How To Make A Hexagon Patchwork

With English Paper Piecing 

With Free Patterns!

The Vintage Vibe

If you love nostalgia you’ll adore the humble hexie patchwork quilt – and who doesn’t!  It’s those cute vintage prints and feedsacks from around the 1930s that give us the warm fuzzy feeling. The ones that were thriftily patched together to keep the family cosy before central heating became a thing. This one in plain fabrics is in The Johnny Cash Boyhood Home Museum. Gorgeous isn’t it? It’s a layout called Grandma’s Flower Garden.

Bedroom in the Johnny Cash Boyhood Home Museum, Arkansas. Shows hand made quilts on and iron bed. This photo of Johnny Cash House is courtesy of TripAdvisor This photo of Johnny Cash Boyhood Home is courtesy of TripAdvisor

But the hexagon patchwork dates back to at least the 18th century in England and it’s thought to be one of the oldest recorded patchwork patterns there is. They’re made using a technique called ‘English paper piecing’, where fabric is folded over individual paper templates and then sewn together. Some antique tops still have the papers inside, which can help historians to date them: paper was expensive so was often reused. You can spot personal letters with dates and even post marks on them – it’s almost as exciting as looking at the patchwork itself.

Making your own patchwork quilt connects you to this wonderful heritage, but as well as the vintage vibe it offers a surprising opportunity to experiment with colour and design too. You can make a hexagon patchwork that looks anything but traditional by using bright, contemporary fabrics, enlarging the hexagon shape, experimenting with different placements to create stripes, flowers, diamonds…or any pattern that floats your boat! You can even use the hexagons to create appliqué designs.

Portable Hand Sewing

A hand sewn quilt is something to really treasure and the hexagon patchwork is up there at the top of the list. To make your own is something to treasure too, time slips by unnoticed as you make the small quiet stitches that will hold it all together. Quilters often describe them as a labour of love and put them on a bucket list to make ‘someday’, but why wait? English paper piecing can be done anywhere: slip a few patches into your bag with a needle and thread and stitch a few together when you’re travelling, waiting for an appointment or picking your kids up from school…anywhere you have a few minutes to spare. Sewing a few together this way soon adds up and you’ll have your hexagon patchwork ticked off your bucket list quicker than you think.

Let’s get started!

What You’ll Learn

  • Hexagon Templates

    Learn how to make a hexagon patchwork template by hand, so that you can get exactly the size you want.

  • Fussy Cutting

    Discover how to get the best bit of the print in the centre of your hexagon.

  • Basting

    There are lots of ways to baste hexagon templates, learn the simple no-fuss way!

  • Stitching together

    Make your hexagons into flowers or rows for your quilt.

  • Free Pattern!

    Learn how to make a contemporary hexie pillow with a free downloadable pattern and comprehensive instructions.

Hexagon patchwork quilt on a bed: English paper piecing tutorial. © Stephanie Boon, 2016 www.DawnChorusStudio.com

Free Patterns!

Why not try the free pattern ‘Grandma’s Hothouse pillow’ at the bottom of the page? The instructions give full details, sizes, illustrations and templates. Check out how Floridian reader MaryAnn Mings adapted the pattern to make a gift for her sister – wonderful inspiration! If you’re not ready for a pillow yet, have a go at this little hexie mug rug instead – there’s a series of four designs to choose from, so why not make a set?  Whatever you choose to make the easy to follow tutorials below will set you on your way.

Patchwork Lexikon in black and bright prints. © Stephanie Boon 2016

Quick Links

These links will take you to the Dawn Chorus Studio tutorials linked in the text – all here in one place!

Inspiration

Need more inspiration for your hexagon patchwork? Follow the links below!

  • Board by Audrey Sharples. So many hexie ideas from butterflies to building blocks.

  • Some lovely vintage and antique examples from Barbara Brackman.

How To Make Your Own Templates

Click on any image to see it at a larger scale

Hexagon shaped piece of fabric with a colourful bird motif in the centre. © Stephanie Boon, 2016 www.DawnChorusStudio.com

What You’ll Need

  • Piece of thin card
  • Compass
  • Pencil
  • Steel Ruler
  • Craft Knife
  • Cutting Mat
  • Scrap Paper
  • Sellotape

Make A Template For Cutting Out Paper Hexagons

You can buy paper templates for your hexagon patchwork nowadays, but there are still advantages to making your own. You can determine the exact size to make them, you can use up scrap paper (rather than use up another tree) and you don’t have to go shopping (it’s not fabric, so hey, what’s the point in that!)

