Ali Wilkinson

Hanging Out with a Gypsy Wife (part 1)

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Gypsy Wife is one of Jen Kingwell’s best known designs, and judging by some of the chatter online it’s also one of her more controversial ones due to pattern errata and vague instructions. Of course, when I set eyes on the pattern and decided I had to make it, I didn’t know any of that.

AME1170 Gypsy Wife_210x270_FA_Page_01I bought the pattern online and set about planning the fabrics and getting my head around the pattern.  I really wanted to play with the Gypsy theme and have very rich, saturated colours that reminded me of jewels (emeralds, rubies, sapphires, aquamarines, garnets), and bold patterns that would only be seen in snippets due to the way the quilt is made up of lots and lots of piecing. A natural first choice was Kaffe Fassett (as I said, his fabric was the soundtrack of 2014 for me!) together with Art Gallery Fabrics and Tula Pink for good measure.

Choosing the fabrics took a while and during that time I was searching online for inspiration from other people who had posted pictures of their renditions of Gypsy Wife. It was during this process that I came across many blogs and flickr discussion threads talking about the issues with the pattern. Ultimately all this reading proved invaluable when it came to making my own.

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Michelle at Factotum of Arts ran a Gypsy Wife Quilt Along during 2014 and had published a stage by stage schedule of the different blocks which was really useful in the early stages, and her blog linked to a number of other blogs where people had posted useful hints and tips. This was especially useful until Jen Kingwell published her errata online.

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The Gypsy Wife flickr group had a number of really useful discussion threads, especially one where “Clumsy Kristel” posted her invaluable spreadsheet of all the blocks in the entire quilt. This spreadsheet was just what I needed and I used it for keeping track of the blocks I needed to make and checking which filler block was then built on to make a bigger filler block.needledown-nz_hanging_out_with_a_gypsy_wife_part_one_ 5                 needledown-nz_hanging_out_with_a_gypsy_wife_part_one_ 6

The spreadsheet also proved very useful in ensuring that the colours were balanced across the quilt. I achieved this by sorting the spreadsheet columns by section and then referring to the section layouts in the pattern booklet to place the blocks on my design wall. Keeping track of where the named blocks go is quite easy, as is ensuring colour balance for these blocks. It could get tricky with the sheer volume of filler blocks! Once I started using this method I found my progress speeded up substantially, largely because I spent much less time deliberating over fabric choices!

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I found making the filler blocks production line style to be quite effective. I drew with ruler and pen foundation piecing templates for the square in square blocks of the different sizes and then photocopied the number required for each. This made producing these very accurate and quick. I also found this blog post (from flickr user 627Handworks) which is a foundation piecing template for the Pershing block. I paper pieced this block, which is one of the most complex in the quilt, and was so glad I did!

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Here are my tips for making the blocks:

  • the very first thing to do is to cut 4 or so strips WOF of each fabric for the “ribbons”. The reason i did this was to ensure that I had enough strips at full WOF for the longer length ribbons in the pattern. How many you need is dependent on the number of prints you are using, but to create variety I worked on that number to start with and I think I had about 24 different fabrics in total. I did have to cut more later during assembly, but as many of the ribbon strips continue higher in the quilt there is a need for shorter lengths to fill gaps so even if only scraps of fabric remain at the time of assembly it’s all OK (this will become clear when I talk about assembly in a future post!)
  • use a scant 1/4″ seam but if your block ends up a smidgeon too small, steam press and stretch it a little!
  • the sizing is so tight on this whole quilt that it is very easy to end up with everything just a tad too small. Apart from the tips here, you should also use a fine thread and press very carefully so the seams are not chunky. (I use a fine 40 wt or 50 wt Aurifil thread which just melts into the fabric when pressed and results in a nice flat seam)
  • chain piece half square triangles slightly larger than are needed for use in the blocks, especially using the method where you make 4 or 8 at a time from larger squares (I used a Quilt in a Day ruler for this) – these can then be trimmed down to size and very accurate block components will be the result
  • I made excess HSTs from the bigger named blocks and then used them in the smaller filler blocks
  • the block size is finished, so in reality before the quilt is assembled the block has to be 1/2″ bigger
  • some of the filler blocks get used to make other larger filler blocks, so in order to have the larger block come out the right size remember not to trim the first filler block to the finished size and to leave seam allowances!
  • where possible cut pieces a little bit bigger than the pattern states (round up to the nearest 1/4″)  and trim throughout assembly. It was helpful for me to work out what size each part of a block should be so I could keep measuring and trimming throughout the block assembly. If you do this don’t forget to add seam allowances before trimming!
  • for the basic filler blocks it is quicker and more accurate to create foundation paper piecing templates and sew them that way.
  • make the named blocks first and place them on your design wall, then use the spreadsheet to make the filler blocks section by section, pinning onto the design wall as you go to ensure good colour balance

I’m going to leave this here as that’s a lot to digest for one sitting! Next time I will talk about the assembly process, which is almost as time consuming as making the blocks!

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8 thoughts on “Hanging Out with a Gypsy Wife (part 1)

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    • Dear Ali,
      I have been thinking about making the Gipsy Wife’s quilt for the longest time…, like most people attempting it, I have had a few “issues”, and found your advice in “Hanging Out with a Gypsy Wife”, most helpful. In fact, it is fabulous!!!
      How can I get your follow up posts with advice and instructions on how to complete the quilt? I’d be really grateful for them!
      Looking forward to your reply,

  4. Thank you for all your help with this challenging and rewarding quilt. I could not make this quilt without your and others advice. Marking the filler blocks as you have done is fantastic. My question is why couldn’t the patter provide this info. I find the pattern really hardly more than a guideline. Thank you again.

  5. I have just discovered this amazing information about this really challenging quilt. I have a tendency to plunge into a project and think I will sort it out as I go along. Certainly could have saved a LOT of time had I seen this first. I am now assembling the sections, and have redone a few blocks because they weren’t just right. Thank you so much. I agree with a previous posting re: the pattern is ONLY a guide. Had you thought of publishing your work as a companion book to the pattern? Keep up the excellent work.

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