Here in New York, my daily commute is nearly an hour on the subway. Until I find a way to convince my employer to move out to Brooklyn (unlikely!), I will be in search of crafts to occupy my time on the train. Quilting doesn’t usually come to mind when one thinks of crafting on-the-go, but with just a little at-home prep work, English paper piecing is one way that you can take it with you...at least for the piecing part.
Back in January I decided that I wanted to make a Grandmother’s garden quilt, which will take almost 2,000 individual pieces. Ouch. I expect to be done sometime around 2015. If you’re not into that level of time commitment, you could always sew up a few flowers and then applique them onto other blocks, or make cute little flower coasters. I think that they would also make adorable elbow patches for a sweater or jacket. Once you have the technique down, you could also move on to other small interlocking shapes.
These little hexagons are quite the rage in the online craft world right now. You can see some nice examples here, here, and here.
• Piece of fabric—at least 4” x 6” for the flower petals
• Small scrap of fabric for the center
• Freezer paper
• Needle and thread
• Nail clippers or small thread cutter
First you need a template. I created mine in Illustrator and I occasionally sit down to trace little hexagons onto freezer paper and cut out a bunch at a time. You might think I’ve got too much time on my hands, but really I’m just cheap—there are also companies that sell pre-cut paper templates if you’re not quite as masochistic as me. You will need 7 hexagons for each flower; 6 petals and one flower center. Cut your templates out of the freezer paper and place them shiny-side down onto the wrong side of your larger piece of fabric. They should be at least 1/2” apart to allow for a 1/4” seam. Set your iron to the cotton setting and iron over the 6 petal pieces to fuse them to the fabric. Repeat with the 7th piece on the smaller fabric scrap. Cut each hexagon from your fabric, leaving a 1/4” border all the way around the paper template. Some people just cut a square around the hexagon, but that leaves too much bulk in the seams for my taste.
From here on out your project is portable! Stash it in your bag and it’s ready to go with you on the train, in the car—even on the plane! Next, thread your needle and knot one end of the thread. Hold the hexagon with the paper/wrong side facing you. Fold the seam allowance down over the paper template. Use the needle and thread to make long basting stitches through the 2 layers of fabric and the template. (Do your neighbors a favor and pull the needle straight down or else straight back toward yourself—no one likes the feeling of a needle coming at them!)
When you come to the corner fold the next side over the template and continue all the way around the hexagon. You want to strike a balance between speed (you will be pulling these stitches out later) and accuracy (you want to keep the shape fairly true so that the blocks will fit together later). Take 2 short stitches to hold the thread when all of the edges have been turned under. Cut the thread (I carry nail clippers and a little thread cutter with me on the train) and continue turning the edges of all seven pieces. Now take two petal pieces and place them right sides together, aligning the edges. Using your needle and thread, whip stitch one edge together. Finish with a few tight stitches on top of each other. Cut your thread and repeat with the remaining 4 petals. You will now have 3 sets of two petals. It’s the flower center’s time to shine! Open one of the flower petals sets. Take the flower center piece and match it, right sides together, to one of the flower petals. Whip stitch one edge together, starting from the outside and stitching towards the second petal. (I’m right-handed, so I start on the right side and stitch left). When you come to the end of that side, open the flower center seam and fold it back down, repositioning it so that you can stitch the second edge to the second petal (you will have to fold the first petal in half to do so).
Continue this all around with the other 2 petal sets.
You should now have the 3 double-petal sections attached to the center. The final step is to whip stitch the petal sections together—just 3 more seams! After you've sewn all of the petals together, carefully pick out the basting thread from the center. Gently pull the freezer paper template out from the center piece. You may have to tug a little if it is caught in your whip-stitches. It’s up to you what you do next. If—like me—you’re now hooked, you start another flower set and just keep going, trying not to think too much about how many flowers lie ahead of you. Otherwise, applique the flower to another piece of fabric (again removing basting threads and paper templates carefully as you go and move on. I have fallen in love with this technique because it allows me to have a (very) long term project that includes lots of short-term immediate satisfaction as I complete each flower. I love seeing the little flower pile grow. It is also a very compact little project that can be tucked into my purse and pulled out for those inevitable train delays, traffic jams, and long layovers.
Then I'm marching ever-so-slowly towards my goal—even if I'm sitting still!