As you may know... I'm a hexie addict, and when Diane Gilleland of CraftyPod contacted me about participating in her Mug Rug Blog Hop, I couldn't say no! She has recently published the book: All Points Patchwork that is chuck full of all sorts of tips and tricks for English Paper Piecing (EPP). She covers everything you can think of... and then some. It's a great book to add to your quilting library!
In this post, I'm going to show part of my design process, as well as my stitching process for an EPP hexie placemat. In the near future, I will have a full pattern available for this project - check back soon. When I have created hexie quilts in the past, they have been larger projects with more pieces, allowing a more detailed imagery. A small mug rug or placemat bears some difficulty in creating a unique design. I am a very visual person, so the way I design is by trial and error with a physical layout. For this project, I used a card table covered in batting as my "hexie play station", and really just arranged and re-arranged different hexies until I was happy with a design! For this design in particular, I wanted to incorporate many bright colors together... without a rainbow effect and without it getting too busy.
If you have many different colored hexies, this is a really fun way to realize ideas. For my larger quilts, I layed hexie graph paper over a picture of what I wanted to create and colored in the hexies accordingly to abstractly represent the underlying image. Once I have the basic solid-color layout - I physically lay out each hexie and arrange / re-arrange the individual pieces until I'm happy. That usually is the hardest part of the whole process and can take months to do. Here is a video of me beginning to lay out my Jellyfish - this was 4 days of work, and the actual layout I used took over a month to finalize. Even then, I feel like I could have reworked it a million times over. Sometimes... part of the design process is knowing when to stop.
Finished Hexie Top - 1/2" hexies
Once a design is all laid out and finalized, I start sewing my pieces together. Some people like to sew these as flowers and piece them that way, but I like to sew the hexies in rows, then sew the rows together.
I have recently been introduced to Kimono Silk thread - and it works amazingly for piecing without the stitches showing! How do I stitch my hexies? I use both a ladder stitch and a whipstitch. I worked on some illustrations to show my process. This is just the way I do it - everyone has their own style. In All Points Patchwork on Page 48, Diane explains how she sews these together... and on page 200 she describes a 'skimming whipstitch' which I use a lot! To baste hexies I personally use either 1/2 inch or 3/4 inch hexies, using paper templates from PaperPieces.com. I punch a hole in the center before covering with a square of fabric. This is a small size to some, and can be basted only on the back without going through the paper. With larger pieces, you may need to baste through paper. I love this size because it's very easy to manipulate the fabric and hold it in place with one finger.
Once you have a bunch of hexies basted, you can lay them out as you like, creating a design that is pleasing to your eye. Then when you're ready, you can start sewing the strips of hexies together. To sew the strips, I use a ladder stitch. I start in the center, stitch to one side, then the other, then back to the center. This keeps the knots from the edges and reinforces the stitch.
Make sure to catch the fabric on the inner edges, that way your stitch will virtually disappear when you 'open' your pieces. This was the first 'trick' I learned when I started making hexies - thanks for the insight, Rachel!
When passing the needle through from the front to the back, try not to catch any fabric - if you do, that little stitch will show.
I take a stitch and tie a knot right on the inside and run the needle to the next side to be sewn and tie another knot without snipping the thread. You can snip the running stitch between hexies when you take out the basting... or you can leave it there.
Then, when all the strips are stitched, you can stitch the strips together into rows. To sew the rows together, I lay them flat next to each other and whip stitch from one end to the other.
When I am sewing long rows of hexies together, I sometimes wrap my project around a bolster pillow to make it easier to work with. Since I'm right-handed I like to hold the strip I'm stitching on the left side using my left hand to hold everything in place while I stitch... I rest my left hand on the bolster.
Once all the pieces are sewn together, it's time to start thinking about quilting and binding. Also time to pull those papers out! The tools I use for this is a wooden skewer and a seam ripper.
First I snip the basting with the seam ripper.
Then I use the skewer to pull out a basting stitch or two. This is when the hole punch in the center of the template comes into play.
The skewer then goes into the punched hole of the template... and pops right out! You can leave the snipped basting stitch as is, or you can pull the threads out too.
Personally, I like to pull all the threads out - it soothes my OCD tendencies, and I think it looks better! Also, if you pull the threads out, the paper templates stay fairly flat and are reusable after ironing!
I am currently out of spray baste, and don't want to buy anymore since I don't have a good place for glue basting at my house. So lately I've been thread-basting by hand. For a small project like this, it took me about 15 minutes. I use Sharon Schamber's technique described here.
This way of basting is fantastic! It holds everything in place so well, and is very easy to work with compared to pins. It's how I basted the Jellyfish too. From here I had to do a lot of thinking on how to quilt this! Since the pattern is busy, I decided to go loud and use pretty colored #8 Perle Cotton threads with bigger stitches.
I also made a hexie binding for this project. You just need to make a copy of your project and string together hexies to make the shape of it. I needed a printout to mark off as I stitched so I put the hexies together correctly... and still made a few mistakes!
Once the binding was complete, I pulled the papers out and pressed with starch to keep the folds as crisp as possible.
In hind-sight, I think I would leave the papers in until the binding is stitched onto the front. It would make it easier to stitch! But this was my first attempt at a hexie binding and I'm learning as I go!
Before I could stitch the binding on, I had to very carefully trim out the extra batting and backing. Take your time here - a wrong move could go South quickly! After trimming it up, I pinned the binding (right sides together) to the front.
I stitched all around the edges, making sure to avoid catching any batting or backing... and I also tried to take small stitches. Sometimes I back-tracked to make sure there were no large gaps in my stitching. When it was sewed onto the front, I turned the binding to the back and used my skewer again to pull the points on the hexie shapes.
I then double checked my stitching around the edges.
And lastly I stitched the binding down on the backside to finish.
Voila! My completed Hexie Placemat is ready for use! There are 324 pieces in the front, plus another 68 pieces for the binding, for a total of 392 hexies in this project.
The final measurement of this placemat is 15" x 19" using 1/2" hexies. For a larger quilt, you could use 2" hexies for this pattern, and make a 60" x 77" quilt! I will have this pattern available soon with step by step illustrations and hexie graph paper too.
For amazing instructional photos and information on paper piecing, check out All Points Patchwork by Diane Gilleland. Her step by step approach makes it easy for anyone to jump in on the hexie train!
For even more inspiration and information, check out the other stops on this Mug Rug Bloghop: