If you had told me six months ago that I would be a proficient seamstress, working on sewing a decorative pillow for my daughter’s bedroom, a laptop bag for my son, and a lap quilt for me, I would have laughed in your face. I never imagined I would be excited about choosing fabrics, planning designs, or simply sewing the building blocks for finished projects. My mother, a retired home economics teacher, introduced me to English Paper Piecing and the wonderful world of hexies.
So what’s a hexie?
It’s a piece of fabric basted around a piece of paper in the shape of a hexagon. I like working with hexagons because they’re so versatile. You can put them together to create flowers, spirals, snowflakes, wreaths, 3-D building blocks, or even jellyfish and seahorses! The quilt featured at the top of the page is another hexie quilt I found on Pinterest; I’ve vowed to figure out the pattern and make one just like it.
Those are just a few examples to pique your interest and get your creative juices flowing. Today, I’m going to show you how to get going with making hexies.
Step 1: So Much Fabric, So Little Time
For your first hexies, you’ll want to use 100% cotton. It’s easy to work with and comes in more colors and patterns than you could possibly imagine. These are just a few of the fabrics I’m currently using.
You can go as crazy or stay as conservative as you want. I usually buy my fabric in fat quarters, which are a quarter of a yard of fabric, cut in half both lengthwise and width-wise. They measure around 18” x 22”, where a regular quarter yard of fabric measures around 44” x 9”. Since they’re squarer, they’re easier to work with. I also love remnants, pieces left over after other people have bought most of the fabric on the bolt. Stores will heavily discount these pieces.
There’s a debate in the quilting community about whether to pre-wash your fabric or not. I’m on the side that says fabric manufactuerers know that not pre-washing is catching on, so they’re ensuring their dyes don’t run. I also have to share the washer and dryer with five other people, so trying to find the time to pre-wash gets tricky.
You should absolutely iron your fabric before you do anything else to it. I don’t have an ironing board, so I just use a folded towel on my crafting table. This lets you get rid of all the creases, lumps, and bumps your fabric may have. Iron on the back side of the fabric with a little steam and a little starch to give you nice, crisp fabric to work with.
Step 2: The Hex is Gon
I use this hexagon template because the little smiling guys make me happy. These are 1” hexagons, which I find to be very easy to work with. You can make your own templates, or find them online, in a variety of sizes. I print them on cardstock so they will hold up better over time and be more reusable after I’ve sewn the hexies together.
I like this template because it’s easy to use my paper cutter to cut out the little hexie guys. I just line up the blade with the lines and slice. I cut the triangles out with a pair of scissors after I’ve cut the little guys out. If you don’t have a paper cutter handy, you can just use scissors for the whole deal.
Now, you see those two hexies at the bottom? I wanted to make sure you saw them. In the one on the left, you might be tempted to think that he’s not smiling at you, that he’s sad instead. This is not the case. That’s his nose. He’s smiling on the inside.
The one on the right looks a little messed up, doesn’t it? The sides weren’t cut accurately. Maybe I was going too fast, or my hand slipped and the paper moved, I don’t know. But look at that face. He’s still smiling! Imperfection is inflection.
If you and I both used the same fabrics, the same size template, and the same pattern to arrange our hexies, all to make the exact same project, they’d be different. We’re not capable of making exact replicas when it comes to hand sewing. And that’s what makes each piece unique.
Step 3: Scissors beats fabric
Now it’s time to get your fabric cut down to size. These hexies are 1” long on each side, which makes them 2” between opposite corners. You’ll want to make sure you have about ¼” of fabric all around your template; that’s what you’re going to fold down and sew around the paper – your seam allowance. That means we’re going to be cutting out 2.5” x 2.5” squares. I use a rotary cutter, a self-healing mat, and a fabric ruler, but you can use scissors and a ruler, or even scissors and your own eyes to measure. I’m horrible at eyeballing lengths and distances, though. I added non-slip feet to the underside of the ruler so it wouldn’t go wandering around on me.
First, you need to cut off your selvage. The selvage is the edge of woven fabric that keeps it from unraveling.
Next, fold your fabric in half, so you have a double layer of fabric. Then cut through both layers at 2.5”
Continue cutting your fabric at 2.5” until you get close to your folded end. Unfold and finish cutting.
Now that you have your strips, you’re going to cut them down into squares. Line your strips up by one of the short ends, three or four at a time, measure your 2.5”, and start cutting. At the end of the strip, you can see there’s not enough to get another square from this particular piece of fabric. When that happens to me, I save the leftovers for future projects. You never know when you’ll be in the mood for a patchwork quilt.
Step 4: Fabric, meet paper
When it comes to getting paper and fabric to stick together, there are three basic methods: pinning, basting, and gluing. Gluing is by far the fastest and easiest. And when I say glue, I mean exactly what you think I mean. Plain ol’ Elmer’s works just fine. You can use tiny dots from a glue bottle or glue pen, or you can whip out a glue stick. I’m currently using a stick of fabric glue, because it was part of the sewing kit I was gifted, but when it runs out, I’ll switch to a regular glue stick. Make sure it’s washable so that once the paper template is removed, you can wash your quilt and get rid of the glue residue.
Pay very close attention. This part is absolutely essential. To glue a template to a fabric square, this is what you have to do: Put some glue on the back of the template. Then press the back of the template against the back of the fabric square, right smack in the middle, making sure two of your edges are lined up with two of the fabric edges. Phew, I’m glad we made it through that one!
Isn’t that a happy hexie smiling up at you from the center of his square? Wait, his square? He’s a hexie! He needs hexagonal fabric to be his best self. You can certainly skip this step, you’ll just have a little more bulkiness to each hexie. But I want my hexies streamlined. So I trim the corners.
