The most common of hexagon patterns is the "Grandmother's Flower Garden" But did you know that mosaic patchwork goes way back before that popular hexagon revival of the 1930s?
There is a great article found on WomenFolk.com about the history of this kind of work, with the earliest known American mosaic quilt dating to about 1807, and English quilts are even earlier. I read about a template for this kind of piecing that is dated to around 1770!
The Illinois State Museum has a nice collection of mosaic or honeycomb quilts in their collection.
Several years ago while living in South Carolina, I was down in Charleston for the Cobblestone Quilter's 2003 Quilt show...and there was a book on mosaic quilts in the museum gift shop, as well as many mosaic quilts on display in the museum itself. You can bet that book came home with me! One of my favorite quilts was just a top in progress...fussy cut little hexagons, papers still in place, and you could read the writing on them! FABULOUS!
Though you can buy pre-cut English paper piecing hexagons, I've been having a lot of fun with this:
It's from Creative Memories, and has 2 sizes of hexagon punches. The one I am using on the right is a 3/4" per side, or a 1 1/2" finished size hexagon. The one on the left is smaller. Each side measures 1/2", for a 1" finished hexagon.
**Note** I've since been told that the hex punch has been discontinued, so if you can find one on ebay or craigslist, snag it!
I'm having a great time repurposing greeting cards, business cards, advertisements that come in the mail, anything that has that "card stock" feel to it. All those political flyers? Oh yeah..they are all getting chopped up! Those subscription cards that are blown into magazines? Perfect! (I've even been guilty of picking them up off the floor in the grocery store and putting them in my purse!) I have enough junk paper coming my way that I don't feel the need to have to buy pre-cut paper shapes. I'd rather spend that money on fabric!
If you don't have a punch, or access to pre-cut paper shapes, you can cut your own. You just have to be very careful that they are all exact so that they fit each other when you join them together.
I pre-cut my fabric shapes a scant OVER 1/4" seam allowance all the way around. I feel like the hex papers stay in better when my seam allowance is a bit more generous. This is just something I've figured out for myself while working on this 10 year old Phd! ((Phd=Project Half Done!)) Yes, that's right..I started this quilt THAT long ago and it has moved with me from Idaho to two places in Texas, to a place in South Carolina, and on to North Carolina. It's come out of the cupboard now and again, ((Not as often as it should!)) for 2 trips to the Netherlands...it is so very portable! But I've got the push to really keep working on it now and see it DONE. It could be that 10 year anniversary GUILT!?....who knows....*LOL*
SO! Here we GO!
Center a paper hex on the wrong side of the fabric. Take a small pin and pin the fabric in place on the BACK (fabric) side. This keeps your thread from getting tangled up in the pin when you are basting your corners.
I use a size 10 applique sharp when working my hexagons, and yes, I do use a thimble!
My favorite thread for basting/stitching hexagons is aurifil. I love how I can use a good length and it doesn't shred back up against itself the way that some other cottons do. Some like silk, some like bottom line. Thread is a personal preference. I'm using a shade of grey/green because it blends through all the fabric colors I am using without standing out too much against any of them.
This is the paper side of the pinned hexagon. The pin might buckle the paper a bit, but not too much. Some like to use a hole punch to punch a hole in the card, and pin through the hole, but I don't have time to be bothered with that. ;c) Just pin it!
Start at one side, and fold the seam allowance over the edge of the paper hex. Keep that pinched with your finger, and fold over an adjacent side, creating a little miter at the corner. Run your needle through the fabric, under the fold, but not through the paper. We are just going to be back-tacking the corners. The stitches will NOT go through the paper.
Working the same corner, do another little back stitch so your thread anchors that corner. Pull snug but not tight.
Fold over the next adjacent seam allowance, and tack stitch at the next corner in the same manner. The basting thread will travel from corner to corner on the back of the hexes.
