Oooooh, I had a feeling. I had a feeling these would be addictive. I've wanted to do this — English paper piecing — for a while but I wasn't sure I could handle another distraction. I'm still not sure I can handle it, but let's just say I am completely distracted now.
Before I go on in this direction, I will say that I did finish Arden's quilt already. I just need to photograph it. So I am, at least, a little bit collected. I'm about to go into a collected trot here, to use a horsey term. A collected hexagonal trot.
Here's how you do this: Get a whole bunch of hexagon papers (do yourself a favor and splurge on these already die-cut heavyweights. Mine were $19.00 for 600 1"- [2.5cm-] sided hexagons, and they are totally reusable, so to me, this is a purchase that is well-worth the money, since your wrist will already be getting enough of a workout without having to cut out all of those hexes yourself). Then cut a whole bunch of 2 1/2" (63mm) squares of your favorite quilting cottons with a rotary cutter, self-healing cutting mat, and clear plastic ruler. (If you want to make a different-sized hex, the size of your square will vary relative to the size of the hex; a chart to help yo determine how big to cut your squares is here.) Then get a straight pin, a sharp, hand-sewing needle, and some cotton thread (the same stuff you'd use in your sewing machine). Pin the hex to the wrong side of the squa, fold the fabric over each edge of the hex, and baste (through the paper) in place. I tied knots on the front sides of the hex in both the beginning and the ends of the basting thread because it is easy to (after the hex is stitched to six other hexes) remove the basting thread from the front by clipping each stitch and pulling on the knots.
Many tutorials that I found on-line and in some old books that I have want you to trim the fabric into a hex, leaving a 1/4" (6mm) seam allowance, but that seems like extra work, and if the Paper Pieces peeps say you don't have to, I believe them. Wrapping full squares worked just fine for me. To stitch two hexes together, just place them with their right sides together and whipstitch along the top edge, being careful not to stitch through the paper — just grab a few threads from each hex and make small, even stitches.
I stitched twice through each corner and knotted at each end. I'm sure there's a way to carry your thread around to stitch each seam of the hex (to another hex), but that proved to be too much for my addled brain to manage, so I just finished off every seam before starting the next. Here's another view of one seam, kind of tilted open:
To make a flower, I stitched all of the hexes to the center hex, then once all six sides of any hex are attached to other hexes, you can clip the basting stitches and take the paper out. This allows you to fold that center hex, making it easy to stitch the sides of the other hexes together to form the petals.
This is not sewing for the faint of heart — when I was at Fabric Depot buying the hexagon papers, I was asked by the saleslady what my pain threshold was, and I answered emphatically, "High!" (And by the way, my cutting mat, pin holder, and most of my tiny calicos come from Fabric Depot, though I have an enormous stash of calicos, collected over twenty years, so a lot of fabrics that you see me use come just from my own shelves. I have been getting a lot of questions about fabric lately, so I will do a whole post about that soon, and give you some great local sources when my head is more unstuffed.) Sewing hexes takes some precision and patience, but if you have those tendencies (and I would say I do, generally, unless it really doesn't matter, and then I don't), you will like these. I think this is a nice tutorial that will get you started on a little placemat and doesn't make things more complicated than necessary.
I still haven't decided exactly what I will do with mine, though I have a few ideas. One is to stitch at least a few of them to a oatmeal-linen wrap skirt that I bound the edges of with one of the fabrics that's in the hexes. There's also potholders, bags, placemats, pillows, stuff like that. Another idea is to make little collections of similar flowers and then cluster them together in random groups, and then cluster the random groups together, and then applique the whole big cluster to a whole cloth, either a runner, or a tablecloth, or maybe even a quilt. That would be a seriously massive project. I don't know if my pain threshold is that high. It's high, but I don't know if it's that high. I only have five flowers done, so perhaps I am getting ahead of myself.