical fiction inspired fantasy! hehehe. But it's no big deal, I was just laughing at my initial sense of "Oh my God, Steph has really flipped out!." I feel so much better knowing you are doing it on the machine :) And it is going to be so beautiful. It can be your alternate quilt to the drunkard's path!

  10. Hi Steph, just letting you know your vote widget only lets you choose one thing. I love your blog. Everything is interesting. I chose around Brisbane because it's always fun to see another part of the world but I would say I enjoy your blog format as it is, a little bit of everything. Your quilts are gorgeous.

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