**Note** If you are doing hexes that finish more than 2"...you might need to stitch through the card at the center of each side, as a really long stitch on the back might not be sufficient to hold your seam allowance in place. That *Will* mean you have to remove your basting stitches at a later point. You won't be able to continuously baste AND attach your hexagon to the next one, you'll have to baste the hexes individually and start a new length of thread to join the basted hexes.
I've only used this continuous method for SMALL hexes. The quilt I did with large hexes I just hand pieced the "regular" hand piecing way with no papers needed.
Continue all the way around the hex until you have tacked each corner. Just tack that 6th corner, there is no need to carry your thread all the way back to the first point...the basting threads will be on 5 sides only on the back of your hexagon.
If this were a center of a flower, I would knot my thread and end it here. But I am using this green hexagon in the border segment I am working on. No matter what pattern you are doing with these, the steps are the same.
I like my stitching to be as continuous as possible, and because I am adding this to another unit, I'm not going to end my thread here. Instead, I'm bringing my needle out through the corner of the hex, and I'm going to join it with the same thread to the unit already in progress. If you were making flowers, you would add them in the same manner. This helps keep things more secure. Since these sides are only 3/4"...I don't want a new piece of thread and a new knot every 3/4". And this gives me a way to see instant progress, instead of just building up a baggie of miscellaneous basted pieces that have to be sewn into something later.
Place the hex where you want it to go to check placement, and then fold it right sides together with the one you are sewing it to. It's a *Y* seam process, but it is very easy to do by hand.
The secret about whip stitching these together is to have your needle catch only a few threads of each hexagon at the fold. If your stitches take too big of a bite your stitches will show. Stitch only through the fold, not through the paper.
I take two stitches at every corner to anchor the corners and to keep them snug so they won't gap. Each side takes me 8-10 stitches to get to the next corner on these 3/4" per side hexagons. Work carefully, work slowly. When you reach the next corner, take two stitches to anchor the corner securely.
After reaching the corner, flip out the little hex you just added, adjust to the next side you will be sewing, fold it back with right sides together to align those two sides, and start stitching again. I find it helps me to pinch the adjoining hexagon to give it a crease which allows me to really stitch into the corner. Two stitches in the corner to anchor it good to prevent gaps...little tight stitches just along the fold, not too big of a bite to keep stitches nearly invisible, working toward the next corner.
When you reach the corner, two more stitches to anchor...
And if this is far as you can go, there are no more sides of that hexagon to stitch down, work a few stitches back toward the center of that hexagon, away from the corner. This allows you to keep corner stitches tight, and makes it so there is never a knot in the corner of any hexagon that might work loose. Knot and end thread.
Here is my hexagon all sewn into place on this border unit!
If you are working flower units, the system is the same. Baste your center hex. End the thread. Baste your first petal, bring the needle up through one corner, and attach it to the center hex without breaking the thread. End thread and baste next petal. Continue to add petals around the center until you get to the last hex! Sometimes you get to connect only one side, sometimes two, but that last one will have you basting your hex, and sewing three sides to set it into place with one length of thread -- no stopping. When you get used to the process, you can find yourself piecing whole sections and joining them together with long seams, just working point to point to point. It's addictive! And FUN! And a great way to make use of found time!
These flowers are waiting to be sewn into the next border section in my quilt.
And just to show you when you can remove the papers:
When the hexagons are completely surrounded by another row on all sides, you can easily lift the papers out and reuse them! This is the backside of the 3 flowers, and I've already snagged the center hex from the green middles. You WILL want to remove them as your project grows because it keeps the center supple and easier to work with it in your hands. Only the outer-most row needs to have the paper pieces in place to keep them in shape!
Ahhhh! Progress!! I can hardly wait to go to my bee meeting tonight so I can stitch on it some more! :c)
PS...if you want to print some hexagon graph paper so you can design your own layout with markers or colored pencils, click HERE! It's a lot of fun to design your own the way I did.
And for those asking --- My quilt will finish at approx 79" X 90". My hexagons are 3/4" per side, or 1.5" across the center from point to point. I have not even begun to count the pieces in this quilt, nor will I until the piecing is done!