April 19, 2015

English Paper Piecing for Relaxation

a pile of paper-pieced hexagons
A friend recently posted how she embarked on 100 days of Zentangle, which is often used as a stress-reduction or meditative exercise. In high school, my circle of friends often carried around a black pen or Sharpie, producing similar doodles during study hall. We didn't have a name for it, but it seems that pattern doodling is taking off.

As an adult, I haven't been able to get into Zentangle, mainly because I more other artistic or crafting activities more. Last summer, a good friend of my sister-in-law enthusiastically tried to turn me into a knitter. At the time, I thought it was a perfect way to have a portable, repetitive activity for travel, watching TV, or at the playground, but I just couldn't get into it. I found knitting stressful, rather than relaxing. Sometimes I bring a big tote of sewing projects, cutting patterns and basting fabric on hotel room floors, but that's really inconvenient and not so good for playdates and crashing on the couch.

I occasionally quilt, but always have pieced and quilted by machine, thinking hand quilting is too time consuming. It can take 1200+ hours to hand quilt a bed covering. Needlepoint and embroidery came to mind, but I wasn't interested in investing money into supplies for a new hobby. I wanted to try something fairly easy with what I have on hand. Then, I came across a few websites about English Paper Piecing.

English Paper Piecing is a way to produce small fabric shapes that are hand stitched together to make beautiful, complex quilt tops, or other craft projects (bags, placemats, pillows, etc). While, it is very time consuming, producing each piece is rather quick and doesn't require a lot of thought, so there's opportunity for a quick win, a feeling of success immediately.

I don't have a project in mind, which means I'm not worried about how many pieces I need to make or whether they are perfect. I found a pattern that says I'd need 3500 pieces to make a queen quilt, so I'm sure I'll never use these for bedding. It's the simple, repetition that I like. That, and being able to make pieces wherever I am. Just today, I made a few at the mall playspace and then again a few while my daughter was getting washed up for bed.

Right now, I'm making hexagons. It's pretty simple. Here's how:

finished hexagons
I've found there are different approaches to making a hexagon, but this is what works best for me. I printed a few pages of small hexagon shapes (100 of them) and glued the pages to construction paper, cut the little hexagons out. Some people pin the hexagons to fabric, but I just used a glue stick.

Then I loosely cut around each paper, leaving enough fabric to fold over the paper. As long as you have at least 1/4", you'll have enough fabric to work with. No need for perfection here.

Next, fold fabric over one edge, and then another to form a nice corner.

Using needle and thread, stitch through the corner (fabric only, don't stitch the paper), and pull tight. Stitch this same spot a second time to secure. I've read that some people baste through the paper, which I'm sure works just as well, but since I don't feel the urge to pull out the stitches later, I'm happy to make more secure stitches and just avoid the paper.

Stitch the next corner just like you did the first, and continue all the way around. Once you get the hang of it, you can get through each hexagon in about a minute.

TIP: When you're likely to have to knot several times in a sewing session, you can ball up the end of the thread with your fingers. Just kind of rub it around and it will form a simple knot. No tying needed.

When you get back to where you started, just make one last stitch and cut off the rest of the thread. Now you can set this hexagon aside and start another.

Here's what the front looks like:

Since I like to make hexagons on the go, I keep cutouts, thread, needle, and scissors in a bag in my purse. Ignore the big shears. I couldn't find my little clips. I'll use some of the hexagons to make a bag to carry more hexagons. It's kind of fun, relaxing, and not at all stressful.

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