I was so, so wrong

Do you ever spend six months working on a quilt project only to find that one of your basic assumptions was wrong?

I started my hexagon quilt last November and since I tend to plan everything out in Excel I used the grid to work out how many hexagons I would need. I know that when you are calculating how many blocks are in a given top the formula is the same as the one for square blocks on point — that is, xy + (x-1)(y-1). Unfortunately, calculating how many rings you need to make for a top is NOT the same for hexagons as it is for squares or diamonds. Surprisingly enough, the first ring is 6 blocks, not 4, and it goes up by 6 for each ring. Also you can’t fit as many hexagon rings into a top of a given size as you can square blocks.

In my previous calculations I believed that I would need 14 “rings”, plus the centre block, giving me a total of 365 blocks. However, I recently found some hexagon grids online and plotted the layout using the correct grid, and the result is very, very different. If I stick to the plan of applying each flower to a 3″ hexagon (finished size 6″ point to point, 5.25″ side to side), then I have two options, both of which give me a quilt top measuring roughly 75″ x 85″. [NB: each hexagon here represents the background square — the colours are just to help visualise the larger structure.]

Hexagon quilt plan 1
Hexagon quilt plan 1

The first option has each hexagon flower arranged vertically (points at north and south) with the rings oriented horizontally. This would require 257 blocks in 6 complete rings with partial rings in the corners, and the top size would be roughly 74″ x 87″.

Hexagon quilt plan 2
Hexagon quilt plan 2

The second option has the hexagon flowers arranged horizontally (points at east and west) with the rings oriented vertically. This option has 281 blocks in 8 complete rings with partial rings in the corners, and the top would be roughly 78″ x 89″.

Both options 1 and 2 could be made either as a complete top to be quilted, or as a “bind as you go” project (subject to finding backing fabrics that aren’t too jarring).

Virtual hexagon
Virtual hexagon

There is, however, a third option. If I attach a grey hexagon at each V in the flower, I get a “virtual” hexagon measuring 3″ on a side — the same as the appliqué block. I would need the same 281 flowers as for Option 2 but only a small fraction of the background fabrics. Placement of grey hexagons for the larger rings would require attention to detail so as not to get the fabrics in the wrong position, but it’s doable. It would mean a lot more hand sewing but that’s not a disincentive *g*.

Hmm … decision, decisions.

At the rate I’m sewing (wrists permitting) I should achieve 281 hexagon flowers by the end of July. That gives me nearly two months to think things over.

April’s Hexagons

Lots and lots of blue, with occasional other colours to maintain my sanity.

I have done a few more that haven’t been photographed yet so I am over the halfway point. Thanks to my sewing friend Sue I’m being supplied with additional cardboard for templates so I can leave them all basted until the end, which will make arranging them in value order much easier. I have also found a box that is just the right size for storing them.

More hexagons

Here is my latest batch of hexagon flowers. I was going to wait until the end of the month but then I realised I’d have four sets instead of three and I don’t like the way WordPress arranges four (or five) images in a gallery. You’d think that it would be easy to make the computer arrange a set of four as 2 x 2, but apparently not.

I’m not all that keen on using striped or geometric fabrics for hexagon flowers, but the two in the centre set (hexagons 141 and 143) work quite well.

I’m also amused by how neatly the values approach a normal distibution — I convert the images to black and white and assign a value from 1 (very light) to 5 (very dark) to each flower. After 153 hexagons the distribution is 15 – 37 – 45 – 36 – 14. Depending on how things look at the end I may take out a few of the very lightest and acquire some more very dark, otherwise the quilt will appear to have mostly light and medium fabrics with one or two rows of very dark around the edge, as the diagram shows.

Hexagon quilt layout
Hexagon quilt layout

Books and Hexagons

I wandered into a second-hand bookshop yesterday and managed to find a few embroidery and quilting books:

I should note that the top right book in the first picture is Ukrainian – it’s a survey of the nation’s rich tradition of embroidered blouses and shawls. The SEA textiles book was the only one over $20 and it will be a good complement to my books on Indian and Chinese textiles. The five on the right are all Australian authors, which is a nice bonus. I also found some Batsford embroidery books (smocking and Berlin work) but they have very boring covers.

I’ve also completed more hexagon flowers — I’ll probably make it a tradition to post them at the end of the month:

I am now a little over a third of the way through and I still have many, many fabrics to go.

WordPress tells me I now have thirty subscribers — thank you all. I hope that I can continue to interest you in my work.

Borders of Serenity

Serenity (borders)
Serenity (borders)

I finally got around to putting the borders on Serenity. As you can see, the greyish purple isn’t an exact match for the colour in the teal print, and the Black Amethyst fossil fern in the outer border is slightly brighter than the fabric in the blocks, but it works well enough.

That’s as far as it’s going to get for a while. I have a very specific vision for the quilting which will take a long time and require a very large table, so it will be some months until I can get started. I do have the thread, though – a gold Rasant that is slightly brighter/yellower than the tan I used in Koi to Neru and which I hope will pick up the gold accents in the fabric.

First hexagon applied

Centre hexagon on background fabric
Centre hexagon on background fabric

I decided to do a “proof of concept” trial, using what will be the centre hexagon in the quilt. Although for most fabrics I will be cutting actual hexagons, I decided to do squares for the centre five, since I only need one WOF.

The trial was successful, for the most part.

