Monday, October 21, 2013

hexie update: hexagon unit construction

Recently, I attended Pacific International Quilt Festival (PIQF).  One of the vendor booths was hawking a tool to help with construction of hand-pieced hexagons.  I stopped to watch.  The tool was a glue pen.  To use it, you draw a line of glue on the template and press the fabric seam allowance down so the glue holds it whilst you baste through the template and fabric.   I used to use the method (only I was using washable glue stick, instead of a pen), which I have blogged about here.   (You'll need to scroll down to the bottom of that blog entry, as I also talked about other proejcts first.)   I no longer use this technique because (for me) it creates unnecessary extra steps.

BUT ... there was one other pearl of wisdom that the vendor imparted .... she cuts her fabric as a SQUARE.

Say what?!??!   She's not cutting her fabric hexagon-shaped?!??!  What outlandish shortcut is this?!??!

Indeed, her fabric was NOT cut as a hexagon to match the template.  Yes, there was excess fabric on the back of the hexagon once the fabric was folded over.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized .... so what?  That small amount of excess "seam allowance" fabric wasn't going to amount to a hill of beans in the scheme of things when it comes to quilting.   AND it has the extra added attraction of reducing the amount of preparation steps I would need to do.  I'm all for streamlining and ease of construction!

So ... what am I talking about?   Let's see ....  (aside: I had already cut my hexie fabric into 4-1/2" strips to accommodate the acrylic template I use to cut the hexagon shapes.  This means that could not cut the fabric into *squares* because a 4-1/2" *square* wasn't big enough for a proper amount of seam allowance to fold over.  Instead, I have to cut the fabric for my templates into 4-1/2" x 5-1/2" rectangles.  The fact that I am using rectangles instead of squares makes no difference whatsoever in the construction process.)

First, look at the front of the hexies, side by side.  I realize that pictures won't let you feel the thickness of each one, but I assure you that *to me* there is negligible difference between the two.

 Once they are whip-stitched together, you can't tell there is any difference between the shape of the fabric that was originally used.

Looking at the BACK of the same units ....  oh, now THERE'S a difference you can obviously see. 

The hexie flower unit on the left was made with fabric rectangles.  The back of these hexies has more fabric covering the template than the hexie flower unit on the right, which was constructed with hexagon-shaped fabric.

Yes, the flower unit on the right looks a whole lot more tidy but once the quilt is quilted, not even the Quilt Police would be able to tell which flower unit had hexagon-shaped fabric and which ones had the rectangle-shaped fabric.

I use an acrylic template (by Darlene Zimmerman, available through EZ Quilting) to cut my paper templates and my fabric.  This is a nifty template for cutting because it allows me to choose between 5 different sizes.  To efficiently use it, you first cut your fabric (or paper, for templates) into strips, the size of which is printed on the acrylic template.

My paper templates are 3-1/2", so I cut paper strips at 3-1/2", then subcut all my paper templates.  The fabric to wrap around the paper templates uses the 4-1/2" size hexagon.  I cut fabric strips at 4-1/2" x WOF, then subcut the actual hexagon shapes using the 4-1/2" markings.

This requires me to make 4 cuts per hexagon, once the strip (of paper or fabric) is ready.  This really isn't annoying; you just  zip-zip-zip-zip around the acrylic template and you have lovely hexagons.

BUT ... that *is* 4 cuts of fabric.  After the first 2 cuts, you need to flip the template around so you can cut the other two sides.  That breaks your rhythm and takes time.  And aren't we all about saving time?  :-)

If I use a square/rectangle piece of fabric, I'm saving myself 3 cuts of fabric!  How?  Well, I still need to cut my fabric into 4-1/2" x WOF strips.  No getting around that.  But the subcuts???  Just ONE slice at 5-1/2" gives me a rectangle that is suitable for wrapping the paper hexagon template.  That's a reduction of 3 fabric slices AND I don't need to turn the template (which I'm not using) over.   This allows me to cut my fabric more quickly so I can get to the hexagon construction phase.

Here's a comparison of the hexagon construction with both shapes of fabric:

First, the "traditional" method, using hexagon-shaped fabric.  Place the paper template on top of the fabric.  I put a pin in the center to hold the two pieces together.  The seam allowances are folded over the paper edge, one by one, and I simply *hold* the fabric down whilst I take a back-stitch in each corner.  This holds the two layers of folded seam allowances down.  I do *not* go through the paper template.  I drag the thread over to the next corner and repeat the back-stitch until I am finished.  These basting stitches *stay* in the hexie.  (i.e. I do not have the extra, added step of needing to remove the basting stitches when the hexie unit is done.)

The back looks very neat and tidy, doesn't it?  :-)

When I'm using the rectangle-shaped fabric, it looks like this.  I follow the *exact* procedure as with the hexagon-shaped fabric but there is obviously excess fabric in the corners, which makes the back of the hexie unit look messy.

But, goodness gracious ... WHO is going to look at the BACK of your hexie units once the quilt is done?  Heck, no one is even going to be *able* to look at the back unless they take your quilt apart! 

For both methods, once the fabric has been basted around the paper template, I do give each hexi a pressing to flatten the fabric down and create a very crisp edge for me to whip-stitch.  Once each hexi has been pressed, each one is VERY flat.  Honestly, it's exceedingly difficult to tell the difference between the two just by feeling them.

Now, I will say that if you are going to hand quilt these hexies, you might be able to tell when you've hit the areas with the extra corner fabric.  But, I don't hand quilt.  My longarm machine will go through anything, so the extra corner fabric doesn't even figure into the quilting process.   I've done a number of hexies withe the rectangular fabric and I'm pleased enough to continue using the rectangular-shaped fabric vs the extra time & effort it takes to cut the hexagon-shaped fabric.  

The only drawback?  You need to get OVER the fact that the BACK of the hexies don't look tidy.  :-)

Here's my progress so far .... this is my "design wall"  (i.e. a king-sized black flat sheet) that I've pinned the completed hexi units onto. 

The hexie units on the left side have been sewn together into columns.  Then I realized that was a tactical mistake ... I really do need to have ALL of my hexie units available to be able to place them in a pleasing manner and also to avoid having too many of the same color scheme next to each other.  (Oh, the horror of it all, should that ever happen!) 

So, if you look to the right, you'll see the individual hexie units pinned but not sewn together  AND you'll see flower units without their background hexies stitched on .... I haven't gotten around to that right now, as I've been concentrating on stitching the flower units together.

What do I call a "hexie unit"?  .... well that is a flower unit sewn together with its background hexies.  At that point, I can place that entire unit wherever I want it to be. 

All of the hexie units interlock with each other.  This makes it very, very easy to move the units around and see what the overall color scheme looks like.

Onwards!  :-)

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