Sunday, September 22, 2013

English Paper Piecing Basics: Hexagon Flowers Mat

Traditional quilt needlecraft favorite
"Grandmother's Flower Garden" pattern is created using a hand piecing technique
called English Paper Piecing.
With this technique, finished size geometric shapes - usually hexagons or diamonds -
are centered on a larger fabric patch, then the fabric seam allowances are
folded snugly over the paper edge, then basted in place to form a
finished size fabric shape. These shaped are then positioned
and joined with a hand needle whip stitch along the aligned fold edges of each shape.
The mat pictured above was created with this technique and 1" hexagons
(measured across the center between parallel lines).

This is the artwork that shows how the hexagon "flower" units
fit together, with the outer "background" hex row completed
with additional "singles".

This graphic shows the print and cut file for three hexagon sizes 
available from SnapDragon Snippets and the Silhouette America
online store. Also included are the fabric template pieces shown 
which can be used to assist in cutting the fabric shapes needed.
They are printed onto card stock and sent to the cutter.

An additional hexagon variation includes a center "pinning" hole for
a slightly different preparation technique where basting stitching is NOT made
through the paper shape and fabric layers. Rather, the hexagons are cut fron
cardstock, pinned in place from the backside where a peek-a-boo of fabric
can be grabbed by the pin insertion to keep the form in place. 
As seam allowances are folded over the shape, the seam allowances 
are overlapped at the corners and
double-tacked to hold the shape until joining to other shapes.

Step 1.  Cut a fabric patch using the cutting template. Position one of the cut paper shapes against the back side of the patch. Use a dab of fabric glue stick to hold it in place.

Step 2. Working from the front side, fold the seam allowance back to fit snuggly around the paper shape edge. Thread a fairly fine hand needle with low contrast basting thread and knot the end. Take a few long stitches across the first edge, then fold the second edge seam allowance back and continue basting. 

Because of the hexagon shape, the seam allowances naturally miter fold on the back side.

End by taking a single backstitch through the fabric top layer only.

Step 3. Complete several of the shapes you will need for the unit being pieced. 
 Step 4. Layer and pin the first two shapes to be joined with face sides together. If it matters which edges get joined first, pay attention to that and make sure the correct edges are aligned and joined.

With neutral thread that matches the "majority" color or shade, thread a fairly fine needle with single thread and knot the end. Insert the needle under the seam allowance and exit out the first corner of the top layer shape as shown here. Pull needle through.

Step 5. In whip-stitch fashion, bring the needle and thread down and over the outer fold edges, then insert the needle back-to-front through the FOLDS only of bottom and top edges. The needle can pass through the paper layers, too, but trying to avoid this will make for easier paper removal later, and keep the stitching right at the fold edges more consistently, which is what you want.

Repeat this stitch right at the corner as the "anchor"  - or reinforcing - stitch.

Step 6. Work along the edges with continuing whip-stitches that are fairly close together as this picture shows. Pull the thread up snug after each stitch for a tight seam. 

Step 7. Work all along this first joining edge to the second corner. Complete the corner stitch, then repeat that stitch as the "anchor" stitch, BUT before pulling the second loop tight, pass the needle through the loop as a "knot" to tie off.

Step 8. Insert the needle through the point and between the paper shape and the seam allowance, to come up toward the center of assembly. Pull thread through completely, then clip end, leaving a 1/4" or so tail.

Step 9. Unfold the units, and fold all the back so they are back-to-back, then unfold flat.

(Admire your work here!, then move on.)

If there are other shapes to add, DO NOT complete the knot step nor "float" out under the seam allowance on backside as directed in Step 8. Rather, complete just the anchor stitching, then "park" the needle as is being shown here.

Step 10. Preview the position of shape #3. Select the two edges that will be joined next. Lay the "added" shape face together with the upper shape, align edges and complete the two-stitches-in-place step that is the "anchor" at the first corner and stitch along the edge. 

Now it is necessary to get the needle and thread to the top corner of this assembly so the stitching can travel down the edge. To do this, "tunnel" the needle by inserting it through the top layer's fabric exactly at nearest corner, push it between the fabric layers, then exit at approximate center of edge, as is shown. Take one stitch here. Then, repeat the tunneling process by inserting in same spot and pushing to top corner to exit. 
Step 11. Complete the beginning anchor step, then complete the whip-stitching along this edge to the first corner (where the first anchor has already been completed, in Step 10.)

Step 12. Pivot the next free edge of shape #3 so that it lines up with the adjacent edge of first patch (green here). complete the first corner anchor that joins corners of patch #3 and green patch #1, then stitch along that edge to opposite corner. Repeat the corner anchor step. Then park the needle.

NOTE that during the re-alignment of edges for this seam, patch #2 must be folded to allow edges to line up. This is what should happen.

Step 13. Preview the position of patch #4, then repeat the process described in Steps 10-12. 

By floating the needle and thread as described, the stitching can be continuous (without repeatedly tying off and tying on) for as long as your thread lasts. When thread is used up, tie off as described in Step 9 by completing an anchor wherever in the seaming process you might be, then hide the tail between seam allowance and paper layers.

Join all the shapes for the unit being stitched.

 Step 14. For your project, complete multiple units, then fit them together. For the autumn hexagon mat featured at the start of this post, this is the 11-hexagon unit that was prepared over and over. To join the units, preview the position as before, determine which single edges of unit and unit, or unit and previous assembly will be joined. Tie on there, then stitch to a corner, anchor, pivot to align the next edges, anchor and complete stitching, and so forth until all the edges that need to be joined are completed.

For this mat, additional units will need to be joined to complete the outer edge "background" hexagon border as is shown here.

Step 15. Once all the shapes are joined to each other and the "top" is completed, remove the basting for each shape. One good way to do this is to work from the face side of the work to first clip the basting thread, pull the double basting stitch free, then pull this tail and the knot tail.

On the backside, use a tool such as tweezers to reach in, loosen the paper shape from the temp glue stick, then pull the paper free.

(It is such a lovely transformation to have the
"crunchy" quilt top become soft and quiet again like a more conventional piece.)

If you are trying this technique for the first time, you may want to inquire among your quilt group or bee members to see if someone has experience who may mentor you or help you interpret the steps in this tutorial if you have questions. Otherwise, you are welcome to email me.

I am also interesed in knowing about interest in the offering of English Paper Pieced designs and project units through the online store of Silhouette America for the future. Let me know!

Happy stitching!


  1. Thank you for this fantastic tutorial. I have just purchased your templates from Silhouette, and would be very interested in more designs and projects.

  2. CraftMonkey, I appreciate your interest in our paper cutting download designs and in quilting too. Please allow me to explain the way Silhouette "rewards" contributing designers like us: They pay us a very small portion of the download purchase price, and give us a limited quota of designs we are allowed to to submit each week, and that quota is adjusted downward if our "sales" are in the bottom portion of the overall 'popular' stratification of all Silh's designs that week. This incentivises us to ONLY produce and submit designs that will likely sell well. Unfortunately, quilting and patchwork interest is a very small audience, and so we probably won't be planning any in the near future. If this arrangement troubles you as it does us, since it cuts down the responsiveness of designers to customers' requests and reduces specialized, limited interest designs, we hope you will pass along the comment and feelings to Silhouette America. Perhaps if enough customers do, they may change their policies toward designers (and quilting interest). Otherwise, you can find English paper piecing designs in books and on line. If you find something you love, and the hexagons available won't work, email me and let's have a one-to-one conversation.