Firstly, my “finished” size of 3.5″ frames the flower nicely and doesn’t leave too much space around the outside, while the cut size fits into a block of 8″ x 7.5″. I may even consider dropping to a finished size of 3″, since there will be double the spacing between flowers once the large hexagons are assembled.

Secondly, I will need to be more careful with registration marks — I finger-pressed creases to show the centre lines vertically and horizontally, but as you can see the hexagon slipped a little, probably while I was pinning it prior to glue-basting. I will have to use a chalk marker on future blocks.

Thirdly, I was concerned that the seam allowances would be very noticeable under all the light flowers, but on this block they aren’t visible at all in natural light and only faintly discernible with the flash. I know that there will be some flowers in thinner fabrics where I will need a light interfacing to hide the seam allowances, but I won’t need it for all of them.

Fourthly, there isn’t a lot of fraying after hand appliqué. I will be storing cut hexagons in ziploc bags but it’s good to know that I don’t have to cut an extra-wide seam allowance which would require trimming prior to stitching the blocks together.

For those interested in fabrics, the silver/white is an offcut from the Blue Christmas quilt panel, and the background is Moda Grunge in classic gray.

More Hexagons

I’ve been a bit slow the last couple of weeks due to other commitments, but here are 36 more hexagons to bring the total to 108 (I need 365).

I don’t know why the gallery tool always has to make one image larger instead of arranging them 2 x 2 — I’ll have to try and remember to upload in sets of three in future.

As you can see from the images, I have exhausted the scrap drawers and am now working my way through the colour drawers, so there will be less colour variation within sets from now on.

I’ve also bought a couple more blacks so now I have the required 14 (actually 13, since rings 1 and 2 will use the same fabric). I still like the idea of arranging the hexagons with lights in the middle and darks around the edge, so I took the black fabrics and tried to arrange them in value order. It was interesting to compare the fabrics as they are versus how they look in black and white — some of them appear slightly blue under the flash (I also had some that had a brownish tone but I removed them completely).

Black fabrics - Colour v Black and White
Black fabrics – Colour v Black and White

Ignore the large smudge at upper left — I have cleaned the camera lens since then.

It took a few tries, checking with the camera, but this is the probable order (except that I will swap 4 and 5):

Hexagon backing fabrics
Hexagon backing fabrics

The fabric marked X is lovely but I don’t have enough of it so if I use it at all it will be for borders and / or binding.

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to everyone! Happy Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, Yule and/or Solstice if that is more appropriate for you.

I haven’t been able to do much lately — I do have the Janome 9400 back at last but I haven’t been able to set it up due to a plumbing incident that left my sewing room carpet saturated. The carpet is finally dry but I need to do a lot of re-organisation before I can start machine sewing again.

In the meantime, I have some more hand-sewn hexagon flowers:

I figure I’m about 20% of the way through — I need 365 of them for my quilt and I have 74 so far. I’ll need about 1800 more papers, but I can reclaim some if I start sewing flowers to large background hexagons soon. I want the lightest flowers in the centre and the darkest around the edges, and I was toying with the idea of a similar gradient in the background fabrics — white in the centre, moving through progressively darker shades of grey to the black edges. Now I think it would be better to have all of them on black, just lots of different black fabrics so that I can leave the final arrangement of flowers until the end. I may change my mind again, of course. I have plenty of templates for the moment and a punch that can make more so I’m not desperate to reclaim papers at the moment.

We are expecting a lovely day tomorrow — my city will be sunny with a top temperature of about 30°C. To all those in the northern hemisphere struggling with the cold, I hope that you can stay safe and as warm as possible.

A New Hand Project

I have started to assemble the modules for Flame Rose, my second Penrose tile quilt, but it’s got the stage where I need a large clean surface to lay things out so that I can work out what units I need to make for the corners and I don’t have that at the moment, so it’s in abeyance until after I move to Tasmania.

Since I can’t live without a hand project I’ve decided to make a hexagon quilt. Yes, a hexagon quilt. Now this may not seem like a momentous decision to anyone reading this, but to me it’s a complete about-face from when I started quilting almost forty years ago. In the eighties, mosaic piecing* was so old-fashioned and “quaint” that the very thought of basting around templates and stitching them together was enough to make me feel nauseated. My first quilting class was, of course, the standard twelve-block sampler quilt (we’d call it a “skill builder” today), and hexagons made up one of the blocks. Needless to say, I never finished the quilt.

While the plan for the sampler quilt has long since disappeared, you can get a general idea of the style from this book cover, although it doesn’t have hexagons or baby blocks:

Hexagons have been popular for several years now — I know that many people have made Grit Kovacs’ La Passion pattern and there are some amazing hexagon projects on the web if you search for them. My sewing friend Sue has also done a wall quilt from 2″ hexagons that looks great. In my craft video binge a couple of weeks ago I came across several hexagon projects and decided that — surprising at it might seem — I would start one of my own.

There are several options for glues and template materials so I decided that I would buy as many different brands as I could find and evaluate them. All fabrics are coming from the stash and will not include any batiks, just solids for the centres and prints for the petals. I’m using 1″ hexagons so the flowers are roughly 6″ across.

I’m still waiting on my last shipment of templates in order to finalise the analysis, but here are the first 27 blocks (I will need at least 181). You can click on the images to get a larger version if you want to see more fabric details.

As you can see, my fabrics are heavily skewed to purple and teal. I blame the 90s.

* The Quilters’ Guild of the UK has recommended that the term “mosaic piecing” be used in place of “English paper piecing” since it’s not geographically restricted to England and people use other template materials besides paper.