Step 1

Let’s start by making a template in thin card. First of all you need to decide on the size of your finished hexagon, so for example you might decide you want your hexagon to be 4″ (10cm) across from point to point. In this case you need to draw a 4″ (10cm) circle. Open your compasses to 2″ (5cm) (the radius) and draw your circle on thin card (an old cereal box is ideal).

Step 2

The next step is to mark the points of the hexagon on the circle. Keep your compass open at the radius of the circle and place the point anywhere on the pencil line.  Mark a small arc across the circle with the pencil (click on the image above to enlarge it to see this step more clearly). Now move the point of the compass to where the arc crossed the circumference and make another pencil arc. Continue in this way around the circumference until you have six arcs crossing it. (Make sure you keep your compass open at the same size for each mark or your hexagon will be inaccurate.)

Step 3

Use a ruler to draw straight lines to join each point on the cirumference and hey presto, you have a hexagon! Cut it out on a cutting mat with a craft knife and metal rule.

Tip: if you want to make a template for cutting out your fabric you’ll need to add a seam allowance. Determine the finished size of your hexagon and add 3/8″ (1cm) to the radius when you draw the circle. 

Step 4

To prolong the life of your template fold a piece of Sellotape over the edges. Draw and cut out as many paper templates as you need.

Make A Window Template

This is a brilliant template for when you want to ‘fussy cut’ motifs from your fabric, ensuring that you get the desired section right in the middle of the hexagon.

Step 1

Add a seam allowance to the desired size of your finished hexagon (see the tip above) and then draw it onto a thin piece of card with plenty of space around it. Cut out the hexagon out with a sharp knife and remove it. Cellotape the cut edges to strengthen them and then cut the outer edges of the card to a manageable size.

Step 2

Use the template to position the window precisely over a motif on your fabric, hold it firmly in place and draw around the window with a pencil or tailors chalk. Cut the patch from the fabric along the pencil/chalk line and then baste it to a paper template as described in the next section.

Using A Printer

If you’re planning a large hexagon patchwork quilt you might find it quicker to make multiple paper templates at once. Draw as many hexagons as possible onto a piece of scrap paper and keep it aside. Make copies on your printer or photocopier as you need them. If you have computer software that you can use to draw the hexagons too, even better!

How To Baste Your Hexagons

Click on any image to see it at a larger scale

© Stephanie Boon, 2016, Cornwall UK All rights reserved. Tutorial: making hexagon patchwork with English paper piecing.

What You’ll Need

  • Paper Templates

    Cut to size (excluding seam allowances)

  • Fabric

    Cut plenty of fabric hexagons with a seam allowance. There’s no need to cut them on the straight grain so you can use up any scraps of fabric you have.

  • Sewing Needle and Dressmaker’s Pins

    A needle for general sewing is perfect, but whatever you prefer.

  • Tacking Thread

    Use tacking thread for basting rather than ordinary. Tacking thread breaks more easily and is easier to remove.

  • Dressmaker’s Pins

    Ordinary dressmaker’s pins are fine – you don’t need the longer quilter’s pins for this job.

  • Thread Snips

    Snips or embroidery scissors for trimming thread

Step 1

Basting is the next stage in making your hexagon patchwork. It’s an important step for keeping your pieces a regular size and they come together pretty quickly once you get into a rhythm.

Make a card template with a seam allowance added (see the tip above) and use it to draw and cut out your fabric hexagons. Pin a paper template to the centre and fold over one edge (the seam allowance) – crease it in place with your fingernail (finger press).

Step 2

Begin the basting by making a loose backstitch near the corner. (A backstitch is preferable to a knot, which makes the thread more fiddly to remove later on. Knots also damage the paper templates more easily, so you can’t reuse them.)

Step 3

Now fold the second seam allowance neatly over and finger press it into place. Make a running stitch into the corner through all layers of fabric and paper. Continue in this way right the way round and finish off with a loose back stitch, or just snip the thread. Use as few stitches as you can, but ensure you anchor the corners well. Remove the pin.

Alternative Method

You can also baste the hexagons without going through the paper at all. This is an advantage on delicate fabrics where you want to keep needle marks to a minimum on the front surface. It also means the templates remain undamaged at the edges so it’s easier to reuse them.

