Prep work: cut paper templates and fabric
I actually like to buy my templates, mine are die cut, this gives more accuracy to my work and speeds up the process; you can do it either way, though, buy or make. Finished size paper templates are 1/4 inch shorter on each side than the unfinished size template for the piece of fabric.
My papers are 3/4 inch; this is my finished size for the hex block. My fabric pieces are 1 inch to a side. Just a side note, when I buy my pieces I buy two sizes; one for the finished size in a bulk big package and a small package to use as my templates for cutting my fabric.
Ways of cutting fabric
If I am using scraps, I use a pair of scissors to cut my fabric hexagons. If I am purposely using yardage, uncut fabric, I will use a rotary cutter. With this size hexagon I cut my strips to 1 1/2 inches wide. Then I place my template on the strips and cut the six sides. After you have cut one, each time you add the template you will only be cutting five sides because one is already cut.
To get the measurement for whatever size hexagon you are using, you will measure from point to point on the unfinished template piece of fabric. On mine that was 1 1/2 inches; yours will vary if you are using a different size hex than I am.
****** Update between stars******There is an easier way of doing this if you do not care about your seam allowance being exactly 1/4 inch. You can just cut a square that will work to fold over all the sides of the hex. A rectangle would be better than a square for seam allowances but I have not seen people use a rectangle only a square. I do not do it this way as I am picky on my seam allowance but it is an option for you just make sure your square/rectangle is 1/2 wider and taller than your hex. This will speed up the cutting process and if you machine quilt it doesn't matter to much for the bulk. If you plan to hand quilt I do not recommend this: unless after you baste you go back and trim your seam allowances back to 1/4 inch.
******end of update*****
- Pin paper to wrong side of fabric. I skip this step, but when you are starting out it is a good rule of thumb to do this 'till you get use to it.Next you fold over the right side of the fabric followed by the top side. If left handed, do the opposite (do the left followed by the top).
- At this point you can have a knot on your thread, if you so desire. I placed one on mine for the picture, but usually I do not use one; I leave a little tail hanging out. This is a little harder technique when starting, so for beginners I recommend a small knot. Place needle in fabric going right to left and slightly up. Pull needle through and repeat this step by making another stitch in the same spot, aka a back stitch. This will hold the corners in place.
- Rotate hex in left hand so the point that you just finished is pointing right. If left handed, rotate left and point last done will be pointing left. Fold down top like you did before. Insert needle from right to left, repeat. Repeat this last section of rotation and insert needle twice then repeat all the way around. If left handed, insert needle from left to right, of course. Finish off on sixth corner; you don't have to do the first one again. Cut thread; you don't need a knot if you leave a tail when you cut the thread. Exception to the rule: if your finished hex size is over 1 1/2 inches, it's good to do the first corner one more time. A lot of tutorials on this technique tell you to stitch through the paper; I don't like to do that as you have to cut all those threads when done. I only stitch through the paper if my finished hex size is bigger than 2 inches (I don't do that size often). If I am doing that size, then I do one stitch in the middle of each side. This is a really tiny stitch see example I posted at a later date than this post. This way when I want to remove the papers all I have to do is make a small snip with scissors (6 times per block) and pull the papers out. This leaves in the corner stitches and the other stitches are pulled to the back. These middle stitches are known as a stabilizing stitch, and I only do them one to a side. More than one stabilizing stitch to a side and you have to pull out threads. It also takes too much time, and I believe it to be a waste of time. Make sure if you are doing your hexagons like mine (you leave your basting stitches in), that you use a basting thread that will not show through your work when finished.
- On the last hexagon for a flower or whatever shape you are doing, I finish my hex a little differently. At the end of basting I do the first corner again, but I bring my needle out in the point of the hex. This sets me up for the next step which is assembling the blocks. If you noticed, this block doesn't have a pin in it. Like I said, that is a step I don't do any more, but when I was learning how I did. That is a personal choice.
- Place two hexagons right sides together. If right handed your starting thread should be on the left; if left handed, on the right. Insert needle grabbing only two or three thread thicknesses on each fabric of each hex. DO NOT GO THROUGH THE PAPER. This is a common mistake beginners make. This makes it hard to remove the papers later. It also makes the papers not able to be used again, and wears out your fingers, too . If you do not stitch into the paper you will have an easy time pulling the papers out at the end, and you will be able to reuse the papers dozens of times, if not more. Make your stitches small and even.There should not be any gaps or openings when unfolded. Side Notes: I use Gutterman quilting thread 100% cotton and a #9 quilters betweens needle to sew mine together. Use what you like and are comfortable with. Also I like to take one extra stitch at the corners to make them a little stronger because this is where all the pressure is when used and might break easier without this extra stitch.
- Your thread should be at a corner from the last side you stitched. Repeat the steps in step one of assembly.
- Now a few things that come up while you are assembling your blocks together: First there is back tracking. This means your thread is in one spot but you really need it in another that isn't too far away. Instead of cutting your thread and tying a lot of knots, you can back track. It is faster and fewer knots on the back of your work. In this picture my thread is on the lower right of a seam and I need it in the upper left of the same seam. So to get there, I travel over the stitches I have already done. My stitches only go through the fabric on the back of the work, never through the paper and never all the way to the front of the work. They are never more than 1/4 of an inch from each other. They do go in the opposite direction of the other stitches (see the stitches' different slants). Now I am where I want to be at the start of the next spot to stitch, also known as a "Y" seam because it resembles the letter "Y".
- Next you have what is known as a "Y" seam. You can see the spot I have yet to stitch in the photo. A "Y" seam is where 3 seams come together. When sewing with a machine this can be intimidating to some people. But when doing hand piecing it is easy to work with. The stitches are taken just as before, with little bits of fabric. The only difference is, this time the pieces just aren't laying face to face. You can make them lay face to face if it is easier for you. To do that you just crease the hex block at the end of the seam you are doing, where my needle started the seam. This is not my preference because it wears out my papers and makes them less usable, and sometimes the paper pops out, too. Continue in whichever technique you prefer until you have your flower made or what ever shape you are making, I am making diamond shapes. When finished stitching the block together, knot and cut thread.
The papers DO NOT get left in the quilt. Years ago they, pioneers, did leave the paper in when they used the old "Sears and Robuck "catalog pages as their paper templates, and they tied those quilts. They did not quilt that type, it was too hard going through the papers. Leaving the papers in added extra warmth; it also made the quilts rustle. So, if you have a real old quilt that rustles like paper a little when moved around, that is what is probably inside of it. I remove the papers as I go along, sewing the blocks together. If a single hex has all 6 hexagons bordering it sewn to it, I remove its papers, the center hex, that is.
******Update*****For those who have asked I found a tutorial (http://thatgirlthatquilt.blogspot.com/2010/08/binding-hexagons-tutorial.html) on line on binding thought you might like it if you have finished your top and don't know what to do. This is not how I bind mine but it is a good way all the same. I bind by hand.
******End of Update*****
This tutorial was featured in Small Town Living Magazine in Apr/May 2007 issue.
If you have any questions let me know in comments and I will also answer them in the comments area to help everyone else who reads this because they may have the same question. Also click on photos for a bigger image if you can't see what I am talking about. If you would like to see items I have made, or am currently making, with this technique click here.
If you do decide to try this technique, there is a group on flickr that you are welcome to join and post your results there. This is a group about people who like to do hand piece using English paper piecing method or any other type of foundation piecing. Yes machine foundation piecing is welcome in the group, too.
DO NOT USE THIS PATTERN TO MAKE THINGS TO SELL FOR PERSONAL USE ONLY!!!!