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.

Small fabric purchase

I spent the weekend in Tasmania (I am hoping to move there later this year) and naturally looked up some of the local craft shops. I treated myself to 15 quarters (some fat, some long) — I would have loved to have bought more but I could only take a cabin bag with me on the return trip so I was limited in my weight allowance. I am still proceeding with my hexagons from stash, but I’ve actually cut most of the warm colours already and I need more if the quilt isn’t to be very blue, hence the pinks, reds and orange here.

Weekend fabrics
Weekend fabrics

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.

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.

Mosaic Piecing Tools 1 – Templates

As I’ve previously said, I’ve started piecing some 1″ hexagons together, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to assess all the glue sticks and template materials I was able to buy. The post turned out to be rather long so I’ve split it in two — today’s post will be all about template materials, and tomorrow I’ll post about glues and clips. All items were bought in Australia except where noted, and all prices are in Australian dollars.

a. Card stock: Sew Easy, Sue Daley, Paper Pieces
b. Mylar: June Tailor, OzQuilts, Eppiflex
c. Fiskars 1″ hexagon punch: bakery cartons, medical forms, grocery boxes

Note that I removed the centre template from each flower before I stitched the petals together so that the template wasn’t creased. That also allowed me to assess how each template stood up to multiple uses while leaving the petal templates in place.

A. Card stock templates

Sew Easy & Sue Daley templates
Sew Easy & Sue Daley templates

Sew Easy
Cost: $9.50 for pack of 100 ($0.10 each)
Light card stock, smooth surface. Probably die-cut. Flexible, but sturdy enough to withstand the pressure of fabric being folded over the edge. Most glues stuck reasonably well but the papers were fairly easy to remove, especially if removal was a couple of days after basting rather than the same day. I have used templates up to 6 times with no problems, although there was significant glue residue towards the end (not enough to hinder removal, though). If you reverse the card you can easily get 10-12 uses from each.

Sue Daley
Cost: $6.90 for pack of 100 ($0.07 each)
Light card stock, smooth surface. These look and feel identical to the Sew Easy cards and are probably from the same source.

Paper Pieces templates
Paper Pieces templates

Paper Pieces
Cost: USD $4.50 for pack of 100, plus postage
The cost is around AUD 6.90 ($0.07 each), so comparable to the Sue Daley templates if you ignore postage which, to be truthful, isn’t a lot. Delivery was around 7-10 days — I can’t be more precise as I only check my post office box once a week. The templates have tiny tags in the middle of each side as a remnant of die-cutting. The paper is thinner and more flexible than the Sew Easy/Sue Daley, and it has a rougher surface — it feels more like cartridge or sketchbook paper than card. Most glues adhered better to this surface than the glossy papers but I found that the templates still came away fairly cleanly once sewn, except where I had inadvertently stitched though the edge. I think that the thinner substrate will lead to a shorter number of uses but 5 or more is proven.

B. Mylar templates (aka BoPET: biaxially-oriented polyethylene terephthalate)

June Tailor templates
June Tailor templates

June Tailor Templates
Cost: $29.95 for pack of 25 ($1.20 each)
Country of Manufacture: USA
Made from thick (almost a full millimetre) glossy white Mylar, these templates have a slight curve, presumably from the roll of Mylar they were cut from. Some of the edges retain a few shreds from the cutting, but they aren’t sharp. There is a small hole in the centre to permit them to be strung together. They are slightly flexible and could be folded if you put some effort into it but I chose not to do that.

Since one of the features of Mylar is its non-stick nature, it’s not surprising that none of the glue sticks adhered well. Most of the adhesion was at the corners where glue attached the fabric folds, and some of the templates were falling out before I had started stitching the petals together, so they really need to be basted with thread (which, to be fair, is what the packet directions advise). The thickness and weight of the template made it almost impossible to align the hexagons precisely, even using magnets. Having said that, however, I acknowledge that they are infinitely re-usable since they retain very little of the glue residue and are easily wiped clean if any residue is found.

They are the most expensive templates of all, by a factor of four to twelve.