  1. Pin your paper template to the centre of the fabric as before, then finger press 2 sides. (If your fabric is especially delicate, silk for example, you can clip the sides down with mini clips or a paper clip over the edge  of the template instead of using a pin)
  2. Begin basting with a small backstitch over the folds at the corner, being careful not to go through the paper.
  3. Crease down the next two edges and then make one long stitch right to the new corner; take the needle down on one side of the fold and up on the other, so that you secure both sides of the corner (again, don’t stitch through the paper).
  4. Fold down the remaining 2 sides and continue basting.
  5. Finish off with a loose back stitch. Remove the pin and press with a little starch to make a good visible crease. Pressing is important for this method, because when you sew the hexagons together it requires quite a bit of manipulation and the papers often fall out – which can be really irritating! (The pressed edge will indicate where you need to match the seams if this happens, you can also hold the template to the fabric with a paper clip or similar.)
  6. Now you’re ready to sew them together to make your hexagon patchwork.

How To Reuse Your Templates

The templates will probably be very creased and soft once you’ve sewn your hexagons together, but don’t be tempted to throw them away just yet!  All you need to do to revive them is spritz them with some spray starch and give them a press with a medium-hot iron, eh voila – almost as good as new! (It’s not worth saving any that have lost their corners.)

How To Sew Your Hexagons Into Flowers

Click on any image to see it at a larger scale

Tutorial: making a hexagon patchwork quilt with English paper piecing. © Stephanie Boon 2016 www.DawnChorusStudio.com

What You’ll Need

  • Hexagons

    7 basted hexagons for each flower you need to complete your hexagon patchwork project

  • Sewing Needle and Dressmaker’s Pins

    Your favourite general sewing needle – ‘Sharps’ are a good choice.

  • Thread

    Thread that matches the most common colour in your patchwork, or a grey to match the tone.

Step 1

Most of us associate the hexagon patchwork with a Grandma’s Flower Garden design, which is made with the characteristic flower shape. To make a flower you’ll need 7 hexagons. Lay them out in a pleasing arrangement: in the flower above the orange hexagon was deliberately placed in the centre and the two purple hexagons were kept apart.

Step 2

Work around the centre hexagon stitching a new hexagon to each side as you go: start with your centre hexagon and any adjacent one you choose. Place the two hexies right sides together. With a matching thread take a couple of small stitches on top of each other at the corner and pull firmly so that the thread doesn’t come out (I call these ‘anchor’ stitches).

Oversew (whip stitch) the edge to the opposite corner and make a couple more anchor stitches but don’t cut the thread.

Tip: when oversewing take up just a couple of threads from each hexagon, lifting them above the paper template. The fewer threads you pick up, the less of the stitch you’ll see on the right side and if you lift the threads above the template you’ll find it easier to reuse it as the edge won’t be so damaged. Take small stitches about 1/8″ (3mm) apart.

Press the seam open with your fingernail.

Step 3

Select the next hexagon in the sequence, working in an anti clockwise direction (for right handed people, vice versa if you’re left handed). Place your selection right sides together with the central hexagon. You can put a pin in to keep it in place if you wish, as shown above.

Step 3 continued

Pick up the needle and thread again and make a couple of anchor stitches in the corner, then sew along the edge to the next corner as before. Finish off with another couple of anchor stitches, but again, don’t cut the thread. Press open with your fingernail and it will look like the photo above.

Continue in this way until you’ve sewn on all the petals.

Step 4

The next step is to stitch up the open sides. You’ll need to fold the paper templates so that the hexagons sit right sides together. You can hold the seam to be stitched together with a pin if you prefer. Oversew (whip stitch) the seam together as before working from the central hexagon to the outside edge.

Tip: Always work from the centre out, if you work from the outer edge towards the centre it’s likely you’ll end up with a hole where the hexagons meet, which can be unsightly and difficult to disguise.

Finish off with a couple of anchor stitches and trim the thread. Work all the open seams in this way until you’ve completed the flower. You can continue your hexagon patchwork in the round adding the next ‘circle’ as you go, or make hexagon rows as described in the next section.

If you’re planning to use your hexagon patchwork as an applique motif remove the basting stitches, then pull out the paper templates. Tack the flower onto your backing fabric and use an applique blind stitch to sew it down. If you’re planning to continue with the patchwork leave the templates in for now.