I’m sure you’re thinking to yourself, “But those don’t look alike! Aren’t they supposed to all be the same?” Well, yes and no. Yes, if we were perfect people, in a perfect world, creating perfect hexies, then they would be identical shapes. I heard someone say once, “It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to get did.”
Step 5: Whip it Good
It’s finally time to take needle in hand and start actually sewing. For this part of quilting, you can use any color thread you have on hand. I’m using white because it was also part of the sewing kit I was given. It’s also easy to see against most of the fabrics I’m working with.
First, thread your needle. That just means put one end of the thread through the eye, or hole, of the needle. It can be tricky to get the hang of it, so here are a few tricks.
- When you cut the thread, cut it at an angle rather than straight across. This will give the thread a teeny tiny point that can make it easier to slip it through the eye.
- Wet the thread. Not soaking sopping wet, just lightly damp. This causes the fibers in the thread to stick together, giving you a stronger strand to work with. I keep a small bowl of water close at hand when I’m stitching at home. When I’m out, I’ll just stick the thread in my mouth.
- Use a needle threader. There are many varieties of these helpful little gizmos. Mine is fancy schmancy because it has a light to help you better see what you’re doing. You slide the wire diamond through the eye of the needle. Then run the thread through the diamond. Finally, pull the needle off the wire, bringing the thread along with it.
Make sure you leave a long tail of thread to help ensure you don’t accidentally unthread your needle while you’re stitching. I used to try to conserve thread by cutting just enough to do my basting. It finally dawned on me that I was worrying about 6” of thread that would cost around $0.0008. That’s 8/100 of one cent. (Based on approximately 1000 yards of cotton thread for about $5.) At that rate, if I used just the right amount of thread for basting, with no waste, I would save a penny after 1,250 hexies.
Take your hexie in hand and fold down one side of fabric over the template. Use your fingers to help crease it down so it stays put. That’s called finger pressing. Then go counter-clockwise to the next side and fold it straight down so the corner overlaps.
Slide your needle up into that corner, from underneath all the fabric, and making sure you go through both folded down fabric flaps. Make sure you’re in far enough that you don’t have to worry about the fabric tearing loose, but not so far that you’re missing the piece underneath. Then pull your needle through until the end of the thread is just even with the edge of the fabric flap.
Next, slip your needle underneath the fold in the corner that was created when you folded the second flap over the first. Pull it on through, slowly so you don’t pull the entire thread out.
Now do the same thing, except this time, push your needle through the lower piece of fabric first. Make sure your needle doesn’t go through your paper template. We’re going to take it out in a later how-to, so we want to make sure it’s only glued in, not sewn in.
And one more time, picking up the lower piece of fabric first.
Guess what? You just learned how to whip stitch. You’ve got three stitches here at your starting corner. I generally do three at the first and last corners, and two at all the rest. You can experiment to see if you like those numbers, or if you want fewer or more. This doesn’t have to be pretty stitching. Nobody’s ever going to see it.
Time to tackle the next corner. Fold down the next flap of fabric just like you did for the first corner. Slide your needle into the space between the layers and pull it through. You can pull your thread a little tighter now that your first corner is done; it’s your anchor for the rest of the hexie. Then do two stitches going through the lower and upper layers of fabric.
I think I may have put three stitches in there. But that’s ok. Imperfection is inflection, remember? And there are times that my inflection, my voice, my uniqueness, is that I lose track when I’m trying to count to two. I aced calculus in high school and still remember most of trigonometry, some of geometry, and all of algebra. But I missed the lesson on counting to two.
Since you’ve got your second corner done, go ahead and do the third and fourth the exact same way.
For your last two corners, you have to fold your flap down on top of both adjacent fabric flaps. You could fold the fabric down and stitch the fifth corner first, then fold under the fabric in the other corner. However, I’ve found it’s much easier to fold down the fabric while tucking both sides in at the same time.
Stitch your fifth corner just like you did all the rest. For your last corner, start by pushing your needle down from the top layer, being careful not to pierce your template, then come back up through just the bottom layer.
Do a couple more whip stitches just like that. Then finish by going close to your first corner and run your needle down through the single layer of fabric, pulling your thread taut. Keep pulling your needle until it’s free of the thread. Snip off your excess thread and pat yourself on the back; you just sewed your first hexie!
Step 6: This is the hobby that never ends
Now that you’ve sewn your first hexie, you get to do it again. And again. And again. If your goal is a quilt, you’re going to need a whole heap of these little guys. A twin size quilt, for example, at 39” x 75”, is going to require over 1,100 of our 1” hexies. The lap quilt I’m working towards needs more than 900. If you happen to have a king size bed, you’ll need more than 2,300 hexies. What you see here is going to eventually be around 1,200 happy hexies.
I take a bag of hexies with me everywhere I go. I stitch when I’m riding in the car. In doctor’s office waiting rooms. I took them with me when I had oral surgery a couple weeks ago; my nurses were so fascinated by them that they spread the word across the whole surgical ward. The head nurse on the floor made a point to ask me about them. At my follow up appointment with my surgeon, he walked in, saw me stitching, and exclaimed, “So that’s what all the nurses were talking about!”
I take a couple stacks of hexies that are at the stage you reached at the end of step 4; the hexies are glued down and the corners are trimmed. I pre-cut anywhere from 20 to 50 lengths of thread. They look like a hot mess, but I’ve only had knots twice. I throw the spool of thread and my small scissors into the bag, along with my magnetic needle case.
Next time, we’ll take a look at picking patterns, using the whip stitch you learned today to join two hexies together, and learning a new stitch, the ladder stitch, as another means to join your hexies.
Header quilt source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/littlelixie/9478950688/in/set-72157635010560488/