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English Paper piecing is a time-honored technique dating back to at least 1813. It's a wonderfully simple method for constructing intricate quilts with lots of perfectly matched points. Usually a one-patch, most commonly using hexagons, it might also be done using triangles, diamonds, squares or a combination. It's completely done by hand and can be assembled in modular units so you can take it with you wherever you go, and make use of those idle moments.

Click here for a printable page of hexagons in Adobe Reader format. If you don't have Adobe Reader, or if you don't care for that format, you can click here for a different version. If you play around with your printer settings, you should be able to size them to your preference.

  1. Print out the paper shapes for your project. If you've never tried this technique before, keep in mind that a finished quilt will require a lot of these, and they need to be identical, so it's a good idea to print them all on the same printer or copy machine.
  2. Cut out the paper shapes, taking care to be very precise in your cutting. A little careful precision at this stage will go a long way toward the success of your finished project.
  3. Cut out your fabric pieces, using the paper shapes as a guide. Leave approximately 1/4" allowance on all sides--you'll be folding the edges of these fabric pieces over the paper shapes in the following steps. If you prefer, you can make a simple cutting template to assist you, but freehand will probably be close enough.
  4. Pin a paper shape to the center of one of your fabric pieces (see Figure 1). Then carefully fold the edges of the fabric around the paper shape, basting at each corner as you go (see Figures 2 through 7). Keep the folded edges clean and the corners crisp and take care not to sew the fabric to the paper. It's OK to just carry the thread along between corners--no need to knot and start again.
  5. Set the finished piece aside and make a zillion more.
  6. To assemble: With the paper still inside and right sides facing, whip-stitch the pieces together along one edge (see Figure 8). Stay as close to the edge as possible (within a couple of threads), and again, make sure you don't accidentally sew the fabric to the paper. Continue adding pieces, whip-stitching them together along adjacent edges as you go.
  7. After a piece is securely sewn to all the surrounding pieces, you can easily remove the paper. Since you haven't sewn through the paper, you don't need to remove the basting stitches.

I found a great site recently where you can generate .pdf versions of graph paper in all sorts of shapes and sizes for designing your own quilts. Click here to go to the page (opens a new window), then scroll about 2/3 of the way down to the "Hexagonal" section. I like the "5-ish hexes per linear inch" size because they're nice and small.

You'll need Adobe Reader in order to view and print the images. Most likely it's already on your computer, but if not, you can download it here.

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 4
Figure 5
Figure 6
Figure 7
Figure 8

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