Step 5

Press with a warm iron from the front to get nice crisp seams.

Sewing Your Hexagons In Rows

Click on any image to see it at a larger scale

© Stephanie Boon, 2016, Cornwall UK All rights reserved. http://www.DawnChorusStudio.com Tutorial: making a hexagon patchwork

What You’ll Need

  • Hexagons

    Enough basted patches to complete your hexagon patchwork project

  • Sewing Needle and Dressmakers’s Pins

    Your favourite general sewing needle – ‘Sharps’ are a good choice.

  • Thread

    Thread that matches the most common colour in your patchwork, or a grey to match the tone.

Step 1

Make a row: Sew together rows of hexagons by placing two hexagons right sides together and oversewing (whip stitching) as described in the section above. Add adjacent hexagons until the row is the length you want. You can work from right to left or vice versa depending on whether you’re left or right handed.  Don’t forget to make an anchor stitch at the beginning and end of each side.

Step 2

Joining your rows together might feel a bit fiddly at first, but you’ll soon get the hang of it. The images in this part of the tutorial show how to add a short row of black hexagons to the top row of a hexie flower, to help make the illustrations clear, but the method is exactly the same for joining long rows.

Take the first two hexagons to be joined together. In this example edge A will be joined to edge B (click on the image to enlarge it). Place the two edges right sides together and hold in place with a pin. The black row will look like it’s going off at a peculiar angle (see the image below).

Step 3

When you come to the end of the first edge make a couple of anchor stitches, but don’t cut the thread. Manipulate the hexagons so that the next two edges are right sides together (you’ll have to fold the templates). Keep the edges together with a pin and sew together, starting and finishing with a couple of anchor stitches.

Step 3 Continued

Make sure you get the edges to match up exactly or you’ll end up with a small hole. If your edges are slightly different lengths it’s easy enough to manipulate the seam with the needle until they meet. The image below shows how your hexagon patchwork will look after sewing the first two sides together.

Step 4

Continue along the row, folding the templates as you go to ensure the correct edges meet. Remember to make the extra little anchor stitches at each corner as this will make sure there are no holes where the points meet. Add as many rows as you need to finish up your hexagon patchwork. Press from the front (you can leave the templates in).

Removing The Templates

Tip! 

You can remove any paper templates that are not on the leading edge (the outside edge) as you go along. Your basting should just pull out with the end of a needle, but you can snip it with a pair of sharp scissors to make it easier if you want. Pull the template out and if it’s in good enough condition reuse it as described above.

It’s a good idea to remove the templates as you go on larger hexagon patchwork quilts, because it makes the patchwork lighter and easier to move about as you’re working.  It also gives you the advantage of being able to reuse the templates for the next section of patchwork (saving more cutting out time), and saves removing all that basting in one go at the end!

Grandma’s Hothouse Pillow

A Free Hexagon Patchwork Pattern

© Stephanie Boon 2016, Cornwall UK All Rights Reserved Grandma’s Hothouse hexagon patchwork pillow - free pattern. www.DawnChorusStudio.com

What’s Included

  • Illustrated Instructions

    Full diagrams

  • Printable Hexagon Templates

    All at the right size.

  • Fabric Requirements

    All the sizes you need to complete the project

  • Layout

    Suggested colour layout

  • Making Up

    Full instructions for making up the pillow

  • Links

    Links to any Dawn Chorus Studio tutorials required

The hexagon patchwork pattern Grandma’s Hothouse Pillow is a great project to try your hand at English paper piecing. The modern design can be easily adapted to suit your favourite colours and fabrics. You could try pretty florals on a white background for a more traditional, feminine look, or fussy cut novelty fabrics for a child’s bedroom perhaps. It’s a popular pattern hexagon patchwork project, great for personalising, straightforward to make and relaxing to sew: download your free hexagon patchwork pattern now!

This hexagon patchwork pattern is a .pdf and will open in a new tab. To download it to your computer use the link at the bottom of the page.

You’re All Set!

That concludes the hexagon patchwork tutorial – everything you need to know to get you started on making a hexagon patchwork with English paper piecing! If you have any more questions feel free to leave a comment. I really hope you enjoyed it and look forward to seeing what you make – leave a comment below and send us some photos of your very own hexagon patchwork, it would be lovely to feature it here.

Thanks for reading and happy sewing!