OzQuilts templates
OzQuilts templates

OzQuilts Templates
Cost: $15.00 for pack of 50 ($0.30 each)
Country of Manufacture: Australia
These templates are also cut from white Mylar (by laser, judging from the slight discoloration around the edges) but are much thinner. Although they feel almost as smooth, they took the glue a lot better than the June Tailor templates and I didn’t have the same problem with fabric coming loose. Removal was easy. Alignment was good. Repeated use showed no deterioration up to ten uses and I think they’d be good for dozens if not hundreds.

Eppiflex templates
Eppiflex templates

Eppiflex Templates
Cost: $15.00 for pack of 50 ($0.30 each) or $35.00 for a pack of 175 ($0.20 each)
Country of Manufacture: Australia
These are made from transparent Mylar with additional cut lines to allow the pieces to be bent or folded — very useful when stitching rows or flowers together. I believe they are die-cut but I could be wrong. They are very thin, very light and very flexible. The surface is the least smooth of the three brands and I thought it would help the glue to stick, but strangely it didn’t. Because they are transparent I sometimes found it difficult to see where I had applied glue, and I found that I had to use all the glue sticks at an angle to prevent glue getting into the slits. I have to admit that I didn’t find them quite as nice to handle as I had expected, but the flexibility is the best of all the templates and they would definitely be the template of choice for larger flowers and more complex designs where you have to bend adjacent pieces.

Interestingly, the Eppiflex website says that although the templates are PET and therefore technically recyclable they won’t be recognised by recycling centres and should be returned to Eppiflex (or designated stores in the UK and US) for proper disposal to avoid them being sent to landfill.

Fiskars punch
Fiskars punch

C. Fiskars 1″ hexagon punch
Cost: $39.00
Country of Manufacture: China
Although expensive, this punch will pay for itself after 390 templates (assuming 10 cents per template). It is advertised as easy to use and I found that to be true. I have hand issues, as I’ve previously written about, but I didn’t get any pain from this — but I was careful not to do more than 50 at once. I wouldn’t recommend this for anyone with inflammatory arthritis or connective tissue disorders, but making enough for each day’s sewing shouldn’t cause pain for the average user. The worst thing about the punch was the fact that the templates bounce up and can land a fair distance away.

Cardboard for templates
Cardboard for templates

I used the punch on several different substrates: light waxed card from bakery cartons; light card from a stack of old carbonless copy pads I accumulated from my time in Defence; and light card from supermarket boxes such as crispbreads (Ryvita / Vita-Wheat). I also tried to cut templates from plastic milk bottles and slightly heavier card from the back of writing pads, but they were too thick. I didn’t try waxed milk cartons — it’s rare to find milk in cartons (Tetrapaks) these days and while cream is still sold this way it’s almost impossible to get all the fat out of the cartons so I didn’t try the punch on them. I didn’t try cereal boxes either as I don’t eat cereals, but I suspect that the cardboard is roughly the same thickness as crispbread boxes and not the thick cardboard used in America (termed chipboard there, I believe).

The glossy surfaces of the bakery cartons and grocery boxes presented no problems at all although I found that the bakery carton tempates worked better with the waxed side facing the fabric and the other side (which had roughly the same glossiness as the Sew Easy and Sue Daley cards) getting the glue. The card seemed very flimsy as a 20 cm / 8″ box, but once cut into small pieces (about 50 pieces per box) it was much thicker than the commercial card templates. It was still very light, though, and didn’t present any problems with alignment or the magnets I used to hold pieces in place.

The card from the Defence forms was non-glossy but a similar weight and thickness. I had no difficulty with glue sticking or template removal. I was able to get 24 hexagons from each A4 card.


Commercial card templates are very cheap and can probably be used 10 times or more if you reverse them (that is, glued five or six times each side). The Paper Pieces templates have a shorter life due to the thinner, more porous stock but at under 5 cents (US) per paper they are also the cheapest. For all cards I found that it was harder to remove them after several uses due to the build-up of glue residue.

Mylar templates can be used many times if cleaned occasionally. Of the three brands I liked working with OzQuilts the best, but Eppiflex templates are fine and have the advantage that you don’t need to remove the centre to stitch the petals. I would not recommend June Tailor templates because of their price, their weight and their thickness, even if you are happy to baste with thread instead of glue.

The Fiskars 1″ hexagon punch is worth the price if you need several hundred templates and have access to light card stock that would otherwise go to waste. It is not strong enough to make templates from plastic or thick card, and probably not from Mylar sheets.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about glues and holding devices.

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.