English Paper Piecing Hexies
By Tricia Patterson
Quiltmaker Associate Editor
My first day on the job Paula Stoddard, our Managing Editor, gave me a tour of the F+W Media office space in Golden. We stopped at our Art Director Denise Stark’s office where I saw the most fabulous quilt hanging on the wall. I willingly admit the introduction dallied a bit because I couldn’t take my eyes off her quilt. Later, I discovered the quilt pattern she made, Sonja Callaghan’s design, in Quiltmaker May/June 2013, an issue showcasing modern twists of traditional hexagon quilts. They just aren’t our grandmothers’ hexies any longer.
Since 2013, I’ve found we’ve published many quilt patterns, tutorials and workshops about incorporating these clever shapes in quilting. (I’ve listed a few sources for you at the end of the blog.) I’ve learned there are several new techniques for making a hexagon quilt. For instance, Sonja’s quilt was designed using half-hexies made with shapes cut from fabric strips and plastic templates.
Traditionally, a hexagon quilt was made with the English Paper Piecing (a.k.a. EPP) technique. As a hand quilter, of course I prefer this method. The last hexagon quilt I made was for my granddaughter, using a time-traveled pattern named Grandmother’s Flower Garden. If you look around you will see this pattern everywhere. I frequent antique shops and I almost always see at least one scrappy fabric garden quilt. I recently found the Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilt in the photo at a shop in Golden.
English Paper Piecing dates back to the early 1700s. As with the hands-on method used today, the technique begins when paper templates are cut to the exact size of a finished patch. Then fabric is basted to the paper pieces. The paper acts as a stabilizer, eliminating the stretching that can occur along all the bias edges. Like foundation piecing, the papers remain in place until all the patches are finished for a quilt. I won’t deny to naysayers that English paper piecing takes extra time, compared to machine quilting. However, it is another great traditional pattern you can work on during a long car trip, or sitting next to your honey in the evening.
I started a quilt for my oldest grandson during a car trip we took last weekend to Kansas City. Benjamin is a very inquisitive 10-year-old with a fascination for math and science. I chose the Science Fair fabric collection designed by Rani Child for Robert Kaufman for his quilt and hexagon patches because they are geometric shapes and remind me of atoms; fabric well-suited to his interests.
Materials and Preparation Before You Go
Buy or make paper templates the desired size of the finished hexagon patch.
Our foremothers recycled newspapers for their hexagon patch templates. (I think castaway printer paper is the perfect alternative.) A real find at an antique shop is to find the paper still attached to a quilt; it was often used instead of batting back in the day. Today, you can buy ready-cut paper templates. You can buy a hexagon ruler like one created by Fons and Porter that includes many sizes you can use for cutting fabric shapes, and as a guide for sizing paper templates. I made a 6” plastic template for Lily’s quilt several years ago. I pulled it out to cut the shapes for Ben’s quilt out of cardstock, and used my new F&P hexagon ruler to cut the fabric. I cut the hexagons from cardstock because it is sturdy enough to allow me to use the paper pieces again several times, saving time to cut all those shapes.
Cut out fabric hexagons.
Many quilters direct you to use a generous 1/4” seam allowance, around all sides of a hexagon paper piece. I like to use 1/2” because it gives me a little more fabric to hold on to when I’m basting it to the paper. I feel like it also minimizes the chance of the fabric slipping as I stitch around the edges.
Making a Hexagon Patch
After laying the hexagon paper piece to the back of the fabric, fold the fabric edges onto the paper piece. Baste around all the edges to secure the paper piece to the fabric. I’ve tried several techniques to prevent the fabric from slipping away from the paper piece–and to make sure I fold the fabric as close to the paper edge as I’m stitching. I’ve tried using pins to hold the pieces together. The best solution I’ve found has been to spray a little quilter’s adhesive (like 501 Spray and Fix) onto the fabric before placing the paper. Basting goes faster if you aren’t struggling to keep the fabric straight around the paper.
Next, join the hexagon shapes with a small, closely stitched whipstitch. Similar to foundation piecing, I leave the basting stitch and piecing papers in until I have all the patches sewn together.
To add a little fun to your hexagon quilt, go modern. (I think this is why I fell in love with Denise’s wall hanging, all the really fun fabric shapes inside a traditional hexagon.) Take a hexagon paper piece; draw lines of any length, shape, direction, size, etc. Use the lines as guides to cut the shapes on the paper piece. Like a puzzle, put the pieces back together again to layout the original hexagon shape. Cover each of the pieces with fabric. Whipstitch the pieces together. Here is one of the hexies I made for Benjamin’s quilt.
I wanted Ben’s quilt to have a scrappy look; scrappy in this case being randomly placed patches, without the look of a lot of structure. The photo below shows my audition of all the hexies I’ve made for the quilt as of today. Check out the very subtle fun hexies I’ve placed for some tricky eye candy! All those atoms floating around, just waiting for him to discover a new solution.
Check out these links for more information, instruction and tools for your English Paper Piecing Hexagon quilt making.
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Miss any of Tricia’s other Quilting That Travels tutorials? Read them all here.
For even more on-the-go fun, check out our upcoming online course Sew-On-The-Go with Needle-Turn Hand Applique taught by Deanne Eisenman. This 6-session course will guide you through creating a beautiful appliqué wall hanging.