This was written before I developed my voice and views on language within patchwork. I have used the terms ‘English Paper Piecing’ and ‘Fussy Cutting’ on this page as they were the terms used at the time and in the development of the sewalong. We have since changed the name of the sewalong to be more inclusive, to value what we make and to value what we do. You can read more about the terminology changes here.
Using Instagram in 2017 opened up the world of sewalongs to me. It is hard to find a precise definition of a sewalong (if you come across one I would love to hear it!) but in a sewalong, there would be a ‘host’ (or ‘hosts’) who set challenges/instructions/prompts for people to follow along and sew a pre-specified project/patchwork block. I loved the idea of being able to engage in a sewalong with like-minded people but from the comfort of your own home (ie. where it is legitimate to be in your pyjamas and sewing – I have yet to find a sewing group where it is socially acceptable to do this!)
As an English Paper Piecer with a growing interest in fussy cutting I was keen to see what fussy cutting sewalongs were available…but I really struggled to find any! So, after checking with Paper Pieces (a major American paper pieces retailer) that I wasn’t missing anything, I decided to start a short fussy-cutting sewalong on Instagram – #minifussycuttingsewalong. This was a 2 week sewalong in November 2017 with a different fussy cutting theme/prompt every day using 1/2″ hexagons. It wasn’t an exhaustive list of fussy cutting possibilities but rather an intro to fussy cutting to get the ball rolling. Despite being a newbie to Instagram, and the sewalong only being 2 weeks long, it reached nearly 200 posts! People seemed to really enjoy it as did I so we were keen to continue our little group which had started to grow…
In December 2017 the #xmasfussycuttingsewalong was born! This was a 12 day sewalong (12 days of Christmas but without the partridge/pear tree/turtle dove etc!) using hexagons to create hexie flowers (1 per day) with different Christmas themes (ie. Christmas trees, Christmas decorations, Holly, warm and snuggly, snowflakes, winter animals). Again, this took off in a way I hadn’t anticipated and despite being only 12 days, we hit over 400 posts! Our little group had grown larger yet it still felt different: friendships and connections were forming and there was no animosity or competition – just support and positivity! The participants and I wanted to continue the community that had developed but I had to also be realistic about life demands (one hexie flower a day was not sustainable long term for either myself or for participants!).
This led to the development of the #fussycuttingsewalong! In January 2018 I started an English Paper Piecing fussy-cutting sewalong on Instagram. Every Monday I share a photo of a hexie flower and provide guidelines/challenges for others participating in the sewalong to create a hexie flower based on that weeks theme. Themes so far have included purple, love, animals, spring, favourites, flowers, summer, travel and autumn. Each week there is a different fussy cutting style associated with that overall theme (ie. pattern matching, centrally placed, section fussy cutting).
Unbeknownst to me, 2 of the participants (1 from the USA and 1 from the UK) were talking together and decided to arrange something to thank me for the work I have put in (as I am not being paid). They decided to invite people to create a fussy-cut hexie flower to send to me to say thank you and I started to receive parcels in the post which I was told I could not open until all 4 parcels had arrived.
Once all 4 parcels had arrived, I had an amazing collection of cards, hexie flowers, fabrics, chocolates and gifts from all around the world.
Over 50 people sent me these parcels and have participated in this social-media-led sewalong and community.
There is diversity in location (members are from the UK, USA, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Germany, Norway), ages (ranging from 27 to 70+ years), religions, techniques, socio-economic status, careers, and styles yet there is also unity through that diversity as sewing has acted as a leveller. A supportive community has been created which has extended beyond social media (some people have met and become friends in real life). I decided I wanted to create a quilt from all of these hexie flowers that were sent to me to thank people for their kindness but also to create a tangible representation of the digital community that has been created. It is also an echo of traditional friendship and signature quilts and quilting bees.
I uploaded photos onto Instagram throughout the making of the quilt so that people could follow its progression. I then submitted this group quilt into Festival of Quilts 2018 and, over the four day event, different members of the sewalong who were based in the UK were able to see the quilt and many took selfies (which I won’t share on here for privacy!)
A week later I was lucky enough to go to London to speak about the quilt on BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour and the potential of social media as a force for good, enabling women to connect and support one another through our shared love of sewing.
What started out as a bit of a fun creative challenge has grown organically into something I couldn’t have imagined. The sewalong seems to play a multi-faceted role for many of us: it offers companionship, humour, creativity, positivity, community building, self-care, enjoyment, belonging, accomplishment, support networks and increased confidence. It gives us a chance for positive social interactions in a less threatening manner as it removes some of the social pressures of eye contacts and vocalisations by allowing us, as the individual, to retain the autonomy and ownership over when we engage, when we post, how much info we share in our post (we don’t even have to use a photo of ourselves or our real names), and the frequency of our posts! Sewing is a leveller! We have formed a community that isn’t reliant on age, sex, gender, career, finances, ethnicity, religion or culture…our community is reliant on our shared interests & positivity! ps. Sorry the quilt is upside down in the photo – I was very flustered as I had gotten lost on my way to the studio (and was panicked about being late)!
Everyone is welcome to take part in the sewalong at any point during the year – you don’t need to be an expert or even have prior experience of fussy cutting! You can join in for one week, five weeks, 15 weeks or all 52 weeks! The primary focus of the sewalong is to provide people with an opportunity for creativity within a positive community from the comfort of your own home!