When I’m making my little hexagon patches I’m happy to use up scraps of fabric that on first glance look a bit ugly or fogey (that’s old fashioned in a bad way)….generally I empty out a scrap fabric box and pick out fabric in a willy nilly fashion, I have a pile of paper hexagons to one side and it’s often a case of just placing the paper onto the fabric, pinning it securely with a pin in the centre, followed by a quick trim round the edges. As long as I leave at least 1/4 of an inch I’m happy, and more often than not there is a bit more than this. (all the tiny bits that get cut off go into a big bag I save for stuffing which I use for pin-cushions or for cushions)
This is pretty quick to do and you’ll be amazed at how many you can get prepared like this in 15 or 20 minutes. Some fabrics may need a bit of an iron over if they are super crunched and wrinkly, though I don’t tend to bother if I’m using cottons, older fabrics that are a bit synthetic will only need just a very light touch.
Once I’ve got a nice pile of hexagons all prepared I start pinning the fabric around the hexagon’s corners. I generally use a pin every other corner although if I’m using a particularly silky or slippy feeling fabric then I pin every corner. (I’ve tried doing this with Clover Wonder Clips but they make a small hexagon feel very heavy so I’d suggest to leave those for sewing the hexagons together and to use pins to keep the fabric in position.)
When I’m sewing the fabric in place around the papers I try not to poke my needle all the way through the needle, instead I only sew through the folds of the fabric and use 4 or 5 tiny stitches to hold the fabric securely in place, the thread then passes along the back to the next corner. It’s a bit more fiddly than sewing through the papers like some books suggest, however when all your hexagons are joined together you don’t have to pfaff about removing all the threads from the hexagons but can often just shake or pop them out. (and the stitches at the corner help keep the hexagon a neater shape and adds a bit more strength to the patchwork.
I’ve seen examples of really old paper pieced patchwork where the papers were left in and were sewn into the fabric, the papers were then left in for extra warmth as these patchworks often weren’t quilted but just draped over the bed, so sewing the papers in securely makes sense for then, but I think nowadays you don’t have to do it like that.
I use bright coloured basting or tacking thread, often in contrasting colours to the fabric I’m sewing in place as I find it easier to see my stitches and am less likely to think I’ve caught a lose thread in from the fabric if it is fraying at all.
When I’m piecing the hexagons together though I prefer to use vintage threads (I always test the strength first, pulling tout a little thread and giving it a bit of a tug between my fingers, threads that break too easily aren’t purchased), most books suggest using grey threads when you are using a variety of colours and although I am happy to use them I also like using shades of brown and salmon pink….I’ve found these blend in really well and although the odd stitch may show it’s not something I’m going to lose sleep over….the vintage threads I particularly like are silky ones that are smooth and fine, they slip through the hexagon edges like butter.
I find using the sharpest finest needle you can find makes paper piecing much easier, the best choice would be Clover Back Gold applique needles (they are a bit pricey, I think the last ones I bought were about £4.50 for 6 needles but they’re well worth the money and this is coming from someone who makes her own papers rather than spend the money on pre-cut ones…..I also like using vintage “sharps”…generally I find them to be sharper and stronger than most modern day needles and so skinny you can hardly feel them in your fingers.
I love hexagon piecing, it’s a great way of using up small scraps that I wouldn’t other wise consider using, even the most frightful print can find a home surrounded by prints from the sixties and seventies and modern day reproduction flour sack florals…..each scrap of fabric becomes precious, every fabric counts……I also like this method because it’s a really traditional English way of working patchwork, very different to the way patchwork tops were worked in America……
And apart from the traditional pin-cushion that I think every nanny’s sewing box held, I like using hexagons for other projects around the home too…I’ve listed a few of the things I’ve made below and hope they inspire you to make something yourself.
I’ve woken today with very sore fingers tips caused by tiny pricklings of the needle (I do try and use a thimble but don’t always remember) so am now off to make some cold tea in which to soak my poor little fingers…(I read once that at the end of the day ballerinas soak their sore feet in bowls of cold tea….I tried it out on my hands after a hard days sewing when my hands really ached and my finger tips felt hot and puffy….a 10 minute soak worked marvels.)