|How to Make a Hexagon Quilt
Patricia L. Cummings
A hexagon is a six-sided geometric figure. The unit shown above is pieced in the English Paper Piecing Method. This design
formation is thought to have originated in England, and that accounts for its name! In choosing the colors for this "block," I
wanted fabrics that looked antique and that had high contrast.
What Kind of Paper is Used?
Let's begin at the beginning. What do we mean by paper? In the past, hexagons were pieced over cut up letters, note cards,
and even old, shiny cut-outs from pages of magazines, such as Life, or Look. I have some loose hexagons that I purchased in
a shoe box and one of them showed Harry Truman waving from the back of a train.
1930s Grandmother's Flower Garden. Photo by James Cummings
In the 1930s revival of quilting, hexagons were arranged to look like flowers, separated by Nile Green garden pathways. This
new way of working resulted in "Grandmother's Flower Garden" quilts.
Close-up view. Notice the two fabrics that are next to each other that are exactly alike.
To make colors stand out, they have to contrast in value or scale. Photo by James Cummings
Grandmother Flower Garden Quilt: hand-quilted back. Each hexagon must be quilted separately.
Pre-Made Paper Templates
Today, we are very lucky to have a company that makes white paper hexagons so that folks do not have to cut out the
shapes, one at a time, which is very time-consuming. The company makes these hexagons in various sizes, and although I am
not, in any way, affiliated with them, I like their product so much, I will tell you the company name: Paper Pieces, P.O. Box
2931, Redmond, WA 98073-2931, (206) 867-1537.
Paper Baste or Glue Baste?
In the company's instructions, they recommend cutting the fabric 1/4 inch larger all the way around the shape and cutting the
piece out. Edges are turned under, one by one, and either basted down with needle and thread. I prefer to glue baste with a
water soluble glue stick. To remove the papers, all I have to do is to spritz the back with water from a spray bottle. Then, I
can carefully remove the softened paper with tweezers.
Where Do We Begin?
Of course, we start with preparing the first 7 hexagons, one for the center, and six hexagons to add to the center, working
clockwise, or counter-clockwise, if you are left-handed, perhaps.
Miniature hexagon quilt of 1,039 mini-hexagons. Made by Patricia Cummings. I attempted to simulate each hexagon in a late
19th century quilt, not an easy task when looking at 3 1/2" hexagons and translating them into a 1" surface.
Here are two images of hexagons, 1" size, which is what I used to make a quilt of 1,039 hexagon pieces!
This is a scanned image of two hexagons: one ready to sew; and one to show you what the back looks like, after I have
systematically-glued down the seam allowance. Actually, I use a scant 1/4" seam which is slimmer than what you see here.
Sewing By Whipstitching
Using a long, thin needle with either silk thread or a fine sewing thread, I piece the units together. To begin, I put two
prepared hexagons, right sides together, and whipstitch one edge.
Using the same thread to join them, I place another hexagon, right sides together, on top of the one that I want to be the
"middle" one (the center hexagon), and I whipstitch along the one edge.
By now, you have one center hexagon, and two other hexagons joined to it on one edge only, so you have a floppy space
between the two added hexagons. Do not worry. Just keep on adding your other four hexagons to the central hexagon.
When they are all added, now is when you will bend the unit so that you can whipstitch the open spaces together.
This is a starting point, in answer to a question from a reader. We love questions we can answer easily! I plan to add more
information to this file in the future including other options for piecing hexagons. Stay tuned!
Donald Beld Shares Photos of an 1820s Hexagon Quilt
The following photos were provided by Donald Beld, avid quilt maker and quilt historian, and founder of the "Home of the
Brave" quilts program. He tells us that the quilt show below was constructed by a British seamstress who was living in New
York City. The quilt is currently owned by Kay Hansen. The many photos show how she pieced the hexagons over paper and
basted them with thread. She "fussy cut" each hexagon, out of new fabrics, and these pieces look as new today as when she
made them. We are happy to feature the photos here. Thanks, Don.
Not the whole surface, but a cropped version. 1820s quilt. photo by Don Beld
This close-up shows the dynamic and colorful prints that were available in
the 1820s. Amazing, aren't they?
I love the red fabric with the yellow "feathers?"
Back side of quilt top shows crumbling papers, some with writing. Letters
were often recycled.
A good view of how the British seamstress "fussy cut" the fabric. Today, to do something like that, it would probably be
easier to overlay a piece of quilter's plastic, cut to the finished size, draw a line around the edge to be turned under, and add a
seam allowance to that!
After completing everything I had posted here, the Illinois State Museum website was brought to my attention. It is worth
viewing! Thanks to Susan Wildemuth for pointing this out.
The Quilt Index has page after page of hexagon quilts. Key in "hexagon," and then, "flower garden." Thanks to Beth
Donaldson, Collections Assistant, Great Lakes Quilt Center, MSU Museum, for mentioning this information.
By The Way
The next photo is a design that was inspired by a magazine photo. I added buttons as embellishments. If anyone knows the
name of the designer, please let me know so that I can give credit where credit is due, The design resembles "Cathedral
Window," in construction.
A unit of hexagons in orange and turquoise hues
A similar design appeared in a magazine quite a while ago
Janet Elwin of Maine was one of the first to write about Hexagons in the late 20th century and how they inspired her to make
all sorts of projects. I believe that I own this book because it may have been on the required reading list for the E.G.A. Master
Craftsman in Quilting Program.
Hexagon Magic was published by EPM Publications, MacLean, VA in 1986.
Update from Sally Ward in the UK
In the book, North Country Quilts, Legend and Living Tradition (Durham, England: The Bowes Museum and the Friends of The Bowes Museum,
2000) page 12, Dorothy Osler shows a pieced and appliquéd, framed centre, medallion coverlet, in which one of the frames is a Grandmother's
Flower Garden setting of pieced hexagons, made by Martha Jackson, circa 1790-1795.
The earliest hex quilt shown in Through The Needle's Eye: Quilts of the York Castle Museum Collection, is placed at 1800-1820, although the hexes
are in rows, not GFG style, but there are several more in that book that are GFGs, from 1820-1900, and then a pair of GFG cushions dated 1950-60.
Many thanks to Sally for allowing us to share this information here.
I have always thought that the term, "Grandmother's Flower Garden" was more of a 20th century description of the 1930s pastel prints and alternate
Nile green "paths" through the garden. I can see that more study is required. Previously, the pattern was called "Mosaic" and other names. We also
have the phenomena of elongated hexagons, called "Coffin hexagons," in the UK, if I am to understand correctly, from another quilt historian. There is
always so much more to know!
Many thanks to Don Beld for sending the photos and to all who have added information!
Copyright 2009. Patricia L. Cummings, Quilter's Muse Publications, Concord, NH. All rights reserved. firstname.lastname@example.org