Quilting, especially hand quilting, can be incredibly relaxing – even zen-like. There aren’t many quilting projects that can be portable, yet there are many times where you may be sitting in a waiting room, travelling, on vacation, even watching a TV show, and you want something quiet and portable that will keep your hands busy and be productive.
There’s a way to make hexagons (hexies) that doesn’t require paper piecing or a sewing machine. You can make your projects small, like a mug rug, or large enough to make a bed quilt. I’ve done everything by hand for small projects, but I machine sewed the hexies together for larger quilts.
The beauty of hexie projects is that they can be contemporary or traditional, so whatever your esthetic, you can take this project along with you.
Traditionally, hexagon quilts are called Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilts and can be traced back to 18th century England. They made the jump to the US as early as 1770. Grandmother’s Garden quilts will have six surrounding hexies (petals) around a single, differently colored hexie. This flower can be surrounded by background colored hexies (green, white, black). If you want them to be less flower-like you can just make them all different colored without making “flowers”.
Fabric cut into circles, needle, thread, and scissors. That’s it!
Cutting perfect circles isn’t really hard. You can make a pattern using a compass and some cardboard, or even a circular object like a plate, then trace around using a marking pen or marking chalk. However, if you feel like investing in a new tool, and you make circles fairly frequently, there is a dedicated tool (I bought the Fiskars) that makes life so easy. It’s basically a compass with a cutting edge instead of a pencil on the end. If you decide to use this, you’ll also need a cutting mat. The advantage is that it’s fast, and your circles come out uniform and pretty perfect.
Yardage needs will depend on your project and the ultimate dimensions you want it to be. It may take some calculating to come up with what you’ll need, and this project uses more fabric than you may anticipate. Your hexie will be approximately ½ the size of the starting circle, and there will be some waste between circles.
For this project I started with 5” circles. The finished hexagon measures 2 ¾” or 2 3/8” depending on which measurement you take. Keep in mind that finished hexies aren’t equi-distant vertically and horizontally when you are deciding on dimensions.
It’s important to make your circles, well, circular. If it is wonky, your finished hexie won’t come out symmetrical, and your pieces won’t match up well. As it is, these pieces aren’t always perfect, but they come close enough to piece together well.
Steps to Making a Hexie
Using one of your circles, fold it in half, then quarters so you can find the center. You can just finger press or pinch the tip so that you will be able to see an “+” where the center of the circle is.
Again, starting with the exact center will help you make a symmetrical finished hexagon. There are two ways to start your thread. If you fold the circle with the right sides in, you can just pick if a thread or two at the very tip. If you decide to open the circle you will see the finger pressed parts and insert your knotted thread from the back side. Reinsert from the front side to the back with just a thread or two caught.
To start making the hexagon, fold one edge down to the center point. Using your thread, catch just a thread or two back from the edge. Basically, you’ve folded ¼ of the circle down to the middle. Finger press that fold line.
Going right (probably if you are right handed), take the end of the fold line and fold the corner down to your center point. Again, catch a thread or two of the corner with your needle. Finger press that crease. Repeat this process two more times. At this point, you should have 3 points and two parallel lines that are open at the bottom. Continue folding and tacking the next corner down.
You now have only one corner to fold down and that should come to a point, or triangular tip, that would be folded down. If you have more of a flattened tip, try to gently adjust the two sides until it is closer to a point. This is the final piece that will be tacked down to create a hexagon. Make a knot, and bury your thread in the center of the hexagon. Your fold lines should create three fairly straight lines that bisect in the center of the finished piece and you’ve successfully completed your first hexie and you’re ready to start on the next.
It’s really simple!
Grandmother’s Flower Garden: Once you get all your hexagons completed, you can start assembling them. If you decide to make a more traditional Grandmother’s Flower Garden design start the assembly with the center piece, although I don’t know if there is an actual right or wrong order in which to attach the various pieces. Grabbing one of the petals, attach it using a slip stitch or whip stitch – whatever you prefer. If you wanted your stitches to show you could do a satin stitch or blanket stitch. When I made a large bed quilt, I machine sewed it using a zig zag stitch. Not only was this much quicker, I always feel that machine sewing is stronger.
I like to attach the 6 surrounding hexies to the center one first. You can do this with a single piece of thread or, if you are machine sewing, in a single pass without ending your sewing. Once the inner parts are sewn to the middle hexie, you then sew the petals to each other. You now have a single flower. After sewing all your flowers, you attach them to each other. After planning it out, you can sew a number of them in a single pass – you won’t have to start and stop at each flower, but can sew a number of them in a row.
Caution: plan out your hexies first to find the best order where they match up. If you were using paper piecing, all your hexagons would probably be more uniform. They would also need to be sewn onto backing. By using the circle method, your front and back are different – with the back having the six fold lines showing, but the entire unit is self contained. You don’t need a backing. This is part of what makes this method great for summer quilts. It is light weight enough, yet has heft so you can still snuggle. You avoid having to use batting and backing fabric. It is also what makes the entire project easily transportable.
I’ve seen some great projects that use a variety of patterned fabrics in bright colors to make the flowers with greens around them to make a garden of flowers.
Modern designs: If you aren’t sewing flowers, merely plan out your design, then start sewing them together. If two sides don’t seem to match up size-wise – simply turn the hexie to another size. Again, planning it out beforehand might help if your hexagons aren’t all exactly the same size and shape. You can nudge them along to make them fit if they are close.
There are an infinite number of sizes, projects, and variations that use the same basic techniques. If you want to make sure the hexagons are super sturdy and will hold up to a lot of use and washing, sew all the seams down. You can free-motion a design, use a spiral on each hexagon or flower, or even just sew all the folded lines down.
You can decide to place a small circle over the center of the back side where all the sides come together. This would serve to reinforce this more delicate area, plus add a design element, much like the center of a flower. This same area can be covered with a button or a bead.
You can choose either the flat side (front) or the side with the folds (back) to be the front of your quilt. You can even mix the two up.
Instead of making flowers, you can make an ombre of color. You can make it a monotone, much like I started here, maybe with just pops of color. Having a more solid background with just a portion of the hexagons having color makes it appear more modern. By the way, I know that I want to make a predominantly black toned hexie item, I just haven’t really figured out what to do with it. I started this because I wanted something portable, had a lot of different black fabrics of different tonal qualities, and like how blacks make other colors pop. Does anyone have any suggestions about what this can ultimately be?
Regardless of what you decide to design, small or big, machine sewn or all hand, this is a project where you can use a lot of scraps that may be left over from other projects, and is portable. Because there is no right or wrong way to do this project, you can use what you have, and end up with a variety of useful projects. Good luck, have fun, and let your imagination soar.