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08/16/2011 / thriftomancer

Hexagons 101

Hey there, boys and girls! Today we’re talking about hexagons (diminutive: “hexies”). How to make them and how to use them with English paper piecing.

The first thing you need is a batch of paper hexagons to shape your fabric around. Pictures of hexagons can be found all over the web with a simple image search. “Hexagon grid” is a pretty foolproof keyword to use, though you may need to edit the image you find slightly for size or to fit them in a more economical orientation for printing. I make mine by printing a grid of hexagons (originally sourced from the inner workings of a tabletop RPG long forgotten and customized for size) onto medium-weight cardstock then cutting them apart by hand.

This is the resulting sheet of hexagons.

Hexagon Sheet Uncut

I’ve cut away the hexless borders, but otherwise this is a full sheet of 71 hexagons; all I can fit onto an 8″x11″ sheet of cardstock. (Last night I printed seven sheets of these and cut six up, so once I separate these little guys I’ll have 497 hexagons waiting for me to use.)

This is the pile of hexagons from a single sheet.

One-sheet Pile

And this is how many hexes I have to work with total.

All-Hexagons Pile

Fun just waiting to be had, that is. Keep in mind that while I’m using little ones, this technique will work with hexagons of any size.

The next step in making hexagons is to put your fabric onto the papers. Any fabric will do, just as long as the piece can cover the hexagon template completely with at least a 1/4″ overhang for seam allowance. As you all know if you’ve been reading, I’m using sizeable scraps of linen to clear out my stash. Right now I’m working on the yellow scraps so these are my fabric bits.

Linen Scraps

This is a good-sized piece for a single hexagon. See how there’s plenty of space all the way around the paper template? That’s what it should look like.

Uncut Scrap

Now we’ll cut down the fabric to reduce the bulk a little. The piece doesn’t need to be a perfect hexagon when you finish, but it helps to be as close to the shape as possible.

Cut Scrap

To actually attach the fabric you’ll need a needle and some basting thread. Use a color you can either see well on the fabric, don’t like, or the cheapest stuff you have since you’ll be removing the basting stitches later.

First you fold one edge of the fabric up over the template edge.

First Edge

Then fold the next edge up and put a single stitch in the corner to hold the fabric in place. (If you have a knot in the end of your thread, one stitch will do. If not, double-stitch for a secure hold. Or just tie a knot.)

Second Edge, First Corner

Continue folding up edges and tacking them in place until you have only one corner left unstitched.

Second Corner

Third Corner

Fourth Corner

Fifth Corner

That last corner requires a little special wrangling to get it to lay flat. To tackle it, take your needle and use the side of it to push the fabric in whichever direction the other corners are folded. I’ve been working from left to right (anti-clockwise or widdershins, if you will) so I’ll fold the right side of the fabric down and then fold the left over it to make my final corner.

Right.

Sixth Corner - Push

Then left.

Sixth Corner - Fold

Then stitch it down. I add an extra stitch along the edge between corners one and six to make sure my basting won’t pull out if that last corner refuses to cooperate and stay flat.

In the end, the back (wrong side in a finished piece) should look like this.

Finished Hexagon - Back

And the front (the right side) will look like this. Note that it’s easier to pull the basting stitches out from the front if you’ve stitched it my way.

Finished Hexagon - Front

There. Now that you know how to make hexagons for paper piecing, this is how you use them:

Tutorial part two, English paper piecing. (It’s pretty easy.)

First, take two of your hexagons.

Your Two Hexes

Place them right-sides together and pick an edge to work on.

Right Sides Together

Then with a needle and thread, good thread this time since these stitches will be permanent and load-bearing, whipstitch the two hexagons together along the one edge you picked.

Whipstich Them

Once you’ve finished stitching the edge, tie off your thread securely and clip it, then open your new two-hexagon piece.

Finished Unit

Note that I’ve left the basting stitches in. That’s because they’re needed to hold in the paper, which is necessary until a hexagon is completely surrounded. As long as you plan to sew an edge, you need the paper. Only remove it once a hexagon is entirely boxed in. Like this:

Put 'Em Together

If all those hexagons were securely stitched together, you could safely remove the paper from the middle one. (And use it to make another hexagon later. The paper inserts are reusable until they get too full of needle holes and tear.)

And that’s all there is to paper piecing. Go forth and have fun turning your scraps into useable hexagons! Just keep in mind that it can be addictive, so please hex responsibly and use your new powers only for good.

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